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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

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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 Robot Song I’m Not Singing

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Hell Hath Many Forms

 OSMONDS

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

Hell

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

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

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

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

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

MANSCARE

That kind of torture should be reported To Amnesty International.

******

Writers Guidelines [3] I love to loathe:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, this is not my sneaky hat.

Unfortunately, this is not my sneaky hat.

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

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

Until now.

*   *   *

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

 

May the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


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

[2] Ditties?  Really?

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

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

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

[6] That would be the Ex-ers.

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

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

The Ring I’m Not Wearing

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When in doubt, blame the weather

This article in The Oregonian blamed last weekend’s amazing weather for the fact that Portland’s annual Wordstock literary festival was “as quiet as a library.” Several attending authors were mumbling similar sentiments: who wouldn’t rather be outside in such a gorgeous weekend, likely the last such weekend of the year?

From my vantage point at the Oregon chapter of the SCBWI table, I wouldn’t have suspected the downturn in attendance had I not heard others commenting about it.  It was my first Wordstock; I was pleased that this year it had been scheduled on a weekend when I was not out of town/laden with previous engagements.  Sure, “traffic” seemed a little slow, but my tablemates and I performed our volunteer duties – touting the benefits of SCBWI membership to inquiring writers and illustrators – while, of course, looking for opportunities to show our own works.  I sold a whopping one copy of The Mighty Quinn (which I considered to be gravy, as the primary mission of those volunteering at the SCBWI table was to promote SCBWI)…and at least I didn’t end up with a negative inventory. [1] Also, I enjoyed meeting and chatting with other SCBWI members, including illustrator Carolyn Conahan (whose works include the delightfully illustrated and titled Bubble Homes and Fish Farts). Carolyn and I shared a Saturday afternoon shift and, it turned out, a mutual loathing of the terms platform and industry.

FISHFARTS

*   *   *

I never wore an engagement ring, for a variety of reasons, including this one.  I just didn’t get the point of it – excuse the senior moment.  Yeah, right.  Make that, I damn well got the point of it, and what I got about it made me ill.

Would you wear an engagement ring? I asked MH, a long long time ago in a dating world far, far away, when we were discussing Our Future ®.  If a woman and a man are both engaged to be married, what’s the point – other than that point which is analogous to dog pissing around a certain spot to mark its territory [2] – for the woman and not the man to wear such a signifier?

engagementring

MH, knowing me well, [3] didn’t bother with The Ring when he proposed marriage. We later chose simple gold wedding bands with a double weave design (and had the date of our wedding engraved on the inside of the band, for those pesky moments when you need a memory prompt.)

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As of this writing, neither MH nor I are wearing our wedding rings. A couple of weeks ago MH said he wanted to tell me, in case I’d noticed and had wondered [4] his ring was “missing,” that he’d been experiencing painful arthritis-like symptoms in his finger joints and had removed the ring in order to massage the joint. He feared he would be unable to remove the ring later if his joints continued to swell.

The next day I took off my wedding ring.  Since then, I’ve discovered (after looking and asking) that quite a few married couples do not wear wedding rings, usually for medical or similar reasons. [5] My motivation for ring-doffing was similar to my not-wanting-an-engagement-ring reason.  There was no spite or snit fit involved; just pure and practical (to me) relationship logic: I’m not going to wear my ring if MH isn’t wearing his.

I notice my ring’s absence several times a day, when instinctively performing what has become my après-hand washing ritual for the past twenty-five years (twisting the ring and blowing on my ring finger to dry underneath the ring).  I’m aware that it’s not there, but I don’t exactly miss wearing it. I was never a ring-bling person, and other than the two months in high school when I wore the class ring my parents insisted I purchase, [6] I’d never worn a ring prior to getting married (not counting the groovy Man From U.N.C.L.E. spy ring I got in a box of Cracker Jacks).

man_from_uncle

If you want us to wear wedding rings, I said to MH, perhaps we could have new ones designed, with some kind of custom feature (a latch of sorts, that would not pinch the skin) to make removal easy and allow for future, uh, joint expansion.  Belle seems rather pleased with the solution she proposed for our ring dilemma: finally, a legitimate excuse reason to urge her parents to get “tatted.”

RING TATS

*   *   *

Happy Trails to you, Aunt Bug.

Vesta Lucile Parnell Parker died on Sunday, the day after her 85th birthday.  My Aunt Lucile never went by her first name.  She was nicknamed “Bug” in childhood, and was always “Aunt Bug” (pronounced in her Tennessean lilt as Aint Bug) to her nieces and nephews.  Lucile was the youngest of the my father’s five siblings, and although you’re not supposed to play favorites when it comes to family, it was obvious to me that Bug was Chet’s favorite.  She married at 18, had five children, and remained in her home state of Tennessee.  Her brother (later my father) Chet, made his life in California after his gig in the army during WWII.

