Tag Archives: general crankiness

Dan’s Upgrade

My husband has at last entered the 21st century! After literally decades of resistance, he has moved up from the flip-phone to the smartphone.

Of course, when we first got cell phones, all of them were flip-phones. And we thought we might be the last people on earth to get even those. A few misunderstandings that led to shouting and accusations of discourtesy meant that we needed to enter the digital age. After one particularly loud and angry … discussion, we decided to take the plunge. Dan in particular was reluctant to get a mobile device, since he didn’t want to be “tied to his phone” and perpetually available. But he had to admit that cell phones had their uses.

His compromise with his own Luddite leanings was never to figure out how to use the thing. While he eventually figured out how to record a voicemail message and even to leave a message on my phone, he never learned how to retrieve voicemail left for him. Instead, he let it pile up until the phone always reported that his voicemail was full, making it useless. (I recently deleted his voicemail and the messages there were all from January of a year ago, and most of them were from his mother. But I digress.)

Once smartphones became available, I opted for one when my flip-phone crapped out. Dan kept replacing his with another flip-phone when it was out of order or he lost it so thoroughly that it was likely in a different state, or maybe another country. I thought it might be because he wanted a phone that was most like a Star Trek communicator.

But when I got a smartphone (not that I was among the first to do so either), he looked askance at it. “I don’t want a phone that’s smarter than I am,” he said, which I suppose was meant as a joke, though I really couldn’t tell. I tried to convince him that the added features – the easy availability of news and weather and GPS, for example – made it worthwhile, but still he resisted. He said he didn’t want to be one of “those people” who had their eyes perpetually glued to a screen. (He once asked me what people did before they could stare at their cellphones. “Read books,” I said. “Not while they’re walking,” he replied. I had to tell him that when I was in high school I did indeed read books while walking from one class to the next. But I digress again.)

Then I started getting apps on my phone that I knew Dan or I would want or need. The prize among them was PictureThis, an app that let you take pictures of plants, then would identify them and provide other useful and interesting information about them, such as whether your plant looked sick or whether that species had been mentioned in a poem. It even provided the poem for you. This led to Dan dashing into the house, shouting, “Give me your phone,” and bringing it back with dirty smudges on it. When Dan got a tablet, I downloaded this app for him so he wouldn’t have to borrow my phone. I also downloaded some music and video apps onto the tablet when he was going to be visiting his mother. He hates her taste in TV.

Dan’s entry into the modern era was a consequence of a different app, though. Where he works, people clocked in and out using their smartphones. Dan couldn’t, and that meant he had to walk farther to do so. In a sense, it was laziness that turned the tide.

Of course, it wasn’t as easy as that. The way his coworkers scanned in was using a QR code. Dan didn’t know what those were. So I had to download him a QR reader and show him how to use it. I don’t think he’s actually used it yet, but at least now he has the option when he’s too tired to make the long trudge.

I know he still mourns the death of his flip-phone, but even he had to admit that our phone provider didn’t really support them anymore. And the first night he had the smartphone I caught him with his nose pointed at the screen, watching YouTube videos.

He doesn’t love it yet, but I figure it’s just a matter of time. He’s no longer comparing its intelligence to his.

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What Does Friday Even Mean?

Today is Sunday, but in a way, it’s still Friday. The whole month has been nothing but Fridays, in fact.

We used to have Black Friday. It was the day after Thanksgiving, when the turkey-bloated got their exercise by standing in checkout lines in stores, trying to get a jump on their Christmas shopping. To lure in the many still suffering from postprandial torpor, many stores began offering special sales and deals on that day.

(Okay, I’m showing off. “Postprandial torpor” is the technical name for “food coma.” But I digress.)

Tech geeks got their shop on on Cyber Monday, when computers and other paraphernalia were offered at Low, Low, Bargain Prices!

Those were the days when Friday and Monday actually meant something.

Now, we have Black Friday for the whole month of November. And I don’t mean just four Fridays, either. Thirty days of Friday. And the Cyber Monday people have given up on Mondays altogether. They’ve succumbed to Black Friday fever as well; they just toss in the towel and lower their prices all month long.

Of course, I have a tendency to ignore sales. I know that there are people who haunt the sales. They refuse to buy anything that isn’t at least 10% off. I’m more inclined to whimsical shopping, buying things whenever whimsy strikes me. Fortunately, that means anything I buy in November has a good chance of being on sale anyway.

