Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Makin' Me Cray-Cray: Words to FINALLY Retire in 2016

Out with the old, especially when they're annoying as all hell. Here are my choices for words and expressions that need to disappear with the last of 2015:

13. "...and then she does THIS," or "until she did THIS" or "but I never thought she'd do THIS," or whatever THIS

We've all seen these headlines. We're all just plodding through this tedious world where nothing can move or surprise us anymore, and then THIS came along and lifted our hearts away from suicide and restored our faith in humanity and showed us that yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. It was a hook of a headline, about 3 times. It's played out, and is almost never justified anyway. I won't even click on something with this kind of headline anymore.

12. "I just threw up in my mouth a little."

Gee, thanks. Now I did, too.

It was always gross. Now it's overused and gross.

11. As annoying and pervasive as the idiotic “hack,” please, please, for the love of all things holy, stop calling everything “passive-aggressive.” This has become the trendy term for anything and everything, particularly if it involves leaving a note for someone who is being an asshole. The vast majority of the "hilarious passive-aggressive" notes people leave on the office fridge or other people's windshields are in fact rather assertive, along with being sarcastic and/or retaliatory. "Hey, jerkoff co-worker who keeps stealing my lunch, you should know that yesterday I spit in it just for you" is pretty active-aggressive.

It makes no difference whether the writer of the note is identifiable or it is unsigned. "Anonymous" and "passive" are not synonyms.

"Passive-aggressive" means to hurt another through inaction. If I let you leave the ladies’ room without telling you the back of your skirt is stuck in the waistband of your underwear, that is passive-aggressive. Letting my despised boss turn in an important report without telling her about the potentially embarrassing error is passive-aggressive. A bit less blatant, but still passive-aggressive, are the tactics of consistently frustrating things by chronic lateness or absence, "forgetting" to do things, doing a substandard job, sulking, or retreating instead of actively participating. Consistently. Forgetting something once isn’t passive-aggressive; it’s just forgetting.

10. "That's so gay."

Are you homophobic? Or simply too lazy to find a word that doesn't insult a good portion of the population? Come up with something else.

"That's so straight."

Hmm, maybe.

9. "Epic" and "Awesome."

No, usually not. As with "THIS," I don't even click on headlines with these words anymore. "Awesome" means "to inspire awe," like a spectacular singing performance or the view from the ISS. "Epic" correctly refers to feats of heroic proportions or difficulty, or a long struggle, or both, such as Homer's Odyssey or the centuries-old fight for women's rights. Your lunch is not "awesome." A snappy comeback to a fat-shamer, no matter how well-deserved, is not "epic."

I have become more aware of my own hyperbolic usage of "awesome" and am making a conscious desire to cut it out. I'm so awesome.

8. "This. So much this."

Stop. Just, so much stop. I can't even.

7. "I can't even."

Sure, you can! Find your words.

6. "I really wanted to like this."

I’m not sure why it was so important to someone’s sense of personal fulfillment to find a movie or book or restaurant or whatever to be pleasing. Chance after chance after chance, but it still failed to live up to expectations, or hype, worse than wanting to like a new romantic interest who, it turns out, won't stop texting during an expensive dinner. A desire for conformity, maybe? I find it easier to conclude that I have more discerning taste than the philistines who surround me.

5. Bae, cray-cray, nom-noms, totes adorbs, and so forth. Actually, I can accept these from teenagers, since I'm assuming they'll grow out of it and I remember being young and uttering idiotic things too ("Neat-o!"). If you are an adult and you use these expressions, I am laughing at you.

4. "My bad." Your bad what? OK, yes, I get it, you're acknowledging a mistake.  I guess it's okay if it's a minor mistake, but absolutely not if it's used in place of an apology.  That's lazy and unacceptable. If the misstep is serious enough to warrant an apology, then apologize. Properly.

3. "Huh?"

When I hear this I feel like I'm trying to converse with a cow. Again, use your words. "Excuse me?" "I'm sorry; I didn't catch that," or even a mannerless "What?" are better than the boorish "Huuuuaaaaah?"

2. Random.

Used these days to mean cool, unexpected, unique, as in “look how irrelevantly awesome I am! “ No. “Random” means without design, purpose, or discernible pattern, not cray-cray. (It's also the name of one of my favorite Roger Zelazny characters in some of the best fantasy fiction of all time, but I'm not sure I expect anyone misusing the word to know that.)

1. Still in the number one place is calling everything a "hack," although I've noticed it has dropped off since I griped about it some time back. I'm going to go ahead and take credit for that.

The crusade continues.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mick Jagger by Philip Norman (Book Review)

Mick JaggerMick Jagger by Philip Norman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I'm on a biography kick lately and wanted the other half of the Glimmer Twins. The Mick half is a big snore.

One thing we all probably want out of a biography is detail, but there's way too much of it here. I mostly skipped the childhood chapter, but I have to be fair and admit that it's difficult to make anyone else's childhood interesting to me. I yawned my way through two more chapters, not caring much about what kind of jersey Mick wore when he finally sang for the first time with the band that had become the Rolling Stones. At that point I gave in to the urge to just flip through the pages. I managed to pick out the sections on Brian Jones' death and Altamont, where I didn't learn anything new, although I did see enough references to the Mars bar non-incident to know that somebody's a wee bit hung up on it. I'd have been interested to read about life with Bianca and Jerry, but I wasn't up to sifting through all the minutiae to get there. DNF'd.

