All Kinds of Happy

I have not posted here in a while.  I’ve been on deadline for another project.  But that project is going really well so I thought I’d post a representation of my mood.

As an introvert who works from home and overthinks every stinking word she puts on paper, these good days are to be celebrated.  I hope you’re happy and healthy today, too.

happy tulip pug

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Fifty Shades of Grunt

handcuffs

SAFETY NOTE TO PARTNERS OF PEOPLE WHO READ/WATCHED/LIKED 50 SHADES: (added 11 Feb 15)  Even if your partner found this book — and now movie — titillating, it is not guaranteed that they will accept having these same things done to them. If you know that they would indeed enjoy this type of play, do not cheap out and get your toys from a hardware store. Zip ties are off limits as well as scratchy ropes no matter what the movie did. Do not improvise. Do not buy sex toys that are labeled “For novelty use.” They are not safe and have not been tested to be used in the way you are planning. For your relationship’s sake your goal must be, “A good time was had by all.”

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(Article originally appeared on my old blog in 2013.)

Does your sex life need a kick in the pants? Well America, I know that when I want to read something titillating to get me into a romantic mood, I always look for sophomoric prose and insipid innuendo. Pitiful editing and lame dialogue gets me so hot. That’s why I’m a huge fan of the uber-blockbuster, Fifty Shades of Grey.

E. L. James, yep that’s a pseudonym, wrote a humdinger of a trashy trilogy after she read Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight trilogy. I haven’t read Meyers’ work, but I think it involves sparkly vampires, hunky werewolves, and one pale, angst-ridden teenage girl. I also heard that it has sold a gazillion copies worldwide and launched the careers of several nubile actors. In other words, it’s a monster money machine.

Ms. James’ homage to Twilight is well on its way to mega-profitability, too. This sexy stunner is set in Washington state, a steamy locale if ever there were one. (What was wrong with Aruba?) The motherland of flannel shirts, fog, and frappuccinos makes the perfect setting for a fresh college girl to meet a billionaire, that’s with a “B” folks, a billionaire who is fairly fresh himself at only 27 years old. He’s mysterious, he’s attractive, he’s young, he’s brooding, he’s a billionaire, so of course virginal Susie Sorority is going to get a slick case of the thigh-sweats for this guy.

Well, why shouldn’t she fall for the incredibly wealthy, but emotionally bruised man? What woman among us hasn’t let our sympathies sweep us into dating the misunderstood bad boy? Young women have a soft spot for a stray dog of a man. We have that weakness for men that don’t pull up in a limo, so think how vulnerable this baby girl is. Thankfully we grow out of this need to nurture once we learn that there’s always mange, fleas, and possibly rabies included in the package. Men who are stray dogs have attained that status because smarter women have already kicked them to the curb. Lesson learned.

Unfortunately Miss Anastasia Steele (I’m not kidding you) has not learned the wily ways of the world yet. Mr. Christian Grey (once again, I am not making this up) preys on her innocence and entices her to his Red Room (where’s Fellini when you need him) of lightweight BDSM pleasures.

Okay, this could be romping good fun. This could get the juices flowing in a marabou feather boa kind of way. But it doesn’t. Why? Apparently old E. L. programmed certain phrases into the function keys on her keyboard and randomly hit them every so often, you know, like a coke-addicted chimpanzee would. The repetition in this short book is without precedent. Ms. James’ word choices becomes distractingly fascinating in themselves.

If my Kindle search engine is to be believed, and it’s as good as anything else in this story, our little flower about to be deflowered, Anastasia says, “Jeez” 81 times and “oh my” 72 times. There are variations on the word “crap” such as “oh crap,” “double crap,” “holy crap,” and my personal favorite, “triple crap” combined for almost 100 occurrences.

Ana blushes like she’s having a stroke, approximately 125 times. She also rolls her eyes every five minutes or so, making you want to climb through the pages and bitch-slap her like the immature brat she is. In the brief interludes between eye-rolls, she raises her eyebrows. Jim Henson would not ask one of his Muppets do this much facial manipulation to convey emotions. It would have been overacting, even for Miss Piggy.

