Saturday, December 31, 2005

It's a slippery Slope

I am deeply committed to caffeine, but picky about the mode of delivery. Until it's possible to get a direct IV drip, Diet Coke and espresso are the only ways I'll take it.

For my birthday, the SO gave me a Gaggia espresso machine to replace my cheapo Krups. He's trying to make up for being out of town for my birthday three years in a row, even though he knows he doesn't have to. This is the way our relationship works: He has a job he loves, despite all the travel that puts him in places like Fargo in January and Hades in August. I miss him when he's gone, spoil him when he gets back, and never complain about him being gone for birthdays, Valentines, or other special days. He, in turn, tells me I'm wonderful and makes sure we have fun when we are together. It's a simple plan for domestic bliss, but it works for us.

The Gaggia is quite the step up in home espresso brewing technology from my Krups. I'll admit to being a little intimidated by a machine that came with an instructional CD. The short films on the art of a perfect 30 pound tamp, a perfect pull, a short pull and a long pull (so you could see how it looked when you screwed up) were narrated in terse, authoritarian tones. There was a short essay on the importance of a perfect grind for your coffee beans. If (the voice almost sighed) one were to resort to pre-ground beans, there were also rules for storage and handling.

The espresso gauntlet was thrown.

My first pull was declared better than the Krups machine produced, but not the almost syrupy brew I wanted. We set aside my pre-ground coffee (LavAzza espresso) and tried the sample of LavAzza in Blu sent with the machine.


Not only was it dark and intense, both in flavor and texture, but it sported that elusive sign of a perfect pull - a light brown froth of crema on top.

The only problem was that my regular coffee cups, which weren't outsized mugs, didn't fit under the two nozzles. Sticking my head directly under wasn't an option - if a cup wouldn't fit, neither would my head, and I didn't want to scald the inside of my mouth. Worse, it would be damn near impossible to count out the perfect twenty-one second pull while holding my mouth to the burning spigot.

So I went in search of true espresso cups. I thought they would be easy to find. Like Big Foot though, pictures may exist, but it's a little harder to put your hands on the actual thing. I went to Starbucks and Gloria Jeans, where I found a single demitasse that seemed ridiculously expensive. Macys had the right sized cup for a little less, and they had four, but the cups were delicate china rimmed in gold filigree. Apparently I'm a bit of a minimalist, because to me, that gold ruined the look of the cup. Besides, I'd have to wash them by hand, and treat them with kid gloves, and I'm not that kind of a girl.

I finally found my perfect plain cups in restaurant quality porcelain. They came with saucers. All demitasse cups come with saucers. Who uses saucers? Anyway, the new cups, as you can see from the picture above, fit perfectly under the nozzles.


They're too small for my spoons. I can't stir in sweetener. There may be muy papi (to mix my languages) Italian men who can gulp down a shot of espresso without adding sugar, but I can't. Yet, I can't bring myself to buy special spoons just for that.

I see this as the slippery slope to becoming a total girl.

First I buckle in and buy dainty demitasse spoons that fit my tiny espresso cups. Then I rearrange my cluttered silverware drawer so that I can find my tiny spoons in the morning. The next thing you know, I have hand towels in the bathrooms, scented candles through the house, and we end up replacing the kitchen appliances to match the stainless steel facade of my lovely new espresso machine.

I'm thinking about asking the SO to return my Gaggia machine to the store. We simply can't afford the lifestyle it demands.

Just let me pull one last shot.

Festival of Lights

Since I missed the big family Hanukkah party, and was still dragging from my cold all week, my chances to get a latke (potato pancake) were dwindling.

Oh sure, you can make latkes when it isn't Hanukkah, but they don't seem right any other time. Besides, holidays lose something when the unique parts of the celebration are made into everyday things. For example, pinatas used to be cool, specifically a part of Mexican culture and only for Christmas. Now you can go to a park in Ohio on a Saturday and see kids whacking their favorite TV character to death with a bat and then scrambling to grab and eat the spilled entrails. Somehow, that isn't the same.