I am disappointed that the story of one of rock's most charismatic and controversial frontmen is such a tedious slog, but I suppose Norman did a creditable job given that his subject wouldn't cooperate. The photos aren't that great either; you can find better with a Google image search. If you want personal insight and what someone actually thought and felt about it all, read Keith Richards' autobiography instead. The truthfulness of either book is not for me to know, but Life gives a lot more satisfaction.

UPDATE ADDITION: It was bugging the crap out of me that I hadn't finished the book so I went back and skimmed through all 600 +/- pages, although I did start after the photos section in the middle, skimmed to the end, and then skimmed from somewhere near where I'd originally left off near the beginning, to finish up in the middle. I doubt it made much difference. Still tedious, and also quite definitely some tit-for-tat in re Keith's book going on there, so much that I kept muttering, "Oh, grow up" and rolling my eyes at each catty new potshot. The exaggerated phonetic translation of Mick's singing, such as "Yes, I used to looeerve her, bu-u-rd it's awl over now" and "Wawld, wawld hors-es, we'll ride them serm-day" and making "lerve fahn" for every single song lyric I came across became annoying as all hell. And what's with referring to him as "Sir Mick" every single time after his knighthood? Yes, I know he really was "Sir Mick" at that point, but it seems...suck-up-y. I did come away with big admiration for Jerry Hall - now there's class. I'm revising up to two stars partly because I went back and "finished" the book, but mostly for Jerry.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Your Best Christmas

roslyn via Flickr/Creative roslynyoungrosalia

I was thinking about Christmas in a strange land, again, and wondering if I'll ever get used to it. It's not so much that it's a strange land anymore. We've more or less acclimated, the rain and the traffic and the recycling. This will be our third Christmas in this apartment. It's still not what it used to be. We moved from a four-bedroom home in Nevada into a two-bedroom apartment in Washington that we rented online. We were in a hurry so I could start a new job, so we placed many of our belongings into storage in Nevada, figuring we'd be able to move into something bigger and return to Nevada for the rest of our things in a few months. That was stupid. That was almost three years ago. We still do not have the Christmas things I have collected over more than 30 years.

In my recent cleaning frenzy and discovery of The Troll Diary, I got to pondering The Troll time of my life. It was chaotic, depressing, hopeful, confused, tear-filled. It was a period of my life I had to go through in order to get where I am now. That first Christmas after I left him, The Troll had stubbornly refused to return to me any possession I hadn't immediately taken in my brief window of opportunity, and I'd used that window to take the essentials. He wasn't going to give me a damned thing else without a court order. (Have I mentioned that he's an asshole?)

I was broke. I had two children who needed a Christmas tree. Who is a tree for, if not for the kids?

I badly depleted my skimpy holiday fund for an artificial tree I found on sale for $30. The description on the box made it seem small indeed, but when I put it together in our tiny apartment, it was plenty big enough. I found a website with printable patterns for paper snowflakes, and the kids and I spent hours cutting those things out. I spent my last three bucks on pipe cleaners (if you're going to be health conscious and politically correct they are now called "chenille art stems," but to me they're pipe cleaners, used to clean residue from tobacco pipes, and the memory of the wonderful smell of my grandpa's pipe tobacco is something PC cannot take away from me). The red and white ones we twisted together and bent to make fuzzy candy canes. Green ones were bent into circles and embellished with glued-on Red Hots candies to make little wreaths. When we were done, the carpet was littered with so many tiny bits of paper it looked like it had snowed inside, but we had ourselves a by-god Christmas tree, decorated with three dollars worth of pipe cleaners and paper snowflakes. More snowflakes were stuck to the window with clear tape. You would understand what an accomplishment that was for me if you knew how clutzy I am when it comes to crafts.

Leonora Enking/Flickr/Creative Commons

We had Christmas. That Christmas remains in my memory as one of the best Christmases ever. In a sea of everything going wrong if it possibly could, that Christmas was an oasis of making the joy happen anyway.

A couple of months later my divorce was final and I had my possessions back, at least the ones The Troll hadn't destroyed or thrown out. My vinyl collection, some of it autographed, was gone, but he hadn't made it as far as my Christmas things. The following Christmas it was such a relief to put my tree together with old favorites.

I think about this now, as I look at the small tree we've purchased for our small Washington apartment. It's a pretty enough tree. I have a fireplace over which to hang stockings, and I'd better enjoy it because I probably won't have a fireplace after we move in a few months. But I want my advent calendar. I want our special handmade stockings, and the special ornaments collected over the years, given as first anniversary and new baby gifts, bought on trips to San Francisco's Great Dickens Christmas Fair and that beautiful Christmas shop in Virginia City, proudly created in my children's grade school classrooms. I want my stuff.

I'm learning that this may be the best time of year to avoid social media, for two reasons. It may seem obvious that seeing other people's picture-perfect holidays should make me feel happy for them, but it doesn't. It just doesn't. It just makes me want my own picture-perfect holiday back. I'm also sick and tired of this supposed "War on Christmas," one of the most infantile things dreamed up yet for people to fight about. If someone takes the time to wish me happiness at this time of year, I'm happy for the wish, no matter how it's phrased or what -ism it's based on. Someone who's not capable of sharing something as simple and universal as a holiday season is probably not capable of sharing much else.

