Just Mute It

indexTV is managing to ramp up the Disgust Factor by offering us advertising about grosser and more personal subjects than ever before.

I am not much of a TV-watcher but find it on more than I would like now that there are two of us who are retired and I won’t mention names or point fingers but one of us is a news junkie. There is WAY more 24-hour News Drone on than I would prefer. It’s entirely another topic, but someday I’d like to write about the BREAKING NEWS! stories (which are seldom stories at all).

BREAKING NEWS! Unemployment rate for September the same as August!

Oh really. How, um, interesting.

Anyway. At the risk of becoming a real asshole, I have been convincing enough that all parties now agree (or pretend to agree) that commercials which offend me the most should be muted. But if only by the very act of  muting, someone would know it. They know everything else about what we’re doing, why not that? That would be great! You’d mute and that activity would be picked up by all the stations. They’d tell the major networks and the cable networks who would tell all the Companies Who Make Gross Products, especially big Pharma (who are laughing their asses off at our erectile insecurity all the way to the MegaBank). Everyone would KNOW we are doing it.

That strikes me as a pretty good advertising tool. The offending companies would ask themselves: Are there commercials out there that are annoying our audience so much that they mute us, or {gasp} turn us off completely? Whoa!

Wish I knew how to implement such an add-on. Because if I did, then after I told the stations who’d tell all the networks who’d tell the advertisers, then they’d start using my amazing mute-detection system. Then I’d go on a huge campaign to get everyone to mute. Then those companies would see how much they are offending people. Then they’d take those abhorrent ads off the air. Then I’d be happy and could watch that cute Geico gecko and Flo from Progressive all day.

I googled something like “how to complain about erectile dysfunction ads” but only got sites that want me to buy Viagra and Cialis or “teach” me about this disorder. So, naturally, I’m outraged.

I did find this by Puddytat, a very interesting comment about ED ads occurring in early afternoon during football games when there are likely to be children present. I thought this quote very humorous, although sad, because it is true:

“Naturally, the “family values” crowd have been silent on the subject. I suspect that this is because a mega corporation (drug company) is profiting from the sale of outrageously priced penis pills. If not, marching orders would have gone out to gin up pearl clutching, phony outrage, and “think of the children” talking points.”

Great perspective, there.

The following is a partial list of mute-worthy advertising subjects:

  • erectile dysfunction
  • vaginal dryness
  • condoms (WOW, I didn’t think they could do this but MTV Music Awards did)
  • constipation
  • bladder control
  • catheters
  • toenail fungus

As I said, a partial list.

More and more, I’m convinced there is no romance left in this world. No topic is too sensitive to discuss, or advertise, or promote for profit.

Am I the only one who feels that way? If not, is there anything we can do about it?

To add an additional insult onto my ever-growing misery, I get my AARP Magazine which usually covers interesting, informative, safe topics and on the cover:

Best. Sex. Ever. Even in your 70’s – We Show You How.

Huh? This is AARP Magazine? WTF??!!

I wrote them an email and here’s what I said:

To whom it may concern:

I am someone who turns off the TV (or at least mutes it) when I see commercials for a) erectile dysfunction, b) vaginal dryness, c) bladder control, d) anything mentioning “black or bloody stools”, e) feminine catheters and f) toenail fungus.

Is there anything we can do to get these disgusting commercials off the air? And further, why does AARP (of ALL organizations) feel the need to jump on the how-can-we-be-grosser bandwagon with this article? I didn’t read your article, and threw the magazine directly into the recycle bin without reading anything else either. Except to get your email address so I can complain.

I am a writer. I write women’s fiction. I can’t believe we have come to this. Is nothing sacred? Is there absolutely NO romance left in the world? Do we really have to be inundated with these over-the-top, way-too-personal topics?

And surely, anyone who is getting your magazine, i.e. those of us who are over fifty, pretty much knows the mechanics of sex by now. The commercials have told us the products we need.

If you would, kindly remove us from your mailing list. You are a huge disappointment.

 Do you think I’ll get a reply? Do you think my email will be printed?

Hunh. No way.

To Do Or Not To Do The Ice Bucket Challenge

IceBucketChallengeI have been “challenged” to take part in the ice bucket scheme to raise awareness for ALS disease. I have some issues with this. This blog post may make me unpopular with some, but it raises a few questions that I have about this method of raising funds and “awareness”, which of course is only a vehicle to coax people into donating to a particular cause.

There is a misconception on the part of many young people that the mythical “they” will donate money based on the number of videos depicting the dousing of one’s head with a bucket of really cold water (the more the better) which “they” see pop up on social media. But that’s, of course, not true. No one is donating on behalf of the millions of young people taking part in this challenge. The point is, if you are challenged and don’t do the ice water thing, then you are expected to donate and the accepted sum is $100. If you are challenged and you do neither, you are a low-life human being who doesn’t care about 12,000 Americans with this horrific disease. Hang your head, because you suck. Perhaps an exaggeration but a valid visceral response from someone who has an unlimited capacity for guilt combined with a heartfelt desire to not have to douse my head and point the finger at three other unsuspecting friends or family or acquaintances to do the same.

