Sunday, May 31, 2009

The All About Mememememe Meme

Yes, the Queen o' Memes has been out conquering other worlds and has not had much time as of late to create new and exciting memes. Sadly, her ship recently found itself wrecked off the shores of Facebook, and she was stuck wandering around in that wasteland, while she waited for repairs. Here, she met people on every street corner trying to get her to find out which board game/life-threatening disease/punctuation mark/department store, etc. she is. She was so distracted by them that she very nearly caught a nasty swine-flu-like virus from someone who was slinking around behind a hidden video camera. Before leaping back on the ship, once it was repaired, and getting her trusty ship's captain to get as far away, as fast as possible, she did happen to notice all these little shops trying to sell fake memes, many of them rip-offs of fine designer versions she's found in Blogland. One, however, caught her interest. It involved getting friends to see if they can answer questions about, well, the person in question.

The Queen likes this idea. After all, what could be more fun for everyone than trying to answer questions about her? She decided to steal that little idea and bring it home with her, sure no one would miss it, especially after she'd tooled around with it and turned it into a meme that would be nearly unrecognizable to most FB users. So, here you go. How well do you think you know the Queen? Here are ten little multiple choice questions to help you see how right you are. (The Queen is nothing, though, if she's not fair to her subjects. There isn't a single question here whose answer cannot somewhere be found on this blog.)

Rules: Try to answer the following questions, and leave your answers in the comments section. If you feel like it (unless I've tagged you. Then you have no choice), create ten questions of your own with multiple choice answers (or use my questions and create your own answers. Or use some of my questions. Or use some of my answers. See how easy I am?) and ask people to see how well they know you. Tag five others to do the same.

1. Where was the Queen born and raised?
a. North Carolina
b. Virginia
c. Connecticut
d. Pennsylvania

2. What is the Queen's favorite book?
a. She's told you a hundred times that she doesn't have one
b. Don Quixote -- Miguel de Cervantes
c. Harry Potter -- J.K. Rowling
d. Friends and Relations --
Elizabeth Bowens
(The Queen knows. Some of you will claim this is a trick question, but it really isn't. Quit whining if you don't want to be dungeon-bound.)

3. It's Friday night, and the Queen is watching a movie. What is it most likely to be?
a. Anything with Clint Eastwood
b. Some, any, "sappy" musical. It is not sappy, thank you very much.
c. Titanic
d. Anything with Catherine Zeta-Jones (oops. Maybe that hasn't ever shown up anywhere on the blog. The Queen apologizes, and will make this question easier by telling you that this is not the answer. The Queen would rather spend a week stranded on Facebook than to have to watch Zeta-Jones "act." However, she will make an exception and put up with the "actress" in order to watch Traffic, because the movie is so good, she can forget there's that woman in there being and doing exactly what she's been and done in every. single. movie she's ever made -- not, mind you, that the Queen has much of an opinion about this).

4. How did the Queen meet her husband?
a. At the publishing company where they both worked
b. On a blind date
c. At the library
d. Through a mutual friend

5. Why could the Queen never be a vegetarian?
a. She thinks all vegetarians are wimps
b. She doesn't like animals and couldn't care less if we kill them
c. Hotdogs
d. She hates vegetables and never cooks with them

6. The Queen is having a nightmare in which she is stranded downtown somewhere and is being forced to do something she hates to do. What is she being forced to do?
a. Shop for clothes
b. Eat sushi
c. Spend six hours in a used bookstore
d. Drink martinis with a group of friends

7. The Queen would be lost without:
a. Her Ford Expedition
b. Her kitchen
c. Texting
d. Rachael Ray

8. The Queen has no patience for people who say:
a. "I just read the best book."
b. "I love math!"
c. "I've got a little apartment on the Upper West Side where you can stay any time you'd like." (Did someone just say that? The Queen is all ears...)
d. "I support women's rights, but I'm not a feminist."

9. The Queen is in the Caribbean. What's she doing?
a. Working on her gorgeous tan
b. She's about forty feet under the sea, looking for turtles and puffer fish
c. Playing volleyball
d. Eating goat

10. The Queen is laughing out loud while reading. What book is she reading?
a. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn -- Betty Smith
b. Moby Dick -- Herman Melville
c. King Lear -- William Shakespeare
d. Three Men in a Boat -- Jerome K. Jerome


Who dubbed me the Queen o' Memes?
a. Charlotte
b. The Hobgoblin
c. Mandarine
d. I did

Tagging: Litlove, Zoe's Mom, Stefanie, Sara, and Ms. Musing.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Bullets

So, where did this week go? I can't believe it's already Friday. That means it's a good day for bullets, I think.

