Friday, July 31, 2009

Cover Me!

It's taken literally months, not to mention a very patient artist, but we finally have a cover for The Art of Effective Dreaming!

Thanks to everyone on the mailing list and on Facebook who helped out with this! I'm sure I wouldn't have worked out the problem with my own cover preferences without your help.

And what was the problem?

The problem is that there's a conflict between the title of the book, the content, and my cover design preferences.

For example, here are some of the covers that we tested, in order of my preferences -- i.e., my preferred covers are at the top.















The problem that the test groups helped me see was that the title of the book sounds like one of those silly self help books (presumably non-fiction, although I sometimes beg to differ), which it does because that's kind of the point, and the cover style I was leaning to is a type often used exactly for that sort of pop psychology book, leading a lot of people to mistakenly think the book was meant to be nonfiction.

Ack!

And so, as much as I hated to do it, I chose my least favorite cover simply because it was the one that looked the least like a self help book.

Therefore, here it is, the final cover for The Art of Effective Dreaming by Gillian Polack!


Sunday, May 31, 2009

You Can't Get There From Here

Have you ever had that feeling that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, things are a mess and anything you do to try to fix them, is only going to make them worse? That's certainly been my mood for the last few weeks; I've felt as if I were walking around with storm clouds over my head!

It all started with my computer. I love my computer. I've had it for several years, but it was top of the line when I got it, and I don't feel it's obsolete yet. However, the hard drive started to fail and a couple of weeks ago, I began to get CHKDSK errors every time I started it -- time for a new hard drive. I backed up as much as I could on a removable hard drive and then I took it to the Geek Squad at Best Buy to get the hard drive cloned. Fairly simple, right? Maybe not.

I have dual hard drives and they are huge, and I thought it was important to have them completely backed up before starting the clone procedure, so I told the Geek Squad to do that first. It took four days just to do the back up. Yikes! At the same time this was going on, the artist who is doing the cover for The Art of Effective Dreaming sent me the first proofs. Brilliant! Except that all I had to look at them with was my little laptop and I couldn't really get a good view.

ARRRRGGH!

I've been waiting for sooooo long -- completely my fault, not the artist's -- but still, I was dying to really examine the proofs. And I couldn't. Except for the color, which was, unfortunately, too close to the brown shade used on our last book. I asked her if she'd mind changing that base color to something else, and she said she wouldn't, but that she'd hold off sending me new proofs until I got my computer back since I couldn't really look at them anyway.

OK. But, AAAARRRRGGGHHH!

In the meantime, Geek Squad called and said I needed to come and pick out the new hard drives. DH and I went to do that. And then we had another problem. Because there are two drives, they have to match exactly, but Best Buy only had one of the model I chose in stock, so we had to get another one from a different store. A helpful clerk called around until we found a store that had one in stock and then we made arrangements for DH to pick it up. Geek Squad said it would only take a little while to install it once they had it in hand. Great. This was on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. We made arrangements to bring in the drive the next day (Saturday). They said they should have it by Monday. Great.

Monday morning we called to see what time it would be ready. They weren't sure. "Call back tomorrow," they said. "Tomorrow," was Tuesday; DH was leaving for California that day, so he wouldn't be home to help me pick it up even if it was ready. That was a problem because my surgery last autumn has left me less than capable of carrying heavy things. DH wouldn't be home until Friday. So that meant more than two weeks without my computer. ARRRRRGGHHH!

DH left on Tuesday as planned and that afternoon, Geek Squad called to tell me that my computer was ready. Of course. They also left a message stating that they wouldn't hold it longer than five days. I felt like going over there and strangling all of them. By this point, however, I was resigned, so I simply called and asked them to please put it aside because we wouldn't be able to get it until Friday.

That night there were terrible storms. Thunder, lightning, the whole nine yards. Pippin, my dog, who is normally not afraid of storms, was suddenly terrified. Neither of us got any sleep. I left for work in a cranky, miserable mood, but I should have known the fun was only just beginning. I turned out from a traffic light and my car wouldn't accelerate properly. The RPMs just kept going up and up, but the gears didn't seem to be shifting (it's an automatic transmission). So there I was in rush hour traffic and I couldn't make my car go any faster than 35 miles per hour -- and while it was going even that fast, it sounded like a 737 on the runway getting ready to take off!

I nursed the car about a mile down the road until I found a side street to turn off on. People behind were honking and being a$$holes the entire time, so when I got there, I was on the verge of tears. I turned off the car, tried to call DH (who didn't answer), and fiddled around in my briefcase, looking for my Triple A card and the number for my office so I could let them know I'd be late. I found neither, so I sat there for a while, just trying to calm down. Once I'd done that, I decided to try the car again on the side street since there wasn't any traffic. It seemed to work just fine, so I cautiously edged it back out on to the main road and took it on to work.

When I got there, I rang the dealership and made an appointment to bring it in for service the next afternoon. I gingerly drove it back and forth to work and then to the dealership, terrified the whole time that I was going to have a repeat performance, but I didn't. The people at the dealership were very nice; they gave me a rental car as a loaner, which I took all the way home before I realized that I had left my house key on my key ring. With my car. I had to go all the way back and get it and then drive home again. All at rush hour, knowing that my dog was probably having fits locked in my house (he was).

The thing that really capped off my week happened on Friday. DH had been gone since Tuesday and he was supposed to be home early in the afternoon on Friday. I'd had such an awful week and I was really looking forward to seeing him. I got a call from him on Friday afternoon to say that he had arrived, but that it appeared that he was going to have to leave on the next flight to Delaware -- and I wouldn't even make it home in time to see him before he left! ARRRRGGGHH!

When he told me that I very nearly melted down in a puddle of messy tears. Fortunately I did not. Nor did I give in to the urge to scream obscenities at him. He was able to push off his urgent trip for one day, so I got to see him for 24 hours before he left again. He picked up my computer from the Geek Squad and I have it now. He also went with me to return the loaner car and get my own car back. The problem with the car was apparently caused by a software bug and according to the dealership it has been fixed (we'll see about that).

