Getting Into the Movies

While I admit it would be terrific if my mystery novel finds an agent, and then a publisher, and then becomes a wildly popular best-seller, and then gets made into a big Hollywood movie, that’s not what I’m here to write about today.

In one of the Facebook groups I belong to, someone posed the question, what thing in a movie is a deal-breaker for you? There were all kinds of answers. One of the most interesting was someone who said the “10% of your brainpower” film, in which one person suddenly gains the use of all 100% and acquires superpowers. (That whole thing about using only 10% of your brainpower is a crock anyway. Have you ever heard anyone say, “He was shot in the head, but fortunately the bullet only hit the 90% he wasn’t using”? But I digress.)

I had two and a half dealbreakers. The first one was any movie with Sylvester Stallone. At least Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to have a sense of humor about himself. 

Another thing that keeps me from being able to enter into a movie is when the POV (point of view) character is a pre-teen or teenage boy. This puts “A Christmas Story” out of the running, as well as “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.” I understand that both of those movies are wildly popular, but I just can’t get into them the way I can “All That Jazz,” “Contact,” or anything with Kris Kristofferson in it.

The half a deal-breaker was superhero movies or anything based on a comic book. It’s only half a deal-breaker because I have to admit that I like the Deadpool movies. But they’re sort of outside the typical superhero movie. Breaking the fourth wall much?

The other thing that keeps me “outside” a movie, I hate to admit, is my husband. He has a habit of leaning over to me and whispering softly in my ear, “I think I know how those space ships work,” or “Do you know a guy named Elliot?” or “I think I have a pimple on my back. Can you look?” There’s no coming back from a mood-killer like one of those.

I’ve been working on him, though, and I’ve almost convinced him that when I’m staring in rapture at the screen, eyes glazed over, barely breathing, is not the right time to tell or ask me anything other than “The theater (or livingroom) is on fire,” and then only if it really is.

Then he slips. I’m watching an engrossing DVD that I haven’t seen in years, and he sits down beside me and asks, “Did you hear what Trump just did?” And then looks offended when I shush him.

One time when he did get the hint was when we were watching the third “Lord of the Rings” movie in the theater, and when the ending came, I was curled up a ball in my seat, with tears cascading my face. Even if he did have a comment to make about what kinds of swords everyone had used or how much he liked the actress who played Galadriel (who, since he can’t remember the character’s name, he always refers to as “the elf witch,” which is not even close, but by now I know who he means), he restrained himself. 

And he does know not to talk to me when I’m watching a film I sing along with, like “The Mikado” or “Pirates of Penzance” or “The Wizard of Oz” or “Cabaret.”

So what are films I enter into? In addition to the aforementioned, “An American in Paris,” “The Three (and Four) Musketeers,” “The Goodbye Girl,” “The Big Chill,” and “The Commitments,” among others.

I’m sometimes tempted to wait until he’s watching  “My Favorite Year” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” and ask him “Who’s that guy playing Potter? What else have I seen him in?” But I don’t. Because I’m a good wife.


How the Pandemic Changed My Life

The pandemic has changed lots of peoples’ lives. They’ve taken up new hobbies, learned new skills, and bonded more closely with family and friends. They’ve learned what things mean the most to them and what they miss the most. Some have lived in fear and others have found new strength.


As for me, since the pandemic struck last spring, I have been working from home, on my Macintosh. Because of that I can – and do – spend most days as well as nights in my pajamas. I have not had my hair or nails done since March.

I no longer go out, except for vital appointments like visits to doctors. I have a mask (actually I have two – one leopard print and one camo) and I wear one or the other religiously whenever I do go out. In general, when I do go out or want to look even semi-respectable, I pull my hair back into the fortunate ‘do known as a messy bun – my favorite of all the recent fashion styles.

My husband takes care of most of the errands, such as grocery shopping. He’s not able to work from home, so most days are very quiet, allowing me to do my work and my writing.

Speaking of writing, I have had time to work on my mystery novel. It’s now in shape to where I can send queries to agents and start collecting rejection slips. (I’ve done this before and am used to them.) I haven’t taken up any other hobbies. I have resisted the allure of homemade bread and jam and homemade Christmas decorations as well.

I don’t really have pandemic panic. First of all, I have a third-degree black belt in social distancing. I have no aesthetic, medical, or political objection to masks. And I’ve mastered the art of creative procrastination.

