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The Green Armband I’m Not Wearing

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I am no longer wearing it. I wore it for three days, starting last Friday, when Leonard Nimoy died. Green is the color of Vulcan blood. You knew that.

Leonard Nimoy was, of course, best known for his portrayal of the iconic Star Trek character, Mr. Spock. [1] Nimoy was also a talented writer and screenwriter, director and photographer and singer. [2]

Oh yeah, and he also appeared in the “The Challenge,” which is arguably the Best. Automobile Commercial. Ever.

In late 1979 or early 1980, my parents drove up from So Cal to visit me and check out my first post-college apartment in the Bay Area. A week before the trip they asked me if I wanted them to bring along their old black and white TV set, which, they said, was mine if I wanted it (they’d recently purchased a new color TV, and they knew I had no TV set of any color.). I said thanks, but no. I didn’t watch much television at the time, except for the occasional special event (e.g. The Olympic Games). [3]  I called them back in a couple of days and asked them to bring the set along – I ‘d just found out that Star Trek reruns were going to be broadcast on some local channel.

Upon hearing the news of Nimoy’s death, my siblings and I exchanged a series of emails, in which we reminisced and recommended our respective favorite Star Trek “Spock-centric” episodes, which got me to thinking about the impact a piece of art and an artist [4] can have on one’s life.

I have never attended a Star Trek (nor any fan) convention nor have I ever had the slightest interest in doing so (other than having a fleeting curiosity about attending a ST convention with a cultural anthropologist’s mindset to observe the behavior of obsessive social misfits devoted fans). Still, the Star Trek series and its television and movie sequels and prequels and spinoffs have been an important part of my “entertainment life” for over forty years. That’s worth at least three days of official if casual, armband-wearing mourning. And a lifetime of memories.

My friend MM, when he heard the news, posted the most succinctly appropriate sendoff or tribute I’ve seen:

One to beam up.

*   *   *

Department of My Brain Hurts

Sometimes once something gets in print or gets in a textbook or gets on people’s public radar, it just sticks around, even if there’s reason to suspect that the idea’s just wrong.
(Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University,

Director of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory)

The latest episode of Freakonomics, the radio show that explores “the hidden side of everything,” is inspired by the book This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress. Freakonomics’ 3-5-2015 podcast, “This Idea Must Die” is both a treat and torture for idea junkies, and features interviews with a variety of Notable People ® from a variety of professions, all of whom were asked to propose answers to the same question:  “What (scientific) idea is ready for retirement?”

My head felt ready to explode as I began to consider the various propositions, which included

* A professor of cognitive science at University College London would like to kill off the idea that people are either right-brained or left-brained (“an idea that makes no physiological sense”);

* A professor at Harvard Business School wants to retire the idea that that markets are good…and the idea that markets are bad;

* A professor of quantum mechanical engineering at M.I.T. professor of quantum mechanical engineering at M.I.T. would like to retire the idea of “the universe;”

* An oncologist, professor of medicine and director of the MDS Center at Columbia University wants to retire “mouse models” from use in drug development for cancer therapy…

And how about the following for an apoplectic, [5] contemplation-o-rama:

“I think an idea that is bad, that’s really detrimental to society, is the idea that life is sacred.”
(Steve Levitt, Freakonomics co-author, economist at the University of Chicago.)

You owe your brain a listen.

*   *   *

It’s Flicker Time

No no no no no no no. That’s Flicker Time, not Hammer Time.

But while I’m on the subject, I’m standing here, in my office, staring at this parcel that was delivered  to our house by mistake. I just don’t know what to do. I know I should return it, but it’s addressed to MC Hammer, soooooo, I can’t touch this.

Thank you, Ladies and Germs, you’re too kind.

Back to Flicker Time.

One of the harbingers of the spring-that-shall-soon-be-here is the sound produced by a Northern Flicker, when s/he [6] is declaring territory with the help of technology.

