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The Hat I’m Not Talking Through

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

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

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

OHNOO

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

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

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

can you name the celebrity armpit that looks like fruit?

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

*   *   *

horn tooting

Shameless self promotion, the continuing series

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

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

BookPorchesAnth

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

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

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

Emperor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ollie Ollie oxen free!"

“Ollie Ollie oxen free!”

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

True.  However….

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

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

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

romney_mormon_underwear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The I’m Erotic Cattle Abduction Scene I’m Not Writing

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Some authors should not go there

Sex.  As in, writing a sex scene. I find myself either yawning or cringing – sometimes both [1] – when I read them.  Rarely have I found a fictional account of a sexual encounter to be anything other than mildly ludicrous at best, and wonder, is this claptrap supposed to be erotic?

No entendre, double or otherwise, intended with the use of the word claptrap.  Although it would make a good title for a murder mystery novel.

Claptrap :  While on vacation in New York City, Kenyan homicide detective Yawanna Ubangi gets drawn into the investigation of an apparent female serial killer, a Femme Fatale whose M.O. involves weakening her lovers through intentional gonorrhea infections….

Hot damn, I may be on to something. I shall have to restrain myself, until I’m at least done with the first draft of the next Quinn book.

Once again, I digress.  Back to bad sex.

Case in point, the book I am currently reading.  I like the plot and most of the characters; I want to like the book in toto, but the author is making it difficult for me to do so.  There is something off-putting about the prose style I can’t quite put my finger on, and then, there are the intermittent sex scenes between the protagonist and her husband that make me never to want to put a finger on anything, ever again.  Not only are the sexual encounters awkwardly written IMHO, they are so…perfunctory, mechanical, and terse .[2]   I find myself wondering, in the most basic, high school Literature Evaluation sense, why are these scenes in the book in the first place?  What plot point or character reference do they serve to illustrate or advance?  Did the author feel obligated to include a minimum amount of whoopee, or was it an editor’s misguided marketing strategy (“There’s no sex in this book, FFS!”) ?

BADSEXjpg

*   *   *

Yet another reason not to follow a link on Facebook and end up wasting far too much time blowing steam about some hypercritical misanthrope

The link to a Huffington Post opinion piece was posted by friend RN, with the question, “You know, this is how A__ (RN’s partner) and I roll, too.  Are we extremists?”

After reading the article I had to wonder if RN had read it all the way through, for although I know that RN & A___ have generous spirits and kind hearts and have opened their home to rescue dogs, I can’t imagine they are anything like the extremely judgmental lady dick who wrote An Open Letter to the Person Who Left This Sweet Dog at the Kill Shelter.

The article is a hostile, self-congratulatory screed by a self-described “blogger, Dog Lover,” who takes to task – and threatens the safety of – the person who surrender an elderly dog with multiple health issues to a “kill” shelter.

“Warning – it’s not easy to read,” RN wrote re the article, referring to the details of the poor dog’s plight, I assumed.  Assumption #2: I anticipated my reaction would be similar to RN’s, until I followed the link and read the article…and felt compelled to reply:

Uh, it’s not easy to read because the author is a vile, judgmental, sanctimonious narcissist, who in truth knows little to nothing about the situations that may have led to a family surrendering their dog. 

My daughter and I volunteered for a no-kill animal organization [3]  and we met some of those people. “Pet surrenders” increased dramatically with the downturn of the economy, and for every jerk who turned in a pet that they just didn’t want anymore there were two grieving families, heartbroken over the fact that they had lost their jobs and their homes and/or leases (yes, our organization researched these surrenders and checked references), had no friends or family to take their beloved pet and had to choose between buy their own diabetes medication or their son’s anti-seizure drugs…. 

What little information is on an animal surrender intake sheet does not tell the whole story, and people are often reluctant and embarrassed to reveal their private miseries. That self-congratulating dog rescuer may have a heart for animals but I wish s/he’d extend the same compassion toward his fellow bipeds.

I could have gone on, could have mentioned the heartbreak of seeing the elderly pets “surrendered” by their elderly, loving owners who had fought for years to be able to stay in their own homes but due to illness/disability/dementia were entering nursing homes and had exhausted every resource to find a home for their beloved animal companions – stories way too complicated to fit on an intake form…. And no-kill shelters almost always have a waiting list.  A very long waiting list.  To assume that any person who “surrenders” an animal does so voluntarily and cavalierly frosts my butt.

