When snow drifts into Chicanery

I’m in Jersey, and this week we had a bit of a snow event that dropped anywhere from nothing to two feet in a couple of days, I’m in the middle part of the state, and we fell somewhere south of center with eight inches. (I must refer to my region as “middle” because if you want contention among North/South Jersey natives, just saying Central Jersey will spark a bar fight right up there with Pork Roll vs. Taylor Ham.) Coming off of this storm I can’t help feeling cheated, because as a college professor, I know that even the threat of a few inches will send the school administration into a frenzy on how soon and how long to shut down the campus.

But in this time of pandemic, most all of our classes are remote, unless you’re taking labs on campus for courses in biology or chemistry, or in the nursing or funeral services program. Which mean an English teacher like me is cheated out of the pleasures of a Snow Day, with business as usual. So where’s the fairness in that?

In The Way the World Used To Work, when College was a living, breathing, tangible experience, a Snow Day would mean the campus would shut down,  and there would be no classes for the day.  We would be awakened before dawn by a campus alert via phone or text, find out the joyous news, then scurry back to our warm beds for an extra hour of sleep, looking forward to binging Netflix in our jammies, building snow creatures, or other such indulgences. But now, in the Alternate Universe, instead of staying home we’re already there, and we get to do the same thing we’re doing every day.

T’int right, t’int fair, t’int proper.

Ah well, one more thing to look forward to, right?

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Diagnosis: Writer – Five Sure-Shot Symptoms

vintagetypewriter_93579-758x485Okay, I’m being lazy. I’d rather repeat this old post than think of something original. But it’s a good post, and I’m right in the middle of revising something I wrote years ago, so this re-posting an old post fits perfectly into my writing life right now. Even so, it does offer some valuable advice, not only to you, but to those irritable people who keep interrupting you to say, “What is it you do in that room all day’?” Arrrgh! So this should help you answer them. Because the first step to a cure is to admit you’ve got an addiction. But in this case, a very good one. Read on…

No, you’re not crazy, even though your friends and family think you are. Even so, you have to admit that at time, you do seem a bit “off.” Still, how do you measure crazy against what accurately borders on obsession? I was thinking of this last weekend while lunching with some fellow writers, wondering whether they’re afflicted with similarly bizarre affectations, or if I was I suffering in silence. Odd or not, it’s made me realize that dammit, I must be a real writer, because although I’m not cutting off an ear or anything for my art, I sure am suffering some peculiarities. Such as:

1. Post-it Note Addiction – It’s true. I carry them everywhere. I have pads of them on my desk, in my purse, in the pocket of my course binder. I whip them out to jot down lines of dialogue, character descriptions, plot lines–even the premise for this post. They’re all over the place in my office, and when I’m on  the road and inspiration clocks me, I jot down my genius and stick them to the inside of my wallet so I don’t forget. By the way, they’re also good for shopping lists, as you can stick them right in front of you on the inside of the shopping cart.

2. Drinking Hot Liquids Cold – During the winter months I usually have a cuppa something at my elbow while I’m writing, but I have to tell you, I can’t remember the last time I actually sipped it while it was still hot. Usually the cream’s left a sheen on the coffee, or the tea’s soaked down the string to the tag, an “accident” puddling on my desk, whatever’s in the cup long, gone cold. The opposite effect is true in the summer, when I never seem to sip anything cold: the ice just a memory, the glass dripping condensation. I should probably just yank a bottle out of the cabinet and forget about it. Either way, it all ends up the same place: room temperature.

3. Vitamin D Deficiency – My last routine blood screen had everything come back normal except my Vitamin D level. Apparently deficiencies of this vitamin, which is created by sunshine, can cause depression, chronic fatigue, weight loss (I wish), diabetes, heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis. In addition to a disease I thought went out with the nineteenth century–rickets! “It’s not unusual to see decreased Vitamin D levels in the winter,” my doctor had said. “But yours? Don’t you even step out on the porch?” All right, I guessing the LED glow from my laptop isn’t enough, so I suppose it’s supplements until the snow melts and I’m hitting the sidewalk again.

4. Plot-related Memory Loss – Has this happened to you? You’re driving along, trying to work out what exactly Protagonist A is going to leave on Protagonist B’s doorstep, and the next thing you know you’re sitting in the parking lot at work, with no idea how you got there. Or you’re in the shower and you’ve just thought of the perfect setting for your heroine’s vacation. But there’s this bottle of conditioner in your hand, and you can’t remember if you washed your hair first. Whether you’re staring at blank walls or losing threads of conversations, it’s not early dementia–it’s Plot On the Brain. And trying not to think about it only makes it worse. Better to lock yourself in the closet and get it down and over with.

5. You Do It Anyway – This I have found the most telling. You’ve written a bunch of novels, a dozen short stories, more than a few essays, innumerable blog posts, even kept a journal for more years than you’d care to own up to. And although you’ve had some limited success, though nowhere near where you’d like to see yourself, you keep doing it. You finish one piece then start another, because you know if you don’t your axis will tilt and forget the Vitamin D–you’ll feel a deficiency worse than if all the chocolate in the world suddenly disappeared. You can’t help yourself, even on the days when that rejection shows up in your inbox, you still want to do it. You’ll cry and curse and hate the world for stopping you from doing what you can’t seem to give up. But then all of a sudden that perfect line plants itself in your head, and you’re back to doing it anyway. You’re so pathetic. Maybe. Maybe not. But oh man, sometimes it’s such a bitch being us.