  • I need to take a course in setting realistic goals. When I decided to abandon the novel I was trying to write that just wasn't getting written and sat down and outlined the first novel in my small-Southern-college-town series, I came up with 12 chapters and an elaborate list of characters, some of whom are definitely going to have to wait for other books in the series if they're eager to be noticed. I'm someone who writes my first drafts long-hand and then works on second drafts by getting them into electronic form. After that, the real editing begins. Here's what I thought: "12 chapters? I can write one chapter a week. I'll have the first draft done in 12 weeks. 12 more weeks until the second draft is done, and then I can start sending it out to select friends and family members to review." Need I say that this plan, if I can only stop beating myself up over the fact that it will never come to fruition (and, why, oh why did I recently have to read that little tidbit somewhere that Janet Evanovich claims to spend 8 hours a day writing? 8 hours a day? And she isn't exactly writing War and Peace), is one that is well-suited for causing people to be rolling around on the floor, clutching their stomachs in pain from laughing so hard? Six weeks into writing my novel, and I'm not even done with Chapter Three yet. (Granted, I spend time on blog posts and ghost stories, too, but still...)
  • Remember how I put an ILL request on a book for the mystery book discussion group back in January and surmised the book must be traveling by sloth express? I didn't. I completely forgot about that until the sloth arrived last week and dropped off the book at my local library. That sloth must have been on uppers. I really didn't think he'd make it much before Christmas. Still, a good reminder that ILL is not the way to go if I need a book for a book discussion group.
  • For once, I got all enamored over something I read in a book (living a local, sustainable, grow-and-make-my-own food sort of existence a la Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I read last year) and decided to give it a go without disastrous results. Granted, I was smart enough this time to start small. I did not move Bob and me out to a farm and start raising my own chickens to butcher and sheep to shear, so I could spin my own yarn and start knitting all our clothes while I was at it, which is usually the way I tend to tackle such projects. However, I did start with something that seemed slightly daunting: making cheese. For the right setting, I have a friend who lives on a farm, and, knowing she'd already tried to make it once, I asked if she'd like to try again with me. No, we didn't milk cows to get the milk, but we did visit a local dairy to get it and then went back to the old farm house to try our hand at making fresh mozzarella. Was it as difficult as I thought it would be? No, once we realized we just needed to keep heating it and to wear rubber gloves while kneading it. Was it as delicious as the fresh mozzarella I used to get at the Italian deli across the street from my ex-boyfriend's apartment? Nowhere near. Still, it was an excellent "old college try," and I'm hopeful it will get better each time I try again, which yes, I do plan to do (but don't hold me to it).
  • For the first time in nearly two years, we have TV. When we moved here, we had some very unpleasant run-ins with the Direct TV installers who told us we did not have a direct line of sight for the satellite dish. We refuse to support the cable monopoly, so we just decided to go without, and I really didn't miss it much at all. Then, I went and spent nearly 2 weeks at my brother-in-law's watching TV. I really, really wanted to be able to watch all those cool nature shows again. Bob decided he really, really wanted to be able to watch sports again. Bob called Direct TV once more, relayed all our woes from our last experience, and by the time he got off the phone, we'd gotten a great deal, as well as a free HD-DVR receiver. The very nice installer had no problem getting it all set up for us. Okay, last time we got Direct TV, it was because I'd spent a week in Maine watching the Food Network and really wanted to watch it at home. How much did I watch it once we got Direct TV? Oh, about once every six months. Since hooking up the TV this time, how often have I watched a nature show? Not once. However, if you want to know how long it takes someone who has been nearly two years without a DVR to get back into the habit of taping hours of movies and shows she will never have time to watch, the answer is about two seconds.
  • Each of these bullet points is practically full-blog-length. Brevity is not one of my strong points, is it?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Last week, I was browsing through my sitemeter stats and happened to notice that a lot of people were finding my blog through a keyword search of "Sartre's huh." How bizarre. If it had only come up once, I might not have been so surprised that someone had actually clicked on the URL that led them to this post of mine. Not that that wouldn't be puzzling. I'm always puzzled by people who seem to be seeking some sort of specific definition or answer to a question and decide they could possibly find it through a blog called "Telecommuter Talk." More puzzling, however, was why so many people were searching for "Sartre's huh."

At first, I thought maybe some professor had taken some obscure line from Sartre and asked students to expound on it. "Huh" would be kind of an odd line, but, you know, well, this is Sartre. Maybe there is some sort of existential angst hidden behind the way one of his characters utters "huh?" when he ought to say "what?" or even a more polite "pardon me?" But no, I quickly discovered that the queries weren't all coming from yale or As a matter of fact, they weren't even all coming from the same geographical location.

Curiosity, which is almost guaranteed to do so, finally got the better of me, and I decided to do my own keyword search for "Sartre's huh" (and you wonder how those of us who are unemployed manage to fill our days). Guess what I discovered. "Sartre's huh" was a Los Angeles Time's crossword puzzle clue on Sunday May 10th. I also discovered that there are people out there who have created entire blogs devoted to going through every clue of the day's crossword puzzle and providing the answers as well as commentary.

Well, I don't know about you, but if I ever worry that I'm boring people to tears with all the navel gazing I do on my blog, all I need do is remind myself that these other blogs exist. I can also now feel good about wasting my time taking stupid Facebook quizzes. At least I'm not "double-doing" crossword puzzles, which must be awfully time-consuming.

But let's leave that poor blogger to the invigorating task of crossword clue commentary and consider, for a moment, all those who were looking for the answer to "Sartre's huh." I'm someone who has been known to dabble in crossword-puzzle-solving from time-to-time. This means I can usually complete the Monday and Tuesday NYT puzzles. Forget Saturday. And if I don't happen to figure out at first glance what the theme for the Sunday puzzle is, I'll be lucky to get ten clues correct.

Someone once gave me a crossword puzzle dictionary, which I found kind of fun to read, but which turned out to be pretty useless when it came to solving actual puzzles. You see, as any puzzle aficionado will tell you, crosswords are much more about thinking a certain way, figuring out the way the creator's mind works, and not so much about knowing a five-letter word for "finger." I kept the dictionary, but I haven't looked at it in ages.

I think, more than usefulness, my problem with the dictionary is that I've always seen it as cheating somehow, only one step down from looking at an answer grid. I suppose it's the Puritan element that lingers in me, handed down from that branch of the family that came from New England, but I'm a purist when it comes to puzzle-solving. I'd rather leave half (or 3/4) of the grid blank than "cheat" by looking up the answers.

