Notes From The Road.
Flickr user Nicholas A. Tonelll

Today I drove 40 miles south, then a few hours later I drove back. I saw at least ten cars pulled over, but only got a look at four of the drivers. Two black; two white. I wish I could say I believed there’s a chance the six drivers I didn’t see were white.

Christians, if you’re going to drive like assholes, maybe don’t have those WWJD bumper stickers or icthyses placed prominently on the rear end of your car which I will undoubtedly see as you cut me off.

Brokeass white people with Romney Ryan stickers left over from ’12, one of these days I really will rear end one of you. Know how I know your asses are broke? You drive Jeeps and Ford Escapes from ’89 that almost look lacy for all the rust. Your cars make more noise than semis, and not cos you installed a muffler enhancer. And at least half of you drive around shirtless.

Anybody reading this have any experience with 4th graders and pickup lines? Asking for a friend.

Thinking about law school and getting a PhD with equal lather lately. Anybody know the starting salary for a social justice lawyer? HAHAHA.

Sometimes, I eat onions then I smell really bad.

Nobody in my family loves the Green Ralph Lauren cologne the way I do. Anybody who wears that wanna follow me around so I can inhale deeply your delicious odor like a sweaty perv?

My student’s incomplete is due on Monday. I will turn in his grade on Friday. Don’t know why I feel so anxious about whether or not he will actually turn in his incomplete. Maybe it’s related to the fact that I haven’t been brave enough to view my scores on rate my professor dot com.

Finally, I’m 34. It’d be really unfair if I were really perimenopausal. If, in fact, I am, I am looking for a gynecological surgeon for some pro bono work on my uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. You may keep them for study. Say you found them in a dumpster. I don’t care.

21 Lies I Tell Myself to Avoid Writing

From Flickr user emdot
From Flickr user emdot

1. You really should check in on Facebook.

2. You really, really suck.

3. You need coffee first.

4. You can do it later.

5. Oh my god your ass is smaller! Peer at yourself in the pre-dawn window for a time. Honest to god, it’s smaller than it was yesterday.

6. It is a good day to put a big chunk of something in the crock pot, but first you’ll need a recipe.

7. You don’t have to write today. You wrote yesterday and the day before. It won’t kill you to miss one day. You deserve it.

8. That e-mail cannot wait, you must answer it.

9. Everyone hates you and you should probably just give up.

10. Writing is a waste of time. You should quit now while you’re still young enough to become an expert on something else.

11. Instagram needs an update. You haven’t photographed anything recently, now would be a good time.

12. Have I mentioned how awful you are?

13. The dishes need doing, now.

14. You can still do it later.

15. Writing is boring.

16. You are ugly, you should go contemplate that fact in front of a mirror.

17. You really need to take out the trash.

18. You need to pack Child’s lunch. This second. You will forget to do it later, and she won’t dream of reminding you.

19. You should take a quick second to check your blog stats.

20. You don’t tweet enough, all the best writey people tweet often. You need to go analyze their tweeting and promise yourself you’ll do better.

21. You need to have a sandwich this instant. If you don’t, you’ll get a cramp when you run later.

Open Letter to Vanity Publishing Crowd

From Flickr User Ian Wilson

Dear Book Writer,

What is your profession?  I’m dying to know.  I will show up there and take over your clients.  I will prescribe their pills or write their briefs or cobble their soles.  I can slice and stitch with the best of them; after all, I took Home Ec.

Or maybe I should show up at your workplace and insist that you show me what you have learned to do over years, what you have paid to learn, and how to do it, free of charge?  Or maybe I should laugh at you when you say that one must diagnose the disease before making the incision?

Here is how we writers become so: We spend years feeling tortured, true or not, and scribbling onto any scrap of paper that’s large enough for a word or two.  We have journals.  We have burned some of them.  We have saved others.  We have many half full, many overfull.  Then we pursued writing-related tasks with vigor, fading into the background in school and work to observe, store up material, notice how people talk and act and are. We have been called odd snobs, different, dangerous, powerful.  We have been taunted and less frequently heralded our “gifts” with the word. Our gift is obsession with the music of language, the ability to tune in.

We have read with quiet abandon.  We have studied the written word, intentionally, osmotically, we find no greater joy than in the annals of another writer’s imagination.  We have allowed others’ voices to inform, infuse our own.  We have studied, studied, and continue to study the story, how it works, when it’s working, when it’s not.  We have made our rookie mistakes in the privacy of our own rooms or in the semiprivacy of our educations, writing workshops, writers’ groups, families, friends, LiveJournals.

