26 November 2009

"And what rough beast, 
     its hour come round at last, 
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born."

   — W.B. Yeats

A friend recently told me that she was so involved with her work, time had completely fallen away, and she didn't even know what day it was. I laughingly replied that she ought to see if she could work out a deal with the moon to get some more epagomenal days.

When Nut was pregnant, her husband Geb refused to allow her to give birth on any day in the calendar. In her distress, she turned to Thoth, who devised a stratagem to assist her. He gambled against the moon, with the stake being a small fraction of light for each game won. Eventually, he'd managed to amass enough light for five more days. He gave the days that he'd won to Nut and in them she gave birth to Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, Seth, and Horus, five of the principal Egyptian gods.

My friend is an artist whose creativity and passion have the power to transform the lives of the people who it touches. She gives birth to a new world in her days unmarked by time. I just want to be around when the new deities come into being.

Excuse me. I'm out of time.


12 November 2009

 No clever arrangement of bad eggs will make a good omelet.
     - C.S. Lewis

Like most people today, I'm cautious about how I spend my money. Discretionary spending is a thing of the past. I live frugally, and I carefully track my expenditures against my income. There are challenges at times--occasionally, things go wrong without warning--hard drives crash, roofs develop leaks, windows break, and auto parts can fail. That's just an unfortunate fact of life, and I have to do what I can to minimize the impact on my bank balance.

In May, I noted that my rear brakes were making unusual squealing and grinding noises. I figured I'd have to replace the brakes and calipers (I've been here before), so I dutifully made the rounds to several garages, franchises, and independent mechanics, asking for estimates on the repair. Two or three were happy to give me written estimates of between $700 to $900, telling me that if I could return with a lower estimate from somebody else, they'd match it. I was daunted, but kept looking.

I finally went to Cambridge Tire Center in Stoneham. Without telling them about the previous estimates, I asked what they would charge me to repair my rear brakes. The guy sitting at the service desk said, "A small car like yours? Rear brakes?" I added that the calipers would probably need replacing as well. He shook his head and said, "I've been in the business for 20 years. The calipers are probably just stuck and we don't need to replace them. These young guys always want to replace them because they don't want to be bothered trying to unstick them." After assuring me of his competence, he said, "We can probably do it for about $300, maybe $400, bucks, tops." Cocky, but I figured with experience comes confidence.

A real bargain, considering all the other estimates.

The next morning, I dropped the car off early. I was told I'd have it back by the end of the day. At noon, my phone rang. The call was from Cambridge Tire. The caller identified himself as "the manager," and said there was a change--the calipers really did need replacing, and the repair would cost between $850 and $900. He needed my authorization to continue.

I tried to stay calm. I told him, "I cannot afford it. Don't do the repair. I will come get my car within an hour." I told my spouse what happened. He was incredulous. He asked me how the cost could more than double in the space of a morning. I didn't know, but there was no way I'd let them do something I couldn't afford. I added that it felt like a classic "bait-and-switch," and because of this, I didn't trust them.

The phone rang a few minutes later. It was the manager at Cambridge Tire again. He told me he'd "thought about it," and that "we can work something out." He said that because the estimate had been so far off, he would repair the brakes and calipers for $700, plus tax. I said I'd be coming over to pick up my car. My husband, however, decided that this was a great compromise, and convinced me to call them back and authorize the work.

That evening, I shelled out $729.13 for what was supposed to be a $300-$400 repair. As I left, I promised myself I wouldn't ever go back there.

Less than four months later, my parking brake suddenly stopped working. My car has a 5-speed manual transmission. When I park, I put the car in neutral, and engage the brake. I've always done this; it's reflex. Now, the brake didn't do anything other than ratchet as I pulled it up. In Massachusetts, you can't pass the annual safety inspection if your parking brake doesn't hold the car.

Figuring this might be related to the previous repair, I took the car back to Cambridge Tire in Stoneham. I explained the problem, and "Mr. Cocky" at the service desk said he'd look at it while I waited. He said the cable probably just needed "adjusting," a simple enough fix. Half an hour later, he said the brake cable was "too stretched out" to be adjusted, and that they'd have to replace the whole cable. He said he'd order one for me and call me when it came in.

I waited three weeks before taking the car to a local mechanic a friend recommended to me. I explained my situation, and he put the car up on the lift. Within minutes, he had a diagnosis, and I had a clear understanding about the way the brakes actually work. The caliper on the right side didn't function at all. The one on the left side was sticking and intermittent. He said, "These calipers are defective. This should still be under warranty. Take it to the garage that did it, and have them replaced. Shouldn't be a big deal. If they don't know what's wrong, tell them to call me." I thanked him and left. I gritted my teeth and drove straight to Cambridge Tire, where I said I wanted them to replace the defective calipers. "Mr. Cocky" was nowhere in sight.

Yesterday was the brake re-repair. The service manager assured me my car would be ready before the day ended. At 5:00, the phone rang. My brakes were fixed, and they were working fine. Trouble was, during the test drive to make sure the brakes worked, the "passenger side CV axle shaft" snapped in two, the car was undrivable, and it "wasn't anything we did." The caller said, "If you come here, I can show it to you." I said I'd be right over.

I told my husband what happened. We both went to the garage.

The service manager walked us into the bay where my car was still on the lift. he showed us the broken axle shaft, which was about an inch or so in diameter, snapped cleanly in two. The exterior of the shaft was rusted and grimy, but the break was clean and shiny. He said that it had snapped due to "excessive rust that had thinned out the shaft."


We told him we wanted to speak with the Cambridge Tire manager. He told us the manager would be in at 7:30 in the morning. We said we'd be back then.