Celebrities are doing this and (why not?) trying to outdo one another with their ice bucket setups. Some buckets are automated, some bigger than others, some participants are in tee shirts while others sacrifice their suits and ties, etc. Kermit the Frog risked death (ice cold water could cause him to go dormant and his heart could stop) but did his naked. That sort of thing. The celebrities are also donating money in addition to the dousing of course because, well, they can afford to do both. Think what bad press any celeb would be who was challenged but chose to ignore it! The closest was Charlie Sheen who dumped a bucket of $100 bills over his head amounting to $10,000 and which he intends to donate to the ALS Foundation.

Unfortunately, most of the people doing the ice dumping are not doing the giving. They are caught up in the challenge because it’s the thing to do right now and believe they are helping by spreading the message. To be fair, sometimes that’s exactly what it does do. But mostly it’s just an exercise in ice dumping.

So what is the point of this? Yes, temporarily, everyone knows there is something called ALS disease which is horrible and getting that diagnosis is almost always fatal. And, not surprisingly, the donations to the ALS Foundation have shot up dramatically. This year to last year (for the same period of days between July 29 and August 18), over eight times as much money has been collected. This is a very good thing.

But will that continue in 2015? Not sure. I doubt it. The ice bucket challenge in 2015 won’t fly because that will be “so last year”. Will anyone be able to come up with an even more challenging challenge next year? And what about all the other charities that want to jump on the awareness/funds bandwagon? Won’t there be a half life of sympathy for these kinds of media stunts? This year, it’s cool, next year, not so much.

I think about all the other neuromuscular diseases we need to be aware of. Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, MS, Muscular Dystrophy. This is by no means a complete list. Shouldn’t we be directing our “awareness” to these diseases too? They are, in fact, much more common. But because so many people have donated to the ALS Foundation, will they consider their good deedery done and neglect donations for other diseases which are just as debilitating?

And this next part is really nit-picky. In several parts of the country, we have drought conditions. The water used may be a drop in the bucket (pun intended) of total consumption but still, it’s something. All that good tap water being spilled. I guess it will eventually end up as ground water so that’s probably not such a big deal. Remember I said it was picky.

And here’s one more picky thing. Would as many people do this in February as in August? How convenient that our awareness is increased in the summer and we don’t have to risk any more than a bad hair day.

Okay. So I was challenged and declined to do the ice dumping and issue the challenge to three others, who may or may not feel as uncomfortable about this as I do. However, I did donate to the ALS Foundation. Because I know it is a really horrible diagnosis and I’d like to see a cure found for it. So the challenge worked in my case. I had never donated to the ALS Foundation before. It hadn’t touched me personally. Like myself, many people are regular contributors to their favorite charities because they have personal experience with it and a vested interest in seeing that particular disease wiped out.

However. I wonder about this method of fund-raising. Walking For [insert disease name here] isn’t going to cut it any more, that’s clear. It will be interesting to see what the next challenge will be.

Miscellaneous Thoughts On The Fountainhead by a Second-hander

Ayn Rand.jpgWell. Just finished The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and have a couple of observations. More than a couple actually. Note: The term “second-hander” refers to the villains, all those who support the suppression of individuality for the sake of the common good, or collectivism.

Ayn Rand is transparent about the physical appearance of her characters. The good guys are always rugged and they must be tall and thin, with “patrician” features, chiseled cheekbones and long straight noses. You know the type: oozing with testosterone. The woman who is deserving of such a man is nearly indescribable but you are left with a feeling of delicacy, and a beauty so refined that it is ethereal. Always thin, with a “sleek cap of light hair”. Today that might qualify as a bad hair day but back then sleek must have been the cat’s pyjamas. The bad guys are always described by the extent of their girth, or their extraordinary lack of masculinity. “Heavy-lipped”, with much attention paid to the size of jowls and stomachs. Take this description of one of the second-hand masses Ms. Rand so despises: “Her hips began at her ankles, bulging over the tight straps of her shoes…”.

There is controversy over the way in which our hero, Roark, and the woman who deserved him, Dominique, first became lovers. It’s rape, of course, and this is believed by some to perhaps be a result of Ms. Rand’s own sexual fantasies, that Dominique could only be satisfied by such a tower of masculinity who would take what he wanted, when he wanted. This being, of course, the one thing that could turn her on completely. But it’s still rape, and this was certainly not condoned back in the thirties and I can’t think why Ms. Rand didn’t stifle this bit of awkwardness for the sake of her novel. It is completely out of character for Roark to even think of doing such a thing.

