What It Says and What It Means

New and ImprovedI’ve thought of ten examples recently of things you read/hear and what they really mean. Here you go:

SAYS: “Tear here to open.” MEANS: “Get out your industrial strength scissors and just see if you can get this package open.”

SAYS: “Resealable.” MEANS: “Resealable [with duct tape — not included — after the stupid plastic seal breaks while opening].”

SAYS: “New and improved!” MEANS: “New [packaging for you] and improved [bottom line for us, because we’re now making it out of inferior materials that will fall apart more quickly, and we’re using slave labor to produce it].

SAYS: “Easy to install” or “Easy to assemble.” MEANS: “You know that Ph.D. in computer programming or mechanical engineering you’ve been considering? Go get it before attempting to install or assemble this.”

SAYS: “Get results in just minutes a day.” MEANS: “If you do this for ten minutes every. single. day. exactly as directed, you can expect to see results in 5 or so years.”

SAYS: “All natural!” MEANS: “The FDA has approved this, so, you know, it won’t poison you as quickly as, say, those ‘all-natural’ poisonous mushrooms will.”

SAYS: “Reminiscent of Jane Austen.” MEANS: “It takes place in England (possibly in the late 18th or early 19th century, but not necessarily). Oh, and there are female characters in it.”

SAYS: “No shopping tonight! Make this easy meal using kitchen staples.” MEANS: “We consider plum wine, scallion-infused olive oil, and/or anchovies to be kitchen staples. Don’t you?”

SAYS: “Quick and easy.” MEANS: “Expect to spend no less than 10 hours on this, but more likely 3-4 days.”

SAYS: “Versatile!” MEANS: If you know how to tie 9 different types of knots, can remove our double-stitched labels without making holes, and are comfortable walking around in a “dress” that hits just below the hips, this garment is versatile.”

Please feel free to share your own.


The Weirdness of Facebook (For a Woman of a Certain Age)



“Yet another ‘friend request’ for this Facebook thing? Can’t be bothered. Too busy blogging.”

“What? That blogger, and that one, and that one are on Facebook now?” (Finally caves and accepts request from friend).

“Meh. I much prefer blogging.”


(Facebook account has lain dormant, despite multiple friend requests — kinda like LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Then two siblings and nieces urge me to get involved, and a young friend visits who talks up what a great way it is to keep in touch.)

“Okay, so what was my password again?”

“So-and-so is on Facebook?! Wow!” (Friend request. Friend request. Friend request — ad nauseam). “Uh-oh, I’m becoming one of those annoying ‘friend requesters’.”

“Why the heck is Jen Ladder-Climbing-Back-Stabber sending me a friend request (along with a LinkedIn request, a Twitter request, an anything-else-social-media-request)? Did she somehow miss the fact we’re not friends? That when we worked together, I basically never talked to her about anything un-work-related or did anything with her because I so disliked her?” (Accepts friend request anyway to see if she’s still as obnoxious and narcissistic as she was years ago. Discovers the answer is “yes”.)

“What? One of the goals of this thing is to try to have as many friends and responses from friends as possible? WHY?”

“How come Jen Ladder-Climbing-Back-Stabber has more Facebook friends than I do?”

“How come that really witty thing I posted only got one response from my 275 so-called friends?”

(One of my three siblings, all of whom have lived all over the country and world, have attended multiple schools, and been employed at multiple places, and none of whom I’ve lived near since I moved away from North Carolina in 1987, posts a photo of all of us when we were children, tagging me, so it shows up on my wall.) “Wait! Who are all these friends of my siblings commenting on this photo? I’ve never heard of any of them. When did my siblings all make friends I don’t know?”

“A friend request from Dave Forgot-Till-Just-Now-How-Much-He-Broke-My-Heart? Am I supposed to accept friend requests from exes (especially when the thought of looking him up never crossed my mind)?” (Goes ahead and accepts. Curiosity got the best of me.)

“A friend request from Mark I-Still-Feel-Bad-That-I-Think-I-Broke-His-Heart? The PMs from Dave were so weird. Do I really want to accept a request from another ex with whom I long ago lost touch?” (Accepts anyway. Good thing I’m not a cat. I would’ve died years ago.)

(Sends out friend request to Tina Funniest-Junior-High-Kid-Ever.) “What? What do you mean, ‘Do I know you? I don’t remember who you are’? We shared a microscope in science class. You sat at my lunch table. I laughed at everything you said.”

“Amy Name-That-Rings-Not-a-Single Bell? Never heard of you. You must have the wrong Emily.” (For once, does not accept friend request.)

“Wait, Amy Name-That-Rings-Not-a-Single Bell keeps writing comments on all my sister’s posts. And she’s friends with my other sister and half the kids in my high school class. Who the heck is she? Oh no! I’ve become one of those people who can’t remember her high school classmates!”


“When did we all go from third-person to first-person on Facebook?”

“Why am I suddenly getting posts on my wall from R.E.M., David Sedaris, the Grateful Dead, and Edgar Allan Poe?” (Finally realizes the phishing that went on when I first signed up and listed things I like. Revises them.)

“T.B.T.? What on earth is that?” (Finally gets it. Diligently posts old photos for a while every Thursday, until it begins to seem like too much of a chore.)

“I wonder what all these kids are going to think when all these cute photos/videos their parents are posting of them are out there for all the world to find when they’re fifteen years old?”

“I wonder what those running for President in 2030 are going to think when all these photos/videos of them as babies, toddlers, children, and teens are out there for all the world to find?”

“Huh! All the cool, popular kids/people who, all my life, never invited me to do anything with them are all still hanging out with each other. How come they never invite me to do anything?”

“Why on earth, at my age, do I still care what the cool, popular kids/people are doing?”

“Yes, yes, I was in [NC, VA, CT, NY, ME, CA, etc.] and didn’t tell you or see you. I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I only had so much time. (Note to self, never, ever again post where I am, where I’m going, or where I’ve been, unless it’s Sri Lanka or something.)

“Barb Haven’t-Seen-in-Way-too-Long was in Philadelphia and didn’t tell me?! Why not?!”

“When did it become a Facebook page and not a Facebook wall? And why am I like my parents when Esso became Exxon, still constantly referring to it as my wall instead of my page?”

“Are people really still paying attention to Facebook anymore?” (Posts picture of pets. Gets 97 “likes’.) “Yep, I guess they are.”

“Dear Friend, It isn’t that I don’t want to comment on your post. It’s just that I don’t want to get 55 alerts telling me about all the other comments on it.”


“What would happen if I just stopped Facebook altogether?”

It’s Not “New”, Nor is it “Common Core”

New Math

I see this sort of thing all over social media, and it bothers me. What’s going on in today’s classrooms is common sense. It actually makes much more sense than the way I was taught, which was called “new math” back then, in the 1970s, but whose final goal was to get me to use the standard procedure shown on the left in the picture above.

