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Archive for December, 2009

My mother read this a couple of months ago and loves it so much that she begged me to read it. I had long ago sworn I never would. But then she said she’d read a Harry Potter book if I’d read William P’aul’ Young’s Ode To Selfish Spirituality. Actually it was my fault. I threw the Potter gauntlet down knowing she’d refuse. Clearly I’ve not played a good game of poker in awhile because here I am, having spent time in this dreadful universe in recompense.

This was the most singularly awful reading experience I’ve had in the last decade.

It reads like an extended raunchy joke (“A Mammy, a Rabbi and an Asian Gardener walk into a shack…”), but this time the laugh is on the reader.

Theoretically this book is to open your eyes at a new way to have a relationship with God. But all it does is replace the old stereotypes–a man in a white beard and long robe–with new ones. Magical Negro, anyone?!? Instead of truly examining actual mysticism it merely suggests you shuffle the deck to come up with a new hand to describe your personal God in human terms.

The first quarter of the book was passable and read with easy familiarity for anyone who has seen two or three Law & Order:SVU episodes. But when Mackenzie Phillips (I kid you not, that is the man’s name) goes to have a deep intercourse with his Papa (again, I kid you not) in the Shack it becomes this dreadfully mawkish combination of a minstrel show combined with a really long episode of Harold And The Purple Crayon. William P. Young, the author who considers himself to be now so enlightened that he goes by his middle name, Paul, has managed to cram all the usual bits of fantastical lore long familiar to readers of L’Engle, Dickens, Lewis as his New Century Vaudeville Trinity flies through the imagination in an attempt to gain spiritual understanding.

My mother is enthusiastic this book now that Eugene “The Message” Peterson claimed it was this generation’s Pilgrim’s Progress–vomit, I shall. She would have a heart attack if she knew how closely it resembles many New Age teachings and how much of a debt it owes to the LSD culture.

Of course, as a devout Christian mystic myself, I had many of my own issues with the book beyond its sloppy Godhead. True mysticism is the attempt to know the Divine through communication and study. In the journey of mysticism one learns that the truth is always more remarkable than our mind could have dreamed. Somehow William P’aul’ Young has found a lesser truth peopled with insulting jokes and parlayed that into a new and bastardised form of communion.

I found the book grotesque and disturbing, facile and mocking. I’m just so very sorry that so many people think this feeble thing is remarkable. Then again I suppose God is bigger than even one lousy book and if God can talk through Balaam’s ass then perhaps God can work through this piece of crap book.

Nevertheless I plan to beg everyone I meet to read something else instead.

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Hardcover Hooch

I’ve never been a drinker. It’s not really a religious thing–although I did grow up in an abstemious household–I just don’t like the taste. So I’ve never quite understood why people will endure the awful taste and general malaise of post-drinking.

And then last night as a clicked through the latest book by crazy Patsy Cornwell I began to understand.

Because these wretched Scarpetta novels are my cheap vodka. My Boone’s Farm. My Pabst Blue Ribbon.

They are not that good. They were once, but now they’re just an exercise in her personal exorcism, watching a famous and wealthy author with her own passel of issues work them out on the page in the guise of not one, not two but at least four Mary Sues and one adoring plebe. Yet I still can’t stay away. I skipped the last one or two and thought myself cured, but on early Christmas morning after drudging through a couple saccharinely unsatisfying Christmas romance novels (angels? Really?!?) I needed hard killing. So I spent the 25 seconds and ten dollars it took to secure the latest and I’ve been briskly clacketing through the screens at every chance.

And I know it’s terrible. But I keep reading because I still want to know what happens next. I now am having the sad reckoning of these books representing my lost weekend, a foray into a reader’s Bukowski realm. As vices go this one isn’t too terribly awful. Yet I still feel a certain amount of shame.

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Because of a combination of circumstances–illness-borne insomnia, inability to lie down, being bored with Sims2–I fell into Facebook gaming about six weeks ago. It’s been an interesting journey. I’ve discovered things about myself and other people and surprisingly enough I’m getting a lot more out of this experiment than I thought I would.