Now we come to the plot. Dominique and Roark are both single, they have no encumbrances to their coupledom, so what happens? Dominique up and marries a second-hander for a rather vague reason, a clumsy method to drum up conflict. You be the judge. Here is Dominique’s rather lame excuse to Roark for why she married Peter Keating. “It would mean doing for you what I did for Peter Keating: lie, flatter, evade, compromise, pander to every ineptitude — in order to beg of them a chance for you, beg them to let you live, to let you function, to beg them, Roark, not to laugh at them, but to tremble because they hold the power to hurt you. Am I too weak because I can’t do this?” She isn’t able to stand by and see her man hurt because they won’t give him his fair chance (because of his rugged individualism and non-conformance of course). Actually, he doesn’t give a shit. But does he express that to her? Nah.

Next odd plot point. Dominique is “sold” to a newspaper guy, Gail Wynand, so Wynand will give Peter a coveted architectural commission. The message is, it’s okay to sleep with him, Dominique, so long as I get that work, which will make me even more famous. But, ha ha, Peter, even though Wynand is a compulsive womanizer and kind of a bad man, he is smitten with Dominique and marries her. Old Gail isn’t so bad after all, he had a real tough childhood, and got tired of people telling him he “didn’t run things” so he decided he would run things. You know the type. But still at the age of 51, he takes himself a wife, even though he’s had so many girlfriends (all beautiful of course) he can’t remember their names. But, again, there’s that ethereal-ness Dominique possesses.

The inevitable had-to-happen plot point. Roark and Wynand become the best of buds. To call it a “bro-mance” would not attach the importance it deserves. I don’t think men talk this way to each other – EVER! Not then and not now. Take this, Roark to Wybrand: “I think it hurts you to know that you’ve made me suffer. You wish you hadn’t. And yet there’s something that frightens you more. The knowledge that I haven’t suffered at all.” This relationship is even stranger because Wybrand does not know anything about Dominique and Roark’s past. They even become quite the threesome (not in a sexual sense, just hangin’ out good buddies) without ever mentioning: “So, Gail, did we ever tell you that…”

The climactic confusing plot point. Wynand tried to support his great friend, Roark, who is accused of being a horrible egotist and selfish. He did blow up a building and that’s another thing I thought was kind of an overreaction. Wynand is going against popular opinion of the second-handers but he can’t win. He loses everything, his newspaper empire and to top it all off, Dominique dumps him. Way to kick a guy when he’s down, Dominique. He really loved her too. So he’s lost everything, his business, his wife and his friend.

I noticed head-hopping. It might be the style called “third-person omniscient point-of-view.” I doubt Ms. Rand chose a style at all, but wrote the way she wanted. I prefer to think it’s that. I also think there’s a lot of telling versus showing, stilted dialogue and an overabundance of adverbs. She didn’t follow the three-act format, with story points at 25% and 75%. All these things are considered “no no” in today’s world of formulaic literature. Ms. Rand was lucky that she didn’t have to subject herself to it. No one followed rules back then and today, all the really great novelists don’t either.

And who am I to critique? I won’t have any books in print, seventy years after they were written.

Her descriptions and metaphors are brilliant, and while she is annoyingly repetitious and preachy about a philosophy that is pretty far out there, it’s an interesting concept. I like to read the reviews, but only the three or four-star reviews. The five-stars reviewers are mostly brain-washed by her ideas rather than her literature.

I’m glad I read it, and glad it’s over with too.


 Leonard Mccombe/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images



14 Ingenious {Marketable} Pinktober Products

Everyone wants to chip in for a good cause, right? So when you see those pink products with the breast cancer awareness ribbon displayed prominently, you might think: I should get this XYZ brand, because part of the price goes to cancer research.

Actually, sometimes not so much. Sometimes a little, sometimes less than that. Pinktober has become another way to make money off cancer. I’m a cancer survivor myself, so I pay attention to it. Everyone wants a cure for cancer. Individuals do anyway. Corporations, while they are made up of individuals, tend to view breast cancer as a way to increase profits.

The less-than-impressive amounts corporations give to cancer research, is offset by an increase in sales, because everyone reaches for the pink label whenever they can. If it’s pink, it must be good. Right?

It’s not so good, when you think about it.

This year, there is a campaign called “Set the tatas free” and declared October 13th “no bra” day. Take a look here at how a double-mastectomy cancer-survivor feels about it. This is a really good post, very moving, and I urge you to read it.

On with the list, in the order of least objectionable to most disgusting. It’s not just about tee shirts any more.

Chap Stick Chapstick. What’s not to like about this product? Nothing. Maybe it’s soothing for a cancer patient to use when her lips are cracked from chemo. I don’t often think much about chapstick, but when I googled it I discovered it’s possible to become addicted to it. I thought it interesting that even the most mundane of products wants more of the cancer-action.

Playing CardsBreast Cancer 15-Year Survivor Playing Cards. Do you really have to wait fifteen years? Can I have my playing cards now? This isn’t so bad really, but proof that Pinktober is everywhere, even at your euchre tournament!