Northern Flickers (along with most woodpecker species) “drum” on objects to declare territory, warn off rivals and attract and communicate with their mates. Before humans came along to muck up alter the environment, Flickers had to be satisfied with mere tree trunks to drum. They want to make the loudest noise possible from the highest spot possible, which is why, for suburban-dwelling Flickers, paradise is a neighborhood filled with houses that have metallic vents, chimney guards and flashings on their roofs.

I love to hear the sounds of Flicker housetop-drumming when I’m out for my morning walk. The part of me that enjoys petty irritations inflicted upon other people loves to imagine the reactions of the occupants whose houses are selected for Flicker drumming. I speak from experience: the first time you hear that noise, reverberating down your chimney and bouncing off the walls, it can be quite disconcerting until you figure out what the heck it is, where the heck it is coming from and who the heck is doing it.

“Everybody look at meeee! I’ve got my own drumming spaceship!”

*   *   *

Happy (early) 22nd Birthday to my son, K.

Hard to believe that my adorable “leaf boy” is twenty-two.

October 1995, near the Mackenzie River.

*   *   *

My Daughter the DJ

Keep it locked on the sound, 90.1 KUPS.

Excuse me for yet another a parental pride freak-out, but that’s my daughter on the air, announcing her college radio station’s motto.  All together now:

AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

Cat’s Got Your Tongue is what Belle is calling her show on KUPS, at the prime slot of Wednesday mornings, 6 am.. Her focus is “Indie folk,” which means that lucky listeners such as moiself get to hear songs about how “the robots are going to help us find our crystal” (after the pirates have stolen it). [7]

KUPS is a college radio station and sounds like one – interesting if sporadic programming, there are gaps in their schedule, and their website needs updating (Belle’s shift is not listed, ahem). Oh, and apparently no one at the radio station can agree about why their mascot is…what it is.

*   *   *

When I’ve completed a new project and am researching publishers, one of the first things I do is check out the manuscript submission guidelines that are found on the publishing houses’ websites.  I am not a writer of genre fiction; thus, I rule out publishers that specialize in genres (unless they also publish literary fiction).  Sometimes, even when it is obvious from first glance that a publisher is genre-specific, I linger at the site, just to get an idea of how many ridiculous sub-categories there are and imagine the minds of people who read that shit genres are out there.

Such lingering occurred early this week, when I ran across a relatively new publishing house that specialized in the Romance genre. I was struck by the extensive sub-categories of Romance, some (okay; most) of which I had no idea existed:  Adventure Romance; Dark Fantasy; Futuristic; Gothic; Interracial; LGBT; Medical; Military; Paranormal; Regency; Rock ‘n Roll; Science Fiction; Time-Travel;Urban Fantasy…

Oh, and the publishers noted they were particularly interested in Amish Romance.

Amish Romance?

I’d heard of the Christian – aka Inspirational – Romance genre, the guidelines of which are fairly strict: protagonists must behave according to “Christian tenets” and shun alcohol, tobacco, profanity and drugs; sexual desire and content is only hinted at or avoided entirely and must be heterosexual in nature; no nookie before marriage, and romantic encounters must lead to marriage or the promise of it somewhere in a golden horizon that is planned by their god; relationships with non-believers are either forbidden or presented in a negative light unless the plot involves the heathen love interest being “led to Christ.” A typical blurb for a mainstream Christian romance novel:

Bethany La Chasteté and  Rick Granarbor are not ready for the feelings that may blow apart their plans for their lives. Can they learn to trust that God has his own?

Once again, I digress.

An Amish romance novel? Who would read it – certainly not an actual Amish person. So then, who is the target audience? The comparatively frisky Mennonites?

Are those bees in the girls’ bonnets or are they just happy to see us?

I’m trying to picture what, exactly, might constitute conflict and tension in an Amish Romance novel. An exchange of longing gazes over buttonhooks; the gentle stroking of a beard while sneaking surreptitious glances at an apron string fluttering in the sultry summer breeze; the coveting of the neighbor farm boy’s well-endowed buggy….

Joseph, Samuel and Jacob – is it hot in here or is it just me? Excuse me while I lie down and loosen my bonnet.