So, now I discover that all these crossword puzzle solvers are turning to the Internet for their answers. As Sartre would say, "Quoi?" How can that be any fun? I can't imagine getting any satisfaction from solving a puzzle that way, knowing that all you did was look up all the answers. I also can't imagine that those who write the puzzles aren't becoming more and more creative in coming up with clues that can't easily be searched online, which means pretty soon, I probably won't even be able to do the Monday puzzle. Oh well, I guess that will leave me more time for taking stupid Facebook quizzes.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Day in the Life of the Unemployed

Before going to bed the night before, this is how the Unemployed Woman (UW) maps out the following day:

6:00 a.m.: wake up and lie around in bed until 6:15 (UW is not one who can leap out of bed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed)
6:15 - 6:30 a.m.: brush teeth, put on workout clothes, etc.
6:15 - 6:45 a.m.: do newly-discovered, miraculous exercises (thank you Pete Egoscue and Pain Free!) that are keeping crippling back pain at bay in a way weeks of physical therapy never did
6:45 - 7:00 a.m.: make coffee and breakfast
7:00 - 7:15 a.m.: eat breakfast
7:15 - 8:30 a.m.: drink coffee and write
8:30 - 9:15 a.m.: morning walk with neighbors
9:15 - 9:30 a.m.: shower and dress
9:30 - 11:00 a.m.: write
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.: tidy downstairs, wash throw rugs from dining room, and make something healthy for lunch
12:30 - 1:00 p.m.: eat lunch with husband, the minister
1:00 - 2:00 p.m.: write
2:00 - 4:00 p.m.: read book meant to be an inspiration for writing efforts
4:00 - 6:00 p.m.: work on going through boxes, weeding, and organizing junk in attic (this month's household organization project)
6:00 - 6:30 p.m.: evening walk while listening to audiobook
6:30 - 7:00 p.m.: make dinner
7:00 - 7:30 p.m.: relax with husband before dinner
7:30 - 8:00 p.m.: eat dinner
8:00 - 10:00 p.m.: read
10:00 p.m.: head upstairs for pre-bed ablutions
10:15 - 10:45 p.m.: read in bed
10:45 p.m.: lights out

Here's what really happens:

4:15 a.m.: wakes up. Lies around in bed trying to get back to sleep. Cannot sleep, cannot turn off annoying brain.
4:50 a.m.: decides "F it," and gets up
4:45 - 5:00 a.m.: brushes teeth, etc.
5:00 - 5:30 a.m.: does exercise routine for back
5:30 - 6:00 a.m.: makes breakfast. Milk for oatmeal boils over while UW searches for coffee scoop husband has hidden in dishwasher. UW cleans up the mess, considers having cold cereal, reconsiders, and starts the process of making oatmeal all over again with salvaged bit of scorched milk.
6:00 - 6:10 a.m.: almost finished with breakfast when
6:10 - 6:20 a.m.: husband calls out from bedroom that cat has thrown up. Can she bring up some paper towels? She and husband spend five minutes disagreeing about best way to clean up cat puke.
6:20 - 6:40 a.m.: scarfs down rest of cold oatmeal and re-heats mug of coffee
6:40 - 7:45 a.m.: decides just quickly to check email. Discovers email from Oneworld Classics, a very cool publisher, offering her a free book, asking for her opinions, and introducing her to its blog. (Isn't Bloggerel a cool name for a blog?) Checks out the catalog, reads blog posts from the blog, tries to decide which book to get. Still hasn't decided by the time she logs off.
7:45 - 8:30 a.m.: writes
8:30 - 9:15 a.m.: morning walk with neighbors
9:15 - 10:00 a.m.: no idea what happened to this 45 minutes
10:00 - 10:30 a.m.: husband unexpectedly returns home and needs help finding some important papers
10:30 - 11:00 a.m.: Screw the writing, which has not been going well. Takes up throw rugs and puts them in washer. Starts process of tidying downstairs. Gets distracted by rearranging books in order to make room for bag of books friends in CT graciously gave her while she was visiting. Discovers husband's old copy of Gibran's The Prophet. For some reason, pulls it from the shelf and skims through it to discover one of husband's friends from high school apparently received it as a gift from another friend who has inscribed it with a quote from the book about friendship. This obviously meant so much to that friend that she decided to pass it on to UW's husband. The quote and the illustrations both get UW wondering if people were as facile in 1923, when the book was published, as they are today.
11:00 - 11:30 a.m.: UW's mother calls
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.: hangs throw rugs out to dry and races around to try to finish tidying up the downstairs
12:30 - 1:00 p.m.: screw the healthy lunch. Throws leftover pizza on a plate and heats it in the microwave.
1:00 - 2:00 p.m.: sits down to write. Lack of sleep catches up with her. Has to take a nap.
2:00 - 3:00 p.m.: wastes an hour reading The Prophet only to discover (especially after checking out reviews on that, yes, people must have been as facile in 1923 as they are today (including Rodin, if the back cover copy is to be believed, and he really compared Gibran to William Blake. In fairness to old Auguste, he died before this was published, so maybe he was talking about something else, or confusing Gibran with someone else. Or maybe he said something like, "Gibran would like to think he's another Blake, just because he writes poetry and draws, but I laugh in the face of such an absurd notion." I mean, that would be a comparison, right?).
3:00 - 3;30 p.m.: ponders how the 1920s were so similar to the 1960s, and maybe that's why this silly little book had its renaissance with the hippies. Thinks about writing a blog post on this. Decides she doesn't know enough to do so. Meanwhile, decides not to work on the attic today after all. Her palate needs cleansing after such tripe.
3:30 - 5:00 p.m.: cleanses palate with Jeffrey Lent. If anyone can inspire an aspiring writer to want to write, it's Jeffrey Lent (although he can also lead to despair over one's own doubtful writing abilities)
5:00 - 6:00 p.m.: logs onto bloglines and reads those favorite blogs that have new posts, which also helps cleanse palate and is good inspiration for writing
6:00 - 6:30 p.m.: husband wants help coming up with the sermon title for this week's sermon
6:30 - 7:10 p.m.: husband announces he has to attend a trustee meeting, so the evening is shot. Takes her evening walk, gently accompanied by Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins and brings rugs in from the clothesline
7:10 - 8:00 p.m.: more online time
8:00 - 8:30 p.m.: makes dinner
8:30 - 9:00 p.m.: eats dinner
9:00 - 10:00 p.m.: discusses trustee meeting (apparently there is a sink hole in the back yard behind the manse. Good thing UW didn't disappear while drying the throw rugs) and other church-related issues
10:00 - 10:15 p.m.: pre-bedtime ablutions
10:15 - 10:45 p.m.: reads Heidi, because she read somewhere that reading children's books before going to bed is supposed to help a person sleep, and she has been reading a chapter of Heidi a night for ages now (not sure how well it's helping sleep, but the book has been as good as she remembered it being as a child)
10:45 p.m.: lights out. Thinks "I hope tomorrow will be a more productive day." *