Maybe subconsciously I’m observing Black November (that doesn’t sound right), because I’ve already done all my Christmas shopping. In fact, everything I’ve ordered has already been delivered and is sheltering in place in my study closet, safe from marauding cats and an inquisitive husband.

Every day is Cyber Monday to me, since I do all my shopping online. For that matter, I do my banking and bill-paying online, too. I feel like a supervillain, coordinating all my plans from my keyboard. Of course, I can’t wrap presents online (and I refuse to pay extra to have my purchases wrapped by the assorted vendor-elves). So, I really hope my husband finds ripping open Tyvek bags to be suitably festive.

(I do have one tiny gift bag decorated with butterflies that was included with a pair of earrings I ordered for myself. I suppose I could put the SD card I bought for hubby’s camera in it, although butterflies aren’t really Christmas-y in this part of the world. The camera itself will be in a plain brown box. But I digress again.)

It’s pointless for me to complain, though. After all, the Fourth of July only occurs on the Fourth anymore when it falls on a Saturday. Hardly any holidays stay put. Thanksgiving is reserved for Thursdays, but it can be anything from the 22nd to the 28th. Easter bobs and weaves, refusing to settle on a single date. You know it’s a Sunday, but you have to be a mathematician or a priest to figure out which one. (Or look it up online like I do.)

Christmas is always December 25th, but it can fall on any day of the week. So the day after Christmas doesn’t get a spiffy name like “Exchange Your Presents Tuesday” or “Discount Candy Cane Wednesday.”

The next thing we need to do is make sure that “Giving Tuesday” isn’t relegated to a single day when all the selling gets whole weeks and months. Maybe some useless – I mean, generous – billionaire could match donations to charitable organizations. I can think of a few who could use a little good karma. So, if there are any billionaires reading this, step right up! Giving November can use you – I mean, will appreciate your philanthropy!

The Dry Well

So, it’s come to this. I have nothing left to write about. Last year I attempted a post on Halloween and how it has been taken over by adults. I then realized that I had written the same post in 2019. Not word-for-word, but almost paragraph-for-paragraph.

This has happened to me with many posts I have written lately, including my invention of a personal style, also done in 2019; plus-size peoples’ problems, now and in 2017; learning styles, and probably more. Thanksgiving came around last year, and also my birthday. I’ve already mined those subjects for posts and don’t want to revisit them, even if I could think of something new to say about them, which I can’t.

This proposes a problem or at least a difficulty. Have I already written everything I know about? Why am I just repeating myself? Or have I reached the end of my creativity?

It is ironic for me to confess this, because I have written about this same dilemma a number of times: in “Your Writing Brain” (2021), “As a Muse, Depression Sucks” (2019), “How to Write When the Muse Takes a Hike” (2018), “Muse Blues” (2016), and possibly a few others I’ve totally forgotten. Obviously, running out of inspiration is a subject near and dear to my heart, or at least close to the surface of my brain, as I think it must be to most writers.

In those previous posts, I have suggested ways to revitalize the writing juices. Read an author you like and try to incorporate their style or some aspect of their writing as an exercise. (I tried writing à la Mary Roach, but that resulted in too many footnotes.) Take off in a direction you’ve never gone before (politics, sex, children, history, economics, theater, or whatever).

Instead, I’ve delved into my memories. Visiting my country relatives as a child. Meeting Captain Kangaroo. Adventures in Girl Scouting. But my memory is notoriously spotty, so I don’t know how long I can keep this up.

I suppose I could plumb the depths of my other blog, bipolarme.blog, but those posts seem a little dark for what is meant to be a lighter-hearted blog. If only the cats would do something adorable! But no, they won’t cooperate. Neither will my husband. He hasn’t even done anything annoying lately, like the time he “volunteered” me to cater his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration. In another state. As a surprise (to me and to them). (I refer to this as one of his near-death experiences. But I digress.) In fact, he’s been so sweet that he just got me a kalanchoe for my office (which spellcheck didn’t like, though I certainly do).

I read a lot, so I suppose I could do book reviews. But the books I read aren’t the latest bestsellers. Often they are children’s fantasy books or science fiction that’s decades old. Other books I like are on distressing subjects like autopsies, the Spanish Flu, lobotomies, and accidents while mountain-climbing. I suppose I could write about why these subjects fascinate me, but that doesn’t seem likely to fascinate you.