Although Rebecca’s temper had driven away every suitor, Reuben was ready to plow the fallow fields of her heart.

 

*   *   *

May you live long and prosper, may you be the target audience of the genre of your choice, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

[1] Nimoy was also instrumental in developing the character’s history, distinctive body language and personality, according to Star Trek writers, producers and fellow actors.

[2] No…he was not a talented singer, as evidenced here.

[3] During my college and Young Adult Working Years © I missed many television shows now considered iconic (Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, ad nauseum) and had to learn about them in other ways, to fill the gaps in my popular culture knowledge, which is important for doing crossword puzzles.

[4] Yes, I’m counting a television show as art.

[5] Well, perhaps, if you’re religious, just that idea might send you into fits. I fully agree with retiring the idea that life – that anything – is “sacred,” but not for the (economic) reasons Levitt cites.

[6] Both sexes will drum and call to declare and protect their territory.

[7] Dillon’s Hey Beau.

The Woodpecker I’m Not Strangling

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It’s the season.  We’ve been reclaimed by a Northern Flicker.

I love woodpeckers, and the Northern Flicker is especially striking in its coloration and behavior.  About that behavior – that striking behavior.

During their March – June breeding season, a flicker calls (makes a loud, rolling rattle with a piercing tone that rises and falls in volume several times) and drums (repeatedly and rapidly pecks a tree or other solid object) to communicate with a mate, or proclaim its territory and attract a mate.  But why settle for drumming on a mere tree when you can make a MUCH LOUDER SOUND OMG YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LOUD by using our chimney flashing as a drum skin?

“Yo, Freddy. Flicker,” I said, while pounding the exterior of the chimney with a pole to convince him to seek friendlier territory.  “I understand that this is your equivalent of placing an ad on perfectmatch.com, but your strident call is going down our chimney and into our house, where the residing, non-flicker females neither understand nor appreciate its intended implications.  And that repeated bashing of your beak against the chimney flashing sounds incredibly loud and is incredibly annoying for us bipeds, not to mention what it must be doing to your tiny avian brain…and are you perchance a mentally challenged flicker?  Just asking.”

Oh, he’s not stupid, and he’s not pecking on metal because he can’t find a suitable tree, according to a Jackson Bottom Wetlands Friendly Biologist ®. A metal object allows Freddy Flicker to make the most noise in the flickerhood.  An accessible chimney flashing – jackpot!  That is one awesome find for a flicker, who uses its acoustic amplifications to announce to nearby flicker friends and foes, “Here I am!  Everything around here is mine, mine, mine!”

Friendly Biologist said flickers will return year after year to the same house if it works for them.  And indeed, we’ve seen a flicker pair, and their offspring, at our suet feeder for the past couple of years.  I’m firmly in the pro-woodpecker procreation camp.  I could just do without them using our chimney for their pre-coital garage band rehearsal, ya know?

What We Talk About When We Talk About Us

We had a dinner party on Sunday to honor son K, who was home from college on spring break and who had recently celebrated his 20th birthday.[1]  Seeing as how Sunday was the 17th, That Irish Day, we had an Irishy menu [2] and MH made seating cards with shamrocks or some other leprechaun-worthy fauna decorative picture next to each guest’s name.  Our youngest guest was the adorable, precocious, getting’-down-with-the-alphabet, 5 year old “Peach.”  P had a minor dramatic episode when she noticed her mother’s name card, and she fussed to her father about it.  “That can’t be where Mommy is sitting because it doesn’t start with an ‘M.'”

Her mother (whose name begins with S) relayed that story a couple of days ago, and I laughed to read her email.  I was older than Peach but way younger than K when I first reflected upon the discrepancy in how adults address children and children address adults.  Why was it, I ventured to ask certain tall people, that parents may and in fact do call their children by name, but kids are supposed to address their parents by their relationship?  Mom calls me Robyn, not “second daughter,” but I must call her some variation of Mom, [3] even though her name is Marion.  I didn’t see what respect had to do with it, but the tall people always included that word in their answer to my question.