We do not insist that these mistakes be proffered publicly. We are not proud of them. We do not hear editors’ rejections or suggestions with scorn for gatekeepers.  We thrive in rejection, we allow it to make us better, we recognize that we may never have success.  We do not write for publication, we write for writing, for self, for art, for work, for pain, for pleasure, for sex.  If we are published, of course we are pleased, but we do not begin with that in mind.  We begin with the word in mind, the story, the sadness, the soul, the voices, the joy around us.

We do not begrudge you your desire to be heard.  But we wish you would stop blabbing so loudly about how unfair the world that does not welcome your scribbling is.  We wish you would remember how you toiled to learn your trade, the one that is not book writing.  We wish you would stop believing that because you can speak you can write.  We wish you would stop thinking of writing as a cash cow.

Please, write.  Please do.  There can never be enough writers.  But before you fire up CreateSpace and start selling your print-on-demand for $24, read.  And read again.  And read until your eyes are dry and shrunken.  Until you’ve read more books than anybody you know.  Then write.  And write long and hard.  Until you’ve logged millions of words, tens of thousands of pages. And once you’ve done these things, you may be surprised how many of those pretentious, self-aggrandizing, gate keeping, nay saying, parade raining editors are willing to reconsider your work.


A Writer

I Made a Terrible Mistake.

From Flickr User DonkeyHotey (OMG I will die of the clever.)

I am not good at paying attention to politics.

I am annoyed and saddened by the limitations of the scope of the rhetoric.

I am convinced that my vote simply doesn’t matter (though I show up at the polls, just in case), and that rich people are totally in charge of this country, whatever histrionic of republic in which we choose to believe we participate.

And since I’m reasonably certain that unless I get 1% rich (and when I do, boy oh, look out white dudes), I can affect no change, even if I experience wild success in American Letters, I’ll still be a woman, I’ll still be a kooky arty liberal (by appearances, though I am an anarchist/libertarian in my soul), and I would seriously prefer to spend my energy and intellect on more spiritually/culturally rewarding pursuits.

Despite all of this, I could not control myself when the very tippy top of my Facebook News Feed said, “Wanky McWank Pants and 10 other friends like Mitt Romney.”

So I posted the following status update:

So facebook just told me that several of my friends *who will remain unnamed out of respect for their freedom of speech* “liked” Mitt Romney. For a fleeting moment, I considered unfriending every single one of them.

In my mind, I was being flip. I was pointing out the beauty of our illusion of freedom of speech.

When I re-read my status update, I was maybe a little chagrined to realize that, to Romney fans (i.e., humans without critical thinking skills), my status update would be offensive.

But my chagrin was short lived. It was quickly followed by a belly-sinking sense of my own doofus-like state. I should’ve kept my typing fingers still.

I pride myself in staying out of political discussions. I try to maintain a professional attitude and presence in social media. Like to as I might, I do NOT talk smack about people (except for fans of Mitt, apparently), and I do not make personal statements about my relationships, friends and relatives with whose actions/behavior I disagree, or my innermost feelings, dark as they may be.

This Me, of whom you get a sense on my blog, is about 70% persona. People who know me in life can identify the differences between the Me who writes here and the Me who lives in a place and does mundane things like put on socks and go up and down staircases.

I think that any writer would tell you that she inhabits a more perfect self, or a less perfect one, depending on the scenario, when she writes anything.

I think this is why people publish the letters that writers write to people and each other. We are never simply sharing the news. We are always spinning.

This post is supposed to be confessional. I think I lost a “friend” over the facebook status. Based on his ranting, I’m not sure I mind, but I would like to hope that that above-quoted status will be the last thing of a political nature that I personally write on Facebook. Henceforth, I shall only share news articles and comment on other people’s political statuses.

Anybody care to share Facebook rules to live by?

I Don’t Want a Pickle…

Since the song loses something if you haven’t heard it, I invite you to listen now.  You really only need the chorus, so if it’s not your thing, you don’t have to listen long.

It’s by this guy: Arlo Guthrie.

From Flickr user pwbaker

The famous American folksinger, Woody Guthrie, is his dad.  Woody’s work is stellar, and much more earnest than Arlo’s.

Today in the car, Child said, “hey mommy, you wanna hear a song I know?”

It was after she’d demanded I play Regina Spektor’s “Uhmerica,” which Child calls “The OOh song.” She prounounces that Ooh as if she’s getting socked in the gut.  Click the link.  Hear the song.  Good times.

So while I scrolled through tracks and discs, Child sang, “I don’t want a pickle, I just wanna ride on my mooooooootorsickle…”

This is a song that my father sings.

He instilled a fondness for that and for “Alice’s Restaurant” in all four of us kids via the vinyl copy of Alice’s Restaurant that’s probably still swimming around in the clutter at my parents’ house.