The end of the year and my persistent cold were dragging me down into a serious case of the blues. The SO announced that, as usual, he'd be out of town on my birthday. I was exchanging e-mails with people I didn't like over matters that no longer interested me in arguments that had long devolved into absurdity. The worst part was the temptation to tell those people that they were no longer worth my attention - which is a lousy thing to say to another human being when you think about it. Yet, I truly wanted to unleash my Dorothy Parkerish nastiness on them and shred their egos.

Trying to rise above my worst self every day isn't an easy struggle.

Friday, I came home from work, collapsed on the bed for four hours of necessary napping, and then dragged myself into the kitchen. There, fortified with a double shot of espresso and some Airborne, I started my latkes. Honestly, I wouldn't have left the bed if I hadn't committed to making dinner for friends.

While the SO sliced the brisket and put in into the oven for its second cooking (the secret to any great brisket), I pulled out the food processor. Latke purist will tell you that hand shredded potatoes are the only way to go. They're right - but screw it, I was tired.

Some people prefer a hashbrown style latke, while others like a solid pancake. I'm between worlds.

I put the shredded russet potatoes on a paper towel to drain. Wax potatoes, to me, have a weird, rubbery consistency when shredded. Russets, however, are the essence of bland food. They don't have a flavor. So I grind Yukon gold potatoes with onions into a puree for the binding batter. Adding a few beaten eggs, some matzoh meal to soak up the moisture the potatoes exude, a couple cranks of the pepper mill, a toss of kosher salt, and I was ready to go.

Some people almost deep fat fry their latkes. That's gross. Some oil is needed because oil is, after all, one of the symbols of Hanukkah. (The other being light. The two are intertwined in a story that I tell poorly, so won't relate it here.) Besides, to make latkes with a crunchy exterior, you need some oil in the pan.

Some people top with applesauce, but we prefer a dollop of sour cream and mushrooms that have been sauteed in butter and wine. Occasionally, we'll be really swank and use some caviar, but it wasn't in the budget this year.

The rule of the house has always been, "He/She who can stand to eat the hottest food gets the most latkes." If it were just the SO and me, we'd stand in the kitchen eating latkes as soon as they came off the griddle. The brisket would be forgotten and used for sandwiches the next day. But with guests as witnesses, we had to pretend to have some class, so we piled the latkes on a plate and them brought them out to serve with the brisket.

Our place smelled of hot oil and brisket, and was filled with the laughter of friends playing cut-throat dreidle for gold foil covered chocolates that none of us would ever eat. Laughter is like light. It chases away dark moods and thoughts. We're always so busy, but holidays remind us to meet with friends, laugh together, and share what we have. So no matter how tempting it is to make latkes out of season, I think I can wait for next year. I like to keep them special.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Christmas Eve here in the South Bay, it was 78 degrees, cloudless skies - perfect. Except for my raging sore throat. By the time we sat down to our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, my nose was so stuffed up that I gasped like a fish out of water between bites.

Not my sexiest look.

Christmas morning the sore throat receded into the background, but I feared sneezing more than anything because the strafing left my throat so raw that I couldn't talk for several minutes afterwards. I went through the chills-overheated-chills cycle. My chest ached after coughing fits.

Even though I felt crappy, I almost went with the SO to the not-our-family-really-thank-goodness gathering. I'd been looking forward to the entertainment/ glimpse into lives I thankfully didn't have to live. More than that, following that party, the SO's true family was moving over to his mom's house for the first night of Hanukkah. The equation was pretty clear. Stay home = miss out on latkes, brisket, and kreplach soup. That was powerful incentive to drag my butt out of bed.

The SO was a little suspicious about the convenient timing of my illness. He knew how much I usually dreaded Christmas with the train-wreck family. He even tried a few experimental sniffles and coughs to see if he could get out of going. The lure of latkes proved too strong though, so he packed up the gifts for his nieces.

"If you're feeling up to it, I'll swing by and pick you up on the way to Mom's so you don't miss out on the fun part of the day. Call me," the SO said on his way out.

What a guy.

