Memories From the Closet

My husband and I have traveled quite a bit and everywhere we go, we collect souvenirs – primarily t-shirts, mugs, and shot glasses. The mugs and shot glasses are displayed on shelves and in curio cabinets in our home and occasionally used for their intended purposes. The t-shirts we actually wear.

Not that we can wear all of them. Many were destroyed in the tornado that also destroyed our house, and of the ones that remain, almost all are too small (or actually, we are too large).

I used to have a “beers of the world” t-shirt collection. I had Harp Lager and Guinness from Ireland, Red Stripe from Jamaica, Corona from Mexico, and so on. (Unfortunately, Harp Lager beer is no longer sold in Ireland, so there were no t-shirts available on our most recent visit. I did get a very nice Tullamore Dew t-shirt on our most recent visit, but that’s whiskey, not beer. But I digress.)

While in Ireland, we picked up shirts from the Cliffs of Moher and Sean’s Bar too. We’ve also bought t-shirts commemorating our visits to other cities and scenic locations. We recently resurrected one from Dubrovnik, too tattered by the tornado to wear, plus one from the Gauley River and one from Kartchner Caverns near Benson, AZ.

We also have t-shirts from many of the science fiction conventions we attended, plus ones with images of cats or armadillos, our favorite performers and bands (Pink Floyd, Bela Fleck, Kris Kristofferson, Jimi Hendrix, the Black Book Band), and more than a few with in-jokes or snarky or geeky sayings on them. I even have one with Hemingway’s sound advice: Write Drunk. Edit Sober. And of course one from my alma mater, Cornell.

(I also had a bunch of Banana Republic t-shirts back in the day, which really aren’t travel t-shirts, but along the same lines. My wardrobe used to consist almost exclusively of clothes in khaki, olive drab, sand, and camo, plus assorted other colors that BR featured in their line. I once hyperventilated in a BR store in La Jolla, and once a friend gave me some of their tissue paper, which I used as a backdrop for my bulletin board. I used to drive to the next state over to their outlet store. I pored over their travelogue-catalogs. I never forgave Gap for buying them out. It’s never been the same since. But I digress. At length.)

Why do I need all these t-shirts? Despite my age (and the advice everyone seems to want to give to someone my age), my everyday outfit is a t-shirt and jeans – and I’d rather wear an entertaining shirt than something boring. I wear this “uniform” to go shopping and to my therapist appointments (I have one t-shirt that says “The Light at the End of the Tunnel Is an Oncoming Freight Train.” I used to have one that said “Leave Me Alone. I’m Having a Crisis.”) I’d wear them to work, except that I work at home and wear my even-more-casual pajamas.

T-shirts today aren’t cheap. You can easily pay $30 with shipping. I have two on order now. One is a shirt from the Philadelphia Folk Festival, where my husband and I met. The other one, which Dan doesn’t know about (and he never reads my blog, so he still won’t know until it arrives), commemorates our trip to Montenegro. He had suggested that we replace some of our old shirts with ones featuring all the places we’ve traveled together, and I thought that would be a good place to start. After all, he recently surprised me with a t-shirt featuring Croatia.

Now all we have to do is find ones from Maine, the Leeward Islands, Benson AZ, Laurel Cavern, Carter Caves, Venice, Slovenia, and wherever we go next!

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What Good Is Fiction?

Nonfiction has purpose. It informs, educates, and illuminates. What does fiction do? Nothing but provide escape.

And what’s wrong with that? Nothing, as far as I can see. If there’s any time when people need escape, it’s now. I don’t have to detail the current political, social, and news situations to know that’s true. At times like these, who doesn’t want to escape to a desert island or another planet?

Actually, escapism has never been a bad thing. There are always things in life that need escaping from. At least there have been in my life. Misunderstanding, bullying, depression, loneliness – fiction helped me escape from these, from Green Eggs and Ham to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to A Wrinkle in Time to The Lord of the Rings.

Nor do you need high-brow fiction to provide escapism, though that is there as well. I’ve found escape in Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax books, a cozy mystery/adventure series with included travelogues. In fact, mystery books still provide an escape for me. And science fiction and fantasy, perhaps the ultimate escapist literature, still fill many spots on my to-be-read list, as well as my to-be-reread list. (The fact that I am friends with several sf writers is also a factor.)

I’ve had my innings with classic literature, it’s true, particularly in college, when I was an English major – though one of my favorite courses was children’s literature (aka kiddie lit). If you look at my e-reader, you’ll find Shakespeare and Cervantes along with Grafton, Heinlein, Dumas, and others.

Fiction, like nonfiction, can inform, educate, and illuminate as well – spark thought and inspire to action.

Take Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In that book, it’s poetry (another “useless” pursuit) that helps the protagonist understand the value of literature and the futility of trying to suppress it. It’s still extremely relevant, considering all the book bannings lately. Or take Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as appallingly relevant as the day it was first written. Or The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, which has the first contact with an alien civilization being made by Jesuits. If that’s not thought-provoking, I don’t know what is.

