Saturday, December 30, 2006

Et Tu, Thomas?

My husband is writing. Yesterday he declared himself to be writing a story; today it is a book. The problem here? I cannot think of a thing to write, and he cannot write a thing. He writes in sentence fragments, and switches tenses, and puts the word 'you' into narrative. It's a literary mess! And I, who have studied the craft, taken classes devoted to it, joined writers' groups before I was old enough to have a subject to write about, have writer's block. Fifteen years of writer's block, to be exact.

I do fine with assignments. Tell me what to write about and I can whip up a story in five minutes flat. But leave me to my own devices and I struggle for hours with characters and genres. It's miserable. I envy painters; they never have to look at white canvas. Just paint the whole thing black and then add color over that! But a writer can't paint the screen, or the journal, black before writing. We are left with either blank and unforgiving pages, or pale blue lines underscoring words we haven't penned yet.

And here is my husband, grammatically challenged as he is, showing me how easy it is to come up with a subject, characters, settings, plot-twists! It's unfair. How can a man who doesn't know a semi-colon from an apostrophe come up with a story to tell? How does he tell it? And I, who should probably limit myself to editing others' prose, cannot come up with one opening line.

Even the computer is against me! My spellcheck won't open. I apologize to the two readers I know I have, as well as the ones my ego tells me I must have. Now if you'll excuse me, this has-been has three chapters left in Dorian Gray to finish. Good night.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Wishing You A Fabulous Christmas

(from left: Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter, Cher, Rupaul, Liza Minelli, Ellen DeGeneres, Tinky Winky, David Bowie, Carson Kressley, Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar, and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist.)

Remember, Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of a child born from a woman without the touch of a man.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Christmas Newsletter

Hasn't everyone, at one time or another, gotten one of these godawful things in the mail? Who does this anyway? The letters are almost always from the most annoyingly religious people who don't realize that if the person on the receiving end cares so little that in an entire year they haven't heard that Johnny made the baseball team or Susie's taking dance classes, then they don't care if you tell them at Christmas. And the letters are never accurate either. I got a mass-mailing newsletter a couple weeks ago from a family that I happen to know has had suicide attempts and restraining orders this year, but none of that got mentioned. So today I will type out what an accurate newsletter would be like. And no, it's not based on my family, just inspired by many families I know.


Merry Christmas!

Boy has this year gone by fast. It's hard to imagine it was a full twelve months ago that Grandpa got frostbite sitting drunk on the lawn waiting to catch the neighbor stealing the newspaper. But he's been blessed this year, with the good lord guiding him through his surgeries and Jesus holding him up as he learned to walk without pinky toes.

This has certainly been a busy year for us. Angie's in chemo again, but the doctors are telling us she may be able to keep the leg this time. And after months of exhaustive testing, we have finally learned who the father of Judy's baby is and are expecting the first child-support check any day now. I suppose most of you already know that a combine fell on Bert last November, but he is expected to regain the use of his arms again by spring, and may even be able to get off disability if the ACLU lawyers can convince the local McDonald's to lower the fryer to a wheel-chair accessible height.

We thank all of you who came to Sherry's wedding this spring, and who supported her in the divorce the month before. She seems to have finally found the right man in Jim, and we hope that with his love and support that she will be able to stay clean for good this time. She plans to get the help she needs just as soon as she can find a qualified clinic more than 500 feet from any schools or daycares so that her new husband can come visit her on weekends.

Yes, we certainly have been blessed this year. And we thank all of you who continue to keep us in their prayers. Let's all ask for the strength we will certainly need to drive cross-country to visit Jordan in Leavenworth, since we still can't get Shawn's name off the no-fly list.

Wishing you all a blessed Christmas Season,
The Smith Family

Saturday, December 16, 2006

'Cause Wisdom Doesn't Taste Like Salt Or Smell Like Bleach

I am making an announcement now, to the three or so people whom I know read this blog. I am putting myself in the advice business. I will answer any and all requests for advice on any subject if asked. I will post the question, as well as my advice, and I will leave out the name of the wisdom-seeker and replace it with a catchy little nickname, to protect the writer's identity from my other two fans. If you want to control your catchy nickname, make one up yourself, and then hope I decide to keep it.