DH is now in Delaware. The computer is in my office. My car is in the garage. And I'm hoping that the cloud is no longer over my head! I REALLY REALLY want to see those proofs of the cover for The Art of Effective Dreaming!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What You Wish For

I was sitting in traffic this morning, skipping through the CDs I have in my car, and I hit on one song that I always used to listen to when I lived in Washington: "What You Wish For" by Guster. It started me thinking of how strange my life has been these last few years. I mean, I've gotten something, but I'm not really sure it was what I wished for. What did I wish for?

Wishing has always been a problem for me. Not that I don’t have wishes, but they've always been a bit amorphous. When I was growing up, I was never one of those children who said, "I want to be an accountant when I grow up." Life would have been so much easier if I'd been able to do that. In fact, oddly enough, I've never had a clear desire to occupy any kind of specific profession. I don't mean, I didn't want to work; I did, and I always have done, but I didn't have a particular job that I wanted to do. I could take the easy way out and say I wanted to be a writer, but then I've always been a writer, ever since I was old enough to hold a pen in my hand. To me, that's not a job, that's life.

I know when I was young, I hoped someday to fall in love, and maybe even to get married. That, I've done, so I'm sure I've fulfilled at least one of my dreams, but the reality is incredibly different, and better, than anything I could have imagined. At one point, I wished for children. That didn't work out, but now that my disappointment has faded, I see that I received so many unwished for gifts in life – things so far beyond my wildest dreams – that I doubt I would trade them for the wish I did have.

It pleases me to think that I have come far enough down the road in life to be able to appreciate the fact that even though I do not always know what I want, or what is best, there are good things here to be had and enjoyed. For example, as my friends on Facebook know, I went to a charity ball last week, after agonizing madly over what I was going to wear. I only had one long dress and I didn't want to spend the money on another one. The problem was that my only long dress was bright pink, but I have been told all my life that I shouldn't wear pink because I have red hair and it clashes. For the two weeks prior to the ball, I spent a lot of time wishing that my dress wasn't pink, or that my hair wasn't red. Indeed, I almost bleached my hair blond because I was so disgusted with it. But after whingeing for days, I sucked it up and went to the ball. And I had a good time – my wishes were clearly stupid, but I was handed the gift of a good time on a plate, and I was at least smart enough to be able to appreciate it.

I haven't learned how to do this with everything, but I plan to keep trying!

What You Wish For
Guster

Woke up today
To everything gray
And all that I saw
Just kept going on and on
Sweep all the pieces under the bed
Close all the curtains and cover my head
And what you wish for
Won't come true
You aren't surprised love
Are you?

If this serenade
(Repeat after me . . . just a little bit closer)
Is not what you want
(And do what I say . . . caught up in a lie)
It just how it is
(It won't change a thing . . . got a little bit colder)
It keeps going on and on

Come out come out wherever you are
Would you do it all over
Right from the start?
And what you wish for
Won't come true
You aren't surprised love
Are you?

And what you wish for
Won't come true
You aren't surprised love
Are you?
Once had this dream
Crashed down in Oz
Not black and white
But where the colors are

I never dreamed that
I would let it go
And I will get
What I deserve
Keep all the secrets
under the bed
Open the curtains
forget what I said

And what you wish for
Could come true
You act surprised, love
Are you?


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Riding the Bull

A few weeks ago, DH and I went to see Sara Bareilles in concert. She performed at the Austin Rodeo, so instead of having another band as her opening act, there were rodeo events instead. All the different events – calf roping, barrel racing, and such – looked hard, but the big one – the one with the real tough guys – was the bull riding. To get on a huge angry beast that has horns and try to stay on it while it tries to buck you off so it can kill you – that takes some cojones, man!

Oddly enough, I was getting ready to leave the house this morning and I thought of that bull riding contest. For the last three weeks or so, I think I've felt almost exactly like one of those guys sitting on the bull's back!

Does that sound melodramatic? Of course it does. But after telecommuting and doing various writing projects from a home office for the last nine years, I decided that in order to keep my publishing company in business, I was going to have to accept a job that requires me to work in a downtown office. It's just a temporary job, and it's a great one at that – I'd be insane to complain about getting paid lots of money to write, just because I have to leave my house to do it.

In addition to the job, I've done so much in the last few weeks. I have, for example, visited my relatives in Arkansas (and attended my uncle's birthday party). I've also managed to snag a couple of truly awesome Louis XIV-style chairs at the Round Top antiques fair, which I attended weekend before last. I've found a cover-artist for The Art of Effective Dreaming, which I can now (woohoo!) afford to pay for – a much better solution than futzing around and doing a half-assed job of it myself. I've tested "Dreaming" on the Kindle and it works, so I think we'll be good to go with an ebook version as soon as I can get the paperback version of the book released. I've found the perfect Badgley Mischka dress for my brother in law's wedding in August and the perfect pair of Manolo's to go with it (you know I keep my priorities straight).

So, you see, this isn't really a whinge, it's more like a "Whoa Nelly!" while I hang on to the bull.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Women's History Month

In past years, I've had more time to spend writing about WHM, but even though I haven't been able to write anything about it this year until now, I've been giving it quite a bit of thought. One of the things that I keep noticing in articles about women's history is a tendency to pick out some woman or another who did some job or another and say, "Look! She did this thing!"

That's all fine and dandy, and I wouldn't want to take away from anyone's accomplishments, but quite frankly I can't think of anything less interesting than reading yet another ode to a twentieth century woman who was a lawyer or a doctor or a scientist when everybody knows that "women didn't do that." Why? Because it's all HOGWASH. Women DID do it, at least they certainly did in the twentieth century, and we all know it, so it's disingenuous to keep pretending that it's such a complete surprise to find a woman who did whatever this thing is that has apparently left the writer breathless.

I think it would be more valuable for those of us who care about women's history to actually pay a bit of attention to the women in our own histories because if we don't document their lives, then who else is going to? Turning that thought to my own life, it occurs to me that the last thing I'd want to be remembered for was for any sort of job I'd done! I'm not a mother, but I know that if I were, I'd want to be remembered for that. I'd want to be remembered as a daughter, and a niece, and as a friend. I'd want to be remembered as a wife. If I were a sister, I'd want to be remembered for that. I'd want to be remembered for trying to do good somewhere, some how. But the thought of only being remembered for doing some job, doesn't make me happy at all.