Kitchenaid pink mixerKitchenaid Stand Mixer Cook for the Cure Edition. This lovely mixer “makes a statement of compassion while delivering the performance you’ve come to expect.”  Kitchenaid says they will donate a “minimum of $450,000 each year to cancer reasearch, but it doesn’t say how much per item. Still it is a generous offer, and can’t be condemned for anything other than charging $500 for a mixer which is, well, pink. But I suppose you could always cover it up.

SteamerJiffy Esteam Travel Steamer. For each product in the Awareness Pink Line, 10% of the retail price goes to support breast cancer research. This is also generous, but who would ever have thought Pinktober products would extend to clothes steamers? It gets better, read on.

Cordless DrillSKIL iXO Pink Cordless Drill. There’s a whole line of pink tools, knows as Tools for the Cure. Again, 10% of the retail price goes to the Susan B. Komen Foundation. Personally, I have some problems with this foundation. First of all, there was the issue of the pulled funding from Planned Parenthood. That generated some bad press but what is worse, they have a near monopoly on the big business of breast cancer advocacy and as such, decline to let other charities use the phrase “for the cure.” Does this sound like an organization that is genuinely interested in helping women, or merely protecting the mega-cancer business that it has become?

Wilson Golf Clubs Wilson Golf Clubs. I wasn’t able to find out how much Wilson contributes, just that they do, to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. This makes me wonder if perhaps Wilson is painting their drivers pink in order to get in on the profit-taking.

Avon Nail PolishAvon nail polish.  Avon slapped a pink ribbon on a bottle of pink nail polish and called it NAILWEAR PRO Nail Enamel in Pink Power. Unfortunately, the reviews weren’t good. Apparently it’s streaky, chalky, and “not pink enough.” Avon is the sponsor of many a breast cancer walk, which serves to use the disease as a platform for brand recognition, while promoting products which contain many of the toxic chemicals associated with the same cancer it seeks to eliminate. More than 140 of Avon’s products are classified as “high hazard” due to the presence of hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, and possible carcinogens.

YoplaitYoplait. These are the little yogurts that have the pink lids that need to be cleaned before you can send them in for a whopping ten cents. Just think of all the yogurt you have to eat to reach even a measly $10 donation. Hardly seems worth it. Not to mention that this brand of yogurt contains added sugar (both real and fake, as in aspertame) and petroleum-based food dyes. Yoplait also contains rbGH (or recombinant bovine growth hormone), a synthetic hormone which no one seems too sure about, as to its impact on human health, including cancer.  One final note: The blueberry flavor does not list blueberries as an ingredient. Not so sure this is a healthy choice for anyone.

Campbells soupCampbell’s chicken noodle and tomato soup. Here we’re getting to the bad stuff. Is there anything in these soup products that in any way resembles real food? Maybe not but here’s what it does contain. High levels of bisphenol-A, which is an estrogen chemical linked to breast cancer. Estrogen feeds certain cancers, so breast cancer patients would be well-advised to avoid these products, as well as healthy women and children. That leaves men. Umm, umm, good, guys, eat up.

Quilted NorthernQuilted Northern bath tissue. There’s more than one way to support cancer research! This particular brand is known to be “soft and sturdy”. That is fine, but these kinds of products are clogging up our sewers and are difficult to process at the facility. Not harmful to the person, just harmful to the environment. No thumbs up on this product but it isn’t nearly as objectionable as the ones coming up.

SwifferSwiffer dusters. More junk thrown into the landfills. There’s a good alternative to using disposable dusters, and they are eCloths, which are washable and reusable and work great. I would urge others not to buy the polluting swiffers just because the manufacturer sticks a pink ribbon on the box. They, along with disposable wipes for every purpose, are deadly.

Buckets for the CureKentucky Fried Chicken. Okay, here we go. While I applaud KFC’s attempts to offer a healthier version of chicken by cooking up the breadingless kind, I don’t think it is too popular a seller. So the majority of people are purchasing these pink buckets of the original greasy trans-fat-laden chicken parts. We know these chickens were not “happy chickens” either. That is, they didn’t strut around the barnyard until some Farmer Joe decided to whack them. They lived the most miserable lives. I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to be reincarnated as a KFC chicken. No really. I wouldn’t.

Mikes Hard Pink LemonadeMike’s Hard Pink Lemonade. Alcohol to promote breast cancer awareness. I can’t seem to get past the irony of this. We’ve been told that the only healthy alcohol is red wine. Whether that is true or not, the ingredients list of this particular adult beverage consists of carbs, sugar and fat. Not exactly the best sort of product to promote good health, would you say?

HandgunSmith & Wesson Awareness Pistol. And we come to this,the ultimate insult. We don’t have enough problems with violence against women in this country. Let’s use a cute little revolver to paint pink and PRETEND WE CARE ABOUT WOMEN’S HEALTH AND NOT PROFITS. Nobody will be the wiser, right?