In posting this, I’m taking after my husband, who once wrote a paper for school explaining all the different reasons he couldn’t write a paper for that class. It got an A. I should be so lucky.

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Fall In!

One time I was interviewed on TV. My husband and I were at the Arboretum, chilling and talking to another nature-lover. A disgusted-looking reporter approached us and said that he was doing a segment on the first day of fall. (No doubt that was why he looked disgusted.) He asked us about our thoughts regarding fall. The nature-lover gave the standard answer about the color of fall leaves.

Dan and I were not so predictable. He said fall made him sad because he couldn’t plant flowers anymore. I said that I always thought of September as the first month of school and that I had mixed feelings because I was no longer in education. The reporter looked even more disgusted, packed up, and went away. When we watched the news, we discovered that we were the only people he interviewed.

(The next day I told my boss that I had been on TV. “The bank robbery?” he said. He had a dry sense of humor, which I loved. But I digress.)

I actually do have mixed feelings about fall, in addition to the education thing. The fall colors are beautiful, though they’re really only impressive when weather conditions during the summer are perfect. And this year, they were far from perfect.

Then there’s Halloween. I’ve written before about how much I dislike it (https://butidigress.blog/2019/10/27/halloween-bah-humbug/). For those of you who want the Reader’s Digest Condensed version, I hate handing out candy. There’s the lack of trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood, the amount of leftover candy we have as a consequence, and the door-darting cat. There are also the Halloween episodes of nearly every TV show, although they’re not as annoying as the Christmas episodes of every show. There’s no Halloween music except for “Monster Mash,” which gets played ad nauseum. This year, I plan to hide in the bedroom at the back of the house with the lights off (including the porch light) and read by the light of my e-reader.

One thing I do love about the fall is pumpkin and specifically pumpkin pie spice. I’m not one of those who hates on pumpkin pie spice lattes and similar inventions. I seldom drink coffee, so I’m not usually around those. No, what I love are the actual spices – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. I love the smell of them. I love the taste of them. I love them so much that I’m often disappointed by the small amount of them that most people use in their pumpkin pie. We’ve tried to make our own. This year I’m even going to look up a recipe.

(I saw a recipe online for two-ingredient pumpkin muffins – spice cake mix and canned pumpkin. Of course, I’d have to bump up the spices. I always do when I make my own spice cake. But I digress again.)

Another thing I love about fall is the clothing. Sweaters. I have a large collection of sweaters, including those knee-length cardigans that are probably out of style now, not that I care. I also have a number of sweatshirts and cozy lap blankets. Flannel pajamas, too. I love wrapping up in them. It’s like a fabric hug.

I can’t say I love the Peanuts special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but I usually watch it just for the line about never discussing politics, religion, or the Great Pumpkin. I do, however, love the pumpkins Calvin carves in the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. And the Wallace and Grommit animated movie Curse of the Were-Rabbit. And Young Frankenstein. I can even take it when Dan binge-watches The Addams Family.

Of course, when it comes to things I really like about autumn, I recently saw a sweatshirt that says, “My favorite season is the fall of the patriarchy.” I may just have to get that.

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Help Yourself

I admit it. When I was younger, I used to read self-help books. You know the kind, ones with titles like Women Who Hate Women Who Love Men Who Love Women Who Hate Cinderella. Back in the day, most self-help books were targeted at women who wanted to know why their love lives were train wrecks or why their psychological conditions were train wrecks. (Apparently, they didn’t consider that their psychological conditions might be train wrecks because their love lives were train wrecks. But I digress.)

Nowadays, most self-help books are written for business leaders – excuse me, entrepreneurs – and have titles like Give Yourself the Power to Lead Right Now With Powerful Leadership Secrets From the Early Etruscans. The rest are some modern-day versions of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, which I suspect the Early Etruscans knew something about too.

I don’t know much about business leadership except that I prefer managers who use a hands-off management style (for both business and interpersonal interactions). I also don’t know much about women’s love lives, except my own, which I don’t think would be appropriate for a self-help book. I do know a thing or two about psychological conditions and write about them every week in my other blog, Bipolar Me.