Auntie was in the Foreign Service for thirty years, but it isn't the job itself that's memorable about her. It's that she's so intrepid. She was in all kinds of dangerous hardship posts like Damascus during the 1960s, and Nigeria, and various other ones. She had a fascinating career (more than one; she had another after she left the FS), and it's part of who she is, but what's important about her isn't what jobs she held.

My grandmother went to college during the Great Depression. She worked some as a teacher, and also as a clerk in my great grandfather's law office when he was the County Clerk. I doubt if it would have mattered much to her to be remembered for any of that. I do, however, think it would please her to know that I remember her for teaching me to read Shakespeare when I was nine years old. And for making the best orange cake on the planet. And for being a defining influence on my life. I also think others would have known and loved her as a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mother, and a grandmother. And if she'd ever thought about that (And who knows? Maybe she did!) she would think herself well-served by our memories.

If women's history is ever going to be more than a freak-show, I believe it has to move beyond trivializing the activities and accomplishments of everyday women. Not just the ones who become Supreme Court Justices. It has to include the woman next door who bakes cookies for her kids. And those of us who ARE women are the ones who have to make this happen. We have to look at the women in our lives and we have to pay attention to the value of what we're all doing. We have to look at the lives of our grandmothers and our mothers, our aunts and our cousins, our sisters and our friends, and we have to look at our own lives, and we have to acknowledge that we are all making history and it's up to us to recognize it and acknowledge it in each other.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Change at Seattle Post Intelligencer is a good thing for Seattle - I don't THINK so

Yesterday, I wrote a post about my sadness to see the last print edition of the Seattle Post Intelligencer. I received the following comment on that post from business consultant Adam Hartung, author of "Create Marketplace Disruption," who writes The Phoenix Principle blog.

The change at Seattle Post Intelligencer is a good thing for Seattle, and for Hearst. Developing a viable news model for on-line reporting is important to future readers and society.

I had a look at Mr. Hartung's blog and then I clicked over to the new PI site to see how it was going on the first day of their new venture. The site looked approximately the same, and it appeared to have been updated with local stories, but when I clicked into the headline story, it was just a two sentence blog-type post by someone I wasn't familiar with. And so, I clicked over to the PI's former newspaper rival, the Seattle Times to get the *real* local news for the Seattle area.

There, in addition to the local news, I found an interesting column by Danny Westneat who had written about a goodbye rally a Seattle Times reporter had organized for the PI reporters, editors, and photographers on Monday. He wrote:

Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton organized it as a memorial of sorts, to say thanks to the P-I's reporters for helping tell the city's stories. He said he wanted it to be like when a firefighter dies and all the other firefighters come to the funeral.

It was. We gathered in a little park near the P-I offices. Some spoke wistfully, others ruefully. When it was my turn I said that while everyone is focused, understandably, on the corporate side of newspapering — on the making of profits — it's worth remembering that that's not why anyone goes into journalism. Reporting is what matters. Asking questions, prying things open, telling stories.

And this:

So Seattle wakes up today a one-newspaper town for the first time. But The Seattle Times is hardly alone. It's also a multiple-Web-site-town. And a dozens- or hundreds-of-blogs town.

Someone at the rally compared today to the frontier days — an unruly but inventive era when some of today's news businesses first formed.

Loggers or fishermen will tell you living through sea change like that isn't easy.

I take comfort that they also say this: We're still here.

I think it's fascinating at how views like Mr. Hartung's diverge from those of Mr. Westneat. Mr. Hartung thinks in terms of business model and how the PI's model and, the newspaper industry's model in general, is flawed and must be changed or it will completely die. I agree with him; this is patently obvious.

And yet, Mr. Hartung doesn't see, or doesn't acknowledge what is also patently obvious -- that if the newspaper industry dies, we, as a culture, will suffer a tremendous loss. Because this is not just about making money for Hearst of Sam Zell or anyone else. Mr. Hartung wrote his own blog post about the death of the PI and in that post, apparently, without realizing it, he alludes to the problem:

The on-line paper already achieves about 4million hits/month, and it hasn't really started trying to be competitive on-line. The site (www.seattlepi.com) already has 150 bloggers - so you could make a case it has more reporters than were let go from the old newsroom. And it has made agreements to pick up content from Hearst Magazines, xconomy and TV Guide amongst other partners.

Right.

The size already has 150 bloggers - so you could make a case it has more reporters than were let go...

Um, no. That is a problem.

Why?

Well, it isn't because the bloggers are inferior as writers (although they may be; there's no way of knowing). It's because, at least on this first day of the new PI, these bloggers are not writing articles, they are writing two sentence blog posts! I clicked over to the Seattle Times because I wanted to read the local news, which means I wanted details; I wanted quotes; I wanted sources. In short, I wanted articles! Journalists know how to do this. I can get syndicated content anywhere, however, now that the *real* PI is gone, I apparently will need to go to the Seattle Times web site to get detailed news about Seattle.

Although Danny Westneat has a vested interest because he wants to keep his job, I think he is a smart guy because he understands what he, as a reporter, is supposed to be doing: telling stories.

A note to Mr. Hartung -- if you are going to advise the newspaper industry, you need to incorporate this aspect of it into your business model. There MUST be stories; they MUST be detailed; and they MUST be LOCAL. The Huffington Post is fine, but advising every paper to try to be just like them is silly.

As for the Seattle PI, well, hopefully, they're just having first day glitches and they'll improve as they go along.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In Honor of the Seattle Post Intelligencer

Today is the last print run of a newspaper I have long admired: the Seattle Post Intelligencer. I was a faithful reader and subscriber both times when I lived in Washington and I've continued to read that paper online nearly every day since I moved away from Washington. After today, the paper will continue with a limited online-only edition, but somehow, it won't be the same.

I know it seems peculiar in this day and age, but I'm such a newspaper lover. I mean a real news-PAPER lover -- I like the ink and the paper and the pages themselves. I've been this way ever since my dad started working for the Tribune Company when I was 13, and he started getting all kinds of newspapers sent to the house. When he did that, I started reading all those newspapers and I became addicted.

