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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 Expression Lines I’m Not Forming

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The Good Life ®

La Finquita del Bujo,  our CSA, put on their annual Harvest Festival last Sunday.  And such a day for it – clear skies with that certain, crisp autumn sun.  The farm was open to all subscribers, friends, neighbors, for a potluck feast and four hour festival.  The farm’s outdoor, hand-built brick pizza oven was fired up: Lyn and Juvencio, the farm’s owners, provided homemade dough, sauce and cheese and attendees brought toppings to share, and everyone provided encouragement to those whose dough-rolling skills were less than professional. [1] A friend of the family was making fresh pupusas on an outdoor griddle next to the oven, and the farm dogs and cats wandered from lawn chair to lawn chair, having a grand old time feasting on everyone’s food offerings.

Entertainment included performances by Hillsboro’s Baile Folklorico Mexico en la Piel , a local bluegrass group, and The Helvetia Alphorn musicians.  I’d never seen alphorns up close, or “live” (Ricola commercials don’t count).  They looked just like this.  Exactly. Well, minus the alpine background.  And the lederhosen.  And the featherduster hats.

ALPHORN

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Have I Got an Expression (Line) For This

I found this blast from the past while searching my files for…I forget.  For something else:

1-7-09, doing post-exercise cooldown.  I ejected the workout DVD and caught the tail end of a local noon news program.  As I moved into downward facing dog pose, the news gave way to a paid programming/extended infomercials, hosted by an aging TV actress (Victoria Principal?) who was shilling her line of anti- wrinkle/anti-aging skin care products (“Reclaim”)Reclaim, the grotesquely preserved still-beautiful performer declared, will “reverse the signs of aging,” smooth  away “visible forehead wrinkles” ( yeah, we’re not too worried about the invisible ones) and even get rid of those pesky “expression lines.”

Hitch up your loincloth, Mahatma Gandhi, and Melinda and Bill Gates, quit your whining about malaria—there’s a new humanitarian in town, and she’s out to rid the world of expression lines.  You know, the lines that come from using the muscles in your face to do something other than to don a mannequin’s smooth-checked, slit-eyed, I-wish-I-could-crack-a-smile-but-I’m-too-busy-reversing-the-signs-of-aging mask.

Expression lines – the ones evince your years of loving your children and laughing at their elephant jokes; the ones that accentuate your reaction to your spouses’ latest pun or your sports team’s heartbreaking loss in the playoffs; the ones that form when you can’t believe your brother-in-law told that story in front of your grandmother, or when you hear yet another Republican elected official make yet another ignorant remark about human biology.  The ones that let the world know you are alive.

I’ll sell you a no-cost, sure-fire way to stop the signs of aging: die young.

What pesky expression lines?

What pesky expression lines?

*   *   *

Why I am Postponing Reading the Latest Issue of P & W

The November/December Poets & Writers magazine arrived earlier in the week.  This issue’s cover shot is of an extremely self-satisfied looking [2] author Elizabeth Gilbert.  I somehow managed not to read Gilbert’s bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, despite having been chased in airports during the past seven years any time I had a flight booked, by security personnel who screamed, “If you board the plane without a copy of this book in your hands, the terrorists have won!”

So.  We return to our magazine, and to Gilbert’s beaming visage, below which is the title of the article (The Eat, Pray, Love Phenomenon), and then a question: What Happens After an Author Sells More Than 8 Million Copies?

Money

Assuming the question is not rhetorical, WHO FUCKING CARES?

*   *   *

More Reasons to Go On Living:
Two Thumbs up for one Finger Up

You gotta love the intersection of art and political dissent.  This week I loved Czech artist David Cerney’s salute to Czech President President Milos Zeman, in the form of a giant purple [3] hand, middle finger prominently extended, floating on a barge in the River Vltava, facing Zeman’s presidential headquarters in the Prague Castle.

Cerney is – surprise! – not a fan of President Zeman.  Zeman is a self-proclaimed ex-Communist who accepts the likelihood of the Communist party regaining political power, thus enraging Cerney and other Czechs who hated and openly defied the Communist rule of Czechloslovakia (1948-1989).

My Pretty Purple Toe Award ® has got nothing on Cerney (“I just enjoy pissing people off”) and his Purple Finger of political Defiance.

PURPLEFINGER

*   *   *

Wishing y’all a finger-friendly, thumbs-up weekend, and may your own particular brand of purple hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] We make pizza often at home, and I proudly claim that my amoeba-shaped pies are deliberate, as well as artistic. And MH set out to make a calzone, not a pizza.  That was his intention; the fold-over was not to fix the holes.  Yep.

[2] Instead of “Say Cheese!” or “Smile!” the photographer’s prompt was, “Royalties and residuals!”

[3] Purple!

The Phrase I’m Not Saving

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RESCUE 911
 We’re lost in the woods, and need an extra large with mushrooms and double cheese…and a helicopter, please.

Join our thrilling, reality-based series, during which MH and I discover our son’s true concerns should we ever end up lost or injured in the wilderness.

Dateline:  Sunday, July 7.  MH and I planned on driving up to Vancouver, WA to go hiking on a new (to us) trail. We invited son K, who declined. [1]

As I was lacing up my boots I informed K of our destination, and told him I was leaving a map of the trail on my computer.  I decided to test his hiking/outdoor recreation, “Buddy system” safety awareness [2] by asking him, “So, what would you do if we did not return by a certain time?”

“What time?” K asked.

“Absolutely, by dinner time,” I clarified. “But we should be back way before that.”

“Well…” K steepled his fingers in front of his face in a Mr. Spock-like pose of thoughtfulness.  “I haven’t been to Pizza Schmizza in a while….

chopper

                              *   *   *

As already noted on this week’s The Mighty Quinn FB page, my calendar said that July 8 was Toot Your Own Horn day.  (It also said that July 2 was Eat Nothing But Dark Chocolate For Every Meal and Your Teeth Will Be Bright and Your Breath Minty Fresh day.  Don’t you wish you had my calendar?) Thus, I excerpted one of my favorite reviews of The Mighty Quinn, which is on Goodreads, courtesy of fellow writer, SCM:

I should start by saying what THE MIGHTY QUINN is not. It’s not for every middle grade reader, nor is it a book for a bright younger kid whose parents read MG books out loud before bed. (I tried.)

THE MIGHTY QUINN is a smart book, and it’s going to appeal to brighter MG readers. It’s a clever and funny book about the Borgia-like scheming simmering below the surface of elementary school social life.

It’s about what it’s like to be raised progressively when peers are, well, not.

 It’s about what it’s like to be raised in a free-thinking and non-religious home, when peers are, well, not.

It’s about what it’s like to be a clever and funny kid when peers are, well, not.

What’s more, it’s the rare book for smart MG readers and their parents to read together. A smart MG reader is doing most reading without parents. This is, in some ways, a last hurrah for those bedtime reading rituals that parents miss more than kids—although it never seems to feel like that when you’re reading Mike Mulligan for the hundredth time.

Bonus: there’s plenty that will make parents laugh.

SCM gave the book a 5 star rating, and states that it is not for every middle grade reader [3].  I liked that. I for one am turned off by reviews which proclaim, Everyone will/must like this book! Because, that’s never the case, is it?  Also, the same, I-like-these qualities the reviewer lists about TMQ would be red flags for those people (certain adults, I think, more than certain children) who, sadly but frankly, are predisposed to not like a book that presents a sympathetic portrayal of kids who “…are raised progressively.”

And so it goes.

