Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Meandering Mouse speaks!

Photo credit: Rob Boudon / Flickr

I have some good (goody?) news today. I had my very first radio interview!

Susan Petrella, who runs the Creative Orange County website, interviewed me on Blog Talk Radio this morning. We talked about my e-books, Goody Ideas and It is OK.

Now, if you've never been interviewed on the radio, it can be an intimidating experience. Until you're actually doing it. My advice is to just be yourself, and answer the questions to the best of your ability. I'm so glad Susan was a friendly interviewer.

Want to hear what the Meandering Mouse sounds like? Listen here.

Thanks again to Susan and Creative Orange County.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bitter taste in the wellwater of the commons

Photo credit: Rotorhead / stock.xchng

For the past week, I have struggled to find words to speak of last week’s horrific tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. The wisest counsel, it seems, was to be quiet rather than say something rash or worse (such as the canard that “an armed citizen would have prevented this” – in a dark, noisy movie theater filled with running, panicked people and where the gunman had body armor and tear gas, to boot?).

Then, I found this article on OdeWire, which is my homepage. Michael Nagler of the Metta Center for Nonviolence wrote it.

I won’t watch violent movies, and I feel that violence is not a substitute for storytelling. If there is violence in a movie, it should have a good reason behind it, and it must never be glorified. Death is a solemn event – but how can you feel it when you watch scores of bodies falling at the same time?

There is, of course, no direct causation between “The Dark Knight Rises” and the shooting in the theater. Gratuitous violent “entertainment” does, however, leave a bitter taste in the wellwater of the commons.

And now, Michael’s essay.

The Batman Massacre: A Response

Posted on July 21, 2012

I want to make an offer to my fellow Americans who are, like myself, reeling from the worst “random” shooting the country has ever seen. My question: Have you had enough? Because if you have, I can tell you how to stop this kind of madness. I know that’s a bold claim, but this is not a time for small measures.

We cannot fix this tomorrow, because we didn’t cause it yesterday. We have been building up to this domestic holocaust since – to take one milestone – television was made available to the general public at the conclusion of World War Two.

If you are still with me, you are prepared to believe that it was not a coincidence that this massacre took place at the scene of an extremely violent, “long-awaited” movie. Psychologists have proved over and over again that – guess what – exposure to violent imagery produces disturbances in the mind that must, in course of time, take form in outward behavior. The imagery can be in any medium, nor does it matter whether on the surface of our minds we think what we’re seeing is real or made up. This is a natural, scientific law. Exactly who will crack next and in what setting is nearly impossible to predict, and in any case it’s ridiculous to try to run around stopping the resulting violence from being acted out after the mental damage has been done. The only sane approach is not to do it in the first place.

As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman pointed out in his book, Let’s Stop Killing Our Kids, the video games that the Army uses to prepare ordinary men and women for combat, in other words to wipe out the normal empathy and inhibitions against hurting others that we’ve built up over millennia – a process known as civilization – are the very same games our young people buy across the counter throughout the country.

Of course, there are other factors. At some point we will have to talk about readily available weapons; at some point we’ll have to realize that a nation that engages in heartless drone warfare, torture, and extrajudicial killings cannot expect to live in peace. But until we liberate our minds from the endless pounding of violent imagery I fear we won’t be able to think clearly about those factors (or for that matter anything else).

With rare exceptions, film and video game producers will not stop turning out these dehumanizing products as long as there is profit to be made from them – and not enough sophistication about culture or the human mind to warn us about their dangers. But there is a way, one that has worked well on the small scales on which it has so far been tried: don’t watch them. Captain Boycott had the right approach.

Right now police have been posted at theaters where this same movie is being shown – still. But ask yourself, what are they protecting? Is it perhaps the belief that violence is just entertaining? People, tell me when you’ve had enough.

Link to original article.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Killer Pizza from Kobe Bryant’s Butt

(Note: Since I wrote this piece in 2003, I have tried the pizza of KPFM. It’s great. If you should ever find yourselves in Escondido or Oceanside, and you have a pizza jones, get your Earthling behinds over there for some far-out fantastic pizza. The rest of this piece is astoundingly silly. But summer is the time to write and read silly blog posts. If you have a problem with that...go eat some pizza! And you know where, too.)

Image of Kobe from luzer (Flickr) / Image of pizza from nruboc (stock.xchng) / Everything else all me!

A friend and I were in Oceanside, California on Memorial Day weekend, searching for a Baskin-Robbins to help feed an ice cream jones. We found a shopping center anchored with a Stater Brothers, but no B-R. What we did find was Killer Pizza From Mars.

The owners took the Mars theme to the limit. Life-size plastic statues of aliens stood in the window like a department store display: E.T. and Jar-Jar Binks (sorry, Star Wars fans), the big-brained dudes from Mars Attacks, and the Alien alien (now, why would you put that in the window of an establishment that sells food???)

The place was packed. Was the pizza any good? I don’t know. My friend and I had a Klondike bar and an ice cream sandwich, respectively. We were looking for ice cream, not pizza.

But this is one example of the importance of standing out in the business world. If the owners had called their pizza parlor, say, Oceanside Pizza, would I have even bothered to take a picture of the sign? Would we have even thought about going inside, contradicting our hankering for ice cream? I think that those who sprinkle their restaurants with some sci-fi magic, who go the extra mile to entertain the customer, deserve to be rewarded.

If I were to start a pizza parlor, I would take a page from the Killer Pizza From Mars playbook. I would give it a name nobody will ever forget. But I’m going to be a little more realistic. I don’t know of any pizza that ever killed anyone, and I prefer my pizza a bit warmer than -81°F, which is the average temperature on Mars. So I’m going to call my pizza parlor Our Pizza Tastes Better Than Kobe Bryant’s Butt.

Now, I have never tasted Kobe Bryant’s butt. And I don’t ever want to. I don’t even want to be within ten feet of it. Twenty feet, more likely. Actually, let’s make it thirty - give or take. I prefer give.

Why Kobe Bryant? Because he’s a guy all of us recognize. And he’s a guy a lot of us just don’t like. We will probably never know whether or not he raped that girl. But the evidence is clear that he is a grade-A bunghole. Remember that public apology, in which we didn’t hear much apology? The only reason he was “disgusted with [him]self” was because he got caught in a painfully public way.

But where does the butt come in? Let’s do a little exercise. Reach behind yourself, shove your finger into your underpants, scratch the crack of your butt, then sniff that finger. (P.S. Be alone when you do this exercise.) That is what Kobe’s butt most likely smells like. That is not what any pizza coming out of my kitchen will smell like.

I could name my pizza parlor Our Pizza Smells Better Than Bell Peppers, but for some reason unfathomable to me, people actually eat those evil mo-fos. On their pizza!

I will not only have one person taking pictures of my sign. I will have hundreds, every day! It will be like Academy Awards night outside my pizza parlor, 24/7. And those who want to see the sign might, just might, want to step inside, and if they are hungry right now they will sit down, and if they will be hungry later they will pick up a take-home menu so they can order a pizza and mount the box on the wall for the amusement of guests, and if someone has an ice cream jones I will have a cooler filled with Klondike bars and ice cream sandwiches, and I will have a life-size plastic statue of Kobe, in his Laker uniform, with red horns sticking out of his head, reaching down in his shorts and scratching his butt.

(Um, that might be even more gross than the Alien alien.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Trouble with Used Books

(Note: I wrote this piece in response to an article in the September 2005 Writer’s Digest, “At What Cost?” by James Grippando. Unfortunately, I could not find a link to the original article, and I don’t have access to my original copy - if, in fact, I still have one. The only action I can suggest if you want to read “At What Cost?” is to order a back issue from Writer’s Digest. You don’t need to read it, though, in order to “get” this post.)

I have not been this worked up over a Writer’s Digest article in years, not since the days when it was heavy on the text and light on the pictures. (This is why I am writing this long past the time I should be in bed.) The new/used book dilemma is one I face off with every week, and it’s as slippery as a puck bouncing just out of reach of a hockey stick. This is an intractably gray issue.

Few are those who have the unlimited funds to buy any book they wish to read new, or the unlimited space to keep every book they buy. People who love books just can’t throw them into the trash when they’re done with them, so we need the used bookstore (or the used book webpage) for the dual boons of purchasing text at a discount and finding a home for books that are ready to move on.

But a used book, unlike Harry S Truman’s buck, does not stop at just one “here”, and this is where the trouble starts according to James Grippando. As a book passes hands along the used-book chain, it ups the numbers of those who will never buy that book new -- and thus never give a cent to the author who wrote those precious words or the publisher who took a chance on them.

Last July, in a fit of summer self-indulgence, I purchased two hardcovers at the same place on the same day: The Interruption of Everything by Terry McMillan and The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella. (It didn’t hurt that they were both 20% off at the Barnes and Noble.) Those two books were leisure-time fun - until I was finished reading them, at which point they became clutter. As a dutiful daughter, I called my mom and asked if she wanted to read these books, because she is retired now and her reading budget is even more restricted than mine. She said yes, and I put them in a box headed for Las Vegas - a little annoyed with myself for not adding them to the cash-for-books pile. That was before I read this article.

If I had taken these two as-close-to-new-without-actually-being-new books to the used bookstore, the manager would have accepted them with no hesitation - and with remuneration for me, no doubt. These books are on the bestseller list and would have been out the door seconds after going on the shelf. But then those buyers would never buy the books new - and would then likely resell them online.

Grippando warns that if buyers keep choosing used books over new, “publishers may well be able to publish only those authors who can make the bulk of their advance in the first few weeks of hardcover publication. That means fewer authors will get published, and in turn, fewer choices for readers.”

Those words grabbed the writer side of myself and shook it fiercely - the hand you bite may someday be your own, it warned. The reader side of myself stared at the tall stack of books I was about to exchange for cash at the used bookstore, slightly relieved that most of them were out of print. (But then I see a copy of David McCullough’s Truman, purchased at a UBS for $6.99 when a new softcover would have been $20. Damn, damn, damn. Perhaps I should buy 1776, while it’s still 30% off, to make up for it.)

Oddly, Grippando made no mention of real-life used bookstores like the one I’ll be going to, nor of public libraries, nor of informal book exchange groups such as Bookcrossing (which is about leaving books in public places for others to pick up and read) - all of which also potentially bite into new book sales.

Should we feel guilty about buying anything at the used bookstore which accepts in-print books for resale, because there we can also find books that are no longer available new? Should we feel like we are stealing something if we check out an in-print book at our public library, the holy temple of readers? If I put a Bookcrossing label on my book Medgar Evers and leave it on a park bench, am I stabbing myself in the back with the flagpole that hoists the banner of reading?

Perhaps used bookstores and online sellers should not sell used hardcover books until six months after their release date (maybe less for paperbacks, and one month for category romances). That would eliminate the dilemma of going to the Amazon page of a certain book I’m looking for and seeing this:

$23.00 list price
$15.64 Amazon price
80 used and new from $3.25

I see the mass-market paperback in the Barnes and Noble today. I think I’ll get that instead.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A holiday is a holiday, not a shoppertunity

Not too long ago, I went to a shopping center to visit a store I shop at regularly. On the way out, I saw this sign.

I had to read it twice, because I couldn’t believe it the first time.

Yes, that’s no typo – this store is going to be open on the Fourth of July from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., more or less its normal operating hours. Which means that some of its employees are going to miss Fourth of July fireworks this year. Period.

Really? Is retail so desperate that it has to cater to the douche canoe* who just has to have that dream object at 9:30 p.m. on the Fourth of July?

You hope that whoever is working there is getting double time, at least. But they may not. (Double time pay is not a requirement for private businesses.)

Have you noticed that stores which used to be closed altogether on the Fourth of July (and other major holidays) are now open for business, often for most of the day? I remember when the stores were closed and neither we nor the economy suffered much. We just planned ahead and bought what we needed in advance because we knew that we couldn’t go shopping on the holiday.

Is it really that hard to plan ahead, people?

You really don’t want to be shopping on a holiday. Retail employees really don’t want to be working on a holiday. A holiday is just that – a holiday from the rigors of everyday life. Not another occasion to buy more stuff.

So let’s buy today and kick back tomorrow. Send retailers a message that staying open on the Fourth of July isn’t worth the trouble.

What is a summer after all without some lazy days?

* Yes, I know these are not nice words. But they are words that fit someone who thinks, “Goddammit, my dudebros guzzled up four thirty-packs of Coors, so I got to get some more before we sober up.”

What do I think of “Going Down with Janis” now?

I finished re-reading the book Going Down with Janis, thirty-one years after I read it the first time. What do I think now?

Meh. It may be another thirty-one years before I read it again, if at all.

Not because it’s a terrible book – it wasn’t like watching in adulthood the Sid and Marty Krofft shows you loved as a kid. It just felt like a been-there-done-that trip, which is not an optimal reading experience.

When I first read it, it was like anthropology – looking into the lives of exotic creatures, in this case people who use hard drugs. Hanging out with drug users – whether or not you use yourself – is like hopping on board Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Only you don’t end up in Disneyland.

After my first reading of Going Down with Janis, I searched for biographies and autobiographies of drug users – and that story got tired faster than knock-knock jokes. It’s a story with only two endings: death, or recovery into a life with a fraction of the thrills it had before. (Nothing wrong with being drug-free, but it’s more enjoyable to be sober yourself than to read about someone else being sober.)

I’m now into other kinds of stories – not the fanciful lifestyles of the rich and famous, but about people with difficult decisions to make. People who prove the principle that everyday life contains drama enough.

The 1960s did contain beauty, excitement, and a new freedom to take risks. Then and now, they are better experienced with a clear head.