Sunday, March 31, 2013

Gardening Is No Crime

Wow!  Insanity in my own back yard.  Watch out gardening friends.  April 20th is coming up.  This could happen to you.

If only the raid, called Operation Constant Gardner, had occurred 4/20/2013 instead of 4/20/2012, this Leawood, Kansas family whose house was raided in a fruitless search for an illegal plant, could just move across the state line to Colorado, where marijuana is completely legal, to flee such an absurd police state in Kansas.  But they're not leaving.  They're staying and fighting:
Read more here:

Nearly a year after the SWAT-style raid, the Hartes still don’t know what evidence deputies used to persuade a judge to grant a warrant to search their home in the 10300 block of Wenonga Lane on April 20.Their requests for records that could provide such information have been denied by the sheriff’s office.  The lawsuit filed Thursday asks the court to order the release of the records. The information revealed could be used in a federal civil rights lawsuit.  “You can’t send out the SWAT team because people are trying to grow tomatoes in their basement,” Robert Harte told The Star.

Also from the Star article:

The father allegedly was forced to lie shirtless on the foyer while a deputy with an assault rifle stood over him. The children, a 7-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy, reportedly came out of their bedrooms terrified, the teenager with his hands in the air.  And all because the couple, Robert and Adlynn Harte, bought indoor gardening equipment to grow a small number of tomato and squash plants in their basement, according to a lawsuit filed this week.  The equipment was never used for marijuana, the couple says, and no one in the family has ever used illegal drugs.

Adlynn Hart said the family has the "utmost respect" for law enforcement, but wants to make sure that tax dollars are properly used and that other families — with fewer resources than the Hartes have — aren’t subjected to similar tactics.  "We feel like it’s un-American and we need to do something about it," Adlynn Harte said. "I told my son last night that doing the right thing takes courage."

Let's do the right thing and contact our elected officials to ask them to stop the insanity.  This is not a state issue.  I'm happy for our Colorado neighbors' rational laws, but they don't help my neighbors here in Kansas.  Marijuana needs to be decriminalized at the federal level to stop more ridiculous and harmful raids from happening.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Is The Easter Bunny Real?

"Mom, is the Easter Bunny real?"

image source Wikipedia

Katie asked me this doozy of a question this morning as she sat at the kitchen table eating breakfast while I packed her lunch for school.

I took a deep breath and replied, "Do you want to know the truth or do you want to know the story?"

I don't even know what that means.  It was a stalling tactic that failed.  When she was younger I could offer Katie two choices and she'd always pick the latter, I suppose because her little brain couldn't pay attention to that much information at once so she'd just repeat the last thing she heard.

Katie's not a parrot, though.  She's a six-year-old human, and apparently six-year-old humans are prone to contemplating reality.  She's recently become fascinated with nonfiction books, for example.  I brought home You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey a couple months ago.  Katie noticed the call number on the spine had numbers on it instead of the usual "E Picture" or "E Reader" or "E Fiction" designation.  She asked me what the numbers mean and I explained to her the difference between fiction and nonfiction books.  Now nonfiction is her thing, and she's quick to bring it up.

Katie: "Mom, did you know cats don't have collar bones?"
Me: "No, I did not.  Where did you learn that?"
Katie: "In my nonfiction book!"

Even though she's going through a reality phase, our little girl has always displayed an active imagination.  She has two "pretend sisters" Bacca and Stella Sarah.  Her favorite game is "Pretend" as in,

In the car on the way to school: "Mom, let's pretend I'm eighteen years old and I have a job and I'm on my way to work but I don't have a car yet so this is my taxi and you're the taxi driver."

At the grocery store: "Mom, let's pretend I'm a dwarf grown up and I'm shopping and these are the groceries I'm going to buy for my own house and you're my assistant."

At the community center pool: "Mom, let's pretend we're mermaids and this is our ocean home and you're the big sister mermaid who is a teenager and I'm the little sister mermaid who is like ten years old and our parents are at home because you're old enough to babysit me."

Vivid details, explanations.  It's fun to play along.

But now that she wants details about real life, details that will lop off a smidgen of her innocence, I wanna call a time out.  When she asked me if the Easter Bunny is real and then, after I tried to stall, she said she wants to know the truth, I said, "Oh, Honey, I think I'm going to cry."

"Why are you going to cry?" She looked worried.

I had already outed myself as The Tooth Fairy last fall when, one night as she left a tooth under the pillow, Katie asked me flat out, "Mom, is The Tooth Fairy real?"  I wasn't going to lie to her.  I told Will when I was pregnant that, although I agreed to play along in these cultural fantasies he wanted to instill in our child, I would never out-and-out lie to her.  If she ever asked me, I'd tell the truth, without hesitation.  But that was six years ago and playing along with the whole EasterBunnyToothFairySantaClaus game has been fun and sweetly satisfying.

I didn't want to worry her, so I answered Katie's question as best I knew how: "Because my big girl is growing up so fast.  And I'm happy and sad about it at the same time."

I set the mayonnaise knife down and walked over to the table and crouched down in front of her.  Katie's face was now above mine and she lifted her finger to wipe a tiny tear trailing down my cheek.

"It's OK, Mama.  I know that," she reassured me.

"So you want to know the truth about the Easter Bunny?" I sighed.


"Well, do you think a rabbit lays eggs and leaves them all over our front yard for us to find--the same eggs we colored ourselves?"

She laughed.  "No."

"Well, do you think a rabbit can open our front door and bring a basketful of candy into our house for you to enjoy?"

She laughed harder.  "No!"

"Well, Sweetie, The Easter Bunny is a made up character in a story, just like The Tooth Fairy.  It's a story we like to share in our culture.  But it's not true.  It's fiction.  But it's still fun to love made up characters in made up stories, isn't it?" My words were probably as bright and cheery as those little Paas Eye Dying Kit tablets are, just before you add the vinegar.  My words were bordering on that vinegary Easter egg smell.

"Yes, it's still fun," Katie agreed.  "I still like the Tooth Fairy even though I knowed it's you and Daddy.  So who is the Easter Bunny?  Who brings me chocolates and candies?"

I winked, "Me and Daddy."

Her face opened up and she said, "Ooooooooh!"  It's starting to make sense.

Then, without warning, she hit me with this zinger:

"What about Santa Claus?  Is Santa real?"

It wasn't the first time she asked me.  Although technically I still have never lied to her about the issue.  The last time Katie asked me if Santa is real, over a year ago, I got out of answering her by accidentally stepping on one of her favorite movies.  It was a Freudian Trip.  Literally.  She asked me if Santa is real right as I was standing to get a drink of water and I tripped over some junk on the floor and stepped smack on the video.  She was so upset at what I'd done, even though it was obviously (although perhaps subconsciously not) an accident, after she stopped crying and calmed down, she'd forgotten what we had been talking about before.

I didn't get out of it this time.

"Oh, Sweetie," I sighed.  She wiped another tear from my eye, which prompted me to say,  "What did I do to deserve such a sweet girl as you?"  I was stalling again, but it's true what I said.

"But what about Santa, Mama?  Who brings presents at Christmas?"  She was looking me straight in the eye and I couldn't lie to her.