There are a combined 128 “frowns” between Ana and Christian and 125 “grins.” Schizophrenia is not pretty, people. Ana no longer has a bottom lip, having bitten it a whopping 35 times. Maybe that’s why she can’t speak articulately any more as evidenced by the staggering number of times that she and Christian “whisper” (195 times) or “murmur” (200 times) or “mutter” (50 times). Obviously this book is not for the hard-of-hearing, what with all the whispering going on.

Whatever hotness may have been achieved within these pages, whatever sensual pleasures unfolded, whatever tingle were to transpire are completely obliterated by the repetitive, lazy language.   When you can turn reading into a drinking game, “Ahhh, she’s blushing again, take another shot,” then there’s no story. There’s no connection to the reader. The book is the literary version of a cheap Chinese knock off of a designer hand bag. From a distance, it looks like a book. But once you start reading it, the handle falls off and the seams split.

It’s shoddy work about a young man who could legally be classified as a stalker and a girl too naive to leave her house alone and it has made E. L. James money hand over fist. The movie rights were bid up in the multiple million dollar range and the book has squatted on the venerable New York Times bestseller list for an abysmally long time.

So, congratulations to E. L. James for her burgeoning bank account. Congratulations on her chutzpah to throw this manuscript out and see what the public thought. Congratulations to her for so thoroughly taking to heart that old P. T. Barnum quote, “No one ever went broke underestimating public taste.”

No P.T, they most certainly did not. In fact they made buckets of cash while they whispered, blushed, holy crapped, and rolled their eyes all the way to the bank.

 

Serendipity

orangutan

(I feel like I need a hug this week.)

 

It’s been a rough couple of weeks around here. The house is cold because the house fire left a Mack truck sized hole in the living room wall. I mean, it’s covered now with cheap plywood and blue tarp, but it is frigid outside. I guess frigid is a relative term, so I’ll elaborate. Our night temps on Monday are projected to be 6 degrees. Single digit, six, just 6 degrees. Barely higher than that for the next few nights.  I’m not a big fan of ambient temperature less than the sum of my fingers and toes and here we are in the midst of a cold wave that doesn’t even require all my fingers. As my Yankee in-laws might say, it’s wicked cold. Six degrees. Now there’s a fine night for a fire in the wood stove. Oh yeah, I forgot. That’s the reason I have a gaping maw in my wall.

So, I’m a little brittle. Peevish. Ask my husband. He’ll say “snappish.” Short-tempered. All is not right within my world. The word “bitch” is not inaccurate this week. I am in a right fine snit.  Hissy fit a coming.  Woe be to those who seek favors, donations, or “just a minute of my time.” Go ahead.  Ask.  I dare you.

In the midst of all this internal chaos and pitiful coping skills, I took a moment to listen to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. It’s a short daily program on NPR (National Public Radio) that explores word origins, poetry, birthdays of august writers, and whatever else strikes Mr. Keillor’s fancy. I would categorize it as mildly interesting fluff, except that I’m a word origin nut so it really pushes my buttons. Love it.

Yesterday they reran an old post on the 2004 paper by a British translation service that listed the ten English words they thought were the most difficult, if not downright impossible, to translate. I can not find the complete list of ten, but some of the words included were gobbledegook, poppycock, spam, and whimsy. Kitsch was also included but that word is originally German so I don’t think that qualifies as an English word that is impossible to translate.

Then there it was, shining brightly among the rest, my favorite word in the whole world: serendipity. I love saying the word serendipity. I love the melody of it. I love the way it feels in my mouth. More than anything, I love the whole idea of serendipity. It is defined as a fortunate happenstance, or a pleasant surprise, but it is so much more than that. It is a moment of good luck when you do not expect it and are not looking for it. It’s not life-altering, just a magical flash of delight in your day. Ta da, it’s the quarter on the sidewalk, the front row seat becoming available right as you ask for a ticket, the perfect parking spot just as you turn into the lane, arriving in a foreign city and bumping into a long lost friend in the taxi line.