It's time to unplug and to quit morosing around. Dream Girl and I are doing our gift shopping today. No, it won't fix everything, but I've just added pipe cleaners, or "chenille art stems," or whatever you want to call them, to the list. Later we'll have some hot cider (I don't like eggnog, so sue me) and watch the Grinch. I am trusting that somewhere, in my blahs and doldrums, is hidden another surprisingly wonderful Christmas. I'm also trusting that I'll have the ability to see it when it's smacking me in the face, because I still have so very much to be thankful for.

However you celebrate this solstice-based winter holiday, I wish you your best one.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs (Book Review)

Running with ScissorsRunning with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

There is some debate about whether this really is a memoir. Even if it is all true, while it may be cathartic for the author to write it, me reading it doesn't accomplish anything. I see lots of shock value and little else. Ick. Abandoned.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

The Troll Diary (and a bit about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo)

Some trips down Memory Lane are not so good.

I had just finished reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Inspired and beyond sick of the clutter that surrounds me, and mourning the neatnik I was before motherhood and decades of constantly picking up after others wore me down, I dove in. School is out for winter break and I've got time. Like the author recommended, clothes first.

I was happily purging belongings, feeling virtuous and efficient, until my words and my wounds from 20 years ago ambushed me. The journal was hiding at the bottom of a dresser drawer. How it had hidden itself so well is beyond me; I last wrote in it 17 years ago and have moved house four times since then. My mood plummeted. It chronicled my last 18 months or so in a horrid marriage to a miserable and abusive man I call The Troll. (I originally called him The Toad, until I realized that was dissing toads big time, and I couldn't think of anything good about trolls and renamed him. This was before comment sections on the Internet when the word "troll" took on a whole new meaning. But the sentiment is much the same.)

My wave of accomplishment collapsed in on itself as I read my own scrawled words. I was transported back instantly, to a pit of despair and a self I hated being. By the time I forced myself to stop reading and throw the notebook in the trash bag, I felt exactly as I had whenever The Troll ambushed me with some new bit of marital devilry. Now I was angry with him all over again, and angry with the journal too. It felt like the journal had done what The Troll himself used to do, lurking and springing some new outrage on me when I was least expecting it.

But then I remembered what I had accomplished all those years ago, what that outpouring of thoughts and words had led to. I had secretly started seeing a counselor. I had fought through a Shelob-worthy web of depression and oppression to plan an escape and get myself and my children out to something better. I had cadged and hidden money for an apartment and other unforeseen expenses, and lined up a secret A-team of support I would surely need. I saved my own life.

Kreg Steppe, Flickr/Creative Commons

These last few years have been difficult ones, again, but it's been getting better. Our rent has been raised enough that we can't afford to stay where we are. Once again, I don't know where I'll be six months from now, but that is not as unsettling to me as it would have been two years ago. I'm getting to where I'm once again okay with where I am. I'm coming to terms with some loss and I'm working to accept some unacceptable facts. I've taken the time and effort to be kind to myself. With the love and support of the Tominator and Dream Girl, not to mention another counselor worth 100 times her hourly rate, I'm coming out the other side of another rough patch. I'm even okay with a bit of uncertainty, which is huge for someone who thrives on routine and a comfortably padded niche.

A big part of that has been examining and jettisoning many elements of my life, both emotional and physical. The premise of the cleaning-out book I was reading, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is not just to get rid of things that don't fit. It's not about clever ways to store a bunch of crap we don't need. It's not even about deciding what to throw out. It's about deciding what to keep, specifically keeping things only if they "spark joy." If it doesn't "spark joy" when you hold it, then toss it. It is an excellent approach to dejunkifying your personal space, but it's even more about creating an environment with purpose. It's not just physical. It's cerebral, and it's spiritual. It's a way to look at every element of life, not just tangible possessions.

Back to cleaning. I've already hauled two big bags out to the dumpster, have another partway full, and have two more full of things to be donated. I can see my closet floor for the first time in two and a half years. That's joy right there. And when I look more closely at how far I've come from being the woman who wrote that journal, that's some serious joy.

Sometimes you have to be reminded of how much you can do. Let Memory Lane take you there.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Looky-Loo (Flash Fiction)

Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers December 9, 2015 flash fiction prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a looky-loo:

The woman beside her looks out the window as the bus grinds along Third Avenue, twisting her neck to peer toward the top of Columbia Tower. Office workers stream out as the skyscrapers dazzle in the deep twilight. The woman shifts from cheek to cheek in the seat, hands clutching and reclutching her shopping bag, gray streaks in her hair belying the excited child within. No sophistication in her hair or clothes. Her mouth is a little O of wonder.

Oh, to see the city that way again, for the first time. Before familiarity, and other things, bred contempt.

atmtx/mostlyfotos, used under Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory (Book Review)

The Boleyn Inheritance (The Tudor Court, #3)The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“This is Henry of England!...This is a man who has been the death of three wives and is now building the scaffold for a fourth! There are no guarantees. He is a murderer. If you put me in his bed, I am a dead woman.”


