Wednesday, October 5, 2016

On Reading

I used to read books all the way through, front to back, regardless of how much I was enjoying them. I don't do that anymore. Although I know how much work goes into writing a book, and I absolutely appreciate each and every author's efforts, I know I will enjoy my life more if I don't force myself to read things I'm not enjoying. I'm not in High School English anymore, and I don't have to write a report if I don't want to. If I like a book, I will rate it on Goodreads, because that is a fun space for me to keep track of books I've read and books I want to read. If I don't like a book, I just put it away and never mention it again, unless in absolutely private company where I can be honest and be assured no one's feelings are hurt. (OR if the author has passed away, in which case I will tell you that I thought The Bourne Identity was a terrible book, and Tony Gilroy was a magician with that screenplay because the movie is one of my absolute favorites.)

I have recently arrived at a First Time Experience where I started reading a book, and was really enjoying it, and then I reached the first, what I'm presuming to be quite major, plot twist. And I know that I can't read the rest of the book. Not because I don't think it's going to be good, because I know it is, but because I know that it will send me into the Ugly Cry. My Ugly Cry is on par with a violent illness, and no matter how temporary, it still means severe discomfort. All the blood in my body rushes up to my head, and, for some reason the front of my face. My nasal passages swell to four times their normal size, and my eyes do the same, rendering me both oxygen-deprived and blind. I savage entire boxes of tissues, leaving unruly, wet, cold Kleenex Mountains on the nightstand. And the resulting headache from all this covers my frontal lobe and crown and throbs on a level that would register on the Richter Scale.

There are people out there who love to cry with their books. "I love a good cry!" Their Good Cry must be something pleasant, like a bunny sneeze. With this book, I don't even want to chance that it might just be a Wee Good Cry, because I know it won't. The blurbs on the front and back of the book did try to warn me. "This unforgettable novel...doesn't just break your heart; it takes your heart and won't give it back." But I said "Pshhht. You don't know me." And I foolishly started to read.

I finished page eighty-five, also the end of Chapter 5, and I said to myself, "Ohhhhh no. I don't think I can proceed here." Because when you know that something is going to make you violently ill, you avoid it, right? Lactose-intolerant people do not dive willingly into the cheesecake (even though it's delicious). Celiac sufferers do not see a batch of chocolate-chip cookies and think, "Oh, absolutely" (even though they are delicious). People with nut allergies do not immerse themselves in a bathtub full of trail mix, because KNOWLEDGE. Knowing what I now know, at Chapter 5, about the characters in this book, I am 100% certain it will send me into the Ugly Cry, and I do not want to be in the Ugly Cry. The last time I made the mistake of reading something guaranteed to put me in Ugly Cry was this:

And I only got halfway through the book.

For those of you who love a Good Cry! try that one, or this one, where I had to stop at page 85:

Proceed at your own risk. And then please let me know how it ends! But only if your summary is not going to make me cry.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Edible Accessory

Just a mere ten days after I wrote about my black and white cookie problem, Etro sent their Spring/Summer 2017 collection down the runway in Milan. Coincidence?

I think not.

But those are still the wrong black and white cookies.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Importance of Naming Cookies

I frequently find myself at a loss for the official/proper name of random items, and have to rush to Google to figure out what the thing is called. It's most frustrating when said thing is a cookie. In the olden days, when I was temping in Seattle, I would work in various big, shiny office buildings which usually had a sundries shop on the ground level. That was, incidentally, how I learned what "sundries" were. In these sundries shops I would find delicious, individually-wrapped cookies, which I would refer to as "black and white cookies". "I'll be right back, I'm going to get a black and white cookie." One episode of Seinfeld discussed the importance of the black and white cookie. However, when Jerry purchased and bit into his black and white cookie, I noticed it was not the same black and white cookie as my black and white cookie.

The wrong black and white cookies
Having moved away from Seattle, it has been years since I've seen my black and white cookie. When I asked the Whole Foods bakery manager, he directed me to the Seinfeld black and white cookie. When I visited other bakeries, the same thing happened. I realized if I ever wanted to see one again, I might just have to make it myself. When I Googled "black and white cookie", the only results that came up were for Seinfeld's black and white cookie. So many results for the wrong black and white cookie. Pages and pages of wrong cookies. I became agitated, stressed, and eventually despondent. I wanted my black and white cookie. Where was my black and white cookie? Based on my unsuccessful Google results, I knew I must have been calling it the wrong thing, but I didn't know what the right thing would be.

I finally Googled "double chocolate chip cookie dipped in white chocolate," because that was exactly what my black and white cookie was. The first image result was perfect. THAT was my black and white cookie!


But the link went to Ebay. I didn't want to buy a cookie from Ebay. The Ebay lister called them "Homemade White Chocolate Dipped Double Chocolate Chip Cookies!" That just takes so much longer to say than "black and white cookie," but if I wanted the right cookie, I was going to have to refer to it in the right way. Except that most of the other results were not for this type of cookie.



What? No!

Urf. There needs to be a standardized, proper name for my black and white, white chocolate dipped double chocolate cookie.

This brings me to a recent conversation I had with my cousin-in-law, Sarah, who was rolling her eyes when I was trying to get her to say "macaron" instead of "macaroon". Yes, saying "macaron" makes you sound totally pretentious, and like you're trying to be all French and whatnot. But it is important, because a macaron is an entirely different cookie from the macaroon. I like them both, but if I'm having super-cravings for the wee French sandwich cookie and mistakenly say "I'm dying for a macaroon!" Some kind, thoughtful person might show up at my door with a small bag of these.

When I really wanted these.

All because I said it wrong. This is a widespread problem, evidenced in the Google results for "macaroon". There are bloggers all over the place, using "macaroon" incorrectly.

So, it's not only important to name the cookie, it's also important to pronounce that name correctly. The English language seems to be devolving into a grotesque mish-mosh of acronyms, slang, word-fragments and emojis. But, people, please. Please think of the cookies!


Friday, June 24, 2016

Some Advice for the Traveling Girls

Traveling has become something of a bummer in recent years. No one dresses up anymore, you can't bring normal sized toiletries in your carry-on, you have to remove your shoes (!) and pass through the Star Trek Radiation Pod in order to be allowed to board an airplane. All the rules and regulations have been implemented in the name of safety. "Have a safe trip!" is an oft-used phrase when sending someone off. "Safe" is what we want to feel when leaving our comfort zones and traveling from point A to point B. But, what to do when your seatmate sees the trip less as a way to get from A to B, and more of an opportunity to work his way around the sexual bases with an unsuspecting stranger?

Two recent stories illuminate how unnecessarily creepy a necessary voyage can be, especially for women. One was about a sixteen year old girl who had fallen asleep on her flight, and had her creepy seatmate try to kiss her while she slept. This is not a Disney flight, and you, sir, are no Prince Charming. The other was about a thirteen year old girl who was trapped in the window seat, with the creepy seatmate next to her in the middle seat touching her inappropriately for roughly a half hour before the flight attendant noticed the girl was crying. These stories threw me into a stompy rage where I found myself screaming (inside my head) "WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?" What's most unfortunate is that the villains of these stories are almost always men. So I find myself screaming "WHAT IS WRONG WITH MEN?" (again, still just inside my head). And I know, hashtag notallmen, but this kind of thing still happens way more often than it should (which is never).

Every woman I know has at least one story of trying to get from point A to point B and being harassed by a man. The comments sections of those two recent stories are rife with other stories of women I don't know, trying to get from point A to point B and being harassed by a man. THIS IS NOT GOOD FOR MY STOMPY RAGE.

Hyperbole and a Half (go buy her book, she's hilarious)
Your pepper spray is not allowed, your mace is not allowed, you may not have anything sharp onboard the flight (I once read of a woman who rode the train in India with a sharp fork she kept in her pocket). How are girls supposed to defend themselves in the tiny, cramped, uncomfortable space, where you can't even stretch out your legs, much less give a swift kick to the crotch? What to do?

Get loud. Get very, very loud. LOUD! Perverts dislike having attention drawn to them, probably because they know they're doing something wrong. Yell anything to get the attention of someone who will help you. "STOP!" is good, "PERVERT!" is better. An airplane is a vehicle for transportation, not a human petting zoo for the boundary-free male.

If your seatmate happens to be simply manspreading, you could always do this:

Hyperbole and a half

But maybe not that loud. Reserve the loud for when your safety is threatened, not just your legroom.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Met Gala

Lauren Santo Domingo won the Met Gala this year:

(Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

It's not a contest. But she won anyway.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Project Runway - A Model UN

This is the best reality show of all time. I wish it were on year-round, but I have to be satisfied with Project Runway, and then offshoots (Under the Gunn, Project Runway Juniors, etc) to get me through the rest of the year. Project Runway AllStars is satisfying, because it's essentially the same as PR, just with a different host and judges. Alyssa Milano is a much cuddlier version of Heidi Klum, and Georgina Chapman and Isaac Mizrahi, as judges, have a knack for offering constructive and encouraging feedback without being hurtful.

The reality of the show is not forced. It's REAL. The designers have talent and vision and a tight time-frame in which to create designs, so the drama that comes out is genuine. I don't love drama for the sake of drama. When the designers are sleep-deprived and stressed it just happens. I prefer when it doesn't, which probably makes me an unlikely candidate for a reality show audience (an aside: I do love the drama on "Dateline", because Oh My God that sh*t is crazy, and really real).

I love how multi-cultural the designers are, and then how quickly you cease to notice that after the first episode. It's a racially-even playing field, which is not something you get to see on television very often.

This season of AllStars has one of my absolute favorite designers, Dom Streater. GOD ALMIGHTY she comes up with some of the most original and gorgeous designs, and I will love if she wins.

(She made this on last night's show and I WANT TO HAVE IT NOW!)

But, I also love the other two finalists, Kini Zamora and Ken Laurence.