I felt worse through the evening, not better, so I never made the call. But as I looked at my assembled collection of pharmaceuticals to fight off this thing - airborne mega-vitamins, decongestant, pain reliever, NyQuil, throat lozenges, antihistamine, and Tylenol PM - it occurred to me that I finally got what I always wanted for Christmas. A chemistry set.

Friday, December 23, 2005

I Can't Wait

The SO and I have a mutual understanding - I lucked out with his wonderful family, and he has great holiday horror stories to tell his co-workers about mine. He's made peace with the fact that my parents are killjoys, if you call mumbling 'can we go now' under his breath from the moment we walk in the door making peace with his fate. What he can't forgive is the bad cooking. His mom packs us a Thanksgiving survival bag to bring along the years we go to my parent's house and we take turns sneaking out to the garage for bites of the contraband.

There is one day a year where this gets turned around on the SO. Christmas Day. We join the rest of his family at his sister-in-law's mother's house. Somehow, a couple years back, we made the guest list. Ever since, we've tried to figure out how to disinvite ourselves, but to no avail. If we don't do something fast it's going to be tradition. (We're seriously considering divorce for his brother and sister-in-law as an option. Sure they're happy, but at least we'd be freed from the Christmas Day onus.)

A streak of schadenfreude (meaning "damaged joy." It's a German word. Go figure that the Germans of all people would have a word in their language for deriving joy out the misery of others.) has mated with my gallows sense of humor and produced a bouncing baby spirit of Christmas gone terribly awry. I can't wait for Christmas morning this year. Picture Gomez Aadams watching his train set as the two locomotives hurl down the track, destined for collision, and you know the expression of manic glee on my face.

Here's the set up:

Don't worry about how these people are related to me, because they aren't, which is part of what makes it so fun. Now matter how many racist jokes they tell, or how many fights they have on the front lawn, I'm secure knowing they don't share DNA with me. The SO is only distantly related by marriage, but that's still too close for his comfort. The sister-in-law somehow transcended her upbringing to become a very nice, classy, intellegent person. We think she was a foundling, because there's no way she's related to those people either.

The sister-in-law has a sister who is a Jehova's Witness. I don't know much about her beliefs, except that she's against commercializing the birth of her lord and savior Jesus by giving Christmas gifts - a lecture she uses to explain why she doesn't bring gifts for anyone. She does, however, accept them. Even though we aren't related, she gives us the stink-eye for not bringing "love gifts" for her four demon spawn to rip open Christmas morning. She does the same thing for birthdays. She's managed to claim the haughty moral ground by taking gifts but never giving them in return. How does she do it? And is she really a Jehovah's Witness, or is she just a greedy bitch? If I could stand talking to her, I'd ask some probing questions- like does her faith have any doctrines other than gift scamming?

But wait, this family gets better. Last year, they gave each other boxes of bullets as gifts. AND liter sized bottles of Jack Daniels. What a combo! At the time, I remember whispering to the SO, "If anyone here runs out to their truck to grab their handgun for a little impromptu target practice using the empty beer can collection in the back yard, I'm leaving."

Now that I've had a whole year to think on it, I'm seized with curiosity. How can you top whiskey and bullets? What lethal gifts will they come up with this year? The imagination reels.

I'm betting heavily on the home version of a meth lab. Or a guest appearance on Cops.
Either way, it's the one day a year I get to smile smugly at the SO, cuddle close, tickle his earlobe with my lips, and purr quietly, "Want to spend next Christmas at my parent's house, baby?" and watch him struggle with the tempation to say, "Yes."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Oh Canada, We're Not All Like This

I thought when the other voters in this country re-elected Bush, I couldn't be any more embarrassed by Americans. Now I'm positively humiliated.

Reads this for yourself, but I'll repeat the worst of it:

"So have the Canadians gotten a little too big for their britches" - Fox News host Neil Cavuto.

I realize that the current administration has zero respect for sovereign nations, but the host of a news show? Oh wait, he's on Fox. Scratch the 'news' part of my comment. If we believe (a big IF for the current administration) in the assertion that all men are created equal, then we should respect the governments that citizens of other countries choose, and we should respect the right of those governments to put the interests of their citizens ahead of US interests. What is good for American business is often very bad for the rest of the people living on this earth with us.

