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The Platform I’m Not Building

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As referenced in a previous blog (1-20-23) …

Department Of Here We Go Again
Sub-Department OF Preview Of Coming Grievances Attractions

Sub- Department explanation: This is part two of a three-part series dealing deal with various aspects of The Writing Life As Moiself  Sees It ®)  …

Parts one and two feature essays I wrote several years ago. The essays have the following commonality:

(a) I was satirizing certain aspects of the writing/publishing life;

(b) More than one editor to whose journal(s) I submitted the essays wrote, in their kind and complimentary rejection letters, that although they personally liked the article they could not publish it and, added that they felt it incumbent to warn me that that the article might be unpublishable due to my making fun of the process  (i.e., gnawing at the hand that was supposedly feeding me – despite the essays being clear intended as satirical):

“You realize that many people in this world   [1]
do not have a sense of humor about what they do….”

 

 

*   *   *

“Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard.”
( Daphne du Maurier, English novelist and playwright )

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, moiself  began to admit to moiself a not-so-pleasant realization about moiself:  my growing disappointment with and even contempt for the literary publishing world.  It seemed that publishers had forgotten, or deliberately discarded, du Maurier’s sage advice, and were determined to celebritize authors.  This gradually devolved into pushing for (and in some cases contractually binding) the authors to celebritize themselves, with no resulting increase in royalties to the authors for taking on what is the publishers’ job – publicity.  Publishers did this by convincing authors that they must turn themselves into brands, and construct platforms.

 

 

 

 

For many years the literary world has been riding the towering (and crashing) waves of the relatively new universe of internet/ebooks/digital publishing.  Many publishers (mostly nascent, but also established/aka “traditional” publishers) have formed or remodeled themselves as essentially hybrid publishers, thus avoiding crucial aspects of the traditional work of publishing    [1].  These publishers describe this shift as providing “more opportunities for publishing and more author involvement in the publishing team!…”

 

 

…which translates as, more work for the writer, besides actually writing.     [2]   And the new “opportunities” provided by the internet and e-publishing has also created more opportunities for piracy/theft and downloading of your work without compensation. 

A writer I know, “WK,”    [3]  has published several nonfiction books on a certain technical topic.  WK posted the following on social media as an explanation as to why he’d reluctantly decided that his latest book would be his last.  This explanation was in response to a fan/reader who’d written to WK, praising his most recent book and asking for more books on similar topics.  

WK:
I’m glad you like my books, thanks. But I’m not going to write any more. There is too much piracy of my (and many other people’s) books. Within 1 month of my last book being published, I found dozens of web sites where people could download free copies of the e-book. There’s no point in writing a book if people are just going to steal it.

If thirty-plus years ago (when I began to write [primarily] fiction for publication) moiself’s  crystal ball had foretold how the publishing business would shift to the writer-does-publishers’-duties model, I would not have pursued writing for publication.

All righty, then why am I doing this, I asked moiself? Turns out I didn’t like my answers.  Thus, I took a hiatus – not from not from writing, but from submitting work for publication.

( Self-publication…is not a respectable” option, IMO, for me.  I will deal more with that in part three of my series.   [4]  )

 

 

On to the essay at hand.

*   *   *

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ME

Branding the Un-brandable – a Fiction Author’s Dilemma

I tried blinking several times and even considered rubbing my eyes with sandpaper, but it was too late. I recognized the alphabet, the language…I had read the article. Alas, nothing could remove the images contained on the paper before me. It was the latest edition of one of my writer’s magazines containing the latest piece of prose extolling the virtue – nay, the necessity – of writers “developing and controlling their brand.”

“When we’re shopping at the grocery store, we tend to purchase the same variety of cereal, week after week. When it comes to household goods we waste little energy in thought as we push our cart down the aisle – it seems as if our favorite brand of laundry detergent leaps into our cart on its own. When we’re on a road trip, it doesn’t matter that it has been less than an hour since breakfast – our children beg to stop for lunch when they see the logo for a familiar fast-food restaurant on the highway’s exit signs.”

A graphics reminder popped up on my computer monitor:  a gender-free, ethnicity-inclusive, bipedal, Happy Face figure stretched and wriggled its limbs, signaling to me that it is time for an ergonomics break. I dutifully marched around my desk and circled my wrists for a few minutes, then returned to deleting from my email inbox yet another offer from yet another literary entity wishing to sell me yet another book and/or tutorial and/or seminar on how to use social media and/or professional and personal organizations and/or the skin off my children’s backs to transform myself into an author with an “established platform.”

 

Is this platform enough for y’all?

 

The mandate to create and promote a platform for one’s self was once almost exclusively confined to nonfiction authors, who were sensibly advised to, for example, establish their academic and professional OCD research and treatment credentials before attempting to interest publishers in their book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective Doorknob Fondlers. Increasingly, even fiction writers are told (read:  sold) variations of the following come-on, which I have received, in both hard copy and e-formats, from both long-established and pop-up writers’ journals and newsletters:

“If you are serious about being a successful writer in the 21st Century, you must establish, maintain, market and protect your brand;
you must build a platform as a writer and a content provider.”

Content Provider. Yikes.

But for fiction writers – excuse me, I mean of course, for those of us who are “providers of fictional content” – where the emphasis is (or should be) on the stories themselves, the platforms then become…what? The authors, ourselves?

Picture, if you will, just a few of the notoriously private authors whose works somehow managed to become beloved classics or must-reads despite their authors’ lack of “platforms.” Were those writers to be launching their careers in today’s publishing environment, their books might be seen as a tough sell due to the authors’ reticence for self-promotion. The J. D. Salingers, the Harper Lees, The Thomas Pynchons, the Emily Dickinsons, the Cormac McCarthys – I try to imagine them establishing and protecting and promoting their brands, like so many literary Kardashinans.

Aside from my personal antipathy toward what I call the celebritization of writing, the emphasis on the commercial and personal marketing of authors carries with it, I believe, a backlash potential. The publishing world’s push to adopt advertising concepts once associated with shilling laundry detergent and promoting Hollywood starlets can be off-putting to those discerning readers who care much about the stories to be told and little for the notoriety and fan worship status of the storytellers. One of the most prolific readers I know (herself a published author) put it thusly:

“I hate ‘brand building’ crap.
A writer’s brand is her writing, and she shouldn’t have to put out for every social media outlet like a $20 whore on Sunset Boulevard.

I know nothing about the writers I read. I don’t care. The only time I look someone up is when I think the writing is dreadful.”

I write neither memoir nor autobiography, and my fiction rarely employs the first-person narrative. Even so, I am advised to establish an All About Me platform. This concept applied to my literary life is literally (sorry) so odious to me, I just may construct an actual platform (Olympic competition height), if only to have one from which to jump off.

 

Budding author on his platform, on his way to the content pool.

 

Also, given what passes for noteworthiness these days, how will patient publishers and empathetic editors manage to brand the un-brandable me? The literary publicists’ failsafe archetypes don’t apply in my case. I’m a proficient writer with a substantial list of publishing credits; I can spin an interesting tale, yet there’s no mesmerizing hook upon which to hang my “As a” credentials (“As a writer of speculative haiku, Ms. Parnell, l’enfant terrible of the Pacific Northwest’s burgeoning Occupy: Poetry Slam scene….”).

Alas, I have no sexy back-story. I am not:

  • the rising young star of the future, who studied under full scholarship with A Famous Author ® at the Flannery O’Hemingway Iowa Workshop and who has been touted by Publishers Weekly as one of the “Five Under 25” (make that 35…45…uh…) to watch….
  • the erstwhile ___ (junkie; orphan; differently-abled parolee; gender-neutral sex addict), a survivor of ____(cancer; Catholic boarding school; Tea Party summer camp; the first documented Facebook mass un-friending) who escaped the mean streets of ___ (The Bronx; South Boston; Rodeo Drive; Lodi) after doing ___ (meth in El Paso; time in San Quentin; dinner theatre in Fort Lauderdale; the entire cast – stunt doubles included – of Oceans Eleven)….
  • the charismatic and exotic outsider, whose stranger-in-a-strange-land observations open a window into the perspectives on contemporary American culture that only an expatriate ___ (Afghani Atheist; Bicultural Bolivian-Botswanan Baha’i; Celebrity Chef Apprentice) can impart….
  • the ___ (reluctant; introspective; flamboyant; gluten intolerant) yet articulate spokesperson of her ___ (generation; subculture; dress size; assisted living villa)….

 

 

The who-I-am hook is likely a lost cause, publicity-wise (and words cannot fully express how fine I am with that). As for what I write, aka the content I provide, again, there are no simple classifications. Despite the self-proclaimed broad-mindedness of artists in general and the literati in particular, there are these boxes – exquisitely wrapped, variously sized, but boxes nonetheless – and people want to fit you into them.

I have written and/or published:

  • a short fiction collection and over seventy short stories, but I do not write short fiction exclusively;
  • a one-act play (for which I have received royalties), but I’m not a playwright;
  • poems for both the adult and children’s markets, but that doesn’t make me a poet;
  • a song (both music and lyrics), but that doesn’t make me a songwriter;
  • essays and opinion and non-fiction articles, but I am not a journalist;
  • a picture book and a juvenile novel, but I do not identify as a “children’s writer;”
  • a novel, but I do not call myself a novelist….

My stories’ characters have variously committed murder and other crimes, ventured in and out of love, encountered illusory beings, and lived in the present, the past and/or the future…but I am not a mystery/crime/romance/contemporary/historical/fantasy/sci-fi author. There’s no tidy genre label – nor the ready-made audience that seems to come with such – under which to file my work. I am simply a writer of literary fiction, who quietly, persistently and patiently (I will let that last adverb sink on its own merits) concentrates on writing good stories.

And that’s my mistake, it would seem. I should set aside the notes for my next three books, and instead note how to make myself more noteworthy.

 

 

Along with or in advance of a publication contract, publishers often send writers an AQ (Author’s Questionnaire) which asks about the writer’s background (“Is there additional information you can provide about yourself, to make you more personally appealing to our readers? Any anecdotes, for example, you might share at a reading?”). When presented with an AQ I typically weasel my way through questions I deem overly personal or irrelevant to the work at hand. No more. Perhaps it is time I contact my latest book’s publisher and submit my AQ addendum:

The distinctive silhouette was at once masculine and boyish. Dapper, graying temples, firm, chiseled jaw, roguish eyes and wickedly seductive grin – his beguiling features were illuminated by the waxing moonlight.
I felt a slight tremor of anticipation as his strong hands reached for mine; I found his grip surprisingly tender and reassuringly assertive as he helped me up onto the platform. *My* platform.

“Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin tonight’s reading by categorically denying the rumors of my affair with George Clooney.”

The End

About the author
Robyn Parnell lives and writes in platform-free Hillsboro, Oregon.

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*   *   *

 

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week   [5]

 

Taslima Nashrin, a Bangladeshi-Swedish author, doctor, secular humanist acphysician, feminist, secular humanist activist. She has been blacklisted and banished from the Bengal regions in Bangladesh (and the Indian state of West Bengal) and received fatwas for her writings on the oppression of women and her critiques of religion.

 

*   *   *

May we be content with not producing content;
May platforms be reserved for divers and drag queens;
May we understand that brands are for cereals, not people;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] As in, they want or even require the author to do the lion’s share of the publicity for their book – without a publisher’s PR budget and connections.  And good luck finding the time to learn several new professions (including literary PR, press agent, booking and scheduling agent) while also finding time to actually write….

[2] Imagine going to your doctor for your annual physical, only to find that while her fee for service has not changed you are now responsible for doing your own urinalysis – which the physician’s billing office describes as “…giving you the opportunity to partner with your doctor and be more involved in your health care!

[3] Author of several books, including fiction and non-fiction, self-help, and tech manuals.

[4] I do think that, in the case of non-fiction works, self-publishing may be – and has been –  a viable alternative, for some authors.

[5] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org

The Awards I’m Not Winning

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As referenced in last week’s blog (1-20-23) …

Department Of Here We Go Again
Sub-Department Of Preview Of Coming Grievances Attractions

Sub- Department explanation: the next three blogs will deal with various aspects of The Writing Life As Moiself  Sees It ®)  …

This is part one of a three-part series.  Parts one and two feature essays I wrote several years ago. The essays have the following commonality:

(a) I was satirizing a certain aspect of the writing/publishing life;

(b) More than one editor to whose journal(s) I submitted these essays wrote, in their kind and complimentary rejection letters, that although they personally liked the article they could not publish it and, added that they felt it incumbent to warn me that that the article might be unpublishable due to my making fun of the process – i.e.; gnawing at the hand that was supposedly feeding me – despite the essays being clearly intended as satirical (“You realize that many people in this world   [1]   do not have a sense of humor about what they do….)

 

 

The first amusing (to moiself  ) if flattering rejection letter confirmed what I had suspected.   “I really, *really* like your essay,” the editor wrote, “… but do you know this is essentially unpublishable?”

Do I know that literary journals and magazines are not known for having a sense of humor about themselves?  Dude, trust me, I’ve figured that out.

And yet the essay did find a home.  In an edited version, one which the magazine’s editors retitled, for some reason, as Author, Author,    [2]  and later in its original form in another journal.  [3]    

The subject for the essay had been bouncing round my devious mind for some time.  I’d been taking mental notes for years about the proliferation of writing awards, but the impetus for putting it down was reading an announcement, by someone, moiself  didn’t know well, on social media, about how a poem they’d written had won the prize for Desiccated Ego Quarterly Review’s Contest For Best Emo-Themed Lyric Soliloquy By An Emerging Writer Under Age Thirty.   [4]

 

 

Instead of feeling happy for them or sending congratulations, I found moiself  cringing on their behalf, as I found it rather…amateurish.

Sure, do a humble brag when you win a Pulitzer, but Desiccated Ego Quarterly Review’s Contest For Best Emo-Themed Lyric Soliloquy By An Emerging Writer Under Age Thirty sounds like something your mother dreamed up. Except, of course, it wasn’t the writer’s mother – it was an editor…and a publisher, and another and another – such contests and awards were madly multiplying.  And they continue to do so.  Even more than they years ago when I was still actively submitting work, more and more literary journals list this change in requirements on their writers guidelines:

“Submissions currently excepted only through our contests.”

There is a fee, of course, for submitting, which the journal justifies clarifies with a circular explanation along these lines: the journal’s prize/contest entry fees help fund the journal as well as the prizes the journal awards for said contests.

Which means that contest “winners”– in perhaps a momentarily/financially insignificant way, but in an ultimately significantly unethical (IMO) way – have been a party to purchasing their own prize.

 

 

And so, on with the show.  [5]

*   *   *

YOU  CAN  BE  (OR  ALREADY  ARE)
AN  AWARD-WINNING  WRITER!

Calling all non-award-winning writers (you know who you are): It’s time to add a trophy title to your nom de plume.  It imparts that certain je ne sais quoi, literary cachet; besides, with all the opportunities out there, what’s your excuse for *not* having one?

Admit it, you’ve had an experience similar to the following.  Scanning the bio notes of an article in a writer’s magazine, you discovered that the article’s author had received a literary award, the title of which you had to practice saying several times before you could utter it in one breath:

“The Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellweather Prize For Fiction
in Support of a Literature For Social Change.”

Pulitzer, schmulitzer; *there’s* an award you don’t see every day.  Although if present trends continue, you probably will.

No disrespect intended towards the esteemed (and multiple award-winning) Ms. Kingsolver, whose once-eponymous award now goes by the more succinct, “The Bellweather Prize.”  As awkwardly extensive as I found the earlier title, it was nice to come across any award named after a living woman instead of a member of the Dead Literary Guys Club.  Still, I’ve never been able to get that erstwhile, très specific award title out of my mind.  It reminds me of, well, of other très specific or obscure literary award titles I’ve seen in the classifieds ads, the Grants and Awards announcements, and the Member News sections of writer’s publications.

Computer literate literati are just a Google away from discovering the astounding number of writing awards, contests, grants and fellowships available to actual or aspiring authors.  Award titles and descriptions can be quite entertaining, and so once upon a keyboard I decided to keep a file of literary awards’ names, categories and sponsors.  In a few months that decision was followed by another one: to delete the file, whose page count had surpassed that of the first draft of my first novel.  I feared for the storage space on my hard disk; I feared for my attitude even more.

I hold a hopeful snobbery about writing, and am ambivalent about the proliferation of literary prizes.  I want writers to eschew the self-celebration and celebriti-zation that infests popular culture.  Moreover, the proliferation of Something, even Something with good intentions, can ultimately demean its significance or value.  There’s the Oscars, Cannes, Sundance…and then there’s the Toledo People’s Choice Film Festival.

 

 

At the risking of sounding like the George C. Scott of author-dom, I’m leery of prizes for art in general and literature in specific.  I reject the notion that, intentionally or otherwise, writers should compete with one another, or that there are universally accepted or objective criteria for judging the “best” of works that are written – and read – by gloriously subjective beings.  Then again, I can understand the motivations for award-giving in any field of endeavor, including writing (“Our work must be important — see how many awards we have?!”).  And who wouldn’t enjoy having Pulitzer Prize-winning author attached to their byline?

An award, any award, can bestow a certain distinction.  Thousands of novels and poetry collections are published yearly, most fading quickly into obscurity.  But maybe, just maybe, you’ll give the impression you’re Someone To Watch ®  if your back-listed-so-fast-it-left-skidmarks chapbook receives “The Award for Southwestern Pangendered Speculative Flash Prose-Poems.”

Relax, take a cleansing breath, and stop composing your bio notes for the entry form.  There’s no such award.  Yet.

To get an idea of the number and variety of literary prizes, flip through the classified ads section of any writer’s magazine, or check out their on-line versions.  One prominent writer’s website has over *nine hundred* Awards & Contests listings, a number added to weekly if not daily.  Whatever your personal traits or writing genre, there’s a prize or contest – and, of course, an entry fee – waiting for you.

 

 

Anything in particular for which you’d like recognition?  If it’s for religion or spirituality, among the hundreds of awards are the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards, the American Academy of Religion’s Best First Book in the History of Religions, and the Utmost Christian Poetry Contest.  If you’re inspired by regional affiliation, try the Saskatchewan Book Of The Year Award or The Boardman Tasker Award For Mountain Literature.

You might impress potential publishers (or failing that, the crowned heads of Europe) with a majestic title: The Royal Society Of Literature Award Under The W.H. Heinemann Bequest.  If you’d like woo corporate America, seek the General Mill’s The Cheerios® New Author Contest.  Are you between the ages of eleven and 111?  Go for The Geoffrey Bilson Award For Historical Fiction For Young People, or the The Solas Awards Elder Travel: The best story from a traveler 65 years of age or older.  And there’s no lack of prizes vis-à-vis gender, ethnic, and sexual identity, including the Women’s Empowerment Awards Writing Competition, The Association Of Italian-Canadian Writers Literary Contest, and the Emerging Lesbian Writers Fund Award.

Perhaps you’d rather be esteemed for subject matter.  If you cover the timeless concerns of war and peace, the Michael Shaara Award For Excellence In Civil War Fiction, or Japan’s Goi Peace Foundation International Essay Contest may be for you.  And let us wave our olive branches in tribute to one of the more interestingly named awards in this or any category, in hopes that, with perhaps a little nudging, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation will reinstate their now-retired Swackhamer Peace Essay Contest (it took a serious peacenik to wield a Swackhamer).

Don’t worry if your themes are comparatively prosaic; writing awards are not limited to life’s essentials.  From sailors (the U.S. Maritime Literature Awards) to horses (the Thoroughbred Times Fiction Contest) to zombies (Dark Moon Anthology Short Story Writing Contests for Horror Writers), if there’s a topic, there’s a prize.

Awards even pay tribute to literary length.  Writers in it for the long haul have the Reva Shiner Full-Length Play Award, while those pressed for time may try the Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers.  Not to be out-shorted is Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award; covering the remaining short bases is the Fineline Competition For Prose Poems, Short Shorts, And Anything In Between.  And for literature with a discernable shelf life, behold the Perishable Theatre’s Women’s Playwriting Festival prize.

 

 

My excuse for not having even one measly award title escorting my nom de plume is likely related to the fact that I don’t enter contests (perhaps one day I’ll discover that I’ve won “The Chinook Prize for the Pacific Northwest’s Un-entered Fiction Contests“).   My nonparticipation notwithstanding, the number of literary awards continues to expand, and they’ve got to be conferred upon somebody.  Chances are greater than ever that almost all writers will have their fifteen minutes to don some sort of authorial laurel wreath.  Yes, dear writer, *you* could be an award-winning author.  There’s probably something wrong with you if you’re not.

My favorite prize name strains credibility, yet is listed as a writing award.  And so, fellow writer, considering the abundance of awards, in your quest for recognition and cool author’s bio notes, please save this one for me: the Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest.  If my entry prevails I will receive a monetary prize and publication of my poem, plus that accolade for which no value can be calculated:

The right to henceforth refer to myself, in author’s credits and future contest entry forms, as a Wergle Flomp award-winning writer.

The End

about the author
A long, long time ago a sixth grader named Robyn Parnell won some kind of Isn’t America Groovy?! essay contest.  Since 1975, when she acquired a trophy resembling a garden trowel (High School Journalism Day, Orange County, CA), Parnell has remained an award-free writer.  She hopes to one day be the deserving recipient of The Robyn Parnell Prize in Support of Imaginative and Distinguished Prose in Support of Robyn Parnell.

 

 

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week   [6]

“Although I’m an atheist, I don’t fear death more than, say, sharing a room in a detox center with a sobbing Rush Limbaugh.”
( Berkeley Breathed, Pulitzer-Prize-winning (ahem!) American cartoonist, creator of Bloom County and Outland,
as quoted in The Quotable Atheist, by Jack Huberman )

 

 

*   *   *

May you judiciously choose which humble brags to share;
May you never win an award which bears your name;
May your concepts of afterlives not include boorish talk radio hosts;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Which moiself  took to be the editorial/publishing side of the “world.”

[2]  Bear Deluxe magazine, #23, spring-summer 2006.

[3] In the now-indefinitely-on-hiatus, dislocate magazine: a Minnesota journal of writing and art, 6-11-20.

[4] Not the award’s exact title, but you get the idea.

[5] All award names listed were actual, active awards, at the time the essay was written; some may have been discontinued or had their names changed.

[6] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, http://www.ffrf.org 

The Sign I’m Not Following

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Department Of What A Difference A Letter Makes

Dateline: Saturday; mid-afternoon; on my way to drop off donations to Goodwill.  Driving south on a throughway street which bisects residential areas to its east and west, I pass a blue sign on the left side of the road  [1] . This sign directs you to find:

ARISE
CHURCH →

The sign is bent in the middle, which causes moiself, at first glance, to miss the in the top word.

All those headed to the church of the Holy ARSE, turn right.

 

I like big butts and I cannot lie….

 

*   *   *

Department Of, Oh, Ya Think?

Dateline: 6:45am last Saturday.  A dear friend is in the hospital, recovering from life-altering  [2]  surgery.  I found a respected medical clinic’s website and looked up information on radical cystectomy, the surgery he has undergone. From the site:

“The procedure to remove the entire bladder is called a radical cystectomy. In men, this typically includes removal of the prostate and seminal vesicles….
“After removing your bladder, your surgeon also needs to create a new way to store urine and have it leave your body. This is called urinary diversion.”

Under risks associated with urinary diversion  there is the following bullet point. Which I had to read several times to assure  moiselfyep, that’s what it says.  Apparently, one of the risks following removal of your bladder is:

* Loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence)

 

 

Really. 

Yeah; kinda difficult to control an organ you no longer have in your body.

 

 

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Dateline: last week, Valley Art Gallery

Department Of Gawddammit It’s Like They Know I’m Coming In…

And so they put this right where I’ll see it.  Because a sculpture like this, displaying both the talent and whimsy which moiself  so admires in art…and which the artist oh-so-appropriately-not-to-mention-appealingly named, “Speckled Twerp”…they know who’s going to take it home.

 

 

 

At first I tried to divert moiself  by falling for this charming piece, called…wait for it…Yellow Chicken.

 

 

 

 

But the twerp in me would not be denied.

 

 

“Are we all clear on the new installation?  Have the twerp piece where she’ll see it, and maybe distract her first with the chicken….”

*   *   *

Department Of Things You Talk About With Good Friends After A Good Lunch

Cattywampus
Hornswoggled
Bumfuzzle
Taradiddle
Withershins
Collywobbles
Gardyloo
Flummadiddle

The Miriam Webster online dictionary has a special link for those and other “funny-sounding words,” but that’s not enough, sez moiself  (and friends agree).  There needs to be a special day set aside, or declared, to encourage the usage of these words.

 

 

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Department Of Why Has It Taken Me So Long To Realize This?

I don’t use marjoram.  As of last Wednesday, there is no longer a jar of marjoram in my Wall O’ Spices ®.  You know how it is, when you redo your kitchen’s spice holding system and buy those pre-printed spice jar labels which of course include one for marjoram and you think, “Ah yes, a classic spice,” and so you give it jar space but then forget that you never use it because…you never use it.

 

 

Nor is there a marjoram jar or tin on the cabinet shelves filled with refills for spices I commonly use, and less-commonly-but-still-occasionally-used ones, from amchur and  asafetida to celery powder to gochugaru.

 

 

When I last encountered a recipe calling for marjoram  [3]  I used up the pitiful amount I had left.  And when looking for more, I found none in the bulk sections of several markets, and I wasn’t about to pay $8.99 for a small jar which would go stale before I would use even 10% of it.

Thus, for perhaps the first time in my adult life, I am marjoram-free.

 

 

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Department Of Getting To Play The Game

Check this out, for an interesting listen: the recent Clear + Vivid podcast Alison Gopnik: Making AI more childlike.

Gopnik is a professor of psychology and researcher into cognitive and language development. She spoke with C+V podcast host Alan Alda about her (and other people’s) research which shows how children are generally curious about their world; thus, children are interested in science and have innate abilities for experimentation and theory formation…then tend to lose interest in the subject itself as they age.  Gopnik, along with many other scientists, argue that this is, in great part, because of the way science is taught:

“Suppose we taught baseball the way we teach science.  So for the first five years you’d be reading about baseball games, and maybe you’d be reading about some of the rules. And then in high school you’d get to reproduce famous baseball plays…and you would never get to play the game until you were in graduate school….
That’s kind of the way we teach science – you don’t really play the game, you don’t really *do* science, until you’re in graduate school.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Here We Go Again
Sub-Department OF Preview Of Coming Grievances Attractions

( Sub- Department explanation: my next three blogs will deal with various aspects of The Writing Life As Moiself  Sees It ®  ).

 

 

Dateline: Earlier this month, researching and updating guidelines for literary journals and publishers.    [4]  What I find in my research confirms one of many reasons moiself  rarely submits my work anymore. For example, I come across this, from the guidelines of a self-proclaimed “international” journal:

“Submissions are open to all, but we particularly welcome work from….
First Nations and POC writers, the LGBTQI+ community, and writers with a disability.”

Should I decide to send my work to this journal I, like any writer submitting work to any journal, would not be doing so in person.  I’d submit material as per their guidelines: either online via their submissions portal (the default nowadays) or via mail (much less common, but still used). Either way, the journal’s editors can neither see nor hear nor speak with me.

 

 

My first name may or may not indicate my gender; my surname might convey an impression (which could be a false impression either way) as to whether I am or am not a First Nations and POC writer.  How will the editors know if I am a LGBTQI+ community, or a  writer with a disability, unless I declare this in my cover letter?  And if I do so, will the journal’s editors then “particularly welcome” my story due to my personal particulars that they have particularly decided to find particularly welcoming?

 

 

Moiself  can’t help but suspect that the content of my work will be read and judged differently under such circumstances.  Which moiself  finds both ethically odious and disturbing.  Speaking  [5]   both as a writer and *especially* as a reader, I don’t give a flying buttress’s butthole…

 

“Excusez-moi?!?!!”

 

 …about writers’ “identities” or “qualities.”  I’m interested in the quality of the *stories* they write, not in who or what they *are.*

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week   [6]

 

*   *   *

May you remember to make someone a sandwich;
May you support the reform of how we teach science in schools;
May you not be hornswaggled into giving a tarradiddle’s colleywobbles
about doing things widdershins;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] You’ve seen those signs, with names of churches or other businesses located in an otherwise residential area.

[2] And ultimatly, lifesaving, fingers crossed!

[3] In itself a rare thing, and I have found that the recipe either won’t miss it or that oregano will do just fine – or even better – instead.

[4] (I’ve addressed complained about this issue previously, in this space.

[5] There should be at least five footnotes in this post.

[6] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, http://www.ffrf.org  

The Fight I’m Not Ending

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Department Of The Partridge Of The Week

It’s that time of the year again. As has become a tradition much maligned anticipated in our neighborhood, moiself   is hosting a different Partridge, every week, in my front yard.   [1]

Can you identify this week’s guest Partridge?

 

*   *   *

And about that fight….  Why am I not ending it? Because the controversies over the issues and principles involved seem to be (still, WTF)  lingering in some tight-spirited and fearful minds.

I ran across the sentiments moiself   so objects to last week when moiself  heard a snippet of a radio interview with some book reviewer.  But I was most butt-frostingly reminded of The Fight ®  when I recently heard Fresh Air host Terry Gross’s 1993 interview (rebroadcasted 12-14-22) with Octavia Butler, the late great, ground-breaking Black female science fiction author.

 

 

Butler, indiscussing how and why she began writing, said she was both trying to get under-represented perspectives a voice (i.e. a voice like hers, as a black female in sci fi), but also she wanted to experience the voice of others:

“…I’ve  also explored, and in a strange sense I suppose I also found out, what it might like to be a white male or whatever, you know.
One of the things writing does is allow you to be other people
without actually being locked up for it.”

TG:
“We’re talking empathy here, right?”

OB:
“Uh hum – yes.”

 

 

That should have ended the pitiful controversy right there and then.  But it’s been a long time since 1993, and “cultural appropriation,” a concept bandied about in academia in the 1980s, wasn’t so publicly applied to works of literature until after Butler’s death.

In case y’all haven’t figured out the connection between this particular blog’s title and content, the fight I refer to would be that against literary censorship – censorship of the worst kind, the kind that makes an author repress herself before she even writes, when she has an idea for a story/plot/character but fears her work will be for naught as she doesn’t have the right “personal” credentials/identity that the self-appointed Saviors of Literary Ownership Police  (appropriately acronym-ed) will deem necessary…and thus they will rake her over the cultural appropriation coals.

Moiself  has written about this several times in this space (a few of them cited at the end of this post, before the footnotes), and most extensively in my post, The Culture I’m Not Appropriating, 9-16-16.  Since it’s my birthday week   [2]  and since the wise words of Ms. Butler inspired me, I shall rerun that post, which was one of my first single-subject rants examination of a thorny issue:

 

 

( from The Culture I’m Not Appropriating, 9-16-16. )

Write what you know is, hands down/butts up, the Worst Writing Advice Ever. ®  Although I despise the aggravating axiom’s existence, I took some solace in thinking that its influence has been waning….

Golly gosh gee willikers, how I love learning new things: it seems that, like intestinal gas after a vegan-chili-eating contest, that misbegotten maxim keeps resurfacing. It has morphed, and rises anew in the form of the term, cultural appropriation.      [3]

 

I grow weary of you appropriating Vulcan culture, Lt. Kirk.

 

American journalist/novelist Lionel Shriver, who was invited to be the keynote speaker at the recent  Brisbane Writers Festival, knotted the knickers of the festival organizers when, as reported in this NY Times article, she  [4]  disparaged the movement against cultural appropriation:

Write what you know; do not appropriate the culture/experience of another. This becomes translated as, Write what you are. And what you are becomes defined by someone outside of you – someone who decries cultural, ethnic, class and gender stereotypes even as they want to circumscribe your right to tell stories/craft characters based on their interpretation of your cultural what you know.

Seven years ago I wrote a letter to the editor of Poets & Writers magazine, in response to a Very Long Screed ® letter from a woman who passionately pronounced that writers must write about only those characters and backgrounds from whence they came; that is, you must write about what you know, and what you know is what you are. Screed Woman  [5]    commented at length about what a “true artist” may create, and at one point actually declared the following:

I will not permit folks like _____ [6]  to write of my folk, or Mexican folk, or Asian folk, or Native American folk, of folk of color as though they have a right to.” 

 

 

Yes, really.

Screed Writer, without having been asked by other writers, “By the way, what do you think I should write about?” and without having been elected to the Board of Literary Permissions,  [7]   not only felt entitled to speak for all of her “folk,” but also for the folk of which she is not-folk – an incredibly diverse and numerous collection of humanity, whose varying and wide-ranging opinions on the issue at hand she discounted, IMHO, by presuming to speak for all folk-of-color.

As I wrote in my reply letter,  [8]

Was I out of the country when _____( Screed Writer) was appointed to the coveted, “True Artist Discerner” position?
….I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but behold: for centuries, a legion of writers, from Shakespeare to Le Guin, have composed tales and created characters without your (or anyone else’s) permission. A pox upon the cheeky bastards!
….All those wasted years, merely loathing Jonathan Livingston Seagull for the story itself when I could have really censured it for being inauthentic: “How dare its author write outside his species!?”

 

 

Write what you know. Just think of the awful, intrusive, disrespectful novels penned by those who have ignored that advice.

John Steinbeck, born into middle-class comfort in California and educated at Stanford – what could he know of the struggles and dreams of the destitute Oklahoma migrant farmers he depicted in The Grapes of Wrath? And that Cathy Ames character, the initially charming but ultimately evil and pitiful wife/mother in East of Eden – how could a 1950s, upright male citizen like Steinbeck take the liberty to deduce the machinations of a turn of the century whorehouse madam?   [9]

How dare Rita Mae Brown, a never-married, child-free lesbian with no siblings, presume to know the combination of brass and loneliness of the widowed elderly sisters and mothers whom she featured in her novel Bingo?  Not only that, Brown has penned a series of detective novels featuring a cat as a sleuth-like protagonist! The nerve of her, a bipedal homo sapiens, to appropriate the thoughts and actions of a quadrapedal felis catus.

Stephen King had his first great hit with the novel Carrie. He audaciously crafted his shy high school misfit character despite the fact that he, an adult man with no demonstrable psychokinetic abilities who came from a middle-of-the road Protestant background, could not possibly know what it would be like to be a much-bullied adolescent female with telekinetic powers who lived with a batshit-crazy fundamentalist mother.

Alice Walker – well, she can write about her own folk, as long as they are The Color Purple.  But as an African American from a rural, Southern, impoverished, Baptist background there’s no way she could know the mind-set and motivations of an idealistic civil rights worker from a Northern, white, Jewish, privileged circumstances…and yet she dared to create just such a character in Meridian.

And what could Brian Doyle, a non-Urdu-speaking, white American writer and editor, truly know about the inner musings of a Muslim Pakistani barber, as he had the gall to do in Bin Laden’s Bald Spot ?

And don’t even get me started on that uppity Jean Auel, who created the Clan of the Cave Bear books. Auel presumed to tell tales about people who lived and died thousands of years ago – she appropriated cultures that don’t even exist anymore! And what could she, a contemporary middle-aged white woman, possibly know about Cro-magnons and Neanderthals of any age, gender or ethnicity?

Have I belabored this point enough?  Because, I could go on, ya know.

 

No, please, provide even more examples; we still don’t get it…

 

Now then. I do not mean to dismiss legitimate concerns re the historical exploitation of the experiences of women and minorities via the platform of fiction. As one Brisbane Writers Festival attendee put it, “The reality is that those from marginalized groups, even today, do not get the luxury of defining their own place in a norm that is profoundly white, straight and, often, patriarchal.”

I moiself  have, in this space and others, ranted commented on the pervasive sexism in the publishing and literary reviewing worlds, wherein, for example, “books about women written by men receive critical acclaim, while books written by women on similar themes and in a similar style are tawdry domestic dramas.”   [10]   And a slew of minds more incisive than mine have long noted the disparate praise heaped upon (usually white) men vis-à-vis women and minorities writing on the same subject.

I do mean to dismiss three whole ‘nother kettles of wormy literary fish:

  1. the idea that there are any “sacred” subjects – including but not limited to culture, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, politics, socio-economic class, dis/ability – about which writers cannot or should not write;
  2. the idea that writers may justifiably feel entitled to try to limit the variety of voices other writers employ to comment on any subject;
  3. two wormy fish kettles of literary nonsense are enough to be dismissed, for now.

Look: you may like a story’s plot and/or characters, or loathe the same – it’s up to each reader. What is not up to any reader, nor the self-blinder-donning, self-appointed Guardians Of Cultural Appropriation,   [11]   is to attempt to limit, intimidate or censor the imagination and empathy that writers use to create their stories and characters.

 

 

“I often quote myself. It lends spice to my conversation.”
(Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw)

 Since I am not one to ignore the example of GB Shaw, I shall end this communique with the end of my afore-mentioned response to the afore-mentioned Screed Writer:

_____ (Screed Writer) writes, with all sincerity and good intentions, I assume, that she would not write a character with certain gender/religious/ethnic attributes because she does “not wish to offend with less than authenticity.” Some might think her intentions polite and perhaps even considerate, but what I look for in a compelling story is not that its author has good manners. Go ahead, dare to “offend” me with “in-authenticity,” Better yet, let me – the reader – decide whether or not I am offended, and whether or not I find your characters authentic. Trust me; I’ve been doing this for years. I’ll be okay.

To the Write What You Know gang: can we end this dreary dialog? Go back to your corners; reflect; meditate; supplicate; read the self-help books and take the mood or perspective-altering medications that will enable you to ignore the evil voices in your head that tell you it is your obligation to shepherd, chaperone, and censor. WWYK-ers and others who deny themselves the “right” to write authentic if “different” characters are welcome to deny themselves – and themselves alone – that right. If, whether out of fear, misguided notions of respect, or any other reason, you do not consider yourself capable of creating authentic characters, then by all means, stifle yourself. Do not write beyond your self-imposed limits, perceptions and capacities, If it makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to write about it if you don’t want to (is this a wonderful world, or what?!), but please consider the following. Throughout the ages, many great writers, painters, and composers have suggested that it is the stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, one’s permitted zone, which is the mark of a “true” artist.

I, for one, am grateful for authors past and present who’ve written out “of the box.” Do not, ever, presume to limit another writer’s capabilities, or be so audacious as to assume you are the granter of people’s right to tell the stories they choose to tell. Gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, class, health status, religion, occupation, political affiliation – all of these authentic, influential and essential qualities ultimately pale in comparison to that most defining human (apologies to science fiction authors) quality: imagination.  Write, if you must, only what you think you know, but stop proscribing the imagination of anyone but yourself. My stories will be filled with agnostic, youthful, weak-hearted Southwestern men and with elderly, vigorous, devoutly Pentecostal Asian women; with boldly blasphemous crones, timorous dyslexic adolescents, and someday maybe even a gracious if paranoid Venusian. I’ll continue to write characters who line up with the truth of the story, not those that toe a line drawn in the literary sand by some self-deputized Authenticity Posse.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Taking A Break

 

There; that’s better.

 

 

Now, if only I could slap somebody upside the head with a leather-bound copy of the list of challenged, censored and banned book titles as collected by the National Coalition Against Censorship.

 

 

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week     [12]

“Political parties and ideologies with winning ideas don’t need to ban books. Christian nationalism, however, features inferior ideas
that can’t compete in the modern world without cheating.”
( Marty Essen, author, in his op-ed “Christian Nationalism and book banning,”
Independent Record, 9-16-22 )

*   *   *

May you refrain from brutally smiting those who would constrain the creativity of others;
May you, upon further reflection, treat such constraints with the scorn they deserve;
May you authentically appropriate the power of imagination;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

*   *   *

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

Teasers from previous posts on this topic, in case you haven’t had enough already and/or are suffering from insomnia:

Department Of Oh Please Not This Again
It is just as well that I’m a writer, not an editor. Were I editing a newspaper or magazine, I might soon be out of a job. For this is an essay in defense of cultural appropriation.
In Canada last month, three editors lost their jobs after making such a defense.

(Kenan Malik, opening lines from, In Defense of Cultural Appropriation  )

Excerpt from post The Woman I’m Not Born As, June 23 2017

*   *

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I had a story and several poems published in two different literary journals, each of which aspired, as per their “mission statements,” to give voice to the concerns of (the so-labeled) Generation X.  Not only were Gen X-ers these respective journals’ target audience, the journals…in their writers’ guidelines stated that writers submitting work must themselves be of the Gen-X age range.
Which I am not.
And yet, my story and poems were chosen for publication….

Although I snorted with derision when I read the afore-mentioned journals’ guidelines, I did have select pieces that I thought would be a good thematic fit for them. I also noted that neither journal requested contributor photos nor dates of birth, and thus had no way of confirming an author’s generational affiliation….
I chose to dishonor the journals’ guidelines by sending them my Gen-X-themed-fiction/poetry-written-by-a-non-Gen-Xer. The editors of the journal which published my story effused in the acceptance letter about how I had captured the particular zeitgeist they sought – about how the tone of my story was “exactly what we are looking for.”….
(excerpt from the acceptance acknowledgement letter I did not send to them):
Gee, thanks – oh, and by the way, that’s the point of being a *fiction* writer.  Somehow, miraculously, I was able to *get* the tone without *being* the tone. It’s called craft; skill; experience; imagination; empathy. It’s called creative writing for a reason, you ageist, imaginatively constipated twerps.
( Excerpt from post The Acceptance Letter I’m Not Sending, June 30 2017 )

*   *

Department Of More Fun With Writer
Sub-Department Of Yet Another Southern Border Crisis?

….American Dirt, in case you haven’t heard, is a novel about a Mexican woman and her son, the only survivors of their family’s murder by a drug cartel, who flee for their lives and head for the USA-Mexico border.  AD was chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club selection (which almost guarantees a bajillion copies sold, plus movie options) and received glowing reviews, including from Latina authors and actors such as Sandra Cisneros and Julia Alvarez and Salma Hayek.…until someone pointed out that the novel about Mexican immigrants was written by a non-Mexican, and the cultural identity police dog-piled on.
The book’s author identifies as white and Latina and has a Puerto Rican grandmother, but that’s not Latina enough for some.  Seemingly overnight the book went being reviewed as a captivating story that could “change hearts and transform policies” (Alvarez) to being “racist” and “filled with stereotypes.”  Just as quickly, the author went from to literary prodigy to pariah…her publisher even cancelled book tour appearances because of “specific threats to the booksellers and the author.”
(Excerpt from post The Cheese I’m Not Cutting, February 21 2020 )

*   *
Department Of Idiocy Makes My Brain Hurt
Sub-Department Of Let’s Just Cancel those Pesky Qualities of Imagination And Empathy, Part 102.7 In A Contemptibly Long Series
Adjunct to the Sub-Sub Division Of Why My Own Profession
Has Left A Bad Taste In My Mouth For Years

….I’ve little doubt that author  (Celeste) Ng’s hesitation about her “authoritative voice” was due to her anticipating charges of cultural appropriation (and the very real possibility of being boycotted by publishers, who would fear such a backlash): as in, how dare Ng think that she, an Asian (read: non-Black) writer, could create a full-blooded, multi-faceted, Black character?
So:
* Although the Asian-American author imagined a Black woman as this lead character, she couldn’t bring herself to actually write her as such;
* Nevertheless, this Asian/non-Black writer was so successful in creating a compelling story about “identity and how the roles and the context of our identity contributes to how we live and relate to others in the world” that a Black actor could identify with this lead character as Black;
* And it was acceptable for the series’ casting director and other lead actor and producers to suggest casting the character as Black, and the Black actor allowed herself to take the role (“an amazing idea”), which was created by an Asian, non-Black writer….
( Excerpt from post, The Karma I’m Not Accruing, September 11 2020 )

*   *

(Finally!) Footnotes

[1] Specifically, in our pear tree.

[2] And thus I can write about whatever I want to…oh, wait, that’s every week….

[3] The term in this context refers to “minority” writers and artists protesting the use or depiction of their culture by other/non-minority writers or artists – even to the point of objecting to “dominant culture” artists creating or including in their work characters belonging to minority cultures.

[4] Yes, Lionel Shriver is a she. She appropriated a male first name at age 15.

[5] Self-identified as “black in America.”

[6] An ethnically/culturally Jewish writer, who had previously written about how she claimed the right to write non-Jewish characters and to *not* have to write about The Holocaust.

[7] Even if she claimed to be, it would be election fraud, as there is no such board.

[8] Which was published in P & W. The letter was edited for space and not run in its glorious (read: snarky) entirety.

[9] Excuse me, did I write ‘madam”? I mean of course, Sex Worker Supervisor.

[10] As per writer s.e. smith in her article, Sorry White Male Novelists, But Sexism in Publishing Is Still A Thing

[11] Unfortunately, not the long-awaited sequel to Guardians Of The Galaxy .

[12] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists. 

No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org

The Pulitzer Prize I’m Not Sharing

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Department Of The Partridge Of The Week

It’s that time of the year again. As has become a tradition much maligned anticipated in our neighborhood, moiself  will be hosting a different Partridge, every week, in my front yard.   [1]

Can you guess this week’s guest Partridge?

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Perhaps The Writer Of The Story Should Rethink
The Use Of The Modifier, “Successfully”

Dateline: Wednesday morning.  Moiself  reads these two opening paragraphs of a story published the previous evening in The Oregonian:

“The very morning he left a residential drug treatment program he successfully completed, a Douglas County man went straight to his former drug dealer and bought a pill.
Hours later, (the man’s) grandparents found the 25-year-old in a barn on their ranch in rural Drain, dead from acute fentanyl intoxication….”
(“Oregon man dies from fentanyl hours after leaving treatment.”
The Oregonian 11-29-22)

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Yes! Yes! See This Movie, Yes! Yes!
But With Caution

Caution as in, perhaps a trigger warning?

 

 

I was literally shaking as I left the theater.

She Said.   Everyone should see this movie…however, moiself  has a feeling that only those who understand the experiences will have the inclination to do so.

Yep, moiself  was rattled, even though I knew (most of) the facts of the story the movie tells – of how NY Times investigative reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (and journalist Ronan Farrow, working separately and simultaneously on the same story for The New Yorker) broke the Harvey Weinstein story and later wrote a book about both HW’s many abuses and their experiences investigating them (She Said:  Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement).

Kantor and Twohey shared the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for public service with Ronan Farrow, for their reporting on the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault and abuse scandals.

 

 

Harvey Weinstein, that serial rapist and sexual abuser of women and girls (at least three of his victims were teenagers at the time of their assaults; one was sixteen), has four daughters, whose ages range from twenty-seven to eleven.  Can you even imagine being one of them?

 

 

As I said wrote, I left the theater shaking, not with surprise but by the reminders that, with his goons and enablers and attorneys and accountants and other sycophants, HW almost got away with it.  Hell, he DID get away with it.  For. Decades.  And he wasn’t alone…and in how many workplaces, from Mom and Pop stores to multinational corporations, did and do predators continue to get away with it?

The movie touched on much more than the HW story itself.  It brought to mind the universal experiences of women abused by powerful men, some of which came out during the subsequent Me Too movement, some of which are ongoing, and most of which are lost to history, blackmail and extortion, victim-blaming and shame, and fear.

 

 

In one scene Kantor, a mother of two young daughters, is talking with Twohey, who’d just recently had her first baby (also a daughter), and who has dealt with some postpartum depression.  The story the two reporters are investigating is stressful; particularly wearing on them is the psychological damage they have seen inflicted upon HW’s victims, whose lives have been turned upside down (and careers ruined, in many cases) and who are too fearful to come out on the public record against such a powerful man…  [2] …and who live under a dark cloud of futility and despair.  I wish I could recall the exact dialog, but the essential vibe of the brief but powerful scene is this:  the two reporters briefly wonder aloud about how whether the frustration, fear, and depression experienced by many women might be the result of the pervasive drag-down common to the female experience: of having to deal with the burden of being female in a world where men still overwhelmingly hold and abuse power and act on the assumption that they can do whatever they want to any woman who is lower than them on life’s totem pole.   [3]

One of many powerful scenes in the movie involves several minutes of static video – footage of a NYC hotel hallway – while the reporters listen to audiotape of a “conversation” between HW and one of his victims (she was wired by the NYPD after reporting her assault). I need another word for conversation; I found it brutal to listen to, as HW harangued and pleaded and whined and threatened and interrupted the woman as he tried to get her to accompany him to his hotel room for a “meeting” (that’s where he does *all* his business meetings, he insisted,  [4]  and she is being so mean and unreasonable for refusing him, he pouts, and trying to embarrass him and “nothing” would happen, he promised “on the life of my children”   [5]  ).  And the woman was resisting and trying to get him to listen to her tell him how uncomfortable he was making her feel, and to answer her questions about why he had assaulted her (grabbed her breast) the previous day (“That’s just what I do,” he dismissed her complaint) and he went on and on, not taking her “no” for an answer, and repeatedly interrupting and talking over her….

I’d never had a sexually psychotic, sadistically bullying film producer try to intimidate and/or lure me.  Still, it all seemed so…familiar.

 

 

Two scenes later, Twohey and Kantor, both women in their early 30s, are seated at a table in a local pub with their editor, a woman in her late 60s.  They are there to discuss the HW investigation.  Two men enter the bar, spot the reporters, and began flirting with them.  One of the men approaches their table and invites the reporters to join him and his buddy (he doesn’t even make eye contact with the older woman; it’s as if – surprise! – she’s invisible to him).  Kantor is sitting with her back to the man; Twohey politely but firmly declines the man’s invitation.  The man persists. Twohey declines again, says that they are having a conversation and don’t want to be disturbed, and the man persists and interrupts and she declines several times (each time louder than her previous decline), the last time rising to her feet and yelling at him that she’d told him “…we are in a conversation and you need to FUCK OFF!”   Both men retreat, making smarmy remarks about how they know what those women “need.” Twohey apologizes to Kantor for yelling; Kantor assures her —reminds her – “Don’t say you’re sorry” (for standing up to bullies).

How fucked up is it – that women are conditioned to say they’re sorry, even when rightly and righteously reacting to someone else who is in the wrong?  The bar conversation scene, following the chilling audiotapes scene, was an obvious juxtaposition of a specific instance of harassment with What Women Endure On An Everyday Basis ®, in both professional and social situations.

 

 

But I can’t get out of my mind something that occurred to me after the movie was over.  I don’t think it was the director’s conscious attempt to put that observation into my mind.  Still, it is powerful, and it is this:

She Said  tells the story of the investigation into sexual assault and harassment, in HW’s Miramax Films in specific, and the movie industry in general.  Ironically (or not), a common trope in romantic comedies – one of the most successful movie genres – is that of the ardent male suitor who pursues his female love interest despite her having little to no interest in (or initially even repulsed by) him.  He won’t take no for an answer…and the movie rewards him for that, and presents his perseverance in a positive light.  He’s a man who knows what he wants!  And he goes for it!  His love interest is worn down by his persistence and finally says yes to him, whether for the moment or for life.

I repeat: in cinematic romcoms (and often also in “serious” movie love stories) the protagonist is rewarded for his dogged pursuit of someone who is not initially interested in him.  Even when the object of his desire says no, it’s his job to change her mind.  This kind of character is lauded in romcoms for behavior that in any other situation is essentially stalking.  And what happens in the movies? He “gets” his prize.  He is rewarded for his stalking persistence; he is rewarded, and praised and even presented as a romantic role model, for not taking no for an answer.

Of course, this convention only applies when the romantic protagonist is male.  If the pursuer is a female who is persistent and won’t take no for an answer, then she is presented as a neurotic/sociopath who’s going to boil your bunny.

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

Actually…not.  Moiself  got so twitterpated with the She Said subject matter that I’ve no energy left for other topics.  Except for maybe a brief interlude considering the therapeutic value of looking at pictures of unbearably cute baby animals wearing Santa hats.

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Cinematic Edition

Friends ask me how I sneak candy bars into the movie theater.
Well, I have a few twix up my sleeve.

Speaking of movie treats, how does actor Reese eat her ice cream?
Witherspoon.

What do you call movie a gunslinger with glasses?
Squint Eastwood.

 

I know what you’re thinking, punk. Don’t encourage her.

 

A French director wants to open a floating cinema in Paris with drive-in boats.
I just think that’s in Seine.

Some people forced me to watch a horror movie about clowns by punching me all the way to the cinema.
Yep, they beat me to IT.

 

 

*   *   *

May all of our animal friends look unbearably cute in Santa hats;
May you always and confidently guess this week’s Partridge;
May you always know when to take no for an answer;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Specifically, in our pear tree.

[2] The majority of HW’s victims were not well-known Hollywood stars (although there were several of those), but Miramax aides and clerical staff, way down on the totem pole and with no public interest in their stories.

[3] And to such men, all women, simply by being female, are lower than them on that totem pole.

[4] And, as HW  told so many of his young, naive victims, who were film industry novices, “That’s how it’s done in Hollywood.”  Being new to the business, most of them thought he knew what he was talking about and that *they* were ignorant stupid and/or were the ones sexualizing the meeting invitation by even being suspicious of its location.

[5] That was HW’s favorite tactic, to promise (that he wouldn’t do anything sexual, or that he was telling the truth), “on the life of my wife and children” – which one HW associate said was the no-fail tell that HW was about to lie.

The Holiday War I’m (Still) Not Declaring

1 Comment

Grab your sleigh bells and gird your garland-wrapped loins: you can practically smell the mistletoe in my annual, here-comes-the-holiday-season blog post:

Department Of Here They Come

Halloween (aka All Hallow’s Eve); Samhain; All Saint’s Day; El Dia de los Muertos; Mischief Night, Diwali

In the USA and in northern hemisphere countries around the world, there are multiple holidays with a relationship to “our” Halloween.  The relationship is as per the time of year and/or the theme, underlying beliefs, customs or origins of the various celebrations.

Many of these holidays originated as dual celebrations, acknowledgments of times of both death and rebirth, as celebrants marked the end of the harvest season and acknowledged the cold, dark winter to come.

And after Halloween, the holiday season really gets going.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Life Is Tough But It’s Even Tougher If You’re Stupid
Chapter 22467 in a (never-ending) series

“The idea of a “War on Christmas” has turned things like holiday greetings and decorations into potentially divisive political statements. People who believe Christmas is under attack point to inclusive phrases like “Happy Holidays” as (liberal) insults to Christianity….

Christmas is a federal holiday celebrated widely by the country’s Christian majority. So where did the idea that it is threatened come from?

The most organized attack on Christmas came from the Puritans, who banned celebrations of the holiday in the 17th century because it did not accord with their interpretation of the Bible….”

(“How the ‘War on Christmas’ Controversy Was Created,” NY Times, 12-19-16)

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of If Something Seems Familiar, That’s Because It’s Time For
My Annual Holiday Traditions Explained ® Post

What do we vegetarians, vegans, non-meat and/or plant-based eaters
do on Thanksgiving?
( Other than, according to your Aunt Erva, RUIN  IT  FOR  EVERYONE  ELSE.   [1]  )

The above question is an existential dilemma worthy of Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, who wrote eloquent discourses on the subjective and objective truths one must juggle when choosing between a cinnamon roll and a chocolate swirl.   [2]

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of I’ll Take Those Segues Where I Can Find Them

Four weeks from today will be the day after feasting, for many of us. Then, just when you’re recovering from the last leftover turkey sandwich/quiche/casserole/enchilada-induced salmonella crisis and really, really need to get outside for some fresh air, here comes the Yule season. You dare not even venture to the mall, lest your eardrums be assaulted from all sides by Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, Feliz Navidad, ad nauseum.

This observation provides a convenient segue to my annual, sincere, family-friendly,  [3]

Heathens Declare War On Christmas © post.

 

 

As to those Henny Penny/Chicken Little hysterics proclaiming a so-called “war” on Christmas, a rational person can only assume that they are not LGBTQ, or Jewish or a member of another minority religion, or an ethnic minority – in other words, they’ve never experienced actual bigotry (or actual combat). If they had, it’s likely they would not have trivialized discrimination (or war) with their whining.

The usage of “Happy Holidays” as an “attack on Christianity” is an invention of right-wing radio talk show hosts.  Happy Holidays is nothing more nor less than an encompassing shorthand greeting – an acknowledgement of the incredible number of celebratory days, religious and otherwise, which in the U.S. is considered to start in October with Halloween, moving on to November with Thanksgiving (although our Canadian neighbors and friends celebrate their Thanksgiving in October) and extends into and through January, with the various New Year’s celebrations.

It is worthwhile to note that while many if not most Americans, Christian or not, celebrate Christmas, there are also some Christians who, on their own or as part of their denomination’s practice or decree (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Worldwide Church of God), do not celebrate Christmas     [4]   (nor did our much-ballyhooed forebears, the Pilgrims).  Also, the various Orthodox Christians use calendars which differ from most Protestant and Catholic calendars (a biggie for them at this time of the year is the Nativity of Christ, which occurs on or around January 7).

Happy Holidays — it’s plural, and for good reason.  It denotes the many celebrations that happen during these months.  People in the northern hemisphere countries, from South Americans and Egyptians to the Celts and Norskis, have marked the Winter Solstice for thousands of years, and many still do.  And some Americans, including our friends, neighbors and co-workers, celebrate holidays that although unconnected with the winter solstice occur near it, such as Ramadan, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.

 

In 2023 the Chinese (lunar) New Year begins on Jan 22.

 

Most folks are familiar with the “biggies”- Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day. But don’t forget the following holidays, many of which we’ve learned about (or celebrated with) via our children’s teachers and fellow students, and our neighbors and co-workers.

* The Birth of the Prophet (Nov. 12) and Day of the Covenant (Nov. 26) are both Baha’i holy days  (our family has had Baha’i teachers, childcare providers, and neighbors).

* St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6)

* Bodhi Day.  Our Buddhist friends and neighbors celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8 (or on the Sunday immediately preceding).

* Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec 12)

* St. Lucia Day (Dec. 13) Our Swedish neighbors and friends celebrate St. Lucia Day, as did one of Belle’s and K’s schools, when they were in grade school (Belle, as the oldest 3rd grade girl, got to play St. Lucia).

* Bill of Rights Day (Dec 15)

* Pancha Ganapati Festival (one of the most important Hindu festivals, Dec. 21st through the 25th,  celebrated by many of MH’s coworkers)

* The Winter Solstice (varies, Dec.  21 or 22 this year on the 21st )

* Little Christmas Eve (Dec.  23) Celebrated by my family, LCE was a custom of the small Norwegian village of my paternal grandfather’s ancestors.

* Boxing Day (Dec. 26), celebrated by our Canadian-American and British-American neighbors and friends.

*Ramadan and/or Eid, the Islamic New Year (as Islam uses a lunar calendar the dates of their holidays varies, but these holidays are usually November-December)

* The Chinese New Year.  I always look forward to wishing my sister-in-law, a naturalized American citizen who is Cantonese by birth, a Gung Hay Fat Choy.  (The Chinese Lunar calendar is the longest chronological record in history, dating from 2600 BCE.  The New Year is celebrated on second new moon after the winter solstice, and so can occur in January or February).

This is not a complete list. See why it’s easier to say, “Happy Holidays?”

The USA is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world.  To insist on using the term “Merry Christmas” as the all-encompassing seasonal greeting could be seen as an attack on the religious beliefs of all of the Americans who celebrate the other holiday and festivals.  At the least, it denotes the users’ ignorance of their fellow citizens’ beliefs and practices.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Did You Know…

…that the Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that, “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”   [5]

…that because of its known pagan origins, Christmas was banned by the Puritans, and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts until 1681.   [6]

 

 

“Do you celebrate Christmas?”

We Heretics/apostates non-Christians Happy Heathens often hear this question at this time of year.  The inquiry is sometimes presented in ways that imply our celebration (or even acknowledgement) of Christmas is hypocritical.  This implication is the epitome of cheek, when you consider the fact that it is the early Christians who stole a festival from our humanist (pagan) forebears, and not the other way around.

Who doesn’t like a party, for any reason? And we who are religion-free don’t mind sharing seasonal celebrations with religious folk – sans the superstition and government/church mumbo-jumbo –  as long as they accept the fact that the ways we all celebrate this “festive season” predate Christianity by hundreds of years.

 

 

Early Roman Catholic missionaries tried to convert northern Europeans to the RC brand of Christianity, and part of the conversion process was to alter existing religious festivals. The indigenous folk, whom the RC church labeled “barbarians,” quickly discovered that when it came to dealing with missionaries, resistance is futile. The pagans intuitively grasped the concept of natural selection and converted to Christianity to avoid the price (persecution, torture, execution) of staying true to their original beliefs.  But they refused to totally relinquish their traditional celebrations, and so the church, eventually and effectively, simply renamed most of them.    [7]

Pagan practices were given a Christian meaning to wipe out “heathen” revelry.  This was made official church policy in 601 A.D., when Pope Gregory the First issued the now infamous edict to his missionaries regarding the traditions of the peoples they wanted to convert. Rather than try to banish native customs and beliefs, missionaries were directed to assimilate them. You find a group of people decorating and/or worshiping a tree? Don’t chop it down or burn it; rather, bless it in the name of the Church.  Allow its continued worship, only tell the people that, instead of celebrating the return of the sun-god in the spring, they are now worshiping the rising from the dead of the Son of God.

( Easter is the one/odd exception, where a pagan celebration was adapted by Christians without a name change. Easter is a word found nowhere in the Bible. It comes from the many variants (Eostra, Ester, Eastra, Eastur….) of a Roman deity, goddess of the dawn “Eos” or “Easter,” whose festival was in the Spring.)

The fir boughs and wreaths, the Yule log, plum pudding, gift exchanges, the feasting, the holly and the ivy and the evergreen tree….It is hard to think of a “Christmas” tradition that does not originate from Teutonic (German), Viking, Celtic and Druid paganism.   [8]   A celebration in the depths of winter – at the time when, to those living in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun appears to stop its southerly descent before gradually ascending north – is a natural instinct. For thousands of years our Northern Hemisphere ancestors greeted the “reason for the season” – the winter solstice – with festivals of light and gift exchanges and parties.  The Winter Solstice was noted and celebrated long before the Roman Jesus groupies pinched the party.

But, isn’t “Jesus is the reason for the season”?

The reason for the season?  Cool story, bro.  Since you asked; actually, axial tilt is the reason for the season.  For *all* seasons.

 

 

And Woden is the reason the middle of the week is named Wednesday.   [9]   My calling Wednesday “Wednesday” doesn’t mean I celebrate, worship, or “believe in” Woden.  I don’t insist on renaming either Christmas, or Wednesday.

 

“Now, go fetch me the brazen little sheisskopfs who took the Woden out of Woden’s Day!”

 

The Winter Solstice is the day with the shortest amount of sunlight, and the longest night. In the northern hemisphere it falls on what we now mark as December 21 or 22.  However, it took place on December 25th at the time when the Julian calendar was used.  [10]   The early Romans celebrated the Saturnalia on the Solstice, holding days of feasting and gift exchanges in honor of their god Saturn. (Other major deities whose birthdays were celebrated on or about the week of December 25   [11]   included Horis, Huitzilopochtli, Isis, Mithras, Marduk, Osiris, Serapis and Sol.)  The Celebration of the Saturnalia was too popular with the Roman pagans for the new Christian church to outlaw it, so the new church renamed the day and reassigned meanings to the traditions.    [12]

In other words, why are some folk concerned with “keeping the Christ in Christmas”  [13]  when we should be keeping the Saturn in Saturnalia?

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
The Approaching Holiday Season Edition

What is a jack-o’-lantern’s favorite literature genre?
Pulp fiction.

My family told me to stop telling Thanksgiving jokes right now,
but I said I couldn’t quit cold turkey.

My cousin is terrified by all of the St. Nicholas displays at the shopping mall.
You might say she’s Claustrophobic

I told you not to encourage her.

*   *   *

Whatever your favorite seasonal celebrations may be, moiself  wishes you all the best.

May you have the occasion to (with good humor) “ruin it for everyone else;”
May you find it within yourself to ignore the Black Friday mindset;
May you remember to keep the Saturn in Saturnalia;
…and may the fruitcake-free hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] You have an Aunt Erva, somewhere.  We all do.

[2] Damn right I’m proud of that one.

[3] Well, yeah, as compared to the usual shit I write.

[4] And a grade school friend of mine, whose family was Jehovah’s Witnesses, considered being told, “Merry Christmas” to be an attack on *her* beliefs.

[5]Increase Mather, A Testimony against Several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, Now Practiced by Some in New England” (London, 1687).  See also Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday,” New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

[6] Stephen Nissenbaum, “The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday.”

[7]Paganism in Christianity.”

[8]  “Learn not the way of the heathen…their customs are vain, for one cuts a tree out of the forest…they deck it with silver and gold…” Jeremiah 10:2-5

[9] Wednesday comes from the Old English Wōdnesdæg, the day of the Germanic god Wodan (aka Odin, highest god in Norse mythology and a big cheese god of the Anglo-Saxons until the seventh century.)

[10] The Julian calendar, adopted by Julius Caesar ~ 46 B.C.E., was off by 11 min/year, and when the Gregorian calendar was established by Pope – wait for it – Gregory,  the solstice was established on 12/22.

[11] The Winter Solstice and the Origins of Christmas, Lee Carter.

[12] In 601 A.D., Pope Gregory I issued a now famous edict to his missionaries regarding wooing potential converts: don’t banish peoples’ customs, incorporate them. If the locals venerate a tree, don’t cut it down; rather, consecrate the tree to JC and allow its continued worship.

[13] And nothing in the various conflicting biblical references to the birth of JC has the nativity occurring in wintertime.

The Novel Characters I’m Not Liking

Comments Off on The Novel Characters I’m Not Liking

Department Of Things Are Never Going To Get Better
Until We Start Asking The Correct  Questions

 

 

Whether posed from a pro-choice supporter who encourages openness as being essential to  debates over reproductive freedom and (ironically) privacy, or from a rape hotline volunteer who is working to bring the statistics of sexual assault into the public consciousness, IMO people – well-meaning and otherwise – keep asking the wrong questions.

Question, posed to a woman:
Have you ever had an abortion?

Question which *should* be posed to a man – either preceding or following the previous question – but never rarely is:
Have you ever, even potentially,   [1]  been the cause of an abortion?
(Translation: have you ever had sexual relations with a woman, consensual or otherwise, in which your intent was not to father a wanted pregnancy? )

 

 

Question, posed to a woman:
Have you ever been sexually assaulted?

Question which *should* be posed to a man – either preceding or following the previous question – but never rarely is:
Have you – or any male friend/relative/acquaintance you know of –
ever sexually assaulted anyone?

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Doing the Thing I Wasn’t Going To Do

Moiself  has started a book club.

Always the vanguard of creativity and novelty, I am calling it, Book Club.

 

 

The reason why I wasn’t going to do it: my experiences in the previous BCs I’ve been a part of.

The BCs dealing with nonfiction were fine, and more than that – highly enjoyable and educational.  But when it came to BCs that included – or were totally centered around – works of fiction…not so much.  What would happen: at least one of the other BC members would find out that I was a published author of fiction (something I tried to keep under wraps) and “out” me to the group.  This revelation tainted the BC experience for moiself, and also, it seemed, for many if not all of the other members.  I noted a deference, toward moiself, from the other members, which frustrated, saddened, and frankly nauseated me.

The other BC members would noticeably defer (sometimes downright obsequiously) to my opinions, or change theirs if they’d spoken first and then it was my turn to speak  [2]  and I offered a different perspective, or ask me to express my thoughts before they’d offer theirs. They’d even come right out and say something along the lines of:

“Well, as an author, you know more than I do about….”

Ick, ick, ick.

And no amount of encouragement on my part –  that their opinions and feelings as readers were equally valid (or even more so) than mine as a writer  [3]  – seemed to relieve that deferential dynamic.

The straw which broke my BC camel’s back…

 

“Ooh, thank you for that.”

 

…you’re welcome.

As I was saying typing, the straw which broke my BC camel’s back was when we members of BC #4 were discussing A Thousand Acres, author Jane Smiley’s contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

ATA was a book I did not care for.  As it turned out, not one person in the group did, although the other members were initially hesitant to express their distaste for ATA, seeing as how the literary critics were coming in their pants over their eagerness to heap praise upon it (in my opinion…which I managed not to express to the BC  in the words moiself  has used here).

So; none of us liked it.  But, whyMoiself  kept her mouth shut until everyone else had spoken, when I found out that everyone else in the group didn’t enjoy reading ATA because “There were no likeable characters in the book.”

Um, okay.  Moiself  didn’t partucularly “like” any of the book’s main characters. But, what about the story itself – the plot, the pacing, the way the story of those unlikeable characters unfolded?  I tried to present the idea that a story can be compelling without containing characters which you, the reader, find likeable or “identifiable-with-able.”  I mean, seriously, dudes: who is “likeable” in Macbeth?

Moiself  didn’t like the book because I didn’t like the story being told, in the way it was told.  I didn’t care for the plot content and trajectory, which never engaged my attention, and…oh, never mind.

I tried, very carefully and respectfully, to offer an alternative perspective to not-liking-something, which some of the other BC members took as me trying to talk them out of *not* liking the book – which, as I ‘d already stated, moiself  Also. Did. Not. Like.

 

 

Fast forward to at least two decades later. The first meeting of “my” BC was last Thursday, and seemed to be a rousing success. A nice mix of life backgrounds and opinions among the members;   [4]  moiself received good feedback; everyone seems looking forward to next month’s meeting.  The format, which is open to modification as per members’ suggestions and preferences,    [5]   is fairly simple:  Once a month; my place; all who are able to do so bring a plate of appetizer/canape/”finger food” type goodies to share (and/or conversation-stimulating beverages);  we nosh and sip and talk about the book.

 

 

At the end of the evening we offer suggestions for next month’s book, based on the month’s theme, which has been announced in advance.

I wanted this BC, instead of specializing in genres, to offer a wide variety of reading options.  I didn’t want to host (or participate in) an all fiction or all nonfiction group. In order to offer the widest variety of possibilities – and perhaps force moiself  to read at least one book a year in a category I don’t normally opt for (e.g., history), moiself  came up with a list of themes (and a clarification of them), which I shall ever-so-humbly share with y’all now, in case this idea is also appealing to you.    [6]

 

 

Book Club Monthly Themes

* January: Literary Classics You Should Have Read
I never made it through War and Peace (and have no desire to do so now), how about you?  But there are plenty of other classics I’d like to give a go (or would be willing to re-read, since I’ve probably forgotten most of, say, Moby Dick).  What constitutes a “classic”? Think of your high school/college literature class reading lists.

* February: Short story collections
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
This quote (variously attributed to everyone from Twain to Voltaire) is related to a category that never quite gets its due recognition, but in which (so-called) New World authors have excelled, from past practitioners like Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury (The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and other stories; The Illustrated Man) to relative newcomers Edwidge Dandicat and Tim O’Brien (Ghosts; The Things They Carried).

*  March: Feminism  “I Am Woman; Hear Me Roar (and see me read).”
Sisterhood is powerful, as we’ll see when we delve into/revisit the classics of first and second wave feminist thought (Mary Wollstonecraft’s The Vindication of the Rights of Women; Betty Freidan’s The Feminist Mystique; Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch; Gloria Steinem’s The Truth Will Set you Free But First It Will Piss You Off ) as well as the “Third Wave” feminists’ updates (Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist; Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me).

* April: Regional – “She flies with her own wings” (and reads with her own eyes).
Did you recognize Oregon’s state motto? Yeah, it’s somewhat…lame, but it’s a great state and region we are privileged to live in. In April we’ll affirm that by reading and discussing a book either written by an Oregon/Pacific NW author, or one that deals with Oregon/Pacific settings and/or subjects.  From Ursula LeGuin’s sci-fi novels to Stephen Ambrose’ history of the Lewis & Clark expedition, this theme could include almost any literary category.

* May:  Freethought  “Having faith is believing in something you just know ain’t true.”
This quote from Twain leads us to themes of humanism, skepticism, and freethought. We’ll be choosing from the writings of those who are-religion free, such as the provocative manifestos of Sam Harris (The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason) and Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), the memoir of activist Dan Barker (Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists), and the historical works of Susan Jacoby (Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism).

* June: “Pride Month” writers
From the semi-autobiographical fiction of Rita Mae Brown  (Bingo; Six of One) to the essay collections of David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day) to the novels of James Baldwin (Giovanni’s Room) to the poetry of Justin Chin (Harmless Medicine)– this is yet another category which can encompass all genres.  From poetry to political manifestos, the only requirement for a June book is that the book’s author identifies as LGBTQ. 

 

 

 

 

* July: History and other Non-fiction
The broadest category of all, this could cover anything from self-help to ancient civilizations to true crime to WWII narratives….

* August: Memoir/Biography/Autobiography
From the thought-provoking, introspective life story of an esteemed philosopher to the behind-the-scenes memoir of a pivotal political figure to the how-it-all-happened tale of a groundbreaking scientist to the riotous recollections of a ribald rock musician, books in this non-fiction category must tell a story about someone’s life  (note: I reserve the right to have veto power when it comes to books about Kardashians and their ilk).

* September: International Literature. “The world is my country….” (Thomas Paine).
The timeless works of England’s Jane Austin; the complex novels of the Russian “masters”  (but please, no War and Peace); the contemporary stories of India’s Arundhati Roy;  the poetry of Chile’s Pablo Neruda; the essays of Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe – a September BC book can be fiction or nonfiction, as long as its author is/was a citizen of a country other than the USA.    [7]

* October:  Controversial Authors
This theme could (and hopefully will) spur conversations about how we separate artists’ work from their personal lives (and whether or not this should even be a goal). 

Charles Dickens critiqued the poverty and social stratification of Victorian England via his characters’ memorable stories.  Yet historians who’ve read Dicken’s personal letters tell us that the man known as a compassionate champion of family values – the man who wrote so sympathetically about the plight of Tiny Tim – was a SOB to his own family. [8]

Are the stories of Sherman Alexie still worthwhile, after the critically-acclaimed author was accused of (and admitted to) sexual harassment?  Will you read J.D. Vance’s best-selling memoir about poverty-stricken Appalachia (Hillbilly Elegy) now that Vance has embraced ultra conservative politics?  If a writer is unrepentant when confronted with a racist remark from his past but wrote a damn fine  [9]  novel, do you give yourself permission to read his work?

* November:  Books Made Into Movies. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”  [10]

When it comes to film adaptations of novels, avid readers often declare, The book is always better.  Here’s your chance to affirm that, or discover that, in some cases, the opposite may hold true.   From Jaws to Sense and Sensibility, from The Color Purple to The Maltese Falcon, from The Wizard of Oz  to The World According to Garp, this category is for cinephiles as well as literature lovers. Perhaps we’ll be introduced to books we didn’t even know were adapted into movies (I bet more of us have watched the movie Forrest Gump than have read the novel).

* December:  Embarrassing Or Guilty Pleasures.
Is That A Nora Roberts Novella In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?”   We’ll end the year with books we may not so eager to admit we like, because they aren’t literary enough.  We know we’re supposed to read books which challenge us intellectually (that effin’ War and Peace again) – titles that would look impressive on our Goodreads resumes.  Still, there are times when we want to rest our brains with a “light” read, be it a murder mystery, romance, fantasy/sci-fi, action/adventure, western – whatever your favorite genre.   And sorry, although it provided a plot point for a cute movie (Book Club), as BC host and instigator I reserve my power to veto all shades of 50 Shades of….

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Books Clubs Edition

Our Book club is reading a novel about anti-gravity. It’s impossible to put down.

I finally got my book Club to read Jane Austen. They just needed a little Persuasion.

Our new Book Club member says she doesn’t like Lord of the Rings,
but she doesn’t know what she’s Tolkien about.

Our book Club bartender recommended we read his favorite book:
Tequila Mockingbird.

 

 

 

*   *   *

May you like a book with unlikeable characters;
May you remember to ask the right questions;
May you enjoy the last week of summer;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Potentially, as in, you had unprotected intercourse with a woman, wherein the intention was not to get her pregnant, and she did not get pregnant (but could have).

[2] In one of the BCs the format was to go around the circle, each person speaking once so that everyone got a turn, and then it was open to everyone to take it from there.

[3] Although I wasn’t there, at those groups, as a writer, but as a fellow reader.

[4] Except where politics are concerned…which came into the conversation and it seems we’re all on the left side of the page, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

[5] Although for simplicity’s sake I offered to be permanent host (hoping that *not* having to host will make it easier on someone who is interested but hesitant if a rotating host schedule is required, which I’d seen in other groups), I made it clear that it is our, not *my* group, and we can change the meeting time/place/format as we see fit to do so.

[6] Steal borrow these if  you like.  I’d be flattered…with a bit of attribution.

[7] This month we read The Story of My Teeth, by Valeria Luiselli.  A book I really enjoyed, but probably never would have discovered, had I not created this themed list.

[8] Dickens hated his mother, was cruel to his wife and schemed (unsuccessfully) to have her institutionalized when he was having an adulterous affair. With his children he followed a pattern of initial enthusiasm followed by utter disillusionment and disparaged them to his friends (even hoping for the death of one son who’d disappointed him).

[9] Keeping in mind that “damn fine,” like any artistic judgment, us ultimately subjective, even though the “crimes” and deficiencies the author is being accused of may be more objectively defined.

[10] A quote from the movie “Jaws,” the memorable line was not in the novel but was adlibbed by actor Roy Scheider.

The Highways I’m Not Renaming

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Department Of I Have Questions…But To Whom?

Dateline Tuesday am.  Driving Highway 26 from the Oregon coast to Hillsboro, moiself  comes upon a portion of the highway with has a new-ish sign on the side of the road which announces: “POW-MIA Memorial Highway.” I’ve seen the sign several times before, and have often thought, why?

Is this –  naming portions of a road for a person or group of people – considered an honor, *by* that person or group of people for whom the road is named?

I know that that is a thing – roads being named for people.  But what I don’t know is why having a thoroughfare named for or after you is considered to be…an act of respect  [1]  ?

Here’s what a bit ‘o googling got me:  I was mistaken in thinking it’s only that particular portion of the Highway 26 (where the P-MMH sign is) which is now the P-MMH.  The whole damn highway, which I’ve always known as The Sunset Highway, was renamed – excuse-moi, “officially dubbed” – the P-MMH.  This happened in 2020. I didn’t get the memo, nor was moiself  invited to the ceremony.

 

 

 

 

“Highway 26 has now been named the POW-MIA Memorial Highway. This designation was celebrated in cities across the state, including Boring, on National POW-MIA Recognition Day, Sept. 18, and came as a result of the efforts of Lt. Colonel Dick Tobiason (Ret.) and his nonprofit, The Bend Heroes Foundation.”   [2]

(“Highway 26 officially dubbed POW-MIA Memorial Highway,”
Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, 9-24-2020)

I wish for a relative (of a POW or MIA) whom I know well enough to be comfortable asking them, “Does having a road named after your soldier-uncle make you feel warm and fuzzy, or honored, or that his sacrifices were not in vain, or….?”

Not that I’m against honoring or acknowledging soldiers, particularly POWs and MIAs.  Anyone   [3]  remember the POW and MIA bracelets from 1970-on, during the Vietnam War era?

 

 

The idea was for people to wear the bracelets to keep the recognition of POWs and MIAs in the public eye. I wore two such bracelets, but can’t remember from whom/where I got them.  I recall that, for some nominal fee to the organization which started the campaign,   [4]   you would receive a copper or nickel-plated bracelet, engraved with the rank, name, and capture or loss date of an American serviceman known to be captured or missing in action during the Vietnam War.  You were supposed to wear the bracelet until said soldier (or his remains) was returned to the USA.  [5] 

I was as anti-Vietnam war as teenager could be, but didn’t blame soldiers for our country’s massive FUBAR of a military campaign.  Thus, when someone asked me if I would “help” soldiers by wearing one of the bracelets I said sure, and shelled out my nominal bracelet donation (~ $3).  I first wore a POW bracelet, then a MIA bracelet.

I never got the chance to return the bracelet to “my” POW.  Whether or not he was part of the group set free in the 1973 liberation of North Vietnam-held American POWs, I’ve no idea.  His name is lost to the abyss of my long term memory, the bracelet known to only the residents of Davey Jones Locker.

I shall explain.

 

 

 

 

My POW’s bracelet was liberated from my wrist during a body surfing incident at Newport Beach in the summer of…1971, I think.  My younger sister’s friend, JT, was swimming with me, trying to catch the same (way-too-big) wave as I was riding.  She attempted to cut underneath me, and we both wiped out.  As we tumbled t-over-a in the foamy surf, the edge of my bracelet “pantsed” JT, catching on her bikini bottom and pulling it down to her ankles.  When we both surfaced, sputtering and laughing, she pulled up her bikini bottom and handed me my POW bracelet, which had been stretched beyond its tensile strength – when I tried to crimp it back to its normal size it broke in half.  As JT and I stood gasping and giggling in water up to our elbows, another wave knocked both of us over…and my POW bracelet became one with the briny.

I got a MIA bracelet after that, but cannot remember its fate (nor that of the unfortunate soldier whose remains were still – or never – to be found.)   [6]

Yet again, I digress. 

Another Oddly Named Thing ® on Highway 26, that I think of every time – yes, every gawddamn time I see it – is the Dennis L. Edwards Tunnel.  “Oddly” is being kind; I consider the naming of the tunnel to be somewhat macabre, seeing as what Mr. Edwards had to do to acquire his namesake.

 

 

The Dennis L. Edwards Tunnel is a highway tunnel in northwestern Oregon that carries the Sunset Highway (U.S. Route 26) through the Northern Oregon Coast Range mountains….
The tunnel was originally known as the Sunset Tunnel until 2002. It was renamed in honor of Dennis L. Edwards, an Oregon Department of Transportation worker who was killed on January 28, 1999 when part of the tunnel collapsed while he was inspecting it for damage caused by heavy rains.
(Wikipedia entry for Dennis L. Edwards tunnel)

When moiself  sees the tunnel sign, I briefly ponder: what does Edward’s family think, when they are driving to or from the coast and approach the tunnel?  Or perhaps, after the tunnel was renamed, they said uh, yeah, thanks for remembering and now just avoid THE SUNSET HIGHWAY altogether?

Inquiring minds want to know.  But perhaps we never shall.

*   *   *

Department Of Blast From The Past

Updating/cleaning out my writing documents on my computer, I stumbled upon a contribution I had been thinking of making, several years ago, to the literary journal Stoneslide Collective’s Rejection Generator Project.  As described on their website, the rejection generator was…

“…a tool to help anyone who faces rejection. The Rejection Generator rejects writers before an editor looks at a submission. Inspired by psychological research showing that after people experience pain they are less afraid of it in the future, The Rejection Generator helps writers take the pain out of rejection….The Rejection Generator Project is built on the premise that the most painful rejections ultimately help writers build their immunity to future disappointment.”

Moiself  had completely forgotten about that project of theirs, until I came across notes I’d made for my planned contribution (which I can’t find any record of having been sent).

Stoneslide Corrective had published a story of mine, “The Aunt” (October 2012) , which was an excerpt from my then novel-in-progress.  [7]   A few months after publication of my story I received this email from SC’s editor:

I hope all is going well with you and your writing. We at Stoneslide are planning a celebration to mark the one-year anniversary of our Rejection Generator Project. As part of that, we are inviting some of the writers we’ve published to provide “Guest Editor” rejection letters. Please let me know if you’d like to participate.

Evidently, I had fun with the Rejection Generator Project…but in my records there is no indication if I ever sent it in (and SC ceased publishing in 2016 or 17).  Here are the rejections I (apparently/evidently) would have contributed.

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

Dear Writer,

We are returning your manuscript.  As per your request for feedback:  Don’t quit your day job.  If you don’t have a day job, find one with a benefits package that includes adult literacy classes.

The Editors

********

Dear Writer,

We are returning your collection of poems, any one of which makes the bathroom stall ode, “Here I Sit So Broken-Hearted” read like Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 by comparison.

The Editors

********

Dear Writer,

While our standard rejection letter begins with the phrase, Thank you for thinking of us, we are anything but thankful that you considered us an appropriate venue for your manuscript of “erotic verse.”  If for some inexplicable reason we’d desired to be assaulted by expressions of juvenile sentiment and vulgarity we’d have install listening devices in the nearest junior high school boys’ locker room.

The Editors

P.S. and F.Y.I. – nothing rhymes with “bulbous.”

********

Dear Writer,

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

No; really.

The Editors

********

 

********

Dear Writer,

Please excuse this form rejection letter.  Frankly, your mediocre manuscript does not merit a personal response.

The Editors

********

Gentle Writer,

Do bother to acquaint yourself with the most basic understanding of submission guidelines.  When an English language journal states that it accepts translations, this means that the work submitted must be translated from its original language into English.  Whatever dialect your short story was written in, none of us – not our Da Bronx native fiction editor, not our Appalachia-born, Kentucky-raised poetry editor, not our intern from the Ebonics exchange program – could decipher it.

Vaya con Queso,

The Editors

********

Dear Writer,

Please excuse what appear to be coffee stains on your returned submission. By the time she made it to paragraph three of your putrid prose our fiction editor was laughing so hard she spewed a mouthful of her espresso bean kale smoothie on the manuscript.

The Editors

********

Dear Writer,

Should you wish to submit to us in the future, please heed our guidelines – specifically, our request that you “Send us your best work.”  If what you sent was your best work, you have our sympathy, as well as our enduring request that you ignore our future submission periods.

The Editors

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

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Writing Punz Rejection Generator Edition

What kind of references do physician writers insert in their research papers?
Podiatrists use footnotes; proctologists use endnotes.

What is a car’s favorite literary genre?
Autobiography.

What mantra did the Star Wars screenwriters use to remind themselves to put more figures of speech in their scripts?
“Metaphors be with you.”

 

 

 

*   *   *

May no one ever have cause to name a highway after you;
May your rejection notes be few, and facetious;
May the metaphors always be with you;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Or something else?  I cannot think of another concept.

[2] For y’all non-Oregonians, Bend is a city in the central high desert area of Oregon. So, the Bend Heroes Foundation refers to the location of the veteran’s organization, and not to their limberness or exercise routine.  And Boring – yep, that’s an Oregon town as well.

[3] Of a certain age, ahem.

[4] I think it was a couple of college students.

[5] At which time, via the organization, you could send the bracelet to the serviceman and/or his family.

[6] An older veteran once I spoke to told me that MIA essentially meant KIA, but that in some cases, where a soldier’s death was witnessed by others and the death was in such a gruesome manner that there could be “no body parts left to identify,” the MIA label was reassuring to the family…which I never understood, unless it was a tacit agreement on their part to not acknowledge the unimaginable?  A soldier blown to pink mist by a bomb is still dead, even if there was not enough of him left to be identified at the time, in the battlefield, with the forensic methods then available.

[7] Since retitled…still unpublished!

The Hotel I’m Not Bonking

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Department Of The Fail-Safe Therapy Tool For Kids Of All Ages

 

 

Before I commence to deal with some Serious Subjects ® , I’m going to play for a few seconds with the farty putty (aka, “noise putty”) device MH got me as a Christmas stocking stuffer.  ‘Tis such a primal amusement, and also an effective stress reliever.  I think the American Psychological Association should recommend it to their counselors, to have on hand for sessions that get really intense:  “It’s time for a farty putty break.”  😉

Lest you think moiself  jests about its therapeutic applications, feast your eyes on this, from the National Autism Resources website (my emphases):

“Kids of all ages love to play with noise putty! It has an unusual squishy texture that you can squeeze between your fingers. Push it back into its jar and listen to it make funny, gastronomical sounds. Use it to work on fine motor skills….”

And not to worry, for y’all who consider yourselves to be technically-challenged.  It even has handy-dandy instructions:

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Not Up To Their Previous Standards

Moiself  is referring to the latest installment of Serial, the Peabody award-winning investigative journalism podcast (developed by This American Life)  which made a name for itself in the past ten or so years with its episodic, documentary-style presentation of compelling non-fiction stories.  Past seasons included an investigation of the 1999 murder an 18-year-old student at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, and an in-depth look at what happened to Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, an American Army soldier who was held for five years by the Taliban, then charged with desertion.

The Trojan Horse Affair, Serial’s latest installment, claims to take a closer look at the 2013 scandal in England which involved claims of a conspiracy to introduce Islamist tenets into several schools in Birmingham – claims which were set out in an anonymous letter  [1] sent to Birmingham City Council.  TTHF is hosted and reported by American veteran producer Brian Reed and a novice journalist, Hamza Syed, a British doctor-turned-reporter from Birmingham, England.

 

 

“This is my first story as a journalist. I don’t plan for it to be my last story as well, but given what’s happened in the years I’ve been working on this, it probably will be.”
( Hamza Syed, from his interview on NPR’s Fresh Air 2-15-22)

Syed’s provocative quote, and my enjoyment of Serial’s previous installments, got me interested in listening to the series. After having done so, I’ve concluded that if, indeed, TTHA turns out to be Syed’s last story as a journalist it won’t be because of his concerns, both overt and implied, of anti-Muslim prejudice against him.  It will be because he proved to be a lousy reporter.

Besides displaying a rather volatile temper, Syed made a major faux pas which cast doubt on the integrity of his methods and motives, and on his ability to distinguish between his personal identity and an investigation’s subject matter.

“Long story short” territory:  In a latter episode of the TTHA series (# five or six, I think, of eight total episodes) it was revealed that, at one point in Syed’s and Redd’s investigation, Syed, frustrated with being unable to get sources to confide in him, played the Muslim card:  [2]    Syed wrote a letter to a potential interviewee (a Muslim man), saying he has never believed the accepted narrative around the case, nor many of the people involved in the investigations around it, and that his (Syed’s) identity as a Muslim takes precedence for him in his investigation.

MH and I each (separately) listened to the podcast, and each of us had similar, jaw-dropping reactions to what Syed had done.  Given the opportunity to provide feedback to Syed, I’d have phrased my reaction thusly:

Why should I take *anything* from you seriously, when you’ve just admitted that you do *not* have journalistic integrity at heart, in a story that especially demands it?

Like the evangelical creationist who admits he views science through the lens of how he interprets Christian scriptures, you have told a person – from whom you are trying to get information – that, like him, you are ultimately and firstly a Muslim.

Now, were you lying to get him to trust you? Or were you telling the truth?  Either way, I can take nothing you say or do as if it were coming from a serious journalist striving for truth, integrity, and objectivity.

Despite our respective shock and disgust at what the reporter had done, both MH and I found the TTHA story intriguing, and continued to listen to the rest of the series. But we weren’t the only ones to have an issue with it, and with more matters than its rookie journalist’s whopping boner of a tactic. There was also the assumption the series seemed to take, from the beginning of the podcast: that anti-Islamic sentiment was behind and/or ultimately responsible for  *everything* in the scandal.  Accusations (including incidents of verifiable and disturbing behaviors   [3]  )  about sexism, anti-LGBTQ teachings, and child abuse on the part of some Muslim men – alarms raised by Muslim women – were mentioned in several TTHA episodes, in marginal ways, then dropped.

We weren’t the only ones who were disturbed by this. To quote only one critique:

“The Trojan Horse Affair presents a one-sided account that minimizes child protection concerns, misogyny and homophobia in order to exonerate the podcast’s hero…  In doing so, it breaches the standards the public have the right to expect of journalists, with cruel consequences for those it uses and abuses along the way.”

( “The Trojan Horse Affair: How Serial Podcast Got It So Wrong,”
Sonia Sohad, The Guardian 2-20-22

 

Shaka Ssali is a (recently retired) Uganda-born journalist.

 

*   *   *

Department Of How Other Journalists Are Getting It So Right

What comes to mind when you read the words of a critic and writer at The Washington Post, who called an Academy Award-nominated film “…the most inspiring journalism movie — maybe ever”?

Are you thinking of the award-winning  All The President’s Men, or Spotlight?  Or The Post, or The Killing Fields, or….?

Nope.  The WAPO writer refers to a documentary (among five nominees for this year’s Academy Award for best documentary feature) which takes place in India.

 

 

Indian politicians would have you believe that their country is a major power in the modern, 21st century world, yet they do the bare minimum to change aspects of their culture which hark back to 1500 BCE, when the caste system was established.

 

 

The good news:  in India, one of the most dangerous countries in which to practice journalism,   [4]   there is an astoundingly brave and persistent group of reporters committed to the ultimate tenet of good journalism: holding the powerful to account.  What’s amazing about this group is that is it composed of people with inarguably the least amount of power in their country:  Dalit (the lowest caste, aka “untouchables”) women.

Writing With Fire is the documentary which tells the story of these reporters and their newspaper/news outlet, Khabar Lahariya (translation: “News wave”).  Moiself   urges you to see it (streaming on Amazon, and available via other venues).

 

 

” In India’s millennia-old caste system, Dalits fall entirely outside the structure. Once pejoratively referred to as ‘untouchables’…over centuries Dalits have remained oppressed by tradition and the rest of Indian society.

