Saturday, December 29, 2012

When the lights come down

Photo credit: Slideshow Bob (Flickr)

No one has asked me this question (so far), but if it were to happen, this is what I would say.

The question is:

“When should I take my Christmas decorations down?”

My answer is:

I would wait until after New Year’s Day, because it’s nice to have still it up in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It keeps the cheer going!

Then, on the first weekday following New Year’s Day (January 1st), start taking the decorations down. If New Year’s Day falls on a Friday or Saturday, start taking stuff down the following Monday.

Photo credit: ReneS (Flickr)

Depending on the complexity of your decorations, it may take a few hours or a few days. It is best, however, to have it all put away no later than January 8th.

Otherwise, it just looks sad.

* * *

This is (most likely) my final post of 2012. Thank you for reading Meandering Mouse this year, and I will be back to tell the further story of my meanderings in 2013. Be safe and let’s all get back together in this space soon!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Being clear on what is OK

"It is OK," displayed on my 2nd Generation Kindle.

Last June, I published an ebook called It is OK. It took some time to grow, but I was proud when I finally formatted it for different venues (Kindle, Nook, Smashwords).

Six months later, I had second thoughts about one of the listings. I went back to the Word file. It wasn’t worded exactly the way I thought it was (I’m the kind of writer who often forgets what I write once I publish), but the spirit of the message was the same.

It went like this:

It is OK to laugh at a joke that contains the word “nigger” – even if you’re not black.

When I wrote this, I was imagining jokes from black comedians like Richard Pryor and Chris Rock. Two of Pryor’s albums, in fact, had “nigger” in their titles. Those were the only jokes with “nigger” that I was familiar with.

I hadn’t thought of the other jokes which contain the word “nigger.” The mean-spirited ones told by ignorant people who think it’s OK to judge people based solely on skin color.

Is it OK to laugh at those jokes, too?

It’s not the worst thing one can do, by any means. But I don’t want to imply, not one bit, that negative judgment based totally on race is OK.

And even if you’re not black, it’s possible to tell a joke with “nigger” and not be mean-spirited – for proof, view this scene from Kentucky Fried Movie (1977):

I thought about rewriting the entry:

It is OK to laugh at a non-mean-spirited joke that contains the word “nigger” – even if you’re not black.


Some of the funniest jokes are insulting in some way. Comedy is not pretty, and it’s not often nice, either. Don’t tell me you’ve never laughed at a mean-spirited joke about a politician you don’t like.

Then, I thought about writing it this way:

It is OK to laugh at a non-racist joke that contains the word “nigger” – even if you’re not black.

What’s wrong with that?

People have different definitions of the word “racist.”

My definition is negative judgment of a person based solely on actual or perceived race.

Your definition may be any use of “nigger” in any context.

There’s perhaps no accurate way to convey what I mean here.

So, I decided to just remove the entry altogether – and replaced it with an entry about, appropriately enough, Christmas.

What is it?

You’ll just have to buy It is OK to find out, at the low price of $2.99 :)

P.S. I wish all of my readers happy holidays, whatever one it is – and even if you define “holiday” as a day off from work.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A letter to the NRA

Photo credit: steved_np3 (stock.xchng)

I wrote this letter to the president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre. I mailed it today.

Dear Mr. LaPierre,

Last week’s mass murder of 26 people – 20 of them children between six and seven – in Newtown, Connecticut has broken America’s heart – mine included.

This kind of tragedy, we know, has happened too often in our country before – in Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, California, Wisconsin, Virginia, and too many other places.

This time, it’s different. This time, most of the dead are children.

I am not here to play the blame game – a game in which no one wins. I do want to implore the National Rifle Association to speak up.

The NRA is vocal when it comes to gun rights. Now it’s time to be equally as vocal about gun responsibilities.

To own a gun is to possess the power to kill – not just animals, but your fellow human beings. We would hope that all gun owners take this responsibility seriously – but we’re not there yet.

America doesn’t want the NRA to be quiet, or just shrug and say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” That is technically true, but no one can deny that guns (especially automatic and semi-automatic weapons) make it easier to kill many people at once.

What are we going to do about this?

I would like to see the NRA take a stronger stand against gun violence of all kinds, not just mass shootings but the tragically common one-on-one events, from gang rivals waging war on each other to one spouse shooting the other in a fit of rage. I would like to see the NRA implore its members and all gun owners to follow basic safety rules – and take extra precautions if they know anyone who is mentally ill or unstable.

When good Americans stand up for gun responsibility, it will lessen the chance of terrible events like this from happening again.

Thank you for reading,


Jennie Brown Hakim

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Meandering Mouse Gift Guide (Part 2)

Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art

In my last post, I wrote about where to find three gifts that make for a cozy bathtime. Now I will top it off by suggesting reading material to go along with it.

Except for the times when I bathe with Two Dogs, I always bring reading material with me when I bathe. I have been known to delay a bath until a new magazine appears in the mailbox (usually Marie Claire or More).