* It was. Four hours of un-blocked writing (and plenty of pages to prove it) and an hour and a half in the attic (only the most discerning eye would be able to tell she's made a dent. Sigh!).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bob and Emily Talk IV

It's Sunday afternoon, and Bob and Emily have not seen each other for ten days (but who's counting?). Bob's brother, a friend of his who has kindly agreed to accompany him for this ride, and Emily are all sitting at Yogi's Sports Bar at the Crown Plaza Hotel that is almost exactly halfway between Bob and Emily's home and Bob's brother's home (BTW, mystery book club discussion members and other friends in CT, this would be a great halfway point to meet sometime. Good food and very friendly service and nice hotel rooms if you don't feel like driving home. It's exit 8A off the NJT). This is where "The Emily Exchange" will occur, as Bob is expected any minute, and brother and friend will leave her with him to drive back to CT.

Bob has not yet arrived. He's called to inform them that (surprise! surprise!), he's sitting in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike (on which he only needed to travel a few exits, but which those of you familiar with the NJT will realize is something like 82 miles). No problem. They've ordered beer and snacks and have just been given this really cool device they've never seen before that allows them to choose which of the five hundred TVs on the walls they want to listen to. The TV right in front of them has the Yankees playing Minnesota, but who needs the sound for that? (Mostly just commentators jinxing your team by saying things like, "Bases loaded, and here he is, coming up to bat, sure to get a hit. Remember, no one in this team's history has ever struck out four times in a row.") Emily looks across the room to see that Obama is just about to give his commencement speech at Notre Dame and hits the button on the little box that brings in the sound for this. The snacks arrive, and she makes sure they save the majority of the onion rings for Bob, since he loves them.

Finally Bob walks through the door, looking like Omar Sharif in Dr. Zhivago (well, without the Tolstovka shirt). Needless to say, Emily is thrilled to see him. He sits down, orders a beer himself, and Emily pushes the snack plate his way. Everyone sits there for a while, torn between watching the Yankees suddenly start to make a comeback in a game that seemed like it was all but over and listening to the fantastic speech Obama is giving, addressing all the controversial issues head-on in true Obama fashion.

Emily: You know, this is kind of [embarrassing nickname for Bob that she does not want the whole world to know] Heaven.

Bob: What do you mean?

Emily: Well, you've got the Yankees on one wall suddenly looking like they might win. You've got Obama on the other wall knocking 'em dead. And you've got a Bass Ale and onion rings on the bar.

Bob: You know, you're right, but you forgot one thing.

Emily: What's that?

Bob: [Embarrassing nickname for Emily that she doesn't want the whole world to know]!

Emily: Just smiles.

I've trained him well, everyone, haven't I?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Music Monday/Lyric Lundi

When I went up to Connecticut to stay with my brother-in-law while he was recuperating from surgery (he's doing very well, the "perfect patient," as his doctor and doctor's assistant said. Thank you to those of you who have been asking), he told me that he had copies of his two favorite movies that he wanted to watch while I was there. I have to admit that my first thought was an extremely sexist one, something along the lines of, "Oh great. I'm gonna have to waste time sitting through Dirty Harry and Terminator or something." (O, ye of little faith), much to my surprise, when I said, "Oh?" (probably very unenthusiastically), he said, "Yeah, Dr. Zhivago and The Sound of Music." Well, twist my arm (and who ever knew my brother-in-law had this hidden romantic side?)...

I once had a roommate who dated this guy who was nice enough, but if allowed, he could sometimes take himself a bit too seriously and be somewhat of a pretentious prig. Needless to say, I'm not one who likes to spend time with pretentious prigs, so I didn't allow him to get away with it too often. He disparaged an ex-girlfriend of his, because her favorite movie was The Sound of Music, he, of course, being one of those people who "never watched a Hollywood blockbuster." He and I had a habit of joking with each other in a very cutting way, and I can remember saying to him, "The Sound of Music is one of my favorite movies, too. Good thing you're not dating me. Then you might have to admit you have atrocious taste in women." But, really, how can you seriously disparage someone of my generation for loving The Sound of Music? It's like disparaging someone for loving The Wizard of Oz. We all grew up with it. We all remember the first time we saw it. We all remember our teen years when we had to pretend we didn't like that "stupid movie," watching it only in order to "humor" our mothers who were all excited it was on and wanted us to watch it with them, because, you know, it just didn't compare to such great movies as Porkies and Friday the 13th.