For those of you not familiar with this type of gaming–Casual Gaming–it’s fairly straightforward. You perform tasks in a customised setting. Complete performance of those tasks earns you points which you use to level up. You also earn in-game currency to buy decorations or reinvest in the tasks of the game. As you rise in levels you unlock more decorations and fancier ways to earn money. The most popular of these games is Farmville and the farm imitators, but there are others set in restaurants (Cafe World, Restaurant Life), zoos, amusement parks and fish tanks. They are designed to be flexible. You can either play a game for five minutes or for hours, depending on the tasks you choose.

Since the games are on Facebook there is a social component to each one. You can send gifts to friends that are either desirable forms of decoration or useful in performing the tasks of the game. You can also visit your friends farm or restaurant or fish tank to see how she has decorated. You can earn points by performing tasks that help out your friend.

Since the games are initially free they follow what I call the Schoolyard China White business model. The first taste is free, but once you’re hooked you have to pay real money for the good stuff. Now unlike illegal drugs the things you buy in the games aren’t that expensive. But they are generally “cooler”–waterfalls that really move, volcanoes that spew lava–and give your place some cache.

I tell you all of this because it’s instrumental in the discoveries I’ve made in the past month.

1. Many people want something for nothing, want it now and don’t think life is “fair”. I can’t count the number of times I’ve come across a poorly-written whinge about how all the really cool stuff costs money. Maybe it’s because of all the years my husband worked in start-up tech companies or maybe it’s because I wasn’t raised by wolves. All I know is that I completely understand folks wanting to be paid for their work. I also understand not wanting to give cash money for what is essentially a cartoon. But the way I look at it is this. It doesn’t cost you to play. You can go without. But if you play the game for more than 2 hours a week, investing $5.00 is no worse way to spend your money on entertainment than buying a lottery ticket or renting a video.

2. Many people are actually very kind. I’ve met several really nice, warm-hearted folks.

3. Many people have a deep desire to express some creativity. It’s really a neat experience to see all the fantastically clever things folks come up with in their restaurants, farms and tanks.

4. Some games, especially the farm ones, have the same type of zen I get from knitting. I realise that sounds strange but as I plow the fields from left to right, plant seeds or harvest brightly-coloured crops it’s the same sort of rhythm as moving along the rows with needles and fibre.

5. It’s amazing that we live in a time where access to beauty is so relatively simple. Yes, I know there are many kinds of beauty and computer games aren’t what most people think of when they ponder the idea. But there is an undeniable gracefulness to watching fish swim through Atlantis or looking at a farm complete with streams and watermills. It’s a huge treat and I am thankful to live in a time where it’s possible for someone like me to be able to escape for awhile into such peace.

6. Those kids who whine about the money stuff are still really annoying, though.

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In a post a few down from this one, a poor unhinged man is hiding behind an alias and hurling invective at me and some others because we criticized something he wrote for The Huffington Post.

His biggest card to play–this man in his fifties–is to call me “fat”.

The thing he may not realise is that (as I may have said here before) I do NOT consider being called fat an insult. I am fat. If you were trying to describe me to the cops or pick me out of a crowd it is simply the most easy descriptor. I have brown hair with some gray bits scattered in, but so do many other people. My clothes change from day to day. I’m five and a halfish feet tall, but if you don’t have a yardstick that may not do you much good.

I don’t know when Fatty Fatty Fat Fat ceased to be something that upset me and started becoming something as neutral as “she’s wearing a black sweatshirt with a dog on it”. But it happened many many years ago. I started to realise that I’m fat the way some people have darker skin. It’s just a sort of way in which we are who we are. Other folks are bothered by it. Other folks use it as an excuse to treat us poorly. Sadly, while it may cost us a job opportunity or a date or a good rate on a car loan in the long run it reveals more about the person who uses it as an insult than it does about us.

So while this man–in his fifties–continues to employee grade school tactics of rhetoric I decided I’d just take a moment here to make this clear in case someone else thinks they’ll reduce me to a state of dithering by pointing out one of the more basic facts about me.

What does make me sad? When people point out ways in which I’ve failed as a person. Ways in which I’ve been unkind. A few years ago a woman who knew me not at all said in a very public forum that I was not self-aware and that she didn’t like me. That still wounds me to think about. Mostly because I’m not sure how much more self-aware I, a professional navel-gazer, should become to please others and still not drown in narcissism. Other times folks have rightly pointed out the meanness and sharp tongue that can be my greatest stumbling block. I am ashamed of the way I have mistreated people. I am not ashamed of the way I look or the size of pants I wear.