“Those people like my grandmother, who are so free with their insults and their slaps, who say that it is a tremendous honor and a fine step up for a ninny like me, might well consider that a fool can be jumped up, but a fool can also be thrown down; and who is going to catch me then? “


“‘The clerk's pen is poised; I can feel the words in my dry mouth. It is over. She is ruined, he is a dead man, I am on the brink of betrayal: again.”

A regal, savvy woman who had queenship down; a vain, flirtatious pinhead just asking to be a stepstool for someone else's climb to the top; and a jealous, grasping woman scorned; all played out in the looming shadow of the Tower of London. The multiple-POV is done well here with good juxtaposition and good tension among two of Henry VIII’s wives and one lady-in-waiting. I was pulled right along even though I already knew who lives and who gets the axe. Excellent fictional take on Tudor history.

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Monday, December 7, 2015

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Book Review)

A Tale for the Time BeingA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you love Zen and quantum physics and time entanglements and multiple universes and time slippages and converging realities and 104-year-old priestesses and Schrodinger's cat, read this book! It is about love, hope, sorrow, the future, the past, the end of times, and being present in the here and now. "I'd much rather know, but then again, not-knowing keeps all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive."

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ghost Dance (Flash Fiction)

Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers prompt, November 18, 2015: In 99 words (no more, no less) write dance into your story.

Footprint paranormal dot com.jpg

Insomnia, what’s new. Still homeless. For soothing she pulls out her iPod, with some precious charge, wondering what song will shuffle up.

Johnny Cash. She is up, dancing around her sad, cold little squat. The guitars are a steady thrum, Johnny’s voice a rich rumble, ringing in her ears. Time slips, and it’s not her own feet anymore. She’s a little girl, and her father is dancing her around while she stands on his feet.

The song and the magic end, her eyes open. Those aren’t her footprints on the gritty floor. They’re too big, and she’s wearing socks.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (Book Review)

The Testament of MaryThe Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I am, with full intent and forethought, not Christian, for reasons I won’t go into, although I do believe Jesus lived and had much to teach us. Call me a heretic; I don't mind.

I am not surprised to see that people are not pleased by this book, specifically with Mary’s sentiment that the redemption of the world at the cost of her son’s life “was not worth it.” What mother wouldn’t feel that way? Of course she was certain it was all a mistake, a show, a construct. I personally am pleased with this glimpse of a human, non-deified Mary, her anguish and guilt, her blissful memories of her son’s childhood, her grief and solitude as she waits patiently for her own death.

At 81 pages I read it in about two hours. The use of language is elegant, the reality stark. A beautiful little book.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

2016 Reading Challenge

I know it's early but I can't wait. I read incessantly, and most of the time I feel not one whit of guilt for it, but having a formal challenge makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something.

"Book Worm" by Craig Sunter, Flickr/Creative Commons license.

1. A funny book.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I'd never imagined this as a funny book before, but it's right there on all of the lists, and I've laughed my way through the movie and live performances. I hope this is another case where I love the book even more.

2. A banned book.

This book came to my attention when I was writing a post for Banned Books Week, and happened to read about the Tennessee mother who thinks she has the right to decide what everybody's children should be allowed to read, not just her own: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

Because you can.

By the way, ignoramus Tennessee mom, when you make a big kerfuffle about something, you just draw attention to it. This book might never have blipped my radar if not for you, so thank you.

3. A book with more than 500 pages.

I haven't gotten around to this one yet, so it's time: The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

4. A book with bad reviews.

Because sometimes books piss people off by jabbing at the comfort zone, and that can be a good thing: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov.

5. A Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

From 2009, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. It's also another exercise in stepping out of my comfort zone, since I'm picky about short stories.

6. A book that was published the year you were born.

As I pored over book lists, I was surprised at how many old favorites were on them. I guess it's a good thing, to be a contemporary of so many good books.

I loved Lonesome Dove, book and movie both, so that will be a hard western genre act to follow. It's possible Elmore Leonard can do it, with Hombre.

7. A book based on a true story.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Just deciding to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, with no experience and no preparation, because your life is completely wrecked -- that's the kind of thing I'd do if I wasn't a chickenshit at heart. Although there was the time I was frustrated with life and took off barefoot for San Francisco for dinner with a man I barely knew, and almost got knifed on the Embarcadero. I guess that's close. I learned my lesson: Wear shoes.

8. A play.

Let's go with a classic: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams.

9. A book based on/turned into a television show.

I suspected this one would be difficult, as I'm not a fan of most television. Scanning the list of books on Goodreads, I saw I'd read pretty much everything on it: Sookie Stackhouse, A Song of Ice and Fire, Madeline, Pride and Prejudice, Pippi Longstocking, even Outlander. The Walking Dead, more paranormal, forget it.

What I was really hoping to find was Firefly, alas.

But. Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard actually looks interesting.

10. A book by an author under the age of 30.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. It looks like she may have done all of her best writing before 30, because after 30 she was preoccupied with horrible marriages and alcoholism and various degrees of suicide and having strokes. I'm not trying to be flippant. Tortured writers often produce the best stuff, and this title has been on my TBR list for a long time.

11. A book published a century ago.

Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Lost Continent looks interesting. My mom loves Burroughs.