15 years ago, I didn’t know this. I would’ve been on the “what the heck?” bandwagon most people my age are when shown one of these “new math” examples. But then I became an editor who worked on math books (books that taught teachers how to teach math this way, because, yes, even teachers, most of whom had been taught the “old” way, needed to learn how to do it), and I found out what the “new math” example represents. I learned how much more I could have gotten out of my math lessons when I was a kid if I’d been taught the way math is being taught in many classrooms today. I visited classrooms where students were excited about doing math (how common was that when you were a kid?), where they were able to do complex arithmetic in their heads, where they eagerly attacked what my friends and I all dreaded: “the word problem.”

Not only am I bothered by these “old math”, “new math” examples that pop up all over the place, but I’m also bothered by some of the articles written by parents, who often end their rants about trying to help with math homework by waving the white flag saying, “And then I tell my kid, don’t worry. I was never any good at math, either. You won’t need to know this to succeed in life.” I want to shake that parent and say, “YES your child WILL need to know this!” There isn’t a single career in life, from homemaker to astrophysicist, that doesn’t require problem solving skills and an understanding of numbers. Most work places are run by one thing: the bottom line. Guess what. The bottom line is a number, a very important number, and your child better understand what it means when that number goes up and down, what it means when an employer expects 5% growth this year, what sales versus profit means. Also, if you don’t understand numbers, you may not understand you can’t really afford that outrageously-priced house the bank is happily giving you a mortgage to buy, until 2008 comes along, and you lose it and have to file for bankruptcy.

It is not acceptable in today’s global economy, where so much of the rest of the world’s children outperform ours in math and science, to think it’s funny to say, “Don’t ask me to add 2 and 2 together. I was never any good at math.” Would you dream of saying, “Don’t ask me to read The Cat in the Hat. I was never any good at reading.”? We need to create a society in which people are as embarrassed to admit the former as they are to admit the latter. Otherwise, don’t come complaining to me when major corporations are hiring people from Singapore and Japan to come over here and fill some very prestigious, high-paying positions. Those corporations need people who understand numbers, who can do the math, and they know where to find them. They certainly won’t find them in a place where people want to keep teaching math in a way that created generations of people who can’t do the math.

First of all, let’s define a few things. Mathematics, in a very simple nutshell, is the abstract study of numbers, quantity, and space. There is no such thing as “old math” and “new math” any more than there is such a thing as “old history” and “new history”. New discoveries, new theories, new problems, etc. arise in the field of mathematics, just as they do in any field, but math itself is old. There’s nothing new about it, and the mathematical theories most kids study in school? Very old.

I’ve also seen this “new math” defined as “common core” math. It isn’t. If you’ve read this far and get nothing else out of this blog post, please don’t make yourself look stupid by calling this “common core math”. Just because more and more schools began teaching math with understanding, using unfamiliar techniques, around the same time the common core curriculum standards were being adopted, doesn’t mean there is something known as “common core math”. The common core is not about technique. It is a curriculum standard. It states that, say, your kindergartner should be able to count to 100. It says nothing about how that child should be taught to count to 100. Oh, and by the way, before the common core came along, your state had curriculum standards. Every state did. The common core is just an attempt to unify these standards across states, so if, for instance, you move from Pennsylvania to Virginia, your child won’t be bored to tears learning how to add 53 and 37, because in Pennsylvania he was taught to do that two years ago.

What you have in this “common sense” example pictured above is arithmetic. Arithmetic is a branch of mathematics, the branch involved with the use and counting of numbers. What you also have are two algorithms or sets of procedures for calculating an answer to a problem. We don’t really know what the problem was here. All we know is that it involved adding the two numbers 53 and 37 together, which means the problem very well could have been something like this, “Last year, my boss said she wanted me to make 53 widgets. I stopped counting once I hit 53, but she tells me I made 37 more than she asked me to make, which is why I’m getting promoted. In this new position, I have to supervise people and make sure each person makes at least as many widgets as I made last year. How many widgets does each person have to make?” You need to add 37 to 53 to get the answer.

Now, you can waste the company time as well as resources by getting out a piece of paper and pencil and doing this the “old” way, using the “old math” algorithm on the left, which is basically what you have to do if you were taught arithmetic the way I was, and no one has shown you a better way, which means you’re no good at adding two-digit numbers in your head. Or you can fumble around in your pocket or purse for your phone, scroll through all your apps to find your calculator, punch in the buttons, and get your answer. Or you can quickly add that number in your head and come up with 90, which is basically what that “new math” algorithm is representing. It looks very awkward on paper (and it is), but the point of teaching it this way is that the child will learn to do these calculations in his head. Do you remember that kid you thought was so brilliant because you could turn to her and say, “What’s 345 plus 172?” and within seconds, no pencil or paper needed, that kid would reply with “517.” She probably was brilliant, because without having been taught this procedure, she understood the numbers well enough that she’d figured it out on her own. Most of the rest of us have to be shown how to do it, but that’s what’s happening in classrooms all over the country. Kids are being shown how to do it. They’re learning how to do such calculations in their head.

I can explain to you what’s going on in the “new math” example. The student has been taught how to break numbers down into easier units. He knows that numbers ending in 1, 2, 5, and 0 are very easy to work with, and he can easily count by 1s, 2s, 5s, and 10s. He has also learned, through hands-on representation of those numbers (think five cute little plastic teddy bears, or seven red sticks, or three jelly beans), how to add all single-digit numbers from 1-9 and has them memorized (these are some of the “math facts” you may hear teachers and students talk about). He knows that 37 represents 3 10s and 7 ones. 7 represents 5 ones and 2 ones. Add 5 to 53, and you get 58. Add 2, and you get 60, and now you just add those 3 10s to get 90. That’s just one way to do it. Me? Since I know 7 and 3 is 10, I would’ve chosen to add 50 and 30 to get 80, 7 and 3 to get 10, and added 80 and 10 to get 90, because I find that easiest. The point is to do what you need to do in order to make the numbers easier to work with.

Now, let’s look at the “old math”. If no one had ever shown you how to do that, would it really make any (let alone common) sense to you at all? What on earth is going on there? Why are the numbers stacked like that? What is that odd floating “1” on top of the five up there? And would you have any idea that the person solving this problem worked from right to left, unless someone had shown you that’s how it’s done? In this country, we read from left to right. Just when a child is mastering reading from left to right, we tell her, “Now, I know you’re used to going from left to right, but we’re going to go from right to left when working with big numbers.” The only reason it makes any sense to you at all is that someone taught you how to do it that way.