Last night we spent a couple of hours researching CV axle shafts and their wear, tear, and failures. According to our research sources, the causes for CV axles to break this way are rare--too heavy a loading on the gear exchange (shifting from 4th gear to 1st, for example), hitting something (potholes or big objects), or metal fatigue (usually due to incorrectly fitted aftermarket parts). I'm a cautious driver, and hadn't hit any potholes, so I knew it couldn't be the first two causes. The third also seemed highly unlikely, as it was the original manufacturer's equipment, and I'd not had any unusual symptoms while driving before handing the car over to Cambridge Tire.

We arrived at the garage this morning to meet with the manager. We actually held hope that the manager would listen to reason, and understand our dissatisfaction with what had happened. I'd driven in with one problem, and a more serious one had developed while one of his employees drove my car.

Unfortunately, not only was Mr. Cocky sitting at the service desk, it turned out he'd been promoted--he is now the general manager of the place. I let my husband do all the talking. My husband--a retired nuclear physicist--spoke to Mr. Cocky about metal stress, and the unlikelihood of this being an event without a human cause. Mr. Cocky didn't want to hear it. He said, "I'm a mechanic. I know what I'm talking about."


Eventually, Mr. Cocky told my husband that he'd "eat" the cost of the part, which he told us was $172, as a "customer satisfaction issue," but that we'd have to pay for the labor to make the repair. $115, plus tax. He said my car will be fixed by the end of day today.


I don't know about you, but I'm sick to death of being held hostage by greedy, incompetent, and arrogant men who create more problems for me than they solve. There's no "customer satisfaction" in any of this. I'm going to ask for the broken part when we retrieve my car from these unmasked bandits.

Excuse me. I'm off to buy a Chilton's, find an expert witness, and hire a pitbull who has a Massachusetts attorney's license.


20 October 2009

A fool and his money are soon parted."
     - Thomas Tusser

I received a noteworthy email this morning. I offer it without comment, typos and grammar intact:

Dear Friend,
I am MR MAYO JARRAR the manager In charge at the bill and exchange department BANK OF AFRICA (B.O.A) In my department the bank management discovered an abandoned sum of $15m US dollars ( fifteen million US Dollars) . In an account that belongs to one of our foreign customer who died along with his entire family in year 2004 in a plane crash.
Since the got information about his death, the management have been expecting his next of kin to come over and claim his money because the cannot release it unless somebody applies for it as next of kin or relation to the deceased as indicated in our banking guide lines but unfortunately the learnt that all his supposed next of kin or relation died alongside with him at the plane crash leaving nobody behind for the behind as his next of kin.
It's therefore upon this discovery that I now as an insider decided to make this business proposal to you and let's join together as partners and claim the money from my bank to your own account as the next of kin or relation to the deceased for safety and subsequent disbursement since nobody is coming for it and I don’t want this money to go into the Bank treasury as unclaimed Bill with the plans of the bank managements.
The Banking law and guideline here stipulates that if such money remained unclaimed after five years, the money will be transferred into the Bank treasury’s as unclaimed fund. The request of foreigner as next of kin in this business is occasioned by the fact that the customer was a foreigner and a Burkinabe can not stand as next of kin to a foreigner as the rules and regulation of my bank.
I decided to make it that 30 % of this money will be for you as my foreign partner, in respect to the provision of a foreign account and assisting me , 10 % will be for any expenses both of us will make during the processing of this fund to you as the next of kin to my bank and 60 % will be for me and this 10% is for any expenses from your own side you make and from my own side I make during the processing of this fund to you as the next of kin , and when the fund is transfer to your account first of all we have to deduct the expenses we made from our pocket during the processing by my bank before shearing the fund according to the percentages I indicated here in my proposal .
Then after I will visit your country for disbursement according to the percentages indicated. Therefore to enable the immediate transfer of this fund to you as the next of kin, you must apply first to the bank as relations or next of kin to the deceased indicating your bank name, your bank account number, your private telephone and fax number for easy and effective communication and location where the money will be remitted when the processing will be over and approval of the fund to you as the next of kin . Upon receipt of your reply, I will send you by fax or email the text of the application.
I will not fail to bring to your notice that this transaction is hitch free and you should not fear as I have all the information related to the deceased customer also the fund deposited here in my bank . You should contact me immediately as soon as you receive this letter. Trusting to hear from you . Immediately you receive this letter call me for giving you information also send email to me. +226 78 87 63 72

I've changed my mind. Here's my comment--anyone dumb enough to form a "partnership" with a person who identifies himself as a generic jar of mayonnaise (why didn't he at least call himself Cain or Hellman?) absolutely deserves what he or she gets. Which, of course, will be nothing, other than the harsh lesson eventually learned from the scam.

Besides, I have better things to do with my money.

Excuse me. I have to call my broker. He says he's got a hot tip about coal-mining companies on Jupiter.