12. A book set in the future.

Lately I've been catching up on a lot of the dystopian classics I'd never read. I want something a little more modern now, and I've already loved The Hunger Games and been underwhelmed by Divergent.

Final choice: I'm in the mood for more of Neal Stephenson's cyberpunk: Snow Crash.

13. A book with a love triangle.

It's hard finding a list of such books that aren't 100% romance (I dislike pure romance) without also being YA/paranormal. Not that I have anything against YA or paranormal as separate genres, but the whole teeny-bop vampire/werewolf thing needs to just stop now. Like an NA member admits to having used, I admit to having read the Twilight series -- but not where anyone could see me doing it, and only after I'm rehabbed and clean. And it's like former users have told me: you know you're being stupid for trying it the first time, but you just have to see what all the fuss is about, and after that it's not your fault because while it has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and is horribly bad for you, it's still just that addicting. Twilight is about as much YA/paranormal/love triangle as I can take.

But this YA/paranormal stuff is all I can find!

Fine. I'm going with City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, just for the wild disparity in the ratings. Reviewers either love love love it or hate hate hate it. I'm intrigued by a book that can stir that much feeling, either way.

14. A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit.


I adore The Iliad and all things Troy. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is described as an alternate take on the fall of Troy, from the point of view of Patroclus.

I was recently very disappointed by The Lost Sisterhood. If The Song of Achilles doesn't turn out to be everything I want in a novel of ancient Greece, I'm going to be so pissed.

15. A book you own but have never read.

Many years ago I fell in love with The Bridges of Madison County (yes, I dislike the romance genre, but that doesn't mean I dislike well-told love stories; big difference), so I bought a couple more books by Robert James Waller. A few years back I read and loved one of them, Puerto Vallarta Squeeze, but I've never gotten around to the other.

Reading challenges can be a good way to clear things out of TBR piles. For this category, I'm reading Waller's Border Music. Finally.

16. A book by an author you haven't read yet.

I've yet to read anything by Jodi Picoult. Nineteen Minutes got my attention, with the timely themes of teen dating violence, bullying, and mass shootings.

17. A popular author's first book.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman. I'm qualifying this one, since Gaiman's first published works were mini-series, graphic novels, comics, and television scripts. Also, his first published novel was a collaboration with Terry Pratchett. Stardust is his first published plain-old-novel novel, written solo.

18. A nonfiction book.

I don't know why I'm fascinated with Mt. Everest, given that I'm not the slightest bit athletic and heights terrify me and I hate being cold, but there you have it. I'm choosing John Krakauer's account of the 1996 Everest tragedy, Into Thin Air.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Book Review)

LolitaLolita by Vladimir Nabokov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading Lolita was a foray into both the land of classic literature and the land of banned books. It is as difficult to review as it was to read. Nabokov was a genius with language in ways I can’t begin to understand, no doubt partly because he was trilingual (Russian, French, English) from childhood, no doubt partly due to his synesthesia. The literary references, word games, allegories and motifs are innumerable and I’m sure most of them went over my head. No, I probably don’t really get it, and I never will, because while the writing is gorgeous, the novel itself is too disturbing for me to read again.

The rich prose pulled me in, to fascinated horror as events unfolded. Our unreliable narrator seems perhaps not-so-unreliable: he paints a grim picture of himself throughout, acknowledging his own depravity, his compulsion and lurking and plotting, his madness, his crimes against the young Dolores Haze. At all times he fully admits he is a paedophile, vile and a danger to nymphets everywhere while at the same time professing his undying love. Part of Nabokov’s artistry lies in the reader’s understanding of Humbert’s love and Humbert’s suffering. The pinnacle of ecstasy is synonymous with the abyss of despair. The brilliance of this book is that I can come away feeling sympathy for a monster and not a little impatience with Lolita herself, which of course is completely bassackward, and all of it leaves me with that uncomfortable squirmy feeling in my stomach.

One lesson here is that maybe it doesn’t matter what you write about so much as how you write about it. This is one of the things art is for: to pull us out of our comfort zones, to view the world through another lens. I can’t say I exactly enjoyed this book, but I do appreciate the experience of reading it.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Disassociation (Haiku)

darktrotsky at DeviantArt, Used under Creative Commons license.

Is the world still here?
The night has turned inside out.
I am just a ghost.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Book Review)

We Need New NamesWe Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"MotherLove is singing out there. Nobody ever sings like that in Paradise, voice swinging like ripe fruit you can pick and put in your mouth and taste its sweetness. When you hear MotherLove, you know that her shebeen is now open for people to go and drink."

Such a bittersweet tale, such evocative writing! Bulawayo does one of the better jobs I've seen of telling a story through the eyes of a child. Through Darling, we see that the horrible things -- the hunger, sickness, poverty, political upheaval and paramilitary violence -- are also the things that are home. When they are part of your daily landscape, they just are. When Darling leaves Zimbabwe to live with her aunt in America she discovers that Paradise, isn't really.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Paris, Ryder Trucks, and Why You Really Are the Boss of Me #1000Speak

These past several months at work I was plagued by someone with no authority constantly telling me how to do my job. Once or twice a week, I'd get an email from this woman telling me that I hadn't done such-and-such a thing. She is a private contractor, not an a fellow employee and certainly not my superior, with zero training in what my job duties are. Irritating as hell, oh yes. "Bite me" (or worse) I'd mutter every time I received one of those emails. Delete. Ignore.