Okay, enough whining. Back to work.

 

normalcy

I’m not looking for the world to change overnight. But I would like a noticeable decrease in the drama. I think we’ve come pretty close to it today, and maybe a few good things will happen along the way. He’s only been in office six hours at this writing, and he’s already got us back in the Paris Accords. Plus it’ll be really nice to have a dog back in the White House, and this time we’re getting two. And I did hear a new Presidential cat is on the agenda. Even better!

Impeachment 2.0

Photo The New York Times

Last week I posted a photo of the melee going on at the Capitol during what needs to be called an Insurrection. I have no other name for it, as “protesters” don’t smash windows, beat cops, and otherwise trash a hallowed temple of our democracy. Seeing that the War of 1812 ended over 200 years ago, I couldn’t see any other reason why they’d be there. So today, Speaker Pelosi was forced again to deal with the Insurrectionist-in-Chief the only way she could, by once again impeaching him. For those who disagree, you’re welcome to your point of view. That’s what First Amendment rights are all about. What they don’t concern is yelling louder than anyone else so you can punctuate your point with violence. We are free to disagree. We are not free to endanger the rights, the lives, the liberty, and the Constitution of this country. You live here, you have to play by the rules. If you disagree, there are legal avenues you are free to explore. But your right to disagree with me ends at the point of your fist.  Because we are a republic, and we’re civilized. Right? Right?

Is it 2021 yet?

Has 2020 all been a bad dream? Or is this a reality I’ve actually been living through? I remember sitting on my sofa around mid-March, when someone on TV said we’d probably be sheltering in place for the foreseeable future. I actually laughed, finding that simply incredible. Well, it was no joke, because after a brief mirage called “summer,” we’re doing it again, and for who-knows-how-long.

And now we’ve come upon the holidays, and there’s nothing about them that seems normal. The only thing that does is the perennial hope the New Year brings, and I don’t think anyone will argue 2021 doesn’t carry extra weight. The next year carries equal measures of portent and potential, and I for one can’t wait to get on with it.

Here’s hoping it’s a good one as I remain, ever optimistic.  See you on the next calendar page.

Writing in the time of pandemic

I haven’t said much about the virus in the months that we’ve been locked down and out of our normal lives. Mostly because I’m not one to give oxygen to something so disruptive, as maybe it’s best to ignore the worst and carry on. But it has been disruptive and it has been the worst. I haven’t been on campus since Spring Break, and teaching college remotely is a bullshit substitute, long lost of it’s novelty of biz-cahz uptown and yoga pants downtown. I miss the the color and variety of campus life, I miss the one-on-one interactions with my students, I miss my zany colleagues, and let me tell you, I even long for those interminable committee meetings. (Even shrinking my Zoom screen to play “Spelling Bee” or Free Cell is dull next to inter-departmental drama.) As bad as my campus being compressed to the confines of my 10 X 12 home office, that’s not the worst. Not by a major long shot. It’s the loss of my writing mojo.

One would think with the shrinking of my social life, I’d revel in the time left over to create. That all those evenings and afternoons I spent in exterior pursuits could now be devoted to the interior ramblings of my imagination. If it only were that easy. After spending the greater part of the spring and summer polishing off and perfecting my latest novel to send it out on the market, I’ve been made painfully aware of the dismal prospects of getting it sold. One would think that editors, locked out of the offices, the cocktail parties, the author events, etc., have nothing better to do than read and revel over each and every one of our magnum opi. But let me tell you, that is an assumption I was a fool to make.  This business is tighter than ever, and with so many people self-publishing, mid-list books are no longer much of a priority. Not that I think selling isn’t still a possibility–oh don’t get me wrong. Persistence always pays out in the end. I’ve sold before, and I will sell again. But the unoccupied mind is a fertile playground for despair, and one imagines all kind of scenarios, and most of them hardly uplifting. And that wreaks havoc on creativity, especially when you’re trying to work on The Next Greatest Thing. You’d be surprised what a frenemy the Pandemic becomes, as a wholesale excuse to flee the dreaded Empty Page for Netflix. (Watched “Queen’s Gambit” in just two sittings last week!) So what does one do when the writer no longer feels like one?

You want answers? Comfort? Companionship? You’ll get none of it out of me. Well, maybe that’s not true–companionship maybe, as I have a feeling I’m not in this alone. Although most fiction writers pride themselves on the ability to build vibrant worlds out of nothing, they still need reality as an engine for creativity. And because of that, we’ve also been known to live too vividly inside our heads conjuring up all kinds of horribleness. I’ll never finish this book. Who am I to think I’m a writer? No one will ever buy this crap. If I send this out it’ll only get rejected. I have writer’s block. I’ve lost my imagination. I can’t write. I never could. I suck.