MSNBC host Tucker Carlson let loose the following pearls:

"Anybody with any ambition at all, or intelligence, has left Canada and is now living in New York." - Sorry, but no. People who give up and leave are usually the losers, not the winners in society. Not to say that perfectly nice, smart, great Canadians haven't emigrated, but chances are, if you were doing well in Canada, why the heck would you leave it for the United States, of all places?

"Canada is a sweet country. It is like your retarded cousin you see at Thanksgiving and sort of pat him on the head. You know, he's nice but you don't take him seriously. That's Canada." - Wow. Condescending to people in need and a country all in one swipe. That's talented, in a miserable excuse for a human being kind of way. Did Jesus say stuff like that too?

"It only eggs them on. Canada is essentially a stalker, stalking the United States, right? Canada has little pictures of us in its bedroom, right?" - I'm sure that Canada has long regretted setting up house next door to the U.S., but who else would buy it now? They'd have to put up with Americans throwing their trash talk over the border.

"It's unrequited love between Canada and the United States. We, meanwhile, don't even know Canada's name. We pay no attention at all." - And he's bragging about this? We should be deeply ashamed about our xenophobia, not reveling in it. And trust me pal, Canadians don't love us, except in that special, pitying way you save for your obnoxious, drunken, ignorant, crass family members when you see them on Thanksgiving.

If you're from Canada, please, there are Americans who hold your country in high esteem. You recognize that homosexuals are human beings. You try your hardest to make health care available to all (I realize your system has problems, but at least money isn't the deciding factor in the value of a human life for you). You have a vibrant art scene that nurtures budding artists. You have a culture that is distinct from the US, if only Americans bothered to find it and respect it.

And even though the Republicans and their paid mouth pieces have forgotten, I remember what Canada did for our embassy people in the 1980s in Iran.

Thank you.

We truly don't deserve you. And you never did anything to deserve us, either.

My Day In Pictures

Monday, December 19, 2005

I'd rather have the argyle socks

This time of year, even if you don't want to, you're doomed to think about family.
(Note the vat of boiling oil below, poised over the front door)

My parents are deeply suspicious of fun. They can't prove that the Bible forbids it, but as a precaution, they always make sure that any attempt to enjoy life is heavily counterbalanced by guilt and disapproval. That isn't to say that they aren't decent people. But if you're ever worried that your party may spin out of control as too many guests have too much unbridled fun, invite Pops over. Within an hour, everyone will be sitting quietly on the couch, clutching their hands together, and desperately eyeing the door.

Christmas morning was when their aversion to joy was really driven home. Five years in a row, the sole thing on my Christmas list was a chemistry set. My parents probably believed, quite rightly, that I'd blow up the house, but that was beside the point. It was the ONLY thing I asked for. Score? Brown and rust argyle socks- 5 for 5. Chemistry sets- 0.

Once, Mom bought a toboggan. It was the "big" gift that Christmas, meaning that we got stocking stuffers and nothing else but the toboggan, because it was something that we could all share. How very Brady Family Christmas of us. (Okay, so we were typical spoiled American brats. But come on, even desperately poor parents try to get one thing their kid wants.)

We packed into the car bright and early Christmas morning, because no one was ever allowed to sleep past 7AM, even on weekends, in Pops' army, er, house. My siblings and I sat in the back of the car in the complete stunned silence of kids who knew they'd been screwed over, and yet were condemned to fake gratitude.

The car tires crunched over snow as we pulled out of the driveway in our gold Plymouth stationwagon. We drove past a steep, icy hill half a block from our house. Other early risers slid down it on rubber tubes and flattened cardboard boxes. Their shrieks of laughter cut through the chilly air, mocking us.