And so, Blogger-dog-lover, this asshat’s for you:

AHat

*   *   *

It was time to send another care package to K, up at UPS.  I gathered a motley assortment of silly items ® and went to a certain store to get some cheap junk food inexpensive nutritious snacks to fill out the box. I also got him one of those paper fold out turkey centerpieces (one dollar, such a deal!), and wrote my suggested instructions on it: K should wait until his housemates are out, assemble the hideous thing tasteful decoration and place it atop the dining table. Once its presence has been noticed he should deny all knowledge of how it got there, and suggest that they have been the victims of yet another drive-by centerpiecing.

TURKEY

 Anyway….

I placed my items on the checkout counter conveyor belt along with my own bag, and for some reason flashed back to the first time I’d brought my reusable bag to the store (the name of which rhymes with Collar Free):  The clerk seemed to be in a hurry, and started shoving my items into a plastic bag seemingly before they’d touched the conveyor belt.  “Oh, wait please.” I waved my cloth bag while stating the obvious. “I brought my own bag.” The clerk’s eyes grew wide with concern as she transferred my items from the store’s bag to mine.  “I’m sorry,” she said, in the measured, you may want to sit down for this tone usually reserved for telling someone their favorite auntie has died, “But I can’t give you a discount for using your own bag. Store policy; it’s still a dollar, for everything.”

Uh, yeah, that’s fine. That’s not why I bring my own shopping bag, to get five cents off my total.  I didn’t even think of the bag rebate until you called it to my attention…but, now that you mention it, the injustice is sinking in and I am outraged, I am appalled, utterly appalled. GODDAMMIT I WANT MY NICKLE REFUND!  I AM NOT LEAVING THIS STORE UNTIL I GET MY NICKLE BACK OR YOU GIVE ME ONE OF YOUR PLASTIC BAGS.

REUSALE

It has rained several times this week, after last week’s glorious burst of late summer sun and high temperatures. The first rainstorm of the season – I love the way it smells.  For some people, the return of the rain is enervating, but I find it energizing.  The harbinger of autumn, my favorite season. Bring it on.

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SOAPBOX

One of my favorite comics from one of my favorite comic strips, Bizarro, shows two couples, beverage tumblers in hand, meeting at an outdoor party.  The husband of one of the couples extends his toward the other couple and says, “Hello, we’re the Hendersons. You must be the non-Hendersons.”

I can't afford whatever the fee would be to borrow a Bizarro comic, so use your imagination here.

I can’t afford whatever the fee would be to borrow a Bizarro comic, so use your imagination.

This shall make sense; bear with me.

The first rain of the season reminded me of other firsts.  Three of We (MH, Belle and I) are attending the FFRF’s [4] annual convention later this month.  This will be Belle’s first, Mark’s third and my fourth FFRF convention.  I’ve been fondly recalling one of the more thought-provoking moments at my first convention, which occurred during the convention’s customary non-prayer breakfast [5] .  The charming elderly gentleman seated next to me at breakfast outed himself as a “non-atheist.”  He said that although his wife was a “long-time atheist” he was a theist, and that he found it educational, intriguing and humbling to be in the minority, as he was likely one of the few non-atheists in the room.  Isn’t it funny, I replied, that you’re sitting next to another minority member…only in that I do not call myself an atheist.

I think words are incredibly important; they are what we humans, a non-telepathic species, use to communicate ideas.  And I can get picky about labels. Although some might find it amusing if not presumptuous for a freethinker to even attempt to persuade other freethinkers to think differently, I don’t like the atheist label and wish those who claim the word would claim…something else, instead.

There are several reasons for my dislike of the term.  For one, I find it to be a misnomer.  Also, I think Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, Skeptics and others who accept and even embrace the A-label are making a semantic as well as a strategic/public relations mistake.