Oh, and now that I don’t have to do it every night, I do miss reading Mike Mulligan. MikeMulligan

*   *   *

This week I attended my first professional baseball game in…I truly do not remember how long it has been. [4] Growing up in So Cal, my summers were filled with trips to Chavez Ravine for Dodger games and Anaheim Stadium for Angel games (and if you climbed to the top of our backyard’s big pine tree you could see the stadium’s halo light up when an Angel hit a home run).

I forget what year it happened, but after one player/owner strike too many – when I asked myself, hmmm, which group of millionaires do I feel sorry for? – I lost interest.  I went from a high schooler who subscribed to Sports Illustrated, someone who could quote lengthy passages from Ball Four, someone who, much to MH’s befuddlement, could whip anyone’s ass in a 1970s Dodger’s baseball trivia contest, [5] to someone who just didn’t give a flying festering fartbag about professional sports.

Except, of course, when Kirk Gibson hit his gimp, game-winning home run during the 1988 World Series, which cause my younger sister (whose husband was rooting for the Oakland A’s) and I to exchange, gloating phone calls: YEEESSSS!

Once again, I digress.

So, on Monday I dragged MH, son K and his friend and moiself to Hillsboro’s new baseball stadium, home of the Hillsboro Hops, Hillsboro’s new new minor league team .  I really, really, could have done without the inane announcer’s patter and the kiddie tire races and kiddie hoop shooting contests and kiddie bunny hops and the other “amusements” between innings (Hades forbid we should be content to merely sit with our thoughts or converse with other attendees – we must be ENTERTAINED at all moments).

That irritation aside, hearing the distinctive slap of a 94 mph pitch hitting the catcher’s mitt, watching fit young men in fit uniforms [6] loping around a field on a hot summer evening, savoring a bag of peanuts roasted in the shell – the night brought back primal memories for me.  The night also provided a reminder of a most epic parental fail, when my 20 year old son made a comment which indicated he did not know how many innings are in a baseball game.

Ball Four

*   *   *

“It has never been easier to be a writer, and it has never been harder to be a professional writer.”
(Adam Gopnick, The New Yorker, as quoted in the Spring 2013 Authors Guild Bulletin)

sadwriter

Because the Authors Guild takes their mandate seriously (“…the nation’s leading advocate for writers’ interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts and free expression….”), their bulletin is full of the news that matters to writers; i.e., reports on how AG attorneys and advocates are fighting the good [7] fight against the erosion of authors’  income streams and copyright and royalty protection and trends in e-publishing….  Almost all of it is really, really, really depressing:

E-books are way less expensive for publishers to produce, but instead of being more generous to authors, the major publishing houses all rigidly insist on clauses limiting e-book royalties to (that which gives authors ) roughly half the traditional royalty on hardcover books….Five of six major publishing houses were sued by the DOJ’s anti-trust division for fixing e-book prices…numerous pirate sites (supported by advertising on Yahoo and Google) offer new and old e-books for free (and too many Americans, especially younger ones, seem to believe that if it’s on the internet it belongs to everybody – even while they pay for cable)…Amazon acquired a patent to re-sell e-books… [8]

I think when the next issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin arrives I’ll save time and, before turning the first page, assume my custom-designed, Author’s Yoga Pose ®.

YOGA

 Whattheasana
(aka Author’s Pose)

Whattheasana is a pose of realization.  It transfers tension from your neck, shoulders and back to your brain bucket, where tension belongs.

(1) Begin in a kneeling position, on the hardest surface you can find.

(2) Drop your buttocks to your heels. Exhale and stretch your torso down and forward, lengthening your tailbone from the pelvis as you rest your abdomen atop your thighs, your forehead on the floor. Inhale one long breath of futility.

(3) Exhale. Place your hands on the floor alongside your torso, palms up in the universal gesture of surrender. Visualize your most recent royalty statement and/or the Ten Must-Have Marketing Strategies for Writers! conference come-ons in your email inbox. Let the weight of the world rest on your shoulders, broadening your scapulae across your back and further grinding your forehead into the floor.

(4) Inhale, extend your cervical vertebrae and raise your forehead several inches above the floor. Exhale, release your forehead to gravity and chant your author’s mantra (“d-uh”) as your forehead hits the floor with a chakra-satisfying thud.  Repeat this sequence, staying in the pose for one to five minutes, or until the half-hearted urge to even consider enrolling in any Social Media Web-inar/Tutorials subsides.

*   *   *

Pacas and Toucans and Turtles, Oh My!

a baby leatherback turtle heads for the ocean at Pacuare

a baby leatherback turtle heads for the ocean at Pacuare

Belle returned late Tuesday evening from a nine day trip to Costa Rica.  She and 17 other Oregon Zoo Teen leaders were participating in an Ecology International Field Service Project.  The kids and their adult guides helped biologists at La Suerte [9] Biological Field Station and the Pacuare Nature Reserve gather data on sea turtles, and the Costa Rican mosquitoes helped themselves to fresh American teenage blood.

The pangs of missing my daughter didn’t hit me until July 4, when I was out running errands/having lunch with MH.  I passed the time at the local animal shelter while MH roamed the aisles of Lowe’s, and at the shelter I saw The Cutest Kitten In the World ® which, fortunately, had a sign on its kennel indicating it had already been adopted.  Belle would have adored the kitten, I thought…and it’s a good thing she’s in Costa Rica, because she just possibly would have found a way to talk MH and I out of our Crazy Cat People  Limit. [10]

After home improvement errands MH & I had lunch at Red Robin, where I was reminded of something I do not miss about my daughter, or my son, now that both of them have been housebroken for some time.  When I used the RR’s restroom I overheard the distinctive dialogue which indicated the presence of a Six Legged Monster [11] occupying the handicapped stall.

“Mommy, I did a stinker!”

“Yes, honey, you did a stinker.”

“No, YOU did a stinker!”

“Okay, I did a stinker – no, wait, don’t open the door, your sister isn’t done yet….”

sequential

Two minutes later, in the parking lot, there was yet another parent/child/potty story unfolding: a young mother was changing her infant son’s messy diaper, using the rear of her SUV as a changing table. With the car’s hatchback door up, passersby (including yours truly) had quite the view.

I’m not going to tell the story in all of its Technicolor glory.  I’d like to save the phrase poop-encrusted scrotum for 2014.

Happy Independence Day, indeed.  And the hijinks ensued.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] There were, as always, aliens to be battled in cyberspace.

[2] Always inform friends and family about your trip itinerary, ideally include a map and tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return….

[3] I like her subtle nudge re how TMQ appeals to the “brighter” reader. Ahem.

[4] Remembered during the edit! It was in October ’92, at Baltimore’s beautiful Oriole Park: MH & I with my groovy friend and fellow Ball Four lover Ernie Kyger, with a special guest appearance by Baltimore Sun sportswriter (and high school friend) Peter Schmuck .

[5] Name the Dodgers infield that played together for more than eight seasons — a major league record! (Cey, Lopes, Russell & Garvey)

[6] I’m married, not dead.

[7] If ultimately futile, in my humble yet realistic opinion.

[8] These feel-good excerpts are from the From the President article by AG President Scott Turow.

[9] Idiomatic translation: good luck with the heron-sized mosquitoes.

[10] I say it’s four (naturally, we have four cats).  Belle insists you’re not truly in Crazy Cat People territory until six.

[11] A mother and her two young children.