15 October 2009

Oft in the lone church yard at night I've seen,
By glimpse of moonshine chequering thro' the trees,
The school boy, with his satchel in his hand,
Whistling aloud to bear his courage up
    - "The Grave" by Robert Blair

Here is a sampling of the headlines I faced when I went to Google News this morning. It's not for the faint of heart to read:

"Gunmen, Bombers Hit 4 Sites in Pakistan; 37 Die," "Stagnant Consumer Prices Prevent Social Security Benefit Increases," "'Miracle' Mom: Swine Flu Almost Killed Pregnant Woman," "Dad Released From Japanese Jail in Custody Fight," "US Stocks Drop After Goldman, Citigroup Results; Alcoa Falls," "Stagnant Consumer Prices Prevent Social Security Benefit Increases," "Allies Push Israel for Gaza Probe," "North Korea Warns of Possible Naval Clash With South," "Clinton Calls for Joint Missile-Defense System on Russia Trip," "Mom of Son Set on Fire: It's 'Disgusting'," "Fact Check: Health nsurers cherry-pick facts," "Health care: Public option gains traction," "Majority of Nobel jury 'objected to Obama prize'," "Hidden Costs of Medicare Advantage," "Missing laptop contains data on 800,000 doctors," "Corzine Can't Count on Open-Space Bonds for Environmentalists," "Unsafe abortions kill 70,000 a year, harm millions," "US Math Tests Find Scant Gains Across New York," "Model Claims Ralph Lauren Fired Her For Being Fat," "Harley-Davidson's Profit Plunges," "One (or two) years on - they have learnt nothing," "Marathon winner disqualified for wearing iPod," "Is Your Digestive System Making You Sick," and "Former Teacher's Aide to Change Plea in Child Rape Case."

Not very pretty, is it?

This is a snapshot of what's going on in the world, and in the course of any twenty-four hour period, it changes. The problem I have is that it never seems to get better, or less miserable. Seriously, with so many crises coming at me daily from every corner of the planet, battles over health care, education, economics, politics, privacy, ecology, religion, sex, and athletics, my stomach churns, and frequently I feel like weeping as I read these unending accounts of man's inhumanity. To everything, and everyone.

When I was much younger, I suffered from recurring nightmares in which nuclear bombs exploded, crazy-eyed and hatchet-wielding maniacs chased me through a neighborhood where all the doors were locked, and monsters waiting to devour me lurked in darkened rooms. It took years of hard work to banish those night terrors. I'm worried that if I continue to expose myself to the news, the nightmares will return with a vengeance.

I'm not now sure it's possible to read the news on a daily basis, and remain sane. I think it's time I declare a personal moratorium on horror, cruelty, and insanity. I stopped watching television news years ago, because I didn't want the awful images burned into my memory. Today, I will stop reading the internet news, for the exact same reason.

I know that evil exists, and I know the problems being reported are real. However, I also know that being fed this stuff on a daily basis is diminishing the quality of my life. After reading for ten minutes, I'm frequently sad, frightened, and anxious. The effects linger--they're like a bad smell that I can't escape. I want more control over what makes its way to the space between my ears.

And the coup de grĂ¢ce that cemented this decision for me? "No More Jon & Kate After November."

The horror. The horror.

Excuse me. I need to go wash out my eyes with soap.

29 September 2009

“I still have my feet on the ground, I just wear 
better shoes.”
    - Oprah Winfrey

The publication in May 2009 of a relatively non-wavemaking medical study went largely unnoticed by major media outlets. The study, titled "Foot pain: Is current or past shoewear a factor?" was funded by the American College of Rheumatology Research and Education Foundation Abbott Health Professional Graduate Student Research Preceptorship, grants from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and National Insititute on Aging, and another grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Framingham Heart Study. The eight study authors come from Boston University School of Public Health, the Institute for Aging Research, Hebrew SeniorLife, Harvard Medical School, and the Hospital for Special Surgery.

This bunch of geniuses decided that the best use of the available resources was to examine the condition of foot pain, relative to the type of shoewear worn. They selected a cross-section of 3,378 people from a local Massachusetts community. Each person in the study completed a foot examination between 2002 and 2008. The investigators asked, "On most days, do you have pain, aching or stiffness in either foot?" The responses they received from the subjects were duly measured and categorized, with each person being assigned as wearing "good," "average," or "poor" type shoes.

They adjusted the results for age and weight of the subject.

Lo and behold, they came to the conclusion that when compared with "average" shoes, women who wore "good" shoe types in the past were 67% less likely to report pain. They reported that there was no association between foot pain and shoes in men, "possibly" because fewer than 2% of men wore "bad" shoe types. It doesn't say in the abstract what the "good" or "bad" shoe types are, but it's a pretty good bet the "bad" ones are high heels (anything over an inch), ill-fitting shoes (pinch you or fall right off), or designed for species other than humans (trust me, I've seen these on Rodeo Drive and Fifth Avenue alike). According to the New York Times reportage, the average age of the women in the study was 66.

Well, d-u-u-hhhh.

They could have reached that same conclusion a whole lot faster and with a lot less expenditure of time and money, had they simply asked me. I'd have been happy to tell them that hell, yes, wearing foot coverings that are at least one full size too small in either direction, and then wobbling around in them for fifteen or twenty years on 3- or 4-inch stiletto spikes, would play havoc with foot bones, back bones, hip bones, knees, and ankles.

How could it not?

So why is this such hot news today, several months after the fact? Because Arthritis & Rheumatism plans to publish the study in the October issue of the journal, is why. I howled when I read the quote from Alyssa B. Dufour, the study's principal author.
    “I think women need to really pay attention to how a shoe fits, and realize that what you’re buying could have potential effects on your feet for the rest of your life,” said the paper’s lead author, Alyssa B. Dufour, a doctoral student in biostatistics at Boston University. “It’s important to pay attention to size and width, and not just buy it because it’s cute.”
Well, double-d-u-u-hhh.

I wonder exactly how much funding was necessary to draw this remarkable conclusion?

Excuse me. My Manolos and I have an appointment with my podiatrist.


15 July 2009

Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, 
saying, After I am waxed old shall I have 
pleasure, my lord being old also?
   - Genesis 18:12

Where to begin? We begin today with an ending. With a death, and an obituary.