God I loved “Alice’s Restaurant.”  Some of my earliest artsy teen memories are of open mic night at the local coffee shop where I’d always ask this hippie guy, the Em Cee, to do his full, 20-minute rendition of the song.

But all of us sing “The Motorcycle Song.” Dad’s rendition is particularly cute. My sibs, both my parents, and now Child.

So I asked her, “Did Pop Pop teach you that?”

She said, “Nah. I just heard it and learned it.”

She sang all of the words perfectly.  I said, “Who did you hear singing it,” hopeful for a moment that there is some kind of neo folk fan movement about which I am not aware because I suck at pop culture.

She said, “You, Grandma, Auntie, Auntie, Uncle Kuppie, Pop Pop.” She said this like some sort of bored, teenage list.  Seven is sassy. You should know that she calls one of her aunts Anty (the Southern pronunciation) and one of her aunts Ahnty (the New England pronunciation).

Aside from the way this exchange tickled me, and aside from the fun Child and I had thinking up words that rhyme with pickle and die, to insert into silly renditions, it occurred to me that Arlo Guthrie is the author of a pretty significant chunk of cultural influence on  my family’s.  I can’t decide if I think that’s awesome or sad.  At this moment, I’m leaning hard on awesome.

What about you–what are your family’s theme songs?

People do Zany Shit on the Internet & Notes from the Cosmos

Child started playing this game, Tapfish, on my first generation Galaxy Tab.

I’m kind of into it, too.  I’m babysitting our two tanks while she visits Grandma this week.

This game is mildly frustrating because the cool stuff costs real money (in the form of fish bucks), but I’m in the middle of an “event” right now where you breed these two special clown fish that the game puts in your tank for free over and over again and you get all these other special clown fish.

There are challenges like raising sea turtles which take two weeks to grow.

And selling multiples of adult fish.

And breeding specific kinds of fish that become available as you ascend the levels.

I’m not really sure what constitutes ascension, it just says once in a while, “congratulations you’re on level X! Have some free coins!  Also a fish buck!”

One of the features is that you can visit other people’s tanks.  If you help them by cleaning or feeding their fish (or reviving their dead fish), you earn coins and experience points.

Sometimes visiting someone else’s tank feels a little like snooping in their drawer of underpants.

We visited this tank last week.

Dirty Screen, yeah, but you get the picture.

And all I can think about is some webcam-furry-antisocial-internet-people romance, where Sally Interwebs made this special tank for Henry Interwebs, and paid real money to get the bride and groom divers, and how sweet Lord, the whole thing strikes me as, well, creepy.  Yes.  Creepy.

And I am an internet dater.

But seriously.  Look.

Sally & Henry Interwebs

I picture greasy-haired embrace, awkward, saliva-rich kisses.  I picture acne scars and sweatsuits.  Think People of Walmart.

And that makes me a horrible, horrible snob.  I know it.  Especially since I have done somewhat extensive internet dating.  Especially since I spend more hours than I care to admit staring at screens.  Especially since I am really digging Tapfish!  But my oh my.

Also last week, on the same day, this little fella flew into our house, landed on my bed.


The last time I saw a Katydid that close was when I was a child.

Child said, “What is it, mommy?!”

“A Katydid, Child.”



“What is it?”

“It’s a bug that looks like a leaf so it is safe from being eaten.”

“Oh. What should we do with it?”

“We’re going to capture it and put it outside.”

We did.  Katydid lives to die another day.

Child’s totally a city kid.  We visited friends who live in the hills who practice burning of trash, and Child asked, “Why are you making fire?”

And I’m left wondering what the Universe wants me to know about my life, sending me the sensation of being a judgmental ass the same day she sends me and Child the gift of nature and the privilege to free it.

Anybody else with incongruous missives from The Universe (or God or gods or the cosmos or whomever you observe)?

The Effort Word [sic]

From Flickr user geishaboy500

If you know me, you probably know that I have a potty mouth.

I have, intentionally, not been 100% cautious about swearing in front of Child.

Diplomacy and discretion are two skills that not enough people have.  While this is pure theory, I suspect that understanding the value of an inner life, and of recognizing that different sets of people require different sets of tactics for getting along, is tantamount to a person’s success in life.

One can accomplish almost anything if one is charming.

The Effort Word [sic]

Child was playing outside with her neighbors.  She came in and told me, solemnly, as if presenting herself to the gallows, “Mommy.  I accidentally said the effort word.”

I said, “Do you know what the effort word is?”


“What is it?”

Her eyes got wide, and she said, “Fuck.”

