Archive for February, 2012

The Gong Show

I’m going to do something different today. You’d expect me to wax lovingly about my husband and happy married life on Valentine’s Day, because that’s the trend. I’m not going to do that, though, because today I want to talk about a different kind of love and why now, of all times, it’s so important.

Yesterday I was tangentially involved in the Catholics Vs. Obama discussion on Facebook. As a libertarian I have strong feelings on the issue. As a Christian I have strong feelings on the issue. As a woman I have strong feelings on the issue. As a matter of fact, this being an election year, there are many issues about which I have strong feelings. Thanks to the Internet I have a 24/7 platform upon which I can air those strong feelings to my heart’s content.

And there is the problem. Over the years I’ve realised that those arguments do not a content heart make.

Yesterday I watched while friends on various sides of the issue debated their relative points and yet again I saw the most openly Christian of my friends be the least loving and kind of almost all of them. It reminded me of all the times I was so sure of my rightness I forgot righteousness.

There’s a Bible verse that says we shouldn’t cast our pearls before swine, and I hesitate to reference it because it sounds as though I’m saying all the people I disagree with are the swine, and that just isn’t the case. In these heated discussions it’s become very de rigeur for Christians to take the pearls of their testimony, that great gift of love and grace, and toss them away to be covered in the mud and feces of anger, argument and cruelty. The swine are within our own hearts and minds, really. We greedily plow into the trough of debate and snort and bite and chew without regard to good taste or manners.

It’s not that I think we should stay out of things or not voice our opinion. Faith doesn’t preclude reason, despite what some may tell you. As Christians, however, I think it’s most important that we be Christians first, that we answer to the Great Commission first and that we realise we are the light and salt.

I forget this a lot, because I still have that tempestuous hot head and strident assurance of my own right-thinking. I have a little note by my computer that says PYT, and anyone who walked by would think I mean that I think I’m a pretty young thing. It actually stands for Preserve Your Testimony and that’s what I try to do. (Try. I really drop the ball on occasion, to my shame.)

I’m talking about all this now because it’s Valentine’s Day and that’s a day when everyone is focused on love. In this year of anger and strife I’d rejoice to see those of us who have taken up the cross daily bring the focus on love to all our interactions. Maybe then there would be more content hearts and some actual balm in Gilead.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

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I have had one and a half lousy boyfriends in this life. Fortunately I had those fellows early enough that I learned right quick what I wouldn’t stand for, and when the time came to get married I was able to pick a guy who had either grown out of the “Baby, I won’t do it again, I promise” stage or who had never been there in the first place.

Yet here I find myself once again at a place in my life where I keep believing what I suspect deep down to be horrible lies. All because I am desperate to love. I yearn to love, I hunger for it. So over and over again I fall for the line, the handsome face, the impressive size. I give willingly of my time, my money, and my passion only to have it all be wasted on another liar.

“Best Book of 2011”

“Reminiscent of The Stand

“If you love Game Of Thrones, you’ll be swept away by this epic tale.”

The people who write book blurbs and book reviews are becoming more and more like that boyfriend I once had who would promise me a great date on Saturday night but then content himself to hanging around my house watching videos when Saturday actually rolled around. (If he showed up at all, that is.) I hang so much hope on the promises of a great story and then Whoosh! It’s gone with the wind. But not Gone With The Wind, which is actually an epic classic I love.

Every time I go to Amazon or GoodReads now, I feel like an embittered crone stepping into a smokey bar, resigned to overpriced booze and unoriginal come-ons, but always hoping in the deepest part of my soul that I’ll find someone real to go home with at closing time. I haven’t had much luck lately, though. That handsome popular guy all the girls wanted turned out to be an empty-headed windbag.* The old-fashioned, good-hearted guy was actually a preacher more interested in hearing himself bloviate than in sharing a good time with me.** The smart, sexy Oxonian turned out to be the kinkiest fetishist this side of Krafft-Ebing.***

A good book is hard to find, my friends. I’ve even been tempted to check out the bar down the street where Sandman Slim hangs out, because I read that I should call him for a good time. But I don’t usually swing that way. Urban fantasy is not my thing.

Part of my problem is that my True Love and I are being kept apart by some wicked plot by the folks who can’t get their act together and run Pottermore in a decent enough fashion for me to be able to buy the promised Harry Potter ebooks. I know Harry is technically a little bit young for me, but I don’t go to him for the gritty passion. We hang out for the pure, unsullied good time, the memories, the joy of having it all ahead of us.