In one sense, it was a great way to teach arithmetic, because you could fill a page with such problems on a standardized test and have kids prove (or not) they’d memorized a procedure to get an answer. And if you were like me, good at following and memorizing rules, you were pretty good at it. You picked up on that procedure quickly and could get all the problems on a page correct (if you didn’t rush and make careless mistakes), but you didn’t always understand exactly what you were doing (which is why you didn’t catch your careless mistakes), or have any real understanding of how much bigger 90 was than 53 when you were done, which is why, when it came to higher level math, you struggled. In order to do higher level math — the sort of math being required more and more in this technological age — you needed to have a deep understanding of those numbers. Imagine teaching kids individual words without teaching them reading comprehension. Or teaching them grammar without teaching them how to write sentences and paragraphs that make sense.

Yes, the procedure on the right looks awkward on paper (you can probably blame that on standardized testing, too, because such tests require demonstration on paper), but what it represents is very smart, makes a lot of sense. Once a kid gets it, he or she can also be taught the “old” algorithm, which will make more sense to a child who actually understands the numbers than it did to all those people who grew up hating math. Don’t be surprised, though, if he chooses not to use it. It just isn’t as efficient. That kid might also use other techniques for adding numbers, because the fact is, there are almost always multiple ways to get an answer in math (bet no one ever taught you that, either).

Speaking of efficiency, kids are also being taught the best, most efficient way to do a problem. Sometimes — gasp! I know! — this means taking out a calculator to find out what 5,678 divided by 1,897 is. Believe me, by the time the child is taught that the calculator is the way to go with this one, she will know what division is and how to divide (at least, if she’s got a teacher who’s been taught how to teach math this way) and will be ready to move onto higher math.

Still don’t believe me? Take a look at this brilliant example of “old math” versus “new math” from someone who actually teaches math.

%22Common Core%22

Here, I hope you can clearly see that the algorithm, on the right, representing 3000 – 1, the way we were all taught, is an absurd way to do this problem.

My final word? If you’re having trouble helping your child with his math homework, because you never got math, hated math, and find nothing in his work book resembling the algorithms you memorized, don’t despair. You can learn to do math the “new way”. You might even discover you enjoy it. Go online. Talk to teachers. Buy some books. Just, please, don’t tell your child it’s “okay” to be bad at math.

Southern Pride

front porch

We’ve heard much about Southern pride and Southern heritage in 2015. I’m a Southern** transplant who is getting close to being able to say she’s lived longer in the North than she did in the South. Still, when you’re born and bred in the South, and most of your relatives live in the South, the South stays in your blood, no matter how long you’ve lived up North. Like almost all Southerners, I’m proud of my roots. That doesn’t mean that, like almost all Southerners, I don’t also have ambivalent feelings about the South. It’s a region of our country that is complicated, that poses problems for men and women with strong hearts and minds.

Nobody, but nobody was more proud to be a Southerner than my father. If he’d had his way, he probably never would’ve traveled above the Mason Dixon line or west of the Mississippi River (the main reason he did both was to visit his wayward children who insisted on living all over this country). He would’ve been content just to travel the South and the rest of the world. He complained bitterly about such things as the loss of Southern accents and the loss of Southern manners, both of which he blamed on a. television and b. the influx of people moving into the South from other areas of the country.

And yet, my father stopped flying the Confederate flag over thirty years ago. He liked to quote the Confederate general who, after the South lost the war, said something to the affect about its being time to fold the flag and put it away. My sister tells me he described himself to her as having been a “Confederate dunderhead”. He’d been influenced by the Southern mythos growing up. But he was also a historian and a reader. The more he read, the more he came to realize that the U.S. Civil War (which, by the way, I never heard him or any of our relatives refer to as “the war between the states”. As a matter of fact, since he was a world historian, he’d often ask the question, “Which Civil War?” when people jumped right in talking about “The Civil War”) was a travesty, that the South should be ashamed, not proud of its role in supporting slavery, in fighting against freedom for all. He was a man who visited Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s and told me, “Here’s this old man — he was an ancient 50-something at the time — who grew up in the Jim Crow South, and you don’t know how offended I was by the ‘Whites Only’ signs I saw.’”

In other words, he was someone who educated himself. When presented with new information contradicting all he’d once held dear, he didn’t cling to the old ways. He boldly took a broader point of view when he found his old views to be wrong, especially when he discovered how offensive they were. He did what we’re all meant to do over a course of a lifetime: he changed. By the time he died, his favorite president was Abraham Lincoln. And, yet, he was still a proud Southerner.

If my father could do that, every Southerner can. Southern pride doesn’t have to focus on the U.S. Civil War, which, along with the institution of slavery, is a shameful legacy. I find nothing to be proud of when I think of my forebears who owned slaves and fought in that war. I don’t feel a need to honor those forebears (especially since I’ve heard, in good old Southern fashion, hilarious stories of how stupid some of them were. One was out west, walked into a saloon, made all the men there salute the Confederate flag at gun point. When he turned to leave, he allegedly said, “Now, I know y’all are too gentlemanly to shoot me in the back as I walk out.” My father liked to relate his resemblance to a sieve when they were done with him.) These forebears of mine were probably as racist as they come. My guess is if I met any of them today, I’d think they were class A jerks. I wouldn’t honor them. I’d have nothing to do with them. Why would I want to honor such people?

And, yes, since statistics would tell us I probably had forebears from many different social classes, I’m sure they didn’t all own slaves. Only the wealthy owned plantations. Still. Think about it. Those who don’t own McMansions and huge, expensive SUVs today are often striving to do so, finding nothing wrong with such ambition, even though owning such things may be harming other people as well as our planet. My guess is that my forebears who didn’t own plantations and slaves were envious of those who did, were striving in this new land of possibility, to get where those people were. They probably found nothing wrong with slavery. After all, if they were opposed to slavery, they would have fought for the North not the South, the way some brave souls did.

The United States as a whole should be proud of its Civil War because it was a war fought to end slavery, and slavery did end. Name another country in the world that fought a war over the atrocious practice of owning fellow human beings for economic gain. Without that war, slavery would inevitably have ended in this country, but it might have taken much longer. Many wars have been fought for far less noble causes. We should come together over this pride, not remain divided.

I’m not proud of the South’s role in the U.S. Civil War, but I’m damn proud of how far the South has come since the U.S. Civil Rights movement. I may not be proud of my forebears who fought in the U.S. Civil War, but I’m very proud of people like my father. And the South is full of them, people who were living in the South during the Civil Rights movement and who were changed by it. Because we Southerners haven’t spent the last sixty years sitting around ignoring our own racial divide while pointing our fingers at some other region of the country, talking about how racist it is, the South, which still has a long way to go, has made bigger and better strides than the North (Martin Luther King, Jr. actually predicted this would happen, that true integration would come more quickly to the South than to the North). If I’m going to be proud of my history, what I’m proud of are those Southerners who didn’t resist civil rights, who fought for it, who came to loathe blatantly racist neighbors, who stood up for and marched with people of color. And this is recent history. These people are still alive. These are the people, black and white, of whom we Southerners need to be proud. Look how far the region has come. The first elected black governor in the United States was from the South (Douglas Wilder, Virginia).