There’s also historical fiction, which, while not always totally accurate (we have nonfiction biographies and autobiographies for that), speculates about the inner workings of famous people’s psyches and posits reasons for how they lived. Melanie Benjamin’s The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb and The Aviator’s Wife, about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, are two examples.

Then there is fiction about fiction and books that provide escape for the mind that cannot be found anywhere else. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is one such. John Irving’s The World According to Garp is another famous example. With books like these, one can delve into the mind of the creative person who provides escape for others.

Of course, nonfiction can be escapist as well. Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars provides an entertaining history of the space program, but also NASA’s current exploration of the possibilities of, well, going to Mars. Now that’s escapism – but not fiction. Histories can whisk us away to another time and place with explorers who climbed Mount Everest or charted the Amazon. Ernest Shackleton’s diaries can take me right out of a sweltering day and make me feel the freezing air and hear the buffeting wind of Antarctica.

I will admit that there’s a lot of nonfiction on my e-reader – including true crime, science, biographies, adventure travel, language, and mental health. But it’s fiction I return to again and again. I recently read a beloved novel that I hadn’t read in at least 40 years, and I still remembered not only the plot but also lines of dialogue. And I’ve tried my hand at writing fiction too, which provided mental escape of a different sort.

So, what good is fiction? Even if it’s only escapism, it’s extremely valuable and not to be sneered at. At its best, fiction can make one’s interior world more vibrant, more fascinating, and more meaningful; and the world around us more wondrous, more exciting, and more entertaining. That’s enough of a recommendation for me.

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The Thighs Have It

From chub rub to thigh gap, there’s nothing a woman can do to win. Apparently, there’s no perfect body out there and, also apparently, everyone wants to have one. But what there is, is lots of body-shaming.

I didn’t even know what “chub rub” was until I saw an ad for a product that was supposed to fix it. This was what we used to call a foundation garment but is now known as “shapewear.” Chub rub is what happens to your inner thighs when they, well, rub together. (Full (possibly TMI) disclosure: I have worn a foundation garment exactly once, when I was planning to don a tight Halloween costume (a slinky devil). It didn’t work the way it was supposed to. But I digress.)

I happen to know that men get chub rub too. More than one gentleman of my acquaintance has had it. But with men, it doesn’t get called chub rub and they don’t get special garments to combat it, just powder. (“If I could walk that way, I wouldn’t need the talcum powder,” as the old joke goes.) I think the world would be much more entertaining if men had to try to wriggle into shapewear.

These days, even thin women can’t win. To be truly visually acceptable, they must have what’s known as a “thigh gap.” This means that when a woman stands straight with her feet together, there should be, well, a gap between her thighs. You have to be able to see daylight between them. I haven’t seen shapewear advertised that will produce a thigh gap, but it’s only a matter of time, I suspect.

And of course, thigh gap isn’t even a desirable look for men. Once they have their six-pack abs in place, only one thing below the waist matters. And there’s no shapewear for that, that I know of.

Fashions in size and weight for women come and go, generally depending on what the upper classes think is fashionable. When thinness was a sign of poverty and famine, a well-padded figure was the ideal for Victorian ladies. (Queen Victoria may have had something to do with it too.) When heftiness was a sign of a peasant’s starchy potato diet, suddenly slim was in. Slim or even skinny has stayed in for seemingly ever.

Societal pressure tries to force (or entice) women to conform to whatever the current version of “perfect” is. Fashion models become role models. And fashion designers’ idea of perfect sizes ranges from zero (!) to four, tops (and bottoms).

But lately, there has been some pushback on this notion. Runway models are increasingly required to have a certain, non-zero, amount of body fat before they can walk the catwalk. And Sports Illustrated made a splash (sorry not sorry) when their Swimsuit Issue cover model was unashamedly plus-size and very curvy.

(I remember the days when model Kate Moss was praised for her “heroin chic” look, featuring an emaciated body and pasty, sallow skin. It wasn’t a look I liked and I’m glad it’s gone. If that makes me guilty of body-shaming, I’ll have to own it. Also, I can’t explain the fashion trends of super-plump lips or bushy eyebrows, any more than I can explain the dress-up geese trend from years past. But I digress again.)

Anyway, I don’t plan to do anything about my thighs, even if I do occasionally get chub rub (usually only when I wear dresses, which I try never to do except for nightdresses). And I’m learning to cut out body-shaming, especially fat-shaming, from my thoughts and words. I really need to. I’m fat, after all.

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Who Doesn’t Want a Hug and Kiss?

Everyone wants a hug and a kiss, right? Well, no, not absolutely everyone. What kind of displays of affection are unwanted? Let me count the ways.

I, for one, could do without the symbolic kisses, in which two ladies touch cheeks and make a “mwaa” noise, then repeat on the other side. Fortunately, I run in circles where that just doesn’t happen. (Or I run in circles in order to avoid them.)