Maria del Carmen Bousada de Lara has died at the age of 69 years, in Cadiz, Andalusia, from cancer. Her death is noteworthy because of who she leaves behind. Her twin two-year-old sons, Christian and Pau, who were born as the result of in vitro fertilization a few days before their mother's 67th birthday.

In order to accomplish her goal of motherhood, Bousada, a single woman, was canny. She sold an apartment she owned to raise money for the IVF treatments. She lied to the fertility specialists, telling them that she was 55, rather than 65. Everybody apparently took her right at her word without bothering to ask for a birth certificate. She didn't let anyone in her family know what she was up to until a couple of months before the births.

Bousada shrugged off outrage and legitimate concerns, telling everyone that as her mother had lived to the ripe old age of 101, she might herself live as long, and see grandchildren.

Trouble was, the doctors who delivered the twins by caesarian section also discovered some tumors that later proved to be malignant. She was basically under a death sentence, from the day her sons were born. Now those children are completely dependent upon the family that didn't want them, and didn't understand or approve of their mother's actions.

I am not making this up.

Here are some other names and numbers for you: Omkari Panwar (70), Adriana Iliescu (66), Harriet Stole (66), Elizabeth Adeney (66), Satyabhama Mahapatra (65), Liz Buttle (64), Papathiammal Subramaniam (64), Arceli Keh (63), Patricia Rashbrook (62), Janise Wulf (62), Rosanna Della Corte (62), and Frieda Birnbaum (60).

The numbers are the women's ages when they gave birth. Do you think any of these women are laughing as they read the news about Bousada's death?

I'm not laughing. I'm thinking about the stupidity, greediness, and vanity of old women who think of nothing but their own selfish desires.

Excuse me. I need to call my broker. I'm considering divesting myself of my assisted living center stocks, and investing instead in orphanages.


02 July 2009

"The ideal tyranny is that which is ignorantly 
self-administered by its victims. The most perfect 
slaves are, therefore, those which blissfully and 
unawaredly enslave themselves."
   - Dresden James

I recently had occasion to send an email that described some recent contacts I'd had with the medical community--primary care physician, specialists, surgeons, test technicians, and hospitals--an altogether harrowing series of exchanges that left me both anxious and exhausted. It occurred to me that I've had past experiences that generated those feelings in me. I recalled one in particular, however, that for a long time fueled my neurosis and paranoia. Everyone was out to get me. Lined up, in fact, for the chance to have a shot at me.


Did you ever play this game as a youngster?

It used to be very popular among physical education teachers when I was in grammar school. The teacher would gather everyone in the gym, pick two students (usually the best two, who were strong, athletically gifted, and possessed of an icy determination to win and a mean streak a mile wide), and then have them choose teams, one at a time. After, the teacher flipped a coin. The winners got to be the throwers in the center of the gym, the losers, the dodgers up against the wall.

There were dozens of heavy rubberized balls about the size of soccer balls, and when they struck you, they would sting on your bare flesh, bloody your nose, break your eyeglasses, jam your fingers, and generally mess you up. One at a time, each member of the throwers took aim and launched a ball at the wall. If it hit a dodger before bouncing, the dodger was out, and the thrower got to have another turn. If the thrower missed, the next thrower took a turn until missing, and so on, until one of two things happened: either all the dodgers were hit, which meant the throwers won, or if there was a dodger still standing against the wall unhit after all the throwers had a turn, then the dodgers won, and the teams reversed positions.

The teachers took a kind of sadistic glee in cheering on the throwers--"Harder! Put your shoulder into it! Aim for the mid-section! Aim for the head!"

We'd gone to the hospital at the appointed hour. After blood work, we took the elevator to the day surgery area. There was the usual fumble of paperwork, forms and questions that we've been asked dozens of times before. We endured the transformation from ordinary person to patient, via the relinquishing of rights to privacy and the open-backed johnny. Sea-change complete, we were ushered to a small, dimly lit room where we were asked to wait for the anesthesiologist, who would deliver us into the hands of the operating team. However, it was the surgeon who appeared. He informed us that all the operating rooms were still in use, everything behind schedule, and it looked as if there wouldn't be a free one until nearly 9:00 that night.

After some back and forth, we decided the operation wasn't going to happen. For one brief, crystal-clear moment, we forgot about being victims of the system, and took command of our situation. The surgeon didn't disagree with our conclusions, so we reversed our process, and left. Both of us were smiling by the time we reached the parking lot.

We're now investigating non-surgical, non-invasive remedies for the problem. There are a few, and we're going to explore them before entering that arena again.

Our backs were planted against the wall, the balls were hurled hard, and we are still standing.

Excuse me. I need to add my voice to Obama's cry for healthcare reform.


20 May 2009

"I call it a week of Utopia..."

- Shelley Ackerman, IWWG Member

Call it what you will--Utopia is certainly fitting, in my opinion--but whatever you call it, you need to do whatever you can do right now to attend The International Women's Writing Guild 32nd annual Remember the Magic summer conference on the campus of Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, New York.

From June 12th through the 19th, women will gather from every corner of the globe to celebrate their connection through writing, original thought, and multi-cultural tolerance. It's an opportunity not to be missed.

If you don't believe me, then just have a look at what some of the Guild's members are saying:

Note: VEOH decided to remove the video without notifying me of the change. I've returned the favor, and removed them. Sorry about that.

Excuse me. I have to pack my bags and my pens.

24 April 2009

“We cannot do great things on this Earth,
only small things with great love.”
  - Mother Theresa

I attended the IWWG Big Apple Conference in New York City last weekend. Not only did I have the enormous privilege and pleasure of participating in the Authors Panel Discussion on Sunday and then meeting several leading literary agents, but I participated in the all-day workshop on Saturday, conducted by Lisa Dale Norton, author of Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills (Picador USA/St. Martin’s Press.)

