Books I Haven’t Written

One thing I haven’t gotten around to doing is writing a book, but I started playing around with titles.  Of course, when I start talking about these sorts of things, The Boffin has to get in on the act.  Here are the products of our brilliance.

1001 Scenic Places to Scratch Your Nads

Great Moments in Extreme Sheep Shearing

How to Get the Shit Kicked Out of You at a Craft Fair

Setting Fire to Stuff for Fun and Profit

Toilets The Boffin Has Clogged: A Coffee Table Book

Faces on Which I Want to Rub My Bunghole by Lola

037
Come to Lola.  I must leave my scent.

The Papua New Guinea Aborigine’s Guide to Philadelphia

Just Throw Some Fucking Sprinkles on It:  A Realistic Guide to Cake Decorating

Scary Relatives in Their Underwear

Recipes to Make You Vomit

Bonus points if you can guess which one of us came up with which title.

One Year Later…

Getting ready...
Getting ready…

It was around this time last year that I attended the Chicago Writers’ Conference without much of a clue of what I wanted except that I eventually I wanted to write and somehow make a living out of it eventually.

I walked into the kickoff party held in a packed “Irish” pub in the middle of The Loop.  People could hardly get through because of the conference organizers were doing early check-in of attendees.  The early arrivals got the primo spots on the small wooden tables and uncomfortable stools with laminated index cards as conversation starters.  I managed to overhear someone read a card about Hemingway being detrimental to the craft.  I didn’t think Star 80 was that bad.

But they could have been talking about Tolstoy for all I truly knew.  Flightlines with running F-15s were quieter than this place was.  I am not going to make that same mistake tonight.  There will be plenty of opportunity to drink at the Live Lit reading tomorrow.

Regarding the conference itself, I learned a lot, took a bunch of notes, and was left even more overwhelmed and baffled than when I started.  The writing and publishing world is a business in flux, to say the least.  Despite my complete lack of schmoozing skills and my anxiety about large social situations, I did manage to make some small talk with some hopefuls.  Imagine the shock when they asked me for business cards.

I had nothing to give them.

So I ended up going to an Office Depot that was shutting down, bought a pack, and wrote my details on them.  I was such a dork.

I learned from that too. There is a back to this.
I learned from that too. There is a back to this with more information.

It was time and money well spent because I was smacked with reality.  I could research for hours.  I could seek advice from a myriad of writers and editors.  I could read how-to books and articles.  I could get samples of putting the perfect pitch together.   I could catalog and index all sorts of information.  But that was not going to change one thing.

I was afraid.

I was afraid of putting my words out in public.

Until I could do that, everything else was pointless.  And it took going to this conference and some Come to Moses talks with The Boffin to make me dig down into the vulnerable gelatinous areas of my psyche.   You know, the part that tell you that you are woefully inadequate.

Starting small was key.

Hence, here I am on WordPress.

And where do I go from here?  Freelancing is still a good option, but I admit there are times when the old-fashioned route of conveniently dying and having The Sprog deal with my work is appealing.  Hey, it is a valid career path for writers.  They don’t have to worry about networking or promotion.

But for now, I am at the conference this year knowing I don’t have to make business cards with crayons.

Ask the Boffin

Photo portrait.  We got his good side.  "Cuff Hill logan stone 2" by Rosser (talk) - I created this work entirely by myself. Roger Griffith.
Photo portrait of The Boffin. We got his good side. “Cuff Hill logan stone 2” by Rosser (talk) – I created this work entirely by myself. Roger Griffith.

I am adding a new feature to the blog.  Every so often, The Boffin will answer some of your questions.  Do you want to know why he came here?  Are you curious about how Margaret Thatcher ruined his life?  He will tell you.  All you have to do is ask.

He also loves giving advice, and some of it may actually be useful.  But don’t ask me to guarantee the results.

The only way that can happen is if you submit the questions in the first place.  So how do you get a hold of him?  E-mail him at theboffin@thisbritishamericanlife.com.  You can also go to the Contact page too.

I can’t wait to see how this experiment turns out.