One of the best pieces of parenting advice MH and I received was that when it came to discipline we would need to “choose our battles” wisely.  We found that to be true; there are things not worth the fuss, and others that are so worth fighting for.  I think the battle to claim or rehabilitate the word atheist is futile; it has too many negative connotations and associations.  Of course, those associations were and are concocted and perpetuated by the religious and are largely and historically inaccurate, but since when has acknowledging that fact corrected a firmly entrenched misperception?  [6]

Personally, I’ve no “fear” of being called an atheist.  To the contrary, being thusly labeled has provided many an Entertaining Educational Moment, when I’ve reminded the person who used the word that we’re all atheists vis-à-vis our stance on other gods/religions, and that it is only relatively recently that “atheism” has come to mean a lack of belief in any gods (historically, an atheist was someone who didn’t believe in the god you believed in, and so Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Pagans, Moslems and Hindus have all been referred to, by those outside their respective religions, as atheists).

But that Educational Moment, no matter how entertaining, ultimately misses the point.  For if we are all Something in relation to Something Else, then Something has no specific meaning.  I find the Something that is atheism to be imprecise, and so I correct someone who applies that term to me, just as I would correct a mispronunciation of my name or misstatement of my height. [7]

The religious generally try to understand or dismiss atheism as just another (“false”) religion. That’s silly, of course, but that’s how they, in their minds, can handle it. One reason they get away with this is that self-labeled atheists involuntarily abet such faulty reasoning by allowing themselves to be defined in religious terms by religious people.  But atheism isn’t a religion, a philosophy, or even a world view. It’s not even an ism.

In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

"I believe, Elsie, I believe!"

“I believe, Elsie, I believe!”

I am not religious, and thus find it improper and even rude to be defined in terms of what I do not do, believe, or practice.  I am not a negation of something; like anyone else, I want to be defined positively, on my own terms, not in terms of my relation to someone or something else.  When it comes to politics, I’m an Independent, not an anti-Democrat, un-Republican, de-Green Party or dis-Libertarian.  I’m not an a-astrologist, a-New-Ager or a-theist; I am a Freethinker, a Humanist, a Skeptic, a Bright.

Let’s say I’m visiting my Floridian, Republican, Lutheran, tennis-loving, Gucci satchel-toting mother-in-law, Gladys. [8]  And let’s say Gladys gives the following description of me to her neighbor, Jethro:  “Her name is not Gladys, she’s not from Florida, she’s an a-Republican and an a-Lutheran, she’s not a tennis player or an Italian purse carrier, and she’s not my daughter.”

While technically correct, that description provides no pertinent information about me.  Jethro knows nothing of what I am, only a little bit of what, in relation to Gladys, I am not.

Another reason I don’t like the term atheist is that it elevates theism to the #1 position of the many things in whose existence or veracity I don’t believe.  It gives the false assumption that there is something out there (a supernatural world and/or deities) to deny. Yes, I do not believe in the existence of deities, but I also don’t believe in demons or ghosts or fairy godmothers or homeopathy or astrology or the trickle-down theory, either.

Most religious folk think they know what an atheist is, does and/or believes, but, in my humble opinion and experience, even the most academically challenged Fundamentalists can be intrigued by the unfamiliar.  Call yourself an atheist (or allow them to do so) and in their eyes, you’re pegged – beginning/end of discussion.   Call yourself a Freethinker, a Bright, a Skeptic, and you’ve set their ears (and sometimes…gasp…even their minds) atwitching.  (“Freethinker?  What exactly do you mean by that?”).

As a Bright, I hold a naturalistic worldview, free of supernatural and mystical elements.  As a Freethinker, I hold that opinions or beliefs of reality should be based on science, logic and reason, independent of religion, authority, “tradition” or dogmas. As a Skeptic, I take a provisional approach to all fantastic declarations, and support the application of science and reason to test the validity of any and all claims. As a Humanist, I hold a progressive philosophy of life that bases my values and actions on a naturalistic worldview and affirms my ability and responsibility to lead an ethical life that aspires to the greater good of humanity.  And yes, if you are a religious believer you may call me an atheist (but be prepared for me to point out that you’re the one who’s the theist, not me, a- or otherwise).

Bright, Freethinker, Skeptic, Humanist, Happy Heathen, Apostate, Atheist, Heretic – I will embrace or tolerate any of those terms.  Although my title of choice would be “T’Saywhat, Galactic Sovereign of the Terran System.”

ZSAQUEEN

Queen T’Saywhat’s philosophy is to protect and enhance the earth, to enjoy life in the here and cultivate moral excellence, maturity and common human decency.  She would exercise her Galactic monarchical responsibility by requiring all humans to meditate upon the truths illustrated herein:

Get that Captain a charcoal seat cushion, and let the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Which I am able to do thanks to years of yoga practice.

[2] Not that I’m complaining about a poorly written scene not dragging on and on and on….

[3] over five years with C.A.T. Cat Adoption Team

[4] The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s objective is to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to non-theism.

[5] Which begins with a “moment of bedlam” instead of a moment of silence.  Such fun before 9 am is illegal in most Islamsit countries. You really gotta be there.

[6] Greater and more articulate minds than mine have argued for dropping the A-label – most notably author and neurobiologist Sam Harris at the Atheist Alliance Conference, for which he was burned at the rhetorical stake, so to speak.  Hmm, are there Atheist Fundies?

[7] I am taller than you think.  I am taller than I think…in my dreams.

[8] Neither her real name nor her taste in handbags.

The Keys I’m Not Losing

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Lettuce and Taters and Beets, oh my!

Okay, no potatoes this week, but there be lettuce and beets, and an extra share of beet greens (hands down and earlobes up, my favorite greens), plus “dinosaur” kale, [1] broccoli, green beans, spaghetti squash, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, garlic, hot kung pao peppers and sweet red and yellow sweet peppers and basil….

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All in our weekly CSA share.  La Finquita del Buho was bountiful this week. Fresh hot peppers will lead the way for tonight’s dinner…whatever it shall be.  All I know is that it will be tahini-free.  I usually love the stuff, but I happen to be holding a grudge.

*   *   *

That’s the last time I help an old man find tahini

I have one of those faces, or attitudes, or combination of attributes – oh, fine, surrender to the woo-woo:  I apparently project an aura that leads some people to think I know Where Things Are.  In general, no problem.  Today, ’twas the impetus for the panic experienced by Mature Individuals [2] that can only come from fearing you’ve lost something vital (today it’s the car keys, tomorrow it’s my offsprings’ names… how many kids do I have, anyway?).

Perhaps it was the fact that I was staring at packages of dried chilies with a look of smug disappointment (what kind of Hispanic Foods section doesn’t carry dried ancho chili peppers?!). There were other people wandering the aisles of the grocery store, store employees, included, but FOG (Friendly Older Gentleman) thought I was the one to help him find something “exotic.

FOG approached me, and asked if I happened to know where he could find…he paused and looked down at his shopping list…tahini? I led him to where I thought that item should be shelved [3], Et voilà !   We chatted amiably about his dinner plans, FOG showing me the shopping list his wife had written for him and both of us chuckling at his admission that he had no idea what tahini was and had wondered, Did she mean I’m supposed to find a condiment from Tahiti?  He gently squeezed my forearm, patted me on the shoulder and thanked me several times for my assistance.  I wished him a happy and tasty dinner, and took my bag to the checkout counter.

As I was unloading my bag at the counter I answered the clerk’s customary query, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” honestly:  Well,everything but Mexican oregano and dried ancho chili peppers.  With a look of confusion that morphed into concern, the clerk scanned my items and returned them to my bag and asked, “Did you try looking in the Mexican Foods section?” I smiled and nodded, keeping my Whaddya think, considering that four of the eight items in my bag came from the Mexican Foods section? to myself.

And then, no car keys.  Could not find them.  Maybe they fell into my grocery bag?  Nope.  I returned to the checkout counter and alerted the clerk. I retraced my steps throughout the store (asking every store employee along the way if they’ve found any car keys), exited the store to the parking lot and retraced my route into the store.   checked everywhere, checked every item on my person, giving myself a pat down worthy of a horny/ethically challenged TSA agent.  Nada.

