Sunday, May 30, 2010

Buried Treasure

One of the reason I buy used books on Amazon is that, occasionally, you can find really good deals. When you're buying upwards of 60 to 100 books a year for school, those savings can add up.  It doesn't always work out that way, once you add the exorbitant $3.99 shipping charges to the used book cost.  But sometimes, you can find a used book in good condition for a dollar or so, making the entire cost of the book with shipping a bargain.

Nice, right?

Yeah, but I confess that it isn't the only reason I buy used books on Amazon.  One of my little secret pleasures is opening the front of the book and looking for inscriptions on books that were given as gifts.  I find them more than you might imagine.  "To Carrie: This book made me laugh out loud. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Love, Marti. Jun, '01".  "To John, Happy 29th birthday. Love, Mom".  There is a little thrill in holding a book that someone thought highly enough of to give as a gift to someone they cared about. 

I just recently ordered some books for the class I'm hoping to teach on memoir and life story writing.  One highly recommended book among all of my writer friends was Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Non-fiction by a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner, by Jon Franklin. I opened the book this morning and got a lot more hand-written inscription than I'd bargained for.  It went as follows (with punctuation and writing style preserved as much as possible):
Dear Luke -

A few years ago, at a lovely luncheon, a woman asked the three editors there:

"There is a young woman who graduated from Tulane who is volunteering at the Jr. League thrift shop with me. She'd give anything to be a writer. What advice would you have for her?"

The other two said something polite, like read & write.

But I tackled the Q head-on.

"If a young man with a Tulane degree said to you, 'I'd give anything to be a doctor, what should I do?', you'd think he was too stupid to be a doctor. It is very clear how you become an MD - you take pre-med, you get into med school, you graduate, you do an internship & learn more; you do a residency & learn more... You are a doctor and you keep studying what the best are doing.

"Writing is the same thing. It's not a magic muse that teases you with its ellusivity. It's a craft, with best ways of doing things. Like magic, there are creative ways of creating the illusion, of moving scenes from one time & place to another.

"So you become a writer like you become a doctor. You study, you practice, and you do an apprenticeship and you keep studying and practicing."

I love this book. It's the most useful book on writing that I've ever read. I want to share it with you.

And finally, when people ask how you'll make a living with a major in creative writing... tell them that you come from a family where there is a tradition of earning a living with words.

Love, Aunt Cathy
Xmas, '02
 On the next page, is an additional little note: "Luke -- You're doing the right things. :-)".

Aunt Cathy, I'm officially adopting you.  You're not just Luke's Aunt Cathy anymore.  You're my Aunt Cathy. My faux Aunt Cathy. And the faux Aunt Cathy of every budding writer out there who feels at times as if we're trying to catch quicksilver. I'm not sure if your words were what Luke needed to hear, but they were what I needed to hear.

"It's a craft, with best ways of doing things."

And how.  Thank you for your sensible words of wisdom, Aunt Cathy. See you at the faux Fourth of July family barbecue.

P.S. If you are interested in buying the book from Amazon, please use the tag to the right for my Associate store.  It won't cost you anything, but I get a bit of dosh. Thanks.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Unique Opportunity

First, let me just start by saying that I think Dr. Rand Paul is probably a decent, principled guy. I also do not believe that Rand Paul is a racist.  I think what Dr. Rand Paul is, and I'm pretty sure he'd agree with this, is a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool Libertarian.

This is why I was happy to watch his interview with Rachel Maddow after his primary win this week, where he was called by Maddow to answer for past remarks he made regarding the Civil Rights Amendment of 1964 in general, and the Fair Housing Act (a provision of the Civil Rights Act, which was enacted in 1968) in particular.  I'll wager even folks who voted for Paul were a bit taken aback when he said there were provisions he'd try to "modify" if he were voting on this legislation.  He clearly stated that he felt, while he felt that the parts of the Act that prohibited "institutional racism" (a redundancy as racism is institutional by definition) were appropriate, but that the provisions that prohibited private businesses and clubs from discriminating on the basis of race or religion as over-reaching by the government.

In a letter to the editor of the Bowling Green Daily News in May of 2002, Paul was much clearer about his position with regard to governmental attempts to ban racism:
A recent Daily News editorial supported the Federal Fair Housing Act. At first glance, who could object to preventing discrimination in housing? Most citizens would agree that it is wrong to deny taxpayer-financed, “public” housing to anyone based on the color of their skin or the number of children in the household.