"Mommy and Daddy," I said and burst out a choked-up teary laugh.  "Mommy and Daddy give those presents to you at Christmas, Sweetie."

"I kinda knowed it because I wondered how Santa got my American Girl doll," she admitted.

"Yeah, Daddy actually brought home your American Girl doll, Sweetie."  I smiled and we hugged.  Then I remembered what time it was.  I stood up and returned to making her lunch.

"Hey, Sweetie, you know some of your classmates probably don't know the truth about The Easter Bunny and The Tooth Fairy and Santa and stuff.  So you might not want to mention it to them until they bring it up so they don't get disappointed," I advised.

I found out about Santa the hard way.  We had just moved to our new house.  I was six, too.  Like Katie, I was in first grade.  I was playing with a girl named Rachel who lived down the street.  During our introductions, you know, hey you wanna play what's your name how old are you do you like to roller skate, she asked me, "Hey, do you still believe in Santa Claus?"

No one had ever asked me such a thing.  I had never thought about Santa Claus as a belief or a nonbelief.  "Yes," I said timidly, not really knowing what to say.

Rachel was not at a loss for words.  Bossypants came right out and said it: "You dummy!  Santa is not real!  Santa is a big made up story your parents told you when you were a BAAAAAABY."

Rachel is also the girl who broke our shower curtain rod by playing "Jungle" in our bathroom and the girl who got chased out of our house one day when my dad found her playing with his hearing aid when he got up from his nap.  I was glad when Rachel and her family moved away the next year.

But I'm not six anymore.  I'm a mother standing in her kitchen making her six year old's lunch and sending her off to school and helping her figure out ways to make the inevitable disappointments in life manageable.  The best way I know how is to talk openly about them.

"Are you disappointed to know the truth, Sweetie?" I gently nudged her with my question, hoping she'd freely tell me how she feels, remembering how utterly betrayed I felt when I found out all the big people in my life had been lying to me about Santa the whole time.

"No, not at all," Katie said from the kitchen table.  "Now I know the truth: Santa makes the toys and Mommy and Daddy give them to me!"

I smiled and said nothing and went back to packing her lunch.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

This Ambiguous Protest Sign

Is this guy in favor of upholding DOMA or does he want the Justices to strike down the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862?

Compassion Gone Viral!

Forty-two of my Facebook friends have changed their profile pictures to the red and pink HRC Marriage Equality sign.  Of the forty-two friends, only twelve identify as LGBT.

Equality doesn't mean you have to engage in behavior you don't like.  Equality means loving your neighbor without judgment.  Equality means compassion.  I think Jesus would dig equality.

For more HRC logo memes, see this slide show.  Compassion Gone Viral!  I heart the Internet.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Gay Day In American History

It's an exciting time to be an American.  I have a good feeling about how much progress we've made in the fight for Marriage Equality.  So good you could even say I feel gaaaaaay!

“We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” --Winston Churchill

I'm in a gay mood in anticipation of the Supreme Court rulings on Prop 8 and DOMA.  The Justices hear oral arguments today and tomorrow.  I wish I could be there, but I've got a good seat here at my laptop, watching my Facebook news feed.  I've never seen such tremendous support. My feed is full of friends who have changed their profile picture to this:

"The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments TODAY on Prop. 8 and tomorrow on DOMA. We need as many Americans as possible to show their support for equality. Sign HRC's Majority Opinion petition and help make these discriminatory laws history."

Join the movement!  Don't be on the wrong side of history!

photo credit: Human Rights Campaign


Here are some insightful comments on PBSNewshour:

Following the oral arguments at the Supreme Court challenging Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage, attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson, and plaintiffs Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami spoke outside the court.

Kris Perry's and Sandy Stier's twin sons are adorable.  Love the bow tie.

Here is the transcript of the oral arguments March 26, 2013.

You can listen to the oral arguments here:

Here is the transcript of the oral arguments March 27, 2013.

You can listen to the oral arguments here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why I Don't Play Video Games, But I'm Glad That You Do

"Why don't you play video games,  Aunt Becky?"

Katie's cousins were at our house this weekend for a Spring Break sleepover.  Five year old M.A. had asked me to help her figure out how to get unstuck while she was playing Kirby on Will's old NES.  When I explained to her that I have no idea, that I never play video games, she looked at me like she just found out her aunt is a mutant, adapted to the environment without requiring oxygen for survival.

I wasn't always such a weirdo.

As a kid in the late Seventies, the highlight of my week came on Saturdays when I'd walk across the street and spend the night with my friend Sherry. We'd hop into our pjs and watch "Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" while eating Ding Dongs and drinking Welch's grape pop  in her recroom.  When our two favorite TV shows were over, her parents would go to bed and Sherry and I would play "Space Invaders" or "Pong" on her Atari game system until we passed out in our Holly Hobbie sleeping bags.

I played Atari games with Sherry because she thought it was cool, in the same way I dressed up as Chewbacca and bought The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack on vinyl because my friend Greg next door thought Star Wars was cool.  It was fun to play along with my friends and get excited about their interests, but Atari games and Star Wars weren't really my thing.

Left to my own devices, I preferred playing with no electronic devices--The Game of Life, Barbies that I used to create soap-operaesque stories, pretending I was Dorothy Hamil while roller skating in the street, pretending I lived in the time of Little House on the Prairie while playing at the creek a block from our house, drawing pictures of what I wanted my life to be like when I grew up--these things were my thing.

I often tell people I don't play video games because I'm too old.  My family never bought a gaming system, Atari, or even Nintendo when it came out when I was a teenager, or any other gaming system.  I got to play here and there at friends' houses, but gaming was never a part of my daily routine.  But lots of people my age and older are gamers, including Will's dad, who is sixteen years older than I am.  So it's not really just an age thing.

So why don't I play video games?

I told M.A., "I just think they're boring."

"But why?"  She wanted to know.

I didn't know how to respond.  I needed time to think.

And that's the thing.  I'm not great at immediate comebacks.  I'm slow and deliberate and I like to focus on one thing at a time.  And another thing, all the action and adventure does not excite me.  It stresses me the fuck out.  As someone who has posttraumatic stress disorder, anything that raises my adrenaline too much makes me want to shut down, go to bed, take a nap.  I am much more productive if I'm allowed all the time I need to get a job done in a calm environment.  It stresses me out to even have the timer running when I play Solitaire on my laptop.

So video games bore me because they're not boring enough?  Maybe, but there's probably lots of reasons, many of which became clear when I watched this interesting YouTube video about why people play games, which helped me figure out why I don't:

"A game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles."  -- Bernard Suits

Yeah man, I don't need any unnecessary obstacles in my life.  I have plenty of necessary obstacles I'm trying to overcome.  Like raising a female gamer in a sexist gaming world.

Here's a distressing yet fascinating episode of Anita Sarkeesian's YouTube series about women and gaming:

From Sarkeesian's YouTube channel, Feminist Frequency:

The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it's more problematic or pernicious aspects.

I am not one of those people who thinks the answer to the sexism and violence in the gaming industry is to ban video games.  Just because I don't like them doesn't mean I think other people should be denied access to them.  After the Newtown massacre last year, I've heard many people blame violent video games for such shootings, but I think that's too simplistic.  My husband plays video games and he's not violent in real life.  I once dated a guy who explained to me that playing football helps knock out our primal urge to wage war upon our enemy.  We are not killing each other on the battlefield.  We are just stealing the ball from each other.  It's harmless fun.  Gets the aggression out.  That makes sense to me.