So, the U.S. Civil War is a blot on the Southern landscape, not its Emerald City, like some believe, but there’s so much more to instill pride. The focus of Southern pride should be on those parts of its heritage. First of all, contrary to the Pilgrim myth, the first colonies in this country were founded in the South, in Virginia, before anyone even knew Plymouth Rock existed. (Yes, there were slaves, but there were slaves in New England in the early years as well. Slavery is a sad legacy of our entire country’s history.) I’ve always been proud of the fact that the first colonies were in the South.

The first public universities, founded as public universities, were Southern institutions of higher learning (The University of North Carolina and the University of Georgia) that didn’t merely give lip service to the notion that anyone should be able to get a college education but, rather, began to make it possible to do so (granted, “anyone”, in those days, didn’t include people of color or women, but still, it was a start). The wealthy elite would no longer be the only ones to become doctors and lawyers and professors once such universities were established and other states started building them. Education is the key to equality, and the South helped lead the way to that equality. This is something of which I’m very proud.

Let’s talk about music. Where would rock ’n’ roll be if it weren’t for Southern roots music? As far as that goes, where would jazz be, and folk, and country and gospel? Our Southern ancestors brought their fiddles and their pipes and their drums and their voices from England and Scotland and Ireland and France and Spain and Africa and harmonized in ways that are still being imitated by pop stars of today. The early South was a place rich with different cultures, as it still is today, and I would argue one thing that helped bridge the gaps among cultures was musical improvisation, the sharing of art.

I’m also proud of Southern gentility, Southern manners. Yes, the South is losing some of that the way everyone seems to be losing it, but I’d still say that when I travel in the South, I seem to meet more people eager to make me feel welcome and eager not to offend others. They want to get along, which is why I’m appalled by Southerners who insist on flying their Confederate flags. They don’t seem like true Southerners to me, because a true Southerner would remove something that’s offensive to others. Let me put it this way. I love frogs. I’ve collected frog figurines since I was a pre-schooler. They remind me of my father, whom I loved dearly and who loved to buy frogs to add to my collection. But if the Ku Klux Klan were to adopt frogs as their mascots? You’d better believe I wouldn’t be caught dead flying a flag with a frog on it from my front porch. I’d pack away all my little frog figurines and stop wearing frog jewelry in public. That’s the Southern way (or, at least, it’s the Southern way I was taught by my genteel Southern relatives).

Southerners are also just a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve always enjoyed thinking about the fact that while the Puritans were busy spying on their neighbors, seeking witches, Southerners were busy making moonshine and music and sitting around telling great stories. Even the slaves, who had absolutely no reason to be joyous at all, spent time making music and telling great stories. As a child, I remember feeling sorry for all the kids I read about in books who were from the North or the Midwest who always seemed to have all these chores to do, and they were never allowed to have any fun unless the chores were done. It wasn’t that we Southern children didn’t have to do things like help with dishes or clean our rooms or mop a porch, but these tasks weren’t made odious by being called “chores”. We just did what we were asked to do when asked to do it, and then we were out the door, playing down at the creek or riding our bikes all over the place. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the North gave us the moralizing Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the South gave us laugh-out-loud Mark Twain and Bret Harte.

Speaking of which, Southerners are great storytellers. There’s nothing I’d rather do than sit on a front porch with a bunch of Southerners reminiscing and telling stories, each interrupting to “set the record straight”. You’ll most likely laugh until you “pee your pants”, as we Southerners say. Somewhere, hidden deep inside these stories is the truth, but, really, who cares? The more entertaining and hilarious, the better.

So, yes I can talk about many reasons I’m proud to be a Southerner. I was extremely proud this year when the first white-cop-shoots-unarmed-black-man-in-the-back episode to go viral and was dealt with by the cop losing his job and being charged with murder came out of the South (North Charleston). This is not to say I don’t believe white cops are shooting innocent blacks in the South and getting away with it, but I was happy to see the first example of how such incidents should justly be handled coming out of the South. I was also proud of the South when people of all races and creeds joined hands together to form a band of unity across a bridge after the terrible news of a white terrorist attack on a black Bible study (Charleston).

So,who needs that old Confederate flag? Let’s take it down and fly a flag of unity.

** Note: when I say “Southern”, I really mean Virginia, which is where the majority of my American relatives are from, and North Carolina where I was born and raised. The South is a large region, and I know nothing about, say, Mississippi or Arkansas, two states where I’ve never been.

Let’s Talk About Racism

diversityI was in my twenties, a member of a salon in Fairfield County, CT. (a group of us would gather together on a regular basis to discuss topics of interest in a nod to the salons of yore — pretentious, I know, but hey, I was young. And it was a lot of fun for us geeks) when I first heard someone say, “We’re all racist.” I, born and bred in the South (a woman whose forebears owned slaves and who has Black cousins to prove it, so that’s my shameful legacy), was appalled. I didn’t say, “No we’re not,” which was my knee-jerk reaction, but I thought it. And then I listened some more to what the guy who said it had to say, and I left that gathering and thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it. Guess what. I eventually came to the conclusion that he was right. We are all racist, and in coming to that conclusion, I came to another one. We can’t confront racism or do anything to mitigate the damage it does until we’re willing to admit this, that we are all racist. I don’t think we can have open dialogue between members of two different races (or among members of many different races) until we’re willing to admit it.

Human beings are tribal creatures. There are evolutionary reasons for this. There are also evolutionary reasons for humans to get past it (contrary to what many believe, the world’s major religions have, for the most part, argued that we should get past this tribalism, but to no avail. Biology — a biology often disguised as “religion” — is stronger than the philosophy that could save it. That’s a topic for some other blog post), but we don’t. Most humans are content to stick within their own cultures — to stick with their own kind — and to fear the unknown, to fear those who aren’t like them. One of the great things about America is that we have so many varied tribes, people from so many different cultures. This is also one of the problems with America: having so many means there are bound to be dominant tribes that try to oppress the others.

Personally, I want to get past this tribalism, not just want but long to get past it. When I was in my early twenties, I was naïve enough to think that the way to do that was to move North. Okay, I admit it. I’d fallen for the whole notion that racism was a Southern problem. And I was chicken. My solution to the problem? I wasn’t going to stay and fight (I’m ashamed to admit that when I was younger, even when confronted with racist behavior that made me feel very uncomfortable, I didn’t do much to stop it. I even, on occasion, engaged in what I now consider to be horribly, offensively, racist behavior). No, I did what a Monty-Pythonian knight confronted with a killer bunny would have advised someone to do, “Run away! Run away!”

Run away, I did. First to Connecticut and New York, then to Pennsylvania. What did I discover? Racism exists (surprise! surprise!) in both the North and the South. My brothers and sisters of color could, of course, have told me this way back then, before I moved North. Some of my White brothers and sisters still won’t admit it. I still see Northerners pointing only to the South when they talk about virulent racism, then walk out my Northern door and hear someone openly use the “n” word. I still hear people talk about how offended they were when they visited the South and saw only Blacks cleaning their hotel rooms, cleaning streets, taking care of McMansion yards, etc. I can’t understand why they don’t look around themselves when they come home to see that they may not be Black, but everyone around them laboring in the same way, serving a majority white, middle class population, has brown skin.

