Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Shakespeare, but not really

Sometimes when I'm bored, I reimagine some of the Bard's delightful works for shits and giggles. One thing I discovered about the man while wading around in his prose is that he was kind of a wuss. I hope the subject of all his gummy sonnets whacked him upside the head at some point because, dude, man the hell up and quit all the whining for God's sake.

Since I've been a horrible blogger lately, and would rather eat a cockroach than regale you with my mundane daily activties, please enjoy some Shakespeare - pilliaged, plundered and pulvurized.

Sonnet #18 (sort of but not really.)

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's Eve douche?
Thou art not feminine hygiene related, but prone to hibernate.
Less an appetizer than a delightfully arranged amuse-bouche,
served to distinguish the discriminating aggregate.

Accompanied by a complementing brew,
offered, no doubt, but for a rough-hewn glimpse;
a hacking approach to life’s existential stew —
by chance, or nature's changing course and whims.

Like a plate of olives or a crock of tapenade,
‘words be an equally simple tithe;
soothing under pretense to abrade,
and awaken where appetites hide.

So long as men can taste and have eyes with which to see,
So long lives this, and this, and this… and it gives life to thee.

(not by William Shakespeare)

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 117, recalibrated and reimagined

To make memories less keen, bitter sauces do our palates urge,
and prevent emotional maladies unwanted,
we partake to shun melancholy;  gluttonous, we splurge.

In sickeningly-sweet prose did I frame my meandering nattering;
and tired of apathy, found joy in understanding my neediness,
too unsubtle in my revelations, truth so often is unflattering.

Such robust devotion, did plainly illustrate my ills for naught,
and grew to faults assured, too many and too plainly seen,
carried friendly rapport to a tasteless state of drought.

Such reeking rank goodness is still an ill-fated flask
and thus have I learned, and find the lesson true,
such drugs can fell the interest of those uncomfortable with truth.

(not by William Shakespeare)

Sonnet #76 (Re-imagined, badly)

Why is my arse so lackluster and wide,
So determined to avoid any change?
Why, in these modern times, could I not coincide
a snazzy addition on this twin mountain range?
Perhaps a butterfly or a three word bon-mot; what shame,
to keep a canvas pure white as it goes to seed?
Such remorse! I would have myself to blame.
But if I ornament my tush, will regret quickly breed?
O, I know, my liege, I always ask these trifles of you,
And you patiently abide my foolish temperament;
So I guess what I’m asking with old words anew,
Would a newly-inked ass reinvent?
For I know my buns are quickly growing old,
and would appreciate being grandly extolled.

(sooooo not by William Shakespeare)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 which I rant all over you about "Entitlements"

en·ti·tle·ment noun -ˈtī-təl-mənt\

Definition of ENTITLEMENT

1: the state or condition of being entitled ; a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract

2: a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group; also : funds supporting or distributed by such a program

3: belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges

Let’s just get this all out in the open, shall we? Because I like nothing more than a little brutal truth with my afternoon coffee.

Calling any one of our many social safety nets “entitlements” is a very basic way of trying to demean someone, because in your head you’re calling them a dirty, lazy bastard.

It’s also gross and says more about you than them, but that’s beside the point.

Today, that word is used very politically to frame an issue while being disingenuous in the process. Because those who use it—those who get their abridged, talking-pointed information from politicians with an agenda who have passed it on to others to impart from a studio somewhere, with jazzy graphics behind them and a ticker scrolling below—don’t want you to concentrate on the whole picture. They only want you to glom onto the aspects they think can ratchet up the rhetoric enough to get them into office… or get them higher ratings - respectively.

But, “entitlements” wasn’t always used as a bad word, nor was it applied in the way that it is today, and if you don’t want to take my word for it, take a quick second to read about the “spin” on “entitlements” and its social etymology.

See, number three in the above definition is the nasty stain people who use this word to malign are trying to get across – that most people on welfare, food stamps, unemployment and/or Medicaid are somehow lazy good-for-nothings who don’t want to work. But if you really care about being correct, rather than divisive, pull up Google and do some research regarding who actually gets some of these benefits (no, I won’t do it for you, you lazy, good for nothing) and you’ll find otherwise… unless you limit yourself to Fox News and their subsidiaries. (Pure, for-profit propaganda and they could give a witch’s tit about silly things like facts.)

However, be warned. To understand “entitlements” you have to understand the basic premise behind minimum wage, poverty, class warfare, political divisiveness, how someone gets into office, and what they have to do to stay there. So, whew… yeah. You have to know more than a little bit about a whole lot of shit to even get a glimpse of the entire picture.

Let me just say this… I have never met ONE SINGLE SOLITARY PERSON who relies on food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, or the like, who acted as if they were entitled to anything. Mostly they acted embarrassed. Ashamed. And that’s because certain politicians want it that way. Because it benefits their platform—while they, of course, kowtow to Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Pharma and god knows who else with their palm greasing and such, so that the richest of the rich can get the tax breaks they so richly deserve. One might effectively (and easily) argue that these are the real folks who think they’re entitled... but that’s a discussion for another day. (It should also be noted that these same folks are the ones who help get them into office.)

Of course, there are people who abuse all of the above programs, but is that a reason to shame the majority who aren’t, while simultaneously and drastically reducing or eliminating these social safety nets?

People also abuse alcohol, should we stop selling it? People abuse public parks and recreation areas by defacing things, graffiti, etc. Should we get rid of those altogether? People abuse Emergency Rooms and doctor’s offices to try and get pain meds when they really don’t need them, should we get rid of those medications altogether? How about people who use handicapped parking when they don’t need that, should we just not have those spaces available at all?

