Saturday, December 18, 2010

Some Goody Ideas for the holidays



1. Go on a holiday light walk in a neighborhood that has lots of them. Bring a container of hot coffee or chocolate, wear good walking shoes, take your time and enjoy the electric art! (It’s one of the best nearly-free attractions around – well, nearly if you need to drive.)

2. Imagine you are a bird or a mouse living in a Christmas tree. Look way inside your tree, all the way to the trunk. Imagine living inside the trunk (or a little house in the tree), and then stepping outside and seeing all of the lights and decorations. Yes, that would be magical indeed. You might even buy or create a little house ornament (plus small animal occupants!)



Life inside of a Christmas tree, courtesy of Vons Supermarket

3. Even if it’s not a house, make a homemade ornament for your tree anyway. (Why should kids have all the fun?) Imagine the genuine pride you’ll feel when you look at your tree and see something that is uniquely yours.

4. Buy John Waters’s Christmas album. Come on, aren’t you tired of “Jingle Bells” already (and it’s not even a Christmas song; it’s a Thanksgiving song – look it up)? It’s time for some new carols – such as “Santa Claus is a Black Man” (c’mon, how do we know he isn’t?) and “Fatty Claus” (anyone who’s ever paid a post-holiday bill will raise a burning credit card in tribute).

5. What was your favorite toy as a child? I can name a few – Etch-A-Sketch, Spirofoil, a Fisher-Price “movie” camera, a Show’N Tell (record player with slide show) Why not safari for one online and give it to a special child in your life? Don’t think that all kids want the latest gimmicky gadget.



Show'N Tell from the 1960s

6. After that, why not give a little gift to yourself? My e-book “Goody Ideas" is only $5.00, and available for immediate download at my website. It will be a gift that will never grow old or stale.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Friday, December 3, 2010

It’s the season for giving – let’s do it well



Photo courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

It never fails – in November and December, charitable appeals rev up like nothing else. Even though need has no season, a spirit of goodwill fills our Thanksgiving and Christmas hearts (and our Hanukkah, Eid, and Kwanzaa ones, too), and that same goodwill spikes our generosity.

Nothing wrong with that – but we have so many important needs in this world that it’s overwhelming to imagine them all. How can we give without melting into a puddle of despair? Here are some guidelines which I believe will help:

1. Remember, it’s a gift, not an obligation. The basic duty for human beings is to live as harmlessly as possible. If you are a hermit living quietly alone, you are already fulfilling your duty. Everything after that is gravy. You don’t have to give a penny to charity. Just like giving myself permission to eat a cookie gives me the power to say “no”, remembering that charity isn’t mandatory frees me from resentment and allows me to be more generous.

2. Don’t give to solicitors outside grocery stores, post offices, banks, malls, etc. I know it’s hard to say no to a living person smiling at you and asking you to help the homeless. I know it’s easy to pull a stray dollar from your wallet and push it into the slot on top of the wooden box such solicitors have in handy. The true way to help the homeless, or any other kind of need group, is to know where your money is going. Legitimate, rock-solid charities almost never solicit in public places. Many public solicitors are also associated with religious groups whose values you may not be completely okay with. (Question for churchgoers: Does your church ask you to sit on a chair in front of a grocery store and ask for money all day?) Keep your spare dollars in your wallet and save them for a charity you know and agree with.

3. Research before you give. How do you find out which charities are legit? The same way you find out which airfare is lowest or where to find an out-of-print book – research. The Huffington Post alerted me to the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP), which recently posted a slide show on the nine worst charities. Of course, they will tell you about the good ones on their site. Charity Navigator is another great resource. Knowing that your donation will actually help the needy, and not fill the pockets of administrators, is a great feeling indeed.

4. Think small and/or local. Besides researching, another way to learn about a charity is to actually see it in action. Look up all of the charities in or near your hometown. A food bank is an especially good choice, because you will see how many people get help as they pick up food. I tend to trust small charities more, too, because they don’t spend money on expenditures like, say, TV commercials. Small charities also fulfill needs that are not immediately obvious. One good one that I’ve heard of recently is Guitars for Vets , which gives guitars and music lessons to veterans. (Two Dogs likes this, too!)

5. Give to organizations you really care about, not the ones you think you should care about. If you think that your local opera company is worth paying for, or if you love a tiny Internet radio station that plays songs you haven’t heard since age thirteen, that’s where your money should go. Some people insist that feeding people, preventing disease, and/or protecting the environment must come first – of course, those are all vital. But creative expression, both ours and others’, make this a world worth saving.

6. Pick a charity per month. Given that there are so many avenues of need, it’s hard to pick just one – or even a handful. To make it easier, concentrate your giving on one cause each month. For example, give to people who make blankets for the homeless in January, the American Heart Association in February, the March of Dimes in March (can’t help it, it’s too fun to be seasonal).

7. Give to organizations that aim to solve problems. You know the old saying, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” Of course, if a man is starving, you’ll need to give him a fish now so he will be ready to learn to fish later. But I agree with the basic premise. Giving people food and blankets day after day and year after year does not address the need of jobs (for those who are employable) or affordable housing. I like charities whose goal is having their helpees not need it in the end.

8. Put the “fun” in fundraising. Writing a check and putting it in the mail or donating via PayPal are relatively dull activities. Why not make fundraising sparkle? Last year, I suggested that the people in my Sun magazine group get together at a local vegetarian restaurant (some of the group is veggie), and bring $20 each to donate to the magazine. (The Sun doesn’t accept advertising, just high-quality writing and photography. In this country, this means it struggles financially). If you dining room is big enough, why not host a similar fundraising dinner with your friends? Good people, good food, good talk, good cause – good times!

9. There’s no such thing as a totally selfish purchase. Sometimes I have blushed with shame when I buy a book or go to a restaurant. That money should have gone to charity! my guilty voice screams. Then I remember that I am not the only one who benefits. When I buy a book, I support the career of a hard-working author who brings great ideas to life on the page. When you download music, you help keep a roof over your favorite artist’s head. Even when you buy a laptop or big-screen TV at Best Buy, you preserve the employment of the people on the floor and behind the cash register. Spending keeps money flowing and helps others not need charity. That money flow will come back to you when you create things that people buy – and yes, that applies to Excel spreadsheets that your employer pays you $X per hour to create.

With that in mind, let’s make this season great for our communities, our nation, and our world!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Glad...no matter what



Ever since the mid-1990s, I have been a dedicated reader of SARK, the author of colorful, handwritten, life-affirming books. If you haven’t read SARK (acronym for Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy), start with Succulent Wild Woman(as I did).

Earlier this month, SARK’s 16th book came out: Glad No Matter What. SARK describes how she faced losses large and small in her life (the large ones included the death of her mother, the death of her cat, and the loss of a love relationship). Even inside these big losses, SARK insists, you can find a piece of gladness that gleams like a rainbow.



Glad No Matter What came along at just the right time for me. Lately, it has been hard not to feel depressed about my career, with most of my applications and inquiries falling into a black hole (and not even a “thanks but no thanks” reply). Coupled with the chill and clouds of November, I’ve been feeling small and vulnerable and meaningless. Is there really a place for my work out in the world? How can I bring in some bacon (real bacon, not penny-a-word beggin’) for my household? Who should I be contacting for good, well-paying work?