My philosophy has for a long time been not to worry about things I can’t do anything about, and to postpone worrying until the looming whatever-it-is actually hits. So far the pandemic has not invaded our house (not to put a kinnehara on it). Since I have been taking all necessary precautions, I won’t worry about it until it does.

That said, I can’t really say that I miss my life before the pandemic. You see, it has changed almost not at all.


I’ve worked from home for a number of years, so that’s no challenge for me. And I can just sit down at my computer and work on my novel as I always have. My typical uniform has always been pajamas, or a nightshirt when the weather is pleasant. I never had much of a social life anyway, mostly conducted by phone and computer. For “formal” Zoom meetings, I could half-dress, which is still true.

I not only haven’t had my hair and nails done since March, I haven’t had them done in years. (Unless you count clipping my nails, which I do regularly, or biting them, which I do occasionally.) 

Also, pre-pandemic, it was rare for me to leave the house, except for doctor’s appointments. And when I did this before the pandemic, I didn’t wear a mask, of course, not even for Halloween or when robbing banks. (I wonder how bank personnel feel about having masked people coming into the branches that are open. It must be at least a little unnerving. But I digress.)

My husband has always done the grocery and most other shopping, as he works in a big box store that has a grocery section. He has worked third shift for years, so it’s always been quiet, both during the morning when he sleeps and at night when he works.

I still have all the things that are important to me – my husband, my home, my work, my novel, my cats, enough food, and my medications (which can be picked up at a drive-through). The pandemic so far has taken none of them away. There is almost nothing I miss.

Except going out for lunch. We’ve done take-out, but it’s just not the same. At home, the cats bug us shamelessly for little nibbles of whatever we’re having. Even if they don’t like the food, they can’t resist sticking their little noses in. At least in proper restaurants, there are no intrusive noses.


Binge Christmas

What to get my husband for Christmas (and birthdays) is always a problem. Specifically, he always tells me what he wants, leaving me in a trap. If I get him what he says he wants, I’m disappointed because I didn’t surprise him. If I get him something else, he’s disappointed because he didn’t get what he wanted. You see my dilemma.

This year I went a little crazy, hoping that one of the things I got him would be something he liked, or at least was surprised by. It helps that one of the symptoms of my bipolar disorder is hypomania, which often leads to binge shopping. This time, I thought, I would use my symptom for good.

The first thing I got Dan was one of those home DNA test kits. He had once expressed interest in them, and a friend suggested it, so I went for it. (It was on sale for half price.) I gave it to him early, because it arrived in a box that was clearly and colorfully labeled as such and there was no hiding it, as he brings in the mail. I hoped that the results would be back by Christmas and we could surprise and appall his mom by telling her that Dan had some unsuitable ancestors, such as Neanderthals, in his family background.

So far, though, he hasn’t spit in the little tube and mailed it back. I do not think this is because he does not like to spit, although really he doesn’t do it all that much, except at the dentist. I suspect that he secretly doesn’t care where his ancestors came from, and appalling his mother isn’t enough of an enticement to make him go through the strenuous exercise of spitting. If he doesn’t get with the program, I may have to collect his drool while he’s sleeping.

I also ordered him a print he wanted to replace because the original was destroyed in our tornado. (I call it “our” tornado because, while it affected many other families (fortunately, no one was killed), it was the only one we had ever had (and we thought it was more than sufficient)). But I digress.

The print was a semi-famous one of Morris the Cat, of cat-food commercial fame. If that seems an odd thing to have in one’s collection, I think so too, but there you have it. He loved that thing as only someone who loves large orange cats can. I went on eBay, found someone who had a copy in good condition, made a bid, and got it. The sturdily wrapped package arrived promptly and is stored beside my desk, where it waits enticingly for later in the month.

But I didn’t stop there. I saw one of those online come-ons for a service that would convert a photo of your pet into a piece of artwork. I sent them a picture of his gray tiger, Toby, and was very pleased with the results. Another package beside my desk. Then I ordered one of our calico, Dushenka, too, so she wouldn’t feel left out. Yet another package. At this point, Dan was getting anxious. “How much stuff did you buy for me?” he asked.

I wasn’t done yet. I found another online service that would take any photo and encase it in lucite. I sent them a photo of Jasper, a cat of ours who had passed away and Dan mourned extravagantly. I actually gave him this early, too, because it was just a small trinket and would fit nicely in his curio cabinet.

I’m pretty sure he’ll be surprised, if only by the volume of presents and the theme of “Cats We Have Known” (or sort-of knew, in the case of Morris).

Now I have to think about his birthday in April and see if I have another fit of binge-shopping. Or maybe just get him the Dremel tool he really wants.

Happy Pandemic Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday, and we are in the middle of a pandemic. How does this affect my celebration? Hardly at all. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with birthdays and am perfectly happy celebrating them with as little fuss as possible. In fact, my idea of a really good present is for my husband to tell the waitstaff not to sing when they bring my birthday cupcake or sundae. I rather imagine that they enjoy the singing as little as I do.

This year, it’s even more minimalist than that. Since we no longer go out to eat, I am expecting to get a surprise bag of Taco Bell takeout, with maybe a candle in the quesadilla, or, if I’m really lucky, Long John Silver’s chicken planks with a candle in the cole slaw.

Of course, my husband still gets me presents. He buys them in July or so and hides them till December, then gives them to me – if he can remember where he hid them. For this Pandemic Birthday, he hasn’t had the advantage of following me around stores to see what I like, then sneaking back later to buy it. He does work in a department store, so I’m pretty sure he’s gotten me something and hidden it in the back of his car.

Since the store he works at also has a day-old baked goods table, I can reliably expect some form of leftover cake or pie, sometimes with whipped cream, but hardly ever with a candle. And when there is a candle, just one is fine, thank you very much. I may also, of course, receive the proverbial bowling ball named Homer.

In my teens, I tried to disown my birthday altogether. In my dysfunctional way, I told people that it was on March 1, rather than in December. This was a stupid coping mechanism, not unlike the time prescription Ibuprofen caused me stomach trouble in college and I sat by the door in my classes, hoping that the burping would be less noticeable there. Don’t ask me why. My birthday didn’t go away (the burping didn’t either), my family still baked me cakes, and I still got presents or cards.

Eventually, I reclaimed my actual birthday. As the years went by, I barely celebrated at all. Then Facebook came along and now I have the opportunity to count the number of people who wish me happy birthday. As excitement goes, it’s not much.

There’s likely to be even less excitement this year. A surprise party would be out of the question, even if I liked them, which I don’t. First of all, I almost never leave the house, so it would be difficult to sneak people in without my noticing. Also, having masked people jump out from behind furniture and yell at me would resemble a home invasion more than a party. Besides, a good many of my friends live out of state and even the ones here in town are social distancing, which is part of why they’re my friends.

I’m content these days just to let my birthday slide by with an emotion that ranges from meh to Bah, Humbug, depending on the year. I have a feeling this is going to be a meh year.



Thanksgiving Memories

It all started with my sister. Once she and my mother and I were driving around and talking about Thanksgiving. She was waxing rhapsodic about how it would be wonderful to give our cats little bites of turkey.

“Actually,” I said, “we’re having lasagna.”

The gasp from the back seat was audible.

“It’s going to have ground turkey in it. Does that count?”

Apparently, it didn’t.

Since that time, we have avoided turkey every year (except the one time Dan’s work was handing them out), just to piss off my sister, the uber-traditionalist.

Fortunately, we now have our own traditions.


This is really the heart and soul of our Thanksgiving. Every year we watch the “Turkeys Away” episode of WKRP in Cincinnati  (thank goodness for the internet!) and listen to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” singing – or rather reciting – along. One year we also had a DVD of a cozy fire in a fireplace. It was so realistic that, in the middle of it, someone from offstage came in and put another log on the fire.


One year Dan and his mother were particularly lonely, as they lived in different states. We taught her how to Skype – no easy task from hundreds of miles away – then set up our feast on a utility table in my study. At least we were able to have conversation and watch each other eat. (I think that was the turkey year, or at least the turkey breast year.) For an approximation of the Skype problem, go here to listen to my friend Tom Smith’s song (


The lasagna we had has not been our only departure from traditional holiday fare. One year we had spaghetti; another, salmon poached in orange juice. Our most memorable non-turkey meal, though, was the year we had ratatouille. It has been immortalized on my blog in an older post (, but here’s the gist of it.

Dan was visiting his mother that year, so Thanksgiving luncheon would be only me, my mother, and Dan’s best friend John. Doing a whole turkey for three people seemed excessive, and I wanted to make another nontraditional dish, so I settled on ratatouille, with the addition of some sausage for John, a carnivore.

Imagine our surprise when, after taking just one bite, John choked and couldn’t breathe. The rest of the afternoon was a flurry of Heimlichs, emergency equipment, the emergency room, several doctors, and an x-ray. Turns out John had swallowed the bay leaf, which I had neglected to remove, and it had lodged on top of his vocal cords. The highly technical medical procedure required to remove it was a very hard cough. We then went back to my mother’s house for ice cream.

Read the whole thing, if you have time.

Pandemic Thanksgiving

This year, the year of the pandemic, we didn’t have anyone over for Thanksgiving. Not only did we think it was safer, but both my mother and John have passed on. And not from any encounters with rogue bay leaves. I learned my lesson and now use a bouquet garni.

What we did this year combined the traditional and the nontraditional. We didn’t try to teach Mom Reily to Zoom this year. It would take longer to do that than to roast a full-sized turkey.

No, Dan and I continued our nontraditional tradition and at the same time supported a local small business by patronizing them. This year, we had a jolly feast of take-out sushi and Kirin beer. Arlo and Les Nessman were invited, of course. We have to keep up some traditions.



When “Friend” Became a Verb: Young People and Social Media

I recently interviewed Harvard professor Dr. Michael Rich (M.D.), founder and leader of the Center of Media and Child Health. Here’s what he told me about young people and social media.

What are some of the problems children have with social media?

One of the big problems kids have is they lose track of time. Of course, the games and social media have that built-in – want to disconnect you from time, because time with your eyeballs is their currency. We also have to add that kids’ brains are still maturing and their pre-frontal cortex, where impulse control, future thinking, and all that executive function lie, is not going to be online until their mid to late 20s.

Also, I think we lost a lot when “friend” became a verb. We friend people willy-nilly and rack up the score, but they’re not the kind of friends that you can cry to in the middle of the night or who you could reach out for a shoulder to lay your head on.

Why do you say “problematic interactive media use” instead of “gaming addiction”?

Gaming is just one of four manifestations we’re seeing of what we’re calling “problematic interactive media use.” That includes games, which is predominately boys, or most prevalent in boys, although we have a fair number of girls; followed by social media, more prevalent in girls; pornography, evenly balanced between the boys and girls; and “information binging” – following the endless rabbit holes of Wikipedia, etc. There are many ways you can get lost in the web essentially eternally. 

Part of the reason we call it problematic interactive media use is it’s not an addiction. It’s overuse of a necessary resource. In the 21st-century the online space, the active media space, is necessary to function at school, function at work, etc. What continues with many of the advocacy groups out there is a call to cut down on screen time, get rid of these devices, block this, do that, rather than taking a step back and saying this is the world we must live in.

How should we approach interactive media use with children?

Instead of looking at these devices as vectors of harm or help, let’s look at these devices as creating an environment we’re living in. Instead of trying to avoid it, how can we use good, unbiased science to understand how to live with it and help our children be healthier, happier, more productive, and kinder to each other?

I think that what we really need to do is approach this much the way we approach nutrition or injury prevention, which is: What are the facts? What are the risk-benefit ratios, and how does it fit into my life? How can I optimize the benefit and minimize the risk?

Are the problems increasing?

I don’t think that the problem is greater than it was before. I think people are noticing it more, in part because the parents are at home with the kids all day. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated and amplified that process immensely, particularly for children, but for all of us who stay at home for long periods of time, and in some cases fighting over bandwidth.

Kids on average are getting 11 hours and 45 minutes of screen content every day and those were data generated before the pandemic. People are desperate to ask what the ideal screen time limits should be for kids. I’ve been saying for years screen time limits are obsolete.

Why do you say that?

What the research shows and clinical experience shows is the best way to approach this is to sit down with your child, really of any age, even as young as five, and think of their 24-hour day as an empty glass that you fill up with this many hours of sleep, a family meal at least once a day (probably the most protective thing you can do for a child’s mental health, as well as their nutrition), put aside time for homework, put aside time for some physical activity, and then see what time is left.