I girded my loins and told myself to calm down, things could be worse…

KEYS

 …and made the Phone Call of Panic and Shame to MH, who said he’d leave work as soon as he could, get the extra set of keys to the Zoom Zoom[4] and come to the store.  I returned to the checkout counter and asked the clerk where I could leave my contact info in case anyone found my car keys.  A smiling young woman who stood by the clerk looked at me and said that she had found some car keys and, she pointed toward the Customer Service desk.  I thanked her profusely and I asked her where she had found them.  She indicated what shall forevermore be (by moiself) referred to as That Damned Tahini Aisle.

*   *   *

Happy Writing Stuff

While I’m not happy about waking up several times the past few nights with the buzzing-in-my-head-that-needs-to-be-written-down-or-I-won’t-get-back-to-sleep, I am happy that in the mornings I have been able to decipher (well, uh, mostly) my in-the-dark scribblings.

Oh yea? You try it

Oh yea? You try it

I am going through my The Mighty Quinn Book #2 file. Picture an actual file folder, filled to bulging with notes on dialog, setting, plot points, character descriptions….  I’m not sure if a computer file can be said to bulge, but that’s what I’ve got, and it is both exciting and intimidating to start the virtual paw-through.  I’ve enough ideas and material for two more books, and now have to start the outline process and determine what ideas go where.

I already have the title for the second Quinn-and-Neally-and-company book, a rare pleasure for me to know what it will be (and good omen, the non-superstitious moiself hopes), as coming up with a title for a story is one of my least favorite aspects of  writing.

And I have to choose the characters’ names as soon as I think of the character.  I use baby naming books and other resources, to identify characters with names that hold special meaning, even if only to myself.  Hmmm, how can I denote this character’s total prick-osity without actually calling him a dick?

*  *  *

Speaking of dicks (and thanking moiself for that segue)….

WOW

Dateline:  last Sunday (9-8-13), MH and I in bed,[5] listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition.  My attention was caught and hackles were raised during Rachael Martin’s interview with author Norman Rush re his new novel:

On the surface, Norman Rush’s new novel is about a middle-aged man, Ned, who reunites with a group of college friends after one member of the group dies unexpectedly. But what transpires over the next few days ahead of the memorial service is less about Ned’s relationship with these men and the heady, self-absorbed days of yore, and more about how Ned sees himself. 

In his third, much anticipated novel, Rush takes the reader inside the most intimate parts of relationships — between Ned and his wife, between Ned and his deceased friend, and between Ned and his own expectations. 

Imagine that!, the cynical author part of moiself snickered to moiself while MH breathed deeply [6] beside me.  A novel written by a middle-aged author that purports to take a reader “…inside the most intimate parts of relationships;” a novel that is, the author says (further into the interview), “about friendship.”  Ah, that relationship-y thing again.  And the novel is “much anticipated” and taken seriously, and is also described merely as what it is:  a novel. There is no limiting modifier.

Now, change the gender (for both author and characters) in Martin’s commentary:

On the surface, Nora Rush’s new novel is about a middle-aged woman, Nell, who reunites with a group of college friends after one member of the group dies unexpectedly. But what transpires over the next few days ahead of the memorial service is less about Nell’s relationship with these women and the heady, self-absorbed days of yore, and more about how Nell sees herself. 

In her third, much anticipated novel, Rush takes the reader inside the most intimate parts of relationships — between Nell and her husband, between Nell and her deceased friend, and between Nell and her own expectations.

It’s strange, having a flashback on a Sunday morning in bed, when I’ve never taken an acid trip (in or out of bed).  But that’s what happened as I listened to the interview – I was back to a conversation with friend and fellow fiction author SCM  about an unfortunate, ongoing, literary dirty laundry issue which, thanks to uppity female authors with more clout than moiself, has received some airing in the past few years:

-Novels dealing with (what literary critics perceive to be) ” relationships” are often critically acclaimed when the author is male, and when the author is female such books are dismissed as “domestic/family dramas”…if they are reviewed at all.

Not germane to the rant,  but a cute picture, oiu?

Not germane to the rant, but a cute picture, oiu?

Warning: domestic drama ranting [7] ensues, via excerpts from an email, sent approx.  two years ago re this topic, to SCM):

“I think it’s a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book – in short, it’s something unworthy of serious critic’s attention.”  [8]

On my way back from an errand this afternoon I caught the tail end of a rerun of NPR’s Fresh Air 2010 interview with author Jonathan Franzen, recorded not long after the release of his latest novel Freedom.  I felt an almost overwhelming urge to pull the car over to the side of the road, get out and find somebody’s yippie dog and give it a good kick.