Where’s the gladness in all of this? I have the time, means, and opportunity to find those good “whos”. I have Two Dogs by my side, and can go to him for the right answer when I have a question. I now know what I want and what I do not want, and am now able, at last, to say “no” to the “do not want”. When I remember this, I feel large and powerful and real.

Thanks, SARK! (And thanks also to Two Dogs for the photo of me with the book.)

A penny (per word) for my thoughts? I don’t think so



Meandering Mouse is my blog for personal thoughts. As of now, I don’t get paid for writing it. I do, however, search for paying writing jobs each week. A few days ago, I received this reply from a blog post company:

Dear ********* applicant (not Dear Jennie or Ms. Hakim),

Thank you for your interest in writing for *********. Before we move forward and hire you as a freelance writer we need to confirm with you a few things.

As a new writer you will typically be assigned campaigns that will be on a payment level of 1-2 cents per word. You will have the possible opportunity to receive higher paying campaigns as time progresses and after your work has shown quality and consistency. The campaign pay levels can vary from .01 to about .05, this is never a permanent amount We also ask our writers to be able to commit to writing 3,000 words per week. This does not guarantee that all writers will be provided at least 3,000 words a week as assignments are dependent on campaign availability, but we feel that a writer should have the capacity to contribute at least this much when situation demands it. Overdue work is unacceptable and we ask that you only commit to writing for us if you can provide your work on time and consistently meet your deadlines. Please keep this information in mind when responding to this email & committing to working for us.

If you are still interested in writing for ********* (under the above terms), please respond to this email message at your earliest convenience. Please note this is the next step in the process and does not necessarily mean you will be selected. However, we need to receive your personal acceptance of these terms in order to move forward in this process.

Please let me know if you have questions.

Thank you!

After reading this, I turned to my calculator. I found that as a beginning writer at ********* – at one to two cents a word, 3000 words a week – I would earn $30 to $60 per week. (Remember, there is no guarantee of any writer being allowed that many words per week.) At the maximum rate, five cents a word, I would earn $150 per week.

Now, $30 to $150 per week might be an acceptable pay rate for a ten-year-old. Or someone with a breadwinning partner who wants to earn some Christmas Club money. Or someone who has traveled back to fifty or more years ago.

It’s not acceptable for someone in 2010 who aims to bring in at least half of a two-person household’s income. And it is absolutely not acceptable for any professional writer who cares about art and craft, who will take the extra time to make sure the facts are right, who does sweat the stuff small and large.

A penny a word is an insulting wage. Period.

I can hear the blowback now: That’s the way the business is. We’re competing with Third World countries now. Beggars can’t be choosers. Shut up and take what you are given. Don’t be a job snob. Don’t act so entitled.

Excuse me?

Wanting to be able to pay my bills and live a modest but comfortable lifestyle makes me a “job snob”? Wanting to be paid like a professional adult (and by doing so, making it easier for all other pro writers to have good wages) makes me “entitled?”

So be it. People who just shut up and take what they are given don’t become heroes, or role models, or wisdom brokers.

People who say “no” to insult? As far as I’m concerned, they are all three.

As I say, act like a character you would want to read a book about.

(Thanks to Two Dogs for lending a hand to the photo above.)

If you needed just one more reason to avoid chain restaurants…

From In Pursuit of Silence by George Prochnik:

Customers exposed to slow music spent significantly longer at table: an average of 56 minutes as opposed to 45 minutes.…Stoked with data of this nature, chain restaurants, such as Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill, developed computerized sound systems that were preset to raise the tempo and volume of music at hours of the day when corporate wanted to turn tables. ‘A lot of the managers try to turn music down because they think it’s too loud for people eating,’ said Don Blanton, who developed the system for the grill. ‘So we’ve put in an automated system.’

In other words, even if every single customer complains about the sound volume at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill, the manager can’t do jack because “corporate” is hell-bent on reaching into customers’ brains and playing puppetry of the senses.

I have written about the subject of unwanted public sound here before, but this paragraph lit my fuse. I am tempted, oh so tempted, to say that if you eat at a restaurant named after a TV show, you deserve what you get – but really, no one deserves this insidious kind of mind rape. Yes, that’s the right word – rape – when marketers invade your consciousness without consent.

Sounds much more horrifying when you think of it that way, doesn’t it?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dancing in the dark



It’s going to take some time for me to get used to the return of Standard Time, which happened a week ago. I’ve missed every hour of extra sunlight like Disneyphiles miss the Skyway between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Five o’clock was once a pleasant hour to hang out in; now it’s the first hour of darkness, which makes this meandering mouse scurry back into her (figurative!) hole. Except for occasional forays with Two Dogs and other loved ones, I stay indoors when it’s dark outside.

(What happened to the person who drove out to Ducks hockey games and Meetups and mall trips without thinking of it?)

I need to remember that in has its unique joys. In is the world of home-cooked meals from Two Dogs, usually with a glass of wine that costs less than one I would get at the bar. (As in a bottle of wine costing $22 at the restaurant and less than $7 at the grocery store. We pay a premium for out.) In is the world of reading on the couch or on the bed, drinking herbal tea with Splenda and nibbling on dark chocolate squares (sometimes with kosher salt sprinkled on them). In is the world of bubble baths, sometimes alone with a stack of magazines, sometimes with Two Dogs and a bottle of sparkling wine. Our modest little bathroom becomes a spiritually healing spa. In is where my shell renews itself, so it’s strong when it’s time to be out again.

Years ago, I used to dance in the world of in. I would twirl and jiggle to the sounds of Smash Mouth’s Astro Lounge and a soundtrack of James Bond movie themes and anything else my Emerson 5-CD changer was carrying. My Emerson is now tucked away in storage, and we don’t have much space for dancing (a situation which is changing bit by bit). Maybe dancing is a habit I should renew this fall and winter – it is but one way to give light to darkness.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Which way, voters?



Image courtesy of jdurham at MorgueFile.com


Eight days from now, most of us (at least I hope) will exercise the right to vote for our government representatives. I often feel anxiety at this time, because while I do my research and try to make the right choice, I worry that not enough of my fellow voters will do the same.

Two years ago, I believed that decency and rationality was going to take a foothold in politics. Sadly, dark forces have sprouted up, conjuring up straw boogeymen to make the people frightened. These forces pretend to be the voice of the “common folk”, but their true agenda is grasping power, and the people be damned.

A frightened populace is one that is likely to make hasty, ill-informed decisions – decisions that could have damaging consequences that can last for decades. Now is not the time to make things worse.

So which way, voters?

Are you going to listen to your fear…or your hope?

Are you going to help make America great…or easy to hate?

The answers are in your hands.

Vote on November 2nd.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Put a filter on it!



This is the filter that I bought and Two Dogs installed for our kitchen sink faucet. I bought it at Walgreens on sale for $8.99. The average price of a faucet water filter ranges from $16.99 to $60.00 and up, but knowing that your household is helping to reduce demand for bottled water is priceless.

We used to buy 24-packs of 0.5-liter bottles because we have a small refrigerator. We are pleased that many large bottled water manufacturers (Arrowhead being the pioneer) are reducing the amount of plastic used for their bottles. Still, it’s best to wean yourself away from bottles, because eight out of ten of the 29.8 billion water bottles Americans buy each year end up in the landfill, according to Earth911.com.

To reduce our bottled water use, Two Dogs and I first bought a Brita Slim pitcher , the smallest one available (40 ounces). However, it was too small for the amount of water we use. We not only need straight drinking water, but water for cooking and making coffee and tea. Pouring water into the Brita pitcher and waiting for it to filter took too long.

The faucet filter (made by Culligan for Walgreens, model WFM-17) is far more efficient. When we pull the long button on the side, regular water turns to filtered water. The water comes out as easily as it always did.

Now, some of you out there live in communities that have good-to-great tap water. Even so, it’s hard to get over the warnings about tap water we’ve heard all our lives. (It’s just like getting over the fear of large dogs if one of them bit you.) Buying a faucet water filter will give you the peace of mind you’ll need to break away from the bottle.

I have to admit that we haven’t stopped buying bottled water completely. We have polycarbonate bottles that we refill constantly at home, but if we take a really long trip, those bottles will invariably run out. If we must purchase bottled water, we choose bottles with less material such as Arrowhead’s. (I would really like to see fresh, filtered drinking water available on tap at gas stations and convenience stores!)

Two Dogs and I are happy with our trusted water filter. If you don’t have one already, make this your next household purchase. You will save money, make less waste – and you’ll be a better Earth citizen!

(This post is part of Blog Action Day 2010: Water. Please sign the petition below for safe water for everyone!)

Change.org|Start Petition

Saturday, October 9, 2010

John Lennon...if



John Lennon would have been 70 years old today if he was still alive. It’s hard to believe, and even harder to accept.

What would John have accomplished if he’d had the past 30 years? What songs would he have written, what words would have made us wiser? Dare I think that we would now be living in a more peaceful world…if?

No death has affected me more than the death of John Lennon. The more time separates me from that date, the more I miss him and the angrier I get at the injustice. In the time it takes to blink an eye, a small person can take the life of a great one.

Why should that be so?

Grief counselors, both professional and amateur, would advise me to stay focused on happy memories of John – which is a good idea, because I don’t want to have anger be the center of my life. Even if it is justified.

As it stands, what John left us was more than we have a right to expect from anyone. So if you have “Double Fantasy” on hand, play it (and don’t skip the Yoko tracks, please), even if "(Just Like) Starting Over" and "Beautiful Boy" make you cry. For tomorrow, we can sing – and give peace a chance.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Meandering Mouse to the rescue, in dreams and in life

Last night, I dreamt that I went into the ladies’ room and entered a stall. For some reason, I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I put them on and saw something shocking in the bowl – several small white kittens and a whole bunch of mice of varying colors in the water.

I kneeled down, reached into the water, and brought out every animal I saw. Miraculously, all were breathing and still alive. When I had all the mice and kittens on the tiled floor, I didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t want to leave them alone, because whoever had put them in the toilet in the first place might come back and do it again.

That’s where the dream ended.

Often, when a dream ends in uncertainty, I imagine a happy ending. I hope that the dream me found a container to take the mice and kittens out of the bathroom and to a safe place.

Fast forward a few hours later, when Two Dogs and I went to a local park so he could participate in a weekly musical get-together.

One of the guys was holding a black-and-white kitten, approximately six weeks old. It took me some time to realize that it was dirty, its eyes sticky with the infection that neglected cats get. It was a sad-looking creature.

I knew that if I did not do anything to help this kitten, I would regret it all my days.

I called 411 to get the number of Animal Control. They told me that I needed a box for the kitten to stay in. I sacrificed a cardboard box from my trunk that was holding a small blue pillow, an extra jacket, and a white Frisbee.

But as I was putting the black-and-white kitten in the box, I saw other people feeding and giving water to other stray kittens and cats. Striped, gray, calico. Most with sticky eyes, some of them skinny.



This was going to be more complicated – especially since none of the cats wanted to stay in my box.

When the guy from Animal Control got to the park, he said he couldn’t take any of the cats because they were feral, and therefore unadoptable. I was personally not sure about that, because a family came by and took one of the kittens home, but I had no basis for argument.

So the cat family is still in the park this evening, taking care of each other. I left my box there, because cats like to climb in and out of boxes.

Is there a lesson in all of this? Maybe.

Perhaps there are ideas of mine that are in an unsafe place and need to be brought up to the light. Perhaps I need to be more courageous in doing what is right.

Perhaps…it was just a strange coincidence.

Sleep well, wild kitties, and watch out for each other...like I will watch out for my ideas!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What’s the real problem?

I would rather listen to a tape of javelinas farting – recorded on a 1970s era cassette player, the one shaped like a shoebox – than any syllable from Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s mouth. Dr. Laura (isn’t it a continent-sized red flag when a doctor is referred to by first name?) is a nagging, bitching radio show host with a voice like Edward Scissorhands groping a chalkboard.

Unfortunately, I have to link to this audio because it’s the soundtrack for my post (in two parts):





The mainstream media is calling this a “N-Word Rant”. However, such headlines ignore the real problem with Dr. Laura’s response to the caller.

As a writer and First Amendment (near) absolutist, I don’t accept the concept that people of certain skin colors are allowed/forbidden to use certain words. I don’t object, per se, to white Dr. Laura’s saying “nigger,” even eleven times. She didn’t use it as a direct insult to the caller. Context is everything when it comes to controversial words.

The issue I have with Dr. Laura is that she failed miserably in doing what she is supposed to do, i.e., help people. The caller, a black woman, wanted to know what to do about her husband’s friends who were making racist comments in her presence. Instead of giving the caller advice in how to talk to her husband, Dr. Laura dismissed her as “hypersensitive” and goes off on a tangent about who is and who is not allowed to say “nigger.” In other words, not answering the question.

To add insult to injury, Dr. Laura adds these charming quotes:

“[W]ithout giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for Obama simply ’cause he was half-black. Didn’t matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing.” (as if blacks are incapable of thoughtful voting)

“Don’t NAACP me.” (turning the name of a revered civil rights organization into an insult)

“You know what, if you are that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.” (you’ve got the problem, lady, not your husband’s friends)

That, to me, is far more offensive than any utterance of “nigger” ever could be.

Predictably, Dr. Laura realized that she had screwed up royally, and offered the by-now familiar media apology. The person she had really hurt, the caller, was a mere afterthought at the end. Call me unforgiving, but if I were the caller, I would not be impressed, and I would not call back.

We have freedom of speech, but that does not protect us from the consequences of our speech. I would hope that this would make Dr. Laura stop and think about how “moral” it is to tell people who are asking for help that they are the problem, but I am not holding my breath.

I will not post about this individual again. All wise people should simply ignore her and go take on their days.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Living 12’ x 12’



I just finished a fascinating book called Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream by William Powers. Powers, an environmental writer and activist, tells of his experiences staying in the 12’ x 12’ house (technically, a shed) of his friend, “Dr. Jackie Benton” (not her real name) in North Carolina. “Jackie” (a woman of such modesty that she doesn’t use her professional title) lives this way because in North Carolina, a structure 12’ x 12’ is legally too small to be a house, and therefore not subject to taxation. “Jackie” refuses to fuel the American war machine. Of course, if your house is not really a house, you won’t receive electricity or sewage from the state, either. (Powers used candles at night, a solar shower for bathing, and a composting toilet under the porch.)