Kisses on the lips are sometimes unwelcome, depending on how well you know the person. I once knew a grandmother who quailed when her small grandchildren insisted on kissing her on the lips. Usually, when you see this sort of kiss moving in, you can move quickly enough so that the peck lands on the cheek instead. If you can’t avoid a kiss on the lips, be sure to return a dry, pinched, spitless peck, so the kisser may get the idea and not go back for more.

Hugs are quite variable. Some people like the full-on hug, which science tells us should last 20 seconds or more for proper fulfillment or endorphins or something. I don’t recommend trying this with someone you’re just meeting. In those cases, a handshake is perhaps preferable. Others prefer the less intimate, A-frame hug, in which both parties keep their distance and lean in only the tops of their bodies for the squeeze. “Buddy-hugs,” involving one arm across the back and shoulder, are pretty acceptable, especially between men at sporting events and sometimes in office situations that are really casual. (Offices are not generally safe places to display affection, though. You’re there to work, not snuggle.)

In general, you should avoid hugging anyone you just met. (Although that’s how I met my husband, in a group of people who all hugged. I didn’t want to offer a hearty handshake and feel left out. But I digress.) Also to be avoided are huggers who, shall we say, lack certain standards of hygiene, as well as those who go the other way and wear too much cologne.

Teachers have a particular problem with hugging. Sometimes a hug seems perfectly natural to console a young child or as a way of praising a child for completing a drawing that looks something like a horse. But teachers these days are wary. How much hug is appropriate? How old can a child be and still receive a hug that’s not creepy? (Four or five, probably. Fifteen or sixteen, no.) And is anyone watching who might report you? Some schools have zero-tolerance policies, as though hugs have been weaponized.

One of the stickiest situations is when a child doesn’t want to hug or kiss a relative. The sight of a large, looming face, perhaps with a thick layer of lipstick, moving in on a tiny, helpless face, can be terrifying. A hug might lead to unpleasant, unwanted tickling that could result in embarrassingly wet underwear. But children are frequently told, “Go kiss Grandma” or “Hug Uncle Bill now,” an order that’s difficult to refuse.

Some experts say – and I agree with them – that children should not be forced to kiss and hug when they don’t want to. It teaches them a lesson about bodily autonomy that contradicts the other lessons we try to impart – that they shouldn’t let other people touch them unless they invite or want the touch. Indiscriminate touching can lead to grooming far more than learning about two mommies can.

Bodily autonomy is a lesson that needs to start early and continue until adulthood or even beyond. Think about bra-snapping in junior high. Think about being pinned against the locker and kissed. Think about a slap on the ass with a towel in the locker room. Then think about molesters out in the real world. It’s a continuum. Accepting unwanted touch can lead to disaster.

I’m not saying that icky grandma kisses will lead to child rape. I’m just saying that the choice should be up to the prospective kissee or huggee. (Personally, I’m awfully fond of kisses on my head or forehead, or on my neck, with perhaps a discreet nuzzle thrown in for good measure. But that’s TMI. Never mind.)

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Whose Daughter? Whose Wife?

Emily St. John Mandel noticed back in 2012 that there were many, many books with titles that related to someone’s daughter. “No trend that I’ve ever noticed has seemed quite so pervasive as the daughter phenomenon,” she said. “Seriously, once you start noticing them, they’re everywhere. A recent issue of Shelf Awareness had ads for both The Sausage Maker’s Daughters and The Witch’s Daughter. I’m Facebook friends with the authors of The Hummingbird’s DaughterThe Baker’s DaughterThe Calligrapher’s Daughter, and The Murderer’s Daughters, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.” She actually made a spreadsheet of the number of daughter books and came up with over 530. “I don’t mean to suggest that 530 represents the total number of these books,” she added. “Five hundred and thirty was just the arbitrary point where I decided to stop counting, because the project was starting to take too much time. I was only on page 88 of 200 pages of search results.”

Well, I took over her mission and recorded still more daughters that were the subject of books. One of the best known is The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. Among the others I found were the President’s, General’s, Senator’s, Governor’s, Admiral’s, Colonel’s, Judge’s, and Sheriff’s. And the Bishop’s, Apostate’s, and Vicar’s. Not to mention the Alchemist’s, Apothecary’s, Taxi Driver’s, Merchant’s, Outlaw’s, and Killer’s. There were even ones that recognized that sometimes women had daughters as well: the Harlot’s, the Mistress’s, and the Book Woman’s daughters all came up on the search.

But the phenomenon doesn’t stop there. I also found a plethora of books devoted to various people’s wives. The most recent and popular was The Time-Traveler’s Wife, but there are plenty of others. Some I found particularly interesting: Zookeeper’s and Tiger’s (two separate books), Nazi Officer’s, Traitor’s, Lightning God’s, Liar’s, Shape-Changer’s, Dopeman’s, Conqueror’s, and Dark Overlord’s. Lobotomist’s (I think I need to read that one) and Anatomist’s and Knife Thrower’s. Lots of occupational ones – Shoemaker’s, Pilot’s (and Aviator’s), Headmaster’s, Optician’s, Woodcutter’s, Centurion’s, Mapmaker’s (a fascinating book that I’ve actually read), Tea Planter’s, Clockmaker’s, Chocolate Maker’s, Restaurant Critic’s, Runaway Pastor’s (no, that’s one, not two), Penmaker’s, and Banker’s wives were all featured. And some that are just puzzling: Salaryman’s, Janitor’s, Centaur’s wife.