Then she clapped both hands over her mouth and appeared to brace for reprimand.  She relaxed visibly when I started to laugh.

“I just said it to myself, Mommy.”

“So you said the effort word in your head?”


Still chuckling, “That’s okay, Child.  Just don’t say it at school.”

“Okay, mommy.”

“You can go back outside to play.”

The end.  Or so I thought.

I was so tickled by the whole incident, that at dinner that night, I asked her to tell Fella about the effort word.

She started out differently.  First she said, “Well.  I just said it to myself.” pause.  “We were playing Monkey in the Middle, and I messed up, and I just wanted to say something.  So I said, ‘I’m a fuck!'” And again she slapped both hands over her mouth with a look of terror in her little eyes.

“Oh,” I said.  “So you said it out loud to yourself?”

“Yes.  And my friends told me that was very bad.”

“It wasn’t, Child.”  I was laughing again, Fella was silently chuckling, too.  “Like I said before.  Just be careful.  Don’t say the effort word at school.”

I felt so happy to have a kid who is thoughtful and responsible enough to want to admit to me when she said something that she thought would make me angry.  I felt like the important thing was her desire to come clean.

Instead of making me angry, the incident made me feel like a good mom of a great kid.

Another day, I’ll post about how linguistic taboos are limiting and unfortunate.  Today, I’ll let you yell at me in the comments if you want.  Or not.  What do you think?  How do you handle your kids with swearing?

Post Script

I’m a big fan of Cake.  The band, not the confection.  And I’m not one of those moms who has a CD selection of stuff that’s Just For Kids in the car.  I feel like, within reason, Child can listen to what I like.  And what Fella likes.  She’s already been exposed to more different sorts of music than I knew about until I was in college.

So she likes a few tracks from Fashion Nugget, and I generally indulge her desire to be DJ in the car because it keeps her from talking about stuff during which I space out and then she gets upset when I space back in and she has to repeat herself.  So we sing together which is good for the soul.  One of her favorite songs is, “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,” and after we listen to it a bunch of times, I let the next song play, and I always skip Track 11, called “Nugget” because it contains egregious use of the effort word [sic].

But on the way down to my mom’s the other week (it’s a 2-hour drive), after making up some new lyrics to The Comanche Song, officially titled “Comanche” from Motorcade of Generosity,  Child asked to listen to “Perhaps”, and after about 8 repeats, reminded me during the next track, “It’s Coming Down,” that the one after that was the one with the bad word and that I should remember to skip it.  It’d been a while since we listened to The Perhaps Song.

“Thanks for reminding me, Child.”

“But mommy.  What’s the bad word in that song?  Please tell me?”

“I can’t tell you, Child.  But you know it.  You just said it the other week.”

“Is it freakin’?”

“Nope, not that one.”

“But it’s the Eff word?” (Where’d she learn that it’s not the effort word?  Dangit!)


“Just tell me, mommy.  I don’t remember.”  (See, people?  Swearing around your kids will not scar them for life)

“How about we just listen to the song.  You’ll know it when you hear it.”

“Yeah yeah yeah!”

“But before we do, what are the rules about those kinds of words?”

“I can’t say them around grandma.”

“When else?”

“At school.” She thought a minute, “And at my friends’ house, or if I’m at the mall.”

“Very good, Child.  You know why we can listen to this song  now?”


“Because you understand when it’s not okay to say words that could get you in trouble.”

“Just play it, mommy.”


Then we played the song about 12 times and it was still playing when we pulled into mom’s driveway.  Child was visibly proud of herself.  I know I didn’t do anything in my last life or this one to deserve such a great kid.

Purity Balls, and All They Represent, Are Absurd.

From Flickr User godfreek56 Hmmm.

First: Some facts about me.

1.  I grew up in a Christian home in rural Pennsylvania.  It’s still Christian there, my siblings and parents are Protestant a la Baptist (some more absolutist than others), and I am solidly agnostic.  Sometimes I attend church when I visit them, I do this because I know it makes them happy and gives them hope, but I find it to be incredibly uncomfortable.    Like how I feel in nursing homes: a little sick inside and powerless to help the people there’s illnesses.

2.  When I was fifteen or sixteen, I was given a “promise ring” by my parents.  It was very expensive and pretty, and it was a symbol of my promise to “remain pure” till marriage.  I was totally on board.  I am, now, a little ashamed by my then-zealotry.

3.  I was a virgin until I was in my 20s.

4.  I have a daughter who is six who does not know her biological father.

5.  I think sex is great.

That’s the stuff I thought about when I first heard of Purity Balls.

My friend who keeps me up-to-speed on absurd pop culture stuff asked me the other week if I’d heard of these things called, “Purity Balls.”

“Ha!” I said. “Sounds Oxymoronic!”

She laughed and said, “Oh my.  It’s horrible.  I’ll send you some links.”

So thanks, Brooke, for the research.

Another Unreasonable Thing from the Christians

Purity Balls are silly and creepy, and–more than anything else–another way for young Christian girls to be tutored in their inequality.  Taking a girl’s power over her own sexuality away is another way of saying “you are not to be trusted with this body, you are not to be trusted with this self. Here, let daddy fix it up for you.”

Having some kind of commitment ceremony, signing some kind of compact on fancy paper with her dad is NOT going to stop a young woman from, eventually, wanting to have sex.  And a person should, absolutely, in her late teens and twenties want to have sex.  It’s a biological imperative.  Plus, it’s fun, good exercise, and important to practice.  It gets to be more fun the more one practices.

Dads’ jobs are to

1) Make sure their daughters are informed.
2) Make sure their daughters feel loved.
3) Answer their daughters’ questions without judgement (which has to be incredibly hard, but can be done b/c I’ve seen it).
4) Acknowledge that children, even girl children, become grownups with all the hangups, pleasures, responsibilities of adulthood, and to prepare them for it.
5)Accept Dad’s own fallibility.

Same goes for moms.  And for moms, I add affirming that a woman’s power is nothing to be feared or abhorred by demonstrating assertive, self-actualized womanhood.

About the promisor.

Asking a girl to make a promise to her father to “be pure” before she’s really able to understand the full implications of such a promise sends the message that her purity, and–by extension–her choices are not her own.  Worse, that they belong to men: first a father, and then a husband.  What?!

Plus, it opens Pandora’s Box of utterly odd expectations for young women (daddies have been cooking a while, they’re typically better at life than fresh-out-of-the-box, young, horny boys), potential family crisis when the promising young person realizes that sex is way more fun than pleasing daddy, and an unnatural amount of authority for daddy over whom daughter will be allowed to date and marry.

I won’t dwell here, but it is not a drastic leap between daddy being surrogate and actual boyfriend.

Daddies, though well-intentioned, and huge assets (if they are good), are not always right.  They need to let their daughters make mistakes.  But if they’ve done their jobs as outlined above, their daughters will make mistakes everybody can live through.

A Journalist from Glamour went to a purity ball, and said that a lot of the young women there are home schooled, and after school, often enter family business.  She said that the girls pledging range in age from 4.  Four! Seriously?!  Some four-year-olds are still in diapers!

And The Promisee.

These moms and dads and daughters think ONLY in the construct of Fundamentalist Christian Philosophy.  Some of them call themselves “thinking people” because they allege to have psychic abilities with “right and wrong” and are able to see the world in “black and white,” thanks to their good buddies the father, son, and holy spirit.

But what they mean is, “I’ve been indoctrinated to believe that my views are marginal and I therefore have to stick up for myself against ‘the world’ which is out to turn me into a ‘pagan/heathen/sinner’ because they don’t know Jesus, which is the only way to a righteous life and/or heaven.”

I’m not going to call this view of the world delusional, but I can’t come up with a better adjective, so this is me not saying that being paranoid about the world around you while talking to Jesus your imaginary friend about how hard your life is, is delusional.

Daddies can’t have too much say.

Picture this: 19-year-old daughter meets a boy wherever, introduces to daddy who’s guardian of daughter’s purity, announces the pending courtship, what does daddy do?

1.  Shoot the bastard.

2.  Tell daughter she is not allowed to date said boy.

3.  Welcome boy with open arms, but menace boy with framed purity contract.

4.  Buy daughter stainless steel locking chastity belt.

5.  Act like a regular person and smile suspiciously and go have “holy cow, my kid’s growing up” moments in private.

Except for in the last option, I can see no potentially positive outcome for any of that.

Look, I’m not saying that parents can’t and shouldn’t weigh in.  I’m just saying the bigger the weigh in, the less likely the teenager/young adult is to listen.  We all remember being there, don’t we?  Hell, my parents were pretty sane and reasonable, and I ran out of their house the earliest moment possible because I felt like they were trying to control me.  I may be particularly willful, but I know plenty of people with similar stories.

And teenagers/young adults who follow all their parents’ advice, allow their parents to pick their spouse, will probably end up one of the following ways:

1. Divorced anyhow (one of the stated benefits of the Purity Ball is that it diminishes the divorce rate, which is bullshit, b/c when people don’t have full access to their frontal lobes–people don’t fully develop this way until into their 20s–they will do something foolhardy like get hitched so they can have sex).