The Cabbage I’m Not Climbing

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(I think) I wrote in last week’s post that I would mention the reasons behind the relative lack of content in said post. Many contributing factors led to last week’s I-have-no-time-to-do-this-blog realization, including

* a week-long visit from MH’s parents

* MH, Belle, K and I caring for a friend’s 6 year old child (who had her first overnight sleepover – Big Girl territory! – at our place) so that her parents could get up very early the next morning and go to the hospital for the mother’s surgery[1]

* going to the hospital with my friends, to have the honor of being their Surgery Buddy

*returning from the hospital in the afternoon, tired, but happy for my friend, whose surgery went smoothly and who was thus relieved of a large burden [2]

* receiving a phone call that same afternoon from another (long distance but equally dear) friend, the witty, kind, loving and trusting (oops) LLL, who had suddenly and unexpectedly been struck by a burden of her own, the kind of affliction that surgery cannot fix. Unless some Nobel-winning doctor has perfected the DoucheBag Husband-ectomy.

manpig

After that phone call, any attempt at blogging would have resulted in an f-laden tirade.[3]

LLL will be so, so, so, – and did I mention so? – much better without that lying, spineless weasel, self-absorbed sack of shit him. Still, there is the inhumanity of his methodology.

Note to all quasi sentient, allegedly male beings who are not total sphincter-brains:  grow a pair, or find some that you may clone and/or borrow, so that if you decide to leave your wife of 12+ years you are able to man up and face her and tell her, directly and honestly, what you are doing.  Do not end the relationship by booking her for a half day spa treatment (ostensibly to atone for your recent aloof behavior) and then moving all your belongings from your house while she is at the spa, leaving nothing but an “I don’t want to be married to you anymore” message on the answering machine, and having a sullen process server present her with divorce papers less than 24 hours later.

You know who you are [4], you urethra-catheter excuse for a human being.  Karma will, eventually, catch up with you, and when it does, it’s going to be one angry, turn-your-head-and-cough, vengeful bitch.

angrygodpng

I’ve got to find a segue…

Last Wednesday there was some good news for humanity: the CDC reported that the smoking rate for US adults was at 18% – an historic low. I heard the news on the radio, while I was on my way to my favorite organic foods market. As someone who has lost many loved ones to smoking-caused pulmonary diseases, I felt a need to celebrate the announcement. My jubilation was short lived, thanks to the stinky gray haze I inadvertently walked through in the New Season’s parking lot, in the form of a cloud of smoke that was emanating from the side of…some guy’s Prius?

Yep. There he sat, beside his car, hipster porkpie hat on head,

hiphat

sucking on his unfiltered American Spirits like he was minutes away from the Dead Man Walking promenade. I stopped and stared at him as he crushed his last cigarette next to his car’s front tire (leaving the smoldering butt on the blacktop) and loaded his groceries into his car.

Dude.  Really? You shop organic/local, drive a gas-conserving vehicle, and litter and pollute the air and your own lungs because, yeah, you care so much about the environment.

Makes me want to, I don’t know, climb to the top of a really big, pointy cabbage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

*   *   *

Questions I hate

“How is The Mighty Quinn/your book doing?”

How is the book doing?  Oy vey! It never writes, it never calls, it won’t return my texts, the ungrateful little….

I know, or rather I assume, that such an inquiry is meant to convey interest, but when I’ve asked the askers to elaborate, I discover that the implied query is really one for which I have no answer. Because it involve Sales Figures. As in, how many copies have been sold?

Well, how many copies have you bought?

Sorry. I don’t and can’t, for sanity’s sake, keep track of that.

Like most publishers, mine gives royalty statements biannually.  So, if you really want to know that statistic, ask me again in 6 months…and be prepared for a NOYB response, or an equally personal question in return: I’ll show you mine if you show me yours). [5]

writing money

*   *   *

Sometimes, I think, are we still at two steps forward and two steps back?  I remember 1973, and you never could have convinced me then that we would be having this misogynistic, wasteful, distrustful, keep your laws out of my uterus argument in 2013.

I had few words of comfort for my teenage daughter, the fiercely intelligent, kind-hearted, justice-oriented Belle, when she came into my room Tuesday night. Tears of anger and frustration welling in her beautiful eyes, she plopped down on my bed and said, “They broke their own rules! They cheated and they don’t care…” referring to the Texas state senators who tried every trick in their book to thwart one of their own, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, from filibustering the jive-ass bill that would have enacted comprehensive abortion restrictions in the Lone  Woman With Integrity Star State.

We thought, at that time, that the asshats’ tactics had won, but the morning brought better news. Mere words cannot describe the awesomeness that was Wendy Davis this week. Fortunately, internet memes to the rescue.

wendyjames

*   *   *

The afore-alluded-to, Visit From The Kinfolk was mostly a good one, with a certain relative who has taken to proselytizing mostly refraining from doing so…except for bringing along two issues of The Lutheran magazine, just in case, you know, we have a burning desire to know about what’s going on with “New Thinkers in the ELCA” (one of the magazine issue’s title story).

As of today, the magazines sit where they were left, with no one in my family, to my knowledge, even taking a peek.

It’s funny for me to realize that, not too many years ago, I probably would have peeked — for curiosity, if nothing else. There is not even a smidgen of that, now.

“New Thinking” about a false hypothesis? [6]  Yawn. There can be nothing new or curious-worthy or relevant about that, other than a new angle of spin.

tadal

*   *   *

The best thing about Friday is telling my coworkers ‘What is the chip-shop owner’s favorite day? Fry-day!!!!’ One day they will laugh. One day…
(anonymous)

May one day be today, and let the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Technically elective, but necessary.

[2] Actually, two

[3] Which I shared instead with MH and the kids.  I have an amazingly patient family.

[4] Actually, you probably don’t, as that would take self-awareness, humility and introspection.

[5] tax returns, bank statements, cup and/or jock size – I’ll look at whatever ya got.

[6] The best definition I’ve heard for religion(s) is one that encompasses them all: religion is a hypothesis, that the natural world is the way it is because of the supernatural world.

The Match I’m Not Lighting

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The Random Acts of What the? edition

Don’t be humble, you’re not that great
(Golda Meir)

“Bullying, competition, hot and cold friendships, male and female peer role models, and comic relief are just a few of the 10 year old issues presented in the fun and fast moving plot pages for this humorous chapter book. Comic black and white illustrations decorate chapter beginnings and endings, and a comic portrait gallery of the cast of characters aids in fast comprehension. Who would believe the healing power of an ability to belch the alphabet? A suspenseful plot and precise sleuthing sells the story and teaches that Turner Creek School rocks and so does The Mighty Quinn!” — Midwest Book Review

Reading the latest review for The Mighty Quinn more than compensated for the non event at last week’s Beaverton’s First Friday street fair.  Five local authors were asked to participate, and shared three tables on the sidewalk outside of a sandwich shop (and yes, the connection still baffles me).  In summary: a yoga instructor left some flyers featuring a picture of a limber, lithe & lovely young yogi [1] on one of the tables, and, to sum it up, those flyers got more attention than the books and their friendly authors.

It was difficult for said Friendly Authors to strike up a conversation with passersby for several reasons, including (1) there wasn’t much in the way of sidewalk traffic, (2) the oldies band playing across the street made up in volume for what they lacked in vocal proficiency, and (3) the few passersby lived up to their moniker – they were passing by, and looked to be single-mindedly on their way to see something else.[2]

I did the right thing [3] – participated when asked – despite my experiences with such events which makes me deem them ill-suited (read: a waste of time) for writers.  Fine arts & craft, wine & food celebrations lend themselves to…well…fine arts and crafts and wine and food.  When I attend such events, it is to partake of/ browse/sample and maybe even purchase fine arts and craft and wine and food.  I don’t think, “Oh, and what a great place to find a good novel.”  The rare times I seen people selling books at such events I don’t even stop to take a peek anymore.[4]

The Book Table can’t compete with (nor even complement) the Free Samples of Ragin’ Cajun  Chocolate Salsa Sauce table.  The arts & crafts are on total display: you can see them for what they are, and you either like the painting or the macramé plant hanger or you don’t.  You can sample the wares from the various homemade gourmet merchants before buying – there is no preamble or teaser quotes or first chapter to the bottle of salsa or tub of hummus or glass of craft beer – a couple of sample tastes and you know what you’ll be getting, the whole way through.  You can hear the band or the lone musician playing, and on that basis decide to purchase their CD.  A book is a different animal, especially at a street fair or similar event.  You can’t just take one or two sips and be confident in what you’re getting; the decision to purchase one is more akin to taking a gamble.