But the Daily News ignores, as does the Fair Housing Act, the distinction between private and public property. Should it be prohibited for public, taxpayer-financed institutions such as schools to reject someone based on an individual’s beliefs or attributes? Most certainly. Should it be prohibited for private entities such as a church, bed and breakfast or retirement neighborhood that doesn’t want noisy children? Absolutely not.

Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will discriminate....

...A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination – even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin.

"A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination -- even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin."

You know what? He's right. A free society will do that. An absolutely free and unfettered society, with absolutely no restrictions or universally acceptable code of behavior will tolerate and embrace such discrimination. You know what we call that?


You betcha, by golly. That's what anarchy is. Anarchy is a society that has zero universal controls. There is no government. None. It's the strong and powerful who ride rough-shod right over the subjugated and powerless.  You know what we call that kind of society?

The Lord of the Flies.

I'm not going to give anyone who hasn't read the book a lesson in literature. Suffice it to say, it's a world you don't want to live in. And even if you do want to live in that world, I don't, and I'm pretty sure most Americans would rather not, either.

Now, here's why I say that what has been happening with Dr. Paul the past couple of days is a unique opportunity.  "Libertarian" has been bandied about as an option to Republicanism, lo, these past couple of years, when the truth is, most folks have no idea what the strict Libertarian philosophy is.  Libertarians don't believe in small government. They believe in NO government.  No governmental controls or restrictions on discrimination, on housing inequities, on the free market (we've just spent the last two years dealing with that fresh hell, haven't we?), and absolutely no restriction on personal or private behavior whatsoever.

Obviously, every self-identified Libertarian doesn't believe every premise of the party, anymore than I believe in every aspect of the Democratic party.  I am, in fact, a little too far to the left to be considered a true Democrat.  I'm probably closer to a Social Democrat or a full-blown Socialist.  But I believe enough in the Democratic party, and am willing to support their efforts sufficiently that I'm registered as a Democrat.  People who identify themselves as Libertarians must sympathize sufficiently with the party's beliefs to continue to support them.  But I think the vast numbers of people who say they're Libertarians really don't know what Libertarians stand for.  If you are a Libertarian, you yourself may not be a racist. But you must be prepared to support individual racists in their racist beliefs, and uphold their rights to engage in acts of hate and discrimination. In societies that have engaged in mass crimes against racial or religious groups, the success of such operations depended upon a marginal group of people willing to stand by and allow such crimes to take place.

Dr. Rand Paul has an idea of the kind of America where he can live free of government interference in how he lives his life.  As a wealthy white Anglo-Saxon male, he has little to fear from such a world, since his folks are the ones running the show, for the most part.  I, on the other hand, am a woman who makes .75 to the $1 what my male counterparts make in the workplace, who would not have been allowed to vote until 1920, who could have legally been raped by my husband repeatedly with no legal protection or recourse until less than 20 years ago. For reasons that should be self-evident, I am not quite as enthusiastic about living in Paul's America, thank you very much.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Under A Waxing Crescent Moon

There's a waxing crescent moon tonight.  The New Moon is past and a sliver of light is peaking around the moon, waiting to come full circle again.

Wiccans and psychics will tell you that this is one of the best times to perform spells of initiation -- blessings for new things, and incantations for starting new beginnings and new phases in one's life.  Renewal, revivication, rejuvenation and reunion... this is what the waxing crescent moon means.

Today, for the first time in about four years, I went to church.  I went to see my dear friend (and quasi-brother-in-law) Chris Harrison preach as a pastor candidate at the Presbyterian Church he's been interviewing with for the past year.  For ten years, Chris and his wife, my godsister, Rebecca, have lived in Arizona. Since they moved there, we've all been conspiring to get them back here, in Blue Country, and a milder climate.  Chris, who finished seminary this year, and is due to be ordained in Mesa next month, applied to a church in Southern California a year ago last March.  After a long and detailed interview process, he, Rebecca and their children were finally brought to So. Cal. for a weekend of whirlwind meet-and-greets with the entire congregation, to spend the weekend getting to know everybody, and to give Chris the opportunity to preach a Sunday service.  I think he was awesome.  But I'm biased, so take it with a grain of salt. 

l to r: Marck, me, Jenny, Rebecca, April '72
Afterward, they ushered all of us out so the congregation could vote, right then and there (if you're familiar with the Presbytery, you'll understand how the process works. It's a very democratic church.)  After less than half an hour, the elders tallied the votes, and the membership gave Chris an overwhelming welcome as their new pastor. So Chris and Rebecca will be moving their family back to So. Cal. this summer, in time to be a part of Sylas' life from the beginning.  They'll also be expanding their family in a few weeks with the addition of Desmond, the ten-month-old Ethiopian baby they've adopted and are waiting to pick up, and we can be a part of his life as well.