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I was going through old magazines and got distracted by a story in an issue of Good Housekeeping from several months ago. The more I read, the more amazed I got. The author, Kym Croft Miller (whose first and middle names are together so similar to my nom de guerre as to make my head spin) convinced her family to go an entire year without buying anything other than food or depletable goods like medicines and lightbulbs.

They then described something not unlike the life I’ve lived most of my adulthood.

Miller describes a lifestyle where they didn’t buy needless things on a whim and marvels about things like reusing vacuum cleaner bags and the cotton from the tops of medicine bottles. These are tricks known to any person who has had to struggle to build up a business or pay for graduate school or deal with being laid off by the school system or with having unexpected babies. The lives of many of my friends.

The fact that to Miller this lifestyle is deemed worthy of a cute article and turned into a fun, family experiment (after which they were all to be rewarded with a trip to Hawaii) struck me. Large sections of Americans live that way every day. They take sandwiches to work in brown bags they reuse, neatly folding them after the meal and tucking them back into an inexpensive purse. For many, many people it isn’t a game. It’s a means of going on.

People must not understand how other people truly live.

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Free Magazines

Okay. Someone explain something to me here. When did “Magazine” stop meaning “bunches of glossy pages stapled together mixing light reading and colourful advertising” and start meaning “Junk E-mail”?

Because I’ve signed up for some Free Magazines for arthritis sufferers. And I was expecting to get, you know, actual magazines. Instead I get these emails filled with handy tips like “try taking Aleve for Your Arthritis Pain”. I also get countless emails for power chairs, canes and, ironically, the AARP.

I guess I get what I pay for and free is free so I should stop complaining. But I do wish they’d be a bit more fair and call it something slightly more accurate, like ‘e-newsletter’.

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Last week a story broke in this town about a controversial local figure. He stands accused in the media of doing something violent and hypocritical. Whether those accusations are true, false or somewhere in between is not something I’d be prepared to answer–even if I could. I have my thoughts on the matter but they remain nothing more than speculation fueled by my very tangential acquaintance with the accused.

Stories like this happen all the time. I’ve been alive for almost 40 years now, all of that time spent among people who are very conservative in their religion and/or their politics. As I’ve said here before, it’s become a truism to me that the louder or more fervently someone preaches against something the more likely it is that they are guilty of that very thing themselves. The first person I ever heard give a lecture about the importance of commitment and the dangers of adultery ended up shocking his church by running off with a choir member. Men who preached about drugs ended up being arrested for selling cocaine. Countless men who reviled homosexuality turned out to have boy toys in apartments across town. Women preachers who talk about being faithful end up divorced and married again to their business manager/lovers. That’s just the way it goes.

Yeah, I’m bothered by all of this because I don’t like the hurt it signifies. Wherever there is a fallen public figure there are generally spouses and children in the background who have to put the pieces of their lives back together. Not to mention the internal conflict and pain for the public figure. Pain hurts everybody.

What is bothering me most about all of this lately, though, and especially this current verse of the same old story is the over-the-top glee others are taking at this glimpse of warts. I am so utterly sick of Schadenfreude. Because as appropriately understandable a feeling as it is, it has become carried too far. The basic “happiness at the suffering of others” has turned into an endless stream of hateful invective that causes pain which to me is little different from that pain caused by the initial transgression. It seems like there are an awful lot of self-satisfied people sitting around and gleefully saying “serves that blankety-blank right!”

And I know it’s true. It’s oddly comforting to see someone who has made fun of you for being fat put on 100 pounds themselves. (One of my favourite things about the combination of Facebook and pregnancy and menopause.) It’s satisfying to see someone who has called your non-traditional family an aberration turn out to have a messed up family of their own.

But honestly. Schadenfreude should be an initial reaction. Not a driving force of your life.

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When I first heard about the movie version of Julie & Julia my reaction was one of dread.

