Tag Archives: general crankiness

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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Adventures in Ireland, Part One: There and Back Again

No. This wasn’t us. Not hardly.

Our recent trip to Ireland was a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. Ireland is a marvelous country and our time there was sublime. But getting there and back was ridiculous.

It all started (or didn’t, actually) when we got to the airport in the evening to discover no one was behind the airline counter. A few phone calls later, we discovered that the airline had changed the flight time – back in December – and we never got so much as an email from them about it. So we missed the flight to Ireland by approximately four hours.

There were no other flights out that evening, though they had one the next day. Unfortunately, since we were officially no-shows, we had to rebook and pay more money. I spent considerable time on the phone with our bank and credit card company too, trying to shift money around so we could still go.

We had already stowed our car in the non-airport long-term parking and didn’t feel inclined to retrieve it and go back home. So we had to get a hotel room and spend the night. Even that was a trial. None of the hotels that had vacancies had shuttle service to the airport and one of them didn’t even have hot water. So it was Uber for us both that evening and in the morning. At last we got on our way, but we had missed one day of our vacation, spent it in a Best Western instead of an Irish bed-and-breakfast, and already cut into our less-than-extravagant budget.

When we finally arrived in Dublin, we rented a car and set off to our first hotel. The vacation company had booked us into swanky hotels for the first and last stops, presumably on the theory that we’d be exhausted at those points. We didn’t stay in Dublin, because I was dubious about driving on the left in a big city the first day we got there. Instead, we went to the Dunboyne Castle Hotel, which is a little bit away from the city and just as impressive as it sounds.

Our first real b-n-b was in Donegal, and it was in many ways my favorite of the places we stayed. Brook Lodge was a regular house with a comfy bedroom (and en suite bathroom, which all our accommodations had) and a lovely woman who cooked us breakfasts while we watched and Dan chatted with her about gardening.

Our first real stop was a ditch on the way to Brook Lodge. It was 11:00 p.m., we were spent, and we ended up on a one-lane road that stopped at a cattle gate. We managed to get turned around, but went off the side of the road. Fortunately, we had a small flashlight with us (Girl Scout training came in handy there) and Dan took off down the road to find some help. I waited with the car.

Within half an hour, Dan was back with a great couple who drove us and our luggage to Brook Lodge, then came back the next day to pull the Toyota out of the ditch and magically remove the dent so that Hertz wouldn’t make us buy a whole new car when we turned it in.

(The Tom-Tom GPS that came with our rental car was useless and for most of the trip we used Google Maps on my phone. Dan did the driving as I was too nervous to do it, and I did the navigating as he wasn’t able to do both at once. But I digress.)

It was another ridiculous story when it was time to return to Ohio. When we went to catch our plane (after far too long driving around the airport trying to figure out where to leave our rental car), we arrived at the counter only to find that we couldn’t board the plane. Naively, we had thought that our COVID triple-vax cards would be sufficient for travel to the US as they had been going to Ireland. But no. We needed an antigen test. Since the testing site was in another part of the airport and our plane boarded in 30 minutes, there was no way we could get the test in time. There were no other flights that weren’t booked solid for four more days.

I got on the phone with the airline and spent a good hour and a half with them trying to figure out a solution. Eventually, we achieved one. There would be a plane that we could take – from Dublin to Newark and Newark to Chicago and thence to Ohio. And it wouldn’t take a four-day wait. Only two.

Again, we had no choice but to find a hotel room. And just as the flights were booked, so were most of the hotel rooms. We found one that had two rooms left and quickly snagged one. (It was an accessible room, with all kinds of extra equipment in the bathroom. We didn’t need the pull cord for the nurse, but some of the other accommodations proved handy because my husband and I are somewhat mobility-challenged. But I digress again.)

So we spent two days in a Dublin airport hotel, except for taking the hotel shuttle to the COVID testing site at the airport. (Need I say that we both tested negative?) I suppose we could have taken buses to explore the city, but by that time we were both beyond fatigued and demoralized, not to mention out of money. We spent the time playing Mille Bornes, which we had for some reason brought with us, and reading and playing solitaire on our Nook e-readers. And trying to get a charging cable for my phone in case I needed another marathon session with the airline. The hotel provided one. They kept the cables people had left behind for six months, then handed them out to anyone who needed them.

We were enormously relieved to get home and retrieve the kitties from the vet where we had boarded them. We immediately started saving to go back to Ireland, though with a few lessons learned.

There’s lots more to tell and show, but I’ll leave the more sublime parts of the story – and the photos – for next week’s blog, when I’ll no doubt digress again and again. More sublimity and more ridiculosity to come…

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What the Cool Kids Do

Playing Wordle is the newest obsession among the cool kids. And I have never been a cool kid.

Let me say first that I am not in. This screenshot is taken from a friend’s Facebook feed. He tried nobly to resist the lure of Wordle, but ultimately gave in and got in.

For those not in the know, Wordle is the newest internet craze, a word game (almost certainly a portmanteau of “word” and “puzzle”) that asks you to guess letters and determine what the target words actually are. To me, it’s sort of like Wheel of Fortune combined with Hangman. It’s supposed to improve your general brain health.

Every day there is a new puzzle, and people post their scores on the internet. (Not everyone is happy about this. I have heard complaints from friends about the number of Wordle scores clogging up their news feeds. It does seem an awful lot like bragging, at least when their scores are low. Another friend is hoping to see “floccinaucinihilipilification” show up as one of the daily words, which seems unlikely, as the words are only five letters long. Perhaps eventually they will have a 29-letter version. But I digress.)

It’s not like I haven’t had my clickie game addictions. I used to be a devotée of Candy Crush, Pet Rescue, and Bingo Blitz. I’d play several games of each nearly every day. My husband would ask me, “When are you going to be off the computer?” I would answer, “After I lose the next game.” I never bought any of the “power-ups” that cost actual money, though, which is probably why I kept losing.

I don’t know if Wordle sells hints or letters or power-ups or whatever. I didn’t know how the game designers made their money at all. I thought maybe they were selling users’ info to data mining sites or Russian trolls or something. Then I found out. The New York Times bought Wordle. I don’t need to ask how they’re going to monetize it. I used to solve the New York Times Crossword Puzzle regularly, which did cost money to play. I had forgotten that I had a subscription to it, which you can get without subscribing to the actual New York Times. I only recently remembered that I had a subscription to it and started playing again, though it happens that I like the acrostics more than the actual crosswords.

(I once worked at a place where they came down on me pretty hard for solving crosswords during working hours. I justified it on the grounds that I don’t smoke and never took a cigarette break. I thought taking a puzzle break was therefore justified. The powers-that-were didn’t agree. But I digress. Again.)

In addition to the aforementioned clickie games, I have dabbled in other online games that I felt were a cut above the run-of-the-mill inane ones, ones that ask a player to build a hypothetical theme park or solve a not-so-hidden objects puzzle. Once I played a lot of Words With Friends, back when that was the thing the cool kids did. I’m a word nerd, so I did pretty well, but I learned that people who were skilled at hitting the double letter and triple word score squares could take me down.

Will I continue to be unattracted by the admittedly fascinating lure of Wordle? Or will I be like my friend and eventually say, “I’m in”?

I’ve generally reveled in my not-a-cool-kid status. Why should I give it up for Wordle? It’s not like I need another time-sink. Facebook already serves me too well at that. And I don’t need to get rid of all those game addictions only to succumb to yet another. If I want to improve my mind, I’ll just read a book.

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When You Have the Flu: Some Unsolicited Advice

I first posted a version of this almost exactly four years ago. I’m revisiting it now because…well, you can probably guess.

Say you’ve got a touch of the flu. Keep far away from me – you feel awful and I don’t want to feel awful too. I know you don’t want visitors, but here I am, and at least I’ve brought a gift: a few suggestions for entertaining things you can do while you suffer in peace and quiet, except for, you know, the coughing and sneezing and assorted other noises you’re making. Relative peace and quiet, if you know what I mean.

Drink tea. It really doesn’t matter what kind, since you can’t smell it anyway. Earl Grey will smell just like jasmine. Peppermint and English Breakfast, the same. And if you want to, you can use any variety as the base for my father’s restorative tonic, which consists of tea, bourbon, and horehound candy (tea optional), or boring old lemon and honey, if you insist, though my father would not approve.

Cuddle large, fuzzy cats. Do this even if you’re allergic to them. You’re already sneezing as much as humanly possible, so you have nothing to fear from dander. Bonus: A large, fluffy cat makes an excellent substitute for a heating pad or hot water bottle.

Read. Or pretend to. Actual reading may distract you from how miserable you are (unless you’re reading Les Miserables). Pretend-reading will encourage people to keep their voices low, plus it doesn’t matter if you fall asleep with the book elegantly displayed on your chest. (Make sure it has a classy dustjacket, even if the book inside is Fifty Shades of Gray, which I don’t recommend, unless it’s for pretend-reading. It can lead to barfing, which may be in your future anyway.)

Eat chicken soup. Tell everyone that you need it for the fluids and the electrolytes, which is true. Egg drop soup is an especially good variety – if you can’t convince someone in your household to make it and bring it to you, you can always convince the Chinese take-out down the street to do it. Nibble saltines daintily, or the little fried things that look like Chinese tortilla strips.

Hit the Nyquil. I don’t mean the non-drowsy kind – sleep through as much of the illness as possible. Warning: Do not mix Nyquil with Southern Comfort or the bourbon-horehound mixture (see above). You’ll barf and you may be doing that already. Also, don’t mix Nyquil with cough syrup, which can cause unintended psychedelic effects and more barfing.

Squash tissues. Let them blossom all around you in a protective ring that no one will want to cross. If you try the tissues with built-in lotion, don’t use them to wipe your glasses before trying to read (see above).

Call the doctor. Don’t go see the doctor. You’ve got a virus and there’s nothing she can give you for it. Just ask how long it is until you can get an appointment and rest assured that your ailment will be over before then. You may want to actually go if you start making a sucky (in both senses), moist kind of wheezing sound when you breathe. The advantage is it will keep people even farther away from you, but the downside is that you may have pneumonia, which is even less fun than flu.

Use Vick’s Vapo-Rub. You won’t be able to detect the scent because your nose is busy with something else (snot), but other people sure will, encouraging them to keep a respectful distance. If you don’t have Vapo-Rub, try Ben-Gay. Bonus: nice warm feeling on your chest. Note: If you use either Vapo-Rub or Ben-Gay, do not cuddle the large, fuzzy cats (see above), unless you want to look like Bigfoot. Just sing “Soft Kitty” instead, or insist that someone else sing it to you.

Whine. Punctuate with coughs and sneezes. Again, the goal is to get people to leave you alone. If this tactic isn’t working, move on to even more disgusting symptoms. Keep a bucket by your bed, just so people get the idea that you could use it at any moment.

P.S. I’ll give you one guess why I wrote this. If you don’t get the answer right, I’ll start whining. And coughing. And sneezing. And barfing. Just bring me some egg drop soup and leave quietly.

You wouldn’t want to catch what I’ve got.

Keep me in Nyquil!

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Watch Out! Phone In!

My husband is the last person in the universe who still doesn’t have a smartphone. He says it’s because he doesn’t want a phone smarter than he is. Personally, I think it’s because he likes to flip it open and yell, “Beam me up, Scotty!” just to confuse the telemarketers.

Not that he gets calls from telemarketers. He always gives my phone number when asked for his, making me effectively his secretary. Confirm a doctor’s appointment? The mechanic says the car is ready? Someone from work? I take a message. Sometimes it’s his own mother who calls me, if Dan’s not answering his phone (he usually isn’t) or she can’t leave a voicemail (he doesn’t know how to retrieve them).

But, as usual, I digress. I meant to talk about the evolution of watches and what we call them.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, it was simple. There were watches. You kept them in a pocket, usually attached by some sort of chain. Then someone invented a watch you wore on your wrist, so someone else had to coin the terms “pocket watch” and “wristwatch,” just in case you couldn’t tell from context which kind was meant.

Watch technology was far from reaching its zenith, however. The next innovation was the digital watch, which lit up numbers the way your bedside clock does (at least until we got rid of the ones that had numbers on little cards that fell over as the minutes and hours changed). Some bright person realized we needed a way to tell that kind of watch from the kind with hands. Thus were born the “digital watch” (which has sort of died out) and the “analog watch,” the kind with hands that people under a certain age can’t read. Neither of the new watches made that comforting ticking sound.

Next came the mobile phone, which were actually really phones, not watches, except you could use them to call the time and temperature line, which still existed. At first, a mobile phone was a rich person’s toy, anchored somewhere in the car to impress passengers. Then completely mobile phones were invented. They began as big, blocky things with an antenna sticking out, which you can sometimes still see in old movies or episodes of Ab Fab. They got tinier and tinier, until they could fit in your pocket (assuming you were a man and had pockets in your good clothes).

That’s when watches began to morph into phones. Flip phones, such as my husband has, featured the time on the outside panel. Watches were on the way out. Larger watches still existed, aimed at teens. These were in bright colors and were called “Swatches.”