Yeah, that’s me, and I suppose that’s been you at one point or another, and never more than now. But maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.  These are extraordinary times. I’ve even heard them compared to World War II in the sacrifices we’ve had to make, the pain we’ve had to endure, the doctors and nurses and essential workers our fighting men and women at the front. It’s hard to concentrate on fantasy when a trip to the grocery store has all the potential of making our worst nightmares come true. Maybe we need to give ourselves a break, redirect all that bad energy into good. Give grandma a phone call. Send a tray of cookies to the local ER. Drop a box of groceries at a food bank. Donate to your favorite charity.  Your writing life will come back to you. There are others whose loss is much more concrete.  In the meantime, between now and the vaccine, there’s still room enough in our heads for hope–and even perhaps a dream or two.

Hittin the Holiday Film Vault

Movies are my favorite form of escapism, and when I first posted this list a while ago, the only diversion I needed was one from the over-commercialism of the season. How quaint that seems now. Without going into the reasons why, let’s just take these little gems for what they’re worth, a short vacation out of a reality that’s become too grim of late. So get cozy, grab the popcorn and lose yourself in these trifles of holiday storytelling.

1. The Shop Around the Corner ( 1940) – Must be my Eastern European blood calling to me, but I just love this sparkling Ernst Lubitsch romance set in a prewar Budapest gift shop. Starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as two battling sales clerks who don’t know they’re falling in love via the post, as each other’s anonymous pen pal. Stellar secondary characters, including a priceless William Tracy as the cheeky delivery boy, Pepi. The Christmas Eve menu at the end had me salivating.

2. The Man Who Came to Dinner ( 1942) – After dining at a Ohio local’s home during a  lecture tour, notoriously acerbic radio personality Sheridan Whiteside slips on his hosts’ icy steps, and takes over not only their house but their lives. Starring Monty Woolley as The Man and Bette Davis as his aide-de-camp, the snark and sarcasm are so sharp and quick you’ll come away nicked but you’ll be laughing too hard to care. Still fresh over seventy years later, The Man is based on Algonquin Roundtable-er, Alexander Woolcott, his cronies thin veneers of Noel Coward, Harpo Marx, Gertrude Lawrence and all who were definitely in-crowd.

3. Holiday Affair (1949) – No one did heavy-lidded better than The Mitch, and the very fact that he actually made a holiday film piqued my curiosity enough to watch it. Just by the look of this poster you could see the only thing that remotely indicated that it had anything to do with Christmas was war-widow’s Janet Leigh’s sheer wrapping definitely promised presents for someone. Oh, somewhere among the movie’s a plot involving a department store clerk and a retail spy, a sassy kid, a train set, a jilted–oh who cares! Mitch smolders and Janet’s a brush fire waiting to happen.

4. A Christmas Story ((1983) – All nine-year-old Ralphie wants for Christmas is a genuine Red Ryder BB gun, and he’ll do darn near anything to get it. Based on the recollections of storyteller Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust – All Others Pay Cash, Peter Billingsley had the part of a lifetime that until this day loops every Christmas on cable channel TBS. Darren McGavin ought to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for one priceless part as Ralphie’s dad who spouts the immortal words, “It’s a major award!”

5. The Holiday (2006) – Don’t ask me why I like this story of American movie trailer maker Cameron Diaz, and English wedding column writer Kate Winslet who swap their respective Hollywood and Surrey homes for the Christmas holidays. Maybe it’s got something to do with Jude Law being tossed into the mix, I don’t know, but the whole thing sure sounds like a good idea to me.

HUMOR FOR COPY EDITORS (AND PROOFREADERS, ENGLISH TEACHERS, ETC.)

• An Oxford comma walks into a bar where it spends the evening watching the television, getting drunk, and smoking cigars.

• A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.
• A bar was walked into by the passive voice.
• An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.
• Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”
• A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.
• Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.
• A question mark walks into a bar?
• A non sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.
• Papyrus and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Get out — we don’t serve your type.”
• A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.
• A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.
• Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.
• A synonym strolls into a tavern.
• At the end of the day, a cliché walks into a bar — fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack.
• A run-on sentence walks into a bar it starts flirting. With a cute little sentence fragment.
• Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.
• A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up getting figuratively hammered.
• An allusion walks into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol is its Achilles heel.
• The subjunctive would have walked into a bar, had it only known.
• A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned a man with a glass eye named Ralph.
• The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.
• A dyslexic walks into a bra.
• A verb walks into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.
• A simile walks into a bar, as parched as a desert.
• A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to forget.
• A hyphenated word and a non-hyphenated word walk into a bar and the bartender nearly chokes on the irony.

happy effing thanksgiving

Seriously. I mean, what else can happen? Haven’t we already been though the grinder–how many times this year? How much more fucked up can it get before 2020 calls it a day? How many people are afraid of the answer to that? All I know is it’s thirty-six days and counting until we can nail this bastard shut. Then it’s only twenty more days until, well, you know. Hanging on until then.

Happy Thanksgiving to all…well. What else can you call yourselves besides survivors?

Seriously Snark

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