As soon as we pulled onto the interstate headed for the mountains, my siblings groaned and schooched as far from me as they could. Put me on a winding mountain road, and I could puke up last week's lunch. I also showed a promising talent for respiratory ailments and hives. (I used to think I was allergic to the entire world. I have since narrowed the source of the irritation down to the old gold vinyl back seat of a station wagon coupled with the fourth rendition of the song *Black Socks* from Hee-Haw while the family dog's toenails dug into the meat of my upper thigh.)

Miraculously, I didn't get sick on that drive, but just to be safe, even before the car came to a complete stop, both sibs vaulted out of the car.

Pops got out and slapped his mittened hands together. "This is it."

You would have thought he'd brought us to the Olympic bobsled run. Instead, it as a pathetic wanna-be hill with a gentle slope that was covered in four feet of pristine Rocky Mountain powder.

Our dog crouched in the back corner of the car, barring her teeth, but Pops dragged her out into the snow anyway. She gave him a baleful 'what did I ever do to you' look and shivered.

Pops took the toboggan off the luggage rack plopped it down into the snow. "Take it on up."

My sibs and I grabbed part of the cord and began our uphill trudge through waist-high (on me) powder. A quarter of the way up, we stopped to pant. Even though we lived at altitude, the air at ten thousand feet was thin. I got woozy. As we gasped, puffs like dragon's breath curled out of our mouths. My big sister pretended to put a cigarette to her mouth.

"None of that! None of that!" Mom screeched.

Smoking, along with drinking, gambling, card playing, rock and roll, and make-up were contraband in my parent's house.

Daring, my sister rolled her eyes, getting a snicker from the rest of us, but she was wise enough to turn away from the parents before she did it.

My nose ran and my fingers were already stiff from the cold by the time we reached the top of the hill. Our parents followed us up. We got on the toboggan. The snow sounded like rubbing balloons under the sled.

I don't know who set the rules for packing a toboggan, but I, being the youngest, was up front. That's right- hurl a child face-first down a hill with the weight of her entire family plummeting behind her on a sled with no brakes. Even at seven years old, looking down the hill at a clump of trees, car, and a boulder covered in snow waiting at the bottom of the hill, I knew it was a bad, bad, bad idea. I struggled to rise as Pops shouted out, "Here we go!" He gave us a mighty push.

Thank goodness a four foot base of unpacked powder has all the surface friction of a cobblestone street. We moved maybe an inch. Soon Pops was huffing and struggling to get us moving. He suggested that we get start off in a downhill slant.

Right. As if. I might have packed a mogul under the front of the toboggan with the toe of my boot while no one was looking. Possibly. It hardly mattered though, because as we piled on, the toboggan sank lower into the powder. It wasn't going anywhere.

Never ones to give up easily, my parents kept us at it for several hours. They made us tamp down a route, then climb back up the hill to try, try again. They sent the sled down with just the kids, just the adults, and finally one by one. As darkness fell, we were finally allowed to admit defeat. Not once had one of us traveled from the top of the hill to the bottom on the sled. Cold, wet, and miserable, we packed back in to the car. The snow acumulated on the dog's fur melted. All that excitement and wet dog smell? Yep. I puked.

We had one more "fun" outing with that toboggan before it mercifully got put up in the rafters in the garage. We moved almost every summer, so we'd hold our collective breaths as the movers carried that thing past Mom and she'd get that certain gleam in her eye, but thankfully by Christmas she'd be on another family togetherness kick, usually involving matching sweaters.

Last time I visited the parents, I caught a glimpse of the toboggan in their garage. Mom saw me shivering and said, "Remember the good times we had out sledding? WE should do that again."

Frankly, Mom, I'd rather have another pair of brown and rust argyle socks.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Random Lobster

When I lived in places like Colorado and Oklahoma, I spent whole summer days wandering around with similarly feral children. Since we usually lived out in the middle of nowhere, I was lucky to have a kid my age within bicycle riding distance. If there was, it was a boy, which was great, because we often had similar ideas of fun- fort building, exploration, picking tics off our legs, and poking dead critters with sticks.