So I understand why people like gaming.  I just hope people understand why I don't.  I understand that many people like the relief they get by fighting or questing or building or achieving in a virtual world.  It must be similar to the relief I get by blogging.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rand Paul is Right

Dear President Obama:

When the prototypically progressive Jimmy Carter and the quintessentially conservative Rand Paul agree on an issue, you might want to rethink your policies.

President Carter:
"Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use... Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce [28g] of marijuana."

Senator Paul:
"Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said that though he opposes drug use, he thinks that the penalties are too harsh and, 'I don’t want to put them in jail and ruin their lives.'  Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Paul said that even the last two presidents used drugs at some point. 'Look, the last two presidents could have conceivably been put in jail for their drug use and I really think – look what would’ve happened, it would’ve ruined their lives,' he said. 'They got lucky. But a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky and they don’t have good attorneys and they go to jail for some of these things and I think it’s a big mistake.'"

It's time to end pot prohibition.  Keeping cannabis on the black market causes more harm than good.  Bigwig members of our two major political parties might disagree on most issues, but marijuana brings them together in a big ole hug of a legal Kumbaya.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Grapefruit, Sweet and Juicy

Wow, I just had the tastiest grapefruit.  I spent far too many years hating the poor fruit.  Only since I've been with Will have I discovered how amazing grapefruit is.  Will is an aficionado of all things sweet, from ripe grapefruit and Sumo Citrus to Starburst jelly beans and Peeps.  I know if Will holds out a slice of something and says, here try this, it will be worth my while.  

I even have special spoons.  I'm not usually all fancy about kitchen tools.  I'll use a fork for an egg beater, a pot lid for a strainer.  But I own a set of grapefruit spoons, and I love them.  I slice a grapefruit in half, sprinkle some turbinado sugar on top, and dig in with my special serrated-edged spoon.  Oh my goodness it's so juicy and sweet.

My inner-nine-year old pokes a finger inside her mouth and pretends to gag at the thought of what's become of me.  I used to hate grapefruit back then, when I was "encouraged" to eat it on my Weight Watchers diet.  I thought of grapefruit the same way I thought of Tab.  Something you only consume if you're on a diet.

Thankfully my husband's unvarnished sweet tooth corrected that myth.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Happy Birthday, Fantasy Dad: Fred Rogers' Corn Pudding

Years ago I gave up on the idea that Real Dad would ever be Fantasy Dad.  Every now and then I find myself getting misty eyed while reading over Father's Day cards, trying to select one that represents Real Dad's and my relationship without sounding like I'm a sarcastic bitch.  I usually decide on one that basically says this:

May your Father's Day be as great as you are, Dad!

In other words, may you get what you deserve.  It's a nice way of saying, "May your Father's Day be as shitty as you were a shitty father!"

But I'm 42 now, an old lady, and Dad's a very old man.  My teenage arguments with my dad were so long ago.  For the most part, Dad and I have no problem with each other anymore.  We basically leave each other alone.  I know he doesn't like kids so I don't invite him over to hang out with his grandchild much.  Nothing personal.  I know it's not that he doesn't like my kid in particular, he just doesn't like kids in general.  We get together a few times a year.  He talks about dancing and bridge.  I talk about Katie.  We both nod and smile while the other talks, but we don't really listen.  We hug and leave and that's that.

I know I'll never have a wonderful relationship with my dad, and I'm fine with that.

But that doesn't mean I can't have a fantasy dad.  Although my own father is out of the fantasy, I can replace him with someone who really wants to be there: Mister Rogers.

I never watched Mister Rogers' Neighborhood when I was a kid.  I was too busy watching All In the Family and Police Woman with my parents.  I did get the TV to myself long enough to watch Sesame Street, and I'm glad for that part of my upbringing.  But it wasn't until I had a daughter myself that I discovered the wonders of Fred Rogers.

I "liked" the PBS Parents Facebook page, so now I get regular updates about Fred Rogers' life and legacy.  I found out that tomorrow would have been his 85th birthday.  My own dad will be 86 in a couple of weeks.    I might feel obligated to bake my real dad a cake for his birthday, even though he'll no doubt criticize it for some reason or another.  He can't have sugar or he can't have artificial sweeteners or he can eat raspberries just not the seeds.  It's never simply, "Oh, thank you."  It's always, "Oh, thanks, but..."  Still, no matter how awkward things are between us I can't seem to shake the dutiful daughter role in real life.  Good thing I've got my fantasy world to comfort me.  I genuinely feel like making some corn pudding for Fantasy Dad's birthday this year.  Here's the recipe.   It will be warm and comfy, like a hug from Mister Rogers himself.


We celebrated Mister Rogers' 85th birthday last night by having comfort foods for dinner.  Our friend Megan and her two girls came over and brought homemade macaroni and cheese.  Will made homemade pizza.  I made Fred Rogers' grandma's recipe for corn pudding.  It really did feel warm and comfy.  Happy birthday, Mister Rogers!  Thanks for reminding us what's really important in life: good food, good friends, good family.  Made from scratch.  Just the way you like it.

Lefties and Fatties

Even though some sources show that left-handed people die up to nine years earlier than right-handed people do, we no longer believe lefties are associated with the devil.  At least most rational people don't.  I can't speak for some Tea Partiers who routinely question our lefty president Obama's associations.

image source: Wikimedia Commons

Similarly, we're starting to understand that our society's fat phobia is what needs to be ridiculed, not fat people.  We need to respect the diversity of human bodies.  Some of us are born with a propensity to use our left hand, even in a world that favors righties.  Some of us are born with a propensity to carry extra fat on our bodies, even in a world that favors thinness.  But all of us can be healthy, even in a world that favors profit and body shaming.  We need to jump off the scale and jump into a happy, healthy life.  We need to trust our bodies to tell us what foods make us feel our best and what movements make our bodies feel the strongest.  

I've been a fan of Dr. Linda Bacon's book Health at Every Size® for a couple of years now.  I'm happy to see Dr. Andrew Weil continuing to enjoy his stay in his latest blog post after hopping on the fatty bandwagon last July.  The funny thing is, what I like about Bacon and Weil's message is this: trust yourself.  If we pay more attention to ourselves and less attention to experts and studies and findings and peer-reviewed sources and fads and fashions and all this external stimuli, we'll know what we need to feel our best.

To be your healthiest self, just be yourself.

image source: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Meatloaf: Almost As Good As Dog Food

I rarely cook with beef.  I personally haven't eaten any beef since December 31, 1989.  But lately Katie's been asking for some meatloaf.  She had some at the Golden Corral the other day and she's been jonesin' for more ever since.

Will told me what ingredients to buy and I followed this recipe, kinda, only I added about 1/4 c. chopped green pepper and about 1/4 c. chopped mushrooms and I didn't add quite so much milk since Will taught me when you add extra veggies to a dish you should remove some of the liquid since veggies are full of water.

They say it turned out pretty good.

Katie gave it a "quadruple thumbs up".  Will said it was delicious.

"The best thing you've made for me since the dog food," he said with a smile.

Yes, you heard him right.  I once fed my husband dog food.

When Will and I were first married but before Katie was born, I got a wild hair up my butt and decided to make the dogs a homemade meal.  I found a recipe online for homemade dog food--roasted chicken, carrots, and potatoes--but by the time I finished cooking it I felt bad that I'd never made Will such a fancy meal.  So I fed it to him.  I barely had the heart to tell him I'd made it with the intent of feeding it to the dogs as he shoveled it down his gullet, saying over and over, "Wow, this is amazing.  What prompted you to make such a fantastic meal?"

"Well, uh, you see...It's actually dog food," I explained.

Without batting an eye, mouth full, he said, "Well it's the best damn dog food I've ever had."

Oz the Great and Powerful Vs. The Hobbit

Of the two recently released adventure fantasy movies I've seen in the theater, I like Oz the Great and Powerful more than I like The Hobbit.

Maybe I'm rationalizing the forty bucks we coughed up for tickets to see Oz the Great and Powerful on the IMAX 3-D screen at Union Station in Kansas City, but I enjoyed the movie, unlike these two hipster YouTubers:

Maybe it's because we saw it with our six-year-old kid who applauded vigorously at the end of the movie.    Maybe it's because I'm not a gamer and so I don't have high expectations of CG, which the hipster YouTubers complain about in their review.  Maybe it's because I'm from Kansas so I appreciate the setting.  Whatever reason, I thought it was fun seeing Oz the Great and Powerful on the big screen.  I especially like Mila Kunis as The Wicked Witch of the West.  She plays the role of a woman scorned hellishly well.

I like to think my opinions are gender-free, but they are not.  I like Kunis' Theodora because I can relate to her.  I appreciate the depth this version of Oz gave to her character: there is a reason why this witch is wicked.

I admit: I like Oz better than The Hobbit because of the chicks.  It's nice to see female characters taking action and kicking ass, unlike in The Hobbit where the main female character's five minutes on screen involves intuiting a male character's thoughts without leaving her home.

It's ironic that I like Oz better than The Hobbit for its strong female characters since, according to this report, producer Joe Roth was looking for a fairy tale with a strong male protagonist:

"...during the years that I spent running Walt Disney Studios -- I learned about how hard it was to find a fairy tale with a good strong male protagonist. You've got your Sleeping Beauties, your Cinderellas and your Alices. But a fairy tale with a male protagonist is very hard to come by. But with the origin story of the Wizard of Oz, here was a fairy tale story with a natural male protagonist. Which is why I knew that this was an idea for a movie that was genuinely worth pursuing."

I'm glad I'm not alone in my desire to see more gender equality in the fantasy genre.  There should be more male protagonists in fairy tales just as there should be more female protagonists in epic adventures.

I can relate to what Ruth David Konigsberg says in this review:

"I did not read The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a child, and I have always felt a bit alienated from the fandom surrounding them. Now I think I know why: Tolkien seems to have wiped women off the face of Middle-earth. I suppose it’s understandable that a story in which the primary activity seems to be chopping off each other’s body parts for no particular reason might be a little heavy on male characters — although it’s not as though Tolkien had to hew to historical accuracy when he created his fantastical world. The problem is one of biological accuracy. Tolkien’s characters defy the basics of reproduction: dwarf fathers beget dwarf sons, hobbit uncles pass rings down to hobbit nephews. If there are any mothers or daughters, aunts or nieces, they make no appearances."

I understand that it's a subjective preference to expect fantasies to reflect reality, and that this is not going to be an issue for many people.  But for me the lack of strong female characters in The Hobbit was too much of a distraction and it left me disappointed in the entire movie.  

Don't get me wrong, Oz the Great and Powerful has its flaws.  Don't go expecting it to be as great as the classic Judy Garland film The Wizard of Oz.  If you do, you'll surely be disappointed.  But it's a good choice among recent releases in the fantasy genre for those of us who dig adventurous women.

Friday, March 15, 2013

I Lucked Out: My 20 Year Work Anniversary

On Monday, March 15, 1993 at 9:00AM, I started my first shift working at the public library.  On Friday, March 15, 2013 at 9:00AM, on my 20 year work anniversary, I was celebrating the first day of spring break in my back yard by kicking around a soccer ball with my six-year-old daughter.

In 1993 I was a 22 year old college dropout, in the last few months of a three-year relationship with a woman who remains to this day one of my best friends.  In 2013 I'm a 42 year old with an Associate's degree, in a ten year relationship with a man who puts up with my quirks and likes me more because of them, whose love for me, in sexy symmetry, equals mine for him.  I lucked out.

In 1993 I wanted to be a writer but I couldn't figure out how to support myself financially.  I figured being around books and people who like books and information would be a good way to spend my day.  I had applied for six jobs before someone finally offered me a page position.  When I mentioned to a co-worker how excited I was that they finally hired me, she burst my bubble a little by informing me that this time I was the only one who had applied for the job.  I lucked out.  I worked 15 hours a week and made $6.63 per hour - almost twice as much as I'd made in my previous jobs at a subway shop and being a nanny for a rich family.  I felt like a grown up for the first time in my life.  I felt nervous and scared, but mostly I felt excited.

In 2013 I am a writer but I still can't figure out how to support myself financially by writing.  I still work at the library.  Twenty years and they haven't fired me yet!  I met my husband Will when he also worked at the library.  Then he quit to work for a friend, and we got married.  Then we had a kid.  If it weren't for the library I would not be Will's wife or Katie's mother.  By the time Katie was born, I worked full time and I continued to work full time for five years until my doctor advised me to cut back my hours at work if I was serious about my mental health.  I had doing-too-much syndrome.  Now I work 24 hours a week and make a living wage helping people who love books and information, and I write and do housework and care for my husband and child at home.   And our pets.  So much freaking pet hair and vomit to deal with.  But it's OK.  They're worth it.  They're just a bunch of furry love fuzz balls.  Except for Thatcher the cat.  He acts like he's feral.  I don't know why I put up with that fucker.

There is currently no cure for doing-too-much-syndrome so I'll probably have it for the rest of my life, but it's manageable.  Side-effects are a sinkful of dirty dishes and wrinkled, unmatched clothes, and occasional uncontrolable swearing.  And yet, somehow, despite all my care-taking responsibilities I still feel like a kid, on the precipice of something exciting and fulfilling.  Not really knowing where it is I'm going but feeling confident I will once again luck out.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Easy Peasy

Katie sat at the table, coloring a shamrock on her March reading log.  The instructions from school say to color a shamrock for every ten minutes spent reading outside school.  At the beginning of the school year it was apples.  Pumpkins in October.  Now shamrocks in March.  At the beginning of the year Katie'd just scribble over whatever picture, not putting much effort into it.  I could tell she thought it was dumb to keep track of how much she read.  You don't keep track of how much you jump or skip or laugh or...breathe.

Katie never needed an incentive to read.  Reading together has long been one of our favorite activities, and now that she can read books to herself I catch her all the time off in some corner of the house reading with no push from either Will or me.  Well, it's probably a natural push, having a librarian for a mother.  But Will now reads just as much as I do, so he's influencing her habits too.