I no longer want to run away from racism. I want to confront it, the fact that it’s systemic in American culture, a culture in which Whites were the dominant tribe for so long. I want to confront it in others, in myself. I want to say to people, “Stop pretending this is a problem limited to one area of the country. Or a problem defined by whichever political party you belong to. Or a problem other people have, but you don’t.” I want to challenge my White brothers and sisters to stop being offended when someone accuses them of being racist, and to listen (really listen) instead, to find out why something they’re doing might be considered racist, to learn to put themselves in others’ shoes by letting others describe those shoes, in detail, to them. I want my brothers and sisters of color to call me out when I’m saying/doing something racist, because I know the only way I can stop being racist is to be told what I’m doing that is racist. I need educating (we all do), and the only way to be educated is to be taught. So talk to me, send me articles, send me videos. Let me ask questions. Let’s engage in open dialogue, and no matter how stupid I may sound (and I will sound stupid. I’m really only ignorant. I promise I can learn), please try to stick with me. Please try to be kind.

Having said “please try to be kind”, I also want to note that Americans of color have a right to be angry. They have a right to be angry when some childish crime takes place in a lily-white community and someone says, “Just you wait. When they catch these kids, they won’t be White,” as I once heard someone say. (Yeah, because there are so many people of color living there just dying to draw attention to themselves that way. Better yet, so many are making their way from their own communities to all-White communities to commit such crimes, because they know how safe it is to do that.) Americans of color have a right to be angry when an unarmed Black man is killed by a White police officer and that officer walks away scot-free.

We should all be angered by abuses of power, no matter one’s skin color, and we should put aside all other factors (country of origin, class, party affiliation, religion, gender, etc.) to fight such abuses. I’ve read a couple of articles recently in which people indicated that they expected riots after what happened in North Charleston, S.C., when Walter Scott was shot dead by Michael Slager. My reaction was, “Huh? Why would there be riots?” Yes, it was awful — terrible — and my heart broke when I watched that video footage, seeing a man ruthlessly kill another like that. It makes me very angry. But what assuages my anger? Unlike in the case of Rodney King (some of us are old enough to remember him and how much those reports disturbed us), unlike in the case of Trayvon Martin, unlike Eric Garner, justice was swiftly served here. Slager is a murderer, and he was immediately charged as such. He also lost his job. No, it doesn’t bring Scott back to life, but it was the just thing to do. White people don’t tend to riot when justice is served to compensate for an atrocity. Guess what, White people writing those articles. Neither do Black people. Why riot when justice has been served?

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know that I’m a minister’s wife. As such, I happen to believe that we are all souls temporarily housed in bodies. For some inexplicable reason, my soul happens to be housed in a body in a society in which I’ve been showered with privilege. I’m female, yes, and that has its problems, but I’m White; I’m middle class; my parents were able to afford to spend money on a good education for me; so I’m privileged. There’s no way I’d ever know what it’s like not to be privileged without friends who’ve spent most of their lives standing at the back of the line rather than in the front with me. They open my eyes to how lucky I am.

I don’t happen to believe that this life is all this soul has. What I believe is that my soul goes on and on and that it’s meant to connect with as many other souls as it possibly can, that they all have things to teach me, and I don’t believe those souls are distinguished by color. What this soul has learned so far is that, first and foremost, we are all human. We are shaped by our cultures, yes, but we are all human, and I start with that.

If you’re black or brown or orange or green, I really don’t care. I care to the extent that I want to know what your experience is, but I care much, much more about all we have in common, the ways we laugh and cry and rejoice and mourn together, and all the ways we can love each other despite any differences we might have. And, truth be told again, I have no idea (even if you aren’t someone who believes in the concept of a soul) why anyone wouldn’t want to live a life full of getting to know others, opening themselves up to as much love as they can during these short lives we live here on earth.

So, there you have it. That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.

Of Cursive and Smart Writing

HandwritingSo, I recently read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the first book in the series. I know, I know. I’m w-a-a-a-y behind the times. Most of the kids I know who introduced me to this series will be headed off to college soon. But, you see, the series is still so popular that the books rarely stay on the shelves of our library, especially the first one (and I’m anal enough that I have to read things in order). Finding this book in our library is like finding a four-leaf clover, but it showed up one day, with no holds on it, so I nabbed it.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, the author and publishers have done a good job of making the books look like facsimiles of a kid’s journal entries. The pages are lined like notebook paper and filled with drawings and writing that looks like it was written by hand. It’s an engaging book, and I was reading along, enjoying it immensely, when I got to a section where Greg (our middle school “hero”) includes a few notes from his mom.

These notes are written, as any woman over the age of thirty would expect a note written to a sixth-grader would be, in script (or cursive). At least, you’d think any woman over the age of thirty would expect that, but I didn’t, nor would many of the women in my school district think that. My thought was, “How do all the kids checking out this book read that?”

You see, in our school district (which isn’t alone, obviously, if you’re able to read the image I’ve included with this post. I just pulled it from an online search for images of handwriting), they’ve stopped teaching kids how to read and write script. I think the (short-sided) logic behind this must be that it’s a useless skill bound to go the way of the dinosaurs now that everyone keyboards (to use a hideous “newspeak” term). Since I don’t have children, this is something I wouldn’t have known had a colleague of mine not told me that her teenage sons can’t read the notes she writes unless she prints them. Aren’t these kids frustrated by that? I remember how I felt when I finally learned to read, so happy, only to discover that I still couldn’t read all the hand-written cards in my baby scrapbook, because I didn’t yet know how to read cursive. I couldn’t wait to learn!

What an abomination, really, that kids aren’t being taught to read and write script. Now, lest you think I’m some old-fashioned, back-to-the-basics, curmudgeon who thinks school should be like it was in 1955, let me tell you that I’m all in favor of a changing curriculum that takes into account the times in which we live. Calculators in the classroom? Absolutely (especially if they’re graphing calculators). Memorizing the chronology of events? Yes, kids should have an understanding of history that takes into account events of the past, how they may have impacted other past events that came after, as well as how they might affect our present. They can’t do this, if they don’t know that the U.S. Civil War came before World War I, which came before the Spanish Civil War, which came before World War II. Memorizing exact dates of specific battles? Why, when everyone walks around with the Internet in his or her pocket these days? Have them memorize poems and songs they like, so they can carry art around with them at all times. Have them memorize commands and codes and sources of information in an age when there’s so much information available and those who succeed will be those who know how to get and interpret it.