In all the different places I've lived, I've subscribed to a local rag, and once the web came along, I continued to read many of those I left behind. I currently subscribe to the hard-copy edition to the San Antonio Express, and I pay for some online stories from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. I also read the online editions of the NYT, the Seattle PI, the Houston Chronicle, and the occasional story from the Lake Charles American Press and the Chicago Tribune.

None of this is strictly about the news -- you can get that straight from AP and Reuters (or the plain vanilla CNN) -- it's about the place. With the exception of the New York Times, which I read because it tends to have more in-depth coverage of major events, the primary reason I read newspapers from different places I've lived is because those papers give not only in-depth coverage of those specific regions, but they also report with the viewpoints of those regions.

For example, when Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast last fall, I wanted to read about it in the Houston Chronicle. Who else would have a more relevant viewpoint? CNN? The NYT? The Seattle PI? Highly doubtful. Of course those viewpoints were relevant when I wanted to read about how the rest of the country viewed the storm, but not when I wanted details about the storm itself. And now, no one cares about the aftermath of the storm except the Gulf Coast, and so for that, once again, I turn to the Houston Chronicle.

It works that way for most things. For an earthquake in California, naturally, I turn to the LA Times. For the economic melt-down in the car industry, I start with the Detroit Free Press. There are so many wonderful newspapers: the Boston Globe, the Chicago Sun Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Austin American Statesman...

The economic downturn and falling advertising revenues has really hit the newspaper industry hard. The Tribune Company, where my dad finished his career, declared bankruptcy in December, and it made me incredibly sad. The venerable Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado, which began in 1859, published its final issue in February.



And now, today, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which started in 1863 is distributing its last press run. Without these papers, the news will still go on and it will still be reported, but we lose so much when we lose these local voices doing the reporting of it. The headline on the final issue of the PI is "You've meant the world to us" -- playing on the iconic symbol of the globe that sits atop the PI building in Seattle. I think I can say the same back to the PI and all the other great newspapers out there.

You've meant the world to us.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Bug the Size of a Mouse?

I made a cake for DH's birthday last week and it was a success. I also encountered -- in my bathroom -- one of the not-so-wonderful local species: a palmetto bug. As to whether or not the outcome of that meeting would be defined as a success, I believe it probably would depend upon your viewpoint. Suffice to say, the bug probably would not agree with defining as a success.

If you've never been to the Gulf Coast, you probably have no idea of what I'm talking about. A palmetto bug is like a roach. a GINORMOUS roach. These puppies are about two inches long and they are nasty. They normally live outside, and they don't seem to be attracted to the kitchen like a cockroach would; they go for the closet, or the bathroom, or the bedroom. Oh, and they can fly. There are all kinds of stories about them flying around and tangling in long hair. Yikes!

I still shudder when I think about the first time I encountered the horrid little beasties. I was about 10 years old and spending the summer with my grandparents in Florida. I stuck my foot into my tennis shoe and felt something odd in there. I pulled my foot out and shook the shoe and not one, but two palmetto bugs fell out of it! Naturally, I screamed the house down and my grandmother came and killed them, but to this day, I never put on a shoe without shaking it first.

I had almost gotten over my palmetto bug trauma by the time we first moved to Houston 12 years ago. However, we had only been living there for a few weeks when I heard a sound that I originally thought was a mouse in the closet. DH and I had just gone to bed and I kept hearing rustle, rustle rustle. He refused to do anything about it, but I couldn't sleep, so I got up and turned on the light in the hall, thinking that if it was a mouse, then the light would at least drive it to another room.

The rustling didn't stop when I turned on the light, which seemed kind of strange. That's a pretty bold mouse, I thought, and I went to look in the closet. It wasn't a mouse; it was a palmetto bug. But it was easily as big as a mouse! Naturally, I screamed the house down -- and nearly caused DH to have a heart attack since I was only standing about 3 feet away. He tried to kill it and missed and it scuttled behind some shoes, so he told me to go back to bed and he turned off the light. I could hear it in there going rustle, rustle, rustle. The dog could hear it too, so he started barking. Thank heavens for Alexander the pekingese because it was his barking that bugged DH enough to finally get up and get rid of the palmetto bug (Yes; I know I should have done it, but I'm terrified of the stupid things).

Fast forward 12 years. I was putting something in DH's closet and Pippin the pekingese started barking hysterically. (Apparently pekingeses don't like palmetto bugs either) I turned around to find Pippin and Tabitha (my kitty) facing off with a huge palmetto bug. I stood there for a moment, hoping Kitty would do something to it, like whack it with a paw or something, but she was totally useless.

Well, damn, I thought. My pets aren't going to do anything, so I'm going to have to kill it. Then, I looked around the room for something I could use to do it with. I was in the bathroom, which I had just cleaned, so there wasn't anything lying around that I could hit it with, and it was between me and the door. Of course, I was barefooted, so I couldn't just step on it. I had a reassuring thought: What if it starts flying around? Yikes!

Then I saw the bottle of Windex that I'd used to clean the mirrors. I could hit it with that, but it would be disgusting. But I wondered, what would happen if I sprayed it with Windex?

I will not go any further except to say that while Windex is probably not a good alternative to an exterminator, it was sufficient for the task. I suspect, however, that the man who cleans our pool thinks I am a bit odd. I did not know he was out there until after I had got rid of the bug, but I am fairly certain that he heard me yelling, "Hah! Take that, you frikking b#####d!" because when I saw him (the pool man), he asked if everything was quite all right. I gave him what I hoped was my best Mona Lisa smile, but I think he is still wondering.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Marvelous Day: Mission Accomplished

It isn't that I suddenly have a new ambition to become Suzie Homemaker (Like that's even a possibility!), it's more a part of the ongoing healing process from the health problems I experienced last fall. The physical part of that healing was difficult enough, but coming so close to death made me aware of things that I have taken for granted and I decided then, that if I survived, I wouldn't do that any more. And so, I am not.