I've known Rebecca since she was twenty-two months old.  I went to her second birthday party.  We grew up together, spending summers in the swimming pool, and playing with make-up and, later, attending acting classes together. We've sung together, and laughed and cried together. We said good-bye to my mother and her mother, my godmother, together, and scattered both sets of ashes in the blue Pacific. We said hello to our children.  Weddings, funerals, christenings, birthdays, Christmases, Easter Egg hunts and more Thanksgivings than I can count.  She knew me as "Tina". I knew her as "Becca."
Rebecca and her husband, Chris
As I told her today, "We're sort of stuck with each other.  Like family.  You just can't shake us."  Family is like that.  You can get mad at them, get fed up with them, have enough of them, have too much of them. You can part with them for long periods due to logistical circumstances.  But you will always end up back with them, as if you were never parted.  That's what family is -- especially your "family of choice."  Because they're the ones who know you, and love you for all your flaws and your wonderful qualities. Sometime this summer, the family will be back together, after a long, long separation. New children, new holidays, new birthdays, new memories.

There's a waxing crescent moon tonight.  And today, it has delivered on all its promises.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oh, Wal-Mart... Wherefore Art Thou... Wal-Mart?

Wal-Mart settled a class action suit agreeing to shell out $86 million dollars to about 230,000 California employees who had sued, claiming they were underpaid by the corporation.  Wal-Mart admitted no culpability (no shocker there).

Two things about this NPR caught my eye.  First, check out the last paragraph in the article.  It reads:
"In a statement on its website, the company says the settlement will not affect results of the first or second quarters of fiscal 2011."
Let me see if I understand this. Wal-Mart is shelling out $86 million dollars on this suit, and that amount is so paltry that losing it won't "affect the results of the first or second quarters of fiscal 2011"? Seriously?


The second thing I noticed was that NPR had added link to what it calls "related articles." The link title?

Wal-Mart To Donate $2B In Aid To Food Banks

Oh, sure... to you and me, it would be a food bank donation. To Wal-Mart, they're just subsidizing the company picnic.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Did This Guy Just Threaten to Kill Us Because We're Liberal?

According to several news sources today, including the Tracy Press, Vineyard owner and seriously messed up GOP candidate for California's 11th District Congressional seat, Brad Goehring, posted this as his Facebook status briefly early this morning:

“If I could issue hunting permits, I would officially declare today opening day for liberals. The season would extend through November 2 and have no limits on how many taken as we desperately need to ‘thin’ the herd.”

He cleared the status line when the response he got was... uh... less than overwhelmingly supportive, but not before it had been seen be darn-near everybody on Facebook and the adjacent internet. From there, Keith Olbermann picked up the story, threatening to refer henceforth to such monumental gaffes as "making a Goehring."

When asked for comment, Goehring's campaign manager, Carl Folgiani, said that it was a "joke" and it was all a big misunderstanding and anybody reading the status could clearly see that Goehring was using hunting as a metaphor for voting.

Hunting liberals? Thinning the herd? See, now... I'm not a hunter by any stretch, but when you go hunting for reals, it doesn't tend to involve the civilized, constitutionally sanctioned process by which citizens of a representative government cast ballots to determine precisely who shall represent them in either part of a bicameral legislative body. That thing I just described there, that's what we liberals like to call "voting." At least the way we do it here in a America. I've gussied it up a bit, but you get the idea.

"Hunting," on the other hand, is the act by which people deliberately set out to stalk prey, with the stated intent of killing said prey. I'm pretty sure even Ted Nugent would agree with that description.

As I said, I'm no hunter.  But I am a writer. Degreed and everything  While I haven't the first clue about the joys of hunting, I know all about metaphors.  A metaphor is linguistic device by which you substitute one action for another because the two are closely related enough that the substitution becomes descriptive and poetic.  Voting.  Hunting.  Not closely related.  At least not by sane people in a civilized society.  Hunting. Stalking. Killing. Shooting.  Harming.  These things are all closely related.

