Saturday, April 30, 2016

Why Settle for a Vowel When You Can Buy the Whole Book?

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all: read a lot and write a lot.
There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."

Long before I read King's words, I had embraced his philosophy. I had, in fact, embraced it in a way that may have occasionally appeared compulsive to the people around me. Those compulsions are more pronounced now than ever.

Here's the bookshelf above my writing desk. There is another row of books just as long on the connecting wall, but sunlight prohibited me from getting a shot of those.

These are the books on the shelf in my writing desk:

These are the books in a stack on my writing desk:

These are some books I currently have checked out of the library:

These are the books (and a magazine) that are on my nightstand at the moment:

For years, my book obsession had to take a backseat--financially and often time-wise--to raising four children. Now, not only do I have a bit more disposable income, but I have discovered I can buy used books on the internet. This is fabulous but also horrible because I can buy many more than I can actually find the time to read. Books that came in the mail today:

I have essentially set up my house so that I am never more than ten feet from a book at any time. And for those times when I leave the house, I stuff my backpack with both reading and writing materials lest I ever be caught somewhere without words to play with. The current contents of my backpack (arrayed on my lap desk which is where I write most often while at home):

L-r, top: my current journal, a packet on trauma-informed care for work that I have been trying to finish reading for weeks, two tablets--you know, the vintage kind of tablet, made of paper--where I work on rough drafts; bottom: current issue of Poets & Writers, book of short stories, my previous journal, in case I need to double check whether I've written something down already.

I used to jokingly call myself an addict, but these days I favor the label "zealot"--this shift in preference may or may not be related* to the fact that I desperately needed a "Z" word to round out the A-Z Challenge today.

Z is for Zealot

*Hint: it is totally related.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ways I Am Not a Grown-Up, The Twenty-Second In a Potentially Infinite Series

This still happens to me way too often: 

It happens way too often and almost always lately it happens an hour into a two hour drive through the wilds of western New York between Rochester and home somewhere around 9:30 at night. 

Though I have understood for as long as I can remember that vehicles need gas to run, I still routinely forget to pay any attention to the fuel gauge until warning lights start flashing and alarms start chiming. 

Y is for Young-at-heart, where young is a euphemism for immature.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

It's So Much Safer Just to Keep the Genie in the Bottle

One evening last week, Hubby and I were puttering in the front yard--peeking at our itty bitty spinaches, lettuces, and peas--when a friend pulled up to visit for a bit. The subject of the Presidential election came up, as it seems to so often lately, and it's impossible to talk about politics at all right now without talking about Donald Trump. None of us are Trump fans--and if you are, you might want to skip this post and come back tomorrow for a less potentially inflammatory letter. 

During our conversation, Hubby mentioned that he finds it baffling that several otherwise intelligent people he knows are Trump supporters. It may be the case that Trump has many intelligent supporters, but it is also true that I have yet to hear a remotely intelligent reason for supporting Trump. 

I have struggled mightily to try to see Trump through the eyes of his supporters, but have so far been unable to do so. Many applaud his willingness to tell it like he sees it, but I find the way he sees it so alarming that I can't be swayed by his forthrightness. Others seem to swallow whole his promise to "make America great again" despite the fact that there he spends significantly more time talking about how awful America is (often in inaccurate ways) than explaining specifically how intends to improve it. (Sorry, Donald and Donald supporters, it's going to take more than repeating how great YOU are to convince me that you have any idea how to make anything else great.)

More to the point, Trump is completely without any life experience or demonstrable skill that will be required in the position he is campaigning for. There are people who point to Trump's experience in business as a selling point, but our nation is not a business nor should it be run like one. Even if you are of the belief that it should be run like a business, Donald, with his multiple bankruptcies and numerous questionable business practices, hardly sounds like a good candidate for the position of CEO of the USA.

To be honest, though, Donald's qualifications or lack thereof, are really not my main concern. I really try to cling to my faith that the system of checks and balances built into our way of government will stop Trump from being able to do too much damage from his seat in the Oval Office if he is somehow able to win the general election.

What does concern me are Trump's supporters, who will have spent more than a year listening to Trump rant in his xenophobic, racist, violence-inciting way. In so doing, Trump is using a position of power to encourage and validate some very dangerous and regressive ideas. And that encouragement and validation will be exponentially more powerful if Trump is actually elected. 