Then We Came To The End

Then We Came To The EndWhat a great title. This novel was included in the reading list at the end of Stephan King’s On Writing. I decided to go through the list, one by one, throwing out those dealing too heavily with the supernatural, horror, etc. and try each one. It has not been a disappointing experience.

To the contrary, I have discovered many authors that I really admire who were previously unknown to me, and so now I’m going to drone on about this latest little wonder, Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris. By the looks of this author, he is on the lower side of middle age, and extremely hot. He’s got the kind of literary-genius look that is so appealing.Joshua FerrisMr. Ferris has come up with a unique concept. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this. The last two sentences are eerily excellent. To quote them here would render them out-of-context, but I couldn’t help but read them over and over, and get kind of goose-bumpy all over again.

First of all, it’s written in first person plural, which I wasn’t sure I would like. All about we. We did, we thought, we never believed it possible, so you never know whose POV it is. I guess you could say it is “omniscient POV”. I found I liked it, and hoped that at the end, I might have a clue as to which of the characters had told the story. I will not divulge the results.

It’s about work. The office. An advertising firm, going through the downturn (after 9/11). It captures office life at its most ridiculous and cynical. This is a something that interests me personally, because I have long been kind of a tongue-in-cheek eye-roller when it comes to office politics, office lingo and office behavior in general. It’s in my novel, Perigee Moon, (in case you’d like to take a peek) just how unreal it can be, and how sometimes we need to run away — screaming — from all of it.

This book has a scene in it about people scavenging office chairs after someone has “walked Spanish” which is a euphemism for being canned, that is hysterical. It’s about people switching chairs then being afraid of being found out by the “office coordinator” who keeps track of serial numbers and which office stuff belongs to which person, and who wields more power than is perhaps appropriate.

We all know how that goes.

This book may not be for everyone, but if you’ve ever been in an office atmosphere where doing honest work becomes obsolete, and instead red tape and seniority and office politics reign supreme, then you will likely appreciate this. It’s packed with humor and irony.

Highly recommended.

Others on Stephen King’s list follow. I apologize for not including links but that’s just the way I am sometimes. Lazy and doing a half-assed job.

These are all great writers. Most of the novels are suspense, and while I loved all of the writing, I found some of the stories to be a trifle unbelievable. But then — It’s Fiction!!

  • End of Story by Peter Abrahams
  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
  • One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
  • The Last Good Day by Peter Blauner
  • Peace Like a River by Leif Euger
  • A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley

You might notice, the list is organized alphabetically by author last name. The next two were Jonathan Franzen novels. I’ve already read them! So I am up to “G” with lots of goodies in store,Jane Eyre

In between, I read Jane Eyre. I had never read it before. It was quite remarkable, and Ms. Bronte had one hell of a vocabulary. I found some very interesting sections, ofttimes of soliloquy, and some very impassioned dialogue and inner thoughts. I thought I might choose a few passages that I found particularly delightful and perhaps offer an explanation or definition of sorts in today’s urban speak. This will occur in an upcoming post.

Won’t that be jolly? I hope you’ll stay tuned for it.

More Perfectly Logical Propaganda on Facebook

Holy crap.  I just spotted this on Facebook and was moved to write about it. It’s rare these days, that I’m moved to write about anything. So thank you, Anonymous Facebook “friend” for giving me a kick-start.

Oh, and BTW, there's no apostrophe in WMDs

Oh, and BTW, there’s no apostrophe in WMDs

WTF? This isn’t exactly the way it went down. W said there were WMDs in IRAQ not the “Middle East”. This kind of out-of-context stuff is enough to drive me to Gowanda, as my mother used to say. I noticed that several people “liked” it. Oh, how I wish there were a “don’t like” button so I could make my feelings known. What about the thumbs up/down to replace the “Like” button?

Speaking of WMDs, (and it has been ten-plus years since Bush LIED TO US about WMDs in Iraq in his famous State of the Union address in 2003), we are pretty sure that there actually ARE chemical weapons in Syria. We’ve seen the pictures and received the verdict. Chemical weapons killed 1400 innocent people in Syria. Maybe not all of them were innocent, but nevertheless, using chemical weapons is deplorable under any circumstances.

This is not a good situation, and I’ll reluctantly admit that something should probably be done about it. But not by us, the good ol’ USA, who yet again feels it must take the weight of the world on its shoulders and fix everything that’s gone wrong in the world. If a few other countries would step up to the we’re-outraged-and-something-must-be-done-about-it bar and be willing to expend some energy (and money and expertise and support and manpower), to demonstrate to Assad what the world thinks of his actions, that would be one thing. But no one has. Not one country.

I heard on one of the nauseating 24-hour news channels that all polls show that the majority of “The Amurican people” are — by huge margins — against getting involved in the Middle East. The numbers vary depending on the poll (and who is conducting it and what segment of the population is being asked) but are consistent. Let these polls show our politicians (especially those who are trying to manipulate Obama into striking Syria just so they can criticize the methods with which he does it, not to mention the outcome and any collateral damage), that WE DON’T WANT TO GET INVOLVED WITH ANYTHING IN THE MIDDLE EAST ANY LONGER.