The ways Franzen’s novels have been presented and marketed by publishers, and reviewed by the critics, have had me (and many other writers, almost all – surprise! – women) reflecting on the sexism and even misogyny that still pervades the wacky world o’ contemporary literature (well, the world in general).  What sent me into Pomeranian-punting mode were several of Franzen’s ruminations, including [9] :

“I wanted in this book to write about my parents’ marriage and their parental experiences as I observed them … but I…wanted to set it in times contemporaneous with my own. So in that way, too, I turned my parents into people my age; into people I might be or I might know. And that was the real engine. It was something that came from inside.”

“…much of the work on a novel for me consists in the kind of work you might do in a paid professional’s office of trying to walk back from your stuck, conflicted, miserable place to a point of a little bit more distance, from which you can begin to fashion some meaningful narrative of how you got to the stuck place.”

What frosted my butt was not Franzen himself – don’t know him, personally – but the fact that when he, a male author, chooses to fictionalize the subject matter of family, feelings and relationships, the resulting work is touted as a “masterpiece of American fiction” (Time Magazine) and “an indelible portrait of our times” (The New York Times).

The Fresh Air site acknowledged the controversy:  “So many terrific contemporary female novelists cover the same terrain, yet their work receives a fraction of the highbrow fanfare that greets Franzen. It’s like how men still get praised for doing housework and taking care of their own kids: Any male involvement in the domestic realm still merits applause.”

In the interview Franzen spoke extensively about how his own feelings, experiences, family relationships and background influenced his writing.  I was reminded of an excerpt I read many months ago, from article in New York magazine, in which a novelist noted that if a woman writes about herself or acknowledges using material from her own life in her writing, she’s a narcissist, and has no wider interest in or focus outside of [10] the domestic sphere.  If a male novelist does the same, he’s describing universal truths or chronicling the human condition.

Of course, such inequities almost always sound better when put into the mouths of fictional characters.  I love this observation, from the novel, Commencement:

“When a woman writes a book that has anything to do with feelings or relationships, it’s either called chick lit or women’s fiction, right?” one of the characters asks.  “But look at Updike or Irving.  Imagine if they’d been women.  Just imagine.  Someone would have slapped a pink cover onto ‘Rabbit at Rest,’ and poof, there goes the Pulitzer.” 

Here is something the non-fictional character moiself wrote over a year ago, right around the time of the release of Freedom (it’s from one of the documents in my Things I Hate About The Publishing World file.  Oy vey, it’s less expensive than therapy):

Freedom is being hailed as “a domestic drama about marriage and family.”  Effusive, serious praise…for a domestic drama.  Since it is a Jonathan and not a Joanna Franzen who wrote it, the book isn’t being consigned to the “women’s fiction” bin of commentary.  When a female novelist writes about herself, or her protagonists’ ethnicity, age, social and economic circumstances are thinly disguised versions of herself or her peers, she’s a neurotic narcissist.  When a female novelist tackles subjects related to family, feelings or relationships, her work risks being labeled “Chick Lit” (or the faintly more reputable, “women’s fiction”).

A (usually white) male author (e.g. Franzen, Updike, Irving, Cheever, Roth….) does the same thing, writes about the same “territory.”  Do the literary critics – whose  ranks are still overwhelmingly white and male – review his book in the category of…what?  “Dick lit?”  Noooooooo.   He’s illustrating and critiquing the human condition!  He’s doing some serious Li’t-ra-chure!

*   *   *

By the way, if you want to borrow the Dick Lit descriptor, feel free to do so.  Attribution would be nice (or, failing that, cash).  And may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Lacinto

[2] Make that, people age fifty and above.  I’m still waiting for the mature part to kick in.

[3], in my experience, that particular grocery store does not always follow my food-grouping logic (nor logic of any kind when it comes to shelving their stock)

[4] Mazda’s promotional nickname for the Mazda 3. MH & I refer to it as “the fun car” (a nickname we bestowed to distinguish it from our Honda Odyssey minivan, the Utilitarian Parent Vehicle).