One of my goals is to live a simpler life. I want to live with less stuff overall. The less stuff you have, the lighter you live and the freer you are. I could be content in a 1 BD/1 BA condo or apartment. But I cannot live 12’ x 12’ with no electricity and no plumbing. Well, in theory I could, but I would not be a very happy Meandering Mouse.


Not quite 12' x 12'. (Photo courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art)

Practically speaking, I need electricity so I can do my writing and graphics work on my computer. Emotionally speaking, I want to be able to take a bath indoors once in a while, open the refrigerator for cold drinks, and watch movies on DVD. Viscerally speaking, I do not want to deal with “humanure” (even if it is good for the garden).

Plus, 12’ x 12’ gets even smaller when divided by two. It is easier for a single person (like “Jackie” and Powers) than a couple. I know without asking that living 12’ x 12’ is a NFW for Two Dogs.

Even for those who will not take simple living that far, Twelve by Twelve is a beautifully written book that will open your mind to asking: What do I really need to be happy? Is there more to life than being a consumer? Are American exceptionalism and individualism insurmountable obstacles to making sustainable living the norm?

I love books that help me to ask questions.

I can be like this…or I can be like that.

I take pride in the fact that I am practically immune to the lure of TV commercials. I can appreciate a catchy tune, clever humor, or the dichotomy between what was important then and what is important now when I watch the old one – and still not be tempted to buy.

Pay special attention to that word “practically”. If I were in the market for a new vehicle, I would definitely consider the Kia Soul, just because of this:



What is cuter than a rodent? Human-sized rodents wearing hoodies and getting all hip-hop in your grill.

Strangely enough, I relate more to the hamsters cruising along in the toasters and washing machines. Not because the car I drive now (Toyota Corolla) is in any way comparable, but because professional rejection makes me feel toasted and tossed in circles.

Why don’t I see myself as one of the dope hamsters rolling in the Soul, taking charge of life? Maybe self-depreciation is something else that I have no more time to waste on (see previous post ).

Black Sheep is still right: The Choice is Yours.

The time to waste on waste is over



Today I turn 45.

This post is not going to be one of those maudlin, no-one-cares-about-this-but-me essays. At least, I hope it doesn’t come out that way. (I’m writing this early in the morning.)

But it is highly possible that I have passed the halfway point of my lifespan. That means the time to waste on waste is over.

Waste in the form of watching television I’m not really into (which means about 99% of what spews out of the glass teat* these days).

Waste in the form of reading text online that doesn’t give back. (That is especially true of comments sections – but not for this blog!)

Waste in the form of not listening to the audio files I download.

Waste in the form of not spending enough time outdoors.

Waste in the form of not making bold statements out of fear of other people’s blowback.

Waste in the form of not having confidence in my professional abilities.

Waste in the form of not charging enough for my work.

Waste in the form of worrying that I might end up in a Wal-Mart uniform.

Waste in the form of not spending enough time with Two Dogs.

Waste in the form of making this post longer than it needs to be. (I have so much more to do and be today!)



* Thanks to Harlan Ellison for this metaphor. Find and read his books The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat, please.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Happy 70th birthday, Ringo...



...and many more!

I don't care what Social Security says - I say it's at 70 when one crosses the line into elderdom, and I am glad our Ringo is there. (He did say in the New York Times that he felt 24, which is OK, too. Sometimes I feel 16, and sometimes when my knees creak I feel 55!) Let's all hold up the peace sign today.

I can't help thinking, if only John Lennon could have crossed this border in October of this year. One comforting thought is that people do not really "die" as long as the living remember and keep their ideals alive.

Peace (that means an attitude of calmness and serenity in the face of adversity) and love (and if you can't swing love, at least respect).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Those uncomfortable gray areas of life



“I have a really good friend who was convicted of killing two innocent people when she was nineteen years old on a horrible night of 1969 cult madness. Her name is Leslie Van Houten and I think you would like her as much as I do.”



So writes John Waters, director of such cult classics as “Pink Flamingos” and “Hairspray”, in his new book Role Models (which I read a few days ago). Reading the story of Leslie Van Houten pushed me into the moral gray zone, where the thinking is hard and uncomfortable – as thinking should be every now and then.

I aim to keep outright ugliness out of my blog, so I will not give explicit description of Ms. Van Houten’s participation in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Although her role was not as vicious as that of the other participants, it is still bad enough. You can look it up yourself if you wish.

Leslie Van Houten is now 61 years old and has spent 41 of those years behind bars, save for a six-month period of freedom between trials in 1978. She has taught fellow inmates how to read, recorded books on tape for the blind, worked in high-responsibility clerical jobs, and earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Anitoch College. She has gotten clean from drugs, completely repudiated Charles Manson, and has apologized for her crimes time and time again.

I would not be afraid if Ms. Van Houten were to be paroled. However, I will not get a chance to not be afraid, at least not for three more years, because today she was denied parole for the nineteenth time. Robert Doyle, the chairman of the California parole board, gave this reason, according to the Huffington Post: “[S]he had failed to gain complete insight into her crime and its motivation.” Whatever that means.

Countless others have served far less time for murders just as cruel, if not more so –such as Steve “Clem” Grogan, another Manson Family member, was paroled after serving 14 years of a life sentence for the murder of ranch hand Shorty Shea. Countless other murderers have been paroled without the mitigating factors of brainwashing or drug influence. I believe, as many others do, that the only reason Ms. Van Houten has yet to be paroled is because this is “Helter Skelter” we’re talking about – tied with the O.J. Simpson murders as the most notorious of the 20th century. It’s a psychic stain as red as the lettering of the title of Vincent Bugolosi’s book .

Now comes the gray part.

Would I even think about parole for Ms. Van Houten if she had done that to someone who I loved?

Would I even think about parole for Ms. Van Houten if she had, for example, drowned five of her children in a bathtub?

Would I even think about parole for Ms. Van Houten if, instead of someone I admire like John Waters vouching for her, Sarah Palin was calling for her release?

If parole is justified here, why not for Ms. Van Houten's co-defendants, Charles "Tex" Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel? Weren't they just as brainwashed? Aren't they just as sorry now? (Charles Manson should never be paroled, will never be paroled, and probably doesn't even want to be paroled.)

It's as gray as a January morning in Seattle.

Apology is nowhere near adequate when it comes to murder, and forgiveness nowhere near possible. (The only people who truly have a right to forgive murder are the victims.)

But what about fairness? Is it possible to mention such a word in this case?

Does Leslie Van Houten deserve parole?

I don't know.

But it's a thought that will keep me up tonight.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why it's just not cool to say "God Bless America"

Today is America’s Independence Day, and I know that all of us will be hearing the songs of patriotism, including our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I don’t think that was a good choice of anthem for three reasons:

1. It describes one tiny piece of our history (the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812),

2. It contains the “rockets” and “bombs” of war, and

3. The music is grating and often hard to sing.

I think “America the Beautiful” would be a better national anthem; it is musically superior and describes exactly what is great about our country (“spacious skies,” “amber waves of grain,” “purple mountains’ majesty,” etc.)