That’s where I stopped recording them. I’m not a big fan of spreadsheets.

The reason I bring all this up (there actually is a reason) is that I’m always annoyed (not to say pissed off) when there’s a campaign that defines a woman in terms of her relationship with someone else: Breast cancer could happen to your wife or your mother. Being attacked on the street at night could happen to your daughter, your fiance, your niece. Abortion, stalking, mental and other illnesses – all could happen to a person related to you.

It’s not that you shouldn’t be aware of how these tragedies and distressing situations can affect those around you – loved ones, relatives, neighbors. And it’s not like there aren’t a few similar things that could be said about husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers, or male friends (killed in war or suffering from prostate cancer, usually).

What gets to me is that the afflictions are said to be visited on women in relation to someone else. Isn’t it bad enough when a woman is raped or gets cervical cancer strictly as herself? Why do we have to define her as someone’s something in order for her to deserve our attention?

Even the sisters and the daughters are encouraged to think, “It could be my mother or grandmother. It could be my best friend.” I guess “It could happen to any woman” isn’t specific enough. There has to be an emotional connection to make them worth caring about.

But there are plenty of women without family or community connections who are subject to diseases and disasters – the homeless woman, the one who has always lived on her own, the widow with no children. Why can’t we care about, have sympathy for, and work toward the health and happiness of them too?

Or are they only worthwhile and interesting when they’re daughters or wives?

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Ghostwriter Gigs

For the past several years, I have been working for a transcription service, typing up shareholders’ and lenders’ info sessions, conferences, and other sorts of gatherings to discuss primarily business issues.

With the slowing of the COVID pandemic and other factors, however, transcription assignments have been thin on the ground, or at least in the inbox.

Fortunately, I have discovered ghostwriting. Actually, I was applying to be an editor, not a ghostwriter. But I screwed up on the qualifying test. I’m a good editor, but I wasn’t used to their way of editing. When I was an editor in magazine publishing, I worked for a small company. We didn’t have lots of editors, subeditors, associate editors, assistant editors, acquisitions editors, line editors, content editors, proofreaders, or much of a budget for freelance writers. A simple editor had to do virtually all of it. And I was a simple editor.

So when I was faced with a sample text to edit, I did it the way I always had – I attacked all the problems I saw during my first editing pass, then went back to attack the rest of the problems – things I’d missed or that only became apparent on a second or third reading. Problems of flow, continuity, grammar, style, punctuation, and other arcane pieces of an editor’s craft were addressed in a somewhat random fashion.

What the company wanted, however, was a series of separate editorial steps – first (for some reason) spelling and punctuation, then moving upward through a series of other steps done in a certain order until all the editing was complete. I did my usual slash-and-burn editing, which didn’t at all mesh with their procedure. I was turned down.

But I noticed that the company also employed ghostwriters. “I’m a writer,” I said to myself. “I’ve written many an article that I didn’t develop myself on topics that I didn’t select. Why can’t I do that with a book?” This time I passed the trial assignment and became an actual ghostwriter. Then I went through the various processes associated with the position, such as selecting a pen name, creating a profile, choosing which niches I could write in, and so forth.

I expected to have to request orders and wait to be accepted, but almost immediately I received a request from a prospective customer. The book requested was on pets, which I know something about, but specifically on dogs, which I know little about. Some discussion ensued, but I was granted the assignment – 27,000 words, due in three weeks (the usual deadline given for a book of about 30,000 words). That works out to about 1,500 words a day, a number I could easily meet.

Then I got another assignment, a self-help book. The time period overlapped somewhat with the deadline for the pet book, but I took the assignment regardless. After all, 3,000 words a day would be a stretch, but since the overlap was only a week, I thought I could handle it.

While I was finishing up the first book and working on the second book, I sent out more requests for invitations to work on other books, thinking that it might take me a while to line up another assignment. That’s how I acquired my third assignment, which overlapped with the second one, with revisions on the first assignment thrown in. The third assignment was a self-help/business book on a subject I had written something about before in a blog. After some back-and-forth with the customer to make sure we meshed, I signed on for the assignment and the customer signed on for me.

I am finding the job rewarding, though not necessarily financially. The money isn’t great, only a few hundred dollars per book, but more than I ever made at transcription, even when the taps were open and the assignments flowing daily.

I’m writing nonfiction just now, but I think I’ll try taking the test for fiction ghostwriters too, just to give myself more options. I don’t have as much experience with writing fiction as I do with writing nonfiction, but I do have some. And I figure that being able to write both will make my services more marketable and keep the assignments coming in.