Nonetheless, I find myself in the perhaps-awkward position of writing self-help books in my guise as a ghostwriter. (Or disguise. I’m required by the company to use a pseudonym.) I haven’t tackled one on women’s love lives yet, but I have written a couple about life with pets, something kind of New-Agey about envisioning your future, and two sort of business-y ones about listening to your inner voice and setting boundaries. My latest endeavor, which I’m about to start working on, is a senior health book, about which I ought to know a bit more than I actually do.

Apparently, a lot of the books that people want to have written are some variety of self-help – parenting tips (titles like Why Your Teen Behaves Like a Teen and Why You Can’t Do Anything About It), investment advice (Become the Only Person in America Who Tries to Pay the Electric Bill With Cryptocurrency), and doomsday prepping (Apocalypse When? Build Your Own Bomb Shelter Using Wattle and Daub) being some of the most-asked-for topics. (Again, subjects about which I know nothing.) I put in requests for book projects with more mental health focus such as overcoming anxiety or dealing with your inner child. But no. I get inspirational titles.

I must admit, I hate inspirational books. If they’re not about succeeding in business without really getting a business degree, they’re about positivity.

What’s wrong with positivity? Well, first of all, it’s been hard for me to achieve for most of my life, seeing that I was diagnosed with depression for decades. I’ve never been perky and seldom gung-ho. In addition, I’ve always hated cheerleaders, both the pom-pom kind and the believe-in-yourself ones. I guess I just don’t believe it’s possible to think yourself to a better, more fulfilling life with daily affirmations that sound like something from Jonathan Livingston Seagull. (If I’m going to take advice from a bird, I’d rather it be a parrot. Although it could conceivably provide me with daily affirmations. But I digress again.)

In fact, I’ve been exploring self-help books that are about non-positivity (not that I’ve been asked to write any of that kind). But Barbara Ehrenreich, the noted author of Nickled and Dimed who died recently at the age of 81, wrote a book titled Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Another such book, which I’m reading now, is The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman. (Ehrenreich also wrote a book called Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, another one that I need to read, though probably not until I finish writing the self-health book.)

I sincerely do hope, though, that readers will get more out of the books I write than I did out of those that I read. I’d hate to think that all my good, if ill-informed, advice is going to waste.

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Trek vs. Wars: Which Is Better?

In some circles, either answer will result in heated rebuttals, not to say ostracism. I don’t want to get in the middle of those who adore Star Trek and those who are captivated by Star Wars. I will not even get into the tempest over who was the better captain, Kirk or Picard. I will say, though it may seem like sacrilege to both sides, that both have their flaws and their triumphs. And they have some distinct similarities.

I was introduced to Star Trek in 1966, when it first came out. (Yes, I’m that old.) I watched it avidly, even in reruns at 2:00 a.m. I became a Trekkie, accumulating such Star Trek merchandise as was available at the time. (There wasn’t much back then. I did get Spock’s medallion, the IDIC, which stood for “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,” a concept I hold by to this day. And of course, I had my mother make tribbles. But I digress.)

The first time I saw Star Wars was on the big screen, in the summer of 1977, when it first came out. I saw the film numerous times, dragging friends who had not yet seen it to the theater. I didn’t get t-shirts or pins or anything like that. At the time, there wasn’t much Star Wars merch available either. That really revved up later, including Lego versions of everything.

Both television and film franchises have similar themes – good versus evil. Star Trek addressed these, because of its origin on episodic television, in a way that featured increments toward a vision of a more hopeful, more just society. Star Wars was a more traditional battle between big-g Good and big-e Evil, with little to no middle ground. (Once someone asked me why I liked Star Wars so much despite its lack of literary depth and nuance. I replied that it does have a deeper message: “Let the Wookie win.” I was being only half-facetious. But I digress again.)

I gradually lost interest in both of them after being exposed to a number of incarnations of them. I liked Star Trek: Next Generation and the first series of movies (or at least the even-numbered ones). I liked the first three Star Wars movies, the other six much less so, until I finally got to where I was disinterested in the last, most recent trilogy. I’m heartily sick of all the various continuations of both of them on TV and most of the movies. I used to watch Star Trek: Discovery and Picard weekly, but have lately fallen away. And I never got into the many spinoffs of Star Wars, featuring many lower-interest characters such as Boba Fett and baby Yoda. I know the franchises are huge money-makers, but I think they’ve reached past the point where it continues to be worthwhile for viewers, or at least for me.