Katie puts more effort into coloring her reading log now.  She sits at the table with her tongue sticking out of her mouth, in full concentration, spending time making it look neat.

She pulled her tongue inside her mouth and looked up at me.  "Did you know I'm reading at a second grade level?"

She didn't wait for me to respond before she went back to coloring.  Tongue out again.

"Oh yeah?  Who told you that?" I asked.  

"My teacher.  She said she was impressed," Katie looked up briefly and smiled, then went back to work on her shamrock.

"Well I'm impressed too.  Why do you think you're such a good reader?" I asked.

Katie didn't look up.  "Because I work so hard at it."

"That's true.  You do work hard.  I'm proud of you.  You work hard at reading, you work hard at your spelling words, at your math homework, at your terrapin project.  All that stuff."  I waved my hand in the direction of her back pack. 

Katie looked up and smiled.  She rested her elbow on the table and started lightly whacking her forehead with a crayon.  As if she had summoned some sage, she said, "You know, Mom, the only thing that I don't work very hard at is love."

"Why's that?" I asked.

"Because when you are born you already know about love.  It's just hugging and kissing and all that stuff.  It's easy.  Easy peasy."

I threw my arms around her.  She's right.  Easy peasy.

"Hysteria": a Self-Love Movie Review

Lately I've been on a mission to slack off more.   Since I cut back my hours at work over a year ago, I've become more of a workaholic.  It used to be, when I worked full-time, that when I'd get home I'd take it easy because, you know, I deserved it.  I had been working hard all day earning a paycheck, so I felt entitled to some rest and relaxation in the evening.  Now that I only work twenty-four hours a week outside the home, if I'm not at work-work, getting paid, I feel compelled to do something resembling work at home, whether that means writing or doing housework, to justify not being out in the world earning a bigger paycheck.  If I sit in front of a screen to, say, watch a movie, I start to feel guilty.

I should be working.  I'm not one of those pampered kinds of housewives who watches TV all day.  If I'm not going to write something the least I could do is go scrub the soap scum off the bathtub or put away some laundry.  

But that's a bunch of bunk.

Around Oscar time last month, when a friend asked me what my favorite movie was last year and the only two movies I could think of that I had even seen were kids' movies with Katie, I realized I haven't been allowing myself enough me-time.  I need a break!  Even when I read books for pleasure at home I feel like I'm working.  I have to read them carefully so I can write a review on my blog, so I can know who to recommend them to at my job at the library, so I can gain insight from them for my own writing education.  Reading, as much as I love it, as much as I can't live without it, is still work to me.

So I've rediscovered the pleasure of watching a movie I like, one that I've picked out, not for Katie, not for Will, just for me.  Self-love.

After having trouble even getting a freaking DVD of my choosing home, I finally sat down the other day and watched the Maggie Gyllenhaal film, "Hysteria."  It's a fun, frothy, fictionalized account of how the treatment of the once-common medical diagnosis hysteria led to the invention of the vibrator.  The ending was a little too neatly tied-together, but the romantic leads were both adorable, and my husband and I laughed out loud throughout the film.

The only complaint I have is that I enjoyed myself so much while watching the movie that I completely forgot to get off the couch and put the laundry in the dryer.  So when it was time for me to get ready for work-work the next morning, I had no clean socks.

I'm glad I'm a modern woman who has a rewarding career outside the home and who has equal rights and who is in control of my own body and mind, unlike most of the women in the movie.  But I still struggle with juggling all my responsibilities that come with a blended work/home life.  I should quit thinking of laundry as drudgery and accept it for what it's worth.  I can't show up to work-work without clean socks.

But life is more than work and clean socks, and every now and then we all deserve a little self-love, so I'm glad I watched this movie and ditched my domestic duties for one night.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Grown Up PBJ

I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for lunch when I was a kid, from the time I began gumming solid foods until I started eating hot lunch at school.  I've recently brought back the trend.

Since I cut my hours at work, and therefore my wages, so I can stay home and write more, my family has been looking for ways to save money.  The biggest savings for us has been eating out less.  When I worked full-time I often treated myself to lunch out because, you know, I worked so hard and who wants to bother with the drugery of fixing a sack lunch at 7AM?  Same with Will.  Now that I don't have to be at work at 8AM every day, it's no big deal for me to spend a few minutes each morning filling Will's lunchbox with goodies from home: leftovers, sandwiches, odd concoctions of whatever we have on hand to remind him that his kooky wife loves him despite her culinary skills.  Will smiles like a lion whose pride keeps him well nourished as his coworkers come over to investigate the contents of his lunchbox each day in the breakroom.

For myself I almost always fall back on my favorite: the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The sandwich I eat now looks different than it did when I was a kid, but it's essentially the same: bread, ground up legumes, smashed sugary fruit.

This is what my PBJ looked like in 1973:

2 slices of Wonder bread, crusts cut off
2 tablespoons of Skippy peanut butter
2 tablespoons of Welch's grape jelly

This is how my PBJ had evolved by 1993 (although it was most often eaten at midnight after a night of binge drinking rather than at noontime while watching Sesame Street):

2 slices of whole wheat bread
2 tablespoons of Jif peanut butter
2 tablespoons of Smucker's strawberry jam

And this is how my PBJ is today, in 2013:

2 slices of Whole Foods 365 Organic Early Bird bread
2 tablespoons of ground-in-the-store organic peanuts
2 tablespoons of Whole Foods 365 Organic strawberry conserve

Sometimes I substitute the strawberry conserve with its Whole Foods 365 Organic brand cousin, concord grape jelly.  And sometimes I even use the Bonne Maman peach preserves, imported from France, because now that I'm a grown up sometimes I feel fancy like that.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sure, Why Not

It was raining hard and Will and I were in a hurry to get to the theater in time.  It was that moment, when Will turned his head away from me to merge onto the interstate, that I tossed him a question.

"So, in the past eleven years, what would you say is one thing about me that hasn't changed?"

I'm reading Pema Chödrön's book Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change, so now I'm fixated on the idea that life is constantly changing.

If I were driving, which I wouldn't have been--Will feels uncomfortable when he's in the passenger seat with me--and if Will had asked me the same question, which he wouldn't have--Will is secure enough with himself that he doesn't need constant validation from me--I would have shushed him and told him I had to concentrate on the slippery road conditions.  Will didn't shush me.  He answered my question without hesitation.

"Your tenacity."

"What?"  I laughed and looked at the beads of water forming on the windshield.  "I don't even know what that means.  You mean, like, I never give up?"

"Yes.  Exactly."  Will kept his eyes on the road.

There's this overpass that connects southbound 69 Highway to eastbound I-435.  It freaks me out.  The walls on each side are made of that heavy concrete-looking stuff that's often used to divide highways.  If your car goes hurtling into one, the idea is it will smash before heading into on-coming traffic.  But on this overpass the walls feel too short, like there's not enough protection to keep your car from flying off the side.

"Those concrete sides are too short.  If you had an accident couldn't your car just fly right over the sides of the wall?" I said aloud.

Eleven years ago Will would not have understood that my question was rhetorical and anxiety-induced and that I actually didn't want him to explain to me the physics behind the concrete blocks keeping us safe.  He would have gone on and on about how the structure works and I would have nodded and smiled and pretended to listen.  Will understands me now better than he did eleven years ago, so he kept his rational thoughts to himself.