This went on for months, and it grew. Her emails to me became more terse and condescending. Tired of it, I was figuring out ways to replace her with another contractor. Until I had a flash of inspiration, and checked something out. Turns out, she wasn't being paid by my company in a timely manner. Payment for her services is not part of my job duties at all. But she thought the failure was connected to a function I routinely perform, assumed I must not be performing it correctly, and started trying to tell me what to do.

I did a little investigation, confirmed my diagnosis of the problem, and put her in touch with the office that handles private contractor reimbursement. Problems solved. She's being paid as she should, and I don't have someone trying to order me around.

Yes, she made incorrect assumptions, that her payment issues were my fault. But she's not the only one. I incorrectly assumed that she was being an insufferable know-it-all. Both problems were compounded when neither of us communicated what our issues really were: "Gimme my money!" "You're not the boss of me!" What it came down to was that each of was being threatened, and neither of us was responding appropriately, not solving and even escalating the situation. She could have lost a source of income, and I could have lost the services of a contractor who performs well.

Incorrect assumptions abound. Our only defenses are to think about what the problem really is, communicate what it is, discover the facts as we can, and do our best to find equitable solutions. When we don't, we lose.

I am reminded of this in the wake of the ISIS attacks on Paris and the flood of pro- and anti-refugee and pro- and anti-Muslim sentiments everywhere.

No, I'm not going to talk (much) about the issues of refugees or Islam, per se. But oh my, the fur is flying, along with insults and xenophobic propaganda on a level with that perpetrated against the Jews by Nazi Germany. Social media have become cesspools. You're a racist hate-mongerer. Yeah? Well, you're a bleeding-heart terrorist-lover. It sucker-punched me, though, when I saw ugliness being posted by people I thought I knew, people I hold in high regard, people I love. People that I believed thought like I did. I was surprised at how much it upset me, as if what's going on in the world wasn't upsetting enough. I've unfollowed a few people, and a few have probably unfollowed me. They're probably as disappointed in me as I am in them.

And what's being solved? Nothing.

I took my upset to a group of bloggers I am privileged to know, souls more contemplative and level-headed than I. I listened to their words, and read their words. I stepped back from the shitstorm and allowed things to just percolate in my mind and my heart, and I was able to gain some perspective.

And I remembered the non-boss trying to boss me around. What had I learned?

When we operate in the face of threat, we don't think clearly. Yes, people reacting from a position of xenophobia and hatred are operating from fear, but so am I. I am also afraid of more violence being perpetuated against my own country, whether from terrorists disguised as refugees, or from terrorists already hiding here, or from someone out there somewhere else who decides to fly another plane into another skyscraper, decides to detonate another explosive-laden Ryder truck by an office building. But I am also afraid of what will happen to us as a race if we don't do the right thing and help our fellow humans when they need it. I am afraid of how horribly divided this country is becoming on issues that are central to our collective identity. That, I think, is the biggest victory the terror machine can have, when they drive a spike into the collective soul of America, turning us against each other and getting us to do their work for them.

I am reminded not to assume I know what others are thinking, just as they should not make such assumptions about me. I am reminded to avoid labels, especially when tags like "conservative" and "liberal" carry more invective than they ever have.  I am reminded that each of is coming from a different, secret place with dreams and nightmares no one else can truly know. I am reminded that actions do not always reflect motives. I am reminded that we all have feet of clay at times, myself included, perhaps even now. I am reminded that when I despise others for their thoughts as they despise me for mine, I am being as big a bigot as they are.

I am reminded most of all that the world is hurting, and all of this conflict, words and bombs, is symptomatic of massive change and healing that are essential if we are to survive and evolve, as individuals and as a species.

That won't start until we start having real dialogue, using facts and reason instead of generalization and speculation and outright lies. When I allow you to be the boss, and you allow me to be the boss, we work together. When we work together, we stop yelling at each other and start listening. Listen to the fear, the worry, the pain, and treat them the only way they can be treated - with compassion, love, healing.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Huddled Refuge (Flash Fiction)

Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers prompt, November 11, 2015: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a place of comfort that is a refuge.

cindy47452 Flickr/Creative Commons

It’s been a long day, selling newspapers on the corner. Cold temperature, cold people. “Get a job,” she kept hearing. Hello, I’m trying, and meanwhile I’m hawking newspapers, not dealing drugs or breaking into your house.

Back at the dank abandoned house she did break into, she struggles with damp shoelaces and slides into her sleeping bag fully clothed.Troubles whuffs and curls up beside her.

Pretend there’s a campfire. She’s not homeless; she’s camping. Camping is temporary, voluntary, fun. Arms around the warmth of the dog’s neck, sleeping bag slowly warming, she drifts into the haven of sleep.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Stieg Larsson, the PLR, and Money-Grab Books in General (Book Review: The Girl in the Spider's Web)

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium, #4)The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is another book I hesitated over reading. With this and with Go Set a Watchman, the biggest issue at the outset was my own curiosity. More books from writers of the caliber of Harper Lee and Stieg Larsson! But I’d read of the controversies, and I didn’t want to put any money into the pockets of the unscrupulous. I figured I’d just borrow them from the library. Problem solved.