GASP! You know what people also abuse? Guns. Yeah, I won’t even go there, because you’ve either stopped reading by now, or you’ve pulled my little analogy together on your own.

Another thing. Please don’t tell me you’re a God fearing person and then malign a theoretical someone you don’t know and have never met but you just KNOW is out there (because a bobble head on TV told you so) and shame them because they can’t feed their kids, or themselves, because they’re a teacher who doesn’t make enough to survive but they’re working hard every day to make sure YOUR KID has a good education, or a returning Vet who can’t feed his family and get the mental health care he deserves and fought for… or any number of folks who are just trying to get by without being treated like third class fucking citizens.

How about the elderly in our midst? They who already paid into the system but are one of the main reasons for the growth of the Big Three “entitlements”  - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - which account for 71 percent of all government spending other than the third of the budget dedicated to defense.

Take a second to wrap your head around that one, budgetarily speaking – and then we’ll discuss how cutting food stamp benefits, or even taking them away altogether, will have any valuable effect on our budget. That’s like hacking an ice cube off a glacier and saying you’ve effectively altered its weight.

"We have dozens of federal entitlements and they go to all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, ranging from crop subsidies to student loans to unemployment benefits. While there are a lot of entitlement programs, only three are big enough and growing fast enough to have a real impact on the trajectory of government spending. (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) Over the past quarter century, these three major entitlement programs have accounted for more than 100 percent of the growth in real per capita federal spending and more than 100 percent of the growth of government as a percentage of the overall economy.

The growth in these programs has been driven primarily by the aging of the U.S. population. Over the past quarter century the number of Americans over the age of 65 increased at a rate of half a million a year. But the big story is what is happening now. Starting in 2011, the elderly population has begun to grow by a million and a half a year. That's three times as quickly as before and it's a trend that will continue in the decades to come.

One other fact is worth noting: Over the past 50 years we have brought about a remarkable transformation in the nature of retirement and the quality of life of our senior citizens. In 1959, more than 30 percent of seniors lived in poverty and only 25 percent had health insurance. Now, nearly all have health insurance and less than 9 percent live in poverty, the lowest of any age group. But providing these benefits has required a substantial commitment by the federal government."

What does this mean? Well, first off… you have Granny and Gramps to blame for a nice chunk of our “entitlement” woes. I urge you to go tell them that, right now. Tell them the paltry monthly check they get is just too much. I’ll wait. If Nanna doesn’t strangle you with her Snuggie®, or Gramps doesn’t poleaxe you with his four-footed cane, come on back and we’ll finish up this discussion…

Listen, I’m all for reform in any area where there is abuse. How about we start with offering a true living wage and keep behemoths like Walmart—the largest low-wage employer in the US—for whom many of their products are made outside the US by slave labor, thereby denying Americans even more shitty, low paying jobs—from fueling the need for these kind of government subsidies in the first place?

 How about we stop trying to intervene in messes that aren’t ours to fix and cut that goddamn defense budget a bit? And while we’re at it, how about making sure all military personnel get the health care they deserve without having to beg for it? You know, just for shits and giggles.

How about paying teachers what they’re worth? Teachers spend money, you know. Quite often on YOUR kids because their districts can’t pay for supplies. The more dough they have, the more they can support your children, while also stimulating the economy with more money. See, that’s how it works? The more money you have, the more you can spend, and the better off the economy is.

While we’re at it, how about we address poverty and how a lack of education and school funding in many areas only perpetuates things like violence, drug use, and unemployment? How, if we’re not prepared to educate our kids properly, we shouldn’t be bitching when they’re all working at Walmart or McDonalds and subsidizing their income by getting food stamps… or worse, being meth-heads, and/or ending up in the clink? Unless, of course, the only kids who deserve a good education are the ones who were lucky enough to be born in certain places…

How about we start enforcing penalization of employers who hire illegal workers because they’re offering paychecks so low, nobody wants the jobs but people who shouldn’t be getting them in the first place?

How about we take a look at oil subsidies and Big Pharma and medical related price gouging?

How about taking Wall Street and the banks to task for their part in our economic mess, and maybe see if some monetary restitution to America is in order? Let them plug some of the holes they gouged into the USS Titanic.

Make no mistake. A lot of those gouges that were made were far out of the hands of the average American. We The People never asked or approved of so much war spending. We The People didn’t turn bankers into burglars, We The People didn’t do a great many things to cause the economy to hit the shitter, but now that it’s come time to clean up the mess, We the People are the first ones to be lined up over the kitchen sink while Uncle Sam looms ominously behind us with a lubed up truncheon.

How about we try to look at facts and statistics, rather than baseless rhetoric, and understand that you can’t pull one thread out of the afghan and not address the other snags, without turning the goddamn blanket into a pile of useless string?

And finally, on a personal note, how about a little fucking empathy and less judgment?

If you’re one of the lucky ones who have DONE EVERYTHING ALONE AND NEVER ASKED ANOTHER PERSON FOR A DAMN THING, well… you’re a liar. Someone taught you to wipe your ass, make your way safely through a fire drill, donated some clothes that their kids grew out of, fixed your toilet/heater/car because you couldn’t afford a plumber/electrician/mechanic. Someone babysat your kid because you needed a break. Someone took you aside and taught you some lesson for which you are a better person. Someone walked you through your first steps at your first job, and maybe covered for you when you were late so you didn’t get your ass fired. Someone washed your clothes at some point, and someone even built that house you’re living in.

Someone put out a fire in your house, or stopped when you had a flat tire. Someone treated you when you were sick, someone read to you, someone told you that you were being an asshole when you needed to hear it, and another someone said thank you because you did something for them.

Someone left the pharmacy open an extra ten minutes after hours in order to fill a prescription because your kid was wailing in the car and they knew that their small act would make your night easier. Someone loaned you some sugar, or their car, or some money when you needed it. All of us have had a someone or two in our lives—I’d venture to say more than a few.

For the religious amongst ya, someone took you to church, preached a bible verse to you, maybe even baked you a pie, simply because they knew you’d like it. Someone thought you needed God, so they showed you the way.

Nobody, let me repeat that, NOBODY has gotten to where they are today all by themselves. You’ve all had family, friends, teachers, and yes, sometimes the government, lend you a hand along the way. If you’ve never been unemployed, disabled, on welfare, or a senior citizen—excellent! But I guarantee you, you’ll be at least one of these very soon…

Final thought and it’s a snarky one because you already hate me by now, anyway:

I hear tell that some Jesus fellow had an interesting way of handling the sick and hungry…

He cured and fed them.

***If you’re interested in how a couple of the Big Entitlements might actually be the answer to the problem, check out this article by Ezra Klein – one of my favorite wonky debunkers. The reader comments are pretty interesting here, too.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Raven, defiled

NOTE: (This is what happens when a writer gets bored...)

The Raven, defiled.
—(not) Edgar Allan Poe 

Once upon a mid-day dreary, while I labored, weak and bleary,
I read a strange and curious roll of un-forgotten lore — (word-of-the-day TP)
With angst I prodded, nearly snapping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As if someone gently rapping, rapping at the bathroom door.
"‘Tis occupied," I started. "Stop tapping at the bathroom door —
Aggrieve me with nothing more!"

How distinctly I remember, my angry bowel that bleak December;
Standing… spasm! Leaking! ‘fore it wrought its contents on the floor.
Horrified I prayed for morrow; vainly I then propped the window
As the stench increased my sorrow – anguish on my fickle core!
For a rare and radiant maiden would never, never poop upon the floor!—
Shameless, blameless… nevermore.

Presently my stool grew harder; hesitated, then no longer,
"Sir," wailed I, " -or Madam, for your patience I implore;  
But the fact is I was pooping, awfully, when you came a rapping,
So I blame you interrupting and your bloody tapping at the door,
That I was un-compacted when I did hear you" – here I opened wide the door;
Grudgingly, I looked at the floor.

Deep into the detritus peering, long we stood; me pondering, he leering,
Knowing what we’re seeing, no mortal had e’r done on a colleague’s floor;
Tho’ the silence was unbroken, I took his stillness as a token,
And the only word there spoken was his gasped indictment, "ON THE FLOOR?"
"Yes," I whispered, on an echoed sob did burble, "On the floor…" —
Ghastly, this, and so much more.

Back into the soiled chamber lurching, with the gut inside me burning,
As he retreated, feet tap-tapping, I sobbed, but somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I to God above, "this only happens at the Jersey Shore."
Let me think, then, what to do, with this ghastly refuse on the floor — 
How to deal alone with the pile of revulsion on this floor?
‘Tis bad luck and nothing more!"

Open here I flung the door wide, when, with invective did I mutter,
"Bring me bleach and Ajax, if you want this shite-splashed room restored!"
Not a comforting gesture made she; nor a minute of pity or compassion for me;
With nasty mien did the lady, stare in horror at her defiled bathroom floor —
Perched upon her Jimmy Choos just outside her dung-filled bathroom’s door —
She lurched and gagged, away she tore.

Thus I sat engorged and guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the foul what fiery reek ‘n havoc had seared unto my lower sore;
This and that I sat divining, with unsteady unease reclining
As the commode tank labored burbling and the john thusly bloated o’er,
Oh offense! while they downstairs, about my shame were gloating o’er,  
This too shall pass… ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the reek grew denser, perfumed with wholly unseen censure
Stung by the sound of foot-falls tinkling on the tufted floor.
"Shit!" I cried. "Why, God?  Why smite me? By the devil, you hath done mightily!"
I needed respite — respite and distraction, from what lies behind this door;
I shall flee this Tupperware party, and forget this unseemliness on the floor!"
Quoth my conscience, "Like some common crack whore?"

"Stop it!" said I, "I’ll clean it, still, if someone brings me a shovel!"
Whether he or she sent, or whether tempest tossed a bucket against the door,
Desolate and daunted in this deserted lavatory I canted —
Dragged the filled bucket and mop inside on haunches—alone, I shut the door.
"Is there – is there bleach in this bitch? – tell me – tell me ‘fore I pour!"
Quoth my conscience, "OH, JUST POUR!"

"Mop it?" said I, "By odor defiled – mop I will, turd clods and deviled-swill!
But by that son-of-a-whore that bends above us – I’d rather it be blood and gore!"
Such surfeit, sorrow-laden exudation, sloshing, slipping, sliding, "Fuck me!"
You shall not break this sainted maiden with a mere fecal storm on the floor —
Scrape and squeegee with bare hands, I’ll attack this shit-storm that I alone bore.
Quoth she outside, "OPEN THIS DOOR!"

"Begone you who would pity me still, faux friend!" I shrieked, down-sliding —
And shit! - Get thee back into the pot and take the to the Plutonian shore!
"I’ll leave no brown plume as a token of that which lie polluted and now broken!
Leave my pitiful-ness unspoken! – quit the haranguing banging on the door!
Take a break from how you mock, and move thy form far from the door!"
Quoth my judgmental conscience, "Bloody, bloody bore."

And the woman, never flitting, still is fretting, still is fretting
On the spiky heels of Choo just outside her cunny poo-chamber door; 
And tho’ I’ve now done all the cleaning of a demon’s that is teaming,
And the light o’er the commode now gleams unsoiled reflections on the floor;
My soul knew I’d ne’r surmount the shit embedded in the grout upon on the floor
It shall be lifted – nevermore!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Musings on Menopause and Public Farting

Nashville to Cleveland

   What really got me were his shoes. I sat on a plane, staring out a rain-dappled window at a kid who couldn’t be more than twenty. He was wearing one of those fluorescent yellow vests and held up two orange batons in an X formation over his head, presumably giving some signal to the pilot.
  What are these people called, the baton toting people directing airplanes on the runway? I should Google that at some point.*
   But I digress…

   So, the shoes on this kid (thick soled black sneakers) were untied. Both of them. Here we have a fellow who’d been tasked to do whatever it is one does within the context of getting an airplane off the ground (while holding orange batons) yet he didn’t have the where-fucking-withal to tie his goddamn shoes. The black laces flopped around on the tarmac as he did his arm acrobatics and pointed his batons here and there. Something about that brought me to tears though, if pressed, I couldn’t tell you what, exactly. I sat there dabbing the pads of my fingers into the corners of my eyes, catching the tears before they had a chance to make their pathetic trek down my cheeks and alert my fellow passengers to my sudden onset of what the fuck is going on?
      Don’t ask where the tears came from or even their cause. These days they arrive suddenly and unbidden, for reasons that can be attributed to anything from a pile of dirty laundry or a Hallmark commercial to the fact that there’s a diminutive probable psychopath in North Korea who would gladly toss a nuke our way if he got drunk enough one night and was feeling frisky.   
    So with regard to the sudden waterworks, there’s no rhyme or reason. It’s just hormonal insanity in the form of unwarranted facial precipitation.
   I think it’s probably time to check into some sort of herbal something-or-other because this debilitating heaviness that’s suddenly taking up residence over my heart every twenty-eight days or so* suggests I’m sauntering up to full blown menopause with all the finesse of Jason Voorhees spooning someone’s eyes out with an ice cream scoop.

*When Mother Goddamn Nature doesn’t see fit to arrive ridiculously early (or horrifyingly late) with the blood and the crankiness and the existential What the hell does it all mean and why the fuck am I so damn hot all of a sudden?

     All these fermenting emotions were syncopated to my throbbing pulse as the bitch sitting across from me fingered her iPhone well after the stewardess made the ‘No Electronics’ announcement, so now I should probably research whether being peri-menopausal is sufficient justification for any negative action attributed to it… you know, for when the bitch decides to become litigious. Because her goddamn phone was bouncing down the center aisle of the plane before I even realized I’d snatched it out of her hand.


  Apparently blind rage takes no pause and I suddenly have zero fucking tolerance for fuckers who can’t follow a simple goddamn direction IN THE NAME OF COLLECTIVE COMMON DECENCY.

  Note: The above didn’t actually happen but I could see it happening and was seconds away from making it happen, so I’m taking metaphorical license to get my point across.

The point is this: The intent was there. Oh so bloody fucking there… Luckily my sanity hasn’t completely eroded. Just yet.
      I think it’s safe to assume none of this is going to end well. I can only hope it will prove to be a mildly amusing hormonal transformation.

  *Another note: I’ve been informed the airport employees who wear bright vests and wave the batons are called marshallers or rampies - short for ramp agents.


Connecting flight; Cleveland to Grand Rapids

        I’d like to know from what kind of socially retarded burg you must have been spawned to assume it’s perfectly acceptable to fart on a crowded airplane.
…repeatedly over the course of one hour and thirty-eight minutes. Seriously, what makes some idiot say to himself, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna let this puppy burble out of my pucker into the faux-leatherette of seat 14A as I casually peruse the Sky Mall catalog.’
         The Sky Mall catalog — we’ll get to that ridiculousness in a minute because I’m still trying to wrap my cranium around who it is that conceives and raises the cretin who eventually matures into an airplane farter. Who are these fucks of nature and why isn’t Piers Morgan doing an in-depth interview alongside a statistic-toting medical (or mental health) professional about the nasal affronters in our midst?
The fact is, some of you people are busy raising little people who will one day grow up and think it’s perfectly acceptable to fart just anywhere, willy-nilly.
      Listen, I get it. Farting is necessary. Sometimes the only option in public is to let it slide out and hope for the best, particularly when it’s an out-of-your-control type scenario. We’ve all been there. But I’m a human being with average bowel activity and I know it’s possible to stifle such an urge should the physical need arise. Where I draw the line is infringing on the right of another in close proximity to enjoy anything other than my stench-ridden gaseous discharges.


Grocery store farting: Okay, I’ll give you that one. The aisles are big and your victims have the means, motive, and opportunity to get the hell away from you.

Elevator farting: Unacceptable under any circumstance other than you actually wanting to torture your fellow passengers — because there’s no elevator ride in the history of mankind that's so long you can’t hold your fucking air. Seriously, how far you going, mate? Twelve floors? Buck up, tuck it up, then let it slide when you exit. I recommend walking fast and finding a secluded spot because it’s gonna feel so good, an orgasmic moan will emanate from within you — one to which you’ll be entirely unable to do anything but yield.

Open-air surroundings: Absolutely. Let your ass gasses fly.

In the company of friends and family: No problem. They should love you despite your internal stench and in this case, knowing the stinker makes it bearable (even charming in an I-love-you-in-all-your-humanness kind of way) to the stinkee.

