Archive for February, 2011

Right now it’s illegal to sell wine and liquor in a grocery store in Tennessee. I’ve become so accustomed to this antiquated bit of buffoonery that it felt very off somehow to see Bailey’s Irish Creme gift sets in the Indiana Target store we shopped in over Christmas. Kind of like coming across your friend’s dad’s naked lady playing cards in a kitchen drawer when you’re looking for a spoon to dip up ice cream.*

People have been whining and kvetching and generally lampooning this whole state of affairs since I moved here, but now that the state is broke and going broker the idea of wider liquor sales (and the subsequent wider taxation net that would accompany) is suddenly gaining a glimmer of possible. As the debate ratchets up I am by turns growing more befuddled and angry with some of the complainants.

Now I understand if you are Bud and you own Bud’s Liquors and you don’t want people bypassing your dank little store with its ancient wood paneling and mildew smell** to get their party goods at the Kroger right next to their house. You’ve got good reason to put up a fight.

But some of the other folks are just walking and talking versions of my nightmare. When I was in Fourth grade one of the boys was “allergic” to sugar and red dye so his mother threw such a fit that we could no longer bring fruit-flavoured snacks to Fruit Break and birthday treats were outlawed. Twenty of us had to suffer because her weak-as-water child couldn’t handle watching us eat our Fruit Roll-ups*** and cupcakes. I think you all can blame her for having a large hand in my Libertarianist leanings.

And now she and her Sisters of Sob are saying that it is–and I quote from a link posted to Facebook by my friend Sarcastro of the Williams Sarcastros–

They have no sense of compassion for those fighting the addiction of alcohol who will be forced to shop for the staples of life, while being confronted by their personal demon with every turn they make in the store.

I can attest that you just need to grow a pair in any grocery store. Everyone has to do it. Those who diet have to deal with passing Little Debbie and Ben and Jerry. Those who are broke have to deal with passing the pretty much 99% of the store that is out of their budgetary reach. Having been in both places–fat and poor–I know from personal experience. Yet I never had the brass ones to tell the grocery manager he could sell only low-fat Totino’s Pizza. And nothing else. Because of my problems. I learned early on that my problems are just that. Mine.

I appreciate the concern of friends; I do have those who will drive me places now that I can no longer drive and those who will come to my house for parties and put up with my dog. They don’t have to do that but they do because we’re friends and I love them and would die for them if necessary.

But at no point have I tried to pass a law saying that all parties are now to be held solely at my house and that no one can go to church or the store or the movies without driving me there too. My problems are my problems. The solutions to them are not to be legislated. The inconvenience they cause to those whom I love does cause me great amounts of grief–untold amounts that keep my up at night. I’m very aware of how much people do for me out of the kindness of their hearts. But I would never underestimate them by forcing their kindness through threat of law and I would never diminish their humanity.

So I’m sorry that you are a drunk. But get over yourself. AA has a saying that I’m rather fond of. “Wear slippers instead of carpeting the world.” So get a pair of slippers and wear them when you shop at the grocery store. After all, this is still Tennessee****

*story for another time

**Seriously. Why are 2/3rds of the liquor stores around here like this??? It’s creepy.

***Astronauts eat them! They can’t be ALL bad…

****Yes, they wear slippers and pajamas and rollers in our Kroger. I fully expect to someday see someone in nothing more than a #9 shirt and a jockstrap one of these days. As the daughter of a woman who wouldn’t go shopping without lipstick on I’m still reeling from the stuff we’ll wear to get cheetos at 2:am

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Open up Amazon and look at any of the more popular releases of the last 18 months or so and a strange thing will happen. Books that have been well-reviewed in the press show up with 2- and 3- star ratings (out of a possible 5), sometimes even before they’ve been released. Surely, you think, there aren’t that many Advanced Reader Copies floating around out there, dwelling among the grumpy and disgruntled. So then you read some of the reviews.

To save us all the time I’ll tell you exactly what you’ll find. About 80% of the reviews (before release) complain that the e-book costs too much, and that while they haven’t read the book they feel justified in marking it down because of that. 15% of the reviews will be from reactionaries–who have also not read the book–giving it 5-stars to balance out all the naysayers. Then the last 5% will be from eager fans of the author or ARC-holders or Harriet (&*&^*) Klausner actually talking about the content of the book.

While it’s been like this for awhile now, the storm really started brewing with Ken Follet’s Fall Of Giants. At $19.99, it was priced nearly double that of other new releases and the Kindle community about had a collective aneurysm. Since then it’s nearly impossible to find a book reviewed on Amazon without some mention of the e-book’s price and/or availability.* The controversy then becomes whether or not it’s even germaine to weigh the book’s merits against it’s price.