Since then, with the exception of opossums, I've grown an aversion to looking at dead animals. I certainly wouldn't go poke one with a stick. If I'm driving, and there's carnage in the road, I squint my eyes real hard until I'm past it. It's not that I'm sqeemish. I remember walking into a neighbor's garage in Colorado when I was seven or eight and seeing a buck suspended from the rafters, dripping blood into a galvanized steel bucket, and not turning a hair. I just don't like the idea that someone probably loved the animal that died on the road and will never know it's fate. They might be wondering day after day if Fluffy is going to come home. I know that when my dog disappeared four years ago, it was several months before I stopped calling the pound, and eight months before I could part with his pillow. (I suspect the cats heavily in his disappearance. Skitters was way too nonchalant about the whole thing.)

Sometimes, though, roadkill is so compelling that I have to look. Case in point - this morning, on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) in Playa Del Rey around the Ballona Creek wetlands, there was a lobster in the median.

This was one of those times I wished I had a camera on me. Picture an asphalt road with a dusty median. Between the wide yellow lines, on it's back, with eight little feet up in the air, is a lobster. I have a fairly wild imagination, but I admit - I was stumped.

Thermadore the Lobster obviously did not crawl out of the Ballona Wetlands and meet his/her cruel fate. How do I know this? Well, for one, it was bright red, which meant it had been cooked. Cooked critters don't crawl. Second clue - Thermadore had a honking big claw, which was held shut by a thick blue rubberband. Pacific lobsters don't have claws. This guy was obviously an East Coast transplant.

So someone lost a fully cooked lobster. In the middle of a road. Several miles from the nearest grocery store, restaurant, house. I haven't checked lately, but I'm convinced that lobsters are fairly pricy. It's not likely that someone would put a full bushel of cooked lobsters in back of his truck, and as he bounced along the construction zone on PCH, one happened to fly out. But how else did it get there?

I may obsess on this for days.

I just hope that someone in Venice isn't dialing the pound right now, hoping against hope that their beloved pet lobster will be home for Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I Need A Full Scale Model of This

I'm sure that the designer of this envisioned something Christmasy and slightly old fashioned that would appeal to people who don't have enough knick-knacks cluttering their space.

Me, being, well, me, sees a vat of boiling oil to be poured on invaders.

Does anyone know where I can get the full sized version of this? Not that I would ever think of actually using it.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Christmas is Coming, the Goose is Getting Fat...

Loki and Skitters have submitted their Christmas wish list to me. They want (demand):

I see a big hairy spider, they see a cat toy.


As if they aren't destructive and insane enough already.


I'm thinking NO on the tarantula and catnip.

But what do you get for the human who has everything? May I suggest a donation to:

NO/AIDS Task Force. Why do I give to this organization while I live in LA? It doesn't make sense, does it? Except that their two big fund raising events were wiped out this year. However, if you'd like to make up for my lack of local giving, give to the LA group.

GIRLS, Inc. If you follow news of hate groups in this country, you've seen that fundamentalists are calling for people to stop buying American Girls dolls for their daughters because the company donates money to GIRLS, Inc., which supports girls of every sexuality and urges them to be true to their hearts. The fundamentalists wants girls to be taught to deny anything but a rigid self-view. Make up the difference, support love.

Children of the Night. Gets teenage prostitutes off the streets of LA and gives them job training. These kids usually leave home because of sexual abuse. They'd rather have sex with strangers than be raped by family. The world is an ugly place. Make it better for the most vulnerable.

Give blood. Give time. Give a little of yourself.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Doing It For Free

The debate about giving away work for free flares up annually on every writer's list I belong to. A reasonable position is that with so much free stuff out there, it's hard to get people to pay for stories, so none of us should give any story away for free. The other side of the argument is the belief that exposure and publication credits have value, so writers who do give away free work get paid in other ways than cash.

I'm solidly in the middle on this one.

Most of the free stuff out there is worth what the reader pays for it. A lot of dreck is floating around the internet. Many people think that they can write, but few can write well. Some readers are content with the dreck. Some readers can't tell the dreck from the sublime. Some prefer the dreck. They aren't my audience, so I don't worry about them.