Listen to the population, listen to your constituents. We should have an opinion in this. We don’t want it. I can’t think of one good reason to do it since it is pretty likely we’ll be aiding those who want to do us harm anyway. So, we’ll help you so you can try to kill us later. Sounds perfectly logical to me.

Obama said he wouldn’t do anything without the support of Congress. If he doesn’t get the support of Congress but chooses to do it anyway, I’m going to be extremely disappointed in a President I have supported and trusted to do the right thing.

Attacking Syria is not the right thing to do.

Five Things For Which Life Is Too Short

I am not entirely sure how this post came about, but probably because I’ve been reading several really good novels, and then the inevitable stinker came along. It wasn’t even inevitable, it was self-induced. I knew it was a stinker when I started it. Bah. Life’s too short, thought I. Especially when life (as I know it) could be a whole lot shorter than I realize.

You never know.

Here’s five things life is most likely too short to do:

Long StoryLife is too short for a long story. Don’t you inwardly cringe when someone says, “It’s a long story but…”. To me, this marks the beginning of an upcoming period in my life where I’m going to be irretrievably bored, and will live precious minutes that I can’t get back, listening to something I’d rather not hear. Unrecoverable time. If the long story is a good one then quite possibly the time spent listening to it could be worthwhile, but ninety-nine-point-seven percent of the time, if someone says this, you’d be better off requesting an induced coma.

spongecupLife is too short to drink cheap wine. This is usually said when that first bottle (the one with the label on it which in no way suggests there is wine inside) is first tapped and allowed to “breathe” before dribbling two ounces into paper-thin, stemmed glassware which could hold a twenty-ounce Frostie with room to spare. The burgundy-colored liquid is swirled and examined for “legs”, the aroma breathed in, before that first teeny nip. The one where the lips are pursed on either side of the glass so as to not soil such a delightful accoutrement with anything one might deign to put on one’s lips. Fast forward two hours. Life is now not too short to drink cheap wine, if that’s all that’s left. The guests are now imbibing the more questionable adult beverage from bottles with labels picturing three-headed cows directly from Spongebob Squarepants cups. This after the unforgivable party foul — that of smashing three or four wine goblets during that little ruckus over by the barbecue pit.

TattoosLife is too short to blend in. After closely examining this phrase, it’s probably true. Those of us who are still keeping score — who has the biggest house, who stays in the better hotels, who has the most expensive car, wins — are probably guilty of blending in. To me, this says, don’t do what everyone else does, do your own thing, be different, do the things that cause Le Eyeroll Magnifique. Who wants it written on their tombstone, “Here lies Mary, She Blended In”. Well, actually, no one has shit like that engraved on their tombstone anymore. A lot of people get cremated and don’t even have a tombstone. And if they do have one, they probably prefer pictures of Angels with Wings.

Stuffed mushroomsLife is too short to stuff a mushroom. Some things aren’t worth doing. How much can you put into a mushroom? Just a little bit, and before you can stuff it you have to core the insides out of all those little fungi. It’s important that they be no larger than what can be popped into one’s mouth in toto, lest you squirt mushroom juice directly onto your neighbor’s Gucci cotton-poplin. Pick a different Hors d’oeuvre. Break out the Cheez-its someone, and spare me from having to poke something into a half-inch opening. I don’t have that much tolerance for boredom.

Valley of the doolsLife is too short to read bad novels. Ah, here it is. The justification for this blog post. Last post, I said I was going to read Valley of the Dolls as an example of what not to do. Got about 15% of the way in (one sitting) and decided: Nope, nah, not gonna do it. To deliberately read a novel that you know is bad is kind of like going to an Adam Sandler movie. You know what you’re getting into, yet you do it anyway. Thinking about those hours of my life that I couldn’t get back after I’d read VOTD, and considering I’d read it once before forty-n years ago and thought it was pretty stupid then, isn’t my idea of an intelligent decision on how to spend time. I’d just done that with Fifty Shades, and that writing was on par with this latest attempted read. So, no thanks, Ms. Susann. RIP, but I’m not reading any of your books. I got what I needed from the first ten pages.

Spongebob Photo credit: origami_potato / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Tattoo Photo credit: * raymond / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

On Reading “On Writing”

On WritingStephen King’s “On Writing” has been recommended and suggested so often I finally decided to read it. As with most How To Write books, I bought the actual book. For some reason, I prefer the physical book because they are easier to reference in the future. Or maybe I just like seeing those books sitting on my book shelf, and by virtue of their being there, I feel more like an actual writer.

It was an engaging memoir on writing, of how he, Mr. King, got started and it’s not surprising that he was interested in Sci-fi and horror and the supernatural from the time he was a little kid. It’s filled with humor and a bit of history, but at its heart, it’s a book “On Writing”. Not the usual how-to but a more general discussion of the subject.  It was one of the best books I’ve read on the subject.

A few things I took from it:

Just start writing. Do it every day. Set a goal and Just. Do. It. This is the closed door part. The part where you don’t show anyone what you’ve written. Just get it down. Start with a couple of ideas about what it is to be about, and let the characters take you where they will. Stephen King is a “pantzer” as opposed to a “planner” I think. He didn’t mention making any outlines and seemed to indicate that the work will suffer from too much plotting.

When finished with this, the first draft, put it away for at least six weeks. Do something else. Work on a new project or go fishing. But don’t look at that manuscript once.

After six weeks, pull it out and read through it. Then comes the second draft. It should be at least 10% smaller than the first draft. Take out unneeded junk and fix the other stuff, repeated words and omitted words and any other problems you see.

Here’s the part where we have to take different forks in the road. At this point, Stephen King gives the manuscript to his Ideal Reader (his wife) who gives him her very honest opinion. He listens and mostly agrees and makes the appropriate changes before sending it on to his editor. After that it’s in the agent’s hands I guess, who sells it to a publishing company, or probably sends it on to the same company that published all his other work. They schedule it up for release, and then the money starts rolling in.

It doesn’t work that way for most of us, who are reading On Writing, but nevertheless, the book is very educational, and is also encouraging. It’s worth reading.

Some other information I found useful:

Writers can be grouped into something like the Four Food Group Pyramid. The bottom and largest group are the bad writers. They have no talent for it, their interests lie in other areas. Give them all the creative writing classes in the world and they will still suck.

Up a level and the next largest group are the competent writers, all those at the office who can compose emails with proper sentences and punctuation, and then the good writers, those who write and actually make money at it and then — Ta Da! —  the genius writers. Those in their own class, born not made, “divine accidents”. You know who they are, Shakespeare, Dickens, Faulkner. (My favorite author, Jonathan Franzen, comes to mind.)

Is it possible to move from one group to another? Sometimes. The bad writers usually remain in their own basement of horridness, unable to claw their way upwards to a more respectable level but the competent writers can evolve upward into the good writers’ group with the proper amount of practice. Not training, practice. Mr. King does not specifically say that education is not necessary. To the contrary, a degree in English is an excellent way to launch a successful career, and Creative Writing classes and workshops can be fun and interesting, but not required.

Whatcha gotta do then, is get a schedule and stick to it, and write your brains out for the allotted amount of words per day. Not time, words. If it takes three hours to crank out 2,000 words on Tuesday and seven on Wednesday, sobeit. Eventually you will get better. And better and better.

Another thing. When you aren’t writing, read. Read everything. It’s what I’ve been doing lately. There is a suggested reading list in the back of On Writing. I chose three at random, and one from my list of classics to read before the end of 2012 (that didn’t work out too well, replace with “2013”). I also chose a book by Stephen King, The Dead Zone, because it is one of his older ones, and less science fiction-y than some, since this and horror in general are not my usual genre.

He also suggests reading a really awful book. Reading bad books is as helpful as reading good ones. Reading something you consider a real eye-roller serves a couple of purposes. First, it enforces the idea that you can at least write as well as this author, and it is a powerful reminder of what NOT to do. I chose Valley of The Dolls, by Jacqueline Suzanne. In fact, this book is mentioned in On Writing as a good example of literature of questionable value.

Ms. Suzanne reaped in plenty of profits with her tome. I first read it back in the sixties, but want to read it again with a more finely-tuned writer’s eye. If nothing else, it will provide a funny blog post. It brings to mind, 50 Shades of Grey which I blogged about earlier this year. Books like this may have changed over the years, but the premise is still there. Bring on the smut and they’ll keep readin’.  Why read a novel that is filled with deep characters, thoughtful descriptions and believable dialogue when I can get a trip back into the Red Room of Pain?

Here’s my complete reading list for the next month (or so):

  • End of Story by Peter Abrahams
  • One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
  • The Last Good Day by Peter Blauner
  • The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Suzanne

Please Read My Error-Ridden Autobiography!

Oops! Road SignRecently I received an offer for a free copy of an autobiography by a new author. I don’t think this person is famous, but I’m not sure. It took me a very long time to figure out why anyone should care about the Kardashians so maybe this author is famous and I just don’t know it. The author is extending her book offer for two days and is hoping scads of people will say, “Wow, I have been waiting for something like this to happen! Look! An autobiography of someone I don’t know anything about!”

The author goes on to say:

I would also appreciate some ‘honest’ reviews and I really do mean HONEST.  I would not be offended by negative reviews; I want to know how people view the tale as a whole and the presentation style.  I am aware there are some errors in text, punctuation and grammar and some sections would benefit from re-phrasing/re-writing.  A revision is being worked on.  However, I would like to know what you think and to learn from you.

Couple of issues I see here.