But deciding not to teach script shows an utter lack of imagination. I won’t get into all the primary sources that will be lost to these kids (letters and first-drafts of novels and compositions, etc.), but I will get into one of my first thoughts about raising a generation that can’t read what I write (and not just because of my notoriously bad handwriting). What’s going to happen to one of these kids in a few years when she gets her first job, walks into the office on her first day of work, sits down in her cubicle, and finds a sticky note on her desk (written by her childless, forty-something-year-old boss in a barely legible cursive scrawl), “Please pull and read the Smith files for our lunch meeting with the Battleby Group today.”?

That was my first thought. These days, I’m thinking about Smartpens and Smart Notebooks. If you don’t know what these are, take a look at this. They’re in their infancy, and they have their flaws, but I’m quite sure they’re our new future (especially if those of us who happen to be pen obsessives have any say). One day, we will move away from clumsy laptops and awkward keyboards and back to the elegance and simplicity of the pen and notebook, a pen and notebook that will archive what we write both digitally and on paper. When we do, anyone who can’t write in cursive will be at a disadvantage, because, everyone knows, it’s quicker and easier to write in cursive than in print.

So, you see? I’m not so w-a-a-a-a-y behind the times after all. Greg the Wimpy Kid may be grown with wimpy middle schoolers of his own by the time I finally get through his series, but I’m ahead of my time because I can read and write cursive. I’ll be able to teach those who can’t when it comes back into vogue.

I Have (Next to Nothing) to Fear

HandgunLast fall, I was at a party with friends when the topic of Ferguson came up. The conversation was less about race and more about cops. I made the point that cops should be trained to use their guns to protect themselves and others, yes, but not to riddle people with bullets. Maybe I’m naïve, but I would think that of all the people in the world, policemen, along with soldiers, would be the ones who most effectively know how to use firearms. I said, “If I were a cop and felt threatened, I wouldn’t shoot to kill.” One of my friends said, “And that’s why we don’t want you to be a cop.” He’s right. You don’t want me to be a cop.

I don’t own a gun. So shoot me. As someone who doesn’t own a gun, I’m sure I’m a minority in my neighborhood, which maybe puts me in danger, but I don’t feel like I’m in danger (despite the fact I happen to know perfectly well that there’s a woman who lives about 1/4 mile down the street who sometimes gets high and randomly shoots bullets out her back door). I’ve been all over this country and to many different parts of this world and have never felt the need for a gun. I’ve lived in New York City, a place I know some people are scared to set foot in, and I didn’t feel the need to own a gun there. There are people in this world who need guns: hunters, soldiers, police officers, National Park rangers, those living on wildlife preserves in Africa (like in the book The Elephant Whisperer, which I recently listened to), those who own convenience stores or other places likely to be targets of robberies. I am not one of them.

The main reason I don’t own a gun is that I don’t believe in killing, not even in self defense. I’d rather just let someone kill me than to have to live with the knowledge that I’d killed someone else. Since I don’t believe in killing, it makes no sense for me to own something designed for the sole function of killing or threatening to kill.

I know that the number one reason most people in America own guns is for protection. We’re a fearful nation, and I guess people are convinced that they are highly likely to be attacked and/or shot by someone else and that the only way to prevent this is to own a gun. I choose not to be fearful. Instead, I look at the statistical likelihood of my being a victim; I use my head to keep myself out of harm’s way (you won’t catch me wandering around in secluded areas, drunk, after midnight, or accepting rides from or opening my door to strangers); and I accept the fact that if I’m meant to be some fluke, someone in my demographic who dies from a bullet wound, well, then so be it.

There are other reasons I don’t own a gun:

1. I have a friend who, along with her husband, suffers from severe depression. She once said to me, only half-jokingly, “I doubt either of us would still be alive if we owned guns.” I’m glad they don’t own guns. Anyone who’s studied psychology knows that the most effective way to turn an attempted suicide into a successful suicide is to use a gun. In 2010, according to a Pew Research Center study, 19,392 gun deaths out of a total of 31,672 (that’s 61%, well over half) were suicides. Because depression is unpredictable, and I never know whom I might invite to spend a night in my home who is depressed, I don’t like the notion of keeping an easy means to suicide around the house.

2. I don’t trust myself. I’m accident prone and forgetful. Having a gun in my home would be like having a venomous snake in my home. If someone I love were to get bitten, I’d have only myself to blame for owning a venomous snake. As I’ve said before, if you want to have a venomous snake in your home, fine, but I have enough things to worry about without having to worry about someone dying because a bullet was accidentally shot from a gun I own.

3. Although protecting myself from gun-wielding killers might seem like a good reason to own a gun (if I could wave it at them without actually having to shoot them), I know that I am highly unlikely to be attacked and killed by someone with a gun. There were 11,078 gun homicides in the U.S. in 2010 (Pew study) when the number of deaths that year were 2,465,936 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). That means that less than 1% of the people who died in the U.S. in 2010 died from gunshot wounds. Even if you look at the number of all homicides (gun and non-gun), the number is 14, 748 (FBI), still less than 1%.  If someone told you you had less than a 1% chance of falling down a flight of stairs and dying, would you avoid stairs? I think not, which is why I’m not worried about protecting myself from someone with a gun. There are a few other factors that work in my favor, making me even less likely to die at the hands of some homicidal maniac: my age, my gender, the fact that I’m not the victim of domestic violence, the fact that I’m not a drug addict, not in a gang, and, sad to say, the fact that I’m white.

4. Another tempting reason to have a gun is to protect myself from a psycho serial killer, one who is intent on raping and torturing me before killing me. Tempting, that is, until I consider the likelihood of that happening. I know if you watch any TV or read any popular books, magazines, and websites, it seems like the U.S. is just teeming with psychopathic serial killers waiting to break into your home to torture and kill you (who, incidentally, seem to choose to do so when you’re asleep in bed, pouncing on you before you have time to grab a gun, so what good is that gun gonna do?), but according to the Radford University Serial Killer Information Center (yes, there is such a place), the average number of serial killer victims per year in the U.S. is less than 130. And I thought the chances of my being shot and killed were low! Since I’m not a drug addict or a prostitute, who are more likely to be serial killer victims, my chances of being such a victim are minuscule. I am far, far more likely to get hit by lightning (1000 deaths per year according to the National Lightning Safety Institute). I’d be better off carrying around a lightning rod than a gun, if I’m going to worry about protecting myself from highly unlikely events.

5. As a woman, according to data from the 2000 FBI Supplementary Homicide report, I am five times more likely to be killed by an intimate acquaintance than I am by a stranger. I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to go around trying to protect myself from my intimate acquaintances. Were I to own a gun, I doubt I’d bother to get it out if someone I know and love were to come knocking at my door. Therefore, it would only be good for protecting me if some complete stranger, with the intent to kill me, were to come knocking at my door, and we all know how likely (see point #3) that is to happen.