At least I picked up one good tip for the next time I grit my teeth and Do The Right Thing:  Forget your standard book promo materials, and get a flyer with eye-catching graphics.

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*   *   *

Department of Will Someone Please Explain to Me…

As a kid, I didn’t understand the light a match reference, nor the presence of a pack of matches in the bathrooms of most people of my parents’ generation.  Even after it was explained to me by an adult [5], it still seemed rather silly.  Was it a last resort, an act of religious penance (Forgive me, Father, for I have blown Satan’s bugle[6]) or some kind of ritual atonement (setting oneself on fire rather than face the shame of emerging from the host’s bathroom after you’ve stunk it up)?

Matches eventually gave way to the Bathroom Air Fresheners industry – including the aptly if not discretely named Poo-pouri [7].  This was a great loss to the budding pyromaniac that lurks in most six year olds, and also provided yet another variation on things that don’t make much sense.

Yeah, I get the point of, or rather I understand the supposed need for, commercial bathroom air fresheners.  But other than serving as an effective irritant to asthmatics and people with fragrance allergies I think it is arguable that they “work.” In my experience in other people’s houses and in restaurants, businesses and other “out” venues, it’s a tossup as to whether air fresheners eliminate [8] or enhance the odors they are designed to combat.

stinky toilet

And the varieties of masking perfumes, ay yi yi.  Here are just some of the olfactory auras available to you, Discerning Consumer, thanks to the scentmeisters of Glade, Renuzit, et al:

Frosted Pine
Clean linen
Creamy Custard® & Apple Cinnamon
Angel Whispers [9]

But really, who’s kidding whom?  Here are your choices.

Bathroom usage sans air freshener:  it smells like someone took a dump in here.

Bathroom usage with air freshener:  it smells like it whispering angels stood by as someone took a dump on a pine tree/in your clean linen/on your apple custard dessert.

Not to get all Bathroom Buddhist ® , but it is what it is.  Embrace the stone age, y’all: light a match.

A day of Firsts

Son K took his first all-by-himself road trip on Tuesday.  He drove up to Tacoma to deliver his first batch of borrowed furniture to his first off-campus rental home, and the next day, on his way back home, had his first encounter with An Officer of The Law and received his first speeding ticket.

speedtickeett

*   *   *

My father, who grew up on a farm in Tennessee, once told me that one of the worst insults you could fling was to call someone that so-and-so pea picker.  I wish I could ask him why, because after spending three hours picking peas (and kale) at my CSA [10] on Wednesday, I think the pea-pickers of the world deserve a whole lotta respect.  Do you know how many pea pods you have to pick to get 78 pounds of pea pods?

I must now pause for a moment to appreciate That Which Made It  Possible for me to spend three hours outdoors, in mid-June, surrounded by pollen-spewing organisms, in relative respiratory relief (no machine gun sneezes!):  drugs.

All hail, ye mighty pharmaceutical industries.[11]  I (almost) forgive you for coming up with scents named angel whispers and Creamy Custard® & Apple Cinnamon.

blow noses

*   *   *

Whatever the wind may carry this weekend, from angel whispers to Satan’s bugles, may it blow gently over you and yours this weekend, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] A yogi is a person who practices yoga.  Got that, Boo-Boo?

[2] My guess is the belly dancing exhibition that was taking place across from the bbq put on by the Masonic Temple (I am not making any of this up).

[3] Authors are never supposed to turn down an invitation to a public event and/or publicity. Unless they do.

[4] I used to, then found myself in the awkward situation of trying to get away from the table ASAP, as a glance at the covers and back pages of the books revealed that they were amateurish, obviously, self-published efforts…as in, really poorly written and in need of serious, competent editing.

[5] By my uncle Joe, accomplished match lighter, may he rest in peace.

[6] a high-pitched, keening wail of a fart, as if summoning Satan’s minions from one’s nether regions.

[7] I am not making this up, and you have to read the product reviews.

[8] Sorry.  Potty-pun unintentional. No shit really.

[9]  Because we all know what angel whispers smell like.

[11] In my case, the makers of generic Zyrtec.

The Bread I’m Not Winning

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Okay, so it’s not a gig in Beautiful Downtown Burbank.  Beautiful Downtown Beaverton’s First Friday  will have to do.

\
Next Friday – that’s one week from today, June 7 – two other authors and I will be participating in the monthly celebration of art and craft, live entertainment and refreshment that takes place in Beaverton’s core downtown area.  Look for me at Beaverton Sub Station (12248 SW Broadway) from 5-8p,[1] selling and signing copies of The Mighty Quinn and trying to be heard above the surrounding bands.

Be there or be…you know.

besquare

*   *   *

Summer preview

Aka, Department of 20-20 Hindsight

 With son K home from college and Belle with less than two full weeks of school left, I have begun yet again, to contemplate my work.  As in, I’m thinking about The Lack of What Should Get Done ® that happens during mid June through August.

Summer is a strange time for me.  The freedom I thought would get with the kids growing older – they’ll be monitoring (and transporting) themselves right? – it hasn’t happened yet.  The schedules (and interruptions) remain, and are more sporadic and unpredictable than during the school year. It’s still child care, in a different form and with slightly bigger britches (theirs, not mine.  I promise).

beach

I try to set lower professional goals for myself during the summer, both for my sanity’s sake and for the enjoy-the-time-with-the-kids-while-you-can thing.  The subject of professional goals provides a convenient segue to the department of If I’d known then what I know now:  I should have rented an office, or office space.  Or convinced MH that a condo or loft would be a good investment, and worked from there.

I didn’t need to read the recent articles on the brouhaha about working from home vs. going to the office to know the reality, for me.  In terms of professional productivity, going-to-the-office wins the mud wrestling match, no question.  Also, there is the delicate topic of respect, from both family and even working-away-from-home peers, [2] and the assumed responsibility for the lion’s share of household chores (because, after all, there you are, at home [3])…and the anecdotal but nonetheless real evidence:  the times when I have had regular opportunities (and a place) to work away from my home office, I got

So. Much. More Done.

Of course, the reality of writing literary fiction (read: pays next to nothing) does not justify the added business expense…unless you heed the adage of you’ve got to spend money to make money and with the extra time who knows how much more productive I could have been…and would that have translated into enough income to justify the investment?

Like a piece of speculative fiction written by a Gen-Y-er, this post is going nowhere.  It must be time to complain about some other aspect of The Writing Life. ©

*   *   *

Things About Which I Have Strong Opinions

I’ve said this before and will likely say it again:  the dirty little secret of writing fiction is that it is much easier to make money from other writers (“aspiring” or wannabes or actual writers) than it is from writing fiction.

ang

The various writers’ trade journals proclaim this reality with their print and classified ads and with their e-newsletters and weekly updates, all of which feature some come-on like the following, which was in a weekly e-update from one of the professional trade publications to which I subscribe: 

“PERFECT YOUR NOVEL – Writing a novel is tough, but polishing it is nearly impossible to do alone. With the Writers’ Hackathon Weekly [4]  Advanced Novel Writing course, writers don’t have to tackle the process alone!”