What you’re doing in that case is engaging the young person in making the schedule, giving them some ownership of that schedule. Second, you are being mindful about the finite amount of things that they want to do and allowing them to prioritize and then to manage their time – and God knows we could all do better with time management. This is a way of building those habits early.

What about social media and relationships online?

I think social media can be a great practice area for relationships, a place where you can start to tentatively let people know that you’re interested in them either as a friend or as a romantic partner, try things out, stumble and fall a little bit. But it also is a place where people on either side of that communication can misinterpret something that may have been sent as a flirty tease, but they could take it in a hurtful way.

These principles apply to all of us, though I think kids are in some ways the “canary in the coal mine,” in that they are early adopters of technology. They are facile with technology and are much more adept with it than their parents. Often, are they are going to run into these issues more quickly.

Any final thoughts?

Young people go online in hopes that it will build community, they’ll make connections with people. Because they feel anxious in an in-person social situation, they go to social media to take baby steps, to try to connect with people. 

I think that in our quest for and achievement of near-infinite connectivity, we’ve lost our connectedness in a deep and meaningful way, the way we are connected with family and with close friends. That kind of connectedness is sustaining and meaningful. I think the most important thing is to use social media so that we can be real with each other.


Adults Saying No

I read a story a long time ago. A woman received a call from her child’s school’s PTA, telling her that they needed two dozen cupcakes (or something similar) from her for their upcoming fundraiser.

The mother thought for a moment. “How much do you expect to earn through this event?” she asked.

“Three hundred dollars,” came the reply.

“And how many people do you expect will contribute baked goods?”

“About 15.”

The mother promptly sent the PTA a check for $20 and did no baking.

The PTA members seemed quite upset by this. But here was a mother who had learned to say “no,” while still supporting the PTA’s goal in a tangible way – just without adding a baking chore to her job, or indeed whatever else she had to do.

Saying “no” is important. Lately, we’ve been hearing that permitting children to say “no” to an unwelcome hug or kiss, even from a close relative, is an early lesson in bodily autonomy and setting limits. Similarly, children should be able to say “stop” when being tickled and have their boundaries respected. 

Perhaps because many grown women didn’t have a chance to learn how to say “no” – and have it heard and accepted – they still don’t know how to set those boundaries.

It’s especially hard to do when children are involved.

I read another story about a woman eating a bowl of strawberries. Her child had already eaten his bowl of strawberries, but wanted his mother to give him her last berry. She ate it herself instead.

I remember this caused a furor among those who read the article. Most of the people who wrote in to the magazine where it was published were of the opinion that the mother should have surrendered the last strawberry to her child. Mothers were supposed to sacrifice for their children, they said. The mother who ate the last berry in her bowl was being selfish.

A few replied, however, that the mother was right – and within her rights to eat the strawberry herself. Her child had already eaten his share of the berries. By insisting on being given the last berry, he was, they said, learning greed and that all his wants should be gratified, to say nothing about disrespecting his mother, who, in eating the last berry, was saying “no” to him.

Nothing was resolved, of course, but everyone, it seemed, had an opinion.

Parents have to say “no” to their children sometimes, especially in cases involving danger. They also have to teach their children to say “no” – again especially in cases involving danger. And they would do well to teach their children to accept a “no” from someone else.

But when an adult says “no” to another adult, as in the first example, the response is often incredulity. How dare a mother refuse to participate in a school bake sale! The fact that she contributed in her own, deliberately fair, way seemed an affront.

But saying “no” to requests for time, money, energy, and effort is natural and understandable. It’s very difficult, though, especially for women, and especially without adding some excuse – doctor’s appointment, visiting relative, or whatever. Some feel guilty even when the excuse is valid and true.

Because that’s what’s really happening here. Parents feel guilty when they decide to deny their children – or their children’s schools – anything.

And feeling guilty is a hard habit to break.

Sorority Daze

This is a picture of the pledge paddle that my sorority “Big Sister” decorated for me. (For you kinksters, these were symbolic only and never used for hazing. And for you bros, we never had pillow fights in our shortie pajamas. But I digress.) The paddles were decorated to reflect the interests of the “Little Sisters” and mine was painted with a Lord of the Rings theme, which was somewhat trendy as a book trilogy before it ever became mega-trendy as a movie trilogy. (That’s Gandalf and two hobbits at the bottom and the Doors of Moria in the middle. Luby was my Big Sister’s nickname.)