Along that line, there have been some real clunkers in both series. The original Star Trek was uneven in the quality of the episodes, both from a production and writing standpoint. The lowest point came with an episode called “Spock’s Brain.” With a title like that, one can envision any number of truly compelling scenarios, but no. They may have gone for comedy, but ended up with unpalatable farce. And Next Generation had an episode that I can never remember the title of, but should have been called “The Nintendo That Ate Their Brains.”

Star Wars had its low points as well, the primary one being the introduction of the character Jar Jar Binks, a buffoon with a speech pattern that was by turns irritating and insulting. He appeared in the first movie of the second trilogy that was made, which is the first trilogy in terms of the plot line, if you can follow that, but by the end of it, rather inexplicably, he became a Senator.

There was a significant backlash to one Star Trek character as well – Wesley Crusher, a teenager working his way up to greater responsibility on the Enterprise. I thought his character was what every fanboy’s dreams were made of. But I was informed that he was just too goody-goody for some people’s liking. There were even bulletin boards devoted to “Ways to Kill Off Wesley Crusher.” (This was painful to Wil Wheaton, the teenage actor who played Wesley. Later he revealed his bouts with depression and abuse at the hands of his stage-managing parents. That he is still acting and doing well is a credit to his perseverance. But I digress yet again.)

So, when it comes right down to it, which do I prefer – Star Trek or Star Wars? I guess I would have to say Star Trek, based on how often I watch reruns of it, as opposed to how often I watch reruns of Star Wars. But for different reasons, both still hold places in my heart. Now if we could only rein in all the franchises and develop some new science fiction shows with good, original ideas, characters, and plots, that would make me truly happy. In the meantime, I’ll keep jonesing for new episodes of The Orville and Resident Alien.

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A Tattoo? At My Age?

Recently I read a question online from a man who was asking whether he was too old to get a tattoo – at age 40! Every comment I saw reassured him that he wasn’t too old at all. (And that it both costs less and hurts less than he had imagined.)

I found this discussion particularly interesting because my husband and I both waited until we were over 60 to get tattoos. I started getting mine (I have three) approximately seven years ago. Dan got his first one just this month. My tattoos are two punctuation tattoos that are linked to mental health issues and one that represents my lifelong love of books. Dan’s is a bear paw, which represents his “spirit guide.”

(I know that non-native people who say they have spirit guides is problematic, as they are part of Native Americans’ spiritual beliefs and religious practices, which shouldn’t be appropriated by outsiders. I discussed this with my husband, and he said that he considers the bear his spirit guide because of a dream he had in which a bear literally led him out of danger. But I digress.)

Both of us are considering at least one more tattoo – a peace sign with doves for him and a compass rose or a yellow rose for me. Tattoos are sort of addictive. I never expected to get another tattoo after my first one, but here I am.

I’ve heard various theories about why people get tattoos. Some say it’s a form of self-mutilation that flouts God’s law of respect for the human body. Some see it as one point in a spectrum of “body modifications” that include piercings and whatever those things that stretch earlobes are called. Others say tattooing is a practice that indicates membership in a “tribe” – bikers or chefs, for instance. Still others see tattoos as a sign of rebellion – a statement of defiance against social mores. (This claim is particularly often voiced when the tattoo-ee is a young person.) Then there are those who believe that a tattoo is an outward sign of an interior belief – love for God or for one’s mother, for example.

What’s the motivation for me? Aside from the punctuation tattoos, which have a specific meaning related to mental health, I consider my book tattoo purely decorative (although I guess it also proclaims my membership in the tribe of bibliophiles and writers). Dan’s is more of the interior-belief sort, a reminder of an experience that was deeply meaningful to him.

Some people scoff at tattoos because of aging. They say that tattoos acquired in the heedlessness of youth will be regretted when the skin becomes distorted by age, and elastic and crepey skin. But I don’t mind. The aging of my skin is a fact of life, one that I am not fighting off with expensive creams and lotions. That the tattoos will change too is a given. Neither of these facts is something to be mourned, however, at least not by me. In fact, the reality of change is a part of every life and I would be foolish to think it wouldn’t affect my skin art. Since I got my tattoos late in life, that also means that they have less time to fade than ones acquired at a younger age would.

But so what if my tattoos age? My stack of books will crinkle like the pages of an old book. That’s appropriate. And not enough reason not to get tattoos.

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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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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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