We Are All Journalists

Media is defined as a means of mass communication.  If we use social media, by the inherited definition of media, we are journalists.  We just don’t get paid for it.  And if that is the case, we have to be held personally accountable for what we post.  So if we are to be held accountable for what we post, we have to check for factual errors, shouldn’t we?  Now I am not referring to libel or any murky waters of the legal world.  It’s more of a self-regulation.  Thinking before we post.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of “I’ll post this article/meme/rant because I agree with the conclusion” without seeing all the flawed thinking behind it.  For example, I have this blog post that appeared on my Facebook feed written by a woman named Marcella Piper-Terry, founder of VaxTruth.org, all about her declaration of independence from government tyranny after California enacted a law requiring specific vaccinations for children (with medical exemptions) enrolling in public school.  My main point is not to argue with Ms. Piper-Terry’s anti-vaccination stance.  It’s the way she makes her argument.  If you read her post, she admits that she is a poor student of American history, and then she goes on to Google bits of it to co-opt major figures of our past in inaccurate and inflammatory ways to support her point of view about how our civil liberties are being crushed.  Instead of putting out a cohesive, thoughtful argument, she is playing on our emotions and using the same tactics that the politicians that she criticizes use to manipulate the public.  And you know what that is called?  Propaganda.  It’s hypocrisy writ large.

Or, let’s get to my bugbear…crappy, ill-conceived memes.

fingerobama

I hardly had to scroll to find this one when I Googled “Obama meme”.  Regardless of how you feel about President Obama, in what way is any of this true, and is this any way to write about our president?  Like he has this much power over the United States’s economy.  Right.  Where’s the proof of this monetary catastrophe to this ill-mannered child?  There is no satire or important points made either.  So, how does this meme add to the national dialogue in any way?  Of course, we all know that it doesn’t.  So the amateur journalists are really falling down on the job on this one, big time.  If I were their editor, their tuchuses would have been pinkslipped ages ago.  And maybe even the rest of their bodies.

Now I am an advocate of 1st Amendment, but can’t we make more of an effort to not propagate the waste, so we can get to what is worth reading a little more easily?  Is that too much to ask?  No one is expecting hours of research behind every little thing that comes across everyone’s screen.  However, all of us who read these things have the responsibility to stop posts and other useless bits like these in their tracks instead of passing them on.  Is it so hard to stop and question the validity of what we are seeing?  I know I have hit the forward and share buttons and then exclaimed, “Aw shit, it was a hoax.”  But that is when I go back and correct my mistakes when I do get the facts.  Now I am a lot more careful with what I do share.

Casting a critical eye on the information you take in, even in the face of what you believe is right, is an essential skill to have in a world where the reality is in shades of gray.  It’s not the easiest way to live, but it makes you more adaptable to the flux that modern life brings.

Maybe we have to start a “Think Before You Click” campaign?

Those Who Can’t Draw, Take Heart.

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.
Pablo Picasso

I am sure Pablo would have made an exception upon meeting me when I was a kid.  It was bad.  It was awful. Looking back, I shudder.

Things were fine when I could just drag out the crayons and do my own thing.  Then people started with that whole “color in the lines” bullshit, and that’s when life started getting complicated.

All the art talent ended up within Older Brother #1, so I had to lag three years behind the reincarnation of Rembrandt while all I could offer were my lopsided clay pots and tissue paper flowers that barely stuck together with Elmer’s glue. I did go through an interesting art period through most of elementary school called the “Dog with People’s Faces” phase and was teased mercilessly because of it. Who knows if my parents still have any of the originals, but I can replicate my work pretty accurately.

Dog with People Face

So, all mammals’ limbs were basically platypi tails. True story: it was around this time that my elementary school art teacher, Mr. Kelly, quit his job and opened an aerobic dance/exercise studio. To this day, I am firmly convinced it was my artwork that sent him over the edge. You have to admit…a picture like that would make someone crack enough to wear leg warmers. At least, the connection makes sense in my mind.

So message received loud and clear. I sucked at art. I held my nose and pushed my way through the American educational system’s mandatory art classes. I learned to appreciate art as an observer, but not as a participant. Meanwhile, I remained envious of the people who could participate and participate well. I wanted to be like my big brother and still do sometimes.

But something interesting was happening of which I wasn’t aware. If I couldn’t resort to images, I could resort to words. So I would hide in our basement and scribble out my musings in my notebooks. (Hey, Mom and Dad! Now you know what I was doing down there all that time. I was writing.) And I started sharing those words with my group of friends by the time I got to high school. To my shock, they liked them. Whoa.

And what was even better, art was an elective, so I didn’t have invest any more energy into pencil drawings of bottles, so more time could be spent on words. Happy dance!