There are free sites with well-earned reputations for posting quality work. The Erotica Readers and Writer's Association and Velvet Mafia are great examples. Clean Sheets recently began paying for stories, but I'll include them in this group. Having a story on these sites is good exposure to the kind of reader I want. Quality site = quality audience. I'm proud to say I have stories on Clean Sheets. ERWA is the world's best community of writers, and when they ask for a story of mine, I'm thrilled to contribute. (Still working on VM. One of these days, the stars will align between VMs chosen theme and one of my stories, and I will finally have something worthy of submission.)

If a site charges to read my story, I damn well expect payment too. For some reason, there are sites that expect to get content for free but make a business out of distributing it. I don't make a living off my writing, but I expect recognition that what I produce has value. It truly pisses me off when they dare tell me that they pay in exposure. I can expose myself, thank you.

Many people want to write, and some are desperate to be published, so it's impossible to stop the flow of free stories. As long as there are free stories, it's going to be harder for writers to convince people to buy works. On the other hand, I believe that there are people who recognize that true talent is a rare thing in this world and it deserves to be rewarded. But I also doubt that they'll be looking for gems in the dungheap. So choose your markets carefully, and consider what you're getting in return if you decide to give away your work for free.

Then do what you want. It's your path, not mine.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


I'm a bit of an economics buff. My college didn't allow majors in business to have a minor in another field of business, so while I had the credits for a minor in economics, it was undeclared. I adored my econ classes, but that damn B I earned in monetary theory dropped me from Summa to a mere Magna Cum Laude. Ah well, the things we do for passion...

I read Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J Dubner with geeky pleasure this summer. I love the way it proves most conventional wisdom is conventional foolishness. Pseudoscience and shouting headlines can lie, but numbers don't.

Fast forward to last weekend. I was having friends over for dinner, so I thought I'd spruce up the hovel a bit.

My mother hoped with all her heart that eventually I would turn out to be a girl after all. Two years of ballet, three of ballroom dance (no wonder I adore the movie Strictly Ballroom), cotillion, modeling courses, a stint as a cheerleader (first person to laugh finds out how lethal of a weapon a pompon can be), and one narrow escape from drill team (blue eyeshadow. Eek. To quote Kurtz from Heart of Darkness, "The horror! The horror.") failed to do the trick, and yet there I was, actually contemplating buying handtowels for the bathroom. As if mere handtowels had enough mojo to tip the scale for the rest of our place from neglected to fabulous.

Thankfully, I snapped out of it. My naturally miserly,er, debt-adverse ways, proved strong enough to overcome the pull of estrogen. As I regained my senses and got a good look at the crap women buy to decorate their homes, I had a moment of Freakonomics insight.

The entire world economy is based on parties.

Somewhere, there's a factory that exists only to create paper umbrellas for drinks. There's another that churns out holiday themed tchotchkas to serve as centerpieces. Hell, the Christmas light industry alone probably supports a small nation.

A woman throws a party, and she's supporting a family of four across the globe. She might spend fifty bucks on food, but another two hundred (easily) goes into candy dishes and napkins that match the paper plates.

Don't get me started on weddings. They truly are a travesty of good sense and taste. People put more thought into the chair covers than their future spouse. If anything threatens the sanctity of marriage as a pillar of civilization, it's the over the top, queen-for-a-day wedding syndrome. But at least all that lovely money gets spread around to florists, photographers, and cake stylists. And, back to my monetary theory class, the faster we divorce and remarry, ratcheting up the stakes of the celebration each time, the faster the velocity of money moving through our economy. God help us if the music ever stops and everyone sits tight with what they have in their wallets.

Thank goodness my friends aren't that swank. Either that, or they've learned to live with diminished expectations when they come over. They won't eat on china, handtowels are non-existent, and I don't have matching glasses, but at least the conversation will be priceless.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Looking for That Certain Special Something

When I read the call for submissions for a lesbian science fiction anthology, I had every intention of sending a story to the editor. Now that the deadline is fast approaching I've changed my mind.