I don't remember exactly how old I was (probably about eight or so), but I still vividly remember the first time I ever saw the movie. This was in the days before DVDs or VCRs or even HBO, also in the days before 500 movies were released every week. I'm assuming blockbusters in those days had second or third lives as they would come back to our theaters years after they'd been released, and we'd get to see them for the first time. I had no idea what this movie The Sound of Music was. I was a year old when it was first released. All I knew was that I was going to a movie, an extremely special treat, and my sister Lindsay, who was so much older and wiser (probably being ten-going-on-eleven to my eight-going-on-nine), and who had already seen it, would sit next to me and be my "guide."

Even at that age, my little heart beat romantically. There, larger than life, right in front of me was beautiful, beautiful Leisl (was any girl ever more beautiful?), dancing and singing and being kissed by Rolf, who was dancing and singing along with her (maybe that's where my love affair with dancing men began). Too bad he turned out to be so mean (how could he be so mean? Didn't you just want to kick him?). But at that moment, I didn't know he was going to be so mean. There he was, delivering telegrams and riding his bike, and wouldn't every girl want to be Leisl just then? They were just oh-so-sophisticated. That scene ended with Leisl's "Wheeeeeee!" and I can remember anxiously turning to Lindsay and asking, "It isn't almost over, is it?" You see, I was truly, madly, deeply in love with this movie, and I wanted to live happily ever after with it.

Now, if this song were to have been released two years ago, I would never claim it as one of my favorites. It's horribly sexist and so condescending, although I have to admit that Charmian Carr did an incredible job of playing that up in an ironic, somewhat sarcastic way. Anyway, it's a good thing it didn't come out two years ago. That means I can love it to my heart's content and remember a time when I sat in a cushioned seat, mesmerized enough to forget I had my favorite Milk Duds in my hand, and wishing a movie would never, never end.

Sixteen Going on Seventeen
by Rogers and Hammerstein

You wait little girl
On an empty stage
For fate to turn the light on

Your life little girl
is an empty page
that men will want to write on

To write on

You are 16 going on 17
Baby its time to think
Better beware
Be canny and careful
Baby you're on the brink

You are 16 going on 17
Fellows will fall in line
Eager young lads
And grueways and cads
Will offer you fruit and wine

Totally unprepared are you
To face a world of men
Timid and shy and scared are you
Of things beyond your ken

You need someone
Older and wiser
Telling you what to do
I am 17 going on 18
I'll take care of you

I am 16 going on 17
I know that I'm naive
Fellows I meet may tell me I'm sweet
And willingly I believe

I am 16 going on 17 innocent as a rose
Bachelor dandies
Drinkers of brandies
What do I know of those

Totally unprepared am I
To face a world of men
Timid and shy and scared am I
Of things beyond my ken

I need someone
Older and wiser
Telling me what to do
You are 17 going on 18
I'll depend on you

Friday, May 15, 2009

Writer's Block?

Most of the time when you, my dear readers, allude to the fact that I'm a talented writer, I do what all we "our-worst-own-critics" do. I think, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." You're taking a break at work, after plodding through some lengthy, incomprehensible academic article on cell mutation, or worse, after sitting through the $1000-an-hour consultant's "Think OUTSIDE the Box" PowerPoint presentation. "See Jane run, run, run" would seem poetic after that. Or maybe you're unwinding with your second (or third or fourth) drink of the evening. You're inserting words on the screen that aren't even there and attributing them to me. It's your own brilliant writing you're reading, not mine.

Well, let me tell you about a funny thing that happened to me the other day. I've actually been suspecting that this might, at some point, happen. I just wasn't expecting it so soon. I was thinking it was the sort of thing that could happen to a writer after ten years or so of keeping a blog. But there I was doing a keyword search on my blog, and before I hit upon the old post I was actually seeking, I came across this.

The title was completely unfamiliar to me. That's odd. This is my blog. I devote an extraordinary amount of time and energy to its upkeep. I'm intimately familiar with it, know exactly what I've planted where and how to find it. I feed and nurture it. I make sure no unwelcome guests trespass here. Who'd come along and walked my path without telling me?

Oh well, certainly it was some completely unmemorable piece, something I'd written after three nights in a row suffering from insomnia. I started to read it, got about halfway through, and found myself thinking, "This is brilliant. I wish I could write something like this." (That's typically what I think when I'm reading one of your blogs.) Oh, wait a minute. Apparently, I can. Either that or some ghost has the password to this blog, is visiting in the dark of night, and is planting beautiful, prosperous rose bushes in among my potatoes and onions and carrots.

Then I realized, it was happening, the moment I've been dreading. Not only am I someone who can't remember much beyond, "it was fantastic" or "it sucked" when questioned about books I've read, but I've also become someone who doesn't remember whole blog posts she's written herself. Isn't senility supposed to happen when one is, well, a little older than I am? I'm choosing to believe it isn't senility. It's that I write so much, even the youngest of minds couldn't possibly keep track of it all. Surely Mark Twain didn't remember every single piece he ever wrote. Joyce Carol Oates must sometimes draw complete blanks when handed pages from books she's written.