If you haven't read that book, or the recently published Shimmering Images (St. Martin's Griffin), get thee quickly to the bookstore. Norton guides us through the unpredictable--and on occasion, unreliable--terrain of personal memory, and while the results are always entertaining, they are also nearly always surprising.
This is your chance to get a grip on the story you've always wanted to tell, and to find the compassion, forgiveness, and altruism in yourself to tell it. When she spoke of compassion, she wasn't equating it with pity or sympathy. Forgiveness can be extended to yourself, as well as to the person who has offended you. 

Altruism is without motive, and therefore arises from the capacity to love. Non-judgmental, non-threatening, and without agenda or motive other than to tell the story, the memoirist can use his or her experience to inform the world of truth.

Trust me. I know what I'm talking about here.

At the workshop ("The Compassionate Memoir") this past Saturday, more than once I found myself moved to tears as time and again, a woman revealed something of herself that resonated deeply within my own heart. It was an astonishing process, this discovery of self in somebody else. Lisa's definition of memoir, "Changing the future by re-seeing the past," set the tone for the whole day, and her final question to us at its conclusion, "Ask yourself, 'What was I searching for?' What's the bigger question that is to be answered?" sent me on my way back to New England prepared to dig for the hidden gems in my own memory banks.

Compassion, forgiveness, altruism. These ought to be the watchwords for every day of our lives.

We'd be better off for them.

Excuse me. I feel my memoir calling to me.


27 March 2009

It is not so much our friends' help 
that helps us as the confident knowledge 
that they will help us.
   - Epicurus

Know someone who is grieving? Help is on the way.
Wakefield, MA – March 26, 2009
Sourcebooks, Inc. (Naperville, Illinois) announces the release of 101 Ways You Can Help: How to Offer Comfort & Support to Those Who Are Grieving, by Liz Aleshire. The book contains 101 sensible, sensitive ways readers can assist those who grieve, without trying to take on the task of making the bereavement period shorter.

The tips cover dealing with family, friends, and co-workers in a variety of situations and needs. In usage, these tips can lessen the often unendurable burdens grieving people feel when confronted with the routine, everyday realities of life after a loved one's death. This fact makes the book unique. There are scores of books, articles, and seminars available today on the subjects of death, dying, and how to heal after a loss. Before this, however, there was absolutely nowhere to turn to learn the practical steps you can take that make a grieving person's life more bearable.

The author’s goal was to spread her hard-earned knowledge as far as she could. Her only son died in 1995 at the age of sixteen of bone cancer. As a result, she went into a deep, prolonged bereavement, and while in it learned first-hand that most people don't know what to say or do when faced with a person suffering a devastating loss. She discovered that because of ignorance, even well-meaning actions sometimes made the situation worse. She intended the book not only as a vehicle for information, but as a way to honor her son's memory.

Aleshire was felled by a heart attack in May 2008. While in the Cardiology ICU at the Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, she was too weak to finish the writing. Without thinking of anything other than helping Aleshire, and with her permission, six of her closest friends, all published writers, contacted her editor. They proposed finishing the manuscript on the original editorial schedule. Sourcebooks accepted their offer. Using Aleshire's outline and writing as much as was possible in her voice for consistency, they met the deadline.

Aleshire lived to see her friends embody the central message of her book through their actions, and she saw the pre-production copy, but she did not live long enough to actually see the book in print.

She died on October 13, 2008, while waiting for a heart transplant.

If you know somebody who is bereaved and trying to cope with what they feel as overwhelming loss, you owe it to them to read 101 Ways You Can Help: How to Offer Comfort & Support to Those Who Are Grieving. Become a true friend, and extend your hand in appropriate, needed support that will be welcomed.

Liz Aleshire’s six writer friends will be appearing as part of the Author's Panel on Sunday, April 19th at the IWWG Big Apple Conference at Scandinavia House (58 Park Avenue at 38th Street, New York), from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Call the International Women’s Writing Guild at (212) 737-7536 for conference details.
# # #
Excuse me. I need to make my reservation.

02 March 2009

You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow 
from flying over your head, but you can prevent 
them from building nests in your hair.”
  - ancient Chinese Proverb

I've just finished reading a story from the Evansville CourierPress. It's arguably the worst I've read in a very, very long time.

An 18-year-old tried to rid herself of head lice with gasoline, and ended up with severe burns over more than half her body. As she waited in the bathroom for the gasoline to kill the lice, the fumes built up, and the water heater pilot light ignited. The resulting flames seared her over most of her body. According to the report, she "suffered third-degree burns on her chest, arms and hands and first- and second-degree burns on her face and head. Doctors had to shave off her hair to peel off the burnt skin on her scalp, [...] and they already performed one surgery to bring her swelling down."

The 18-year-old is now in critical condition, so doctors have put her into a medically-induced coma so that they can work to save her without putting more stress on her system. It's not clear yet that she's going to survive this. Her roommate, fiance, and mother are keeping vigil over her.

However, it's not the burning or disfigurement that bother me about this story. It is hard for me to accept the fact that nobody could seem to do anything to prevent her collision course with horror. The roommate and the fiance agree on this point--she was determined to go through with the gasoline soak, even though they objected to it on the grounds it was dangerous, and there were other, safer methods for getting rid of lice.

Had she stood on the ledge of a window overlooking a street, or threatened to drink poison, would nobody have thought to call for help, in an effort to prevent her self-destruction? 

There are valid reasons for requesting help from officials in extreme cases--when a person shows suicidal tendencies, it's important to remember that their lives depend upon your sanity, reason, and rational thinking.