[5] Shame on (or, good for) you, but sorry, not that kind of dick reference segue.

[6] Notice I did not type, “snored.”

[7] Still awaiting its critical acclamation. Yes, I’ve mentioned this topic before, and will doubtless do so again.

[8] author unremembered – at least, by me.

[9] (I checked the program’s website transcript to make sure I was recalling them correctly)

[10] No, there is no footnote in the middle of my email. How silly would that be?

The Cats I’m Not Shaming

Comments Off on The Cats I’m Not Shaming

The Berries of Fall

Our raspberries have gone wild.  I picked a bucket before the rightful owners of our raspberry bushes (the bumblebees) shooed me away.  The second blooming of the season is even more appreciated than the first, I think because it takes me by surprise.

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*   *   *

Ways To Make Myself Feel Both Old and Young at the Same Time

I went to a Fun. concert, with MH and Belle and three of Belle’s friends.  It had been some time since I’d been to an outdoor/festival seating style concert.  McMenamin’s Edgefield’s amphitheatre is a nice venue, even when you’re sitting at the way way way way back of the lawn (nasty traffic getting there – Portland at rush hour, grrrrr).

We staked out our site, set our tarp and lawn chairs down, got dinner from the concessions area (the usual McMenamin’s grub, plus some variations) and managed to enjoy the last few songs of the opening act. Before the headliner came on Belle & friends decided to go up to the standing-in-front-of-the-stage area, where they stayed for the remainder of the show.

MH and I stood up for the last few songs of the Fun. set, as did most of the people around us.  Two men standing behind us made a comment about how it seemed that we’d been deserted by the teens who’d helped us stake out our spot. I began to banter with Standing Dudes.  We commiserated on how it isn’t cool for teens to be seen with their parents at a concert, and shared our mutual hatred for auto tune [1] , which is featured in too many Fun. songs, IMHO.  One Standing Dude offered to go sneak up on Belle and friends and say something disparaging about auto tune.  , offered to describe my daughter & her friends so that he could do so, but warned him that she would probably turn around and say, “Did my mother send you?”

*   *   *

So, you’re enjoying the night and music and food and drink at an outdoor concern, and Nature places her inevitable call.  Three words for your consideration:

Gender. Neutral. Bathroom.

WHICHEVER

Except, it was an outhouse.  Outhouse, bathroom, let’s not quibble, but what the heck — why the need for any kind of sign?  Can outhouses even have a gender?

Thousands of concertgoers = dozens of outhouses, lined up in a row, in the designated area.  It was all neat and orderly.  People waited in line in front of outhouses which appeared to be identical, save for the hand-scrawled, Gender Neutral Bathroom signs taped to four of the outhouses’ doors .

Taking advantage of the kind of camaraderie possible only between persons with full bladders, I asked the gent standing next to me if he knew what was special about a “gender neutral bathroom” and pointed toward the nearest one, a mere four Honey Buckets away from the facilities gent & I were waiting for.  He said he had no idea, but I could tell I’d piqued his curiosity.  We both watched as a gender specific (female) person exited the nearest GN outhouse.  The woman, displaying impeccable outhouse manners, held the door open for its next occupant (another gender specific person – this one male), which allowed the gent and I a peek inside the GN outhouse.  A central (pit) toilet, a side urinal and a wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispenser – it was the same as all the others.

There were no gender specified outhouses; everyone stood in line and took the next available facility.  I was mystigasted.[2]  I thought all outhouses were for all genders.  Silly moi. I guess all outhouses are equal, but some outhouses are more equal than others.

*   *   *

A Good Thing to Find 

Walking to the Max station, on my way to meet MH & Belle at the Zoo, I passed a family (mom, dad & three young girls) frolicking on the Washington County Fairgrounds playground structures.  One of the girls little girl jumped off of the jungle gym and picked up a quarter she’d spotted on the ground.  She waved her clenched fist triumphantly and squealed to her mother, “Money!  I found a money!”

*   *   *

Back to School = Back to Work

K is back at college and Belle is back to high school – for her senior year.  As usual, I salute the arrival of September, and look forward, this September, to begin serious work on The Book That Will Not Be Called a Sequel to The Mighty Quinn. But…whose desk is this?  This is not my desk.  How did this happen? I am, in general, a tidy, organized person.  This is not my desk. This is my desk.