Will it be frustrating to see someone else’s name on a book that I actually authored? And not even my pen name at that? Other writers will know what I mean when I say that as long as they spell my name right on the check, I won’t mind. (Not that anyone pays by check anymore. So just so long as they deposit it to the right PayPal account, I’ll be satisfied.)

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My Personal Writer’s Retreat

I am on a writer’s retreat. It’s not an official one, but I don’t care!

What is a writer’s retreat? There are actually several kinds: the writer’s residency, the writers’ workshop, the writers’ conference, and the writer’s retreat. All of them are designed to provide writers (and prospective writers) with space and time to pursue their craft, and perhaps inspiration and instruction. Some of these categories overlap a bit, but let’s tackle them one by one.

Writer’s Residency

Writer’s residencies are perhaps the classiest of all these kinds of retreats. You go to a location like a large house, which you share with other writers-in-residence. Each of you has a separate room and are free to work on your writing as you please. The residency lasts for anywhere from a week to a month or two. The one catch is that, because residencies are so sought-after, you have to apply to get one, and the competition is fierce. So it’s not the kind of thing you can plan on and, as we’ll see, planning is one of the primary prerequisites of getting the most from your desk-away-from-desk.

Writers’ Workshop

A writers’ workshop is the place to go if you already have a work-in-progress, but are stalled. These are a combination of critiques and feedback on your work and some writing classes to help you improve it. These are typically held over a long weekend and may take place at a college or university. They’re a particularly good deal if you live in the same town. Otherwise, you’ll likely be put up in a student dorm, which is why they’re usually held during school breaks.

Writers’ Conference

Like workshops, these are often held over a long weekend. Unlike workshops, though, there are usually industry professionals like agents and publishers in attendance. Frequently, there are professional writers there too. The pros give little mini-seminars on various aspects of writing or getting published. If you’re really lucky, you may be able to sign up for one of the spots on a speed-dating sort of consultation with one or more of them and pitch your idea or get feedback on what you should do next. There could also be interactive writing sessions, in which, for example, you have half an hour to write to a prompt then share your work with the others in your group.

Writers’ Retreat

Writers’ retreats can last for a week or a weekend. They provide a secluded location, often very scenic, where you can write for hours without distractions, other than going out to stroll about the aforementioned scenery to get inspiration. These can be solo affairs or be open to several writers, who generally write all day (or night) and gather for meals and perhaps sharing sessions. Writers’ retreats are sometimes held in really classy locations – in another country or overlooking a fantastic beach, for example. Hence, they can be quite pricey.

DIY Writer’s Retreat

The DIY writer’s retreat is when a writer retreats (duh!) to a secluded location near their home – a local hotel, for instance, and holes up writing for however long they can afford to stay. There are also stay-at-home versions which require that you have at least a room with a door, no children, and no phone (or your cell turned off).

There are several ways a writer can sabotage their own writer’s retreat, though. Sitting staring at the computer (or legal pad, if you’re a poet or merely old-fashioned) is one. Giving in to distractions is another. It’s best if you have a plan in place – a certain number of hours to write every day, an outline to show you where you’re going, or other way to organize your time and work. A DIY retreat doesn’t work for everyone, needless to say, but it’s by far the cheapest way to retreat, unless you run up a whopping hotel bill (which is still cheaper than the kind held in exotic places). And there is no feedback from other writers unless you have a regular writers’ group that meets during or afterward.

I’ve had my own personal 10-day writer’s retreat this past week-and-a-fraction. I did have one distraction – three cats who were pests when it came to getting their noms on time. It’s a pet-sitting gig for friends in another state who have gone on a cruise and didn’t feel comfortable boarding their little darlings. I had a plan – one writing session in the morning and another in the afternoon, with evenings free for research and relaxing and practicing my catspeak (meow, meh, ma-aa, aa-aa). I’m writing this during a morning session. That’s my plan and I have stuck to it, except for a long lunch with a nearby friend that spilled over into the afternoon.

And I have had specific projects to work on. I’m doing ghostwriting right now and have two overlapping projects. Mornings were for working on the book about pets and the afternoons for the self-help book. (I’ve finished the pet book, so I’m writing this during a morning session.) And the outlines were largely laid out for me, so I could just write away. The only phone calls were from my husband.

Fortunately, when I get back home, I do have a study with a door I can close, and our cats, while annoyed about not being able to get to their favorite window perch, have other perches and other windows available to them. It’s a bit noisier when my husband gets home from work, but hey, you can’t have everything. I’ve enjoyed this break enormously, though I don’t expect to have the opportunity to do it again soon. It’s even harder to get pet-sitting gigs than ghostwriting gigs!

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Show Me the Money!

You see a lot of pass-alongs on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet that ask if you would live alone somewhere or perform a socially unacceptable act for $250,000, $500,000, $1,000,000, or even more. The place can be a haunted house, a remote island or a cabin, or another isolated location. Often conditions are specified, such as no phone, cable TV, or internet. Or the poster will ask if you would streak through a crowded mall for a large sum of money.