I made a promise to myself that if and when I was able, I would make a point of finding new friends in my new home, instead of burying myself in "work" – no matter how important I or anyone said that work was – because work is never as important as having and making friends. Work IS important; money is important, but not at the expense of friendships.

The same thing goes for cooking. I have let my husband cook for me for so many years because I am a terrible cook. It isn't intentional; I just am. DH, on the other hand, is a great cook, and he generally enjoys it. But still, even if I make terrible meals, it's only right that I make the effort, even if it always sucks. And so, I am doing that too. His birthday is this week, and I intend to make him a cake from scratch. I have no doubt that it will likely suck, but what the heck? He's worth the effort.

I suppose being so ill has been good for me in one way because it has given me an important reminder of how short life is and how important it is not to waste it by being too busy all the time. Marvelous days only come when you make them.

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Vasty Deep

=== Begin Whinge Here ===

Lately, I feel as if I'm walking through deep water. You know how it feels to walk through deep water. It's difficult. Sometimes a current pulls at your feet and you feel as if you'll be swept away at any moment. Waves lap at your chest and you know that a bigger one might come along and go right over the top of your head. That's how life has been recently. Something is either going to pull me down, or go over my head! Not a good feeling.

There are a number of reasons for my water-imagery. I've nearly completed my latest book, but a multiplicity of technical issues has arisen: repeated software failures, a broken printer, stuff like that. Getting to the finish line is like trudging through a swamp. There are times when I want to just throw in the towel. I won't, but I sure do want to.

The back-drop to all of this is getting used to another new place, and the constant bad news about the economy. I am so happy to be in Texas, where the sun shines while I'm dealing with these problems because, right now, that sun is one of the few saving graces of my life, and you'd better believe I am thankful for it. I'm also grateful for my DH and my animals, and many other things too numerous to mention here, and I know my little setbacks are petty. But there have been so many of them; they are really beginning to stack up!

I need to unstack them. This is one of the times when I really miss my grandmother because talking to her was always such an excellent way of gaining perspective on things. I never went to her with a big problem dump, but she was just so good at making me see the value in things, without actually spelling it out.

She's not here, so I suppose I have to find my way out of my mess all on my own. C'est la vie.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Shame on the Authors Guild!

With the exception of the Friday night dining and dancing that DH and I did to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of our Friday the 13th meeting in February 1987, I haven't had a particularly good week. It wasn't particularly bad -- we did get the new carpet installed in our guest room, but it wasn't really stellar either. It was just a random garden-variety week.

Today, however, I saw something that really irked me: the Authors Guild, a group I normally hold in high regard, has decided to slam the blind. I cannot believe it.

I don't think they intentionally set out to slam the blind; I think they intentionally set out to hate on Amazon and the new Kindle 2. They (the AG) issued a statement reminding members that audio-book sales surpassed $1 billion in 2007 and recommending that members not grant e-books rights to Amazon until they can work out ways to get more money from them, but in a noxious way:

In the meantime, we recommend that if you haven't yet granted your e-book rights to backlist or other titles, this isn't the time to start. If you have a new book contract and are negotiating your e-book rights, make sure Amazon's use of those rights is part of the dialog. Publishers certainly could contractually prohibit Amazon from adding audio functionality to its e-books without authorization, and Amazon could comply by adding a software tag that would prohibit its machine from creating an audio version of a book unless Amazon has acquired the appropriate rights.

That's right. The Authors Guild wants to make extra money from blind and low-vision people. I'm sorry but that is disgusting. If a person PAYS for a book and wants or NEEDS to listen to it instead of reading it with their eyes, then by golly they should be able to do it. What is the loss to the author? They still receive a royalty on the book purchase.

The National Federation for the Blind has issued a response to the Authors Guild:

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The National Federation of the Blind supports all technologies that allow blind people to have better access to the printed word, including the ability of devices like the Kindle 2 to read commercial e-books aloud using text-to-speech technology. Although the Authors Guild claims that it supports making books accessible to the blind, its position on the inclusion of text-to-speech technology in the Kindle 2 is harmful to blind people. The Authors Guild says that having a book read aloud by a machine in the privacy of one’s home or vehicle is a copyright infringement. But blind people routinely use readers, either human or machine, to access books that are not available in alternative formats like Braille or audio. Up until now, no one has argued that this is illegal, but now the Authors Guild says that it is. This is absolutely wrong. The blind and other readers have the right for books to be presented to us in the format that is most useful to us, and we are not violating copyright law as long as we use readers, either human or machine, for private rather than public listening. The key point is that reading aloud in private is the same whether done by a person or a machine, and reading aloud in private is never an infringement of copyright.


I am a huge, huge reader, and so many books are never published as audio-books. I have a genetic eye condition that is likely to leave me relying on text-to-speech technology at some point in the future and this issue is incredibly important to me. In fact, the primary reason I like my Kindle is because I can use it to alter the text size to make it easier to read things without having to be stuck with large-print books. I have always supported an author's right to be paid for his or her work, but I don't see how text-to-speech violates copyright because the text would be paid for. The only logic in the Authors Guild's stance is that audio books are so much more expensive than paper texts (and they are, sometimes more than double); they really don't mind that they would be exploiting people who are already at a disadvantage.

Shame on you, Authors Guild!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Keeping Up With the Joneses

The weather here has been amazing this week and I've been itching to get outside and start playing in my new garden. Every time I think about it, though, I get a little twinge of sadness because I know that whatever we do to our garden here will never be as wonderful as the garden we had in Washington. In fact, it's daunting to do anything here in the land of perfection because it's all so ... well ... perfect. Are we're so ... well ... not!

Other than a brief sojourn in a townhouse many years ago, we've steered clear of neighborhoods with Homeowner Associations (HOAs) because we've always been leery of the arbitrary rules they seem to impose like what kind of plants you can have, and how tall your grass is allowed to be, and things like that. We live in one of those neighborhoods now and they send out a little newsletter each month that bugs me so much that I actually miss the guy next door in Washington who had the lemon yellow El Camino on blocks in his yard.