I’m a blogger. Julie Powell is also a blogger, but one who was able to parlay her blog into a best-seller and a movie starring Meryl Streep. She managed to do what so many bloggers secretly yearned for–to find the gimmick that took her to the next level as a literocelebrity. When I first got into blogging all those years ago my initial goal was honestly to find a place to yell at the TV and have other people hear about it at the same time. I do want to be recognised as a writer, but I never wanted that out of my blog. My blog is my escape from making things up. But I’d reckon that at least thirty percent of the people who got into blogging in the last seven years did so in an effort to duplicate Powell’s trajectory. So to me watching the movie seemed like rubbing my face in the fact that her blog took her to Hollywood while the farthest mine has taken me is to a few random lawyers’ offices via telephone. And even though I didn’t get into blogging wanting what she had the fact that she found a way to get it and I didn’t does kinda make me feel a bit like a failure.

I’m just trying to be honest here, because I don’t want people to have to read this next bit and think “Oh,she’s just jealous.” Because while I freely admit that I am jealous, I’m also operating from a place beyond that basic reaction.

Terry Goodkind said something in an interview earlier this year that caused a lot of things to gel for me. For years I couldn’t put my finger on what was bugging me about my writing and so much of the other writing out there in the fiction space. I had slivers of ideas, but no crystal whole. And then Goodkind–first published in his mid 40s–said this:

You can’t explain to people that they’re just not intellectually prepared to write a novel. A novel is a thing of incredible complexity. … The intellectual aspects critical to worthwhile novels don’t develop in a person that young.

If I would have tried to write a novel when I was 20 years old, it would have been a failure, just like all the other 20 year olds who can’t get published. It takes a certain amount of living, and that doesn’t mean traveling the world, going to war torn areas, and all that kind of stuff; it means watching how other people move, talk, think, and behave.

That’s the key, I think. That many people who write are pouring new wine. It may have potential but it just isn’t there yet. And so a lot of writers try to come up with a gimmick that they use to substitute for the actual GUTS of the work. So much of what’s out there now in terms of literature, especially memoir, is replacing Story with Gimmick.

And that’s exactly what I felt when I watched Julie & Julia this morning. It was so very clear that there were two women here. One lived a fascinating, off-beat life and pushed herself to try something completely new and different. The other was jealous of her more successful friends so she came up with a gimmick to get her foot in the door and her name recognised. Her gimmick just happened to be copying someone else’s better and more heartfelt work. And true to Goodkind’s observation, Julie Powell was young. She was just on the cusp of 30 when she went down this road. Her selfishness and lack of seriousness and earnestness were noticed and remarked upon by Julia Child herself. I happen to think that Child sensed the gimmick. Perhaps she even resented being used as a prop in someone else’s relentless scheme of self-promotion.

In thinking on the whole thing even further, I have to say I don’t think blogs really have much of a future beyond themselves. I know there were high hopes in both the publishing and blogger worlds that this would be a new thing to catch on, a new trend with a ready-made market. But I happen to think that blogs aren’t the same as finished literature. They are too elemental, too self-driven. Not that blogs aren’t great reading and great ways to get to know people. They just aren’t STORIES. They are more of a recounting or editorialising. And I think they’re perfect as they are. The medium and message are made exactly for one another; the message can’t readily cross streams into a new medium. Because you then end up with a conventional fictional story, the journey from innocence to experience, without a conventional hero (or anti-hero.)

I think there are bloggers who will and do write great fiction. (See Aunt B.’s October Halloween stories as the prime example.) But a book by a blogger and a book about a blogger’s blog are two different things.

And a movie about a book about a blogger’s blog? Half of it was good. The half that wasn’t about the blogger and her blog.

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I know you think your little girl is adorable. I also know that Chap Stik is relatively inexpensive. But when you watch your two-year-old smear great big globs of Chap Stik on the bench where other people are going to sit, the least you could do is clean it up.

Especially when the pushy woman says “your daughter got Chap Stik all over the seat” and you say “Yeah, I know” and the pushy woman tells you “you ought to clean that up” and you say “Yeah, I will.”

For heaven’s sake, woman. You brought a human life onto this earth. Exercise a little responsibility and don’t be disgusting.

As it was, another woman had to come along after you to wipe off the seat. I sure as hell wasn’t gonna do it. I imagine society will have to clean up a lot of messes after you and your kid as it is.

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I honestly don’t know if I know how to write this post. I’ve already started it three times in my head and once on the blog, a whole sentence typed and ready to go about how sick I am. But most people already know that.