Aunt Bug was a musician, favoring country/gospel/bluegrass tunes (and even composed a few).  She played guitar and mandolin and a host of other instruments, and I love the fact that her obituary mentions the name of the bluegrass group she and other local musicians formed and played in for years, The Lizard Lick Old Timey String Band.

A college friend and I stayed with Lucile in Tennessee during the return loop of our post-graduation, cross-country road trip. One evening, after fixing us a tasty if a-bit-too-monochromatic-for-me [7] supper, Bug played guitar while she told a story, about how she’d recently had a lovely time with “a local feller who lives up the road a piece,” who’d heard she did some pickin’ and had stopped by to play guitar with her.  “Carl is the sweetest man, and he sure can carry a tune…”  Upon further elicitation of details, it became evident that she was referring to Carl Perkins !!!!  Down-to-earth Lucile couldn’t figure out why my friend and I were so drop-jaw impressed;, why, Carl was just another country boy, and really, a sight more respectable than that one-time buddy of his, Elvis, “…who was into the drugs and the women but some folks ’round here talk about that Elvis Presley like he was the second coming of Jesus just because he loved his momma….”

Geography (and budgets) being what they were, Lucile’s visits with our family and ours with hers were few but memorable. When visiting Santa Ana she always gave in to the demands of her nieces to get out our dad’s Martin guitar and entertain us with her rendition of the just-naughty-enough-for-primetime song, “That Old Rooster.”

Chet Parnell’s children knew Aunt Bug as friendly and amusing, quick with a smile and a hug and a joke, although we later discovered she struggled with bouts of staggering depression from the accumulation of tragedies that befell her family. [8]

My favorite memory of Aunt Bug comes from one of her visits to California, one night when we were all gathered in the living room and she startled us with a spontaneous demonstration of what she described as an endangered vocal skill. The woman could yodel!  Prior to that I had no idea that our cat could rise up on her back legs and hop about in abject terror.

Aunt Bug’s version (both lyrics and melody) was better, but this is an approximation of what she always called the “That Old Rooster” song:

Lucile was the last of the elder Parnell siblings to pass.  My father’s generation is no more; my mother’s three sisters are gone, and she, a frail 85 years old, is the last of hers.  I’ve no grandparents and now no aunts or uncles left.  It’s a poignant observation, not a lament. I’m not sure if my siblings and I are ready to assume the Oldest Generation mantle, but such is life.  It isn’t as if you are asked if you are ready, or have to qualify in any way for the title (other than by not dying young).

I do, however, possess the secret to eternal youth: cultivate an appreciation for immature humor and juvenile pranks life-affirming exuberance, and keep a ready supply of  _____ ____ on hand.  (hint:  rhymes with  oopie pushins)

And, of course, always let the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] In two past book fair/author events, I had people walk away with (as in, steal) copies of my first book – which were clearly marked for sale, not for free, when I was distracted.

[2] I’m a hardcore romantic, what can I say?

[3] And yet still wanting to marry me, imagine that.

[4]  I hadn’t noticed, and therfore hadn’t wondered.

[5] Typically weight gain, or joint swelling during pregnancy or as a side effect of medications, etc.

[6] They didn’t want me to miss having that classic high school insignia…which I lost while bodysurfing at Newport Beach.

[7] In true southern style, everything –I mean EVERYTHING, including beautiful, fresh from the garden, ruby red beefsteak tomatoes – ended up yellow (i.e., breaded and fried).

[8] Three of Lucile’s  five children – all of her boys – died young and tragically: two in separate, freak accidents when they were preteens, and her oldest boy, Kirt, committed suicide in his early 20’s. Lucile’s husband, our “Uncle Junior,” took up flying not long after Kirt’s death.  “When he’s up in the air he can just be above all of his worldly cares,” was how Aunt Bug explained the comfort her beloved husband Junior found in piloting his Cessna.  Junior died ~ 20 years ago, when he crashed his plane into a culvert after being unable to pull out of a stall maneuver.

The Service Dog I’m Not Buying

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What is a days-long festival that does not have its own soundtrack album but which smells better than 400,000 mud-wallowing hippies overdosing on acid?  Five gold stars and a Pretty Purple Toe for you…

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…if you’re thinking, hmm, it’s not Woodstock….