I always respond, “Show me the money first and I’ll consider it.” This is a facetious reply, but honestly, no one is going to actually pay you money to do any of these things. They only want a response of yes or no. While this is probably relatively harmless, it could also be a form of like-farming or an attempt to make the post go viral.

Like-farming is an attempt to build up the statistics for a particular company, group, or organization in order to demonstrate their popularity. Why is this important? Radio stations, for example, often post memes to entice people to respond so that they can tell prospective advertisers how vast their audience is. I prefer not to encourage them, even if I have a strong opinion on the bogus offer or other pass-along. I see these sorts of offers all the time, so they must draw a lot of likes and comments.

The opposite of this are memes that show a product or service, usually an unusual or unlikely one. The response to this is often “Shut up and take my money,” sometimes abbreviated SUATMM or SUTFUATMM (for added emphasis). Elaborate Lego sets featuring popular media figures and locations like Babylon Five or the Space Shuttle (with astronaut Lego-people) are examples of this.

Of course, there are also online scams that want you to say SUATMM, but give you nothing in return. Or they may offer a product that looks fabulous in the photo but proves disappointing or worse in real life. (I’ve fallen for a couple of these, where the product was the wrong size or of inferior quality. They said they allowed exchanges or refunds, but I would have had to ship the item back to China or somewhere. But I digress.)

The exemplar of this kind of scam is not an ad for a product, but an email, IM, or other solicitation for a too-good-to-be-true opportunity – a never-fail investment opportunity or the notorious Nigerian prince lure of easy money, if only you transfer a sum of money from your bank account as some sort of fee. (Does anyone still fall for this one?)

One email scam that I encountered was the one where you get an apparently sincere plea from a friend who is stranded in some foreign country and needs you to transfer money so he or she can get home. In my case, it was remotely possible because the friend was said to be stranded in Germany, and his daughter was living there. A quick call to the friend’s wife exposed the fraud.

(One time, I was the one actually stranded abroad and had to appeal for help. When I made the request, I included a sentence that proved I knew a really obscure detail about the person so they could verify my identity. The person came through with the loan, for which I was intensely grateful. But I digress again.)

There are also telephone scams that can catch the unwary. A relative of mine fell for the one where he got a phone call purporting to be from a large computer company, saying that his machine was infected with a virus and he had to pay them to get it removed. He actually fell for it. Another person I know got the same kind of call and didn’t. Another version has the caller pretending to be the IRS. The IRS doesn’t call anyone. They send threatening letters.

It’s sometimes fun to toy with phone scammers. Once you realize it’s a bogus offer or other trap, you can say, “Does your mother know what you do?” or whisper, “It’s okay. I moved the body, but there’s blood everywhere.” They hang up right away. A guy I knew would tell phone solicitors that the person they were asking for was dead or in jail. Once he even told someone who was selling dance lessons that he was paraplegic. If you can actually start sobbing while you tell the story, you get bonus points. Extra bonus points if you can make the person on the other end cry or add you to a prayer chain.

Actually, I would live in a haunted house or a remote location. I would probably want a phone in case of emergencies, but as long as I had electricity so I could charge my e-reader, I would be fine. And presumably, the place would have to be accessible via Amazon or UPS so I could order supplies. Or, if it’s a remote island, a boat that comes once a month with supplies and a delivery person that I could shanghai for a cup of coffee and a chat. And conjugal visits from my husband.

But I don’t think I’d streak. I have that dream all the time where I’m naked in public. The depressing (and vaguely insulting) thing is that no one notices.

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What YOLO Means

Much as I hate acronyms, one that has wedged its way into common parlance is YOLO. It stands for You Only Live Once. What it means is open to interpretation – by me at least.

Is YOLO a mindset, a lifestyle, or a philosophy? It’s a slippery concept, one that can mean many things to many people. I can think of at least four different ways it is used, some of which I can see as being good.

The first group of YOLO-ers are those who hear You Only Live Once and take it as a dare. These are the adrenaline junkies. They pursue extreme sports, pushing the boundaries of what is sport and what is a death wish. Base-jumping, for example – parachuting from a high cliff or mesa, or even a building. There is no reserve parachute, probably because there isn’t time to use one before making that hard landing. Some people don’t even bother with the parachute, relying instead on a “wingsuit,” something that makes the jumper look like a flying squirrel. Injury or death is a very real possibility. In fact, it is considered the world’s most dangerous sport.

(People who engage in pursuits such as base-jumping and heli-skiing – jumping from a helicopter to begin a back-country ski run – are a bit different from the people who receive Darwin Awards for accidentally removing themselves from the gene pool by causing their own deaths in spectacularly stupid ways. One, for example, was a man who took literally his martial arts instructor’s statement about being able to fight lions. But I digress.)

I don’t understand these people. They only live once, and maybe not very long at that.