Some people want to have “God Bless America” as the national anthem. I think this is a bad idea, because “God Bless America” (both in song and statement) is offensive and arrogant. This has nothing to do with my atheism.


(Graphic courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art)

Think about it: The same people who believe in a God that is capable of blessing America are also most likely to believe that America is the greatest country in the world. If that is so, that means that God has already blessed America – thousands of times over. Hundreds of thousands of times over.

Those who believe in a God that is capable of blessing nations should be more Christian and ask that God to bless a nation that really needs blessing. Like Afghanistan, for example. Or Iraq. Or Sudan. Or Haiti.

“Christians” who have “God Bless America” bumper stickers on their cars, and who insist that America is the greatest, suffer from the same disconnect that people who boast about going to church every Sunday but refuse to give a dime to the homeless people they pass by on the street – outer piety that is obviously failing to hide inner selfishness.

To close this Independence Sunday sermon, think about what is great about America (such as the freedom to rent of John Waters movies from Netflix), enjoy your barbecues, and don’t even think about lighting firecrackers. It annoys the dogs, the cats, and the mice. Especially the mice with two legs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

BILB – Part Two

In my last post, I wrote about BILBs (Because It Looks Bad) commonly found in websites. It occurred to me that some of them were painfully obvious (what professional uses tiled graphics in the background of his/her website these days? Well, some of those who use Twitter).

Bad design in print, however, is more ubiquitous – you see it in free newspapers, advertising postcards, low-class magazines, and even the Yellow Pages. The designer in me cringes at rows of glossy tires and poorly kerned prices. But the consumer in me will go, go, go if I need the service and the price is right. I hate to have to say it, but sometimes good design does not matter in the big picture.

The issue gets grayer and grayer as the prestige of the job goes up. When I was in Borders today, I pondered all of the different book covers:



All those fonts. All those pictures and/or drawings. All those colors.
What makes a good book cover? What is it that makes the publisher (I’ve heard authors have little input) say, “Yes, this is the look for this book?”



One of my graphic specialties is book cover design. I know in my heart that I can design a new cover for nearly every book in any bookstore. But can I design one that will earn a publisher’s “yes”? What is BILB for book covers?

I have a sampler of book covers at my design portfolio site. I did my best to avoid BILB in these covers. The question is, are they BILG enough for the marketplace?

As a professional book cover designer (among other things), I have to believe that is so. Perhaps a client may say “no” or want to make changes. The belief that I can, though, must and will not change.

This will be my summer of sisu. If you don't know what that is, ask any Finn. Or read this.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The BILB Factor

For the past month, I’ve been getting my “official” website, www.jenniebrownhakim.com, ready for its Internet closeup. I’ve tweaked the text, checked it twice, created a product page for my e-book, Goody Ideas, and uploaded the HTML files to my web hosting provider (whom I’m quite pleased with so far).

Before I felt comfortable showing the world my site, I needed to make one last change. Paying for the domain name gave me free hosting privileges with my provider. But these privileges were not completely “free” – they came with the cost of having my provider post its ads on the top of all of my pages.

Way back in 2002, I took a website class, and my final exam consisted of creating a website with Tripod (remember that?). Back then, I didn’t mind so much having other companies’ ads on my pages. Now, I do. Very much so.

This site is my business face on the web. This is what people who would pay me their hard-earned money for my writing and graphics services will get as their first impression of me. No other website that I admire has hosting service ads on top. Why? BILB.

BILB?

Ever heard of the acronym BILC (Because It Looks Cool)? BILB is its opposite – Because It Looks Bad. In our professional and personal lives, we should all try to avoid BILB as much as possible.

What else do I consider BILB?

1. Using Comic Sans or Kristen fonts in e-book text.

2. Unnecessary, illogical capitalization and multiple exclamation points (as in, “This new Freelance Writing site will Knock your Socks Off!!!!!!!”).

3. Goofy cartoon .gifs and flashing buttons.

4. A sudden burst of loud, disruptive music the instant the site comes up.

5. Photographs/logos tiled in the background.

6. Times New Roman Bold on top of a bright color background.

7. Linking to my old Tripod site anywhere on this blog. (Yes, it does break some of these BILB rules.)

BILBs are not just for websites. Here’s a list of some lifestyle BILBs:

1. Dirty dishes left in the sink while company is over.

2. Dirty dishes left on the coffee table when company is over.

3. A bra that is visible in public.

4. A potato chip bag left open overnight.

5. Food residue left on the dining room table.

6. Spongebob Squarepants anything.

7. An unflushed toilet (perhaps the ultimate BILB).

This post is a turning point at Meandering Mouse. With the launch of my new website, I expect to be posting more often, and posting more practical advice. To those who like the blog as is, don’t worry – no matter where my career takes me, I will always make time for meandering, and I will tell you about it here.

As Chris Guillebeau, one of my favorite bloggers/travelers/entrepreneurs, wrote recently,

You’ve been coasting along in the present, then all of a sudden—the future! Is here! There’s no going back, no matter how much you want to. . . . [change] is the constant, and things are going to be different from now on.


Things are going to be different for me from now on, and I hope I’ll be strong enough to live this new working life. What helps is the love of Two Dogs and the knowledge that other people are doing this and are doing great – why not me?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Odd facts about me

I was going to put this on my official website (coming soon, really, and I will let you know when), but then I decided that MM was a more appropriate venue:

1. I can’t stand the sight of food that is shaped like small balls. That means peas, capers, garbanzo beans, melon balls, Kix, Trix, Cocoa Puffs, etc. It doesn’t matter how these foods taste, if they come in the form of small balls, I won’t even look at them, much less taste them. (Strangely enough, caviar is the exception to this rule.) Don’t ask me why I feel this way.

2. Cinnamon Crunch (a spinoff of Cap’n Crunch) was my favorite childhood cereal. I have heard that Cinnamon Crunch is despised in other circles. I can’t understand why. Then again, I am far from being Ms. Average. If I were editor of People magazine, I would choose Steve Buscemi as the Sexiest Man Alive. (Actually, the sexiest man alive is my husband, but I don’t want to share him with the world!)

3. I like to watch intermission snipes – the short films shown between double features at drive-in theaters. These are not the same as trailers (previews of upcoming films). Intermission snipes welcomed the “folks” to the drive-in, reminded them to turn their headlights off while parking, put their speakers back on the post before leaving, and, most importantly, exhorted them to rush to the concession stand for popcorn, hot dogs, hamburgers, candy, and sodas (sorry, vegans, no steamed broccoli). It’s more than nostalgia for the Big Three pop cultural decades – the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s. I also like the non-narrative quality of these films. No violence, no tragedy, no upsetting surprises – just the good news about the good food. Go to The Drive-In Exchange to find intermission DVDs and other groovy drive-in stuff. (I bought the complete "It's Intermission Time!" collection of snipes last summer, and it was one of the best purchases I made all year.)

4. I won’t eat whole tomatoes, but I like ketchup (Heinz only), pizza sauce, and tomato paste.

5. I like orange and lemon candies far better than red ones. I’d even choose a lime Life-Saver over a cherry one. (I told you I wasn’t Ms. Average!)