Since all the new guys have been such a let-down and the first flower of youth is lost to me, I decided to ring up an old lover. Yes, I’ve been there already and it ended on kind of a shaky note. And I don’t know if he’ll really be there for me all the way through, because he has a track record of not showing up on time. But I’m familiar enough with him that I can enjoy his good qualities while overlooking the bad ones. So it’s back to A Song Of Ice And Fire I go. Until I’m ready to try believing the next fellow.

* Fall Of Giants
**North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
***The Company Of Fellowes

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Operation Sunroom

This is my Breakfast Nook.

It has been relatively unchanged for the last 8 years or so. Since it has all those wonderful windows and a Southern exposure, my dream has been to turn it into a sunroom/reading lounge. (I read far more often than I eat breakfast.)

The goal is to find some type of seating for the eastern wall and to build up an indoor kitchen garden in the South and West windows. I am open to suggestions for both seating and plants.

The plants I know that I would like to cultivate for sure are
–Purple basil
–Green onions

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This is the third blog post I’ve written today. The other two were Moved To Trash because I decided I didn’t want to go there in public. My mother will be relieved that I’ve stopped sharing (what she thinks is) every thought I have. So I’m going to share this other thought that really doesn’t apply to everyone but might offend some people.

Few people get on my nerves as much as writers who don’t/won’t read.

There may be more writers now, or it may be yellow volkswagon syndrome, I can’t say for sure. But I’ve definitely run across a lot more people who talk about being writers either for hobby or for work. For years I avoided being involved in writer blogs or writer workshop events because for me writing is a private affair. As Jill Domschot said the other day “I don’t write about writing because I don’t want to be a painter painting a painting of myself painting.” And that pretty much sums it up for me. But then I did decide that perhaps hanging around more writers might give me the impetus to get more serious about my own work.

Some days it helps; most days it doesn’t.

It wasn’t until I began hanging around all these writers that I found out about the New Rules that we couldn’t use anymore. And until this week I had patience with most of those rules. Then all of a sudden I realised that I don’t care. I write what I want to read. I don’t care if it tells and doesn’t show and “head hops” and has too many adverbs or whatever we’re avoiding now.

I read. I write for readers. I write what I like to read. And writers who spend more time talking about rules that are at their very core ARBITRARY GUIDELINES than they do knee-deep in good books are fast becoming the bane of my existence. Put down that workshop pamphlet, pick up a novel or three and learn to tell what you like about the reading experience.

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It was my own choice to marry a preacher’s kid, even though I knew then what came with the territory. There’s something so infinitely sad about a child who has to compete with Almighty God for his father’s attention and love. There’s something so brave and lost about a child who learns early on that his behaviour AS A LITTLE BOY could affect his father’s livelihood. And most of all, there’s something poignant about a man who grew up that way and is still carrying on with his relationship to Christ. That, my friends, is dedication to Taking Up The Cross.

When I was a kid my pastor and his wife were childless, so I didn’t grow up with The Pastor’s Son in my youth group. In retrospect I think that was preparing me for the rest of my life because it let me have foundational years without prejudicing me against the phenomenon of the Preacher’s Kid. That respite lasted until 8th grade, when a minister moved his family to town and sent his daughter to my Christian school. Evangeline was the first preacher’s kid I was ever friends with, and being a teenager alongside her taught me a lot about the expectations and pitfalls of that life.

There are different types of Preacher’s Kids; or maybe I should say there are different ways that a Preacher’s Kid can present herself to the world. There’s the easiest way–going along with the program and being the Good Example everyone expects. Then there is the hardest way, which is the exact opposite and involves all sorts of rebellion and trouble. I love both of those for their honesty and bravery. My husband has taken the easiest way at times and the hardest way at others, now he’s landed on Easiest Way, and that may be easier now that his father has passed away.

The worst way for a Preacher’s Kid to be–and the way I hate with every fibre of my being–is the Middle Way. I call it the Eddie Haskell syndrome. All the parents and other adults in the church think that the kid is the best thing since sliced bread; a good example of how good parenting produces good children. Once this little deceitful person is away from The Adults, they turn into Bad Seed Central. An egregious example was in a youth group where several girls were raped by the Preacher’s Kid but none of the adults would believe it. But there are other examples that hit closer to home for me, and I’m dealing with one right now.