The only thing I cringed about this season (tangent alert) was when Kini basically made part of Sam's outfit in the partner challenge, and Sam gave him no credit. This is a major pet peeve. You have to give credit where credit is due. Sam is a talented designer in his own right, but he really should have admitted to the judges that Kini made part of that look. Since he didn't, Kini got very prickly and the prickly carried over for the next several challenges. Then Kini and Sam were throwing all kinds of shade at each other during their single-camera confessionals, and in the workroom and I wanted to smack them both. Sam: APOLOGIZE TO KINI. Kini: BE THE BIGGER PERSON AND FOCUS ON YOUR WORK. (tangent finished)

Ken was drama personified in his Project Runway season, and he frightened me a little. His temper was off the charts. We see more of his personality in AllStars and I LOVE HIM.

He is hilarious and adorable, and I could listen to him say the words "Fabulous" and "Woman" on a perpetual loop, all day long. He says Fah-buh-lus, and Wuh-man. It is awesome. He brought a centimeter of drama when he called Sam out on his nonsense, flirting with the judges and letting his popularity carry him through challenges. But then, they resolved it. Like grown-ups! Sam actually admitted that he could be defensive and immature, and that takes a very big person to do. People on reality programs hate to show weakness, and most people see admitting faults as weakness, but it's really the opposite. Admitting when you've been less-than-admirable is actually quite admirable.

I like to think of PR & PRAS as tiny nations, where we could all learn a thing or two about how to interact and behave. For the most part, the designers, regardless of wildly different backgrounds and personalities, all come to genuinely respect and care for one another by the end of the season (and if they don't, they're doing it wrong and need to try again). In the single-camera confessionals, when I hear them praising their competitors and complimenting their work, it always makes me cry. The more diplomatic they are, the more I love the show. Don't listen to anyone who wants "more drama". Project Runway is better than that.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Winding Road of Writing

I've been reading. And writing. And reading a lot about writing. Reading about other writers' experiences is enormously helpful when trying to navigate some of the frustrating waters of publishing, particularly when it comes to querying agents for representation. I had signed with a literary agent for my memoir, and she helped me edit and shape it into something that sold to a publisher. Six months after the book was published I made the decision to leave her. Not because she was a bad person, or because she was a bad agent. She was neither of those things. But she also really wasn't right for me. Your relationship with your agent is much like a romantic relationship: you have to feel a connection, you have to feel like that person "gets" you, you have to feel secure and supported. And you absolutely know in your gut when it's just not right.

So, you put on your big-girl panties, and make the difficult decision after agonizing over it for several weeks, and then, you're single again. And getting another agent is not quite as simple as logging onto or OKCupid or Tinder. It's a lot more agonizing, and there's a lot of second-guessing and far too much personality-analysis you as a writer have to do, to make sure you're pitching the right person.

Kathryn Stockett was rejected sixty times when she was querying The Help. This both inspires me, and pains me. I loved that book so much that when I finished it I tried to email Stockett through her website (no longer live). My email bounced back, so the email never reached its intended recipient, but I did try to let her know how much I loved those characters, and how sad I was when the book ended. To think that I might never have had the chance to read the book makes me completely insane. Sixty rejections. That is sixty professional literary opinions that The Help wasn't good enough to be published. I have read so many mediocre novels, represented by top-notch agents (although, to be fair, they may have had a difficult time getting published as well), and I just think, "So-and-So Big Mucky-Muck represents this slop? Well, missy, maybe you don't understand anything about anything." Indeed.

In addition to weathering rejection, writers must be able to incorporate useful feedback into what they're writing/pitching. Jennifer Tress hilariously suffered from "creative interpretation" when reading feedback from an editor:

"What my editor said: This is a fun and compelling read and you are an engaging, accessible writer. But story X is too long – you give too much weight to it – and I feel like you have more, maybe different stories to tell.

What I heard: This is great, you are great. Time to find an agent!" 

This made me laugh hard, and out loud, and reminded me of when I had queried a great agent for my memoir. I remembered the feedback as:

"There is so much I like about your voice, but ultimately I was hoping the book would be a little more like Eat, Pray, Love."

My reaction was exasperated bluster: "Well, SURE! Don't we all wish our lives were like Eat, Pray, Love? Who wouldn't want an agent/editor to send her off to Italy to eat delicious pasta and gelato and write all about it, and then end up in Bali having a passionate romance? Psssht."

When I revisited that email, months later when I had stopped huffing and puffing, what it had actually said was:

"There is so much I like about your voice and your energy, but ultimately I wanted more of an organizing principle (Like EAT, PRAY, LOVE)..."

And I was like, "OH, an ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE! She's absolutely right." The manuscript I had sent her was wildly disorganized and kind of all over the place. She was 100% correct in her assessment, but when I read her email that first time all I could see was the rejection and her wish that my book was Eat, Pray, Love.

The lessons I learn from the query process are the same that I apply to the writing itself. Read it, but then walk away from it for a while, then go back and read it again. And do this when you're having an awesome day (hair, body and otherwise), and are in a super-positive frame of mind, and with a little luck you can say "This is great! You are great! And your new agent is sending you to Italy to eat pasta and gelato!"