This is the point where any writer worth their post-it notes should slam the door shut in the face of the virtual door-to-door insurance peddler.

Polishing (your novel) is “nearly impossible to do alone” – WTF? Actually, it is quite possible.  Actually, writers do it all the time. Actually, 99.99% of novelists have somehow managed to “polish” their work themselves, without the being scammed into paying for the ripoff that is aid of writing tutorials, seminars, conferences, market trend analyses, MFA programs – all of which are relatively recent boils on the ass trends in the history of literature.

The ad goes on to tell you how the course’s instructor will work with certain chosen individuals, and concludes with this additional appeal to ego: 

“This course is not for beginners. Rather, it’s for writers who are ready to get published and want specific feedback on what’s working-or not-with their manuscripts. This is the final ascent to publication!”

The final ascent!  No wonder I feel a need to grab my oxygen mask – I’m almost to the top.  Oh, wait a minute – This course is not for beginners. Rather, it’s for writers who are ready to get published.  That sounds like a beginner’s mindset to me.  Not yet published, or not yet “ready” to be published?

My second piece of advice for writers (after the first, which is, never ask writers for advice on writing) is more warning then recommendation:  writing fiction is ultimately a solitary activity.  You do it by yourself, on your own, not with your writing tutor or your writing support group or your therapist, or your professor or your Ten Sure-Fire Steps To Success course instructor. 

“Of all the higher arts, it (writing) is the most self-taught…in the end, you have to find your own way.”   (John Updike)

*   *   *

Department of Much ado About Well, Duh

Conservative blogger and Fox News “personality” [5] Erick Erickson became the latest primitive mouthbreather to be pissing in his man-panties over the recently released PEW Research Social & Demographic Trends survey, [6]  which show that  40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family. [7]  Because, dude,, female breadwinners will destroy society as we know it.

(Cave) Men:  ooga chaka ooga ooga  chaka

Womans! Give us back our bread!

crazy-cabbie-caveman-dragging-woman-by-hair-in-hoboken

Someone pass the sourdough boule, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] The logical place for authors invited to your event is to give them space in a sandwich shop.

[2] “real work” involves leaving the house, and your working time is always interrupt-worthy because, after all, you work at home – you are your own boss and have flex hours and can set your own schedule, right?

[3] And if the cat comes in and barfs under your desk you have no choice but to clean it up, whereas it wouldn’t do that if your desk were somewhere else, and you could return home and like everyone else, pretend not to notice the mess until someone stepped in it.

[4] Not the publication’s real title.  Dammit.

[5] This is an identity?

[6] analyzing U.S. Census Bureau data.

[7]  “Breadwinner moms” breakdown:  37% are married mothers whose income is higher than their husbands, and 63% are single mothers, who, by definition (or so it seems to me) will have the highest income in their household if they have the only income in their household.

The Cufflinks I’m Not Inspired By

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 Cufflinks: these affordable imitations make you look rich at a fraction of the cost

I was thrilled to find out, via my email spam filter, that there is a more affordable way to fulfill my lifelong ambition to spend as little money as possible to “look rich.”

If I were a composer, that out-of-nowhere e-solicitation might be a source of artistic inspiration.  Odd/random snippets of information have provided the creative kick for many a song.  John Lennon famously wrote Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite after seeing a 19th century circus poster in an antique shop.  The brain nudge for yet another Lennon-penned track on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, Good Morning, came from a breakfast cereal commercial.

Most of the ideas for my stories have come from what I call the what-if? question.  Following a seemingly haphazard visual, auditory or personal encounter, I find myself asking questions and/or posing scenarios and wahoo, story outline.

Cufflinks.  What if?  Cufflinks…cufflinks…cufflinks….  Nothin.’

*   *   *

So, it’s officially launched.  The Mighty Quinn had its release date May 14, which means I was finally able to download my e-version of my own book.  My publisher, Scarletta Press,  had sent me my author’s copies and readers who’d preordered the paperback version on Amazon and Barnes & Noble told me they’d begun receiving their copies two weeks before the 14th.  I was able to get TMQ’s tantalizing icon on my ereader two weeks before the release date, but could not access it until that very day.  I wanted to e-whine into my Nook, but I’m the author; can’t I see how it looks on screen, pretty please?

And now, I know. Yikes, and with a capital Y.  Here’s how the title page looks when the screen is rotated long side vertical.:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

*   *   *

Last week was must-see TV week in this house, what with the series and season finales of The Office and Grey’s Anatomy.  And then there was this unexpected entertainment from that bastion of reasoned debate and civic discourse, Meet the Press, Face the Nation Geraldo at Large.

Confession: I’d never seen the show (which, judging from the title, I thought was a reality show about the host’s battle of the bulge), until alert media critics called to attention the episode with a certain, guaranteed-to-amuse guest.

Ostensibly on the program to dispute NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s public health initiatives, conservative political foghorn commentator Ann Coulter managed to steer her anti-nanny state tirade to one of her favorite topics: naughty gay sex.  The always blithering quotable Coulter’s best line:

“Sodomy: we all have to pay.”

That’ll be $200, in cash, up front, Ms. Coulter.  Leave it on the sink counter, next to the mint mouthwash.

Poor Ann, still paying for it.  No wonder she seems so agitated.  Someone, please, send her a link to Craig’s List Casual Encounters.

*   *   *

One prays for rain, one prays for sun;
they kneel in church together.
Which of them, do you suppose
will regulate the weather? [1]

When someone asked Humanist Rabbi Adam Chalom to pray for a friend who had breast cancer, Adam said, “I have a better idea — give me her phone number and I’ll call her. Talking to her to lift her spirits, and make her feel less alone and more cared for, will do much more for her than talking to anything else.” [2]

To many people, prayer apparently provides the illusion of compassion and intention.  “I’m praying for ____ (your job search, a cure for Nana’s cancer, the tornado/ flood/hurricane/bombing victims…).”  No matter how sincerely you may hold that thought, all you have is the self-comforting (read: selfish) delusion of doing something, when, in fact,

You. Have. Done. Absolutely. Nothing. Except. Pray.

People in trouble, people in need, need your actions, not your carefully arranged thought patterns.

My point is not to bash the ignorant praying masses, nor make light of the latest tornado tragedy.  My intention, as always, is to promote reason and look reality in the face (metaphorically speaking, of course.)

And then, there is Wolf Blitzer.

Need I say more?  No.  But I will.

In case you were on a media-free retreat in an Indian ashram this week (or perhaps busy crawling out of the tornado-flung –debris from which your Lord and Savior neglected to save you [3]), you’ve probably come across the Ultimate Newsman Fail clip, in which CNN Evangelist Snake Handler Blessings Giver correspondent Wolf Blitzer keeps pushing an Oklahoma tornado survivor to mouth the obligatory Natural Disaster Survivor’s Pious Blather ®  .  Blitzer prattles on about how Rebecca Vitsuan and her family have been “blessed,” and when he insists, “You gotta thank the Lord,” a visibly bemused and flustered Vitsmun  gives that BlitzHole more civility than he deserves by politely replying, uh, no, that’s not gonna happen, seeing as how she’s an atheist.

It would make for a fascinating on-camera moment to see a real “news” correspondent ask some religious person (preferably your average, Sally PraiseDeLawd and not Pat Robertson or other religious pros) [4] the following question:   Please explain your understanding of why all those faithful believers living in in the heart of the Bible Belt died (no doubt furiously praying their asses off as the wind howled around them), while that unrepentant atheist survived.