Facebook followers know that on Monday night I had to go into the backyard to yell at two kids who were throwing things at my dog and taunting him from the hill that looks over our privacy fence and into our yard. They also know that last night the father of the boys came over and told me to never yell at his kids again because it was “unacceptable” for a strange adult to yell at his children. He said the boys weren’t doing anything wrong and when I told my side of the story he emphatically denied that it was true. Apparently strangers yell at his children for no reason at all other than to disrupt their angelic contemplation of the mysteries of Christ. The conversation ended well, but when I googled him (I google everybody) I found out what I should have known all along. His kids are PKs. And I do feel sorry for them. But I swear I’m not in the mood to deal with deceitful and cruel children living two houses down from me.

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–You can’t really write, you know. Everything you write is garbage.

–Anyone who says you can write is just being polite.

–That story you’re working on is going to be scooped by someone else so don’t bother.

All of this makes me wonder why on earth someone out there wants so badly for me to NOT write. Because it really seems like there’s an imp out there whose sole goal is to ensure that I get nothing written of consequence.

Noth that anything I write would be earth shattering or life-changing for anyone else but me (and perhaps my husband). I’m not one of those people who believes that my writing was passed down by God or angels or salamanders. But I do believe that we all touch certain people and often in ways we never realise.* I more and more am wondering whose life is going to be touched by the book(s) I write and how that life will be different if I listen to these buggers and don’t get anything written at all.

When I was eleven we didn’t have cable. (We never had cable when I was growing up.) I was, however, deeply in love with Art Garfunkel and bound and determined that I would see him in “The Concert In Central Park” which was airing on HBO. So I and another girl from across the street traveled on our bikes to a neighbourhood about a mile away to persuade Monica–a girl from my church–to let us watch it at her house. Back then in 1981 it seemed like only one in fifty houses had HBO. It certainly felt like we pedalled past 50 houses to get to Monica’s.

After we watched Art (and Paul Simon, grudgingly) we thanked Monica and left. I only saw her sporadically after that, but whenever I think of her I feel bad for using her. She’s one of the few people that I ever used in a calculating manner and I’m glad that I was so young when I did use her because it left me with such a bad taste I’ve strived to avoid it ever since. (“It” being the using of people. Not the feeling-bad.)

Last night I dreamed about Monica; she died when we were in our early twenties. I believe it was an asthma attack. Last night I dreamed that I went over to her house for her birthday on May 2nd and took her out to lunch at her favourite restaurant. While we were eating Sopapillas she told me that I really needed to get my book finished. This dream has creeped me out. Am I soon to join her? Am I not writing because I feel guilty and feel like to finish my book and get it published I’d have to use people? Hmmm. I wonder about all this. I also wonder incidentally how it changed Monica’s life on earth to have Betsy and me at her house that summer afternoon watching the concert. Maybe I helped in some small way. Then again maybe I was just using someone for her HBO.

*All of this reminds me of how high my hopes are for the new Kiefer Sutherland series on Fox called “Touch”. It’s pretty much about this basic construct, which is something I’ve always believed but never seen addressed.

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If you’re just now hearing about the latest social media craze, chances are you are in the intended second wave. It seems to have been unleashed first to the Mommyblogs and is just now filtering out into the other streams of social interaction.

It’s called Pinterest and it is the simplest yet most entertaining idea to hit social media in awhile. By combining the concepts of Vision Boards and Idea Files, Pinterest lets the user track useful, fun or interesting ideas from around the web. Stumble across a recipe while surfing? Just add it to your Recipes pinboard. It’s there to remind you later when you want to know what to make for dinner, but the genius of it is that everyone who follows you on Pinterest can also see it and make it for their dinner if it sounds good.

In other words, the Internet now has customers performing Affinity Diagrams for FUN. More on that in a minute.

When I first came to Pinterest a few weeks ago the best description for it was Stepford Home Ec. Most of the ideas that had been pinned were frilly, fussy, fancy things that almost every woman dreams of doing, few actually implement and the rest feel guilty about. You know what I mean–taking an old shutter from an antique mall, painting it with stencils and using it to sort your mail. The types of things which look great in a magazine but just don’t ever get done what with all the laundry and carpooling and working 50 hours a week to stay ahead of the forever recession. Now, however, Pinterest is moving beyond its initial niches and the boards are multiplying, turning corners and painting more and more interesting pictures of what captures the eye of these tech-savvy generations. My initial skepticism has been thawing, and I’m finding more and more ways in which I can express myself and my style with Pinterest. I’m also finding more and more ways I can learn from my friends to expand my horizons.

Pinterest is a COMMUNITY.

At this point, with the rapid growth and initial success, the usual suspects are already wondering how Pinterest can be monetized. Because nothing is just for fun, and the Pinterest people have to pay their bills like the rest of us. In his #pinchat last night on Twitter, Social Media Consultant Dave Delaney asked the question I’ve been dreading for two weeks now.