Meanwhile, look at that post: it's snarky without being too cruel. It's angry while remaining calm. The person who wrote it is comfortable with her topic, has done her research. It states its argument and wittily supports it. Sure, it could stand a little editing, but overall, it's a solid piece. If I were in charge of "Letters to the Editor," I'd choose to publish it. I'll admit I needed this. I'm at a stage right now in my novel-writing at which I am nothing but critical. I am having a very hard time believing I can actually do this thing called "writing." I'm plodding along hoping it isn't as bad as I think it is, that I will be able to salvage some gems from the junk and turn it into something readable. I now have a little hope encouraging me to persevere.

And so, all right, I will admit that I just may be a talented writer after all. But damn! If I'm, on occasion, going to be able to write pieces like that, why on earth am I not also able to remember them?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cover Her Face by P.D. James

(James, P.D. Cover Her Face. New York: Popular Library, 1962.)

I happen to be in Connecticut for about ten days, because my brother-in-law, who lives alone, had surgery and can't drive or lift anything heavier than a phone book, and Bob couldn't be away from his PA flock that long. He was here for the surgery and left Friday morning, and I had to make the huge sacrifice of being the one who stayed on for a week of helping out and getting to do things I don't normally get to do. One of these things was attending the mystery book discussion group in person Friday night (the first time I've gotten to do so, and I'm certainly hoping it's not the last). The group met at one of my favorite spots in Fairfield County, the farm where The Musings live, which is looking spectacular in its spring colors, oh-so-very-green.

We were discussing Cover Her Face by P.D. James. How should I describe this book? I think the others in the group might agree that it's a perfectly fine way to spend a few hours, but I doubt that I will remember much about it by next month. This was James's first novel, and I can now say with some confidence (its being the third of hers that I've read) that James is not an author to read if you are someone who wants characters to be likable (or at least sympathetic). The other two books I've read are Devices and Desires and Original Sin, and although I read both of them well over ten years ago, the main thing I remember about them is that I didn't sympathize with many of the characters (oh, and that Original Sin is particularly interesting because its setting is a publishing company).

I've recently come to the conclusion that I need at least one (and preferably two) of three things to keep me interested in a book: good writing; sympathetic characters (that's usually number one with me), and if I happen to love them, all the better; or an interesting plot that stays that way. I have been known to put up with bad writing if the characters grab me or the plot is interesting enough. If the writing is fantastic, the plot is good, and the characters are despicable, I still might tell you I loved the book. But please don't hand me a book that is poorly written and has despicable characters who are doing things about which I couldn't care less. James's saving grace is that she's a good writer and that her plot, if not exactly original, at least had some interesting enough twists to keep me going.

Usually when I write a blog post about a book I've read, I do no online research, because I don't want to be tainted by what others have said. This go-around, though, since I tend to prepare for my other book discussion group by looking up at least some biographical information on the author, if nothing else, I did so before attending the discussion. That was when I found out that James considers this book to be a knock-off of Agatha Christie. I think she's right (then again, who's going to argue with the author?), and judging from her later works (this one was written in 1962. The other two in the late '80s, early '90s), I'd say she went from writing pretty standard "cozies" to writing psychological mysteries -- although they still have that sort of "closed setting" typical of "cozies."

One of the things that struck me while reading the book is that unlike Death in a White Tie, one of the other "cozies" we've read for the discussion group, I didn't get bored halfway through with all the tedious nothing-but-detective-interrogating-witnesses scenes, although that's what most of it was. I think this is because James had many of the suspects doing much of that themselves, which kept it interesting. Perhaps there's something to having despicable characters, as well: I was very curious to see what made them all tick, reading for clues and answers, although not many were forthcoming.

Nonetheless, she annoyed me tremendously with some of what I consider real mystery-writing "no-nos." Please don't give me way too many, far-fetched coincidences. Please don't give me a "locked room mystery" that isn't really a locked room (i.e. if someone could easily have entered and exited through a window, it is not a true "locked-room mystery." See John Dickson Carr's The Three Coffins for a superb example of what this sort of mystery should really be). And do not introduce some stranger who has made no appearance whatsoever until the final scenes when the mystery is being solved.

As always, the back cover copy on the version I read was nothing short of hilarious. In bold letters on the back, it announces "THE SLAIN SEDUCTRESS." It then goes on to open with this line, "Sally Jupp was a sly and sensuous young woman who had used her body and her brains to make her way up the social ladder." As Ms. Musing said, "I wish I'd read that book." It sounds as though it might have been far more memorable. I promise you, if you open the book with expectations based on this cover copy, you are bound to be disappointed (which may mean that I read this book with an unfair disadvantage from the get-go), unless you happen to define "seductress," "sensuous," and "sly" very differently from the rest of us. Maybe, I'll give you "sly." From what we can gather, she was sly, but in a somewhat unbelievable sort of way.

Overall, though, I'd say it was a good first effort, and I'm still curious to read more by her. Much more fun than reading the book was getting to attend the meeting in person. I was worried I'd have nothing interesting to say, because it wasn't a very complex book, but it turned out everyone had quite a lot to say, and I was encouraged to explore paths I hadn't expected. We had a terrific discussion, comparing it to other books we've read, trying to figure out exactly which category of mystery it is, discussing how much we disliked the characters, oh, and coming up with the title of our own mystery, "The Slain [or is it Slayne] Seductress." I'd highly recommend attending if you just so happen to be in Connecticut some time when it meets.

The next meeting is scheduled for June 6th. Since I was an honorary visitor, I got to choose the book this go-round. Who else could I possibly choose but Ross Macdonald? We'll be reading The Underground Man. As always, anyone who would like to join the virtual branch of the club (where I will be hanging out next time as I usually do) with me is welcome.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Emily the Egotist

In case you ever, you know, mistook me for the sort of person who never thinks the whole world revolves around her, here's some proof of how egotistical I am:

1. I like to check out my sitemeter readings to see what sorts of searches people are doing to get to my blog. When I see that someone has found me via a Google search for "Monday lyrics" on a day in which I posted no lyrics, I immediately feel bad, assuming they have become accustomed to my (somewhat) weekly posts about favorite songs, and that I should never skip a week (or two). The thought never crosses my mind that they are looking for the lyrics to a song called "Monday."