Go Set a Watchman was absolutely no To Kill a Mockingbird, but I could at least tell that it had been written by Harper Lee. I could also tell it was not a finished product. Whether she really did want it published or was taken advantage of my money-hungry people newly in charge of her affairs, we’ll probably never know.

Moving on to The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Taking the novel on its own merits, it’s not bad. It’s decently written and decently plotted, and it kept me entertained and turning pages. It was no The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but even Stieg Larsson couldn’t pull that off twice. The problem is that Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are Stieg Larsson’s characters, not David Lagercrantz’s. Lagercrantz does not have the intricate knowledge, the feel, the love for Blomkvist and Salander that their creator did. That’s not his fault. I’m not bashing Lagercrantz as a writer, and I have not read any of his original work, but in this book, it feels like Larsson’s style is being imitated. It is not exact, which is of course impossible, because this isn’t Larsson’s writing. It’s just his characters and his world.

So although I didn’t completely adore either book, I was still feeling a bit smug about satisfying my curiosity without ringing up any sales for the unethical. Then I remembered my disc jockeying days. Way back when, artists and record companies sent their singles to radio stations for free, to promote their music and generate public interest and sales, and DJ’s could play whatever they wanted. I even used to take in my records from home, to complete a particular set I thought would sound good. Many years later, back at work for the same station, I learned that now royalties are paid based on an estimated number of times a song would be played given a computer-generated rotation, and for that reason we couldn’t take requests, couldn’t come up with our own playlists, certainly couldn’t bring records from home. So much for the artistry of the radio disc jockey. Yes, I understand the principle of intellectual property. But still. If you want to know why broadcast music radio sucks these days, that’s one of the reasons right there.

That made me wonder if authors collect royalties on their books in library collections, so I Googled it. I learned about the PLR, or Public Lending Right, that provides for royalty payments to authors in several countries, including Scandinavia and the United States, for books owned by libraries for public borrowing. Sometimes it’s a flat fee per book, sometimes it’s a pittance every time the book is checked out, but either way it’s capped at not very damn much, certainly not compared to actual book sales and possible movie rights. It’s still something though.

Yes, it is perfectly possible to continue a series after the creator’s death. With the Wheel of Time books, Robert Jordan knew he was dying and might not live to finish writing the series. He had enough drafted and outlined that another writer could finish them, and that was his express wish. Brandon Sanderson is not Robert Jordan, and he didn’t try to be. I appreciated that. He had a tall order to fill and he did an admirable job, bringing a satisfying close to a series I loved and that its creator wanted his readers to have.

I’ve seen nothing about what V.C. Andrews’ wishes might have been about her heirs hiring a ghostwriter to write under her name after her death, but it’s very unsavory that the ghostwriting was kept more or less secret until that whole nasty tax evasion thing put it into the public eye. The nature of the Internet makes it pretty much impossible to trick the reading public into buying another Stieg Larsson book because they don’t know he died, and it’s widely known that Larsson’s estranged father and brother commissioned Lagercrantz to write this book. It was written from scratch, with no access to Larsson’s notes, and -- this is where I finally get angry -- very likely against what Larsson’s wishes would have been.

And that’s the only way I can look at these now, with both Harper Lee and Stieg Larsson, that these new books are about nothing more than cashing in. Making money. Not art. Money.

I now apologize to both Harper Lee and Stieg Larsson. No more money-grab books for me. They leave a bad taste that has nothing to do with the writing.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Toward Freezing (Flash Fiction)

Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers prompt, November 4, 2015: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a frozen story. Is the weather the source of freezing or is a character frozen by emotion or lack of it? It can also be a moment frozen in time. What does it reveal?


She wakes resentfully with the realization that winter has arrived. The calendar may say autumn; the weather gets the last word.

She  shivers and sits up.  Thin light fingers around the boards on the windows. Troubles raises his head and whines hopefully: “Kibble? “ At least she can't see her breath. Yet. But it's November. The heavy leaf coverage, her camouflage as she sneaks in and out, is nearly gone.

You can have a sleeping bag, insulating pad, the comfort of a dog beside you on the floor. But when you're homeless and squatting, you can't have warmth. Not truly.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (Book Review)

While I still feel like I was peeking into someone's windows, three days in to NaNoWriMo was the perfect time for me to read this book, a less-than-stellar bit from a talented writer. It reminds me that I don't have to be perfect, because while talent is one thing, the creative process is a process, that takes time and reworking and patience and coming back to gently nudge and prod into shape without giving up. So for that, Harper Lee, I thank you.

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Now I wish I hadn’t read this book.

I respond to controversy by diving right into it. This is not a banned book, but my reaction was the same: I want to read it myself, to see for myself.

I’ve read of the kerfuffle over its publication. Despite the official finding that no elder abuse of Ms. Lee took place, I am still deeply bothered by tales of her isolation from visitors and her adamant statements that she would not publish another novel. It seems rather convenient that she changed her mind only a few months after the death of her very protective sister and transfer of control of her affairs to other hands. No, I don’t know what’s true and what’s not, but thought of her being taken advantage of angers me.