6. Handguns are expensive. Wow! They seem to start at $125 and go up from there. I never buy the  cheapest model of anything, so if I were to buy one, I’d probably spend what seems to be an average price, around $350. Do you know how many books I could get for that? (And I bet with a little target practice, I could use a book as a weapon. Hit someone in the jugular with War and Peace and he’s going down.) Better yet, think how many hungry children I could feed with that money, or how many women living in shelters to escape domestic violence I could help feed and clothe.

7. I am not afraid of government raids. Being afraid of a government raid in America is like being afraid of being hit by a meteor. Could it happen? Well, in the sense that anything could happen, sure, but to allow myself to be afraid of something so unlikely? Didn’t we use to institutionalize people for being that kind of paranoid? Besides, even if I were, what good is my gun (or let’s be optimistic and say guns, one for each hand. Maybe even one for each hand and foot if I’ve managed to learn to sit on my butt and shoot with my toes) going to do against the U.S. Marine Corps?

8. To my knowledge, I don’t know a soul who has ever managed to avoid being a victim by using a gun (if you are reading this and are such a person, please let me know). I do know one person who happened to be home when someone broke into her apartment, who reacted angrily and wasn’t hurt. She didn’t have a gun. That’s anecdotal evidence, I know, but compare it to the number of people I’ve known, during my lifetime, who’ve died of cancer or heart failure or who’ve been seriously injured or killed in car accidents, and you can see why I might be more concerned about those things than about protecting myself with a gun.

And there we have it. Do I worry about protecting myself from danger and disease? Yes. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. I wear my seatbelt. I exercise for strength and balance. I try to eat a healthy diet. I get yearly physicals. Do I want to waste my time, energy, and money protecting myself from things that are highly unlikely to happen to me? No, life is too short for that.

The Classics Club’s Question #31

Classics Club RenoirWhat about modern classics? Pick a book published since 2000 and say why you think it will be considered a “classic” in the future.

(Every month, the Classics Club creates its own meme by giving its members a question to answer. I’m relatively new to the club, so I’m beginning here with Question #31. I may go back and answer some past questions at some point in time.)

This is a tough one. Over the years, I’ve had quite a few discussions with friends and family members about “The Decline and Fall of Great Literature”. The majority of these discussions have revolved around the question, “What, if anything, written since 1950 will people still be reading 100 years from now?” The answer can’t really be “nothing”, as tempting as it is to say that, because, of course, some books will survive, just as they have through all the different eras. Still, I’ve had a hard enough time with that one but can come up with works like 100 Years of Solitude, as well as books by the likes of John Irving and Anne Tyler, if we’re looking at American writers.

Here, though, the Classics Club, always willing to challenge us in new and different ways, tells us to forget the 20th century. I can’t fall back on The Cider House Rules. I have to come up with something written post-1999 — an era in which we’ve witnessed “The Decline and Fall of the Publishing Industry”, when publishers decided to do such stupid things as providing companion web sites to books and toying with the idea of letting readers write their own endings to books (as if any Real Reader ever wanted to put down a book to go explore a web site or to have to write an ending. The latter is what writers are paid to do, not readers). It’s also been an era of shoddy editing and proofreading (because, of course, publishing companies have to pay to create web sites, and a great way to do that is to lay off such inessential staff members as production editors, outsourcing their jobs to people for whom English is a second language. Notice all the typos and grammatical errors in my blog posts? We writers — even those of us who were once editors — need good editors, because it’s so hard to edit our own stuff), so if you’re someone with an editorial mind, you find yourself driven crazy by the most basic typos and grammatical errors that show up in so many published books these days.

It’s been an era in which we’ve seen many trends embraced by authors, not the least of which is “my clever version of post-modernism.” This means you’ll be hard-pressed to find a book that doesn’t play around with narrative voice, leaving the reader wondering, “Who the hell is speaking now?” or tense, leaving the reader wondering, “When did this happen? Yesterday? Right now?” And it’s been an era in which authors (or is it their publishers?) have decided that the “freshest” thing to do just might be to mix media. Let’s see what happens if part of this story is told via Excel spreadsheet! Let’s tell this story via alternating chapters of prose and collages made from magazine images!

Finally, we also must try to trick the reader and have some huge, unforeseen plot twist halfway through the book. You thought that was eleven-year-old Sarah, the oldest child of the family telling the story? It’s actually Sarah the Dog, and her younger brothers are Bill the hamster and Thad the cat. You thought Rob was waxing poetic about his wife Kelly? He was actually going on about his husband Kelly. You thought you were right there along with Detective Solvit, trying to figure out who’d tortured and mutilated the beauty queen, only to discover that the reason he’s so efficient at piecing together the crime is that he’s not Detective Solvit at all. He’s the psychopathic murderer.

Yes, I read this stuff (I’m a librarian after all), but I so often find myself needing to return to Trollope or Twain or Chandler, if only to escape all the typos and grammatical errors. This means my knee-jerk reaction to the fine folks running The Classics Club was “Nothing.” Again, though, that’s a ridiculous answer. Certainly, some of the books being published today will be embraced by future generations, to be studied, read, and loved. We have some authors who are taking hold of post-modernism and post-post-modernism and doing them right. We have new genres that are working, and some writers who are turning old genres into new classics. In fact, when I began to go back through the works I’ve read, I began to discover I’ve read quite a few of these future classics. I found it hard to choose just one, which means that this book curmudgeon is going to give you more than one (I hope that’s not cheating the meme). I could probably give you ten, but I will stick to five. Here they are, alphabetical by title.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Say what you will about Stephen King. He will be read and studied by future generations. He’s a man who brought the horror genre to whole new levels in the late 20th century, and he’s also a great candidate for “books into films” studies. 11/22/63 was a different sort of book for him — more sci-fi/fantasy than horror (although those three often overlap), but it was the book that got the snobbiest of critics to acknowledge (however grudgingly) that King was worth our attention. For my part? I’ve always loved King for his imagination and scare factor, and I was skeptical of this “un-horror” story, but I fell right into it, loved every minute of its “what if” challenge.

& Sons by David Gilbert

The late twentieth-century saw a decline in WASP literature and rightly so. We needed to make room for all the fabulous multiculturalism that’s been introduced to us since 1970, but we need not throw the baby out with the bath water, no matter how fond Americans seem to be of doing so. It was about time someone gave us a new spin on the WASP novel, and David Gilbert was the man to do it. This one is a fine example of such (with a nod to J.D. Salinger, since it features a Salinger-like writer). This love letter to New York City is also a 21st-century exploration of the father-son relationship, a hot topic in literature since, well, forever. There’s a bit of a sic-fi twist thrown in for good measure, which I enjoyed, but what kept me reading was the whole question of what makes and breaks father-son bonds. I’m quite sure Gilbert is going to go on to publish other important works.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Stephen Galloway

I was impressed by the pure poetry of this novel, the way Galloway interwove music with words. It was not an easy read, as the topic is devastating, but it was a powerful, historic one. If you’ve forgotten all about Sarajevo, you need to read this book as a reminder of what it was, how horrific it was, and as a reminder of the power of the arts to redeem us all. The fact that it gave us a female soldier, a rarity in literature until recently, is another reason it will survive (as an early example of such characters).