To ask a question, post it as a comment to this or any future advice-related post. I will answer all posts no matter how stupid or insignificant the question, so anything from "How do I get crayon off the walls?" (toothpaste and a toothbrush) to "How do I come out to my parents?" (just tell them, but have a back-up place to crash if you'll need it) is okay to ask. I may not have the answers to everything, but then again if you're willing to ask advice over the internet, neither do you. I do have, however, an endless supply of opinions, as well as tons of trivial facts stored away. And I of course have plenty of free time and a google homepage.

So line up, send me your questions, and eagerly await my wisdom and advice. I expect exactly no comments to this post, but I will answer them if I get them.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The War On Hanukkah

Last year we saw the headlines, we heard the evangelists, we all learned about the War On Christmas. I believe my most vivid wartime memory will remain Bill O'Reilly explaining this most offensive of wars to David Letterman, and then being told that about sixty percent of what he said sounded like total crap. But this year, the Psycho-Christians are rejoicing because the enemy, the secular insurgents of this "war", have backed down. Wal*Mart says Merry Christmas again.

The problem with declaring "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" a war on Christmas, is that no one is actually aiming at Christmas. A war is when one side shoots at the other, not when one side refuses to throw flowers at the other. The "holidays" part of "Happy Holidays" includes Christmas. It just doesn't exclude Hanukkah or Kwanza or any other seasonal winter holiday. Refusing to exclude a large portion of their customer base does not constitute declaring war on Christianity, Christians, or Christmas. It's just common business sense. And more, it's common courtesy, something the religious right seems to have abandoned long ago. Which brings me to the next, and probably oldest, battle in the current War On Hanukkah.

Jesus Is The Reason For The Season! Oh that's arrogant on so many levels. For one thing, the season is winter. And it's more the Earth's orbit than Jesus that causes that. Another thing, this was considered the holiday season by many people long before Christ. It was Hanukkah in the Jewish world, which happens to come on December 16 this year (and will actually begin on December 25 in ten years), and it was Yule in most of Europe. In fact, the modern date of December 25 was only declared to be Christ's birthday by Christians trying to convert the European pagans. Let them have their winter holiday; just change the purpose to one we like better. That's where the tree and the garlands of berries and the yule log come from: a holiday celebrating Nature. One more arcane piece of trivia: That Heavenly glow around the Virgin Mary's head showed up in paintings coincidentally when Christian iconicism started to replace paintings of an equally glowing sun-god. But the point is this: Jesus is NOT the reason for the season, not for everyone. And even to those who celebrate Christmas it's not always about Jesus. I celebrate Christmas. I have a tree and stockings and I put out cookies for Santa. But despite the heirloom nativity, I do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. Christmas to me means so much more than that. It is a time for family and giving, peace on Earth, goodwill towards man, and hope. Christmas to me is red-faced babies gumming sugar cookies. It's the look on someone's face when they open that one perfect gift. It's watching my eight year old daughter carefully choose what she wants to buy her Dad based only on what she thinks he will like best. It's spending two hours boiling cream and sugar down to caramel with her, and then tying ribbons around jars of the candies for teachers. Christmas to me is about togetherness, a break from our differences, a time to relax and celebrate life and hope.

Maybe if the Bill O'Reillys of the world would be willing to try that, maybe if they would make a batch of caramels or a plate of cookies instead of a political statement one year, they may actually get it. Happy Holidays isn't a code for anything, and it's not a passive aggressive attack on Christmas. It's just wishing people, all people, happiness on whatever holiday they might have. And wishing others happiness regardless of their religion, is what I always thought Christians were supposed to do.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Told You So!

Hillary Clinton's electability is in question, or so say the headlines. No, not the front page headlines, those are reserved for Lance Bass and his boyfriend breaking up. The smaller ones, in the corner under the fold. Gee, I wonder who might have blogged that very thought.

*For a hint, scroll down to my very last post.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

"Oh no you di-int!"

I have a confession to make. I think the democrats' winning the House and Senate may be a bad thing. This isn't necessarily an out-of-date topic, just one I've been thinking about a lot. But please, bear with me.