Just a quick little thing from The Dana Foundation: A central tenet of neuroscience, for example, is that the brain continues to develop its “wiring diagram” at least well into a person’s 20s. The frontal lobes, regions critical to high-level cognitive skills such as judgment, executive control, and emotional regulation, are the last to fully develop.

2.  Full of bitterness and regret at like 30.

3.  Parents to 10 children before age 30, and at 50–when said children are reared–lost, alone, confused, stymied, broke, and ill-equipped to handle the world around them.

4.  Going totally wild and wooly but without any smarts about how to do so safely, and winding up a single parent, dead, infected, addicted, or a prostitute.

5.  Sort of normal, but overly devout & dangerously absolutist.  Think Unabomber.

6.  Totally ending their relationship with their parents in order to lead a normal, independent life.

Look, I’m not advocating for total freedom for teenagers.  But I’m advocating for parents–especially Christian parents–to understand that even if God is the way they choose to have impulse control, their teenager may not agree, and their teenager should not be forced to.

I am advocating for parents to respect themselves and their children–who will eventually be adults, and who will need the tools to live their own lives–enough to try to find a place in the middle.  And I’m advocating for people to be real about sex.  There’s no reason to make it taboo or try to control it via indoctrination or fear.

The best way to help your kids about about sex is to give them all the facts, to explain their options to them in clear language, and to encourage them to talk to you about it if they decide to have sex when they’re teenagers.  Which is likely.  The sex part, probably not the talking part.  But I bet if you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to tell.  You’ll have to acknowledge that your kid’s sexy parts have developed though, in order to stave off denial.  I’m not saying this is going to be easy, people.

Also, if you have sons, please–for the love of all that is holy–teach them how to use a condom.  I leave you with this advice: pinch the tip, and use a banana.

And About Marriage?

Really.  Why bother?  All right, all right.  I know.  Pledging in front of god and man, blah blah.  Accountability, snore.  (Sorry, Smellen).

But here’s the thing: aside from that there isn’t a serious economic imperative to have a marriage anymore–sure, it’s easier with two people, but it’s totally not impossible with one–there’s not a social one either.  Marriage–even monogamy–is no longer as much the norm, according to this piece in The Daily Beast.  Read all the linked articles there that provide a less permissive view of monogamy.

For me?  Marriage seems like a pretty crass, complicated bet.  I feel really young.  After all, culturally, 30 is the new 20, according to AARP. I’m growing and changing still.

And if I think of the me at 25, she’s as different from the me at 20 as the me at 30. I’m different now, at 31, than I will be next year this time.  The world is going at warp speed, and it’s unreasonable to expect that there won’t be irreconcilable differences in any relationship I choose for myself at some point along the way.  Why invite the expense and complication of divorce?    Why not just have a messy, sad, difficult, but far cheaper, breakup instead?

So to me, it seems like it’d be a lot more practical for the fundamentalists to invest their time, money, and energy from these Chastity Galas into self-improvement books, college funds, and educational materials about sex, pregnancy, STDs, and monogamy.

And for Christ’s sake, just let your daughter grow up.

Boredom is Stupid, Histrionic, and Vain. Knock it off! Here’s How.

from Flickr user mesaba.

Yesterday morning, walking up the hill with Child to school, she said, “Does Santa make TVs?”

“I don’t think so.” I said this because I don’t want her asking for a TV for Xmas.

“Oh man!  I really want a TV for my room.”

“Well, even if Santa could make you one, I would tell him not to bring it.”

“What?” Shrilly.

“Why do you want a TV in your room anyway?”

“In case if I get bored.”

“Well you know, Child, there are all sorts of things to do instead of be bored.  You can color or play with one of your hundreds of toys or go outside or dance or write or read or draw…”

“But what if I do all that and then I am bored.” She interrupted me.

“You won’t be.”

“I just really want a TV in my room, mommy.”


“And a DS.  When will you buy me a DS?”

“Who knows, Child.  Maybe never.”

To her credit, there was no more shrill “What!”ing.  She is pretty good at hearing “no,” all things considered.  But her single-mindedness  is impressive indeed.  She, I think, may possess my obsessed gene.

All this got me thinking about how:

Boredom is Stupid.

I live with two people who often profess to be bored.  It makes me nearly blood lusty every time they do.  I don’t really view it as in my right to scold Fella over his, but Child’s accustomed to my earful whenever she talks about being bored.

I don’t rightly remember when it was that I decided that boredom was not something I wanted to engage in.  But Irecall knowing, when I was fairly young, that there is ALWAYS something to do.  I am never bored.  It takes so much effort to be bored.  You have to ignore everything around you and make up reasons not to derive joy–even minor joy–from activity–even minor activity.

If I am attending a boring talk or conference or meeting, I write or think or read–discreetly, so as not to be rude.  There is always something to think about.  Always.  Even if it’s just wondering what the chair in front of you is made of and how it came to be.

Here, let me show you:  I wonder how much money it costs to produce that one chair, and how much the machines it was made on cost, and whether the chair has been inspected by a number of people, and what catalogue this venue used to order this chair, and if they ordered a hundred with it, or just the one, or a thousand or more.

And you know what’s super cool about the future in which we live?  You can ask the internet.  So what used to be just exercise for my questioning muscle has become an information treasure hunt.

Boredom is Histrionic.

I think that people who profess to be bored are more interested in the stomping and slouching and whining that they believe boredom warrants than they are in examining the real source of their boredom.

That is pathetic.  It is unbecoming.  It is arrogant.  Professing boredom is like saying, “I know too much to be interested in anything.” And I say a great big FUCK THAT.  Nobody does.  In fact, the more one learns, the more one sees that there is to know.  And if you don’t already know this, you’re doing it wrong.

Boredom is a vain habit of mind.

Boredom is a vacuous vortex of laziness.  But more than that, boredom is a choice.  Being bored is like being on birth control.  Or like being a republican.  It involves a complicated set of thoughts, and after all of that, a choice.  After a time, this choice becomes the rote choice, and boredom gets easy.  It is, certainly, easier to tell yourself there’s nothing to do and then do that, and feel sorry for yourself about it, than it is to get up off your rump and set the world on fire.

But I’m not talking about setting the world on fire here, people.  I’m talking about playing with the pebbles in your driveway or drawing a picture or reading a book or even (though I think TV contributes to boredom more than relieving it) watching TV.

There is never legitimately nothing to do.

People who say they do drugs because they are bored are lying.

People who do drugs do them because they want to.  They feel like they have to explain it, so they say they are bored, because boredom is something that people seem to universally profess and experience.  And probably, too, because doing drugs is socially taboo and mired up in all kinds of cultural and personal and moral and legal negativity.  So they give the demon boredom all the credit for their enterprising recreational recklessness.

My point is that there are a million and one things that a person can do instead of being bored that aren’t drugs, and that people should probably stop blaming boredom for drug habits or unplanned pregnancies or low achievement on standardized tests.  We should not give boredom that kind of power over us.

Here’s how.

First, whenever you catch yourself saying or thinking, “I’m bored.”  Stop.  Don’t say it.  Go to the bathroom.  Look in the mirror.  Give yourself a pep talk.  You’ll probably only have to do this once or twice.

Say: “You are in charge of yourself.  You are your own master.  You do not have to be bored.”

Then, take a deep breath and look around you.  What do you see?  If you see a mess, clean it up.  If you see a wall that’s a color you don’t like, make a plan to paint it–go online to do room mock ups, or get in the car and drive to the paint store.  If you see that your yard has sprouted 800 dandelions, remember when you were a kid and all the obnoxious or fun or delightful things you used to do with dandelions.  If you see a pile of paper, pick up a piece and draw or write something.  If you see a book, read it.  If you see the TV, look for something else.  If you see your spouse or children or roommate or sister or whoever, tell them you like them and ask if they want to go to the park.  Or if they want to make cookies or think about painting a room with you.  When you’re done, just keep looking.

If you can’t see anything to do, go to plan B.  Finding a way around boredom will get easier the more you practice.

These are things you can always do.

Tell yourself a story: any story, one from your past, one you want for your future, one you make up.
Doodle:  Here’s a TED talk about how cool doodling is.
Take a walk or a run or a hike or a dance.
Think.  Thinking is an activity. Sometimes, props help.  Like paper and a pen.  But it’s equally rewarding to just let your mind wander.
Clip your fingernails or toenails.

Here are things you can almost always do, but will need a prop (or several props), or a buddy.

Surf the Internet.
Ride a bike.
Go to the gym.
Cook something.
Have sex.
Skip rope.
Do hand-rhymes.
Go someplace, like the library or a museum or to your neighbor’s house.

Boredom is the enemy of enterprise, development, and learning.  Conquer it, my friends.  And be more productive.

Do any of you have strategies to combat boredom, or a favorite story about a boring time that became a not boring time because you scared up something fun to do?

Self (Publishing) Help: Do You Need Beta Readers?

This is what it feels like to let someone else read work in progress. image courtesy


A beta reader, as far as I can glean from the world wide web is a term that originated among fan fiction writers, on forums.

Fan fiction writers are people who write in the style of an author they admire, or continue story lines where the author left gaping chasms, or had the nerve to die.  These are typically fans of classics in a particular style (the victorians, for instance: George Eliot, The Brontës, et al) or contemporary commercial fiction (J. K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett, so on).

My friend Robin Kaye, who is now a romance novelist (and not a shabby one, either), started out writing Jane Austen fan fiction.  Fan fiction writers are definitely a subculture, and one of which I am generally ignorant, so apologies in advance if I make any misrepresentations here.

My sense of things is that a beta reader is a developmental editor who works for free.  Another term for roughly the same thing: critique partner.

So the short answer is, yes.  You should get yourself a beta reader.  At least one.  More than one would be good.  And, as I mentioned before, you should not be related to or having sex with your beta readers.

Think of it this way: Getting the truth about your fiction (or any writing) from someone who loves you, or even strongly likes you, is as likely as an honest answer to, “Does this make me look fat?”

 Where would I get a beta reader?

If you’re already a part of a writing forum online, that’d be a great place to look.  Or a club or social organization that focuses on writing (like a poetry society or writers’ guild, these often exist by region or state), or a professional organization (like AWP or National Writers Union), or your Facebook page.

I will suggest Craigslist, but advise you to proceed with caution, and probably only if you live in a very large urban area.  Craigslist is mostly useless if you live in a small town unless you’re giving something away (like baby clothes or appliances).

On LinkedIn there are discussion forums for writers and editors.

The thing that has always bugged me about online forums is that the core group of people on a forum is often lonely and mean-spirited, and using the forum as a way to take out hatefulness on other people who they’ll probably never have to face.

OR, there’s such a long and massive history of in jokes and forum jargon and stories that it’s almost impossible to feel welcome. These lodge a stone of discomfort tight in my belly.  I have never found the forum model to be elevating.  But it works for some people.  And it’s out there.  So go do it.  Tell them I said hello.

There may also be writing courses or workshops in your community.  Check out your public or university library or any organizations and nonprofits devoted to writing, like Attic Institute in Portland, or  Mid Atlantic Arts on our fair East coast.

Please, please don’t be a dip and send these people email asking for a list of writers.  Go on their websites and look for opportunities to network with other writers, like taking a workshop or doing a residency.

There is a different way.

You could start a writers’ group.

Writers’ groups are awesome.  Not least because you can actually go to a coffee shop and look writerly with other people instead of by yourself (which is idiotic and pretentious).

The Pros

  • You actually get to look at other people. Watch other writers interact socially.  It can be revealing.  Writers are a cagey bunch.  We’re all full of self-deprecating jokes or wry comments.  And when we’re engaging on the topic of our work, unless we have piles and piles of practice at a workshop poker face, we’re defensive and possibly prickly.
  • It’s a give-and-take relationship.  It’s not some stranger giving you hours upon hours of their time for absolutely nothing.  You are as obliged as the other members of your group to provide thoughtful feedback.
  • And let’s be honest: it’s more likely that you’ll get quality critique if you’re working with a group of people who are serious enough about writing to be in a group.  On purpose, with meeting times and all the accompanying social anxieties.
  • A random beta reader that you scared up online is as likely to be a fan fiction troll as a person with something valuable to say about anything, least of all your pride, joy, and toil: your draft.

All you need is one other writer to begin, and as you meet and work together, you’ll accomplish some of the following: you’ll increase your network, you’ll open a gateway of potential for partnerships, you’ll get accountability, you’ll learn stuff about yourself and your writing, your writing and critique abilities will increase, your outlook will improve, you’ll have camaraderie, an outlet for writerly venting, or you’ll eat less cake.

Cake is like band-aids for boo-boos of the soul.

The Cons

I am of two minds on the value of beta readers and critique partners and writers’ groups.  My stronger mind on the topic feels like the value of the writers’ group–the social critique–far outweigh the potential downsides in terms of community building and potential growth.  But my devil’s advocate mind would like to make the following points:

  • It’s still better to pay a professional when it comes time to prepare the manuscript for submission to agents and publishers.  Professionals have a vested interest in your work, not in your friendship.
  • As with every social endeavor, on and off line, writing groups can turn ugly and cost you potentially copacetic relationships.
  • Groups require time and organization, and unless you’re lucky enough to know a bunch of obsessed, competent, organized humans, the brunt of the organization will fall on one person, every group needs that person, and she can be hard to find.
  • There’s always the possibility that the group will fizz out, after–of course–you’ve devoted considerable time and energy to getting started and offering critique.
  • The critique partner/writing group relationship is difficult to get right.  So resist the urge to become BFFs.  It will be strong, since when you show somebody the unedited draft, you’re inviting at least some bad news, and that is hard on the ego–and much easier to take from somebody you’d have a beer or a movie with.