For those of you who know me now, it may seem difficult to believe I ever belonged to a sorority in college. But I did, for a year at least, until I found out it didn’t suit me, which I should have known from the beginning.

It was really fear of housing that led me to join. First-year college students lived in the dorms. After that, dorm preference went to seniors, then juniors, then sophomores. (I don’t know who devised this system, which seems silly to me.) But first-time sorority sisters (sophomore pledges) got first crack at rooms in the sorority house. So, after “rushing,” where I understand my application was controversial, I joined Delta Phi Epsilon.

D Phi E, as it was known, was not one of the more glamorous sororities. We were more of a quiet, studious house, not running with a frat or wearing spiffy designer outfits. (We did have gold and purple t-shirts, our house colors, after “the lovely iris,” which was our symbol.) It was also known as “Dogs, Pigs, and Elephants” by most of the fraternities, which was fine with me, as it meant they didn’t pursue us or invite us to rowdy parties where, if you drank the punch, you peed blue. 

At any rate, I was a lousy sorority sister. I wore my floppy leather hat for my official photo. I once threw a boot (not a shoe, a boot) at someone who opened the door to my room without receiving a reply to her knock. (It was 6:00 a.m., an ungodly hour for getting up on a weekend, for some pledge activity, and I was merely trying to reinforce proper civility. I mean, you’ve got to have some standards, especially if you’re living with 30 other women.)

The chapter house had an interesting history. Legend says that it was built in prohibition days and had a secret stash for a bottle of booze, which none of us ever found, in the stair newel post. Instead of a house mother, we had a president (we were very independent), and a cook, who packed lunches and made dinner for us. I never convinced her that a single cup of yogurt qualified as a lunch, but it was a very popular choice. On Sunday, we had “Week in Review,” a New York Times joke that meant we were having leftovers. My husband and I still use this saying.

I “deactivated” after my first full year there, having found group housing and sisterly activities less enchanting than I thought they would be. (I had the bottom bunk; two other pledges, Sue and Cindy, had the top bunk and the single bed.) The next year I found a basement apartment in Cayuga Heights, which was very solitary, except I had to share the bathroom with a guy who lived in the smaller room. I never had to throw a boot at him. 

Later, after I graduated, I severed my ties further, so I wouldn’t get the sorority newsletter all the time, soliciting funds and talking about women I had never met. I recently found one of my old roommates online, though.  And I kept that pledge paddle all these years. I guess sorority life did mean something to me after all.


Gee, You Talk Funny

This is something my college friends and I used to say when we noticed that we spoke with different prepositions or other idioms. Who said “stand in line” and who said “stand on line”? Who said “change for a quarter” versus “change of a quarter”? Is the thing you push in a supermarket a “cart,” “a buggy,” or a “wagon”? Was “wash” pronounced the way it looks, or had a pesky “r” sneaked in to make it sound like “warsh”? For that matter, why do some people say “My hair needs washed,” while others say, “My hair needs to be washed” or “my hair needs washing”? Why does one person say “ink pen” when that’s the only kind of pen there is?

(I’ll answer that last one. The person who said “ink pen” was reacting to something linguists call minimal pairs. Such pairs have a slight difference in pronunciation that some people can hear and others can’t. So, for example, if “pen” and “pin” aren’t a minimal pair for you, you may say things like “safety pin,” “straight pin,” and “ink pen.” But I digress.)

The linguistic principle I wanted to talk about today, though, is “code-switching” or “levels of diction.” Someone online was questioning why Kamala Harris sometimes spoke “standard” English and at other times seemed to speak in a different dialect altogether.

All of us are pretty fluent at code-switching, whether we know it or not. Basically, code-switching means that you don’t speak the same way you do to your grandmother or pastor as you do to, say, a teacher or boss, or people your own age. (This especially applies to teenagers.) For example, you are not likely at all to swear in front of your grandmother or pastor, rather unlikely to swear in front of a teacher or boss (unless you’re a longshoreman), but more likely to swear in front of people of your own age and background. Similarly, you are more likely to use nonstandard English (such as “ain’t”) with your friends than with your grandmother.