Airplane farting: Fucking unacceptable! I can’t get away from your stink, man! (Or woman… I wasn’t able to pin down the sex of the putrid perpetrator on my plane but I’m well aware that women are as prone to the natural funk of humanity as men. I wouldn’t wish my personal gassy prowess on anyone, I assure you.)

  So yeah, we’re all allowed those occasions when there’s physically no choice. But I’m beginning to believe there are some who take sadistic pleasure in regaling others with the malodorous byproduct of their digestive process. 
     It’s like they’re daring others to call them on it! You know who I’m talking about, don’t act like you don’t. We’ve all encountered these offenders and if you say you haven’t then you’re probably one of the offenders in question.
     I ask you this, kind (and possibly stinky) reader: How would you like it if I held the strap of my purse, reared my arm back and smacked you in the head with it and its fifteen pounds of various and sundry girly shit? Because that would have the same basic effect as you projecting your putrid ass-gas in some innocent bystander’s direction.  
  So, here’s the take-away from a hormonal, pre-menopausal female: If I love you, I’m happy to receive you in all your foul-smelling glory — but if I don’t know you like that, please keep your stench to yourself.

  When in doubt, don’t let it out.  Consider this the Eleventh Commandment.

      Now to the Sky Mall issue: What the actual fuck?
      You’ve seen this thing, right? It’s a catalog shoved into the seat-backs of airplanes and if you didn’t have the presence of mind to bring an e-reader or mp3 player are forced to peruse to keep from mentally harping on the fact that you’re just one Swiss Army knife wielding terrorist or bird-in-propeller away from death by fiery jet-fueled inferno.
     What I don’t understand is who its target audience is, this odd little catalog. Who opens up this thing and says, “Yes! I must have the iGrow™ helmet immediately because it will help me achieve thicker, fuller looking hair in weeks – Guaranteed!”
      ($695.00 + shipping and handling)
     Or, “Boy howdy, I’ve always wanted to get me one of these here Portable All-In-One Sun-Tracking SunSocket™ Solar Generator’s!" 
      ($1499.00 + shipping and… are you fucking kidding me?) 
    "I guess I’ll jot this info down and order me one just as soon as we touch down in Dulles and the pilot turns off the Fasten your Seatbelts sign!” — which is now the universally understood signal to passengers that we can collectively power up our iShit.**

**Take a fucking hint lady on United Airlines economy flight 5728 Thursday evening who wouldn’t deign to follow a simple instruction and apparently thinks SELFISH ANARCHY SHOULD REIGN.

Anyway… whatever. Not even sure where I was going with all this. I guess, perhaps, don't fart in public unless you have to... and beware of females embarking upon the joys of menopause. I’ve been experiencing a disconcerting amount of memory loss lately and I don’t even have the energy to end this tirade with something pithy or meaningful.
Send chocolate.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

If you gotta write a video eulogy, let it not suck. ~Confucius, probably

I rarely cry anymore. When I popped out two kids, the first thing that leaked out after them along with the amniotic liquid was my timidity in times of import and my outwardly emotional side when the shit hits the fan.
Oh, I’ll yell. I’ll gasp… I’ll get pissed. Maybe I’ll even make a joke. But I won’t fucking cry. I’m the rock and rocks don’t cry. I learned pretty early on in my parenting life that the people around me didn’t like it when I cried. They got white-faced and nervous and had no idea how to handle it. So I don’t let them see it much. When the rock feels shaky it hides in the bathroom, chokes out a couple sobs and then pulls it the fuck together.
 Methinks this has a lot to do with my Nanna’s DNA.
Concetta Angelina Morizzio Stec; 4’10, emotional powerhouse, I rarely saw her cry. Oh, she could curse a blue streak in English and Italian. Until he got sick with prostate cancer later in life, Nanna’s favorite term of endearment about her husband, my Poppie, was The sonofabitch.
My grandmother was one of my favorite people in the world and her spirit is irreplaceable. She died on Monday March 11, 2013, just after 5a.m. Her loss has left a small hole in my heart, though the memory of her laughter and antics will continue to echo inside me forever. She is one of the reasons I am who I am— I didn’t learn it from a cliché, I learned it from my grandmother; laughter is a powerful inoculation against everything in life that ails you. She gave me that because she lived it, and I will be forever grateful.
About 14 years ago, I got my first video camera and spent as much time taking footage of her as I could, even though there’s no movie in the world that could fully illustrate the character she is in real life; a delightful little Italian lady prone to the use of malapropisms…

She calls Neosporin neosperm, and once announced to a packed theater during a showing of the movie Gigli that, “I never liked the sex. Too messy and then you have to douche.”
 Why did you pay good money to go see Gigli, you might be asking yourself? Nanna picked the movie — that’s the only explanation I have because aside from the slightly interesting vagina monologue in the middle, my recollection of the event is that it was one-hundred and twenty-one precious minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
        One year, we planned a birthday celebration for Nanna and decided to kill two birds with one stone, scripting an idea for a short film that ended up requiring a bit of improvising. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, not much is sacred in my family.
      Nothin’ says lovin’ like being made the butt of a deliciously inappropriate joke for their birthday and having it posted on one of the most visited video sharing websites. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Nanna was seventy-nine at the time and in retrospect, we could have given her a heart attack. But that’s not what we were thinking about when we called the funeral home and inquired about purchasing a cremation urn identical to the one that housed my grandfather’s ashes.
         Poppie and his prostate cancer had gone the way of the ash two years previous and we were movin’ on. C’est la vie.    No need to wallow in grief, it’ll find you again soon enough. Steep in it for a few seconds - a week, tops. Then move on.
       When we arrived at Mom’s and got settled in, we headed to the back porch to sit around chewing the poo while Mom gave Nanna a perm. The first fifteen minutes of the conversation were all about toilet paper. (My grandmother has preferences, much like her great-grandson, Jake. She likes very soft, pricey toilet paper. Months earlier, she’d been forced out of her trailer in a Florida retirement community due to an impending hurricane and had to stay with my Aunt JoAnn. They fought the entire time about the lack of appropriate toilet tissue.)
      The next morning, after a nice breakfast, Mom put the wooden box into a small duffel bag and set it at the end of her dock by the lake. We lured Nanna out on to the dock and Resi held her hand, just in case she got too close to the side. We didn’t want her going into the water, since she can’t swim. Killing Nanna on her seventy-ninth birthday wasn’t the plan. Giving her ticker a little jolt was. My step-father took me out on the water in a small aluminum boat, so I had a front row seat from which to film.
        As Resi pretended to show Nanna a turtle in the water, Mom snuck around, removed the box from the duffel bag and prepared to toss it into the lake.
         Resi feigned confusion, “Mom, what are you doing?”
         This got everyone’s attention.
         “What’s that?” Nanna asked.
         “I’m gonna’ throw it in the lake.”
        JoAnn, seeing the box and not in on the plan, went for Mom…
          Okay, so here’s where the short film portion of our little escapade went south. Mom chucked the box and it landed a mere three feet away from the dock and bobbed in the water.
       Nobody said anything for a long time, awaiting Nanna’s response.
      “That’s not your father,” she said, rolling her eyes.
      My aunt JoAnn, however, was a bit more gullible.
    There was a fair amount of yelling. This, set against the backdrop of me laughing from the boat as the camera jerked around, ensuring anyone viewing the video footage later would need a Dramamine or two. Kind of like The Blair Witch Project.
       I’ll let you watch the video to see what happened… Nanna yelled at Mom for making JoAnn upset, while Resi and I waited for the right time to spill the beans. Of course, we let the camera roll for a while first.
    “Okay, now go get the God damned box,” Nanna yelled.
    The script had flopped but we were bound and determined to get it right so after fessing up, Nanna and JoAnn decided to play along. I came in off the boat, found another angle and we prepared for take two. We’d use the footage from the beginning of the scene, up to the yelling, and then we’d improvise, adding more conflict. All good stories need conflict.
        Resi decided it would be funny if someone actually went into the water, and the rest of us decided she should be that person.
          Take two.
         JoAnn pushed past Resi and Nanna, tried to get the box away from her sister, and in the process, my sister ended up in the water. It didn’t occur to me till after Resi had joined the box that the lake was full of snakes and alligators.
     “Get out, get out. There’s snakes in there. Get out!” I screamed from behind the camera as my sister struggled to grab the side of the dock.
     Nanna, fantastic actress that she is, repeated her initial line without prompting, “Now go get the God damned box!”
       …add some editing and cheesy music and, voila; plenty of hits on the Tube.
       Nanna got a few presents that weekend, including an urn that matched Poppie's, and few memories she wouldn't soon forget.


     The following is my memorial tribute to her. I’ve spent the last few days wallowing in grief and today I realize I’ve steeped in it long enough. It’s time to be moving on. Nanna believed in God. I’m not sure I do, but in case one of the wisest women I’ve had the pleasure of knowing is right, and I’m just an idiot floundering in existential malaise, wherever you are…
I love you, Nanna.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

… in which she waxes philosophical regarding 50 Shades of Publishing

I get asked questions about publishing frequently, whether by e-mail or at book signings and events. Usually I shrug and mumble something about luck, because it does feel kind of arbitrary. But I thought I’d use this opportunity to answer as many of those questions as I can.
To make it more entertaining, let’s start by discussing Fifty Shades of Grey – since it’s one of those anomalies we really can’t use as a basis for any true conversation about publishing. But it’s always the kind of example writers pull out of their hats when they have dollar signs in their eyes and naiveté in their hearts.
So, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James… The plot isn't exactly new, though I do find this cookie-cutter premise (used widely over the years) slightly creepy; vulnerable young woman, brooding older man, the former wishes to capture the latter's heart, thus achieving equality and love by physically submitting to him. Yeah, good luck with that. I'd expect this couple to either end up Jerry Springer or Dr. Phil's couch if this were real life. But when a book blows up like Fifty Shades, and you can’t get through two paragraphs without cringing or laughing, you want to know WHAT THE MOTHERFUDGESICLE THE BIG DEAL IS. What are you missing? So I went on a quest — and by quest I mean bought my sister a copy for Christmas and told her she had to read it and then be vigorously interrogated. Since I knew I probably wouldn’t get through it, someone had to take one for the team. And by the team, I mean me.
           Oh, I tried. Sweet baby Jesus, I tried. See normally, this is what you do: Pick up a book they say is all the rage. You read a few passages, think Meh and put it down. That’s fine. That’s okay. I shouldn’t judge it by the fifteen or twenty 3 and 4 page samples I managed to choke down. Maybe I just happened upon all the creepiest, most oddly written bits. I should sit down and give it a fair chance in all its read-in-one-sitting glory before I eviscerate it... with love. Right. Fine. I sit down and start turning pages.
          An hour of my life later (which I will never get back) I had to stop. Just not my cuppa. And that’s fine because it certainly is someone’s cuppa. A lot of someones.


~“I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat and then to the front again. My tongue swirls around the end. He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.”