He took his eyes off the road momentarily as we approached the overpass.  He smiled at me the way you do the second you're strapped in and the roller coaster starts to take off.  I quickly smiled back and then turned my head to face forward, hoping he'd follow my lead.  I sucked in my breath and then expelled it from my lungs forcefully.  I thought about one of my favorite scenes from the movie Parenthood:

"I wish I didn't worry so much," I said, keeping my eyes on the water beads in front of me.

I'm sure Will wishes I didn't worry so much too.  But he didn't say anything, and when we got to the other side of the overpass and merged safely into our spot among the traffic, he took his right hand off the wheel and held mine.

We were in a hurry because we had changed plans at the last minute.  Earlier in the day while I was at work, Will drove Katie to his folk's house so she could have a sleepover with them and her cousins, so Will and I could celebrate the eleventh anniversary of our first date.  It's probably due to the amount of time I spent in previous relationships with women that I put such a great emphasis on first dates.  In my day, lesbians weren't allowed to get married so a first-date anniversary was it.  Will and I were similarly casual about a legal marriage.  We lived together for about a year before I said to him one day, without thinking:

We should get married!

And he replied, without hesitation,

Sure, why not.

By the time we officially got married, we'd been dating for two-and-a-half-years.  Including a six-week break-up one summer before we realized how much we wanted to be together.  We were married by a retired judge inside our apartment--with the dog as my maid of honor--because of the rain outside changing our plans to get hitched in the park across the street.

Inside the car, I tried not to think of the various ways the rain could change our plans that night, but one way in particular kept popping into my head: both of us on stretchers in the ER, bloody and mangled, the car smashed into a concrete block on the highway or upturned below, off the side of the overpass.  I breathed  in and out and felt the warmth of Will's hand against mine.  We are here now.  We are in this moment.  I need nothing more than this.

The rain didn't change our plans.  We got to the theater a little late, but safe and secure.  A little wet, but the water droplets evaporated as we got into our seats, lifted the dividing arm rest, and fell into each other.

It was a last minute plan anyway.  Those are the ones that work out the best.  If I put too much thought into how I want something to go, I get disappointed.  The best choices I've made in life have come with the least amount of deliberation.

That morning as I was getting ready for work, I suggested we go see some live music that night.  We knew Katie was spending the night with her grandparents, but we didn't have a firm plan for how we wanted to spend our date night.  Will said that sounds good, but we committed to nothing.  By the time I got home from a long eight hour shift, the last four of which I'd spent on my feet, I was too tired to summon enough coolness to be seen in public at any show I'd be interested in seeing, so we decided to go see a movie and then grab some dinner.  It was Will's idea.

"But the movie I really want to see right now is Silver Linings Playbook," I said.

"So?  I'll go see that with you," Will said, unsmiling.  He looked sad, like the time I got him the wrong kind of Russell Stover coconut chocolates for our anniversary.  For the fifth year in a row.

"What?" I asked.

"What what?" He said.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" I said.

"Like what?"

"Like you're disappointed.  Because you wanted to see The Hobbit and I put it off too long and now it's gone?" I guessed.

"No," Will shook his head.  "We can see it on DVD."

"Then why are you looking at me that way?" I asked.

"Because my wife doesn't think I'd want to see a movie she likes!" Will scoffed.

"Oh yeah, I guess you did go see Brokeback Mountain with me, didn't you," I said.

"Yeah.  What?  Did you think I was going to make you go see the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger movie?"

"No!" I laughed.  "But I feel bad that we didn't get to see The Hobbit since it's your thing.  And since the movie we saw on our first date was Return of the King.  It would be a nice reminder of our first date."

We were both quiet for a moment until I said, "So you really will go see Silver Linings Playbook with me?" I slapped him playfully on the arm.

"Yes, I said so, didn't I?  I like to do things my wife likes to do, you know?"  He looked like he wanted to slap me back, perhaps not so playfully.

I leaned forward, my lips barely touching his, and whispered, "Is it hard to live with me?"

He laughed and leaned back and said, "Look up the showtimes!"

I did, and we made a plan.  We'd go see Silver Linings Playbook at 6:55 at Ward Parkway and then head to Westport afterwards to get burgers and beer at The Green Room.  It was Will's idea.  The Green Room advertised in The Regular Joe Kansas City, the local paper I've started writing for, so Will figured they might have a copy of the paper we could get our hands on.

They didn't, and we ended up not seeing Silver Linings Playbook either.  At the last minute, I joked, "You want me to check and see if The Hobbit's still showing somewhere?"  I was teasing Will, because I know it drives him crazy that I always change my mind at the last minute after we've finally settled on plans.

He called my bluff and said, "Sure, why not."

I had checked a couple of weeks ago when we finally got around to going to see The Hobbit, but at that time it wasn't showing in theaters around here anymore.  I felt so bad.  I had told Will I'd go see it with him on the big screen and I'd put it off too long.  So I figured this second attempt at finding a local showtime would be futile, but I did it anyway.

And guess what?  A dollar movie theater across town had a showing in thirty minutes.

Now that I know for sure Will's willing, we can go see Silver Linings Playbook another time.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Novel Number Two

Will likes to tease that I'm his anti-muse.  Will sings and plays guitar.  Before we met he wrote many songs of unrequited love and loss and yearning.  But since we hooked up he's so goddamned happy his creative fruits have dried up.  It seems a shitty life is the fertilizer from which creative endeavors grow.

But that's not true.  Will doesn't write as many songs now that he's a happily married thirty-two year old with a wonderful kid, a great job, and a comfortable home as he did when he was a teenager experiencing heartbreak and the groundless feeling of growing up.  But the songs he does write now are sublime.  Full, rich, nicely nuanced, mature.  A few months ago his mom lent us her electric piano.  Will's teaching himself how to play.  He has a music background - his parents met in college when his mom was a music major and voice minor and his dad was a voice major and music minor.  He started playing violin in elementary school and picked up the guitar by middle school.  When I met him he'd just turned twenty-one.  On our first date he burned me a copy of his self-recorded debut album, which he named "Black Man in San Francisco" because of a discussion we'd had earlier in the evening about how I'd always felt like I'd been reincarnated and that in my previous existence I'd been a black man in San Francisco.

Not only is Will now teaching himself how to play the piano, he's filling out a song he wrote about a year ago on the guitar.  The piano arrangements enrich the song.  It's powerful.  I get goosebumps when he's practicing.  I'm so lucky to live with a person of such great artistic talent.