Bathtub reading, in my opinion, should stay on the lighter side – nothing too maudlin, scary, political, or mood-depleting. (In other words, no George Orwell, no Sun magazine, no newspapers, and no Oprah Book Club picks.)

Also, it should be made of real paper. True, the pages of books and magazines might get a little wet, even if you’re as scrupulously careful as I am. However, that is nowhere near as disastrous as dropping an expensive electronic device in the tub. So no Kindles, Nooks, Kobos, iPads, or tablets of any kind, please.

I have known many a book which would qualify as great bathroom reading – but I can’t list them all because you have just eight shopping days left. Here, though, are the ones which jumped to mind first:

Penny Stallings – Flesh & Fantasy, Rock N’ Roll Confidential, and Forbidden Channels. These three books, rich in both photos and trivia, take on Hollywood, rock music, and television respectively. Unlike current tabloids, these are stories about people with actual talent.

Kenneth Anger – Hollywood Babylon and Hollywood Babylon II. Reader discretion is advised: both books contain full-page photos which are startling, shocking, and sometimes horrifying. And some of the stories may have a casual acquaintance – at best – with the truth. But these are the kinds of books that will keep you in the tub until the water gets cold. (I hope you add more warm water if that happens!)

Then, we have zines. Specifically, K/S zines.

K/S as in Kirk/Spock, as in the original Star Trek’s Kirk and Spock.

The best way I can describe K/S is that it’s Star Trek fiction with a bonus – namely, Kirk and Spock are, ahem, more than just good friends.

Some of the best K/S zines live at Fanzines Plus. This is classic K/S – not just typed out and sent to a fan fiction site, but edited, typeset, printed, and bound – and with terrific illustrations as a bonus. These zines were made to last – and unlike online material, you can take it with you to the bath.

You’ll find anthologies like Naked Times, Daring Attempt, and The 25th Year (one of my personal favorites), and full K/S novels with titles like The Prince, Year of the Ram, and Covert Action. Yummy!

Of course, you get what you pay for. Items at Fanzines Plus range from $18 to $35 (tax and postage included). You may think that’s a lot to pay for fan fiction when you can find it for free on the web. But, once again, these are professional-quality stories, not the jottings of the semi-literate. And haven’t you spent much more than $35 on a gift that didn’t work out – a tacky sequined sweater, a gadget that broke down too soon, an oversized, hard-to-clean tchotchke that was regifted faster than you can say “I don’t think so.”

K/S zines are gifts for your besties – if your besties have no problem with Kirk and Spock kissing and, ahem, other things.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Meandering Mouse Gift Guide (Part 1)

In past posts, I have discussed the Misfit Doll and Kwanzaa and how to give to charities (if you want to) and Goody Ideas for the holidays and why Christmas is really about the gifts. In that spirit, isn’t it high time for me to actually recommend gifts?

I’ll make it easy for you in 2012. For great gifts, look no further than your local Trader Joe’s. I see three great gifts that go good together:

This trio of bath salts – no, not the kind of bath salts that make you go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, but, you know, salts that go into the bath – comes in three crowd-pleasing scents: lavender, green tea, and chamomile. (I sent a picture message from TJ’s to Two Dogs today, saying I wanted these!).

Of course, if you’re heading towards the tub, you can’t forget the soap. TJ’s has you covered here, too, with this Soap Stack of triple-milled lemon verbena soap from France, where so many good things come from. I can think of few gifts so underrated as a sweet-smelling bar of soap. I don’t think it says, “Hey, you stink.” I think it says, “I want you to have a terrific cleansing experience.”

To top it off, TJ’s offers a Dark Chocolate Bar (or Milk Chocolate, for those who like to walk on the lighter side). What goes better with a well-salted bath and sweet soap than a piece of chocolate on a tiny plate? (The bars are 6.3 ounces each; you need not eat the whole thing at once!)

So, here’s a gift to give that will cost less than $20 combined: Trader Joe’s Bath Salt Trio, Trader Joe’s Soap Stack, Trader Joe’s Dark (or Milk) Chocolate Bar.

Perfect for the bath lover in your life.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Everything is NOT my fault (or yours, either)

Photo credit: jetheriot (Flickr)

Derek Sivers was the founder of CD Baby, a site which has been extremely helpful for musicians, allowing them to bring their music to the public directly without the middleman record companies taking their thick slice of the pie. One of those musicians is Two Dogs. We have good reasons to thank Sivers.

One of those reasons is not this recent blog post. Sivers tells us that he was going to tell us how badly his former employees cheated him in his book, Anything You Want. These naughty employees were a mercenary, entitled bunch of turd blossoms.

And then, Sivers realized – hey, it was his fault for letting his company get so out of hand in the first place. After all, he was the president.

That may be all well and good (it is important as a president to keep an eye on company culture), but Sivers takes it a bit further.

We should always blame ourselves for everything that happens in our lives.