Then there are people who believe that You Only Live Once, so they try to cram as many experiences as possible into that one life. These are the people with dozens of pursuits and hobbies, who try out new ones so quickly that their friends can’t keep up with them all. They may shift from computer games to hot air ballooning to scuba diving to photography to whatever comes next. Or the ones who dabble in poetry, astronomy, musical instruments, martial arts, and horseback riding.

They may not become experts at any of these pursuits, but that’s not the point. The point is to try out a lot of different sorts of activities. They may be adrenaline afficiandos, but stop short of being junkies. Activities that could become extreme like bungee jumping are done with supervision and safety equipment.

I like people like this. They have the best stories and the best conversation. They only live once, but they live it with variety and gusto.

There are also people who believe that You Only Live Once and want to make sure that that one life lasts as long as possible. They eat right and exercise. They believe in moderation. They walk or jog five miles a day. They live by various diet philosophies and take lots of vitamins.

I do admire these people. They have dedication, stamina, and determination that I simply don’t. They do the things a person should do. Many of them even enjoy it, rather than viewing it as self-denial and a chore. They can, of course, be thwarted in their quest for longevity by genetics, accidents not of their own making, the eventual onset of old age (though perhaps later than the rest of us experience it), or diseases like various cancers that have no respect for how healthy you’ve been in the past.

But the kind of YOLO-ers I find most interesting and laudable are those who believe that, because they have only one life to live, want to do as much as they can to affect the lives of others.

Teachers, firefighters, and those in the helping professions. Blood donors, librarians, and philanthropists of every stripe. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, good neighbors. Those who care. Those who listen. Those who contribute. Those who share life, make it better, and keep it going. Even people who sacrifice their lives for the sake of others.

These are the people who really know what it means to only live once, and to make the most of it.

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Adventures in Ireland, Part Two: The Good Parts

Last week I wrote about our trials and tribulations getting to and from Ireland. This week, I’m going into the more enjoyable parts of the vacation. And there were many.

Newgrange. We saw the outside, but not the inside.

In the Boyne Valley, we wanted to see Newgrange and Knowth, two ancient stone tombs. We had booked a tour in advance. Unfortunately, we got lost on the way there and missed our appointed time. Dan was able to get a picture of the Newgrange monument from the road. When we go back to Ireland (whenever that may be), we want to spend several days just in the Boyne Valley so we can see everything at our leisure. We could also take a bus into Dublin to see the Book of Kells and other historic sights and sites.

Here’s a picture of the Giant’s Causeway, which we didn’t actually get to see. This is a stock photo.

(We also never made it to the Giant’s Causeway for the same reason. We had a drive into Northern Ireland, though, where they take pounds and pence instead of euros. Someone told us it wasn’t all that great or interesting anyway. I would have liked to see for myself. The pictures of it are pretty spectacular. But I digress.)

After the Boyne Valley, we stayed at Brook Lodge in Donegal, probably my favorite of the hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that we were booked into by our travel company. It was a very homey place, where we could sit at the dining table and watch the host make us an Irish breakfast while she and Dan discussed gardening.

Off to Arranmore Island.

One of our excursions while we were staying in Donegal was to Arranmore Island. We drove to Burtonport and took the ferry over. Once we were on the island, I wanted to find a pub and get lunch, but Dan insisted that he wanted to see something, such as the lighthouse on the island. We got thoroughly lost again. What we saw were sheep, one of which ran ahead of our car down a one-lane, rocky road. (In addition to sheep and lambs, many of them apparently newborn, we saw cows and some horses in fields throughout the country. We also saw a lot of wind farms, which makes sense because Ireland is usually windy and rainy, though we had excellent weather for the first six days or so of our trip. Even the locals remarked on it. But I digress again.)

In a welcoming pub on Arranmore Island.

We never did find the lighthouse that allegedly existed on Arranmore Island, but we did find our way back to the landing in time to have a drink and a snack in a pub and catch the last ferry back to the mainland. I considered the jaunt a success for those reasons, lighthouse or no.

Our next stop, on the way to Galway, was in the small town of Cong. You may never have heard of it, but it was the place where the John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara movie The Quiet Man was filmed. That’s one of my husband’s favorite movies, so I made sure we would have time to see the place, and on his birthday too. Dan tramped around the town and took pictures of the commemorative statue. While I checked out a local inn, he went shopping. He had sworn that while in Ireland he was going to buy a walking stick and a clock.

Scene from The Quiet Man, immortalized.

(Dan has a history of buying clocks while abroad and managing to pack them well enough in dirty clothes to get them safely back to the States. He brought a clock back from England once. But I digress some more.) He found his walking stick in Cong, and a nice tweed Irish cap. (Getting the walking stick out of the country was another matter. It had to be inspected for insect life at the airport and stowed in the overhead compartments on the planes, which was a challenge. But I digress yet again.)

Dan busking at the Cliffs of Moher. (The real busker is observing him.)