For example, the last newsletter politely scolded some rude unnamed lowlifes for forgetting to take in their trash can on the day trash was picked up. My God! They left it out until the middle of the next day. That rendered the neighborhood into an immediate ghetto! Shock! Horror! And you know who did this, right? Yes; it was me. DH took out the trash, and left to go out of town and I forgot that he'd done so, and it only occurred to me the next day. We are pigs. We might as well just put out a junked car on blocks in our front yard and be done with it.

The newsletter also informed us that it was the week for our once-a-year "big brush" trash day. Now, of course, I had no idea what this was and I didn't think about it again. Until I saw trucks parked all up and down the street disgorging workers who were cutting massive swathes of stuff from the trees and bushes in my neighbors' lawns. OK. So this is how you get a perfect neighborhood. Wow. In front of each house, there was a HUGE pile of brush, each one big enough for a giant bonfire. Well, in front of each house except ours. Oh noes! We were already in trouble with the HOA for not bringing in the damn trash can and now we haven't done the proper grooming of our brush.

Oh but it wasn't too late after all. We were eating dinner on Friday night, and a helpful tree-trimming person came and said he could still do our house in time for the big brush pickup. I could tell DH was thinking he'd rather use that money to go skiing, but we looked at those tidy piles of brush in front of all our neighbors' houses and caved. So treetrimmer guy (TTG) agreed to come back on Saturday morning with his team.

TTG proposed to do a radical whack job to our stuff as he'd done to our neighbors' lawns, but I nixed that right away. "No. No. NO. I do not want to top the crepe myrtles. Only dead and diseased limbs."

"But--"

"Nope."

So we got our lawn groomed, very gently, but still done. We also got a dead shrub removed from the front of the house. And we had a big overhanging limb removed from the ancient live oak in the back yard. That was the one I was really concerned about because it hung right over the bedroom and I was worried about the potential for it to come down on our heads in a wind storm.

TTG turned out to be a really nice guy, and so did the neighbor across the street because during all the cutting and sawing, the sprinkler pipe in the front yard sprang a leak. This is not a sprinkler like you use with a hose; it's a permanent water pipe that affects the water to the house. San Antonio is experiencing a terrible drought, so it's imperative not to waste water -- we can't have a pipe draining water out into the lawn. So TTG came back on Sunday and he and the neighbor helped DH try to fix the stupid pipe all day long. TTG refused to take extra money, so we gave him the martin birdhouse that had been on the limb that was removed from the live oak tree because he'd admired it. We haven't given the neighbor anything yet, but I believe cookies are in his future. It's a pity that even after all that work, they weren't able to fix the pipe and we had to have a sprinkler service out on Monday, but it was nice of them to try.

And brush day was today and I was able to hold my head up because I, too, had a nice neat pile of brush that was nearly as large as the ones in front of my neighbors' houses. All I can say is it's a very weird way of Keeping Up With the Joneses...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Where Men are Men and Women Hold Public Office

There was a column by Marcy Meffert in our local paper today that I thought contained an interesting quote (emphasis mine):

For example, my Lower East Side Milwaukee ward’s alderman lived across the street from our brownstone apartment. I often wondered if I could be an alderman one day, but since only men held the job, I assumed that I could not. Fortunately, when I was grown up, and in Texas, where it’s been said that men are men and women hold public office, I became a council member, a mayor and chairman of a regional council, three of the most rewarding endeavors of my life, other than rearing five children.

When I was a child, most people I knew were second-generation Americans who still identified with their European origins and lived with their own kind. My grandmother never learned to speak English. She lived in a Polish city and a Polish neighborhood; there was no need. Although my Lower East Side neighborhood was predominately Roman Catholic, the Catholics were of Irish, Polish and Italian origins.

I found Meffert's comments particularly interesting because Auntie and I have been working on a project that involves scanning a lot of old family photos. Seeing them en masse, and in approximate time order, gives me a much better appreciation for my own family's culture, than did randomly paging through multiple photos. I also found it interesting that, in direct opposition to the anti-feminist stereotypes, Meffert appears to perceive the culture of Texas as allowing more freedom for women, a view that I happen to share with her for the most part. In the past, Texas and the South were culturally very similar, and indeed, my own ancestors frequently moved between Texas and Arkansas, although they tended to retain Arkansas as their home base.

The thing that is most striking to me, looking over more than 100 years of sequential photos of my family, is that stereotypes don't apply. There are stories of a jerk or two, a frail person here, a mistake there, but there are no rules about "little women" and "men ruling the roost" and "dinner on the table at 5:00." Oh, there were some little women, and dinner probably was on the table at the proper time most of the time, but there is a big difference between having to do it, and wanting to do it -- because you love someone and you want to take care of your family.

It's easy to look at law books and decide that women couldn't do this or they had to do that, but the reality on the ground may have been entirely different than what the books say. In the U.S., for example, there are a multitude of seatbelt laws. It would be easy to look at the existence of those laws and conclude that everyone in the U.S. wears a seatbelt whenever they get into a car. If you look at the accident statistics, however, you'll see just how wrong that conclusion is. People not wearing seatbelts are in accidents every day. And the statistics only show the people who are in accidents; there is no way of knowing how many people get into a car without a seatbelt in general because most of them are not in an accident. By the same token, we have no idea how many women in earlier times were able to do exactly as they wished because they were unremarked and left no record. i.e., They caused no trouble because no one minded.

This photo, taken in 1950, shows my great-grandmother, Mai Smith Beasley, with her son and her four daughters. My grandmother is in the polka-dot dress on the right.



My grandmother and her sisters went to college, and they worked, and in various combinations, they married, and had children, and lived their lives. They are remarked mainly for being kind, loving, intelligent women; they didn't cause trouble. None of them held public office, but had any of them wanted to, I doubt very seriously that anyone would have been able to stop them!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Conduits and Time Passages

When I was twelve, I read a book called Green Darkness by Anya Seton. It was a romantic melodramatic novel in which the modern-day (1960s) heroine relives a troubled past life in Elizabethan England as a kind of requirement for setting things right in her present life. I adored that book and I have very specific memories of reading it because it was during a period in which I was horribly ill and home from school for several days.

I also have specific memories of it because … well … because … it's difficult to explain. You see, DH went to Delaware week before last and caught the flu while he was there. He'd had a flu shot, but it didn't work, and by the time he got home, two weeks ago, he was feverish and miserable and he stayed that way for over a week, essentially until he went to the doctor and got antibiotics for the infection that had settled in his chest. In the meantime, I stayed well until this past Sunday, when I succumbed to his noxious plague and had to cancel the cool trip I'd planned to Arkansas this week. While none of this appears to have anything whatsoever to do with my memories of reading Green Darkness, it does – because I got a fever.

I don't have fevers all that often, but when I do, I've discovered a funny thing about them. They seem to be a kind of conduit, for lack of a better word, to other times in my life in which I've also had fevers. When I'm really sick and I have a fever, I can sort of close my eyes and BE myself at another point in my life. I know that sounds crazy, but it's true!

So on Wednesday, when I was feeling just dreadful, I visited my 12-year-old self reading Green Darkness, which is why I have such a specific memory of it. Until now, I hadn't really considered what a nifty piece of life-magic this conduit thing is. I never thought it would be of more than passing interest to see my clarinet case parked under the windowsill, or to feel that slight drift of guilt for not practicing, or even to know that my dad was coming home early with pizza to cheer me up. (Alas, other people never make through the conduit; it's always just me.) But in that moment, he was alive, and bringing me pizza. And I was going to be in trouble with my clarinet teacher when I got back to school. And Oh! Green Darkness was SO romantic; it made my heart ache. And my head ached. And my nose was running like a river. And I was utterly miserable in both 1975 and in 2009.

I made a few other brief visits. My 15-year-old self lying on the sofa, reading R.F. Delderfield's Diana. My 9-year-old self in bed with Gone With the Wind. My 14-year-old self draped over a beanbag chair watching a Beatles movie marathon (wishing I could put a clothespin on my nose to stop it from dripping!).

When I was done with all my time travels, I still felt like utter shit, but for the first time ever, I realized what a wonderful consolation prize this conduit thing is, no matter how crazy it sounds. Because I have always been able to do it, for as long as I can remember, and yet I've never noticed before, that in that brief moment, it's not like a memory, it's like being there. The experience of it, including the feelings, like guilt, or the expectation of seeing someone with pizza. Which means it's a brief respite from the feeling that I'll never see that person again. It's definitely like a conduit through which something can pass. It only works when I am truly ill and it only takes me to other times when I've been truly ill in the past, but if its purpose is comfort, then it works.

Here's a video from a guy who seems like he might have a few experiences of his own with conduits. Oh yeah; and I was listening to this song when I was reading Diana.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stupid Gits and Free Stuff

I posted a question about e-books to a mailing list I belong to because I wanted to get opinions about the possibility of releasing the books my company publishes in e-book form. I got a few responses – all interesting – and a couple of the responders mentioned free e-books.

Hmmmm.

I like free stuff and I've downloaded a few free e-books myself. There are tons of classics available. There certainly lots of other things available as well, although I'm not as keen to bother myself with them unless they're part of a promotion by a well-known publisher. That's not me being a snob; that's just me being practical. I get submissions all the time, most of which haven't seen the pen of an editor, and the hours of my life simply aren't worth the time it takes to wade through unedited books. And that's the reality of e-books: anyone can make a PDF file and call it an e-book. No editor required.

It's fine if the crappy stuff is free, but everyone seems to want the good stuff to be free too. I understand the desire; I think it would be great. But how do we reconcile the fact that without payment there is no incentive, and no mechanism to produce the good stuff? It won't be there if people don't pay at least a small amount for it.

Just this morning I was telling someone about my favorite tee-shirt. It's this hideous ratty old thing that's more than twenty years old. I treat it with only the kindest of handling, however, to preserve its life because it is one of the most valuable things in my closet. If forced to choose, I would sacrifice my St. John suit, or a Marc Jacobs dress before I would give up my old grey tee-shirt. Not because it has fond memories attached (although it does) or anything so sentimental, but because it's supremely wonderful to wear. Why? Because it was manufactured in an American factory using American grown cotton. My love for it isn't from national pride; it's because the quality doesn't exist any more. I would be willing to pay 10 times the price of a normal tee-shirt to get one like it, but they're not to be had (and I've looked). We don't make tee-shirts like that any more.

Every time I hear about new ways to nickel and dime publishers and authors (and any other producers of a product I value), I think about that tee-shirt and how I would feel if the thing that I cared about were no longer available. Sure; there would be other things that were almost as good, and there would be huge numbers of people ready to insist these new things were improvements over the old ones. But I'm pretty sure that I would be able to tell the difference.

When I first became aware that excellent tee-shirts had gone the way of the dinosaur, I began to search for them, thinking maybe I could find a remaining source and buy up enough to last for a while (like, the rest of my life?), but alas, I was a stupid git; I had left it too late. I simply cannot bear to do that with books – if I had to give up everything else, I would still need books.

There has to be a way to reconcile this. I don't know what it is, but there has to be a way.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dog in the Manger

I've been to the doctor today, for the first time since the follow-ups with my surgeon. Aside from the fact that it was really annoying to have to sit there and wait for an hour and a half for a 9:00 am appointment because their electronic records system was down and there were, like, 10 people ahead of me (at 9:00 am???), it was also annoying because he didn't tell me anything that I didn't already know. I'm not really over my surgery yet. Dammit.

It's not as if the external stuff hasn't mostly healed. Well, except for the ugly scars, which I'll probably have for the rest of my life. But the other stuff; the pain and stiffness, and that kind of thing, has definitely receded. It's not a problem. But eating? I have a such a long way to go with that. And for some reason, even though I quite liked the doctor, when he said the words "low residue diet" I felt like bitch-slapping the guy.

Of course, it's not his fault. And of course it isn't news that I still need to follow a low residue diet because every time I put a piece of fruit in my mouth I get violently ill, but it's driving me batty! What makes it worse is that just about every person on the planet seems to be on some kind of health kick now, and they seem to delight in misunderstanding that what's healthy for them is noxious for me.