Okay. I understand why many people appeal to their deities and call for prayers during times of loss and tragedy.  It is something I did (with varying degrees of confidence in the efficacy of the act) when I called myself a believer; it is a cultural reflex, a part of the human struggle to attribute cause and effect – or assign blame – for events we don’t understand or burdens we feel powerless to ameliorate.

But please, leave the god talk out of natural disasters.

I was elated to see the Oklahoma elderly woman’s on-camera joy at discovering her dog beneath the rubble of her home, the dog she’d assumed was dead…even as I cringed to know what was coming – the thanking of a god for not only saving her, but her dog:

 “I thought god just answered one prayer; ‘let me be OK,’ but he answered both of them.”

I would never want to quash the woman’s delight at having her beloved canine companion back.  If I knew her personally, and had an ounce of respect for her intellect and sentience, after her recovery I’d hope she’d have the opportunity to consider the conflicting, disturbing implications of truly believing what she said on camera.

1) If this supernatural being you prayed to exists, you believe he [5] has the ability and the willpower to intervene in the natural world, which is why you prayed for him to rescue you, and your dog.

2) If you believe this god used his divine powers to rescue your dog you must also consider that he did so while allowing human beings, including children cowering in terror in their schools, to suffer horrific, crushing injuries, and die.

3) This same god is now the object of prayers of gratitude from survivors, and petitionary prayers to extend his comfort to the brokenhearted families whose dead children were somehow less worthy of divine protection and intervention than one old woman’s dog.

prayer

I am being advised, on Facebook, radio, television, email petitions, by people who don’t even know me (as well as by people who do and should know better), to pray and pray some more – this week, for the tornado survivors.  Next week will surely bring another prayer-worthy petition.

And I realize it isn’t considered kosher to bring up this Uh, wait a minute, are you really thinking this through?  issue in times of trouble – or at any time, in a culture as superficial as ours.  Pandering religious sound bites of gratitude and “comfort” are the norm, and it’s a popular move for politicians, media mouthpieces and other public figures to Thank God for ____ or announce, as one newscaster did this week, while viewing footage of a tornado-razed school,  “We pray they [the faculty and children of a Plaza Towers Elementary] were somewhere else.” [6] But true religious believers cannot be taken seriously when they (claim to) apply reason to the rest of their lives, and then perform mental gymnastics worthy of an Olympic medal when it comes to their theology or worldview.

If your deity is all-knowing, it knew the tornado was coming yet “said” nothing. If your deity is all-powerful, it watched the tornado and did nothing. If your deity is all-loving and compassionate, it did not warn its beloved followers and  it did not prevent their violent deaths by stopping the tornado as it was being formed or by redirecting it to an empty prairie.

The deity whom you believe formed the universe with a thought and animated humanity with its breath and commanded a 40 day flood to rain upon the earth, this deity was unable to affect a minor change in barometric pressure to morph the tornado into a harmless rainstorm.  And no running away from it with the “the gods work in mysterious ways” crap.  If a god is unable to act, then it isn’t much of a god.  If you believe that this (or any) god exists then you must consider that this god twiddled its divine thumbs while a school building collapsed upon the heads of terrified and screaming children.

Social media has, of course, proven to be yet another venue for perpetuating the prayer nonsense…and also combating it, or at least pointing out its ultimate inefficacy.  An example of this is comic/actor/director and atheist Ricky Gervais,’s marvelous reaction to trending Twitter hashtags #PrayForOklahoma and #PrayersForOklahoma.

When MTV News tweeted, “Beyonce, Rihanna & Katy Perry send prayers to #Oklahoma #PrayForOklahoma,” Gervais’s commented:  “I feel like an idiot now.  I only sent money.”

Gervais went on to promote #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma, and suggested his 4.6 million followers give $10 to the American Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts

Oh, and back to the dog. As caught on camera, the stunned puppy peeking out from the rubble was saved by human hands.  Humans lifted up the debris.  Humans pulled the dog to safety, held the trembling, whimpering animal, and comforted it.  No matter what their supposed motivation or attribution, it is our fellow human beings who pull us from the wreckage, help us heal, and rebuild.

*   *   *

In order not to end on too serious a note, have you ever wondered what would happen if you did a search for cutest reptile in the world?

lizard1

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Variously attributed to “Anonymous”

[2] Event also cited in author Dale McGowan’s insightful, witty and compassionate blog, The Meming of Life

[3] Or caused to be flung upon you. If you believe your deity is in control of such things.

[4] or at least waiting until the professionals have finished blaming those storm-causing homos

[5] I’m using the male pronoun because the elderly women did. Although I believe all supernatural beliefs, mythologies and superstitions to be gender inclusive.

[6] They weren’t.  Seven children died.)

The First Lady I’m Not Tweeting

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Get Mighty!

Nice way to start the week.  Really!  This (part of the) post is sarcasm-free!  And full of exclamation marks!  Because, why not?!

On Monday Scarletta Press’s publicist forwarded the following email from the Children’s Book Council.  As for the CBC’s Tweet suggestions, the mere thought of that particular networking service gets me all twitter-pated, but any of you readers are also tweeters, feel free to pass along the news. [1]  Especially if you have Michelle Obama’s ear. [2]

Congratulations, The Mighty Quinn was selected for the CBC’s Hot Off The Press and is featured on our homepage! Here are some sample Tweets to help you promote your title’s feature. We’ll be spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter

Get mighty! ‘The Mighty Quinn’ by Robyn Parnell is on @CBCBook Hot Off The Press! http://bit.ly/14JshQB #HOTP

This book is hot! ‘The Mighty Quinn’ was chosen for @CBCBook Hot Off The Pess! http://bit.ly/14JshQB

*   *   *

Rewind to Saturday, which had served as a more humbling reminder of the realities of publicity events.  My press’s publicist had arranged for me to do a reading at an elementary school’s Earth Day project, to tie-in with one of The Mighty Quinn’s subplots. [3].  The school’s students and parents would be working with coordinators of an environmental stewardship group (which I’ll refer to as Greengood. Sorry.) to plant trees and otherwise “beautify” their schoolyard.

We (MH, daughter Belle and moiself) showed up at the time suggested by the school’s Greengood coordinator.  It took several minutes to find the Person In Charge; the event was, uh, disorganized, to say the least…which I’d expected as per past experience. [4]

The event organizer and her comrades were Bright, Perky and Chirpy.  And young.  Very young.  Nothing wrong with that, but did I mention that they were young?

Although the BPCs had placed signs up all over the school (“12: 30 p special event: Robyn Parnell, Storyteller”), they hadn’t given any thought as to where I would do the reading.

The Storyteller spot they decided on at the last minute was in front of a bunch of picnic tables outside the school gym, from which recorded music was blaring.  Horrible, as in, really awful acoustics (I did get them to turn off the music).

Adults and kids were taking a break from tree planting, and some twenty boxes of pizza had arrived.  Two BPCs said they’d organize the adults to do cleanup/lunch prep and call in the kids from the playground for the reading.  That didn’t go exactly as planned.

The adults (and many kids) kept wandering in and out of the picnic table area, before and during my reading, and the noise level was quite high.  It became obvious to me that most of the kids had their eyes and attention spans focused on the pizza to come.  Fortunately, the excerpts I’d picked were short…and I made them even shorter when I realized that some of the adults (who had not listened to the BPC instructions, imagine that) had begun to pass out the pizza.

Life Lesson, #367 in a series:  Prose is no competition for pepperoni.

georege

My reading began and ended with excerpts of a chapter in the book where students are doing a community service project and one of the characters asks, “Is it time for lunch?”  That segue seemed to be appreciated by the, oh, six kids who were actually paying attention at that point.