Suddenly, watches were obsolete. Everything now is done by phone. We’re up to smartphones, which everyone except my husband has, and which can tell you not just the time, but the weather in Istanbul, how to say “What’s the weather in Istanbul?” in Turkish, “What’s the best restaurant in Istanbul?” and how to get there. Unfortunately, smartphones can no longer fit in a pocket (unless you’re a man in a suit). Women have to carry them in their purses, where it’s almost impossible to hear them ring, unless you’re sitting near them in a restaurant. Fortunately, these phones take messages for those who, unlike Dan, know how to use that function. (To be fair, I hardly ever look to see if I have voice messages, which I guess makes me little better than Dan on that point. But I digress. Again.)

Now, however, there’s an even newer kind of watch, which you wear on your wrist (how retro!). I suppose it will tell you the time, if you ask it nicely, but its main function is to keep track of your bodily processes as you jog, walk, sleep, or whatever. It keeps track of your heart rate, your breathing, your oxygen sats, the quality of your sleep, your body mass index, your blood sugar, your exact position on planet Earth, and how much you’d weigh on the moon. (And probably some other parameters I don’t know – and don’t wish to know – about.)

I think these are called fitwatches, by analogy with fitbits, a trend from ages past (last month, I think).

But I call them snitchwatches. And I’m not getting one. I swear.

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My Personal Style

I didn’t think I had a personal style, until I invented one for myself. I’ve never been a Victim of Fashion or a Fashionista. Maybe an Unfashionista, but that’s about it.

Ever since college, jeans have been my uniform. (Except when I worked at a Frisch’s and had to wear a real uniform, or when I worked in an office and had to dress like a Respectable Business Lady, or now that I work at home and wear nightshirts or flannel pjs all day. Come to think of it, I really only have two pairs of jeans now. But I digress. Whenever I go out, unless it’s to a funeral, I wear jeans.)

My mother sewed and she made a lot of my clothes when I was a kid. When I got to the college-jeans stage, she made me western shirts (the kind with the yokes and the pearl snaps) and patchwork vests. Sometimes she got whimsical and made me something special. I particularly loved the Robin Hood hat she made me, which I wore to Beginning Archery class. (The instructor just rolled her eyes.)

Actually, my fashion “sense” was pretty well summed up by what I considered appropriate winter outerwear. I rocked an authentic army-surplus, lined, olive drab jacket (with the snorkel hood lined with real fur). The capacious pockets held my wallet, my student ID, and my driver’s license, and sometimes a paperback book. Snowmobile boots completed the ensemble.

So what goes with jeans? T-shirts, of course! I have quite a collection, many of which I purchased at science fiction conventions. Many of them were lost in the tornado that hit our house. I still remember fondly the one with a picture of the Death Star and the caption “Ceci n’est pas une lune,” which is really hysterical if you know Star Wars, French, and art. Yes, it’s obscure, but when I saw it, I couldn’t do without it.

For a while, I went through a Banana Republic phase. (This was before they sold out to The Gap, for which I never forgave them.) Adventure clothing seemed the ultimate in cool to me. Plus, everything was khaki or olive drab, which made accessorizing easy – camo scarves, wooden beads, and amber earrings. (I fondly remember driving to Erlanger, KY, near the Cincinnati airport, where the B.R. outlet lived. The first time I got to an actual Banana Republic store, in La Jolla, I hyperventilated. If I could afford full price, which I usually couldn’t, I shopped their catalogues, or sometimes just read the awesome travel stories and daydreamed.)

When I did wear skirts, I chose the midi-length (mid-calf), unless I could only find business clothes that hit me right at the knee. I even admit that in high school, I wore granny boots with midi-dresses, which about summed up my fashion sense at the time. (I also had a red and beige gaucho outfit, about which the less said the better. It even came with a red gaucho hat.)

Then there’s my purses. They were always large enough to carry one or more paperback books. Until my back gave out, of course, and I had to switch to an e-reader. Now a regular-sized purse accommodates over 1,300 books. When I saw the slouchy pouches that women were carrying a few years ago, I fell in love. Not only would they hold books, but snacks, hats, phone, wallet (if I carried one, which I don’t, my money being tucked into my jeans pockets).

Anyway, if I should ever give up my jeans (and couldn’t wear my nightshirts and flannels), I would have to go with a mish-mosh that I invented myself. Midi-skirts, still, I think. Keep the t-shirts. Ballet flats (not Birkenstocks). Patchwork whenever possible. Camo accessories and lots of semiprecious beads. I’d keep my boring navy slacks and top for funerals, of course. (During my Business Lady phase, I owned a black Liz Claiborne dress that I bought on clearance. For a while, it was my go-to funeral dress, but I had to wear a jacket over it, as the back was a little low-cut. Awful for summertime funerals.)