“I’m curious how you feel about brands using @pinterest. Are they welcomed or are they out of place?”

And that’s the crux of it. What can a brand do with Pinterest?

The temptation (and the probable advice from the usual social media gurus) is to turn Pinterest into another ad space and to let the weeds of pitchmen choke out the organic information. “Make sure your brand has a presence!” is the usual rallying cry, and I fear the day that we start seeing pinbombs when companies encourage users to “repin this for 15% off in our online marketplace!”

Brands who do that are stupid. Because they have at their disposal a no-cost, customer-driven, 100% open marketing research database at their fingertips. Customers are taking their own time to sort through the mountains of noise to tell anyone who will listen what they like, what they want and what they dream about. If you can get your brand on Pinterest the best thing you can do is listen to the conversation instead of trying to dominate it.

Let your customers tell you what they want to buy instead of just screaming at them to buy from you. The Internet has just handed you a brilliant piece of market research and if you corrupt that pool you have just scrambled the golden egg and kicked the goose in the ass.

*If you end up on Pinterest, feel free to follow me. I post pictures of Hot Abe Lincoln and other goodies I find along the way.

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These are tips I’ve compiled by trial and error over the last 10 years. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and Secondary Fibromyalgia, but these are also useful for people with Primary Fibromyalgia, MS, Lupus, and other types of Arthritis.

1. There’s no shame in going with partially-prepared items. If you love homemade lasagne but can’t manage the whole recipe, it’s fine to buy jarred spaghetti sauce and pre-shredded mozarella cheese. While pre-sliced cheeses tend to be slightly drier than the blocks you grate at home, it’s better to have a close approximation of the meal you love than to go without.

2. Plan ahead–Make ahead. Certain parts of any meal can be made ahead of time. If you’re living with a chronic pain ailment you are probably already realising that you need to sprinkle more rest times throughout your day. The same goes with food prep.

3. Plan slicing, peeling, chopping tasks for mid-day if possible. The work that is hardest on your joints is best saved for the middle of the day when your joints are going to be the least inflamed and painful. Early in the morning and late at night are not good times for intensive hand work.

4. Peel potatoes at room temperature. Cold is crippling for arthritic joints and there is nothing colder than a spud fresh from the refrigerator. If you store your potatoes and sweet potatoes in the crisper drawer, set them out a few hours before you need to peel them. It’s even fine to leave them out all day, if you still work outside the home.

5. Pre-assemble all of your ingredients ahead of time. This is one tip that most professional cooks rely upon, and it’s a really great one when Arthritis meets the Kitchen. It costs fewer trips to the fridge and pantry, is less stressful and saves you from getting halfway through cooking a dish before realising that the Fibro Fog caused you to forget to buy eggs at the store.

6. Invest in Memory Foam slippers to wear in the kitchen. The stress on knees and ankles is an often-overlooked hiccup for those suffering from arthritis. Standing on a hard floor over cookpots can leave you sore and tired for days. Floor mats and throw rugs can be both decorative and protective, but they don’t cover the whole floor. Trips to fridge, sink and cupboards are much easier when the padding is in your shoes and not left on the floor.

7. Believe in Aids For about $10 you can find entire sets of opening-aids at most stores and online. Cans, jars, even soda bottles are much easier to deal with when you have a few handy pieces of plastic.

8. Handwash your flatware Knives, forks and spoons are pretty sturdy stuff and don’t tend to break when dropped. (And if you have arthritis, chances are there are a few dropped things in your past.) The hot dishwater is a very good therapy for your sore hands and keeps the inflammation down after cooking. You can still use your automatic dishwasher if you like; you’ll undoubtedly need it for glassware, plates and heavy pans. But the few minutes it takes to wash a few dishes can mean the difference between a painful evening and a restful one.

9. Always keep a bag of rice and a bag of frozen peas on hand. Literally. Your joints may prefer hot therapy or they may do better with cold therapy. If the cooking has left you cramped, you can either reach for the frozen peas OR zap the rice in the microwave for 2 minutes on medium power. (Empty the rice to a microwave safe dish or a fabric bag first. Sew old dishtowels together for a cute Rice Compress.) You’ll feel blessed relief. When you’re done, just put the peas back in the freezer and stash the rice in a drawer for next time.

Those are some of my better tips. If you have any to add, please feel free!

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More than once I’ve heard this or that person assert that there is no such thing as Writer’s Block; the claim is that it’s either a laziness or a lack of true talent as opposed to an actual affliction.