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*   *   *

Callous and yet heartfelt commentary section

Good riddance to a depraved, monstrous coward, was my gut reaction when I heard about the suicide of That Cleveland Man.  That man, who kidnapped three women and imprisoned them in his home, apparently couldn’t abide for thirty days what he forced them to endure for over ten years. [3]

There shall be little commentary from moiself, at this time, re a certain no-win international situation.  The army/government, the rebels…six of one, half a dozen of everybody else.  Syria, Schmyria: there are no good dogs in that fight.

*   *   *

Frittering the summer away

I’ve discovered, via my visits to other blogs that either regularly or occasionally feature posts about culinary matters, that I’m not a true blogger until I have posted a picture a blogged-about meal along with the recipe.

pretend this is artfully arranged on the plate

pretend this is artfully arranged on the plate

Earlier in the week I made a pesto with basil and Italian parsley, no pine nuts, dab of ricotta, heavy on the lemon juice & light on the olive oil, a combination which might have prompted a visit from the PPP (Pesto Purity Police), but all was peaceful.  Forgot to take a picture of that concoction.

Thursday is pickup day at the CSA (farm). I’ve been experimenting with veggie fritter/pancakes all summer.  Here’s what I did with some of this week’s bounty.  You could vary the spics; I was going for a mildly Indian flavor.

Spaghetti squash and zucchini fritters (3-4 servings)

• Cooked spaghetti squash plus shredded & squeezed-dry zucchini (in whatever amounts you prefer, to equal ~ 2c)
•2 garlic cloves, minced
•1 egg
•1/2 cup tomatoes, cherry or any of your tastiest varieties, finely diced & drained
•1/4 cup crumbled paneer cheese [4] (or extra firm tofu, drained and pressed)
•spices: salt & black pepper to taste; ½ t each ground cumin and curry powder
• chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
-some chickpea flour, enough to help fritters bind (can use regular or gluten-free flour mix)

Mix all but oil together.  Heat large cast iron skillet, add some neutral (e.g. canola) oil, form your fritters in whatever shape floats your boat and do the sautéing  (not deep frying) thing for 6-7 m per side (longer than your usual fritters, because there is no gluten to help them stick together)

Serve plain, or with a yogurt sauce:  Greek yogurt whipped with lemon juice, a bit of ground cayenne, finely chopped scallion (green onion) tops

*   *   *

Where’s my merit badge?

This week I, without the promised help from the afore-mentioned High School Senior Daughter (who did show up 10 m into the appointment and helped me soothe some anxious kitty nerves), [5] I survived was successful in corralling and crating our three indoor cats, and transporting them to their annual veterinary exam/vaccination appointment.

At least they were somewhat behaved during their exams.  There was much hissing from af certain white cat (Nova), but no behavior that would merit me outing them on a Public Cat Shaming Site [6]

o-I-flipped-out-i-jumped-on-my-sister-hissed-and-growled-then-i-hid-under-the-sink-and-pooped-on-the-floor-that-showed-him-he-had-to-use-a-net-to-hold-me-

*   *   *

Damn, Now I have to Watch one of those Reality TV Shows

Yet Another Reason to go on Living: Bill Nye The Science Guy is hoofing it to the next (17th) season of Dancing with the Stars.

BILL      dancing BILLjpg

Put on your boogie shoes, and may the  hjinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] “(when I hear auto tune) It makes me want to kick a robot!”

[2] Mystified/flabbergasted

[3] Actually, he endured nothing like the treatment he gave them, as he had regular meals in prison and was not beaten, raped and impregnated by his guards.

[4] An Indian yogurt cheese. Can be purchased in some organic/specialty stores, or made at home – a fun and relatively easy process.  Try making paneer at least once before you die. But not right before you die.

[5] For some reason they really, really don’t like having their temperatures taken, despite the pretend exclamations of excitement – (“Oh, goody, it’s temp time!”) we emitted when the vet prepped the rectal thermometer).

[6] You must visit this site. Invaluable entertainment, for both cat lovers/owners and the feline-indifferent.