I'm creative too, but in a different way.  I love music but I don't understand it enough to play an instrument myself and I'm too shy about my voice to sing anywhere other than in the car with my six-year-old.  Although I gotta say, too bad for you I'm so shy about singing in public because Katie's and my rendition of "Feel So Different" by Sinead O'Connor is pretty cool if I say so myself.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change

Courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

I am not like I was before

I thought that nothing would change me
I was not listening anymore
still you continued to affect me

I was not thinking anymore

although I said I still was
I'd said "I don't want anymore"
because of bad experience

but now I feel so different

I feel so different
I feel so different

I have not seen freedom before

and I did not expect to
don't let me forget now I'm here
help me to help you to behold you

I started off with many friends

and we spent a long time talking
I thought they meant every word they said
but like everyone else they were stalling

and now they seem so different

they seem so different
they seem so different

I should have hatred for you

but I do not have any
and I have always loved you
oh you have taught me plenty

the whole time I'd never seen

all you had spread before me
the whole time I'd never seen
that all I'd need was inside me

now I feel so different

I feel so different
I feel so different

I love to sing in the car but I'm no performer.  My creative outlet is writing.  When I was a young child, before I knew how to form letters and words, I drew.  I was never interested in how good a picture looked but more interested in what message it conveyed.  I drew stories.  When I got older, I played with Barbies in a similar way, creating story lines for the dolls that were on par with the soap operas playing on TV in the background during summer vacation.

I gave up playing Barbies by the time I was thirteen.  We'd moved to a new school district and I was too embarrassed to play with dolls with my new friends.  It was at this time that I began to pay closer attention to good literature.  I'd always been a reader.  Curious George and I Can't Said the Ant were my favorite books when I was young.  I moved on to Beverly Cleary's Ramona series, then Judy Blume, who I adored.  Starring Sally J. Friedman As Herself was my favorite book in upper elementary school.  I read it over and over.

In seventh grade, at my new school where I had no close friends, we were assigned to read S.E. Hinton's book, The Outsiders.  I read it in one night and burst into tears when it was over, a pattern that I still follow today with my favorite books.  I remember becoming obsessed with the fact that S.E. Hinton had written this book when she was only sixteen.  I decided to give up my dream of quitting school, running off to England and joining Duran Duran as a backup singer, which is probably a good idea since I didn't like to leave my bedroom and I refused to sing in front of other people.  Instead, I decided I wanted to be a novelist like S.E. Hinton.

I did not finish writing my first novel in time to publish it at age sixteen like Hinton.  So, on my sixteenth birthday I tweaked my plan.  I would publish it by age 26 (like Alice Walker).  Then I turned 26 and still there was no novel.  So I decided I'd publish it by age 34 (like Harper Lee).  When 34 came and went and no novel had come forth, I decided maybe I should tweak the plan further by renaming the career goal the more generic "writer" so I can count my personal essays (and now my blog) as writing.  It was then I decided my goal would be to publish something of book length by the age of 66 (like Frank McCourt).

You might ask, what's with all this comparing yourself to others crap?  I know.  I'm really bad about that.  I think it comes from being the youngest sibling of five brilliant, funny, creative people and feeling compelled to live up to their standards.  At least it feels good to blame it on a side-effect of birth order, something I have no control over, so I don't need to bother myself further with worry over it.

A couple of years ago when I turned forty and my brother died I got back into therapy.  I began seeing a therapist when I was eleven, and continued seeing a long string of therapists throughout my early adulthood.  I never felt a strong connection to any of them, though, so I'd always quit and tell myself I can manage better on my own.  But when I found myself unable to get out of bed without vomiting and it wasn't due to any virus, just malaise, I got back into therapy.  I wanted something different though.  I talked to one therapist on the phone and after giving me an assessment he suggested I try Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  I tried it for a few months and then quit when I felt ready to go it alone again.  I didn't like the group therapy part of it - I found myself getting sucked in to the others' trauma and becoming more depressed and overwhelmed with anxiety the further they shared their sad stories.  I didn't have the energy to give to others at the time.  I needed all my mental health energy reserves for myself.

But what I did love about DBT is the Buddhist component of it.  The middle way.  The nonjudgment.  The distress tolerance.  The ambiguity.  The idea that you can hold two conflicting thoughts inside your head and be aware of them without judgment and without avoidance.  These ideas have been very helpful in my personal wellness journey.

I recently started reading Buddhist nun Pema Chodron's book Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change.  Chodron says people get stuck and suffer when they haven't learned how to ride the waves of uncertainty.  When they have a fixed identity or plan.  When things don't work out, when we don't get what we want, anxiety arises and we turn to our favorite coping mechanisms to shift our thoughts back to the familiar.  To something we think we can count on in an ever-changing world.  Food, drugs, alcohol, television, the Internet, work - whatever keeps us distracted from being fully aware.


Mom and I used to sit on the front porch and play the movie star initials' game.  Mom would say, "J.S." and I'd guess which celebrity she was thinking of.  She'd call me out of my bedroom when I was doing homework to watch TV with her.  Awards shows thrill her - Oscars, Tonys, anything glitzy with lots of celebrities.  Mom used to encourage me to write romance novels instead of heavy pieces of introspection because they'd sell better.  But fame and monetary recognition are not as important to me as artistic expression.  Mom's focus is outward, external.  My focus is inward, internal.

That's why I love blogging.  I can share what I want when I want to.  As much or as little as I feel is appropriate.  I don't need a big corporate publishing house to say whether or not my writing is valid.  I can self-publish and let my readers decide for themselves.

An Internet friend recently shared Amanda Fucking Palmer's amazing Ted Talk, "The Art of Asking":

My favorite quote is this one: 

"For most of human history, musicians, artists, they've been part of the community, connectors and openers, not untouchable stars.  Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance, but the Internet and the content that we're freely able to share on it are taking us back.  It's about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough."

My husband and his buddy JJ are my favorite musical duo and yet they're not even in a band together.  JJ and his family come over periodically. We smoke and drink and eat.  Our kids play together.  Will and JJ jam.  I've been moved more by these two guys I love and know personally, playing music inside my living room, than I ever have been at a big-name rock concert I paid big bucks to see.

I'm not saying people who make a lot of money off their art are wrong for doing it. I'm just saying that good art doesn't need a price tag.

I recognize that fact in other artists, but I'm still struggling with it myself.  I love to sing but I'm too embarrassed to sing in front of other people because my voice is not as good as Adele's. So what? Comparing myself to one of the most gifted singers on the planet won't make me happy. Singing along with my non-judging six-year-old in the car makes me happy.

I'm not Adele.  I'm not Frank McCourt.  I'm not Harper Lee.  I'm not Alice Walker.  I'm not S.E. Hinton.  I'm Becky Carleton.  I'm a writer.  I'm a singer.  On my blog.  In my car.  The way I like it.  I don't have to do things the way others do them.  I can do it my way.  Great.  Now I sound like Frank Fucking Sinatra.

Human beings used to sit around the fire and sing and play music and tell stories and dance. On a warm night in late summer it's fun to go camping and get back in touch with our inner tribal selves. But when the weather outside isn't conducive to camping, the Internet allows us to partake in a similar type of artistic sharing: smaller, intimate, more personal.  The Internet allows us to invite people over to sit on our front porch, to sing and jam and share stories, even if we physically live far away.

Since I watched that Amanda Palmer video, I'm excited about writing a novel again.  I feel less panicky when I'm aware that there is not just one way to do something.  I don't have to find an agent and a publisher.  I can self-publish.  When I thought about self-publishing before, I didn't know how I could do that since I'm broke.  There's no way I could come up with enough money to publish my own novel.  But here's an idea: ask for it.  If I were a musician I could lay my case out for tips.  This is the same thing.