The highlight:  one kid, as I was setting up, asked if I would be doing a puppet show.  S/he [5] seemed disappointed when I explained that I would be reading a passage from my (puppet-free) book, and s/he asked if it would be okay for to leave “if it gets boring.”

Yeah, sure, kid.  Don’t let the seesaw hit you in the *&# on your way to the playground.

I did not say that.  I did let the kid play with the frog clicker I’d brought along (no puppets, but a prop!), and s/he stayed for the reading.

During the reading MH & Belle distributed flyers about community service ideas (the flyers were provided by Scarletta Press, quite beautifully done…with a couple of mentions of the book, of course).  After the pizza break MH, Belle and I helped mulch the newly planted trees.  The reading break may have been disorganized but the adults and students had done a lot of work: over 70 trees planted on the school yards and perimeter!

Highlight, the sequel:  the kids who planted the trees got to name the trees, which I thought was a delightful way to have students make a connection to the tree, and thus be more likely to care for them.  A Douglas Fir was named…wait for it… “Dougie,” and a red maple was named “Elena,” and so on.  One tree was named “Bob,” a cause for an apology of sorts from one of the parents, when she saw me reading the tree’s name tag.

“It’s, uh, not a very distinctive name, is it?” she stammered.

“What’s wrong with Bob?” MH (son of Robert, aka “Bob”) wanted to know.

*   *   *

Gracefully segueing to another school-related topic (and, as it happens, another Bob).  Bob Davis, this Asshat’s for you:

AHat

 Minnesota radio host Bob Davis said he would like to tell the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims to “go to hell” for infringing on his gun rights.  Yep, Bob Davis’s message for the bereaved parents is that having to submit to a background check is a greater tragedy than them burying their children.

There are no words for this.  Although a few enthusiastic hand gestures come to mind.

*  *  *

As per enthusiastic gestures, I’d like to ask a certain group of public servants to run their priorities up their flagpole and salute ‘em.

Calling all Oregon State Legislators:
the Capitol House janitorial staff has found your cojones, concealed behind the sawdust-filled barf bucket in the Capitol Rotunda’s broom closet. 

The great and groovy state of Oregon faces many contentious challenges, including updating our aging infrastructure, grappling with the dilemma of underfunded and underperforming public schools, and fixing a dysfunctional Public Employees Retirement System.  Thus, our intrepid legislators, forging new pathways in the spirit of the Oregon Trail, decided to devote time, energy and $$ during the recently convened 2013 Legislative Session to a bill to require all Oregon school districts to display the US flag in each classroom and have students salute it once daily during school hours.

Really.  House Bill 3014 passed the Oregon House of Representatives and is now headed for the State Senate.

Photo showing the old salute, taken in May 1942 in Southington, CT

Photo showing the old salute, taken in May 1942 in Southington, CT

Caption: Photo showing the old salute, taken in May 1942 in Southington, CT, just one month before the new salute became official.

Rep. Sal Esquivel, (R – Medford) is the bill’s chief knuckle-dragger in charge of do-nothingism masking as patriotism sponsor.  Esquivel believes the Pledge of Allegiance teaches students about the nation’s legacy.  “We need to teach kids the symbolism of that flag,” Esquivel said. “That flag stands for America. That flag stands for your freedoms. That flag stands for everything this country’s ever done, has been or will be in the future.”

It might behoove Esquivel to teach himself the literal meaning behind that flag symbolism.  Is he unaware of our country’s history of civil and constitutional rights? Does he understand that the right to free speech includes the freedom from  making loyalty oaths to the king government, particularly when those oaths violate that very government’s constitution by promoting religion?  Are Esquivel and the bill’s supporters going to mandate that schoolchildren be taught the history of The Pledge to That Flag, including:

*  that somehow the country survived for over 100 years without a pledge[6]
*  that the “under God” reference was not added until over 60 years after the pledge was written [7]
*  that the original pledge salute was one stiff arm outstretched toward the flag, [8] a posture later used by a certain German dictatorship?

“We’re dealing with schoolchildren and with role models in schools who are required to lead it. The circumstances are inherently fraught with compulsion or coercion and we feel that’s a violation of church-state separation.”  (Anti-Defamation League, Nov. 14, 2003)

My own OR State Representative, whose energy and idealism I respect – and whose pragmatism I grudgingly understand – voted for the bill.  Ick ick ick, I sez, even  I realize that once such a piece of festering crap legislation is introduced  it’s a no-win situation for any representative – particularly a newbie to the game [9] – to oppose it, or point out why such provisions are unnecessary, wasteful, silly and even sinister distractions from the real, pressing issues at hand.  Any politician doing so would be subject to knee-jerk disloyalty accusations from the why-do-you-hate-America, drool bucket for brains crowd, and political rivals would relish the chance to use a “He voted against the flag! And the Pledge!” sound bite during the next election.

I can’t help but wonder what the legislature’s next efficient use of taxpayer monies might be.  Perhaps they’ll form a committee to find and replace all the currency we frisky Freethinkers have been desecrating correcting; i.e., the dollar bills with “In God We Trust’ scratched out on the back.

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Break out the Sharpies

*   *   *

I can only be pissed off at politicians for so long — this weekend is the Oregon Potters Association convention!  The annual Ceramic Showcase, the nation’s largest exhibit and sale of pottery items ranging from sculpture to garden art to home accessories, is  at the Oregon Convention Center, Friday through Sunday.  Pottery-loving friends and I have made it a yearly tradition to mark our calendars and attend on the opening day.  After years of showcases I’ve no room in the house for pottery, be it decorative or functional…ah, but what do I see outside my office window?  An artless yard? [10]  And there always seems to be room for just one more visage on the Wall of Faces.

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*   *   *

Wishing y’all a weekend of friendly faces.  Let the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] This is as close as I’ll get to groveling.  Until next week.

[2] Or whatever part of the body one uses when tweeting.

[3] Environmental protection/community service.  Silly do-gooder stuff.

[4] I’d given a mild warning to my publicist; still, it had been years since I’d had anything to do with a Greengood event, and I hoped for the best.

[5] Not to get all Gender Police, but really, I couldn’t tell.  Nor could MH and Belle, when I later (and discretely) consulted with them.

[6] The pledge of allegiance was originally written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a socialist magazine writer.

[7] In 1954, amid the anti-commie hysteria, by Pres. Eisenhower and Congress, at the urging of a minister.

[8] Someone in the 1940s noticed  that it resembled that, uh,  other salute, and it was formally replaced by Congress with the now-customary, hand-on-heart.,

[9] Ben Unger ( D- Dist. 29) is a first-time representative, elected last November.

[10] Garden gnome free!

The Baby Sloth I’m Not Wrangling

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Some pre-release book publicity for a good cause? Forgive the self-serving if ostensibly noble combination.

Oak Grove Elementary School in Milwaukie, Oregon is having an Earth Day/work-party day this Saturday, April 20th.  Tree planting, courtyard sprucing and other activities will begin at 10 am, followed at 12 noon by a pizza party, and a reading (for kids young and old) by yours truly, from The Mighty Quinn.  Check http://www.solv.org/get-involved/events/oak-grove-elementary-earth-day-beautification-project for directions and more details.

No matter what your plans, on this upcoming Earth Day weekend there are plenty of other ways to Love Your Mother (Earth, that is).

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*   *   *

“There’s pretty much sloths everywhere you look around here.”

Does that quote sound familiar?  If you think heard something like it, perhaps from the HR person during your interview tour of your company’s cubicle land, then it’s time to look for a new job.  Here’s the title of my dream job:  Baby Sloth Wrangler, at the Costa Rica Sloth Sanctuary.