It’s time for Portland’s annual literary festival, Wordstock . One of the largest such festivals in the nation, Wordstock events include author readings (from writers way more famous and articulate than moiself), exhibits, contests and workshops, and a book fair.  I will be doing two shifts at the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators booth, with The Mighty Quinn copies for display and sale and either a weary or I-am-so-not-worthy look on my face, depending on which indifferent guests and/or famous literati [1] stroll past.  If you’re so inclined to celebrate booky-stuff this weekend (or just want to get out of the rain) stop by SCBWI’s booth 1103 in Exhibit Hall D of the Oregon Convention Center in beautiful downtown (the Northeast side) Portland. I’ll be there Saturday 3:45 – 6p and Sunday 1:45 – 4p.

WORDSTOCK

*   *   *

Poor Belle.  When I asked her four months ago if she’d be interested in attending the FFRF’s  convention with MH and I, she gave an enthusiastic, Sure, that would be fun.  She had no idea how much homework she’d have, and her weekend mostly consisted of her sitting on the bed in the hotel room amid stacks of AP calculus and AP American Lit papers.  I did manage to get her to take a break on Saturday afternoon to cruise State Street, Madison’s (former) [2] answer to Eugene, at least when it comes to stores that carry Sixties paraphernalia and  tie-dye shirts.

Feelin' the groovy vibes of Madison's State Capitol building

Feelin’ the groovy vibes of Madison’s State Capitol building

Belle also seemed to enjoy the convention’s Saturday night banquet, as well as our after-banquet adventure.  While MH stayed to enjoy the après-dinner entertainment I accompanied my daughter to the hotel bar, where we partook of ginger ale (Belle) and Pinot Gris (moiself) and an outrageously tasty plate of fries, and she told me about her plans to start a Feminism/Gender Equality club at school.

Imagine if a boy showed up in his high school civics class wearing a Cool Story, Homie, now shine my shoes t-shirt. He’d be hauled in to the vice principal’s office for a lecture on offensive stereotypes, probably have to attend some diversity workshops, and, oh yeah, take the shirt off.  But Belle has seen too many “sandwich” t-shirts at her school go unchallenged, and it’s pissing her off

.SANDWICH

That is just one of the many reasons she’d like to start such a club – mostly, it’s about a way for like-minded kids to gather and brainstorm holding some contemporary events for a little old-fashioned consciousness-raising

I reminded her of the challenges she’ll likely hear, including:

* First Amendment issues re the t-shirt;
* First Amendment issues re cretins’ inalienable rights to practice public asswipery.

Belle reminded me of the fact that students do not have the same rights as adults, and schools regulate all kinds of issues that would fall under the First Amendment umbrella (e.g.,  banning that which is deemed gang attire or accoutrements).  And she already has a teacher sponsor lined up for the club, and several students interested in joining.[3]

A successful student club needs a raison d’être, and also some joi de vivre. You can’t just hold assemblies to try to raise consciousness (think of the many eye-rolling-inducing school assemblies you’ve complained about, I said).  You can’t just roam the halls looking for offensively-attired students to smite.  You can, however, roam the halls, [4] find an offensively-attired manchild, and while you’re helping said clueless dude to realize that men of quality are not threatened by women of equality, ask him,  “Oh, and would you like to hold this cute, egalitarian-affirming baby sloth?

slothinbox

Seriously, ladies and germs, I am so impressed by her willingness to confront the issues of inequality she sees, even as my heart aches and my butt frosts to think about

1.  The crap she’ll likely receive for engaging sexism and the F-word [5] in school;
2.  There is no reason #2;
3.  There are about fifteen other reasons, mostly variations of reason #4;
4.  The fact that we are STILL dealing with this bullshit.

FEM

Meanwhile, back in a hotel bar in Madison, WI, we return to our Spunky Heroine ® and her Adoring Mother ® .  Having deliberated the ongoing problems of misogyny and inequality, the two gutsy gals respectively order another round of ginger ale and Pinot Gris and chat up a gregarious lady and her “service dog” [6] who occupy a comfy sofa in the back corner of the bar.

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*   *   *

May you be well-tended by the service animal/companion of your dreams, who will alert you when the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Rumor has it Fight Club author/literary bad boy Chuck Palahniuk will give a free copy of his latest book to anyone who correctly pronounces his last name.

[2] It’s becoming – gasp – gentrified, or some of the aging locals complain.

[3] Including dudes, yeah!

[4] Hey, what happened to this footnote?

[5] It’s easier, for most of her peers and too many of her teachers, to think that feminism is just another civil rights issue that was settled, a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

[6] A very well-behaved Chihuahua, but, service dog?  Puhleese.