Since Mr. Goehring has trouble defining things, I thought I'd like to help him out with another definition -- a legal one:  Terroristic threat.  Here's how the website US Legal Definitions defines it:
"A terroristic threat is a crime generally involving a threat to commit violence communicated with the intent to terrorize another, to cause evacuation of a building, or to cause serious public inconvenience, in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience. It may mean an offense against property or involving danger to another person that may include but is not limited to recklessly endangering another person, harassment, stalking, ethnic intimidation, and criminal mischief."

Then the site goes on to give an example of the language in one state's statute of same, which reads as follows (note, in particular, the highlighted provision):

A person commits an offense if he threatens to commit any offense involving violence to any person or property with intent to:
  1. cause a reaction of any type to his threat[s] by an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies;
  2. place any person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury; 
  3. prevent or interrupt the occupation or use of a building; room; place of assembly; place to which the public has access; place of employment or occupation; aircraft, automobile, or other form of conveyance; or other public place;
  4. cause impairment or interruption of public communications, public transportation, public water, gas, or power supply or other public service;
  5. place the public or a substantial group of the public in fear of serious bodily injury; or
  6. influence the conduct or activities of a branch or agency of the federal government, the state, or a political subdivision of the state.
Just as a minor point of interest.... The state that US Legal Definitions uses as it's example? Texas.  The state that actually is pretty supportive of people being able to say whatever they damn well please. Even Texas thinks that free speech ought to be controlled sufficiently that someone shouldn't publicly threaten to harm others.  

I've said this so many times before, but I feel compelled to say it again. A note to political pundits, reporters, and politicians.... If I promise not to tell you how to cover a party convention or stage a filibuster, will you promise to quit trying to be literary satirists?  I'd be so grateful. Comedy is best left to the professionals.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

What Makes A Mother?

Well, a baby, of course.  And to celebrate Mothers Day, French documentary film director Thomas Balmès brings us "Babies," a 79-minute infant extravaganza.  Balmès intercuts the adventures of four babies - three girls and a boy -- from very different countries and cultures, Wasting no time with narration or explanation, Balmès takes the babies from birth through their first steps.  The babies do all the talking in this film, long before they actually can.

I'm not going to spoil the film for you, except to tell you that this is a documentary about (and largely by) babies. If you're not into them, you won't like the movie, so don't waste your time. As it happens, since my daughter is on the precipice of motherhood, and I am due to be a grandmother, we are all about the baby toes and baby cheeks and baby gurgles and coos. We loved it.

The babies are from vastly different worlds -- a tribe in Namibia, herdsmen in Mongolia, a young, upwardly mobile couple from Tokyo, and a crunchy granola couple from San Francisco. Differing cultural practices of child-rearing aside, Balmès does manage to show that mothers and babies speak a universal language.

Here is the trailer for the movie. By the end, you should be able to tell if you want to see it or not.

Meanwhile, the movie made me compile a list of things we can learn from the movie... to whit:

Things We Can Learn From the Babies in "Babies":
  • Pets are fun, be they dogs, cats, goats, cattle, or even a rather arrogant rooster.
  • Getting a bath from Mommy in Namibia is not all it's cracked up to be. (Think "spit bath", cubed.)
  • If you are tempted to leave me alone in the care of my older brother, cousin, uncle or even, on occasion, my own father, for the sake of my safety and well-being, please think again.
  • Crawling is better than nothing, walking is better than crawling, but running at top speed until I fall on my nose beats everything all to hell and back.
  • Song circles are stupid and creepy, no matter what language they're in.
  • The "I throw it down, you pick it up" game... man, that just never gets old, does it?
Things We Can Learn From The Movie "Babies" Itself:
  • American parents need to take a deep breath and calm the hell down.  Put the hand sanitizer down and back away slowly, folks.
  • It's amazing the amount of dirt human babies can actually ingest before their first birthdays and still live to tell the tale.
  • You can get both cellphone reception and wireless broadband anywhere, even in a yert in the middle of Mongolia. So why can't I talk on my cellphone in my kitchen in Reseda?
  • Song circles really are stupid and creepy, no matter what language they're in. (No. Really. I'm serious. Stop it.)
It's an entertaining movie, and if you can find someone who wants to see it as much as you do, go with them.  It's a sharing experience, and reliving the classically adorable and funny moments afterward is half the fun.

Happy Mothers Day.