See, Bush is bad for the country. I firmly believe that and have never seen any evidence to the contrary. But Bush was good for the Democratic party. Bush did more for the democrats than Kennedy ever could have. And so we won. But now, Bush seems to be conceding a lot. Rumsfeld got canned, Bush has been playing nice with Pelosi, all in all he's a better president now than he was. And that's unfortunate, because this nation has a short memory and in two years, the hatred for his party that got the dems into Congress won't be as intense. And that increases the chance of another Republican president. If he would just keep equating valuing soldiers' lives with siding with terrorists, if he would just keep spouting bullshit about Stay the Course vs. Cut and Run, if he would only consider continuing to mindlessly bash all democrats, liberals, gays, non-Christians, etc, for another two years, we might have it made. But no, now he will have to tone down the stupidity and limit himself to Borat-like idiocy in speeches. He's not going to declare himself The Decider anymore, and that hurts the Democrats.

I'll admit it, I voted almost exclusively for Democrats, the only exception being a local election where I knew the candidate (what party ties can the Regional Superintendant Of Schools have anyway?) so I am to blame too. But what choice did I have? Vote for Republicans? No way. And that's obviously how voters across the country felt as well. But Bush seems to have some reasonably intelligent advisors now, and he seems to be listening to them. History may even end up remembering him in a full-length bus, against all evidence. I believe it is important in the long run for Bush to "stay the course" in his own view of Iraq. Two more years in Iraq under Bush could get us out of there six months after the inauguration. If he starts to waver though, we may end up with another Republican who would probably keep us there throughout another term.

I support taking action against North Korea; they actually have the bomb, and they shoot it at us. Sure, they miss, but they shoot it. But we had to be in Iraq, because maybe Saddam had some kind of weapon. But when Kim admits that he has nuclear weapons, and he tries to blow up Hawaii for fun, The Decider, now sharing his toys with the Democrats, decided to take swift action, and cut off Kim's supply of iPods.

The problem is the Republican defense philosophy, which is somewhat similar to that of a drunk chick in a trailer park. Saddam pissed off Bush Sr, so Bush Jr runs out screaming "My name is Inigo Montoya!" and starts pulling down statues all over Iraq. I believe the war cry was "Oh no he di-int!" (possibly with some sort of Zorro-like finger snapping). George Bush took to war like a woman in a Rikki Lake audience. And the rest of the Republican party seemed to eat it up like a Jerry Springer audience. Basically, in the world of talk show metaphors, I place the Republicans in with the paternity test and cheating husbands programs, while the democrats are somewhere between Dr Phil helping a dysfunctional family and Tony Danza interviewing Emeril. We're not as violent, but also not as bold at times.

I believe in diplomacy, and if that really doesn't work, I feel there is a time when troop deployment should be swiftly employed. I feel that getting soldiers killed should (gasp) be the last resort, not the first. War seems to be nothing more these days than a contest to see who will let more of their own people die. It's not technology; I'm not sure when the last time was that we didn't have a picture of our enemy shaking hands with a former US president. Our enemies are killing us with weapons we supplied them with. It's all very Orwellian. They're our allies! Uh...We hate them now, always have.

I will no doubt vote democrat in the next presidential election. But the primaries will be tough. Hillary may be the best for the job. I don't know since I'm pretty far from New York and New York senators aren't really publicized much here. But if we run Hillary against some handsome guy in a suit, I fear we'll have no chance. The female thing will screw her a little, sure. But having Bill standing behind her at the podium? Having every smear add focusing on her judgment in just staying married? Without Bush on our team I don't think Hillary can win. And make no mistake, Bush is on our team, in a strategy sense. He's the kid the coach puts on the field after betting on the other side. He's the guy who runs the ball into the wrong end zone. He's the best asset the DNC has.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Caught With My Head In A Mannequin's Pants

When Tom woke me up at 3:15 am the day after Thanksgiving to buy DVD players for his twins, I had no idea it would lead to a new level of self-esteem, and also a new awareness of mannequin anatomy. Hell, I didn't even know that you got $5 Kohl's Kash for every $50 spent. But I did appreciate the $50 certificate they handed me.

The problem is, I don't shop at Kohl's very often. I'm not even sure there's supposed to be an apostrophe in the word Kohl's. So what would I do with $50 store credit? I called Jame. I figured, what single mother of three couldn't use some extra money during the holidays? So yesterday, we went to Kohl's.