Today I can prove those people wrong. Because I want to write and need to write and I don’t think I’m horrible at it. I just cannot cannot cannot pull the thoughts from my brain in the correct way. My usual method for non fiction is to think of my thesis statement and write around it. Yet every thought floats past the back of my eyes like a running fog, just enough to glimpse but not enough to cloud or fill my vision. I can’t grab anything and put it to paper.

I could blame the usual culprits, those sprightly demons of pain and fatigue that have chipped away at my life, but we’ve lived with one another long enough that I know now where the free spaces are and can work around them. So this isn’t that. I’m wondering if it is too much Facebook and Twitter, where ideas are either short bursts of thoughts belched out or semiotically expressed via “funny” pictures. Is my brain, fed on a diet of those brain raisins, no longer able to digest and process a meal? I wonder.

But then again, I’ve been on a bingey read cycle, moving through books the way the prow of an ocean liner slices through waves. Maybe I’ve burnt out the batteries or the hamster or whatever it is that powers my cerebellum. I don’t know.

Over at Mike Duran’s blog there is a huge discussion about Christians and the Supernatural. Are ghosts real or are they demons? Is there a such thing as psychic phenomena? That’s kind of like asking if there’s such thing as music, I think, and then if Music is good or bad. Of course I’m a mystic and talk with God and listen to God and know that there is more under and around us floating behind the backs of our eyes like the words I can’t grab today. It’s all this wonder and excitement when I think of the neat things I’ll get to see once I move on. I’m hoping that an early slice of my afterlife involves a behind the scenes tour of this world where I see the Utilidors God uses to make all the themed lands work seamlessly.

In one part of my world one of my friends is troubled by the fact that so many Christians don’t Ask Questions and are of unscientific minds. I try to explain but can’t fully express how there is a lot of pondering to be done about the magic of things and science, which I love, only uncovers part of it. It’s like a woman in short sleeves and a thigh-length skirt. Beautiful and sensible but all the greatest parts are still under wraps.

My dog is rolling around in the grass as though plants and dirt and sunshine are the best things ever to happen and maybe he’s right. I still think that dogs can see outside our spectrum of vision. If so and if they are content to love grass and sunshine I suppose that’s well enough to be going on with.

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Who You Know

Years ago a heard an author reading from their recently-published book at Davis-Kidd. These were the days before I was honest with myself about wanting to be a writer, so I reacted strangely. I developed a vociferous dislike for the author and their works. Then this weekend I came across one of those books and thought “you know, I bet this wasn’t as bad as I remembered from the reading and that my jealousy and envy really coloured my perceptions. I should try to read this.”

And so I did.

Lo and behold, I had been right the first time. The book was a weird Frankenstein’s Monster that tried to stitch together four or five popular (10 years popular) genres and did none of them very well. By the end of the book I was convinced that it must be a whole lot easier to get published than I once thought.

Apparently it is easier to get published. If you live in New York City and are married to a person in Media and have several friends and former co-workers who are in publishing, then you can nail a contract out of the blue.

Part of me seizes upon examples such as this one when I try to argue for the Publishing Revolution. After all, these new avenues opened up by Amazon and Apple should be the antidote to the cronyist, nepotist nature of old-style publishing. Because how else does a woman in a Tennessee basement get work evaluated against a person in a SoHo loft having cocktails with their good buddy Sasha from Random House?

But then I look at the nature of the free books being put out there and I think that somewhere there HAS to be a happy medium. There needs to be a tier between Big Pub House and Electronic Slush Pile. Obviously the big publishing houses aren’t about risk anymore. The concept of the Midlist at the traditional houses is pretty much dead. It’s go big or go home and pretty much the only way to secure a contract is to write a trilogy about wererobots.

Sunday night I watched the excellent documentary Hey, Boo, which followed the story of To Kill a Mockingbird from Harper Lee’s first draft through the enduring popularity of the book and its film adaptation. I was struck solidly with the realisation that that book could NOT happen in this current publishing climate. Lee submitted her manuscript to 10 publishers and was rejected by all of them. Then one person found “something” in the raw material and took her on. Lee and her publisher and editor then spent another year painstakingly revising the book from a series of short stories to the more cohesive novel that we know today.

Watching that movie I felt the oddest sense of loss. With publishing turning away from the love of books and embracing a love of money above all else I fear for what else is in store. And I wonder how many good books we’re all missing.

But most of all I still wonder how a writer with a good book can get to the right cocktail parties.

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