I finally understand what's been holding me back from working on the second novel stored inside my head: I've been worried I won't be able to find a publisher for it, just like my first manuscript sitting unpublished in my desk drawer. So, what if I start out writing the second novel with the intent of self-publishing it? Then I can get it done when I want to, on my own timeline, at my own pace. I can enjoy it. It can be all mine. I don't have to worry about what others will think of it. I won't have to worry about selling myself to an agent or writing another goddamned query letter. I hate those fucking things. And then, when I'm ready to self-publish it, I can create a Kickstarter campaign to raise money from family and friends and fans of my blog to publish it.

But stop.  There I go again.  Planning instead of writing.  It's good to know I have varied paths on my journey to publishing.  But for now, I'll focus on the moment.  Instead of worrying about the intricacies of how I'll get it published, I'm going to focus on writing it.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lifting My Woody Allen Ban

When Katie brought home her book of jokes, my first thought was, "What kind of six-year-old writes a book of jokes?  Who is she, Woody Allen?"

I know that Woody Allen started selling jokes at a young age because Woody Allen is my favorite director.  It's hard for me to admit that.  I usually say, "Woody Allen used to be my favorite director."  Like when people tell me their birthday and I say, "Oh, you're a Libra.  Cool."  Then they ask me if I'm into astrology and I say, "Oh, not anymore.  I spent one summer when I was fourteen reading Linda Goodman's Love Signs, that's all."  I've moved on.  I watch Hank Green's SciShow now, for goodness sake.  A person of my mental integrity has no room for such trivialities...

Similarly, the assumption when I say Woody Allen used to be my favorite director is that someone replaced Allen in that role.  They are my Hank Green to my teenage self's Linda Goodman.  But when pressed to reveal who my favorite director is now, I have a hard time coming up with an answer.

Maybe Ang Lee?

The problem is, I can hardly call someone my favorite director when I've seen only two of his films.  Sure, they're both on my list of top ten movies of all time: Ride with the Devil and Brokeback Mountain, but considering I haven't even seen Life of Pi yet and it won the Oscar for best director this year, I'm a pretty shitty fan if I call Ang Lee my favorite director.

Conversely, I've seen every Woody Allen film he ever made.  Until the Soon-Yi scandal.  When I found out he was romantically involved with his girlfriend's daughter, a 19 year-old, adopted, legal, sure, but still, yuck.  How can I continue to like a person's art when I don't like the artist as a person?

But oh how I once loved him.  Annie Hall's tied with The Big Lebowski for my all-time favorite movie.  I remember seeing it in the theater at Metro North Shopping Mall with my parents and, in the parking lot walking to our car, asking my mom if I could start seeing a therapist.  It sounded so cosmopolitan and cool.  Mom, of course, thought I was nuts and shrugged off my request until I turned eleven and started starving myself.

Showing appreciation for his work at such a young age, I should think about lifting my Woody Allen ban.  After recently discovering that I've been needlessly restricting myself from watching movies I enjoy, I checked out Midnight In Paris on DVD from the library.  My inner Woody Allen nerd's been jonesin' to watch it.

Ironically, it was after seeing these unflattering tweets from Allen's son, Ronan Farrow, that I began to think it's time to give the old man a second chance.  Funny, I'm not the only one who's eyeing Ang Lee for our "best director" slot.  Turns out, Woody Allen's son thinks Ang Lee's pretty awesome too:
This one's my favorite:  Ronan Farrow manages to sound like his dad while he's slamming him.  Well done!
If Woody Allen can produce an offspring so funny and so cool, then I guess luck assured he's not a complete fuck up in the kids-turned-out-ok-department.  Even though he's probably a horrible person in some ways, I'm grateful that Woody Allen exists for his art, but also because if it weren't for him Ronan Farrow wouldn't exist. And look how cool he is.

The Book of Jokes by Katie Carleton, Nerdfighter Prodigy

If you ask Katie what she likes best about school, she'll say PE, recess, lunch, and "free draw" time in class.  Due to budget cuts, each class has just one session a week with the actual art teacher, but Katie's first grade teacher sets aside time each day for some unstructured creativity.

Yesterday Katie brought home not just a single drawing, but a book.

"A book?  Were you assigned to create a book?" I asked, making sure my kid really is as awesome as I think she is.  If it were an assignment, that's cool, but if not, that's awesome.  Like, she's-ready-to-join-Nerdfighteria and don't-forget-to-be-awesome, awesome.

"No, I made it during free draw," she said.

Yes!  My child is a nerdfighter prodigy!

"What made you decide to make a book?" I asked, beaming, expecting her to wax six-year-old-philosophic on me about how wonderful it is to draw out your thoughts and feelings and explore whatever's in your imagination.

Instead, she said, "Because McKayla and I want to sell them and make money."
McKayla is a girl she's recently become chummy with at school.  Last week McKayla wrote her phone number down and gave it to Katie.  I asked if she was supposed to call her and Katie said no, it was for when they were playing "pretend smartphone" at recess.

This kid is corrupting my innocent artist child with consumerist ways!

"Mom," Katie pointed to the spot on the book where she had written $4 dollers,"  Does this mean it's published?"

"Oh don't I wish it were that easy, Punk!" I said, laughing.  She's heard the word "published" from me.  Usually with the prefix "un" in front of it.

My proud-mama-of-an-artist bubble burst, knowing my kid wants to write books for profit and not for pure artistic expression.  I wanna break it to her, though:  If she's in it for the money she oughta rethink her plans.  I cut back my hours at work a year-and-a-half ago so I could spend more time writing.  Which I have.  And it's wonderful.  I love it.  But my original goal was to sell my manuscript to a publisher and start supporting our family with the money I'd make as a novelist.  When I couldn't find an agent and I realized I'm not savvy enough to market my own work, I chucked my manuscript into the desk drawer and started blogging.

It's been great for my mental health, for my need of pure artistic expression, but it's been shitty for padding my bank account.  As of this moment, I've made $45.16 in ad revenue off my blog.  Since July 2011.  In another couple of years I might be able to afford to buy Katie an American Girl doll with the proceeds.

At least the kid isn't a spendthrift like me.  When I asked Katie what she plans to do with the money she earns selling her books, she said, "I'm saving my money for college."

I should have done that.  I shouldn't knock her book selling idea.  Maybe if I had written books as a kid and sold them for four dollars a pop, I could have saved my money for college.  Then maybe I'd have a degree and know what the hell I need to do to get published instead of dropping out after becoming exhausted trying to support myself with a full time job while finishing my Creative Writing degree.

The kid's full of good ideas.  I should take her advice more often.

On the way home from the store, Katie announced this to Will and me: "When I grow up, I don't care how much money I make.  I don't care if I'm rich or poor.  I just want to have a house and a family and a job and be happy."

What a reasonable little artist she is.  I need to quit worrying about how little money I'm making off my blog and simply enjoy it and life with my wonderful family.  The family that gives me such good material to write about.

And with that, I present to you...

The Book of Jokes
by Katie Carleton
translated by Becky Carleton

($4 dollars) The Book of Jokes by Katie Carleton

For My Family Mom and Dad
What's a butterfly?  A butt-fly.

What do you call a horn?  A cow horn.

What's a hog?  A hedgehog.

The End