2. Also, when I'm checking sitemeter and discover that someone has done a Google search for "Emily Barton blog," I think, "Cool. Somebody's told someone else about my blog, and they're trying to find me." The thought never crosses my mind that they might really be looking for that other Emily Barton.

3. When I am in Connecticut, I automatically assume that everyone I know in Fairfield County is dying to see me and is going to be crushed if I don't make an effort to get together with him or her. This would be impossible, unless I just moved back for a year or so, but that doesn't keep me from feeling bad about not seeing everyone. The thought never crosses my mind that everyone is busy with his or her own life and would probably rather not have to cram in a visit with Emily, just because she happens to have breezed into the area for a few days.

4. When my back has been out for a few days (okay, forever, really, it seems), and I have been unable to take my usual morning walks with my neighbors, I suspect they are spending every morning discussing me and what a terrible pastor's wife I am. The thought never crosses my mind that they might be discussing much more important matters (like how to reach out to the poor, how to help the directionless youth in our community, what needs to be done about our education system, etc.), despite the fact that this is what we tend to do every morning.

5. I tend to read every book I read with one of two questions in my mind: "could I have taken this same idea and written it better?" or "should I give up all hope of writing, because there are people out here like this who have real talent?" The thought never crosses my mind that I should read a book without thinking of it in terms of being a writer.

6. Okay, I lied. Sometimes I do read a book without thinking in terms of being a writer. I have no desire to write mysteries or "chick lit" or long biographies or, basically, any nonfiction that requires extensive research. So, when I read such books, I find myself thinking, "Where the hell was the editor? Why did he or she let the writer get away with that? Why didn't anyone question the author on that absurd point/catch that hideous grammatical error/note that this fact is wrong? This publisher ought to hire me. I'd do a much better job." The idea never crosses my mind that most editors are over-worked and underpaid and under extreme pressure to find the next "big thing" and are lucky to get anything out at all these days.

7. I really do believe that the only way any sporting team I am supporting will win a game is if I don't watch it (a trait I inherited from my father. His children have been known to call him and tell him to "quit watching the game" in the midst of major events involving our teams). Proof: Carolina won the NCAA tournament this year because I refused to watch it. The thought never crosses my mind that teams win or lose depending on how well they do or don't play the game. (However, this one little bit of egotism means I don't have to waste time and risk heart attacks by watching sporting events anymore -- unless, of course, someone gives me tickets to a baseball game, which I would never turn down, no matter who was playing.)

8. I believe that President Obama will choose to focus on my email out of the hundreds of thousands he gets every day in order to pay attention to my great plan for getting more fuel efficient cars on the road: all gas expenses for those who own cars that get 30 or more mpg should be tax deductible. The thought never crosses my mind that he probably has advisors who have already come up with this brilliant plan and that it has been discussed and vetoed for all kinds of reasons I've not been able to see.

So, how egotistical are you?

Monday, May 04, 2009

God Bless America (And All You Wussies Can Leave If You Don't Like It)

I wish I had a picture of it, but I don't, so I'll just have to describe it to you. Anyone traveling around York County, PA these days, which I've had the pleasure of doing twice in the past couple of weeks, will not be able to miss gigantic billboards advertising an upcoming ("PA's biggest") gun show. All right, that would be enough for a wingnut, do-good, want-stricter-gun-laws-that-at-
-in-this-country, crunchy-granola-latter-day-hippie gal like me, to be offended, especially when (oh boy!) "machine guns" are one of the billboard's great highlights. But wait, there's more, something to offend the "femi-Nazi" in me as well.

Guess what the picture on this billboard is. What might be appropriate would be a picture of a maimed child or dead wife, who is far more likely to be the recipient of a bullet from a gun bought at this show than that fictitious stranger, the one bent on breaking into your house while you are at home, from whom you desperately need to protect yourself. No one would ever show that, though. So, I will concede that we ought to have something that isn't quite so tasteless, right? Well, it's a gun show. You know, I was in Maryland for the sheep and wool festival over the weekend. Guess what the advertisements for this pictured. If you're guessing "sheep," well done! When I used to attend book shows, what did those advertisements depict? You're thinking "books?" Well done, again! So, what might be on a billboard for a gun show? Guns and bullets, right? Wrong!

Oh well, I guess guns just aren't as sexy as sheep and books are. I guess those who are into guns just aren't likely to take any notice of shows where they can purchase them unhindered by all those nasty federal laws that are trying to make sure that only criminals own guns. Nope. We need to do something to grab their attention, something that will get them to drag their asses to that gun show they're just so reluctant to attend. I know! A sexy woman will do the trick. So, let's slap a sexy-looking woman up on that billboard beside the words "machine guns" in big, bold letters.

That probably still isn't enough, though. I mean, these guys just badly need some real motivation to go to a show where they can salivate over deadly weapons. What we really, really need is to do something that gets men thinking "breasts and guns." How do we do that? Ahhh! I've got it. Let's paint some cartoon bulls eyes where the woman's breasts should be. Oh, come on! You think that's a horrible idea? You think that insinuates shooting at women's breasts? Or worse, killing women? You think it devalues women in some way? Where's your sense of humor? Boy, are you thin-skinned. What a wussy you are!