The local Kohl's has the men's department up by the check-out counters, and Jame and I happened to spend quite a while deciphering men's jeans. Relaxed fit. Straight leg. Boot-cut. Straight boot-cut?!? We were working our way to the checkout lines when out of the corner of my eye a figure on a mannequin stand moved. I screamed.


"What the hell?!"

At this point the lady on the mannequin stand (actually a big wood block with carpet nailed to it) jumped and stared at me.

Me "Um, I thought I saw a mannequin move, but it was just her."

I turned to the lady, who had already un-screwed the poor manequin's arms and stripped "him" to the waist, and asked the burning question.

Me "If the mannequins have molded hair the same color as their 'skin', why do they have nipples? I mean, it's not like the designer was going for realism." (You thought I was going to ask something else, didn't you.)

Mannequin lady I don't know. Why do they have privates?

Me They don't! Really? They have privates?

ML Yeah, sort of.

Now who could resist know what "sort of" means? So I did the only logical thing. I hopped up on the little carpeted wood block, pulled the waist of 'his' Dockers back, and peered into the shadowy depths of the mannequins pants.

As yet unnoticed high school science teacher only four feet away in the checkout line Charlene?

Uh oh. No one calls me that.

Jame Mr Buikema. Hi!

I felt my face grow hot and slowly stepped down off the mannequin stand, humiliated, and turned around. Sure enough, my old science teacher, and his wife, were trying not to laugh. And for the first time in years, I was blushing.

Mr Buikema was a good teacher, and a great guy. I flunked his class for two years writing poems during lectures, and he got me into a writing class. I never turned in homework, and filled out computer-graded test forms in Morse code, but he let me run my own experiments in the back room after class (I made elemental crystals). He understood that not everyone was passionate about the same subject he was, but he encouraged a thirst for knowledge no matter the subject. He cared about students, not scores. And he was always willing to demonstrate the answer to "Does sulfur melt?" by setting it on fire, thus enabling the entire third floor of the school to evacuate for the afternoon.

Jame and I explained as best we could just why I had been peering down the front of a male mannequin's pants, and as Jame started handing her purchases to a clerk Mr Buikema asked me how my daughter was doing. I told him about her, and her problems in school (due to being advanced), and he said she sounded like me. I believe his words were "What else could you expect when her mother has a 140 IQ?"

I don't remember being tested, I really don't. But I was always being tested for one thing or another. Remedial classes because of my grades, advanced classes because of my standardized test scores, and of course the California tests they made you take every two years. I always scored high (except for math; I suck at math), and eventually quit paying attention to whatever they said the test was for. I liked tests. I liked scoring so high while flunking school. It infuriated my mother, which was a pretty major goal back then. But a hundred and forty? That's pretty high. I think Mensa only requires 135. So I called my mom last night and asked her.

Me Did you ever have the school test my IQ?

Mom Yeah. I think it was your freshman year. I can still remember getting the call from Mrs. Armstrong (evil incarnate guidance counselor) that you got one of the highest scores the school had ever seen.

Me Huh? I what? You never told me this before.

Mom Well it didn't matter; you were flunking anyway. Besides, scores are subjective. They don't mean anything.

Me Yes they do. They mean I was smart!

Mom I always told you you were smart. I said all the time that if you just applied yourself.... (at this point I tuned her out, a rather rude habit developed by hearing the 'potential' lecture so many times in my life.)

So basically, I am a freaking genius and nobody told me. I'm kind of pissed. I mean, every kid gets the "you have so much potential, if only you'd just apply yourself" talk. Hell, even my brain-damaged little cousin gets that talk, and she's 16 with a first grade reading level and no memory skills. But the highest score the school had ever seen?! I think that might have motivated me a bit, had I known. It definitely would have provided me with some self-esteem. Probably would have kept me from dating so many future felons.

I wonder if I can get those test results now. Maybe I could join Mensa. Maybe I could finally realize my potential. Maybe I could discover why mannequins have those nipples after all. As for what "sort of" privates are, you'll have to figure that out on your own. There's no shame in peeping a mannequin; even geniuses do it from time to time.