A few years back a friend of mine shared this observation with me, about me:  When I’m talking about my husband to my kids, I call him by name if I’m speaking about something between he and I (“I’m going to get M a book on owl pellets for his birthday”), and I refer to him as “Dad” if I’m talking about something between him and our hatchlings [4] (“Are you planning on getting Dad an owl pellet for his birthday?”).  If MH calls on the phone and wants to speak with Belle or K, I vary the name-thing:  “Mark wants to talk with you,” or, “Dad’s on the phone for you.”

I hadn’t noticed that, nor even thought about it, until said friend brought it up.

When I talk about my parents, sometimes I use their names and sometimes their parental “titles,” and sometimes upset my elder sibling, NLM, by doing the former.  N was especially sensitive to this after our father’s death, four years ago.  To her, N explained to me, it sounded less-than-appreciative of what a wonderful dad Chester Bryan Parnell was, to call him anything other than what we called him when we were kids, which was “Dad.”  I reassured her that I have nothing but love and respect in my heart when I call our father by his given name…and warned her that I will likely continue to do so (although, in consideration of her feelings, I try to remember not to do it around her).

I love my father’s name – always have, for many reasons, including that it was unusual, and that he had acquired various nicknames he had over the years. [5] For whatever reasons, his smiling face and gentle, laughing green eyes become even more vivid to me when I think of him, my beloved Dad, as Chet.

*   *   *

Speaking of my father, I know he would have appreciated the following blurb, for both content and tone.

*   *   *

Hands free, my ass

To the guy who almost t-boned my vehicle when you turned left, at a stop sign from a side street onto a busy street, and my Madza 3 [6] was so right there, in broad daylight, lights on, no excuse not to see me unless you were distracted, and you looked right at  me, or rather right through me, and even though our eyes made contact your brain was somewhere else.  Your window was down and your mouth was moving – your car  passed so close I could see your ear bud headset and hear you talking to someone who wasn’t in your vehicle – as I slammed on my brakes and swerved.

You are, apparently, yet another fool who has fallen for the lie [7] that hands-free cell phone devices are a solution to the risks of driver distraction.  It doesn’t matter if it’s technically legal – once again, the law lags behind to the science.  The law will catch up, and using a phone with brains hands-free anything will, eventually, be outlawed.  Until then, dude, educate yourself as to the science behind distracted driving.  Or don’t educate yourself.  Stay ignorant if you must, but stay off your fucking cell phone, in any manner whatsoever, while your vehicle is moving.

*   *   *

Last weekend provided one of those last minute treats (besides escaping being taken out by a careless driver):  friend Suzanne Mathis McQueen drove up to the Portland area from her home in Ashland  for a quick weekend visit.  The reason for the quickie was both personal (her two all-growed-up sons live nearby) and professional.  The pro part involving Suz’s promotional activities in the Portland area for her book, 4 Seasons in 4 Weeks.  One of the few people who looks as fine in real life as she does in her author’s photo (I could slap her for that, but I’d rather hug her), Suz is a wise, witty and compassionate person, a pro-woman, pro-man advocate  who is also a kick in the pants to be around.  Her book uses the unique, even poetic metaphor of the four seasons to characterize the cycles and rhythms of human life (think circadian, and expand).  Along with her positive illuminations of life’s phases, the book’s pictures and illustrations are amazing.  Flipping through the pages, I felt like I was in an art gallery.

*   *   *

Department of
Even writing fiction you can’t make this stuff up

A deep, robust belly laugh strengthens the core/abdomen, makes your teeth look whiter and brighter and your children and spouse seem smarter.  And cancer – it helps cancer, somehow.  Etc. etc.  A true belly laugh is a rare thing, as is lucid feedback for a writer.  Feedback itself is hard to come by, and when you get it, ’tis sometimes constructive, sometimes neither here nor there, sometimes remarkably irrelevant, and sometimes downright face-palm worthy.  As for the latter, my abs are firmer, my teeth whiter, I am cancer free and live with geniuses as per the laughter provided by the following incident.