Your tone of voice, your use of slang, and even your accent may change, based on your audience. These are called “levels of diction.” 

This is what people were wondering about Kamala Harris. Was she being “fake” when she used a more ethnic-sounding voice? Was she being “fake” when she used formal, academic speech and language?

The answer is that her speech was not “fake” at either time. Harris was code-switching and probably wasn’t doing it consciously.

Most of us code-switch quite naturally, without even thinking about it. (Once our mothers have biffed us on the back of the head for “disrespecting” Grandma.) Oh, we may feel like we’re not being our “true selves” when we tone it down for Grandma or ditch a Kentucky accent for a speech contest or podcast, but after a while it’s automatic.

It’s also a very valuable skill to have. Imagine having only one way to speak! You’d be insulting people right and left. Your Grandma might think you were talking like a sailor or your homies might think you were talking stilted and better-than-thou.

If you pay attention, you may even catch yourself code-switching or notice when someone else is doing it.

The disagreements my college friends and I had were not actually about code-switching, but about regional variations in vocabulary. For anyone interested, where I live now, the standards are wait “in” line, change “for” a quarter, and shopping “cart.” From just that, a talented linguist could tell where I live (Ohio). (I still say “ink pen,” but that’s a holdover from where I was born, in Kentucky.)

That’s all for today. Go listen for some code-switching or compare prepositions and vocabulary with your friends. I have to leave. My hair needs washed.


A Room of My Own

So, we bought a house, a couple of decades ago. It had three bedrooms, which seems a lot, since there’s only my husband and myself. We seldom had overnight guests, and when we did there was a pull-out sofa bed.

What did we do with the two extra rooms? Media center? Exercise room? Yoga studio?

No. One became my study. I needed a place to write my stories, articles, blogs, books, and draft my novel. Someplace where I wouldn’t be disturbed (or could be as disturbed as I like).

Then, of course, so my husband shouldn’t be left out, the other spare room became a study, too. It wasn’t a “man cave,” since neither one of us believes in those things. But it was a place where he could store his curios and fossils, watch TV or do research on the computer, hang his favorite artworks, house his books and DVDs, and just generally kick back.

Then along came the tornado that destroyed our house. It gave me the opportunity to start all over with my study, make it into my refuge as well as my writing space, and decorate it from the ground up – literally.

I’ve included a few pictures of my study for illustration purposes. It’s not really as orange as it looks in the photos, more the clay-like color of used bricks. The carpet is a deep tan. The ceiling, blinds, and windowsills are white. The furniture is a collection of different colored woods, including both new and used pieces. Several of them have electrical outlets and USB ports to accommodate my collection of electronic spaghetti.

Here’s a few highlights of my study:

  • a desk and desk chair, of course, facing a window
  • a bookcase, of course
  • a Mac desktop computer
  • a two-drawer wooden file cabinet that serves as a printer stand
  • my Cornell diploma and an EdPress award
  • a comfy chair in a color called spice, just a shade or two deeper than the walls
  • several pieces of art, including a piece of calligraphy by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi and a drawing by Debbie Ohi with a quote from Neil Gaiman
  • a Venice carnival-style cat mask
  • a TV and a stand for it, which will also hold my Mr. Coffee machine
  • a cat tree by the window (the window sills are also wide enough for them)
  • assorted plush animals, knick-knacks, and such travel souvenirs as survived the tornado
  • a lamp and a tissue box made to look like old books
  • a concrete armadillo, which serves as my doorstop

I don’t have as many books as I used to, which I know to some is a sacrilege, but now I have them on my e-readers. I still have print copies of The Annotated Alice, The Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan, and several signed mystery and science fiction novels. My CD collection is likewise gone, replaced by iTunes on my computer and my iPod. I have a few DVDs that are special to me, which will reside in my TV stand, along with more plush animals and knick-knacks.

My study is far from finished. I still don’t know how to disguise or hide the powerstrips. Some of the artwork needed restoring, and much of it still needs hanging. My bookshelf is new (to me) and needs to be filled. Somewhere in the basement, I have a decorative wall-hanging brass shelf that I haven’t quite figured out where to put.

At any rate, it’s still a work in progress, but rapidly taking shape. It’s warm and cozy, relatively quiet (after the neighbors get their houses built, I mean). And it feels good to have, as Virginia Woolf said, “a room of one’s own.”