Even if Trump suddenly veers from his platform of hate and bullying, as his own camp is now claiming he plans to do, it may be more difficult to get that malevolent genie back into the bottle than we anticipate. Ultimately, a vote for Trump* is a vote to reinforce these toxic attitudes that already exist in our society. Normalizing and even celebrating exclusion and physical attacks of people who think, look, act, worship or speak differently than we do may well lead to increased discrimination and violence across the country. I utterly fail to see what will be so great about that.

X is for Xenophobia

*And as previously suggested, uncast votes may well be votes for Trump.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Rain, Rain Go Away

The other day, I noticed a 14-inch snake-like strip of rubber in my driveway. It's been there since late January and I have noticed it several times before, always when I am in a rush on my way to or from somewhere, which at least partly explains why I haven't picked it up.

It's a strip off my driver's side windshield wiper blade. It peeled away a few days prior to ending up in the driveway. It spent the interim period wedged in an awkward way under the bug deflector on the hood of my van. I have no idea exactly when or how it fell off, but fall it did and there it has been ever since.

Spotting that strip again reminded me of how long I went with a compromised wiper blade. I knew that it needed replaced and am perfectly capable of replacing it on my own, but the only time I ever thought about it needing replaced was when it was actively raining and it was easy enough to convince myself to wait to buy the replacement until it was sunny again. "I'll remember to grab one the next time I'm in Kmart," I'd lie to myself.

Anyway, the breaking point came one day during a deluge about a month ago, when I was nearly blinded while out doing errands. I was lecturing myself about how ridiculous and unsafe it was that I had not replaced the wiper blade already. I was weighing whether to go to AutoZone or Kmart. Kmart might be cheaper, but their auto parts section is often poorly stocked. AutoZone has a history of irritating me because the staff there apparently finds it novel that a woman knows how to buy and install a headlight bulb or windshield wiper blade. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, right? 

While doing all this deliberating, I pulled into the teeny (three store) strip mall where Dollar General is since there were items I was absolutely sure I needed there. As I was sitting there, still berating myself about not getting blades sooner and nagging myself to make sure I did it this very day, I realized that there is a Carquest auto parts store right there.

This store has been in town for years, but used to be just off of Main Street. I had never gone into it in either location and just kind of don't see it at all. I am a creature of habit and also, still, shy at times about going into a new place--even though I am chronologically, allegedly a grown up. This shyness was exacerbated by the fact that this is not only a new place, but a new place where, by virtue of my gender, I might call extra attention to myself. 

But still, the store was right there and I desperately needed a windshield wiper blade. Going into this store, unfamiliar though it was, would save me an additional stop, not to mention a long, wet walk across the parking lot of either AutoZone or Kmart. It was absurd that I was even considering not going in.

So I insisted to myself, in no uncertain terms, that I was going to get a grip and go into Carquest right then and get myself a pair of wiper blades, damn it. 

I am happy to report that I did just that, but not until I had spent another ten minutes working the nerve up to do it.

I could've filed this under "P" for procrastination or "S" for social anxiety or even "S" for sexism, actual and/or anticipated, but instead, let's file it under:

W is for Windshield Wiper

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Lesser of Two Evils is Looking Better Every Day

When it comes to politics, as I've mentioned before, I've long been a preach to the choir kind of girl--avoiding the topic completely unless I am fairly certain I'm among people who share my views or who are contractually obligated by law or genetics to tolerate me. It is a policy I've adhered to almost religiously for most of my adult life and it's one that has served me well.

It's been a lot harder, though, during this Presidential election cycle, when everyone around me--online and in the real world--seems determined to offer their opinions and to (sometimes aggressively) solicit mine.

One of the more popular opinions I've heard is that none of the options for President are at all appealing. I've been hearing this since the first candidates began declaring their campaigns--hearing it as the field of potential candidates narrowed from 25 or 30 down to the five or so that are (more or less) in the race today. 

This meme* was making the rounds of Facebook a month or so ago, appearing on the Timelines of many of my FB friends: 

It seemed to capture not only a lack of enthusiasm among the electorate, but an actual distaste for most (or all) of the Presidential options. I know that the distaste--disdain even--is very real for many of the people I actually talk to on a daily basis. 