If you’d asked me ten years ago I would have said something along the lines of literature-being-a-priceless-treasure and some-things-should-be-weighed-on-merit-alone. Ten years ago I was an idealist who had just started working in publishing. I still thought that books were sacrosanct. It seems like most of those who still feel that way are busy giving 5 stars to books they haven’t read and getting huffy about the beauty of the printed word with a bunch of tightfisted strangers on the internet. But I can’t feel that way anymore. I’ve handled enough author contracts and royalty checks to know just how commoditised commercial books are. And heaven knows I’ve bought enough books to pay for about 5 cars.

There are indeed books out there that I love so much I feel the impulse to buy them again just when passing them, as though the repurchase will open the door to the wonderful feeling of discovering a great book for the first time. ** But there are more that I end up comparing to movies and TV. I’ve got this mental scale for entertainment, the base unit of which is One Video Rental costing Five Dollars. And for the last three years I’ve been measuring pretty much all my leisure activities against that yardstick. For example: will I get at least two hours of enjoyment out of this activity? If so then yes, it’s worth $5.00. Less than two hours is worth less, but more is a bargain. My ceiling is $18, which is the cost of two movie tickets in the theater.

So as a writer is it tacky for me to start to value books this way? The part of me that’s still idealistic wants to say “yes” and cry foul. Books aren’t the same ordinary things as videos and Facebook games and museum exhibits. They exist on a higher plane and should be treated thus. Then the reader in me who has read more than her share of really awful books (seriously, what are some of these publishers thinking?) feels more than justified. If writers don’t care enough to put out the best possible product, if publishers can’t even proofread the finished product anymore, if any halfway decent story is carved up and sold for parts like a stolen Honda then we consumers are free treat these books like the products the Publishing Industry so obviously thinks they are.

*If there is NO e-book the reviewers mark it down saying “I’d read this if there were an ebook copy.”

**To Kill A Mockingbird; Pillars of the Earth; George RR Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series; Girl Of The Limberlost; Midwife Of The Blue Ridge; The Name Of The Wind; The Warded Man; Island Of The Blue Dolphins; Harry Potter; The Chronicles Of Narnia; Mere Christianity; Surprised By Joy; A Grief Observed; Nicholas Nickleby; David Copperfield; Les Miserables; Guernsey Potato Peel Pie etc.; and so on….

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The book I’m writing right now tells the story of a young woman who is the daughter of a brilliant but detached physician and his artsy wife. It’s a simple bildungsroman about growing up both wealthy and poor, both loved and estranged. My three main characters represent reason, faith and consequence. But you wouldn’t know that right off if you read it–because it’s just a little love story. About the parents falling in love with each other and with the idea of their child and grandchildren. About a family.

There is not one elf, troll, faerie, witch, wizard, vampire or werewolf among them. The closest things they have to supernatural powers are the ability to read very young and the ability to be a brilliant doctor.

I often wonder if anyone will get the chance to read it. Because even if I finish it, it seems that the only books getting the green light right now have to be Urban Fantasy. Now, I didn’t know until recently that “Urban Fantasy” was the name given to all those books where otherwise normal lives are disrupted by the existence of sexy vampires and hunky dogboys. I was just calling them “boring”.

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The Little Pecker

Okay…I admit I wrote this when I was hurting worse than I thought. It’s really cranky. Sorry–please skip it. I’d delete it except that I have that No Delete On The Blog policy.

One of my least favourite poemishes is Emily Dickenson’s “Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul.”

So many people love it–I guess because they like the idea of Hope as something that can fly or help you fly.

I personally think that it means Hope is a thing that poops inside you, molts and pecks your finger painfully if you get too close. Because so often that’s what Hope does to people.

Hope is my least favourite of the ideas of mankind because it is so abused. I know of so many people who think that “hoping” is the same as “taking action” when they are indeed exact opposites. Folks confuse Hope with Optimism, and think that if they do not Hope then they are not optimistic. Not so. Hope is sitting still and dreaming about a day when things might be better–and it usually involves hinging itself on the perch of someone else’s devising.

If the government fixes the economy…

If only he would stop drinking…

If things got better at my job…

One of my submottoes for life is “Don’t Hope. Do.” Because the government will never fix the economy and the drunks won’t stop drinking and a bad job is a bad job. So work hard to earn what you need. Become content in yourself. Stop harbouring a squawking bird and start taking actions toward change.

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So This Is Now

We’re planning our 20th Anniversary trip, heading to Disney World for another bite at the Mouse.

I first went the year it opened, and I was two. From that point on we went every other year until I left home at 18. Then I went back a few times after I was married, so I’ve been there plenty.

This is the first time I’ll be going with a wheelchair. And part of me doesn’t want to go. I don’t want special lines and special attention, and I don’t want to be the burden that my husband spends all day pushing. Most of all I don’t want to admit that at forty years of age I cannot walk more than a few dozen yards without crippling pain, exhaustion and nausea. I don’t want to be this person.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, though. Through the lens of Disney my life always gets a focused perspective. It’s as though Walt Disney World is the place I go to find myself, to get back in touch with who I am. And I was remembering the countless other trips I’ve made there and how every time there was something I wished was different.