‘I tell my daughters, their caste identity will always follow them. This is how our society is structured, but it’s important to keep challenging the system,’ says Meera Devi, the outlet’s chief reporter who is the main protagonist of the film.

But day after day, the women defiantly expose sexual violence against women and the corruption of illegal mining operations in rural India.

‘We don’t trust anyone except you. Khabar Lahariya is our only hope,’ the husband of a woman who has been repeatedly raped by a group of men in their village tells Devi in one of the rare moments in the film in which a man acknowledges the organization’s value and impact.”

(“Opinion: The most inspiring journalism movie — maybe ever”
Jason Rezian, The Washington Post, 2-1-22 )

Writing With Fire has a bajillion   [5]   story levels to it (other than that of the newspaper itself and the stories it covers), including the reporters’ uphill battle against centuries of patriarchy, and gender and caste prejudice.  It’s also an excellent briefing on what makes a good journalist, in any culture.

Some standout moments of the film, for moiself , include:

* Two of the reporters, while preparing a meal, are discussing questions they will be asking of participants in an upcoming election. One reporter asks the other,“Tell me something honestly, why do we call our country ‘mother India?’ Why celebrate the country as a mother?…. I get very irritated watching the celebrations on TV glorifying our democracy. But where is the democracy? Neither are we a democracy, nor are the women free.”

* Later in the documentary one of the more the most promising young journalists of Khabar Lahariya is interviewed about her having to leave the newspaper. She’d spoken earlier about not wanting to succumb to the pressure to get married, and about what happens to women in her society.  And then…

“What can I say? At one point I thought of not getting married at all. Many things were on my mind. So I thought, why get married? But I’m under a lot of pressure. I need to protect my parents, because being a single woman is not an option here.

People are questioning my integrity as well as my family’s. They were saying that they (her family) want to live off my earnings, ‘…and at night your daughter…’
 It tortures the family and creates a lot of tension. So I realize marriage is inevitable. I don’t want to be the cause of my family suffering.
Let’s think that whatever will happen will be for the best. Things have a way of working out, and that’s what I’m hoping for….”
  (She pauses, shakes her head, holds back tears)
“I’m finding it difficult to speak anymore.”    [6]

 

 

The film depicted scenarios both horrendous, and uplifting, depressing and emboldening, What affected me the most? It wasn’t…

* the husbands and families of these brave journalists showing lackluster (if any) support for their work;

*  the frustrations of the reporters trying to learn and use digital technologies when most of them have never been able to afford a cell phone, and then, when they are issued smart phones and/or touchscreen tablets by the newspaper, they can’t charge the equipment because their homes lack electricity;

* the rising influence of the Anti-Muslim bigot Hindu nationalist, Prime Minister Modi, and the prevalence of his inflammatory rhetoric using that most unholy of alliances – politics and religion;

* the danger and threats (physical, emotional, and sexual) the women face; nor the way way sexual slurs are used to try to cow and humiliate them and their families…  

One small, domestic scene really got to me, probably because I took it to be illustrative of what these reporters, as women in a seemingly women-denigrating culture, have to deal with: with the should and should not limitations all women face, in a world still dominated by patriarchal attitudes.

The scene took place early in the morning.  Meera Devi, who like her Khabar Lahariya peers has worked all the previous day (and well into the night), is braiding her daughter’s long hair before school.  Like all of her married reporter peers, the vast majority (if not all) of household tasks fall upon Devi, even as she works full-time out of the home.  Her daughter is insisting on two braids (“plaits”), as Devi wearily (if good-humoredly) grumbles about not having time for that…one plait should be enough.  But the daughter pleads, telling her mother that she will be (and has been) scolded at school if her mother doesn’t do her hair in two plaits, “…because teacher says all girls should have two plaits.”

All girls should….
All girls are ….
All girls must…
All girls should never….

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of International Relations

MH and moiself  are doing some much anticipated traveling overseas this summer.  For some of the travel we’ll be in a Scandinavian tour group.  The tour begins in Stockholm; following savvy traveler advice, I booked us rooms in a Stockholm hotel two days ahead of when the tour begins, so that we can adjust to the time difference and all that pickled herring and Swedish chefs, etc.

Moiself  got an English translation while booking online, but the confirmation the hotel emailed to us was in Swedish.  It began with a cheery greeting which I was mostly able to figure out, except that I transposed two letters in the fourth word, which made for an interesting impression/translation: “Tak För Din Bokning!”

Me, to Moiself:
” ‘Thanks for the bonking ?!?!? ‘
Wow – this really is an all-service hotel!”

Moiself:
Ahem, that’s, bokning.  [7]

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Swedish Edition

Swedish inventors have created cyborgs which are hard to distinguish from real humans.
Critics are concerned about the use of artificial Swedeners.

Why does the Swedish military put barcodes on their ships?
So when the ships return to port they can scan da navy in.

My neighbor drones on and on about his notoriously unreliable Swedish sports car…
It seems like a great big Saab story to me.

Did you hear about a new Broadway show that combines magic with Swedish pop songs?
It’s called ABBA-Cadabra.

 

Mamma Mia, there she goes again.

 

*   *   *

May you enjoy the therapeutic applications of “funny, gastronomic sounds;”
May you watch Writing With Fire (then maybe Spotlight and other journalism-themed movies) and appreciate the absolute necessity of a free press to a vital democracy;
May you put on ABBA’s “Waterloo” and dance around your living room
(you know you want to);
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

[1] Which was later deemed to be a hoax.

[2] About which he was confronted, and chastised, by Reed.

[3] Including sexual abuse of a 14 year old girl by one of her male teachers.

[4] Over forty journalists in India have been killed since 2014.

[5] Fortunately, the reporters of Khabar Lahariya, constrained as they are by sound journalistic principles, would never stoop to using such sensationalistic exaggerations as those employed by moiself.

[6] Later still there is footage of her at her wedding, in her wedding finery.  Moiself wanted to cry; I’ve never seen a more downhearted looking bride…or woman in almost any situation, for that matter.  But, in the documentary postscript, it was reported that she had rejoined the newspaper several months after her marriage.

[7] Uh, that would be, booking, as in, booking a room with them.  Nudge Nudge wink wink.

The FREE (All caps! Must be legit! ) Opportunity I’m Not Pursuing

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Department Of Sometimes The Blog Just Writes Itself

Dateline:  3-14 (Pi day).
First thing in the morning, moiself  receives this email (my emphases):

Hi Robyn!  My name is Raine    [1]
and I’m an Executive Assistant from Craniumz Magazine.   [2]

I came across your profile and find what you do both inspiring and in line with our topics and audience.

 

 

Excusez-moi for this diversion…I just can’t help but pause for a bullshit snort. What I do is so not in line with their “topics and audience.”

Back to the email:

We’re currently sourcing entrepreneurs for the opportunity to be registered as potential guest writers for free publicity opportunities, or to invite them as contributors for Craniumz Magazine. We’re also looking for inspiring coaches, leaders, and entrepreneurs who could be featured on The Craniumz Global Award List 2022 – a global list that will be released in June, and has featured names like Oprah Winfrey, Robin Sharma and Marisa Peer, to name a few.
Is any of this something you would be interested in being considered for?

Best regards, Raine Latte

 

 

OMG, my chance to have my name be somehow associated with Oprah’s!!  And two WTF  people I know nothing about!  I, of course, will drop everything, including common sense and any vestige of self-respect, to be exploited by have the honor of working with the Craniumz people who, according to their website, are a

“…Global Media Brand operated by ____  [3], a branding and digital media brand, with a focus on interviews, articles and information about business, mindset, innovation, leadership and lifestyles.”,

 

 

 

Holy bald-faced and obsequious ignorance. Indeed, if Ms. Raine came across my profile, she evidently didn’t follow it to/bother to check out my blog, which would clue her in as to how little I think of the concept of branding

 

 

Nevertheless, moiself  could not pass up the (FREE) opportunity to respond:

Hello Raine,
What is the compensation for guest writers
and/or contributors to Craniumz Magazine?
And if you came across my profile,
did you note that I am primarily a writer of fiction?
Curiously,
Robyn Parnell

The reply:

Hi
Great to hear from you. My first email serves as an invitation for you to be one of our potential Guest Writers.

Our Guest Writers get FREE access to opportunities that we have in the group such as free articles, podcast hosting, interviews and a chance to be on the list of awards – Craniumz 500 Global List & Global Award. Guest writers are encouraged to participate in the opportunities posted every week for them to get selected for free publicity. They may also opt to submit their proposed topic, quote or article through content@brainzmagazine.com. If the Content Team find it interesting and matched the theme for the month, they will surely approach you for information.

Hope this helps.  Best regards, Raine

 

 

I couldn’t just leave it at that:

Hi yourself.

Congratulations on your outstanding job of not answering my questions.
Since the proverbial picture paints a thousand (FREE) words,
I’ll express my opinion on this matter via the pictorial presentation of the artist/writer known as The Oatmeal:    [4]

 

*    *   *

Department Of How To Spot A Bot

I did not expect a response to the obvious disinterest – and inherent if not overt dis – contained in my last reply.  Yet the artist formerly known as Bot program pretending to be a human called Raine sent me one more oblivious/form reply:

“I’m happy to hear you’re interested!
If you have a spare minute now, it would be great if you could fill in your information in our contributor form, so that ____  [5] can review your details for the publicity opportunities. It’s just a couple of quick questions….

Once your information has been reviewed, you’ll receive an email within 24 hours with the headline ‘Publicity in Craniumz Magazine’ with instructions and information about the opportunities. (This email sometimes ends up in the spam folder, so don’t forget to check it’s not hiding in there!) 🙂

Just let me know when you’ve submitted, and I’ll try to speed up the process.
Looking forward to hopefully seeing more from you, as I think you would make a great addition to the Craniumz community! “

 

Except that, someone did.

 

*   *   *

Department Of St. Patrick’s Day Party Deferred

Dateline: Tuesday 3-17-20.  At 6 pm the dinner party, with ten people total,  [6]  had been scheduled to commence.   Anyone remember what else happened in mid-March,2020?

 

“I’ll take pandemics for $1000, Alex.”

 

I left the dining table as it was set – including moiself’s  lavish centerpiece (a very large – we’re talking four pounds – potato sporting a green crown) – for many months after, in hope, or defiance?   Come Autumn, when This Thing Looks Like It’s Going To Stick Around ® began to settle in my brain, I put away the plates and the cutlery, the napkins and the décor.  The centerpiece, by then, had begun to mutate, much like the virus which caused its dethronement.

 

She took away my crown, so I’m growing my own.

 

If I were to throw a party now, it would be one to celebrate the foreign troops’ withdrawal from Ukraine.  But seeing as how that Tin of Poo in charge of the Russian kleptocracy has an ego as large and skin as thin as those of our own #45…well, odds are he’s not going to leave quietly, ya know?

Moiself  is not hopeful for either a quick or peaceful resolution to the mess the Russians have made in the Ukraine.  I dread what Putin’s nose-thumbing, ass-licking, face-saving strategies could ultimately entail.  But in my dreams, all things are possible:

 

“Oops, my bad!  We’re leaving now.”

 

In the meantime, in an action about as effective in the long (or short) run as saying to the Ukrainians, “I’ll pray for you,” I’ve done the bare minimum to keep up the consciousness in my ‘hood.

 

 

And I hope readers, if you haven’t done so already, will join me in checking Charity Navigator    [7]   for an above-board relief organization to aid the Ukrainians, and make a contribution.  CN currently lists thirty-five organizations funneling relief aid to “The Ukrainian-Russian Crisis.”  The organizations are grouped under the following headings:  Medical Services; Medical Supplies; Non-Medical Supplies; Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH); Emergency Housing Long-Term Assistance; Other (inc. cash/cash vouchers, logistic supply, animals).    [8]

 

*   *   *

*   *   *

Department Of Nostalgia: Recalling My First Instruction In Deductive Reasoning

♫   Beans, Beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat; the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
So let’s have beans for every meal!   ♫

 

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Musical Fruit Edition

Why did everyone notice when Bill Gates farted in the Apple store?
Because the store didn’t have any Windows.

I didn’t pass gas in front of my husband until we got married.
His family wasn’t impressed.

Life is so unfair – I just called the Flatulence Incontinence Hotline,
and the woman who answered said, “Can you hold, please?”

Why doesn’t Chuck Norris fart?
Because nothing escapes Chuck Norris.

When a clown farts, does it smell funny?

 

Clowns are NOT funny.

*   *   *

May you be entertained by bogus offers to link your name with Oprah’s;
May you appreciate your first lesson in deductive reasoning;
May you accept my belated slainté on behalf of March 17;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] A real person, according to the magazines website staff listing, (I checked), but not her real name…although I have a feeling she is a bot/creation.

[2] A supposedly real magazine (I checked), but not its real title.

[3] Some parent company headquartered in Sweden.

[4] The incomparable Matthew Inman.  Who, I imagine, would also not be impressed to be on a “global awards” list that may have once had Oprah’s name on it.

[5] Another ostensibly real person’s name, but likely not a Real Person ® .

[6] Including MH and I and son K.

[7] Charity Navigator is the world’s largest and probably best-known “nonprofit evaluator.” Itself a non-profit, CN analyses the integrity of a non-profit organization in financial terms, focusing on how much of contributed funds are used for the purpose(s) claimed by the charity, with an emphasis on the cost effectiveness (or impact) of the charity, its financial stability, adherence to best practices for accountability and transparency, and results reporting.

[8] Moiself  chose International Relief Teams, which has a “100%” rating from CN.

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