The Cliffs of Moher, about an hour from our b-n-b in Galway, was one of the scenic locations we didn’t get too lost to see. It’s a spectacular set of cliffs with a great view of the Atlantic Ocean. (It was a foggy day, so we didn’t get good pics. We bought t-shirts and mugs instead.) Being somewhat mobility-challenged, we were able to get a ride to the viewing area in a golf cart type of vehicle, cunningly called “The Lift of Moher.” Our guide told us that scenes from one of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies were filmed at a cave at the base of the Cliffs and that the Cliffs themselves were featured as the “Cliffs of Insanity” in The Princess Bride.

Next we stopped in Shannon, about half a mile from Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. We had booked the Medieval Banquet at the castle and saw part of the park while on our way to that. It featured replicas of thatched-roof cottages and other relics of Irish ways of life in the olden days.

At Bunratty.

I knew the banquet was sort of hokey and definitely touristy, but I had been to it on a previous trip to Ireland and also knew that it was a lot of fun. They welcome you with a cup of mead (honey wine) and present you with a lavish dinner that you have to eat with only a knife and your fingers. And one of the dishes was ribs. (They did let us have actual utensils for the dessert, but it was apple cobbler, so they kind of had to.)

Dingle’s harbor.

Our visit to Ireland wouldn’t have been complete without a stay in Dingle, thought by many to be the most beautiful place in Ireland, or maybe in the world, according to National Geographic Traveler. Dingle is another seaside town and had some of the best seafood we had in Ireland. There was a little hole-in-the-wall looking place across from the plaza in this photo, but I had an enormous bowl of amazing mussels there. Actually, the seafood was terrific all through Ireland, which makes sense given that it’s an island. Fish and chips were served at nearly every restaurant and you could have smoked salmon every morning for breakfast if you wanted to (which we sometimes did).

Uragh Stone Circle on a misty day.

We also went to see the Uragh Stone Circle, which we had high hopes for. But it turned out to be not nearly as impressive as Stonehenge, which we saw on our trip to England a number of years back. The stone circle was only eight feet in diameter and the standing stone only ten feet tall. Still, we had an enjoyable day tooling around the countryside and chatting with a couple who were collecting stones and shells in Dingle. We didn’t do the entire Ring of Kerry because it takes five hours, plus stops for photos, and by that time we weren’t enthusiastic about driving for five more hours, no matter how scenic the trip.

The view from the window of our last swanky hotel room in Athlone.

Then it was on to Athlone, not a well-known city, but one I remembered from a previous trip. We were put up there in another swanky hotel. The view out our window of Lough Ree was spectacular. There was a small island that contained a stone said to mark the exact center of Ireland. Athlone gave us access to some of the most beautiful ruins, one of my must-see stops, and one of the most historic establishments in all Ireland. It was a perfect way to round out our trip.

Graveyard at Clonmacnoise.

Clonmacnoise is one of those sites where churches, monasteries, and other sacred buildings were erected, attacked, destroyed, rebuilt, raided, destroyed again (and again). Because of that, there are a number of impressive ruins. There is also a great museum with examples of imposing Celtic crosses and stone carvings, and the history of Clonmacnoise. I waited there while Dan tramped around the site because the day was very cold and windy and I hadn’t worn enough warm or waterproof clothes. We also toured Athlone Castle, another historic site.

Near Athlone was one of the destinations I most wanted to visit – the town of Tullamore. It has historic connections with a canal that linked the town to the rest of Ireland in the 1700s. It was also the site of perhaps the first aviation disaster, when a hot air balloon crashed and started a fire that resulted in 130 houses burning down.

The distillery where my favorite whiskey is made. We took the tasting tour. (Of course we did!)

But what really made me want to go to Tullamore was the fact that it’s the location of the distillery of my favorite whiskey – Tullamore Dew. (Sorry, Jack Daniels. For some reason, Tully is the preferred spirit of many attendees at science fiction conventions, which is where I learned to appreciate it. Yet another digression.)

Of course we took the tasting tour. They welcomed us with an Irish coffee made with the local tipple, and then it was on to view the fermentation tanks and the aging barrels. Along the way, there were more tasting sessions, including one of the various styles of the whiskey that I never even knew existed. The gift shop was also impressive. I now have a Tullamore Dew t-shirt and a Tully shot glass. Dan bought a ceramic crock of Tully, which he also managed to pack and transport safely to the US, and which we’re saving for a special occasion, or maybe another science fiction convention.

Sean’s Bar and the antiques shop. You can tell which one impressed Dan the most.

Also in Athlone is Sean’s Bar, which bears the title of the oldest continuously operating pub in all of Ireland. I had a pint of lager while Dan went to the antiques shop next door. There he purchased his clock for the trip, a really lovely Art Deco piece which also made it home safely. (I was dragged over to the shop to see it and to help Dan bargain down the price.)

That was our last real stop in Ireland if you don’t count the Dublin airport and a Dublin airport hotel, which I don’t.

We’re already talking about saving up to go back.

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