~"‘Why don’t you like to be touched?’ I whisper, staring up into soft gray eyes. ‘Because I’m fifty shades of fucked up, Anastasia.’ ” 

The book has its own Wikipedia page, fan clubs, been dubbed mommy porn, inspired chuckles, ire, and newfound sexual shenanigans for flagging married couples… allegedly. It’s even spawned Culinary erotica. I give you Fifty Shades of Chicken.

           One man even assaulted his girlfriend with steak sauce after she refused to stop reading the book. Come on! I wish someone would threaten assault by condiment on their partner after reading passages from one of my books! I’d wear that steak sauce as a badge of honor. And then there’s the Judge in Brazil who ordered 50 Shades of Grey removed from bookstore shelves.
      So, that’s how you do it, people. That’s how you sell books. We can all chuckle to our generic-buying, Walmart-shopping, collective heart’s content. FIST BUMP, E. L. James. You get mad props from me. Who cares what some elitist readers think when you’re raking in the royalties?
        Of course there are valid criticisms to be made. And not just about 50 Shades, but the dumbing down of literature as a whole, an argument that I’ve had all too often, given I’m an avid book buyer/reader and find it harder and harder these days to connect with what the NYT Bestsellers list has to offer. The argument that “at least it gets people reading” is like saying, “another McDonalds will get more people eating.” My answer to both is the same – everything in moderation is great, but too much grease can give you diarrhea. You know what I mean. I’ll let you pull the rest of that metaphor together yourself.
     So, as an obviously biased writer who believes life’s too short to read a badly written book, I took my questions to the readers – two women I respect and admire: one being my sister, another being an “Anonymous Popular Mommy Blogger who refused to use her name because you people are judgmental bitches.” I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

      This is what Sis had to say:
     “The sex part of the book was not good. Childishly written, even. She refers to her vagina as “down there.” That’s creepy as far as I’m concerned. Whenever she's turned on, Anastasia says things like: Holy Crap! or Holy Moses!


“Suddenly, he sits up and tugs my panties off and throws them on the floor. Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow! … He kneels up and pulls a condom onto his considerable length. Oh no … Will it? How?

Sis continues. “In my head I kept picturing Dorothy trotting along the yellow brick road singing Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! Not sure that’s the visual I’m supposed to be having every time Anastasia gets horny. And Christian started speaking like a cowboy half way through. ‘Mighty fine, ma’am.’ Not sure what that was about – but again, creepy. I don’t think the author understands the importance of leaving a little to the imagination, either. I felt like she’d written me into a corner of predictability and I couldn’t get out of it. Also, I wanted to throat-punch her inner goddess by the end of the book. I wasn’t interested in her POV, frankly. I think the author missed an opportunity when she didn’t write it from Christian’s perspective. I was way more interested in what he was thinking, but I never really knew because she just kept referring to him being “in a mood,” but it was never clear what that mood was because it was the only time she wasn’t overly-descriptive in the book.  The rest of the time she used too many adjectives. Bad adjectives, repetitive adjectives.”


“Sitting beside me, he gently pulls my sweatpants down. Up and down like a whores’ drawers, my subconscious remarks bitterly. In my head, I tell her where to go. Christian squirts baby oil into his hand and then rubs my behind with careful tenderness—from makeup remover to soothing balm for a spanked ass, who would have thought it was such a versatile liquid.” 

    Whores' drawers, indeed.