There were times I wished I was there with a best friend/lover/spouse. I loved my family but the entire time I was growing up I felt like something was missing. It was such an odd sense, like knowing part of your body just isn’t there. When I met my husband everything fell into place, and I realised he was the thing that I’d been missing.

There were times I wished I was there staying On Property. You can either stay in one of the hotels that fringe the resort and are inevitably cheaper, or you can stay in a Disney-owned hotel within the boundaries of the resort. Both are fine options with a lot to recommend them, and I’ve have great times both places. But when I’d be off-property I’d always stare at that greener grass and covet.

And of course there were the times I wished I was there with more money. So I could eat at this restaurant or buy that souveneir.

Every single one of those times I’ve been able to walk–and thought nothing of it. It never occurred to me to be thankful that I could see and hear and breath and walk and carry my own travel bag. I was so busy wanting the next thing to make me happy that I forgot to be happy with what I had.

So now I’m going with plenty of money and staying On Property with my other half–but I’m not walking. I’ve been fretting over that but as I think about it I’ve decided that I need to seize my joy in the circumstances I’ve been given. I’ll rejoice in the mere fact that I’m getting to go on a marvelous trip with a marvelous man, and not get hung up on the mechanics of the thing. After all, I’m still breathing and I’m still loved and those are the two greatest gifts this side of Home.

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I feel like I’m standing in the churchyard at Wittenburg, watching a disgruntled, fat little monk nail papers to the door.

I feel like I’m standing on the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo on a hot summer day, letting the breeze off the water cool me as I watch a man run toward the Archduke’s motorcade.

We’re here at the turn of the page of an era and it’s in parts exciting and dangerous and frightening.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. First, when Betsy decided to self-publish and again now that every move I make over at Amazon is deluged with self-publishers promoting their 99cent Kindle books. I often wonder if I should just self-publish and try to gain a foothold in the new marketplace. That is, after all, how Benjamin Franklin and Charles Dickens did it. Kind of.

I’ve held back because I think there’s a certain romance to having a publisher publish your work and part of me would really enjoy that experience. But now I’m starting to re-rethink myself, in large part due to a mainstream author I’ve been following for a couple of years now.

A few years ago I discovered this writer by accidentally grabbing one of their works at the library. (The cover was non-genre standard and I didn’t realise that it was a book in a genre I didn’t normally read.) I loved the book and immediately sought out others by that writer. Soon I was devouring what was quite a sizable body of work, all of which was great fun. And since this was a mainstream author with a large following there was a book every six months, like clockwork.

I started reading the author’s blog and started to see that Real Life was taking precedence. It was obvious that work wasn’t first on their mind anymore, as other plans were taking shape. But the writer is a working writer yoked to a publisher’s timetable. So regardless of whether or not they had a story to tell, the writer delivered a book every six months. Like clockwork.

The last three are lousy. You can sense the writer’s distaste for their occupation on every page. Even worse, you can sense their distaste for their customers. Instead of coming up with fun, escapist passages, the pages are full of lectures about how folks should watch their weight and get outside to enjoy life more. It started to feel like a slap in the face.

And that’s what’s wrong with the way mainstream publishing works. Books don’t come out now just because they’re good. They come out because they are a viable product. If you happen to be the maker of a viable product, you are stuck. No matter what. Like a bee it’s your job to crap honey.

Part of me thinks more and more that it’d be great to write AND publish on my own terms.

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Over on Facebook an old high-school friend chastened me for being down on Valentine’s day, because she says that we should be using it to focus on how Love is the greatest aspect and gift of the I AM.

That would actually be part of why I so very much DON’T like Valentine’s day. Because it takes that sacred aspect and humans it up so terribly. Pink and lavender hearts like faded bloodstains and bruises, fat baby angel archers shooting people wantonly and popular cartoon characters are what we have decided to use as symbols of LOVE. We talk about candy and jewelry and restaurant dinners as the way to celebrate love.

None of it feels like actual LOVE, per se. It all feels like shopping and irony. It feels like a holiday made for the Twilight crowd–those who love sparkly men at arms’ length and dream of being fought over like an object.

I’ve been with the love of my life now for longer than I lived without him. It often feels like I’ve never lived without him; in recounting a childhood memory I now have to stop and think whether or not he was there and am surprised when I realise he wasn’t. I don’t hate Valentine’s day because I can’t get a man. I hate it because I have had the best man for so long and I know how painful and wrongly aimed the holiday is. There were years we had no money and I felt as if I didn’t properly love him if I weren’t buying him a watch and that he didn’t proprerly love me if there was no diamond tennis bracelet. Nevermind that he was working the night shift in a mental hospital, strapping down child rapists and baby killers for minimum wage–just to pay our bills. Never mind that I gave up my family and home and all that was familiar to follow him to a strange city.

There’s no way that one day or one card or one candy can really express true love. You can’t say, for one moment in time, that this is about you giving everything you have and are for the person you love. There’s no way these plastic things can say “I lay down my life for you”. That is what the I AM did for us, and that is what we do for those we truly love.

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