If somebody says they're going to do something you know is dangerous or reckless, and you don't use every means at your disposal to stop them, then by your inaction you are hurting them, too. Pay attention to the people you love, and help them stay safe. And if you can't do it alone, get help.

I'm sure that right now, Jessica Brooks' mother, fiance, and roommate are all in agreement with me.

Excuse me. I have to go check to be sure that nobody's fingers are reaching into our electrical outlets.


27 February 2009

If it sounds too good to be true, it
probably isn't.”
  - anonymous

A friend recently forwarded an email to me, figuring I'd be excited about the opportunity it presented--a work-from-home job that would pay me big bucks for simple data entry.

I hear terrible stories all the time about how cons and scams are perpetrated against unsuspecting and trusting people--and when it comes to computers, people are even MORE vulnerable, because the con artists can make what they do look so "official." These "work at home," "easy money," and "data entry for dollars" people are real bottom feeders, taking money from desperate, unemployed, and unskilled workers.

However, you don't have to be desperate, unemployed, or unskilled to fall prey to a scammer.

My sister's husband fell for a beautiful scam several years ago--he took out a $20,000 home equity loan to invest in a "business opportunity" that was going to make him fabulously rich. 

The plan was that he was supposed to get half a dozen microwave popcorn vending machines that he would then place in airports, bus terminals, waiting rooms, or other places where people are bored and in transit. He would also receive a huge shipment of pre-packaged microwave popcorn. All he'd have to do is rent the space, keep the machines full of popcorn, and then restock and collect money every week. The franchiser would take care of all the maintenance of the machines. My brother-in-law would have an exclusive territory, and full support from the franchiser for insurances and the like. They were going to "help" him, and at the end of his 3-year contract (with the prices locked in for the whole term), he'd have the option of buying the machines outright and striking it rich on his own.

Sounds good, right?

Wrong. After he paid the money, the "dance" began. He called daily, but it took more than another two months to ever reach his buddy who had sold him the franchise. Turned out, the machines weren't quite ready for delivery, anyway; there was a small problem with the microwave that caused the popcorn to catch fire. In the machine.

Next, my sister reported that a tractor-trailer truck arrived one morning, backed into her driveway, and the delivery guy asked where she'd like "the pallets." Turned out, even though the machines weren't ready, the popcorn was. She had to find room for 5,000 pounds of pre-packaged microwave popcorn. This displaces an area roughly the size of a 10x10x12 bedroom in a house. It took all day to move popcorn from the pallets on her driveway into a storage room in the downstairs of her house.

Two months later, my sister was distressed. No machines, no delivery schedule, a big run-around, and two tons of popcorn in the basement. Worse, field mice, chipmunks, and squirrels were finding their way in, and now she had a rodent problem. And no place to move the popcorn.

She went to Sears and bought a large storage shed (15x15x10) for about $2,000, and had it installed at the back of her yard (building permit=$250, installation=$150, and it took another full day). She also called her lawyer, and put wheels into motion to recover her $20,000. The lawyer's fee was $175/hour. The final call was to an exterminator, who inspected and then fixed the problem--for $300.

Shortly after this, my brother-in-law received a letter from the State Attorney General's office, naming him (and others) in a complaint against the franchise. As a listed "franchisee," he was included in the complaint. Seems that one of the defective machines was actually in the wild, and when some unsuspecting customer who reached into the slot to pick up her popcorn, she got a second-degree burn, instead of a treat.

The next call came from the lawyer, who told her that because she and my brother-in-law had accepted delivery of the popcorn, it was unfortunately considered an acceptance of the contract, and that he could not sue them for non-delivery or recovery of payment. He pointed out that the terms of acceptance were in the fine print on the back of the contract. 

She paid him $500 for having read the fine print.

She told my brother-in-law that she'd eat the loss, but the popcorn had to go. Because of its packaging characteristics, it couldn't even be used in a standard microwave oven. That's when they found out they couldn't just put it in the trash or a landfill themselves. They had to pay a special trash removal service to come and get it, and take it all away. They spent $600 for that.

The bottom line? $20,000 for the loan, $500 for the lawyer, $2,400 for the shed, $300 for the exterminator, $600 for the trash removal, and God only knows how many days of her time, dealing with untold aggravation. The cash outlay for this venture was at least $23,800. She also said she'd been so stressed while it was going on, she'd had to see a shrink. I don't include that, though, because the doc and the meds were covered by her health insurance.

And you wonder why I'm such a skeptic?

Excuse me. I'm short of cash. I have to go see if there are any envelopes that need stuffing.


28 January 2009

Most of the luxuries and many of the
so-called comforts of life, are not only not
indispensable, but positive hindrances to
the elevation of mankind.”
  - H.D. Thoreau

How many gadgets does it take before you know you've got too many? Honestly, I don't have the answer, but I wish I did. This question rises after I realized that I spend a goodly portion of my life tending to things that I acquired in the hope that they'd tend to me.

The breakthrough moment of insight arrived as I plugged an electronic device to recharge it into the socket. The device had completely discharged without me having once touched it since the last time I charged it, about a month ago. As the little green LED indicator flashed, I wondered why I was holding onto something that apparently existed for the sole purpose of increasing my utility bill. I held onto that question, and then asked myself another: what do I get from owning this thing?

It didn't take long for me to ask that second question about nearly everything in sight. I picked up each item, running my hands over it, considering what value I'd attached to it, what need in me it addressed, and most importantly, what was required of me to maintain it. 

After a while, I'd learned a good deal about myself, and also about where my days were disappearing. Dusting, cleaning, winding, charging, storing, packing, unpacking, lubricating, upgrading, accessorizing, and washing all featured in some way or another for every item. 