What I am basically saying is lack of talent in one area only gives you more time to pursue your talents and interests in other areas. It’s not a shortcoming within you, if you can’t do something well after giving it a fair effort. I know have to keep reminding myself of this all the time because I still slip into the envy trap sometimes. However, I get the feeling I am not the only one.

And the best use of Elmer’s glue is to let it dry on your hand, so you can peel it off. Hands down.

Not the Mama Blog

You would think that because I am a stay-at-home mom it would be natural for me to make this a mom blog. Now I have nothing against mom blogs. Lord knows, I read my fair share when the Sprog was little, and there were days when she decided that Torturing Mommy was the Best Game Ever!

That favorite yogurt you just bought 12 pots of? It's poison! I don't want it anymore!  Photo courtesy  of Wikimedia Commons
That favorite yogurt you just bought 12 pots of? It’s poison! I don’t want it anymore! Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Any words of solidarity were welcome and needed, and I came across a few that were well-written and relevant to my experiences.  Like anything on the Internet, it took a long time to find what I needed, and I had to weed through a lot of crap to get there.

So why am I not returning the favor? Lots of very good reasons actually…

  1. There are tons of mom blogs out there. Women love to write about their kids and their lives with their kids. It’s understandable because once you become a mother, it touches just about every facet of your life from how you arrange your career, how you manage your intimate relationships, how you eat, how you sleep, and even whether you go to the bathroom by yourself when your children are really young. (To those in the trenches, you do get to pee alone. It will happen. I promise.) I really do not need to contribute to that discussion when there are so many women in the mix already.
  2. I always wonder about the role of the spouses in these blogs.  In the poorly written ones, they show up like the goofy neighbor next door in sitcoms.  Perhaps, the writer is just casting the spouse that way for comic relief.  Maybe I am reading the wrong type of blogs here, but I would love to see more where the other spouse is more of an active and engaged parent, like the Boffin, instead of a bumbling fool.  I would love to be proven wrong here.
  3. There is a risk of overexposing the Sprog. I believe children are human beings who have a right to privacy. Just because they do something cute or noteworthy does not mean I need to snap a photo and plaster it all over the Internet. I feel I don’t have the right to tell my side of the story of a fight we had and not give her the forum to tell her side. Yes, I could portray every real struggle and triumph that I have as a mother on the blog, but to pretend that what I say does not effect my daughter is magical thinking at its finest. She may not understand it now, but she will be able to read it later and call me to the carpet.  And rightly so.  Until she is of the age where she can give the proper consent and a rebuttal, I will not give out the details of the inner workings of our relationship. It’s my own personal policy.
  4. The “my type of motherhood is better than your type motherhood” is a minefield I want avoid entirely. Breastfeeding vs. Bottle Feeding. Career vs. Staying-at-Home. One child vs. Two+. Boys vs. Girls. Homeschooling vs. Traditional Classrooms. Soccer vs. Morris Dancing.  No matter what you decide, there will be somebody there to judge or question your decisions. You can’t win with the public, and I don’t feel the need to justify why we do what we do with the Sprog.
  5. I would find writing about the Sprog to be boring. Don’t get me wrong. She is most beloved to the Boffin and me. She is a quite interesting topic of discussion to those closest to us. However…the subject of children can be quite tiresome after a while. We have all been there, and you just want to sedate the people who insist on sticking to the kid subject when there are a plethora of other topics out there. True story time:

I was at a friend’s house who was having a get-together with a bunch of moms in the Sprog’s class. The conversation was all about the kids for an hour at this point, and the current topic was half-day kindergarten. I was sincerely wondering if these women ever read a book or watched a movie.  Anyway, I decided to try to steer the conversation to something else.

“Well, the Sprog had full-day kindergarten when we lived in Massachusetts.”

Dullard Mom #1: “Really? In Massachusetts?”

Me: “Yes.” (Smiling and expecting questions about life in Massachusetts.)

Dullard Mom #2: “Oh.”

Dullard Mom#1 and #2 proceed to turn away from me and start talking about their kids’ diving class, leaving me to stare at the cake on my plate and question humanity.  Just because I am a mother does not mean that I find children infinitely fascinating.

I guess this touches on a grander theme. The Sprog is my kid and very important to me, but she isn’t my life. She is going to grow up and leave home and create a whole world separate from the Boffin and me. I better make damn sure that I am secure in my own identity, develop my own interests, and nurture my relationship with the Boffin and other adults.  And it may behoove the rest of us, ladies, to do the same, if we are not already.