Last July I’d queried a literary press to see if they’d be interested in considering a short story collection of mine.  As per their guidelines I sent a sample story along with the query.  They held on to that story for several months, and replied in October that they liked the story but didn’t understand it.  I found this amusing; even so, at their request I sent them another story from my proposed collection.

(Note: that second story was published in the summer.  One of the editors of the publishing journal told me they particularly liked the story’s narrative structure.)

This week I received an email from “The Editors” of the press.  They wanted me to know that they’d given the story to their readers, many of whom liked it and some of whom didn’t.  Thus, the editors felt “stalemated” and decided not to pursue my collection, but had asked one of the readers “who liked your work the most” to provide a short note of feedback for me.

Indeed, the feedback was short, although reading anything with the following WTF? gems seemed to last a lifetime.  (my comments)

“Her (the story’s protagonist) flashback with ___ needs to come later. I feel like there is going to be a robbery, because she’s a convent store and there’s no conflict, but bring it in sooner. ”

(* These “sentences” are almost incomprehensible to me.
* The flashback is exactly where it should be.  It would make no sense to have it later in the story, as it sets up subsequent action…which the reader should know, assuming the “reader” actually read the story.
* Reader “feels like” there is going to be a robbery?  Gee, maybe that’s because there is a robbery, in that very scene to which the reader refers.
* The protagonist is not “a convent store,” whatever that is.
* And if there is no conflict, how am I to “bring it in sooner”

“My biggest concern is that I don’t have a feel for ___. At first I think she’s kind of sad and structed and wimpy, but then she so boldly goes after the crook….What is her motivation for attacking him? …It’s all conflicting to me.”

 (* My biggest concern is that I have a strong feeling that this press is seriously considering feedback from a remedial adult literary program dropout who thinks “structed” is a word.
* What is her “motivation” for attacking him {the would-be robber, aka, “crook” – a term which, BTW, is never used in the story}?  Uh, the fact that the robber threatened and then injured the clerk, and the protagonist had the means and opportunity to do something – maybe, that had something to do with it.  Ya think?
* Yeah, it’s all “conflicting” to me, too.  Probably because I’m kind of “structed.”

 The CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) convention, highlights of which included why-won’t-she-just-go-away Sarah Palin mocking Karl Rove and a straw poll in which Rand Paul narrowly defeated Marco Rubio for…for best Conservative Straw, is certainly worthy of commentary. [8]  And speaking of gasbags, [9] although I am still enamored of singing goat videos – relax, you’re safe, none embedded here [10] – nothing quite brings a spring to my step as periodically viewing the compilation of the best of The Farting Preacher, aka Robert Tilton. [11]  A fitting tribute for the infamous evangelical cheekflapper, and good wholesome fun for everyone.

Wishing you a weekend of love and laughter, and if you’re feeling “structed”, well, let ’em rip.  The hijinks will surely ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] My proud FB announcement of the occasion: Today my son is old enough to be the son of a mother who has a twenty year old son.

[2] Wine and honey glazed salmon; colcannon, soda bread, orange and green and white veggies.

[3] Or, “Moth-errrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”  when disgusted as only an indignant child can be with her parent’s cluelessness.

[4] It’s flicker breeding season, perhaps you’ve heard?  I’ve got birds on the brain.

[5] Chet was ahead of his time, going for daily runs when…well, when no one else did.  An out-of-shape neighbor saw him heading for a run one afternoon and snickered, “There goes Chet-the-Jet.” The nickname stuck.

[7] No doubt perpetrated by the makers of such devices.

[8] But not my me. I’m still too busy laughing about “structed.”

[9] Can I segue, or can’t I?

[10] There’s always next week.

[11] Televangelist Tilton’s Success-N-Life swindle theology taught those so dumb they couldn’t pour water out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel gullible, credulous people that their burdens, in particular poverty, were a result of sin, but if they made certain “vows” (i.e. donations to Tilton’s ministry), God would reward the vow-maker with material riches.