Seriously. A low residue diet is a low fiber diet. I cannot have fiber, which means I cannot have fresh fruits or vegetables. I cannot have a lot of cooked vegetables either, like broccoli, or beans. The ones I can have must be peeled. I cannot have whole grains. I cannot have nuts, seeds, or berries. I know it sounds counterintuitive. In fact, it sounds utterly bizarre. My surgeon said it, and now, my new doctor has confirmed it. He said it's probably not forever, but it can take up to a year to adapt and I'm barely into the first stage. i.e., 9 months to go. And even after a year, I may always have some limitations about what I can handle.

However upsetting it is to not be able to have what I want to eat, it's far more upsetting to have people who don't understand lecture me on my "unhealthy" diet! I experienced this firsthand a couple of times over the holidays, and I also got the feeling of it from magazine and news articles recently as well. One size does NOT fit all.

My mother in law had beef and pork tenderloins and a huge selection of beautiful roasted vegetables for Christmas dinner. But she, in particular, seemed to have a hard time understanding that I could not eat the vegetables. At all. She asked me about them repeatedly. There were so many different kinds, and I wanted some, but she had roasted every single one in its skin, and there wasn't a single one that I could eat. She kept saying, "But they're so good for you." I had a piece of meat and a piece of bread on my plate. How embarrassing. Sigh.

Until I had to deal with these things, I had no idea what a pain it could be. Those yummy little sesame seeds on your bun? Nope. Can't have that. The raspberries in your yogurt? Out of the question. Toffee or peanut brittle? Forget it. Don't even think about that salad. The almonds in the biscotti? No way. Whole wheat bread? Absolutely not.

One of these days, someone is going to give me a health lecture at the wrong time, and I fear that they may regret it. I'm just sayin'.

I'm Somehow Not Surprised By This

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
 

You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.

Dedicated Reader
 
Book Snob
 
Literate Good Citizen
 
Non-Reader
 
Fad Reader
 
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Gone With the Wind? Not Me!

DH is in Delaware, freezing. The drywall guy is in my bedroom, building me a new wall. The sky, according to CNN, is falling again. (When is it not?) Gillian and I had a nice chat this morning. All is right with the world.

I think that's why I amuse Gillian so much – I am perverse. My husband is away, and miserable; the economy is in the toilet; my bedroom looks like a war zone (although I admit that the drywall guy is a positive addition … Niiiicccceee) and I, in all my glory, have decided that all is right with the world! I feel almost compelled to try to explain – this is the upside of the anti-Pollyanna!

See? Back when everyone was dissing me for being a pessimist, I was quietly biding my time. And I was planning. If they had asked me, I'd have been happy to tell them how stupid they were to think they were going to get rich flipping condos, or whatever other dumb-ass idea they had, but they didn't ask me cause they think I am ~shudder~ a pessimist. DH wishes he'd listened to me about buying commodities (nota bene: if you're going to buy cotton, pay attention to the weather), but he's happy enough that he listened in time to save a big chunk of our retirement account – a little late, but soon enough. Oh yeah. I don't pick individual stocks (although now is a good time for oil stocks :-)) and I don't try to time the market, but I know how the hell to pay attention to conditions; my dad taught me to do it in high school and you'd better believe that I listened.

So the crisis comes and I'm ready for the long haul. And I'm calm. That's one of my strong points. I'm calm in a crisis. I don't always feel calm, but I'm going to act that way. I'm like Scarlet O'Hara when she made that dress out of her old curtains. When things get bad, and my life has certainly not been a bed of roses, I've made them work out of sheer will -- and planning. And so, I have confidence that I can do it this time too. I'm not going to freak out and cancel the books I'm set to publish. I'm going to do them any way. Of course I'm going to be careful with expenses, but I won't panic. Good things are worth doing. Good things are still worth buying. Good things last. And I do good things.

Over the holidays, I took DH to see the Old Mill, which appears in the opening credits of Gone With the Wind. It's just down the road from Auntie's house. It'll be there for a long time, and so will we!

I would have posted some photos of it, and also of my righteous snowman, but blogger is having problems. Maybe later on that.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New

We made it through the holidays -- a funeral, driving through the worst ice storm of the century, Christmas Eve & Christmas Day with the in-laws, nephew's christening, driving back through the worst traffic jam we've ever seen -- and the new year has begun. All in all, it was a pretty good trip. We got to see lots of friends and family including our new nephew and my new baby cousin Tory (both adorable); we got to build a righteous snowman; and we got to absorb a lot of goodwill toward men. Thank heavens it's all over!

I suppose my boycott against Amazon is also over because I got a Kindle for Christmas -- and I really like it. One of my uncles, who also has a Kindle, gave me a hard time about sacrificing my principles, and, of course, he was right. Auntie also has a Kindle, so in some kind of sick way, my family is, apparently, providing ample support for the Great Evil of the book world. I would hang my head in shame, but I've noticed that, so far, I haven't got any new e-books in place of the ones I'd buy in hardcopy. I still want the same old fashioned paper books, and I've added a whole new source of books I wouldn't have otherwise read. Reading (and buying) more books, can't be all bad, can it?

I'm actually going to have a post soon on my two best books of 2008: The Devil's Brood by Sharon K. Penman, and The Time of Singing by Elizabeth Chadwick. It will be a little while on that, however, because I have to think more on what I plan to write. I don't know why, since I love to read and to write, but I suck at reviewing books -- it always takes me forever to do it -- yet, I always try to note my best-of-the-best since I'm afraid someone might miss them.

On an entirely different note, the painter and dry-waller for my bedroom repairs came today, which means we're going to get the repairs started soon (no more exposed concrete subfloor -- Yay!). My cousin Sherry turned in the paperwork for her Chinese adoption (Good Luck Sherry & Aaron!). My pets are only moderately traumatised by their week-long stay in the kennel, well, except for kitty who hasn't stopped howling since we got home. DH is planning a business trip to Aruba (companion ticket, anyone???). I've already knocked a bunch of things off my to-do list, which now contains mostly things for my publishing company (Finally I can focus). I just fetched the mail and found that in my absence I received a priceless gift: candy from VM in Idaho (her candy is to-die-for). I lived through the second worst year of my life (the year my dad died was the worst) -- and I'm still here.

I think this is going to be a good year.