After reading it for myself I am of the mind that no, this is not a separate novel from To Kill a Mockingbird. The seeds are here, including the the glossed-over story of Tom Robinson, with different players and a different outcome. Jean Louise Finch as a grown woman has many flashbacks to her childhood in Maycomb, and it’s easy to see why the child Scout was given the voice to tell the story, because those were the richest parts, the ones that read like the Harper Lee I love from TKAM.

There is gold here certainly:

“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”

Yes, authors produce books that are not of the quality of their magnum opus, but that’s not what Go Set a Watchman feels like to me. It does not feel like a sequel, and it does not feel like a companion. The writing is not as luminous, the plot is loose, the intricacies and subtleties of love and prejudice and family and home and hate are not painted with the fine strokes we know from TKAM. This is not a criticism of Harper Lee; with GSAW we are merely reading an earlier part of her creative process. It doesn’t take anything away from the literary masterpiece it was worked into, that I will always love. But GSAW feels like a beginning, like something that was not published before because it was not meant to be.

Now I almost feel like I read someone else’s diary. I am very sorry, Harper Lee.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Angela Carter, Courtney Love, and Sleep Sweet Sleep (Book Review: The Bloody Chamber)

The Bloody Chamber and Other StoriesThe Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the strangest endorsement for a book I’ve ever come out with. This book of fairy tales retold with a very feminist spin is indeed magic, but not for me as for most people. You see, I suffer from what may be the world’s worst, chronic insomnia. I often go days at a stretch with a handful of hours of sleep spread over the whole thing, sleep deprivation fueling my also chronic anxiety and panic disorder, so I’m left fumbling my way through the world half afraid I’m about to fall right off of it and half hoping I will, so I can just get it all over with already. Welcome to my life.

The magic this book gave me was sleep.

I was awake one night as usual, scrolling down Courtney Love's Facebook page for some reason. I don't know how I ended up there. I don't love her, I don't hate her, she just is, although I was sad when Kurt Cobain joined the 27 Club. Click, click, click, one place to another and there I was. Hi, Courtney. So, Courtney Love had a post about this book, and it intrigued me, so for something else to do while not sleeping I reserved it on my library website.

I started reading it in bed one night, and although I was enraptured by Carter’s prose and intrigued by the retelling of Bluebeard...I fell asleep. Right on the pages of the book, with the light still on, and I slept the whole night through, until my alarm gently woke me. What a rare treat it is for me, to sleep until my alarm wakes me! And happened again the next night. And the next. Over the week I spent reading this book every evening in bed, that’s what happened every night. I slept. Full nights. For six nights in a row.

I hadn’t felt that good in years.

I finished the book, and the sleeping stopped.

I have to return it to the library, although I will be getting my own copy. Not just for the sleep; Carter’s stories are beautiful, and her writing is lyrical.

But the sleep is a gift without compare. I’m happy to read the same book, every night, for the rest of my life. I hope my own copy will cast the same spell. If it turns out that this one particular volume is the talisman, then I’ll borrow it from the library again and tell them I lost it, and pay whatever they charge me and gladly, so I can keep this magic book. I may try harder to like Courtney Love, too.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Book Review)

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“How old are you, really?” I asked.
I thought for a bit. Then I asked, “How long have you been eleven for?”
She smiled at me.

This book is the next A Wrinkle in Time for me, and that’s a massive compliment, given that AWIT is one of my all-time favorite books forever and ever.

If you love magic and monsters and shadowy things and quantum physics and sacrifice and creation, and all the nameless fear and faith and innocence of childhood, read this book.

“Your pond. It’s not an ocean. It can’t be. Oceans are bigger than seas. Your pond is just a pond.”

“It’s as big as it needs to be.”

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Children of Paradise by Fred D'Aguiar (Book Review)

Children of ParadiseChildren of Paradise by Fred D'Aguiar
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A young girl is terrorized and mauled to death by a gorilla. Other children are watching. Her mother is devastated. Other people are shocked and horrified. A teenage boy turns his own mother in for disloyalty. A charismatic preacher resurrects the dead child before the eyes of his followers. They are amazed. The gorilla is sorry. I don't care.

Far too much tell and not enough show. The POV switching is choppy and I think the passive voice adds to the woodenness of the characters. The device of no quotation marks around conversation can sometimes be used to good effect, but here it just adds to the confusion and lackluster.

And I know that now I'm just being picky, but the gorilla could not have been captured near the commune. The commune is in Guyana, South America, and gorillas are native only to Africa. That's too bad, because the gorilla shows more emotion and analytic thought capability and overall personality than any other character.

Perhaps I'll try some of D'Aguiar's poetry, as some of his descriptive passages are evocative. This novel, Abandoned.

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Book Review)

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you."

I'm supposed to be finalizing a research paper, and procrastination rocks. I read this book more than a year ago and should have told the world what I think before now. I read the entire thing in one evening and the following day, and when I closed the back cover, I immediately turned it over, opened it at the beginning, and read it again. It is simply that freaking good. I will never see the movie, because it would inevitably be a huge letdown after such an amazing book.

I also like the rumor that this is a NaNoWriMo novel. I don't know if that's true, but I love this book and I love NaNoWriMo, so it's a happy rumor for me.

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