One friend, a registered Democrat, who is politically active and can usually be counted on to vote, sat out the NY primary last week because she doesn't like either Bernie or Hillary. She has threatened on several occasions to sit out the general election as well--or to use her vote to write-in another candidate, perhaps her husband.

A couple other friends--and some more well-known folks--have hinted that if their chosen candidate is not the nominee, they too will sit out rather than vote for their party's alternative candidate.

I understand this stance, I really do. There is no such thing as a perfect candidate and many--maybe most--Presidential elections seem to come down to a choice not of whom we like but of whom we dislike the least. 

The problem, though, with disengagement, with sitting out in protest, with writing in a candidate is that this time around is that it is wasting your vote. And in this election, perhaps more so than in any election in my memory, voting seems a vital way to avoid a potentially dire outcome. Because, let's face it, as in the potato chip meme above, some of the choices are much, much more palatable than others. 

Choosing not to make a choice is actually a way of making a choice--and, in this case, the choice you make by not choosing could actually tip the scales in favor of something that could well be disastrous. 

This Presidential campaign season has taught me that not all "bad" choices are created equal. I'm hoping there's time between now and November for others to realize that as well.

V is for Voting

*I'm usually very diligent about crediting artists, writers, etc. when I use their work, but I was unable to track this meme to its origins. Apologies to whoever created it--and if you are the creator & happen to find it here, please comment or email me and I will be sure to update this post.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Masked Mom's Media Monday: The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch

During the ten years I spent working at the flower shop, I spent quite a bit of time in and out of local funeral homes. Given our delivery schedules, I often had no contact at all with funeral home staff--I knew where to find the hidden keys and where to leave all the arrangements I had come to deliver. At first, I was ill at ease in the presence of the deceased, laid out in the often open casket, but it became such a commonplace part of my life at a certain point that I rarely gave it much thought after the first year or so.

When I did run into funeral home directors or staff, we were always polite and subdued except when we weren't. One funeral home director in particular had quite a sense of humor and would hide around corners or behind doors to jump out and startle me. A dicey proposition given that I startle ridiculously easy and was often carrying a hundred or more dollars worth of flowers--fortunately, I never flung any flowers in my frightened state and the director was always so boyishly pleased with himself, I couldn't help but laugh. Sometimes when Cranky Boss Lady or I ran into him at the grocery store or elsewhere around town and it had been a week or two since the last funeral, he would lean in and whisper, "Business has been really dead lately." 

So I wasn't completely surprised to find that Thomas Lynch, undertaker and author of The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, had a sense of humor. I no longer remember how I came to read the book, which is a collection of essays, but I remember that once I started reading, I had a hard time putting it down. I know that, though it has been perhaps ten years since I read it, I've never forgotten it.

Lynch is a poet and author who also happens to be an undertaker. He writes with wit and wisdom about a subject that so many of us are afraid to really consider. With death as a topic, you might expect a heavy or even depressing book, but the essays in this collection are beautifully crafted ruminations on death that are somehow full of life. 

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Profound.

U is for Undertakers

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Gifts That Keep On Giving

The summer I turned nine, we moved into a house much closer to my mother's large extended family than I could remember ever living before. My mother was one of eleven children so we suddenly found ourselves spending lots of time with aunts, uncles and cousins who had very nearly been strangers up to that point. 

That first summer, we had a house-warming party, hosting at least thirty or forty people. My Aunt Joyce arrived a little late and wandered into the kitchen where my mother was arranging casserole dishes that others had brought.

My aunt looked over Mom's shoulder and said, "I didn't know we were supposed to bring a dish-to-pass."

Mom said, "We weren't expecting anything but your presence."

Aunt Joyce smirked and said, "We didn't bring you any of those either."

Presence. Presents. Heh.

Having not yet entered fourth grade, I doubt I had ever seen the word "presence" in print, though I might well have seen "presents." Either way, I not only got the joke, but loved the wordplay. It is one of many incidents that reinforced my interest in words, in reading and writing and, therefore, reinforced what has turned out to be a fundamental piece of my identity. 

T is for Thankful