6. I haven’t had this in years, but my favorite sandwich is bacon pieces, snapped in half, inside one slice of a white, fluffy bread (such as Wonder) folded in half. Michal Pollan would not approve, but this is a delightful taste treat.

7. Don’t ask me why most of this list is about food.

8. My favorite attractions at Disneyland were (and I use the “were” purposefully; these all all extinct) Adventure Through Inner Space (the ride which “shrank” you to the size of an atom), and the America the Beautiful film shown in Circarama. I also like visiting the RV and houseboat exhibits at the fair. I don’t like rides that drop you down and spin you around and turn you upside down. But I do like to watch.

Environmentalism + optimism? Yes, really.

Environmental news usually comes in three flavors these days: bad, worse, and stupid (such as KFI-AM’s John and Ken’s grating denial of climate change). It’s gotten so that I reflexively turn away from mainstream environmental news – yes, I know it sounds bad, but it’s a human instinct to flee from the apocalypse.

Then I read an interview with Alex Steffen, creator of the “bright green” environmental group Worldchanging, in the April 2010 issue of The Sun magazine.

According to Steffen, we can stem the tide of environmental degradation - without regressing to a primitive, pre-technological lifestyle – by living in denser communities where nearly everything that people need (work, school, stores, etc.) is within walking or biking distance. A can-do attitude is key, he says:

Despair and cynicism are a large part of what’s preventing us from solving our problems. Among my more political friends, optimism is seen as something you have before you find out the truth. But I think choosing optimism says to your opponents, “I can see a better way of doing this.” We can rally people around a vision of a better future for ourselves and our grandkids and our great-grandkids.


What would you do if you were convinced that a situation is absolutely beyond your repair? Would you keep working to change it – or would you throw up your hands and say, “Why bother?”

Our precious Earth doesn’t need “why bother.” It needs solutions, and solutions only arise from minds that believe they exist. The dense communities (and “dense” does not mean overcrowded) that Steffen proposes will give people more time, more health, more freedom, and more hope.

I recommend that you read the whole interview. The Sun is not easy to find at newsstands (though I have seen it at the Borders in Tustin Legacy); you can order individual issues at its website.(And if you like what you read, why not subscribe?)

Revival theaters – Orange County (CA) needs them

If you are reading this blog and you have a revival theater in your town – by “revival” I mean one that

1. shows older movies, most often on a two-or-three-night basis,
2. plays so-called “midnight movies” on Friday and Saturday nights (see MM post of 6/17/09), and
3. has a colorful flyer that you can pick up near its box office,

then for the love of Rocky Horror, go there as often as you can!!!

If you are reading this blog and you have a revival theater in your town, do not forget how lucky you are. Think of people like your Meandering Mouse, who do not have such theaters within reasonable driving distance.

A revival theater is an asset to the community. Never mind that Netflix now allows people from Yuma, AZ to Washington, PA to see films like Cleo from 5 to 7 and The Seventh Seal. I enjoy home viewing as much as anyone, but the experience of sitting in a theater that has braved the ravages of time (for most revival theaters are of the vintage sort), on seats with threadbare velvet in all the right spots, looking to your left and to your right and feeling the comfort of being in a community that can appreciate and love films that are more than 30 years old (that means 1980, now) - you haven't lived until you've been there.

Once upon a time, I was lucky enough to live within walking distance (yeah!) of a really fab revival theater, the Fox Venice. At the Fox, I enjoyed a panorama of exotic films, from Allegro non Troppo to 200 Motels to The Exorcist to The Groove Tube. The other great part about the Fox was its daring concession stand – it’s where I tried a particularly tasty carob bar. (Raise your hand if you ever bought a carob bar at the concession stand.)

Unfortunately, the Fox Venice closed in 1988. The building still stands, but it’s now a swap meet, a repository of worthless things instead of worthwhile movies. (Sing along with me: “We don’t need another swap meet…”)



Photo of Fox Venice Swap Meet (formerly Theater) courtesy of Martin Schall.

Yes, Orange County does have theaters that play current independent and foreign films – thank you, Regency South Coast Village Theatre (Costa Mesa), Edwards University Town Center 6 (Irvine), and Edwards Westpark 8 (Irvine). But we have no revival theaters showing the good old films, no equivalent to Santa Monica’s Nuart Theater or Los Angeles’sAmerican Cinematheque.

I think that is neither fair nor square. I know I’m not the only one who would glow like a firefly if a revival theater came to be in OC.

It’s hard to imagine a revival theater in a multiplex. It should have one screen, or (at most) two. I considered the Lido Theater in Newport Beach and the South Coast Cinema in Laguna Beach as possible sites, but the drawback of both locations is the availability (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) of parking.

Here would be a great location for a revival theater:



Yes, I know that this property is already occupied by an institution called the Son Light Church. You will have to agree with me, though, that Orange County has enough churches (“We don’t need another church…”) and not nearly enough revival-worthy theaters. I want to live to see the day when this building is once again used for the purpose for which it was built, and in doing so raise both the IQ and the CQ (Cool Quotient) of the Orange Plaza.

What say you, Orange County? Where is the best spot for our revival paradise?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Let's not live in an "Idiocracy"

This week, Two Dogs and I watched the movie Idiocracy on DVD. It was directed and co-written by Mike Judge, the creator of "Beavis and Butt-Head" and "King of the Hill" (note: the next time you watch KOTH, notice that the characters have five fingers on each hand, not four. Just like real people.)

Without spoiling it too much, it shows what could eventually happen when crassness, grossness, and lack of craftsmanship overwhelm a culture. It's funny, but it is scary as well. Once you're finished watching it, you're going to want to read a good, complex book with real meat on its bones. And I'm not talking about this one:

Q: So why haven’t you been blogging lately, Jennie?

A: You know, that is an excellent question.

Q: That is far from an excellent answer. You only wrote one post in March. You ought to know that real bloggers post at least several times a week.

A: I am a real blogger. It’s still here, isn’t it?

Q: You’re being more evasive than a cat on bath day. Why haven’t you been sharing your wit with the fans lately?

A: I hope there are still fans out there! Please be patient, fans. I can explain my lack of posting thusly:

I have been looking for work and worrying about work. I have been thinking about money and worrying about money. I have been melancholic in this unusually cool and rainy California spring. I have been trying to “escape” from these problems through reading and watching movies and taking baths and walking (when weather and time permit), not to mention the usual errands such as grocery shopping, post office, laundromat, library, etc. Plus, taking care of Two Dogs.

None of the above really help me create new blog posts. But today, I have figured out what does: Finding a project and working on it.

Such as my “buzz piece”, as the authors of The Wealthy Freelancer suggest I create. (I just finished the book – excellent reading!) Or the personal website that is just about finished on Adobe Dreamweaver (don’t worry, I will announce when the site goes live). Or new business cards that match the design scheme of my buzz piece.

I believe that it takes awareness, and then action, to pull yourself out of a rut. Action without awareness usually ends up as just another trip to the grocery store. Awareness without action is just watching the wheels inside your head. Bring the two together, and good things start to happen. Just like now. Behold the new blog post!

Q: Finally.

A: I have been looking through old notebooks of mine. I plan to use some of the material in there to create new posts, as well as events that are happening in the here and now. So expect some great new posts this spring. Hey, I sound like a drive-in theater marketer, don’t I?

Q: That’s a great model.