I have a story. I love speculative fiction and enjoy writing in the genre. Beyond that, the sex explores two of my favorite senses - touch and smell - to the edge of fetish. Technically, I'm sure that the story is good.


I suppose this shows that I do have my artsy-fartsy side, because my problem with the story is that it feels as if it came from my fingertips, not my soul. ("Oh brother," you're allowed to sigh while rolling your eyes at me. ) When I read through that story, it leaves me cold. It bothers me that I feel no connection to my characters. The work lacks that certain unidentifiable something that makes a story special to me. If I could only inject it with that elusive quality, I'd gladly submit it. But I don't know where to begin to find it. Stories either seem to have it, or they don't. No amount of rewriting can fix it.

So even though I'm trying to build up a CV and I'd like to be in this anthology, I think I'll pass on submission. I'd rather have fewer pieces I was passionate about than a lot of souless stories published.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

More Random Weirdness

Famous Edward, my favorite chef in the whole world, works at a funky Japanese-French fusion wifi cafe that features an incredible bakery. I love Edward just for himself, but it doesn't hurt that he shows up on my doorstep with gifts of green tea cheesecake or real croissants.

This picture on their cake boxes has me baffled. Clearly, this is a dire warning. However, it isn't repeated in English anywhere on the box. Oh sure, I could ask someone what it says, but where's the fun in that? I'd rather guess.

WARNING: Cake platform is not to be used as a frisbee.

WARNING: You're uncoordinated. Any attempt to carry this cake into a room on one hand will only end in tragedy.

WARNING: Tossing cakes with lit candles can cause your guest with the outsized hand to emit obtuse golden triangles around an invisible convergence point.

WARNING: It's always fun until someone loses face.

Rejection Letters

On one of my writer's lists, someone posted a question about how we handle rejection.

Many people say, "Oh, I write, but I never let anyone see it." That‚'s fine. We all write for personal reasons. Publication isn't every writer's goal.

Submission is a huge leap. Some people never recover from that first experience because they make the decision not to. They decide that their ego is too fragile, or that they have too delicate of an artistic temperament to withstand the criticism.

Some rejections I handle better than others. I submitted three stories to one anthology because I wasn't sure what approach they wanted to the theme- subtle or overt. They took one story and rejected the other two. I did the dance of joy for the acceptance and shrugged off the rejections. Then I put the rejected stories in the mail to other editors. (One has been placed already. The other made the first round of cuts and I expect news back soon.)

Some rejections I know I deserved. I knew the story wasn't ready, but the deadline was looming, so I sent it anyway. Looking back, I'm grateful those stories didn't see the light of day as they were. The editor saved my reputation. I'm trying not to humiliate myself like that any more.

I'll admit that a few rejections get under my skin. I have yet to figure out why I get so down about some while others hardly affect me. For the ones that I take hard, I set a deadline to mope. Three days of the blues about does it.

Now I'm particular about editors I'll submit to. Since I'm picky about who I'll work with, I submit less, but my acceptance rate is much higher. Part of that is that I'm submitting better stories, but it's also because of the editors I submit to. If the editor is published, I read their writing. I read their other anthologies. I do my homework and check reputations.

Many writers obsessively study rejection letters. We try to find deeper meaning in every word of what is basically a form letter so that we'll understand the true reason why our story didn't make the cut. It doesn't work any better than reading tea leaves. (Your story's got the GRIM!)

So here's my checklist:

Writing is art, publishing is a business. Was my cover letter artsy-fartsy, or was it a professional business letter?

Did I follow the guidelines exactly?

Was my story the best it could be?

Did I fit the theme? (this one can be subjective)

If I pass all of those, I figure that my story didn't grab the editor, it was too similar in plot or style to something they already accepted, or it simply wasn't meant to be. Notice that there's no place on that list for "They don't understand my art," or, "Those talentless bastard hacks," or, "It's a conspiracy by the elitist New York establishment." If that's the way you handle rejection, then you aren't ready to submit. But if you never submit, you'll never know the satisfaction of your first Yes. So set aside your inner diva, get a professional attitude, find the right market for the right story, take a deep breath, and let your story go.