Here’s what Sivers has to say about always blaming yourself:

This is way better than forgiving. When you forgive, you’re still playing the victim, and they’re still wrong, but you’re charitably pardoning their horrible deeds.

But to decide it’s your fault feels amazing! Now you weren’t wronged. They were just playing their part in the situation you created. [italics mine]. They’re just delivering the punch-line to the joke you set up.

“The situation you created.” As if you were that powerful.

I have no idea if Sivers actually believes what he says, or is just creating click-bait. It doesn’t matter to me either way – I know that deciding to take personal blame for everything that happens to you is not a prescription for happiness. More people over-blame themselves than under-blame. It’s not a healthy situation, and articles like these need the corrective of critical thinking, like dirty windows need an astringent cleanser.

I prefer taking responsibility only for what you do and letting other people do the same. If someone is rude to me, I do not think “I could have lightened their mood beforehand,” as Sivers says I should. I ignore it, refuse to let it tarnish my self-worth, and if I think of rude people at all, it’s pity that they don’t have more emotional control. (And there’s no guarantee that I could have lightened their mood in any event.)

Even when you take responsibility for what you do, you don’t always have control over the outcome. How many times have we taken actions which we sincerely believed would have good outcomes, only to see them go awry? How many years have we spent learning the “rules” of finding a job, behaving on a date, or staying married, and by the time we are actually in those situations, the “rules” have changed?

Is that really our fault?

Remember the classic Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine”? Commodore Matthew Decker beamed his Constellation crew to a planet in order to protect them from the title object. Instead, the Doomsday Machine destroyed that very planet. A guilt-stricken Decker vowed to destroy the Doomsday Machine at any cost.

If this had happened to me, I would feel guilty, too.

But is the loss of the crew Decker’s fault?

Or did he do what he thought was best (where else could he beam his crew to?), and it just went tragically wrong?

As the bumper sticker (almost) says, stuff happens. We can anticipate and plan for such stuff, but it’s still not under our complete control. We can’t always be superheroes in the stories of our lives, no matter what Sivers says:

Now you’re like a new superhero, just discovering your strength. Now you’re the powerful person that made things happen, made a mistake, and can learn from it.

No. Real human beings are just not that powerful. It’s hubris to think so.

Nobody wins the blame game – no matter where the finger is pointing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Danger: Words

Do you know what a “manic pixie dream girl” is? From my understanding, a MPDG wears polka dot dresses and drinks Hawaiian Punch from mint-green Fiesta Ware and dances on top of dandelions in the moonlight while listening to leaves fall. (I think.)

To more than one person who usesTumblr, “manic pixie dream girl” is a slur. An ableist slur.

You don’t know what “ableist” means?

Let’s explain with one of those word puzzles we saw in the SAT. “Ableism” is to disability as “racism” is to race.

Now, you may think you understand what ableism is. Making Helen Keller jokes. Not installing wheelchair ramps for your business. Mocking people for the mental illnesses that they did not ask for and cannot control.

Is saying “manic pixie dream girl” a mock? Who thinks of mental illness when they see “manic pixie dream girl”?

And what’s next? We won’t be able to say “Beatlemania” anymore?

Another example: some people (especially those on Tumblr) want us to stop saying “that’s so lame” because that’s ableist, too. Never mind that practically no one has used the word “lame” to refer to the disabled since…er…the nineteenth century? (Oddly enough, “that’s so lame” is the replacement for the now-vilified “that’s so gay.”)

Are you cringing yet? Here is one more: some people are upset at the lyric in “Amazing Grace” which says, “I was blind, but now I see” because it implies that being blind is a negative state. (Objectively speaking, it is better to be able to see than not. But that is a post for another day.)

When did people become so afraid of words?

Social activists of the old school demanded much – to be heard, to define themselves, to speak their history as they understood it.

What they did not do was demand the extinction of certain words. Remember Richard Pryor’s 1974 album, That Nigger’s Crazy? Or Larry Kramer’s 1978 novel Faggots?

The truth is, life has gotten much better for every group that was marginalized before the 1960s. Who would have thought back in 1960 that someone could be openly gay and still be a successful news anchor or talk show host? Or that courses on transgenderism would be taught in respectable colleges?

But instead of celebrating the ongoing milestones of acceptance, activists are diving further into outrage. I compare it to being lucky enough to be seated at a magnificent feast, but the only words coming out of your mouth are complaints about the crumbs on the tablecloth.

In the absence of real trouble, certain personality types will go in search of offenses to fight against. Now, I certainly do not want America to experience the distraction-eliminating problems that are occurring in other countries. I do know that it doesn’t take bombs or fires or riots to see what deserves our attention and what does not.

Words are powerful. Yet, the human spirit is even stronger. Don’t let the words of a dumbass – or even those of a smart person – decide your worth. And be sure of the intent before you cry “offense!”

This T-shirt designed by James Mitchell, available at We Love Fine, is the best possible ending to this post: