October 31, 2006

Higher Education, Part I

Boyfriend and I are taking a community education class titled Writing a Novel Later in Life. It isn’t time consuming in that the entire course consists of two sessions of one hour each. It’s not a drain on our finances either - $15 each. “Why not?” we asked each other. “It will give us an excuse to get out of the house.”

We’ve both had aspirations of writing a novel, but I would say we are hardly “later in life” as the course title suggests. Come to find out, Boyfriend actually has a story to tell. I just want to quit my job with hopes of becoming the next Stephen King or Danielle Steele.

I had no expectations regarding the course content. What could the instructor possibly have to say in a total of two hours that would inspire me to become a novelist overnight? With half of the two-session course is over, and I can safely say, “not much.”

I don’t mean to speak negatively about the kindly retired psychologist who successfully wrote and published a 450-page novel in his 60s. Kudos, Dr. Author! Really, I think his efforts and relative success are impressive. But there are some factors in this continuing education experience that seem almost comical.

For instance, Dr. Author can barely speak above a whisper, which is usual for a man as hard of hearing as he is. A good thing for him: there are only six of us in class. The small class size is somewhat of a relief to me in that we won’t have to break into small groups to discuss anything. I’ve always hated that teaching technique and attributed it to laziness on the teacher’s part.

The class members are quite varied too. We range in age from 30 to 75. One woman made sure we all knew she is on disability, and she talked to the instructor as if he was a retarded child. There is a man who just found a Canadian publisher for his novel; apparently his work is just so controversial no publisher in the United States would dare touch it. Another guy is a sheet metal worker/musician/song writer who wants to write a novel based on his extreme political and religious opinions. Another woman has aspirations of becoming a ghost writer. What that entails I’m not really sure, but I believe people ought write and take credit for their own work, bad or good. Then there’s me and Boyfriend, who just want a jump start into a realm of art about which we’ve both fantasized.

We spent the hour listening to the instructor tell his story. The course could have been titled How I Did It. He seems very proud of his book, as he brought a copy of it with him and held it up several times for us to see. I can’t say this is a class as much as it is a man telling a story about how he wrote a novel later in life. I am fairly certain I will know no more about the technicalities of writing a novel after listening to his story than I did before I signed up.

Listening to this soft-spoken man did stir something in me, though. He has a passion for his story and had the balls to put it on paper and publish it himself. I admire him for doing that. And seeing the pride in his eyes when he talks about his accomplishment made me feel privileged – like how I would feel if my grandpa was telling me a secret. I’m happy to be one with whom he is sharing his story.

At the starting block of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I am indeed inspired just a tad further by the instructor who spoke to us last night. Next week we meet again. What he’ll talk about then is completely beyond me. In fact, he asked his class of six that topics we would like him to cover in the next session. Maybe we should just break into small groups.

October 30, 2006


I smell like Parmesan cheese. This can't be good.

October 26, 2006

Max, I'm Ready For My Close-Up

It looks like Alex Kuczynski, New York Times writer, is trying to start a new trend. Aging authentically. She saw the light when a Restylane treatment to her lip had gone bad. The most unfortunate part of the story is the fact that she was conflicted over whether to go to the "skin-rejuvenating session" with her plastic surgeon or to the funeral of a close friend. See the story here.

People, women in particular, have been capitvated by beauty for centuries. Mascara was once composed of metal and ore in ancient Egypt. Lipsticks were made from crushed beetles. Ground semi-precious stones were used as eye shadow. While technology has progressed, the notion that a painted face is beautiful remains the same.

Make-up is just the beginning when it comes to beauty. We dye our hair, bleach our teeth, wax our brows, paint our nails, sandblast our skin, and extract and inject fat into our bodies. In addition, what began as an attempt to look beautiful has mutated into the attitude that looking beautiful is looking young. Apparently wrinkles and grey hair are not beautiful, because they make us look old. Here's a newsflash: you are old.

I'm not what I would call a beautiful person, but I'm certainly not a dog by any means. I weigh within the healthy guidelines for my height, even though my thighs are starting to have the appearance of cottage cheese. My hair is thick and full of curls, but has been steadily turning grey since I was sixteen years old. I have crow's feet by my eyes and surprise lines on my forehead. When I tell people my age, they believe me.

As sad as it is to see 85-year-old women at the beauty shop getting their very thin hair dyed jet black, I think it's even sadder that women more than half their age are falling into the expensive obsession of cosmetic surgery.

The thing of it is, all the trouble and expense people go through to maintain, recapture, or create youth and beauty will probably bite them in the ass someday, just like it did Alex Kuczynski. If I can just emphasize - all this fuss doesn't stop you from aging. Pinned back facial skin and botoxed lips just look freakish. Reminds me of Nora Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard and the hell she went through trying to turn back the hands of time.

Old can be beautiful too. Or it can look like this if you have enough money and priorities that are completely out of whack:

October 25, 2006

The Writer Within Wants Out

OK, so now that I’ve officially decided to unofficially partake in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) beginning November 1st, I find there is a new thing called NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), also commencing November 1st. I really like the sound of NaBloPoMo. Say it fast three times. It’s also another good challenge. But is it really possible to write a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November and commit to posting on a blog every day for the same thirty days? Yikes. Am I allowed to do some cross-over?

I can hear the cheers from my readers, relieved that they may finally turn to me every single day in November and see a new post. A brand new post. Every day. I still don’t think it’s possible.

All of this writing could be a very good distraction from the demands of every day life. Can I ignore the fact that Boyfriend is struggling with his cancer-riddled mother just so I can get out 1000 more words? Can I leave that grape on the kitchen floor, even though I stepped on it two days ago, to concentrate on my new blog post? And really, how important is paying the bills when you’ve got the stress of character development nagging at you? The answers to these questions in November: Yes; Yes; Not.

Including today, I have seven days to prepare. Seven days to spin around in circles. Seven days to worry about what to write more than how to write it, which in turn will prevent any ideas from coming into my head at all. Seven days to wonder if this will make me a better writer or merely a better typist.

Interesting or not, there will be a novel in the works and every attempt made to post in my blog each day during November. I’m so proud of this undertaking, even though just thinking about it makes me want to take a nap.

October 16, 2006

Way To Warp Your Kid

This is just wrong on so many levels. Details can be found on this website. The concept is simple. Your baby is comforted by human touch. You have better things to do than to comfort your baby with your own touch, so you fork out $34.95 and buy a stuffed hand designed to mimic human contact.

First of all, it reminds me of those monkey tests conducted about thirty years ago. Orphaned monkeys were put in a cage with a fur-covered milk bottle (or some such thing) and one that wasn't fur-covered. When the baby monkey was in distress, it would go to the fur-covered bottle for warmth and comfort. But we aren't talking monkeys here. These are human infants fooled into believing their parent is close by, when indeed they are off doing more important things, or better yet, getting the beauty sleep they deserve.

So what, you may ask. If the baby is comforted for the greater part of the time, great. But can you just imagine what it would be like to be sound asleep with your mother cradling your little head and to wake up and find not a loving mother, but a severed hand? Where did the rest of mom go?!

They go one step further and say this severed, stuffed hand can "pick up your scent." So not only is the baby getting tactile messages that you're near, but olfactory ones as well. Baby gets the double whammy and is even more confused. Besides, I would think that if the hand can pick up the parent's scent, it will pick up the baby's scent just as easily. Parent's scent would be overridden by baby's scent eventually, as I assume the baby will spend more time having contact with the hand than the parent would. Therefore, the scent argument is bogus.

Marketers of this item say it's also reassurance for absent parents. "If you must go away for a long period of time, leave a Zaky and a loving note to your partner that says something like: 'I am leaving my hand so our baby feels my touch until I return...'" The problem with this theory is in the statement "baby feels my touch..." which is completely false. Sadly, there are parents out there who get sucked into this kind of marketing in order to relieve any kind of guilt they may feel for being absent.

Then we come to dependency issues. Every child you've ever known has become attached to one thing or another, be it a blanket, a stuffed animal, etc. Imagine little toddler walking around the house clinging to Thing Addams for comfort. A swatch of flannel blanket can be tucked into a kindergartener's pocket on the first day of school. A stuffed animal can be taken for show-and-tell. Imagine the ridicule received by the poor kid who needs to have the fake hand resting on his head during nap time.

Interesting warnings that come with this product too. "• The Zaky is NOT A TOY (I would love for them to define exactly what it is.) • Do not use it on or around the face • DO NOT leave your child unattended while using the Zaky (contradicts the whole sales pitch, no?) • Discontinue its use IMMEDIATELY if any seam is not intact • Do not share the Zaky among babies to prevent contamination • Consult the medical personnel when using it with a sick child."

I say nay to the Zaky. (What the hell kind of name is that anyway?) Speaking as a former baby, I can safely say that a severed hand in my crib would have definitely left permanent emotional scars on my delicate psyche. Providing comfort, as well as emotional scars, is the job of the parents.

October 11, 2006

The Open Road

Oprah Winfrey thought it would be delightfully quirky to head out onto the open highways for an old-fashioned, regular-people, drive-yourself kind of vacation. While reading about these adventures on her website, I couldn't help but feel embarrassed for Oprah as she ineffectively tries to convince America that she is the same as the rest of us.

Off they go - Oprah, her friend Gayle, and their road crew of eighteen - on the highways and byways of America. Here are some interesting things we find out about our little down-home Oprah:

"There are a few aspects of driving Oprah says she doesn't like. She says she has "interstate anxiety," "unpaved road anxiety" and "merging anxiety." Oprah also explains a few of the other things she doesn't really like—night driving, merging and driving over bridges. Gayle is quick to add a few other of Oprah's road dislikes. "She doesn't like to pass trucks. She doesn't like curves. And Oprah doesn't like going across bridges, trucks, highways or bumpy roads," Gayle says."

I ask you, what is the fun of a road trip if you are going to have a panic attack every time you get behind the wheel? Interstate anxiety? Merging anxiety? Doesn't like curves, bridges, trucks, or bumpy roads? What, in the concept of a road trip, doesn't freak this woman out? And if she is that freaked out, why would she do it?

Here are some other little factoids about Oprah that we found out during her travels that make her so incredibly "Paris Hilton:"

"As they got out on the open road, Oprah did something in the desert she hadn't done since 1983. She pumped her own gas…with a little help from the attendant at the station."

The only other person I know who doesn’t pump her own gas is Faux Ma, and that’s only because Faux Pa thinks it’s man’s work. I am fairly certain, however, that Faux Ma has pumped her own gas more recently than 1983. Another reason to disbelieve Oprah’s down-to-earth persona.

"Just outside of Dodge City, Oprah had a breakthrough of sorts as the Impala was stuck for miles behind a slow-moving orange semi. "I see why people give people the finger now. All these years I never understood why people are always so frustrated. Because you're in the wrong damn lane, people!" she said. "Four days ago I was saying, 'What is road rage? Why can't you just move with the flow, people? Now it's like, 'Sheesh, you no-driving so-and-sos.'"

What is road rage?! Does this woman live in a damn vacuum?

"Part of the experience Oprah says she wanted on this trip was to experience the road just like everybody else in America, with no celebrity treatment."

No celebrity treatment, except she has a crew of eighteen following her around! She has her trainer along on this trip to make sure she doesn’t eat the wrong food. I don’t even have (or want) a trainer, much less need to take a road trip with one. The only way Oprah Winfrey could experience life on the road as a normal person would be if she went under cover and did all of the documenting herself. No cameras. No “crew.”

"So instead of driving into the entrance at the Wynn reserved for the rich and famous, Oprah and Gayle drove right up to the valet entrance…and a hastily assembled paparazzi line. And, just like everybody else, there is the occasional snag checking in. After about 20 minutes, they finally sorted it all out and Oprah and Gayle had their room. "I see that this normal way of doing things is very time consuming, isn't it?" Oprah says."

A snag? I doubt it. It was probably a matter of, “I’m sorry Ms. Winfrey, but we don’t have a deluxe suite including Jacuzzi and wet bar in our hotel, only a double queen with cable TV.” OK, except they stayed at the Wynn in Las Vegas, which, I believe, won’t let anyone but a celebrity through their doors. Celebrities and whales. Oprah certainly had that covered.

What I found most distasteful and rude was the fact that Oprah, Gayle, and their little entourage decided it would be fun to crash a couple of weddings. I can’t even tell you how angry I would be to have some self-absorbed attention hound come and try to upstage me at my own wedding - especially one that wasn’t invited. What kind of nerve would it take to do something like that? If she weren’t Oprah Almighty would she even have considered crashing a wedding? If she weren’t Oprah Almighty, would she have been escorted out of the reception?

This whole “adventure” had by Oprah and her pal Gayle was nothing but a lame attempt to convince America that she is a regular person while she proves she is nothing but a spoiled brat rich enough to do anything she pleases. She can talk all she wants about being a poor, abused girl from the ghetto, but I’ll never be convinced that she cares anything about the people who gave her the pedestal on which she stands until she learns to practice some humility.

And Gayle, why the long face? Yikes.

October 04, 2006

What's In A Name?

Whatever has become of the name Mary? Or what about John? When I was in grade school the most exotic name in my class was Doreen. How flamboyant!

Today's parents aren't looking for good, solid names anymore. They are searching for the poetic and symbolic. I think some names are chosen simply to make the point that they, the parents, are indeed grown-ups, which in fact many are not. Below is a list of some names I've encountered. How would you like to be the little kindergartener who has to identify his or her macaroni art with some of these names? How do they learn to spell them?

Tashanti Lon'Ya

And my personal favorite: Lovely Fantasia