You are aware that there are errors in the text, punctuation and grammar. Okay, the chances of my actually downloading your book have decreased dramatically with that sentence. You are also aware that some sections would benefit from a re-phrasing/re-writing. Now, I am pretty sure I am going to pass on this astounding offer.

She says “a revision is being worked on” and would like to know what her audience thinks and she wants to learn from us. And she doesn’t mind negative reviews, though how it could be anything but negative is hard to imagine. Without exception, I can say that I do not enjoy books that need to be “worked on” and errors that could be easily fixed, should be, before they are offered to the reading public.

Unfortunately, she is kidding herself if she thinks the public is dying to read a poorly-written book about a subject they may not care about written by an unknown author. Take it from me! I know no one is grabbing at books by unknown authors. And I also know that offering something before it’s ready for prime time is not a wise thing to do.

I passed on the amazing free book that I could have read (all the while grinding the enamel off my teeth as I encountered spelling errors) so I could pass on my thoughts to yet another newbie author.

This would be my advice were it solicited but which, alas, it was not:

Don’t release work that you know has errors in it. Sometimes errors get by. I know, I’ve done it myself but I never released anything that I knew had errors, and passed it off lightly as “Please excuse the many mistakes. I’m still learning!”

You can’t assume there is anyone out there who is willing to spend time teaching you how to be a better writer. That’s something you must learn on your own. There are a myriad of books available and I can recommend many. Take an online course, or if you don’t have cash to invest, there is a wealth of information on the internet, which I know you have access to or I wouldn’t have been solicited to download your free wares. Here are just a couple of sites you might find interesting and from each of these you can link to a myriad of other great resources.  50 Tips on How to Write Good (Yes, the word misuse in the title is deliberate) and The Grammar Girl can answer just about any grammatical question you have.

And finally, at the risk of sounding harsh, when I think of autobiography I think of someone famous, about whom I would like to know more. I don’t think of autobiography in terms of the average guy. And while I know that each person is unique and that person’s experiences one-of-a-kind, still it is very difficult to make your life story interesting to others. If you want to write about your life, couldn’t you disguise it as a novel? That’s what most new authors do anyway, because we all think we’ve had such interesting lives that all mankind can benefit from our tale.

It’s okay if it’s not perfect the first time. It’s okay to release something that isn’t error-free. It happens all the time. But really. This book sounds like the author was so excited to get it into the hands of the entire reading public, she chose to ignore its many problems.

That isn’t the way it works in the real world.

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

Concerned about Alzheimer’s Disease? Read “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova.

HStill Aliceave you ever thought about Alzheimer’s disease as it relates to you? Do you have a relative, perhaps a parent who suffers from it? I did. My father. Many thoughts and worries have surfaced since he was diagnosed with “symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s”. The only way to know for sure if it’s Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia is to perform an autopsy. At that point, it doesn’t seem to matter so much, what it was that caused the loss of memory and motor skills and finally, death.

I believe it was Alzheimer’s but I’m not sure it matters. What matters to me now is, is it hereditary? Will I get it too? Probably? Maybe? Every day I look for it. Am I forgetting too many things? Is it that I forget or that things just seem to skim the surface of my consciousness? I am preoccupied, I am not paying attention, I just don’t care enough about that particular fact. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know anything for sure.

My friend suggested I read a book called “Still Alice” and I did. I just finished it and it was wonderful and highly recommended for anyone, whether you have people close to you suffering from it or not. It was written by a woman who has a Ph.D in neuroscience from Harvard University and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer’s Association. Combined with that knowledge, and a definite writing flair, she has crafted a fictional account of a woman besieged with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The woman is only fifty when she is diagnosed.

The novel is written from the POV of Alice, so the reader identifies with the confusion, the uncertainty, the despair she goes through as the disease progresses. Alice can only sit and watch her life fade away, as she struggles to hang on to memories of her husband and children. When she can’t remember their names, she still remembers them. She knows they are her son and her daughters, but fears she doesn’t know this through understanding, but because they keep telling her.

She struggles to understand as her family talks around her, as if she weren’t present. She wants to tell them things but can’t get her thoughts out fast enough and forgets them anyway. She hallucinates and believes there is a hole in the floor that she must go around. She tears the house apart looking for things but then can’t remember what those things are. She can’t recognize herself in the mirror, because she thinks she is a young girl. She confuses her dead sister with her daughter.

It’s powerful, the thoughts and fears that Alice experiences. And the writing is brilliant, very moving, and educational too. Add to all that, the development of some very fine characters and you have a novel well worth reading, not only for the knowledge it imparts but because it is a moving story. I hoarded this book. I didn’t want it to end.

I thought of my father, as I read it, and wondered how much of this he went through. No one knows for sure, because no one who is going through it can tell you what it’s like. We watch our parents suffer with it and yet, on some level, we think that won’t happen to me, or I’ll deal with that later. This novel brings it home, makes it real. If you aren’t comfortable with that knowledge then this novel may not be something you’d care to read.

I’m glad I read it, but up until now, I don’t think I was ready.