The total time spent on those ancillary activities measured in double-digit hours every month, a sobering fact.

Rattled by my calculations, I made a list. My goal now is to rid myself of one time-sucking toy every month, until I really am down to things I cannot reasonably see myself living without. The way I figure it, if something requires more time or resource from me than it saves, we must part ways, no matter how alluring it is.

Excuse me. I hear a distant beeping noise--must be coming from a needy gadget that needs comforting.


25 January 2009

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle 
and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in,
their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light
from within.”
  - E. Kubler-Ross

I've been reading accounts of the death of Mariana Bridi da Costa. The details of how her life changed, and then ended, are at once horrible, ironic, and mythic.

da Costa, a 20-year-old model and beauty queen, twice a finalist in the Miss World competition in her native Brazil, had felt unwell back in December. She sought medical attention, and was treated for what the doctors thought was kidney stones. By January 3rd, however, they realized they'd made a terrible mistake--she was admitted to the hospital in Serra suffering from a urinary infection caused by an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection known as pseudomonas aeruginosa. The infection became worse, and septicemia ensued.

The bacteria raged, and da Costa's condition steadily worsened, until last week, the only hope the doctors had for preventing further damage to her compromised system was to amputate her hands and feet. Her beautiful, expressive, and tender hands and feet. Feet that had walked the stage as thousands admired and applauded their beauty. Hands that had waved at cheering men and women, and had brushed long, silky black hair away from the flawless face.

That decision to amputate didn't save her. She was put on a respirator, and slipped into a coma, where she remained until her death in the small hours of January 24th. Her family and her boyfriend were at her bedside when she died, and Brazil is now in mourning.

She stood poised upon the brink of her womanhood, and the world was open to her by virtue of her extraordinary beauty, confidence, and youth. We mourn her passing not only because she was beautiful, but because she was so young. There is nothing more terrible than the unfulfilled promise of a life ended too soon. She is the beauty who died a beastly death, and I am appalled.

I could probably draw some comparisons with descriptions of how all the flowering youth of several countries has been destroyed by our insane desire to wage wars, and I might also be able to point out that diagnoses and caregiving are routinely botched when the medical establishment is more interested in its own bureaucratic protocols and policies than in the Hippocratic oath. I might even be able to mount an argument about how viruses and bacteria are actively fighting for survival--as our medicines get stronger, so do they. However, I won't bother with those tirades, because it's too late for da Costa, who was ultimately just another bit of collateral damage in those struggles.

It's our whole civilization that's toxic, and it makes me sick to think of it. Poor Mariana. She never had a chance, and for that, I'm sorry beyond telling.

Excuse me. I need to take a couple aspirin and a shot of penicillin. Call me in the morning.


15 January 2009

"The prostitute has come to symbolize
for me the ultimate liberated woman,
who lives on the edge and whose
sexuality belongs to no one."
- Camille Paglia

Let's get something straight. I'm not a prude. I'm a person who is perfectly comfortable in the presence of adult conversation, adult bodies of both sexes, adult acts, and adult toys. 

However, I do believe that there are some things best not touted outside a private bedroom, and certainly not within earshot of children, legislators, or other non-consenting adults. A fine example of what ought never be made public for any reason, other than as a cautionary tale against trying it, has been playing out all over the news and the public media for the past three months. There's so much wrong with it, I'm having a difficult time knowing where to start.

I was driving home yesterday and caught about 5 minutes of local talk radio. The host, Laura Ingraham, was interviewing a 22-year-old woman, "Natalie Dylan," who is auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder.

Dylan, whose name is a pseudonym designed to keep her safe (ostensibly from sexual predators and weirdos), informed us that the bidding has reached nearly $3.75 million, and that she gotten bids from nearly 10,000 people. She also said she doesn't consider this prostitution, just a real "business opportunity." She pointed out that she's got a valuable commodity--her virginity--and since people are willing to pay for it, why shouldn't she sell it for the top dollar, instead of just giving it away? Dylan, a student at Sacramento State College, said that she got the idea for this auction while enrolled in a "women's studies" class, and that she and her sister decided this would make an interesting social experiment. 

Her plan for the money? To pay for further education, and to "stabilize" herself in this time of economic uncertainty.

When Ingraham questioned Dylan about her understanding of what prostitution actually is--the exchange of sexual favors for money--and whether she knew she could be arrested for this, Dylan's breezy response was that yes, and that is why she was taking care to do things "legally," under the auspices and protection of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Reno, Nevada. 

Yes, that's right. The deflowering will be completed at a brothel, after which both satisfied parties will leave the premises, presumably never to see each other again.

I would love to know what the Regents and the Board of Directors of Sacramento State College are now thinking about the direction that higher education in their institution has taken, but that's another story. Right now, my biggest issue is just with Natalie Dylan, and this hideous way she's picked to get her fifteen minutes in the public eye.

Are we really so jaded as a society and as a civilization that we have lost all sense of shame and decency? When did it become okay for a young, healthy, intelligent woman to announce to the world that she's entering the world's oldest profession, even if it's only for one night, and we all look on with prurient interest and cheer her audacity as the bidding climbs higher? When did it become okay to bid millions of dollars for a one-night transaction with a little fool, when there are countless causes that are more worthy of the money?

Let's all hope this naive, stupid girl either comes to her senses, or her family and friends intervene to stop her, before it's too late and she gets a psychological scar that she'll never recover from or be able to remove.

Camille Paglia, I hope you're happy.

Excuse me. I have to go wash my brain out with soap.