It is Alexander Fleming forgetting to disinfect some of his petri dishes holding bacteria cultures before vacation and coming back to discover that the penicillium mold that had taken over in his absence killed the bacteria. Ta da, penicillin. Viagra was developed to treat angina and hypertension, and it failed. Ta da, head south of the belly button and Viagra rocked the house. Serendipity loves laboratories, as X-rays, radioactivity, inkjet printers, the Slinky, all were moments of ta-freaking-da as other things were being pursued.

Julius Comroe, Jr., a medical researcher and surgeon extraordinaire specializing in the heart and lungs, was no stranger to the concept of serendipity. His most famous quote on the subject is, “Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.” I have to think that old Julius would have been fun at parties.

There’s a trick to serendipity, though. You have to be open to it. You have to be wandering through life with open eyes and an open heart to catch the many moments of serendipity dropped in your path. If you have your head down, texting away, mind whirling with a Sisyphean To Do list, grumbling, multitasking yourself into numbness, you’ll miss it all.  I am sad to admit that I have been too shut down to recognize serendipity lately.

So to pull myself out of the living-room-as-a-refrigerator blues, I reviewed the more obvious moments of fortune I did not fully appreciate this past week. Insurance adjusters were prompt and more importantly, they were sympathetic and reasonable. State Farm got us a check in just three days. Contractor has been here and has started getting materials together for the rebuild. My dear friend Mary Ann sent me a surprise box stuffed with goodies. I found a $5 bill in the laundry. All things that I simply wasn’t appropriately grateful for at the time they happened. I hope I did not miss too many more because I wasn’t paying attention. If I walked past a winning lottery ticket, please do not tell me.

I guess six degrees will be tolerable. I own multiple sets of long underwear. I have four large, lovable dogs and a cuddly husband for extra warmth. There are blankets here. I have all the ingredients to make a big pot of chili. There’s a well-stocked liquor cabinet.  Who knows?  It might turn out to be my coziest night ever. How’s that for serendipity?

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NOTE:  If you are interested in listening to the Writer’s Almanac, the link is:  http://writersalmanac.org

Attention Writers: Nice Matters

Keep Calm & Southern

Some say that being a writer requires a healthy ego. I say you better grow yourself a cast iron exoskeleton if you want to make it all the way to published. Editors, publishers, and agents are all lined up six deep to reject your writing. If you are a thin-skinned person, you are going to be wounded by the submission process. Take heart. I have advice and hope for you.

Point 1: It is not personal. In fact, repeat that phrase as your writer’s mantra. It is not personal. Your piece can be rejected for various reasons, none of which reflects poorly on you. Perhaps the editor just bought a story last week that is similar to yours. Maybe your piece wasn’t a smooth fit for that publication’s audience. Maybe your timing was off, submitting a Christmas story after the December issue was full. Maybe the slush pile reader is coming down with the flu and is hopped up on Dayquil and Kleenex dust.

Point 2: If someone takes the time to give you constructive criticism, they see potential in your writing. It’s a compliment. Thank them. Don’t lash out just because your rejection now has a name and an email address. If you are anything less than gracious to their guidance, you are telling someone that might pay you one day that you’re difficult and is that really your intended message? I hope not.

Point 3: Everyone in the publishing industry has the memory of an elephant when it comes to bad behavior. Be hateful to one editor, every editor within 500 miles will have heard the story. You may think you’re only telling off an intern at a tiny publication but at the next conference, they are regaling everyone with the tale of your temper tantrum. Editors share information good and bad, but more likely bad.

Point 4: If all else is equal, being nice matters. I don’t care how brilliant you are, people will balk at hiring you if you are miserable. If you are kind, you have an advantage. Case in point, I submitted a story to Blue Ridge Country magazine. This particular story was dear to me, as it was about a beloved family member.   The story was rejected. The editor said that it was too similar to stories provided by their featured columnist. Though I was disappointed, I still wrote a thank-you note.

I submitted another story to Blue Ridge Country. This one was accepted. A couple of months later, the editor emailed me to say that his columnist was retiring after more than twenty years. He said that the first person he thought of to replace her was me. He asked if I’d like to become a featured columnist for the magazine. Would I? My first column (Mill Creek Stories) is in the January 2015 issue. I would not have been offered this job had I been grumpy when rejected. The lesson? Nice really does matter.