Oh, and God bless America, the Red, White, and Blue.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Mandarine/Emily Interview Part IV

Finally, today, we get to the third question from Mandarine.

Third question: same with preaching. Does the internet give pastors new ways of interacting with their flock? Church blogs, sermons as podcasts, etc. and what do you think this could improve?

It's interesting. When thinking about the first two questions that dealt with publishing and education, although I am aware that the Internet could be used in both of those fields in ways that would have negative impacts, I mainly think only in terms of the positive. That was my initial reaction to this question, too, but I began second-guessing it as I began to write this blog post in my head.

When Bob and I were making plans to move to Lancaster County, I can remember talking to him about how the church ought to have a blog, that it ought to have a truly interactive web site, that all his sermons ought to be available online, that maybe church services ought to be videotaped and put online. I actually emailed our Clerk of Session to see if she thought a blog might be a good idea. She wasn't exactly overenthusiastic about the idea. Then we got here, and well, those ideas kind of died on the vine.

Why? First of all, they take an awful lot of work, and we'd really need to have some sort of full-time techie/PR person to handle them. I thought about doing the blog myself. I then decided against it, because, for once, I listened to the little voice inside my head that said, "Are you crazy? You have enough to do without tying yourself down to that!" Since we are not one of those mega churches (or "box churches," if you prefer), we don't have the money to hire someone for this job. If we had money for more staff, we'd put it towards someone who could help Bob in more important ways, like with pastoral visits and conducting funerals.

Secondly, there was a reason our clerk was not overly enthusiastic about a blog. We have plenty of people in our congregation who don't even know what a blog is. In fact, we have plenty of people in our congregation who don't even have basic computer skills. One example: last week, we had the "celebration of gifts of women" service, which is a service run completely by women of the church. I had written all these pieces for different women to read during various points throughout the service. When I asked one woman for her email address, so I could email her reading to her, her response was, "You've got to be kidding." Another woman said, "Could you just stick it in the mail for me?" Granted, these are older women, but they're still part of the congregation, and I would hate to have some aspect of our church, especially if it became a key component, which I would hope a blog would be, that many congregants would never see. Not only would the elderly be affected, but also the poor.

This is not to say that I don't think there is HUGE potential for churches when it comes to online opportunities. The other extreme from the woman in our church who doesn't have email, was one of the young "twenty-somethings" Bob has been working with, trying to figure out ways to attract more young people to the church. His response was, "I wish I could just download a church service onto my iPod and watch it whenever I wanted instead of having to get up on Sunday morning." (Well, we won't be offering such downloads to twenty-somethings, but we are taking a cue from the Catholics and will soon be testing out a more contemporary sort of service to be offered on Saturday evenings for those who like to sleep in on Sunday mornings.) However, it would be nice if people could attend church whenever they felt like it instead of being tied to one particular morning (or evening) every week, wouldn't it?

You and your wife mentioned, Mandarine, while visiting, that you've been having trouble finding a church that fits your needs and desires. Bob and I had the same problem when we were first married and moved to a new hometown after attending a church where we heard such great and inspiring sermons that we spent almost every Sunday afternoon discussing them at great length. That had been a wonderful, large church that had offered all sorts of interesting lectures from the likes of William Sloane Coffin, Jr. (on the subject of gay ordination) and study groups on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We couldn't find anything to compare when we moved from that city to what was basically a village. Finally, we settled for the church that had the friendliest congregation, and it worked out fine for us, but it took us about five years to make that decision. Meanwhile, I missed those great services and lectures from our old church and the discussions they inspired.

This problem would be resolved if people could keep attending their old church from a distance, which is certainly possible given today's technology. Not only could they view videos of services, but they could also attend study groups, etc. via webinar technology. Churches could set up social networks of their own, so members could correspond with each other and carry on conversations. I get excited thinking that not only could a church retain members who move out of the area, but it could also open itself up to finding members from all over the country, much the way smart corporations are aware that with telecommuting capabilities, they are no longer limited only to those prospective employees who live within commuting distance. It would be especially beneficial to those of us who are progressive Christians, helping us to get the word out that "Christian" does not necessarily mean "evangelical," in the way that term has now come to be defined in our country. People who aren't attending church because they've come to associate it with a place full of "dos and don'ts," a place full of condemnation with a focus on personal salvation and saving others' souls could be introduced to something entirely different.

This all sounds great, so why do I have that red warning light flashing in my brain? Basically, it's because I have a feeling those sorts of churches described in my last sentence of the previous paragraph would be the ones that thrived online. Mainline churches, those that tend to embrace progressive Christianity, are dying in our society. My guess is that they would probably be somewhat dead online, as well, because they just don't have the sort of money the mega churches do (after all, we don't happen to have a "Crossbucks" coffee shop -- I kid you not -- in our church facility the way one of the local mega churches here does). I find it hard these days not to make comparisons between churches and businesses. Mega churches are like the huge, greedy, extremely superficial corporations (buying and selling souls), and the rest of us are struggling little independents, hoping to give people a place to think and to thrive spiritually. I would hate to see what those mega churches could accomplish online (televangelism to the nth degree).

This is all to say that, yes, I do see potential for churches, but I think we would need to proceed with caution. My guess (I haven't checked) is that there are already mega churches out there beginning to make good use of online resources. (I mean, if there's a Crossbucks, I'm sure there's probably a Fishbook somewhere). That makes proceeding with caution a little hard for progressive churches, if we're going to beat them to the punch, but ultimately, being all-inclusive (even to those who don't have computers) and getting out the message of love, community, and peace that Christ taught and that true Christianity embraces is more important than winning a competition.