School spirit: Try to contain your enthusiasm.

school-assembly

I’ve occasionally received text messages from my offspring when they were stuck at a mandatory snorefest high school assembly.  Typically, they were bored out of their gourds by the blah blah blah from their school’s administrators and/or lame “artistic” presentations from fellow students.  I, on the other hand,[1] remember my high school’s assemblies with fondness.  The assemblies were rare and welcome breaks from routine, and were also, for the most part, entertaining, with little to no speechifying by adults/administration.

From what son K has told and now daughter Belle is telling me, their high school finds numerous reasons to have assemblies, often merely to disseminate school/logistical information that could have easily been relayed via the teacher, in the classroom…information that is forgotten five minutes after the assembly has ended.

There are those kind of assemblies.  And then, there are other assemblies.

Yesterday around noon I received the following text from Belle, during her school’s assembly, at which the choir and band were to perform.

OMG…this assembly is cursed.  The color guard did a performance, and one girl got hit with her gun in the face and bled everywhere.  Then ___ (Belle’s friend from the track team) passed out in the stands and had to be carried out.

Don’t think they’ll be forgetting this one so soon.

*   *   *

The Boston Marathon bombs.  At the time I’m writing this, those responsible have not been apprehended, nor identified.  Much has already been said about the tragedy.  One thing hasn’t:  that such horrific incidents only go to show, in this Bright’s opinion, how the most basic tenet of a certain theology gets it all dead wrong.

I’m referring to Original Sin and other such mental ass cheek flapping religious doctrines that teach of an innate, even inherited, fallen humanity.

There are seven bajillion of us on this planet.  If human beings were truly and inherently evil at the core of their being, we would have blown ourselves up – we would have torn each other to pieces – a long, long time ago.

Look for the good, the kind, the rational, the helpful.  You don’t have to look far. Yes, there are some incredibly sadistic asshats[2] fighting for slop space in this world.  And there are the others. They don’t usually make the headlines, because there are so many of them.

I saw footage and photos of people in Boston, from professional first responders and civilian bystanders, running to help their fellow human beings.  People were running toward the sites of the still-smoldering explosions, even as they had no way of knowing whether there were more blasts to come.

humanist

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

(Fred Rogers)

*   *   *

One of my favorite dialog sequences from one of my favorite movies, The American President.

Janie (Presidential Aide) : The 10:15 event has been moved inside to the Indian Treaty Room.  

President Andrew Shepherd: 10:15 is American Fisheries?  

Janie: Yes, sir. They’re giving you a 200-pound halibut.  

The President: Janie, make a note. We need to schedule more events where somebody gives me a really big fish.  

Janie: Yes sir. [starts making note]  

The President: Janie, I’m kidding.  

Janie: [Stops and starts to smile] Of course, sir.

After a trip to our favorite market, the awesome New Seasons, I realized I needed to do more grocery shopping where somebody gives my daughter a really big fish. [3]

fish

*   *   *

Dateline:  long ago in a galaxy far, far away. [4] It was a beautiful, Bay Area day, clear blue skies, mid-70s with no breeze.  A co-worker had called to trade shifts at Planned Parenthood, so my morning was free. I had work to do, but even a freethinker like moiself who scoffs at the s-word knew it would be a sin to work indoors.  It was the perfect day for one of my favorite drives: taking La Honda Road (highway 84) to the coast.

Sitting in my favorite spot under a sandstone cliff facing the ocean, I had the beach (San Gregorio) to myself.  Midway through editing the final draft of a story, I looked toward the water and saw a man and his golden retriever walking in the shallow surf.  Man and dog turned inland, headed in my direction, and attempted to make conversation. [5]

“Great day, thought we had the beach to ourselves….”  Man’s banter was neither interesting nor original, but also not (intentionally nor particularly) annoying.  He was friendly…and also sliding into flirtatious.  I was polite but not encouraging.  I made a point of petting his dog and shooing his dog away from my manuscript and shaking the sand off of said manuscript with my left hand, making sure that my wedding band was on display.

He soon got around to, “Whatcha working on?,” a question I’ve since learned how  to deflect [6] .  I thought if I answered him truthfully – if he realized that, indeed, I was not on holiday but was working – he’d half-heartedly apologize for the intrusion and be on his way.  Instead, I had found myself in what is a fairly a common experience for writers:  receiving unsolicited advice from a non-writer as to how, or what, a writer should write.

He incorrectly assumed that I was a novice, unpublished writer.  Wishing not to prolong our interaction, I did not disabuse him of that assumption.  “I hear fiction, for adults, is really, like, difficult to break into,” he offered, with a wide-eyed look that was obviously intended to be helpful.  “Have you ever thought of working your way up, by, uh, like, writing stuff for children, first?”

He seemed taken aback at my hearty guffaw, and his expression quickly morphed from helpful to confused as he found an excuse to return to his dog walking duties.

“If you write comedy, you’re sitting at the children’s table.”
(Woody Allen)

children's table

A common misconception among non-writers is that writing “for children” is somehow easier, and less prestigious, than writing “for adults.”  Authors who’ve been published across the various (and somewhat arbitrary) age groupings scoff at the former notion even as they grapple with the latter – that a “children’s author” is a second class citizen in the world of literature.

This snobbery sometimes comes from a select list of fellow writers, those who take themselves and their I Am an Author of Important Lit-ra-chure credentials oh-so-seriously.  These writers are invested in this alleged hierarchy of prestige, and wish to maintain what they see as the ghetto of being on the children’s list.  And yet, the children’s list is a relatively recent phenomenon.  It was only twelve years ago that the New York Times Book Review made the controversial decision to start a children’s bestseller list, separate from that of adult fiction.  This was due in part to the rumored complaints by some self-styled Big Boy writers who got their Serious Literary Underpants ® in a knot when they found themselves increasingly sharing (read: ceding) top rankings with Harry Potter  [7].

But, apparently, sharing list-space with Fifty Shades of Meh or the latest “adult” schlock literary sensation is reputable…enough.

When I was invited by local schools to do readings of my first children’s book, My Closet Threw a Party, the teachers usually introduced me (to their students, and/or to other school staff) as a writer, or sometimes as a “children’s writer.”  When it was the latter, I gently corrected the distinction…and then had to explain why I wasn’t objecting to it, but simply felt that it was inaccurate.

Although I write for all ages, the vast majority of my published works have been for an adult audience.  I’m just a writer.  I didn’t feel then, nor do I feel now, that being referred to as a “Children’s Author” is in any way depreciatory.  Quite the opposite.  If anything, I feel I am not deserving of the moniker.  I can’t think of a better kind of writer to be.  Think about it:  who – truly, deeply and loyally – loves a book more than a child?

*   *   *

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
(Groucho Marx)

Get your favorite book, for children of all ages (I’m partial to Green Eggs and Ham), turn on the light inside your dog, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] On the other hand…you have different fingers.

[2] Including the talking heads who insinuate the identities of the perpetrators when they have no reliable evidence.

[3] Our freezer is full of halibut filets, halibut scraps for fish cakes, halibut stock for halibut chowder….

[4] The Bay Area “peninsula,” 20+ years ago.  Is that long ago/far far away enough?

[5] The man talked.  The dog slobbered.

[6] People often have strange reactions when encountering a writer, writing. Sometimes I just say I’m an editor.

[7] By 2001 the top three places on the hardcover fiction list were held by JK Rowling titles, and a fourth Harry Potter book was on its way.

The Woodpecker I’m Not Strangling

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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.

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