A: And now, on with the show!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Having cool friends

About a week ago, I checked out Pamela Des Barres’s book Let’s Spend The Night Together. The subtitle is “Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.”

It’s been happy reading so far. Back in the day, I thought it would be a smashing great time to be a groupie, wanted and desired by a phalanx of smoking hot rock gods. That dream will forever be in the past tense, though, for three reasons:

1. I no longer have the stamina nor the inclination to be up in the wee hours pursuing said rock gods;

2. The rock god is, most likely, an endangered species – can you name a musician who has become famous in the last ten years who has the magnetism of, say, Robert Plant? David Lee Roth? Mick Jagger, thick lips and all? I didn’t think so;

3. I have already found (and married!) my own rock god – he’s not famous yet, but he’s all mine and I will never stray.

The thought I will take away from this book has nothing to do with the names of the men whom the rock muses and supergroupies, um, “associated” with. It was the bond that Ms. Des Barres has with these women, many of them who have been her long-time friends. Even though most of them are no longer active in the scene, they still live freewheeling, out-of-the-ordinary lives, with a boatload of great memories.

Who wouldn’t want friends like Tura Satana, a 1950s burlesque dancer who taught Elvis how to French kiss? Or Cynthia Plaster Caster, who took an idea from an art class lecture and turned it into the ultimate in subversive art – namely, plaster molds of rock stars’ penises? Or Gail Zappa, the groupie who married her man (Frank), and will probably give mainstream relationship advisers a heart attack with this quote: “We didn’t talk about mortgages, ever.”? These women did what they wanted to do, and screw condemnation from the religious fundies and the professional feminists.

(There’s a big difference between feminism, which simply means women having the equal rights and opportunities to be what they want to be, and professional feminism, which has a list of new rules every bit as oppressive as the old ones. That’s a post for another day, though.)

I wish I had cool friends like that.

It has been hard for me to make and keep friends throughout my life. Shyness, bad treatment from peers (and the distrust it gave birth to), dedication to reading and schoolwork, and a natural tendency toward solitude have not helped. As of now, I have few friends except for husbands, ex-husbands, friends of the first two categories, and a few people that I know online but live far away (shout-out to Diana). I am happy with these dear friends, of course, but sometimes when I stop being busy and have time to think about it, I wish that I had more.

How do I define “cool friends”?

1. They are members of the creative class.

2. They have out-of-the-ordinary interests – such as intermission clips or collecting fortune cookie fortunes (two of my own interests).

3. They don’t watch much TV, unless it’s good (like Star Trek in all its forms – yes, even Enterprise).

4. They read books outside the best-seller list.

5. They know who Vanilla Fudge are.

6. They are fiscally responsible (yes, that is possible in the creative class).

7. They are free of destructive drama (as opposed to cool drama, such as painting the walls with glitter-infused magenta paint, or cross-dressing).

8. They make their dwellings cool no matter what their budget is.

9. They enjoy good food without guilt.

10. They have a love of life, and don’t try to drag anyone down with their political/religious/ideological agenda(s).

11. They love us, and we love them!!!

I could add more to the list, but it's getting late and I don't want to sound greedy.

I have heard the old adage, “To have a good friend, be one.” I hope that I follow the list above as much as I hope that my cool friends do. I guess I will have to make finding cool friends as much as a priority as finding work. Wish me luck!

Friday, February 19, 2010

And now, a few words about apology

…no, this is not me apologizing for not standing during the national anthem!

I don’t often write about popular news topics on this blog, for two excellent reasons:

1. Popular news tends to be boring and banal and base, and

2. You’re sick of hearing about it, too – that’s why you’re here instead of CNN/MSNBC/Huffington Post/your city newspaper site, isn’t it?

Today, I’m going to make an exception to this rule. I’m not going to wonder if you heard the Tiger Woods apology this morning – most of you have. The fact that an athlete apologizing for marital infidelity is considered a SPECIAL REPORT by CBS, NBC, and ABC – and more important than the man who flew his plane into an IRS building yesterday – says something about America, and it is not good.



What we saw was a professional golfer standing at a podium, looking like a kid waiting for the principal to see him, reading a pre-written statement that was heavy with the clich├ęs that a flyover state sportswriter might reach for at 2 a.m. – “I have let down my fans,” “I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply,” “Achievements on the golf course are only part of setting an example. Character and decency are what really count,” and so on.

Is Woods truly sorry? Is this another step in his rehab? Or is this just another one of those BS PR apologies that makes thinking people yawn? I do not know, and it doesn’t matter to me. But it did make me ponder the meaning of apology.

An apology is a gift – not an obligation. Tiger Woods does not owe the press or public an apology. I would go so far as to say that he doesn’t even owe it to his wife – the one person to whom this matters the most. He should apologize only

1. If his remorse is sincere, and

2. If he is going to stop the offending behavior.

Issue #2 is most important. Don’t waste your breath or my time with an apology if you’re going to keep on keepin’ on.

Suppose I was driving down the street, and from out of nowhere a pink paintgun pellet strikes one of my car doors. (This actually happened years ago.) If I had to choose between an apology and the money to repaint the door, I would choose the money. (In real life, I received neither, and the pink stain remained on my car to the day I traded it in.) Words are only words – it is action that counts. Please do what you can to alleviate the wrong.

We the public will not see, and should not see, whether or not Woods will change (unless he errs again in the same spectacular way.) I say let’s all keep an eye on ourselves and our behavior first, not a puffed-up SPECIAL REPORT. (Remember when SPECIAL REPORTS were actually special and announced events of world-shaking importance? But that’s another post for another day.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sit down for freedom

One of the gutsiest blogs I have read is Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist. In between the practical, career-oriented posts are Ms. Trunk’s startling POVs about big-picture topics. How could you not look twice when the blogger Tweeted about her own miscarriage?

In her Martin Luther King Day post (1-18-2010), Ms. Trunk wrote about going to a rodeo in Madison, Wisconsin with her children and male companion (labeled “the farmer”). Ms. Trunk isn’t fond of the spectacle of animals risking injury for mere entertainment’s sake, and neither am I, but that’s a rant for another day. The sentence in the post which got my attention is as follows:

I really hated it before there were any animals. Before there were animals there was the flag, rising above the dirt ring, and the announcer saying everyone should sing the Star Spangled Banner to honor “the flag that protects our troops, and our churches and our great country.”

I looked over at the farmer for churches, and before I could roll my eyes, the announcer said, “Everyone please rise in the name of Jesus and sing the Star Spangled Banner.”

I told my kids to stay seated.


What was with “rise in the name of Jesus”? What is the connection between our national anthem and a rabbi who died more than 1700 years before the United States came into being? How can the American flag – a rectangle of cloth – protect a soldier or a church or anything from a bomb?

Why is the "Star-Spangled Banner" invariably played before sporting events in this country? The last time I stood for the national anthem was the last time I attended an Anaheim Ducks game, back in October 2005. I don’t recall ever feeling a swell of patriotism; I instead concentrated on staring down at the players before they covered their handsome heads with their helmets. I stood solely because of habit. It didn’t occur to me not to stand, even though these were the days when Bush and Cheney allowed some not-very-American happenings to go down in tiny cells around the world.

I now think that habit is the excuse that timidity gives itself.