A few minutes ago I decided to check my email. One of my friends was so kind (?) as to send me a link to an “article” in the Huffington Post written by some attention-seeking jackass named Alan Kaufman. Because Kaufman is an attention-seeking jackass I’m tempted to not link his post. I may. It depends on how much of my mad I get banged out on this before I go back and find the link and all that jazz.

Anyway, Attention-Seeking Jackass Alan Kaufman wrote this bit of garbage in the Huffington Post ( I’ve credited it twice for all you able-bodied Googlers out there) wherein he claims that e-books are the triumph of Nazi philosophy and aims, the zenith of Nazi book-burning ideals. The gist of the post is that The Final Solution was a model of German efficiency, as were many other aspects of the Third Reich. As a woman who first read Eugen Kogen’s The Theory And Practice of Hell at age 12, I can attest to this fact. I can also attest to the fact that there are cars and coffee makers in half the households in this world that are the step-grandchildren of Nazi engineering. I myself will never own a Mercedes or a Krupp.

Kaufman then further dribbles with his insanely Luddite-on-Acid ravings that all technology is the stepchild of Nazi-ism in that it is kin to the Nazis goal of ridding the World Engine of the entropy of waste. The Kindle, with its ability to delete books, is the ultimate triumph of the book burners. Because the books just vanish into thin air.

He then argues against himself because while the books disappear (bad) they also leave a trail (also bad, but completely illogical and artless) that tracks which books you’ve read, robbing you of all privacy. Someone, somewhere out there will own the information about the information you own.

I don’t really want to take the time to argue with this crazy person. But I do need to say a few things in defence of my Kindle. I’ve spent a lot of time in the company of writers in recent days. I know that there are certain pockets of disdain for the Kindle and its ilk among the literary, because they fear it as the Death of the Book. None of them have put it in so grandiosely ridiculous a way as Kaufman, but they all think similar thoughts. You can hear it when they say things like “there’s something about the pages, the feel of an actual book”. And I agree with them.

But here is where I step in. I used to say those things myself. I still do say them, as a matter of fact, but in a different way. Because while there is a romance about a book, whether illuminated and calligraphed by cloistered monks or run off en masse by soulless presses (something else I’m sure was once decried as an evil technology), the true essence of a book is one thing only. A book is the vapor of ideas, bottled and transmuted from one person to another. The size and shape of the bottle may vary. It may be as ornate as the Book of Kells or as pedestrian as a supermarket paperback. But the book itself is a phenomenon without equal in humanity. It is our most tangible magic. If you truly stop to think about what a book IS, you may lose your mind in the contemplation. The only thing that e-Books do is make those bottled vapors more accessible. Easier to transport. Easier to consume. I fail to see how this is a bad thing for the Book in general. Since owning my Kindle I’ve bought four times the number of books I did in the previous six months. I’ve become more energised with modern published works, more in touch with a wider variety of literature. The Kindle, with its ease of use and access, makes it far easier for me to find and buy a new work than any other invention in the world.

Kaufman raves on about how this new technology will ghettoise The Book and eventually exterminate it. I sit in wonder at his lack of reason. I don’t understand how giving more books to more people is going to end the existence of books. His go-to line, that he loves so much he uses it twice, is “when I hear the term Kindle, I think not of imaginations fired but of crematoria lit.” Funny, because when I hear the term Alan Kaufman I think not of a writer but of a lunatic Luddite, an Attention-seeking jackass.

I know this post is dreadfully long, and I’m sorry for adding this coda in a way, but I feel it must be said. What happened in Europe all those years ago was one of the most horrible examples of the worst humanity has to offer. I feel that there is not one thing worse when speaking of the Holocaust than to cheapen it. When you liken other things–chickens for KFC, books on the Kindle–to the mass extermination of human beings you make yourself look like a callous and craven individual so desperate for attention, so eager to make a point, that you will disregard real tragedy in search of your own glorification. The fact that Kaufman would even contemplate making this analogy sickens me to my core. Especially since he’s doing so over something so ridiculous as a two hundred and fifty dollar piece of plastic.

I also wanted to add a further coda. I changed the title of this post because while the initial title was meant to be angrily ironic I still couldn’t keep it no matter what. It was too horrific to contemplate. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around how ridiculously angry this man’s little screed has made me.

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