08 January 2009

Thou shalt not steal.
 - God, according to the King James Bible

Man. Just when I think I've heard it all, I hear something new that just leaves me scratching my head, wondering how we ever got into this mess in the first place.

This one's a beauty, though.

According to a January 6th article by Motoko Rich that I read in the NY Times, Neale Donald Walsch, who wrote the wildly popular "Conversations with God" series, has been revealed to be a plagiarist.

That's not the head-shaking part, though. Hardly a week goes by now that we don't get wind of yet another publishing scandal, whether it be a faux memoir, copied articles, or even wholesale lifting of entire books,plots, characters, and all.

No, friends, what made my eyes widen in wonder is what Mr. Walsch did when he was confronted with incontrovertible proof that he did not in fact write the essay, published on Belief.net, to which he laid claim. Mr. Walsch hauled out the Kaavya Viswanathan Defense, insisting that he was surprised, no, in his own words, "chagrined and astonished" that his mind "could play such a trick on me." According to Rich's article in the Times, after apologizing to both the publisher and his readers, he went on to expand on his theory of the trick his mind played upon him.

"All I can say now--because I am truly mystified and taken aback by this--is that someone must have sent it to me over the Internet ten years or so ago," Mr. Walsch wrote. "Finding it utterly charming and its message indelible, I must have clipped and pasted it into my file of 'stories to tell that have a message I want to share.' I have told this story verbally so many times over the years that I had it memorized...and then, somewhere along the way, internalized it as my own experience."


Spare me this disingenuous response. It's one thing for a 19-year-old student who thought she was going to wriggle out of trouble with her "I loved the book so much, I must have memorized it, and then forgotten I did" interview, but it's another matter entirely for a 50-something man, a professional writer whose books have been topping the New York Times Bestseller lists for years, to offer up such a lame excuse for his dishonesty. And why should anyone want to excuse him? The real writer of that essay, Candy Chand, doesn't--in the article, she makes several very good, valid points about why what Walsch did was bad. Bad for him, bad for her, bad for the publisher, and bad for the readers.

I completely understand how it's possible to find yourself so overloaded with bits and snippets of writing, that you might find yourself hard-pressed to remember their origins. What I don't understand, though, is why a writer of Walsch's reputation and stature in the writing world didn't have enough sense to at least label the essay when he filed it--no matter what the operating system, there are free utilities that allow you to annotate the file information. In this case, with a date and three simple words: by Candy Chand.

Is that really too much to ask of a professional?

Maybe, but it surely puts a new spin on how I'll view Mr. Walsch's writing in the future. Perhaps his next series could be titled, "Conversations With God: How I Don't Pay Attention to a Word He Says."

Excuse me. I want to go find Ms. Chand's essay, read it, and write her a fan letter.


01 January 2009

 And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne. 
     -Robert Burns

It's the first day of the new calendar year. It's too cold outside, so I figure I'll just take an internal constitutional today.

For the first time in two decades, we missed spending New Year's Eve with our friends. There was a snow storm yesterday that made the roads dangerous for driving. By mid-afternoon, we collectively made the decision to forego our celebration, and move it forward to tonight. We all agreed that trying to gather would be too risky, and we'd prefer to postpone, rather than brave the elements for a slice of roast beef, a glass (or two) of champagne, and a few midnight kisses. Better to wait until the weather is better.

As evening approached and the snow and wind whipped through the air, I turned my attention to dinner, which I'd not planned to cook. I finally opted for an omelet, creamed tomato soup (not canned), cheese platter, crusty bread, and an inexpensive but decent cabernet. We ate at the normal hour, just after 7:00, and took our time at the table. After we finished, my spouse cleared the table, and I donned several layers of clothes. The storm was ending, and it was time to dig out.

There was still plenty of strong wind, and because it was so cold, the snow was fluffy and crystalline. There wasn't any sound or traffic on our street. I briefly considered leaving things the way they were, but then decided I'd have a mess if the temperature raised a little between then and the morning, so I hauled out the shovel and snowblower, and went to work.

Half an hour later, I was finished. I put away my tools, took off my boots at the front door, and went back inside. My spouse asked me if it was cold. Yes, it was cold. He wanted to know if the road was plowed. Yes, it was plowed. He asked if there was much snow. Yes, there was a lot of snow. As I answered his questions, I shed coat, hat, scarf, gloves, extra socks, and extra sweater. I draped damp things near the heating ducts, and went to blow my nose. He went back to his computer, and we had no more conversation between us.

At 9:30, he went to bed, leaving me to sit in front of the television watching the New Year's Eve festivities as they occurred around the world. Fireworks in Australia, Germany, England; choirs and symphonies in Austria, France, and Canada. The whole world was amusing itself, having a grand party. I sipped my brandy as an operatic soprano sang "Auld Lang Syne," and found myself humming along with the tune. At 11:58, I changed the channel to ABC, to watch the 11,000 pound Waterford Crystal ball descend to New York Times Square, as pop icon Dick Clark counted down the final seconds to the year's end. For years, people--including myself--wondered if Dick Clark had the secret to eternal youth. Now, he looks a lot like Father Time incarnate. I noticed that although his stroke has left his speech somewhat impaired, he still had the gusto and energy for a big, lip-locking smooch with his wife at the end of the show. Good for him.

Brandy finished, broadcast of the world party over, I undressed and went to join my sleeping spouse and cats in our bed. Before I fell asleep, I considered that the evening, while not a party, had been absolutely perfect in its own way, and I didn't regret not facing the usual New Year's Day hangover. My cat curled his warm silky back against my knees, I fell asleep, and the new year felt positively glorious.

It still does.

Excuse me, I have to see if the popping sound in the kitchen is a champagne cork.