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Full disclosure, I haven’t actually finished reading this one yet, so I may change my mind, but, thus far, I am extremely impressed. Mitchell has proven that there are some writers out there who have turned post-modernism into an exact science. He’s an incredible writer, able to give a fresh voice to so many tried and true writing methods. He’s clever, not for the mere sake of being clever, like so many writing today, but rather, I gather, because he just can’t help himself, and also because he applauds us readers for being who we are, relishing our enjoyment of reading.

Fun Home by Allison Bechdel

This one will go down in history as an early example of graphic memoir. I loved it both for Bechdel’s drawing style and for her writing style, not to mention her interesting story. She has proven here that there’s a reason for the graphic art form –when the right pictures really can do a subject much more justice than a long page of prose, especially when combined with a few words. She’s also proven that sometimes blending media, when it isn’t forced or being used to demonstrate how clever someone is (or thinks she is), can work beautifully. This one will also probably make history for being one of the first memoirs to look candidly at homosexual relationships.

So, there you have it. Five classics for you to get reading now, so that in 40 years you can say, “Oh, yeah, I knew that one was going to last.” In the meantime, tell me what future classics I ought to be reading now.

Postscripts to Posts


It’s inevitable. I write a blog post and, within a few weeks, things change, or I think of something else I should’ve said, or someone tells me something, either in a comment or in real life, that changes everything. So, today, I’m going to add some postscripts to some of my posts.

“5 Things You Will Never Hear Me Say”

Okay, I admit it. I was at work one day, and before I knew what I was saying, someone asked me about something, and I replied, “You could probably Google that.” Shame on me, I know! But it rarely happens, and I noticed when I was spending time with my siblings last weekend that they don’t use “Google” as a verb either, so maybe my abhorrence of it is inherited?

“Books I Won’t Read”

When Bob and I were in Maine over New Year’s, we went to Bookmarcs, a place we always make sure to visit when in Bangor. There, I found this lovely little book that fits perfectly in my purse for carrying around to read whenever I find myself stuck waiting somewhere. It’s by Alan Bennett, whom I love. I don’t know why I didn’t think that a book called Smut would have graphic sex scenes in it, but probably it was because I was sure Bennett was using the word in some clever sort of  ironic way. He, of course, was, but now that I’m halfway through the first of these two stories, and have discovered graphic sex scenes, I have to admit that I haven’t stopped reading. So far, though, they seem to be pretty central to the story, so I’m not really having to eat my own words, because I did note in that post that if the scenes were important to the story, I will read such a book. I’ll let you know when I finish the whole thing what my final verdict is (see “Pages: Books in Brief”, coming sometime in the next month).

“Props for Two Companies Doing Customer Service Right”

I have to add another company here. I even have to apologize to that company, because it’s one of the ones I had in mind when I was complaining about the warranty process many companies have. The company is Lifeproof. Lifeproof makes cell phone cases that keep klutzes like me, who drop their phones all the time, from having shattered phones. They also keep your cell phone dry. These cases are expensive, and the only reason I have one is that Verizon (a company whose customer service I won’t praise, BTW) screwed up with an offer they gave us last year when we were buying new phones, so they gave us these cases half price as part of our deal. Filling out the warranty for my Lifeproof case was a royal pain, and I was really upset when it started to fall apart. I couldn’t get the headphone jack protector to screw in anymore, and then the case started popping out of its rubber casing. I was sure when I got in touch with the company they’d tell me they were sorry, but I’d done something wrong when I filled out the warranty, and they couldn’t help me. Instead, I got an email back from them immediately, telling me they would handle it. Within 24 hours, they had shipped me a brand new case, no questions asked. So, you can add them to the list of “Great Companies.”

“May I Be Boring and Talk about Serial?”

My obsession with “Serial” has died down, although I do still find people who haven’t listened to it and tell them they must  gently suggest they might enjoy it. Since I wrote that post, though, there’s been an interesting interview with Jay here. I still don’t know what I think of him. He could be a sociopath, but maybe he’s just a guy who was scared and got dragged into something completely against his will. I’m hoping we’ll get some more answers in the case now that the Maryland Court of Appeals has agreed, this summer, to hear arguments in Adnan’s case. The whole story is still just awfully suspicious to me. it does seem to me that both boys were in on something together, but how and why, exactly? Also, Jay seems not to be able to remember some pretty basic stuff, yet, other stuff, he can describe in vivid detail. That doesn’t make sense to me.

“What Does a Minister Do All Week”

First of all, I need to thank two people here. My cousin Katharine decided she wanted to share that post with her church, which she did, but she suggested it needed an image (probably all my posts do. It does look odd when I link them on FB, and they come up with blank squares, so I’m adding an image to this one that technically has nothing to do with this post). I was trying to find something when my friend Dominique posted the perfect thing on her own FB page. That’s how I got the image. Also, I thought last November was the first time I’d done that sort of tracking of Bob’s time, but yesterday, I was sorting through some old stuff of mine and found I’d done the same thing back in May 2012. Seems he and I have been having these calm discussions for some time now (not that I’m the least bit resentful or anything…).

The Queen’s Latest Meme

Back in the day, when I was named the Queen o’ Memes, I regularly posted memes on my blog and tagged other bloggers to participate. We had great fun with those memes, which were much more creative than most of what gets dubbed a “meme” on Facebook these days. Ms. Musings was a happy participant back then, and she recently suggested I might make a little exercise of hers into a new meme. I liked the exercise, so I took the challenge.

She was at a workshop for her job, in which they were assigned some homework. One thing they had to do was to write up their visions and share them. They had to describe what the best six months of their lives would look like, as (she describes it) a sort of positive thinking/empowerment/take responsibility for your own life activity. It sounded like a fun challenge, because, like she, “I find people who make poor decisions and then whine about the consequences and act as if life has it in for them entirely punch worthy.” So, here’s my vision:

1. My home is finally decluttered, dejunked, and well-organized.

2. All the furniture I want to keep that needs repair or reupholstering has now been repaired and reupholstered, and because of #1 and #2, I now love my home instead of thinking of it as monumental tasks that never get done.

3. I have been writing every. single. day. for at least 2 hours a day and preferably 3. It doesn’t matter what: short stories, blog posts, chapters of novels, letters… The key is that I’m writing every day (the way Stephen King says I should).

4. I have been submitting works I’ve written for publication on a regular basis and have had at least one thing published somewhere (anywhere).

5. I have driven cross-country and back, staying with wonderful friends all along the way to the west coast and all the way back to the east coast.

That’s it. Let the six months begin!

Meanwhile, if you’re reading this, consider yourself tagged. If you don’t have a blog, but you’re on Facebook, use the “Notes” section of that. What do your six best months look like?