    This is what my “Anonymous Popular Mommy Blogger who refused to use her name because you people are judgmental bitches” had to say:
    “Look, I went to college. I've taught English, am a librarian, and actually get paid to write sometimes. I'm supposed to be one of those folks who can discern between Virginia Woolf and E.L. James.  Having said that, I think people just need to sit down, fan themselves, and be calm. Who honestly thought this was going to be great literature? It's a fantasy! And it's a fantasy based upon a monogamous, committed relationship. It doesn't need to defend itself. It's erotica. It just is. As a story, it is of some interest. Can a damaged soul heal enough to love? What is the fine line between sexy and kinky?  Should fantasy become reality? And it's interesting from a psychological point of view. But great prose it is not.  Nor did I expect it to be. So what is the value of shredding her style? I read it for a book group, and read the other two so that I could intelligently moderate our discussion.  (At least, that's the story I'm sticking to.) Though most of the actual writing made me cringe, I was engaged enough to stay up late reading to find out what… happened. My husband didn't read a single page, but he has many favorable things to say about it as well. Which brings us full circle to the point, I think.”
    “You know what, Jeni? Use my name: Leigh Merryday. Feel free to mention that I thought long and hard about being anonymous because of all the judgmental bitches out there but valiantly strove for truth instead.”  *nods sagely*
      (Now you can see why I like Leigh.)
    So, friends, the take-away here is: writing is subjective. What I think is pure shit, someone else might get something from and that’s great. That’s life, baby.
      Now… on to the subject at hand: Publishing!
     Something to remember: Publishing is a business, not an art. Well, there may be an art to it, but everything that’s published certainly can’t be considered art. Agents and publishers are here to make money and you better get nice and cozy with that premise. Sure, they may occasionally get a bee in their bonnet and publish something they personally related to, assuming sales will be low, but for the most part, if it won’t make them money EVEN IF THEY LIKE IT, they’re not going to spend their time and resources on it.
    Okay, so you’ve written the next Great American Novel. (Have you spell checked it, gone over it for flagrant adverb/adjective abuse and point-of-view issues? Have numerous other people (who don’t share your DNA) read it and given constructive feedback? Have you crafted a one page query letter and researched the agents and/or small publishers that might be amenable to what you’ve written?)  
   First, let me say that there is no right answer here. Everyone has to make their own decisions based on what they write and where they want to try and get published. It’s about many things including genre, platform, how much control you wish to have, and the realities of an ever-changing publishing world. If you write genre stuff with mass-market appeal, I’d say get that query letter and synopsis ready and start querying agents. Because that’s really the only way you can get access to the large publishing companies. Most of them don’t take unsolicited queries unless you’ve been referred to them by someone. Plan on dedicating a good year on querying, though. That route isn’t a fast-track. Patience is a virtue.
      Another choice is to query small publishers on your own. Many of them accept submissions directly from writers. But first do your homework. Look at their publishing track record and contact some of their authors to see if they are happy with their experiences. If you find yourself the lucky recipient of a contract offer, treat yourself to a little happy dance. THEN CAREFULLY GO OVER THE CONTRACT. In every case this is important. I can’t stress this enough. CAREFULLY GO OVER THE CONTRACT. Having a lawyer who deals with contract law take a look at it is usually a good idea. 
     Make sure you’re comfortable with the royalties being offered; make sure you understand what’s expected of you as well as what you can expect from the publisher. Things like confidentiality clauses and, let’s say, what happens if they fail to publish after a particular period of time elapses is of particular import. You need to cover yourself in the event that they don’t live up to their end of the bargain, and make sure you’re okay with all of the fine print in that regard.
Another thing: E-book royalties. Pay attention to this. These days, there’s a good chance the bulk of your sales will be digital sales. As far as I’m concerned, any publisher, big or small, offering a paltry 10% royalty on e-books should be ashamed of themselves. Seriously, there is NO OVERHEAD in preparing a book for e-book distribution and if anyone tries to tell you otherwise (other than the editing already done for the dead-tree version) they should be taken out back, dipped into a vat of honey and unceremoniously dumped into the bear cage at the zoo so we can all partake of the ensuing festivities.
Sure, with a publisher, what you’re buying is their ability to get your book to a wide audience. But what THEY are buying are YOUR WORDS. Only you can decide the true value of those words.
Pardon the vulgar metaphor (or don’t, I don’t give a flaming poo) let’s take a look at the pimp/whore relationship:  Sugar Daddy will justify his “business” practices in any number of ways, including the fact that, but for his existence, the whore in question wouldn’t be safe in the shark-infested waters in which they’re… performing. Also, he'd argue, he's the one supplying the “johns” and fishnets, right? Well, I’d argue that it’s still the whore who’s on her knees (or back) doing the dirty job of bringing in the dough for Pimp Daddy so, ultimately, it’s her place to say whether or not her cut is sufficient. Or, find another profession.
Most small publishers worth their salt will offer a 50/50 split on digital royalties, and for my money, that’s fair. I couldn’t tell you what the Big 6 offers, (or is it 5 now?) but I stick to my earlier assessment – if they’re offering less, shame on them.
In some cases, depending on how small the small-publisher is, and how much they are able to market your book, you’d make more money self-publishing than you would even signing their 50/50 split. This is another area you really need to research and consider, since many small publishers don’t have the budget and/or connections to get your name and work out there to a wide audience. That’s just reality.
Then, there’s self-publishing. Perhaps you’ve tried both options outlined above and haven’t had any success. You say, “Fine! I’ll publish this book on my own!” Good for you. Now do your research. I could wax poetic about self-publishing but there are far too many good sites and articles out there — Google self-publishing and prepare to spend an inordinate amount of time learning about everything from preparing an e-book for distribution to marketing. I will say that self-publishing is all about self-promotion. It’s a full-time job so don’t expect sales if you’re not hitting social media hard and on a daily basis. Also, do yourself a favor – get a good editor. There’s nothing worse than a crappily-produced self-published book. (Except, perhaps, a crappily-written, mass-produced, best-selling piece of drivel.) Also a good cover is important.
Basically, it’s up to each individual author to decide where their work fits best and then be informed about what they should expect. With “big publishing” you have less control in exchange for their vast sea of publicists, marketing geniuses, and the mound of cash they have to back that up. You can probably expect to sell a butt-load more books if you’re lucky enough to go that route but it’s not the road for everyone.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have some pretty damn good experiences with both traditional and self-publishing. But I know many who have not. I’ve heard some horror stories this year. Personally, I like working with small publishers. I did have one experience that left me feeling a little… stabby.
The not-so-nice side of publishing, particularly with small-publishers, is that there have been a glut of recent companies who have found themselves floundering in the current economy and their authors have suffered for it. The main thing I’ve heard is a lack of communication with those they’ve promised to publish. Not answering e-mails. Putting off questions. Not paying royalties in a timely manner… or not at all. These are things you’d (hopefully) see less of when working with larger publishers but again, I’ve heard a story or two in that regard as well.
Once you’ve signed that contract, you’re under a legal obligation to stick with the terms of that contract. That goes to the authors as well as the publishers. Getting out of a contract when it appears a company is tanking can be harder than it seems, particularly if they’re not answering their e-mails. Or putting authors off with various and sundry excuses.
So, here’s my final piece of advice and it comes from the purist in me, as a reader: don’t write if you don’t love doing it. As with everything in life, it’s about the journey not the destination. If you don’t have fun getting there, you’ve wasted a shitload of time and that’s a shame. Write because you can, because you’re good at it and you can’t imagine doing anything else. That way, you can’t lose.
I’ll let someone more talented and wise than I have the final word: (It should be noted that this is posted on the corkboard at my local library. Apparently, librarians agree.)

So You Want To Be A Writer
by Charles Bukowski

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.
and there never was