Try this – the next time you go to a sporting event, do not stand for the national anthem. This has nothing to do with your personal feelings about the nation, the flag, and/or the troops. This is an exercise in doing something difficult. An exercise in not following the crowd. An exercise which might be practice for telling someone some tough words, or for making a decision that is right but unpopular. An exercise which is a true expression of what America means.

Most people are going to stare at you. Some might stare at you as if you just mutated into an open bag of fresh manure. It is possible that someone will dump his cup of beer on you – or worse. That is their problem, not yours. Sitting while the national anthem is being played is NOT illegal. Assault (which includes beer-dumping) is.

Sitting down for the anthem may feel strange. But so does asking a client who is overdue with his payments to send you a check immediately. Or telling your 80-year-old mother that her driving is too dangerous for herself and the other people on the road. Or going public as an atheist.

If you attend a lot of events where the anthem is played, you can make this a new, good habit (like brushing your teeth), every fifth time you hear the anthem, or even every tenth.

After Penelope Trunk’s post, a slew of commenters lined up for the attack – the kinds of people who think America is so fragile that a seated bottom during the national anthem is a grave wound. Actually, America cares just as much as Jesus does (who, as you remember, died about 2000 years ago) whether or not you stand or sit. Think about it.

(And this means that the next time I hear the national anthem played, I will have to stay seated lest I prove myself a rank hypocrite. We shall see when and if this plays out, for I don’t anticipate attending any sporting events in the near or far future.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Just like browsing the record bin at Goodwill

I have been amiss in not hipping you to this site before: WFMU’s 365 Days Project. WFMU is a New Jersey-based radio station that (among other things) searches for weird and wonderful sounds, whether it’s from the record in the back of the bin at the thrift store or a cassette that hid in a shoebox at the bottom of your closet for a generation – and they share them with the world via MP3 files. Yay, WFMU!

I spent one Saturday night searching the 365 Days Project (actually, two of them, in 2003 and 2007). It was a lengthy process searching through each month and day, reading each blurb, and deciding what files I were “keepers.” But it was totally worth it – it was just like looking through the record bin at Goodwill!



One of the best finds was Bobby and Betty Go To The Moon. I had this record once upon a time. What joy for a Star Trek-loving girl to listen to the adventures of two kids of about the same age traveling to the moon all by themselves in the far-off year of 1985!

Next time stormy weather keeps you indoors, may I suggest spelunking in the 365 Days Project? (Beats Googling Heidi Montag!)

Bring back that sunny day



As many of you know, we in SoCal have been patiently suffering under a series of major rainstorms. I write “suffering” because because even though we have been in a drought the past few years, four straight days of rainfall isn’t fun. At least, not for me.

I don't like it. Not one bit.

I am grateful that the apartment we live in has a solid ceiling and windows that are watertight when closed. I have lived in places with leaky ceilings and windows, and it’s just terrible when your shelter doesn’t shelter. I am grateful for my umbrella, warm clothes, and space heater for the bathroom. I am grateful that I didn’t have to drive too far this week and that there were dry patches that allowed me to go to the laundromat and grocery store. As always, I am grateful that Two Dogs is here with morning tea and cozy dinners and cuddles at any time.

Still, the lack of sunlight does turn this mouse’s fur blue. When it rains, it takes away favorite activities like walking, driving to places that make me happy, and visiting friends in person. The gray sky is dull, and the dull echoes back within me. I feel inhibited and reduced.



The good news is that we should be getting a break this weekend. I can’t wait. I hope the ground gets a chance to dry out, and I can take at least one good walk. I also hope that we’ll see some extra blooms this spring. (Two more months until the vernal equinox! I’m glad February is a short month!)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Something else to worry about (if you choose to)

Quick, name one thing that the mass media is good at.

Spreading helpful information? Telling the whole truth about news events? Making us a more educated populace?

If I knew how to add sound effects to this blog, you’d hear three loud game-show buzzers after all of the above – the kind of buzzer that says loud and clear, “HELL, NO!”

What is the mass media good at? Giving us more and more things to worry about. Now it’s your “online profile” and how it looks to potential employers.

Beware the photo of you drinking margaritas with your friends in Cozumel back in the summer of ’06! Beware the pointed comment you left on a political website! Beware your own blog, because you might have written something that other people may not like! Beware being modest and having five or less Google hits to your name! Beware people who tell lies about you on Facebook!

Now, sayeth the mass media, you need to Google yourself every day and pay companies to “clean up” your Web profile, or else you run the risk of being unemployable.

I say the hell with all that.

If a potential employer cares more about the content of my blog than the quality of my work, that’s an employer I want nothing to do with. What is the point of having a blog if you’re going to censor yourself?

If a potential employer is offended that I’m an atheist (4-12-09), that I don’t volunteer (8-31-09), that I emphasize with the Misfit Doll (12-22-09), or that I even mentioned Bill Ayers (12-3-09), I can’t care too much about that. My blog first and foremost is a place to speak my mind. Not a place to “promote” myself or sell things. (Ever notice that blogs whose primary purpose is to sell things are often as boring as beige?)

I have work to do and meanders to walk and pages to write and books to read and baths to take and Two Dogs to love. Not a lot of room in my life to go cleaning up my web profile or jumping on any worry trains. I say turn off the TV (and the computer, even though I know it's hard) every now and then and see what is right in front of you.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The most difficult month of the year?


January, in my opinion, is the most difficult month of the year. It starts off nicely with New Year’s Day and the Tournament of Roses Parade (and a smattering of bowl games, if you’re into that). After that, though, January is one tough group of thirty-one days to endure.

Its other major holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is not exactly one of fun and frolic. The worst of winter usually crashes down on us in January; even in temperate climates such as California, gray and rainy days are more likely. You have to wait patiently for Valentine’s Day (unless you’re a retail store). Catalogs mock you with their spring fashion issues. In other words, you want to go to bed and not wake up until February 1.

Well, January doesn’t have to be that bad if you use your imagination. It’s the start of a new year. Why not let January be the month where you try new things that will make you smile?

Such as…

1. A new exercise video. Since some of you are using this month to start new health resolutions, why not try a workout that burns boredom as well as calories – such as Hemalayaa's Bollywood fitness series, Zumba Fitness, Soul Sweat Dance, and Nia.
2. New foods. Think about all those old Bon Appetit magazines you’ve saved, or the manila envelope of printed recipes that’s tucked between the cookbooks in your kitchen. Justify your saving those and actually try a new recipe. It’s good to stay home with some good food on a January night.
3. New movies. The films that are most likely to be nominated for Oscars this month will probably still be playing at the cinema. If you aren’t interested or have already caught them during the holidays, amp up your Netflix renting (take full advantage of not having to go out to rent movies!)
4. New books. The trees of January are barren, but the bookstores of January are ripe with new fruit. This Tuesday (January 5), I look forward to buying the new memoir Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote the megaseller Eat, Pray, Love. Even a year later, I still consider myself a newlywed, and I think I can learn something from Committed. (FYI, I bought Eat, Pray, Love for fifty cents at a library bookstore, so I owe Ms. Gilbert a new book purchase!)

Fill your January with joy, and it will seem to go by pretty quickly. Oh, and don't stare too long at those leaveless trees!