I can just imagine the get-ups I could create. And I’ve even invented a name for the look. I call it Boho Hobo.

Tiny Little Type

We’ve all heard and, I hope, know and live by the advice to always read the fine print. Generally, that refers to contracts or other official documents we must sign.

Well, that’s all well and wonderful, and certainly good advice, but the problem remains as to how we are to read that fine print. I know my eyes are aging (quite possibly faster than the rest of me) and reading fine print does not come as easily as it used to. Even the recent bump up in the power of my glasses and the enhanced bifocal lenses have not helped me read ingredient labels or the 800 numbers on insurance cards and the like.

What to do?

First, you can give the document (or whatever) to another person and let them read it to you. My husband exists for this purpose (among many others) because he is nearsighted. I am farsighted and so have especial trouble reading the fine print. (If we had ever had a child, I maintain that the far- and nearsightedness would have canceled out and she or he would have had perfect vision. But I digress.)

Then there’s the ever-useful magnifying glass. Except try to find one when you need it. “Reading glasses” that you find in drugstores are no help either. Would I wear them over my prescription glasses or under? Reading glasses certainly wouldn’t address any of my other eye problems such as crossed eyes.

There is a trick I learned just the other day. If you are trying to read the prescription number on a bottle of pills, for example, simply whip out your camera (easier to find than a magnifying glass), take a quick snap, then use the camera to enlarge the image. (Of course I still always ask the pharmacist if next time, could they please use smaller type? They never get it.)

But you can’t use that trick in every situation, I guess. There’s no use taking pictures of every square inch of a road map and blowing them up, for example. For that you do need the magnifying glass, which I can guarantee is not in the glove compartment of your car, along with the gloves that aren’t there either. Or a road map with larger lettering, which would be twice as hard to refold.

For everyday reading, you can use large-type books, which I refuse to be seen with, or a computer that will enlarge your screen. This only works on certain devices, though. Thankfully, my e-reader is one of them. I can bump up the point size till there’s only one word on a page.

Still, my farsightedness does come in useful for small type that is at a distance from me, such as on the television. (I could probably read the pill bottle if my arms were longer. Say, about two feet longer.)

There are some interesting things in the fine print on TV. There’s always the “Drink responsibly” warning that’s in type as small as that on road maps. (Does anyone really think that those messages actually cause someone to forego that fourth beer before they drive home?) And there are the disclaimers that the person in the ad does or does not really have the disease the medication the commercial is promoting.

But there’s lots more to learn – for example, the definition of perineum (aka “taint”) in medical commercials. And in case you didn’t know it already, you can learn that the car is driven by a stunt driver on a closed course. You can even find out what that liquid is they’re soaking up with the paper towel (150 ml of “green juice”).

One of my favorites is a commercial that shows a person falling down the stairs. The disclaimer reads: “This was not a person. It was a dummy we threw down the stairs.” That was welcome news.

My absolute favorite is an ad for chicken that offers “serving suggestions.” You know, like on the cracker boxes where the crackers are all Martha-Stewarted and the fine print says “serving suggestion” as if you intended to serve naked crackers to your guests. Well, the chicken ad showed: broiled chicken (serving suggestion); roasted chicken (serving suggestion); barbecued chicken (serving suggestion); and oops chicken – it fell on the ground and the dog was eating it. It still said “serving suggestion.”

If you can’t read these disclaimers on TV, just pause the program and rummage through your desk for that pesky magnifying glass. Or get your husband to read the fine print to you. He’ll feel useful, and trust me, it can be educational or at least worth a giggle.

Plus-Size People’s Problems

It’s encouraging that, in the name of body positivity, TV ads and shows are now acknowledging plus-size women. They can be seen in clothing ads, beauty and skincare ads (along with senior women), on television and on the internet and other venues. They exercise. They dance, even if they jiggle. They are moms and consumers of every sort of product.

There are still some problems with the representation of fat women. In news stories, they are only shown from the neck down (unless they’re needed as a talking head), making it seem that fat is a shameful thing and that fat people should hide their identities.

Attractive, plus-size clothing is still hard to find. Especially underwear. Above a certain size, for example, it’s difficult to find panties that are any color other than white. Or that are anything but granny-panties. I may be plus-size, but I’d like my underwear to be attractive, at least.

But what about plus-size men? Don’t they deserve a little body positivity too? Fat men don’t appear in commercials, doing anything, unless they’re being shown as a figure of fun. Exercising? They’re sweating profusely and falling off the stationary bike, if they are pictured in a gym at all. Dancing? Nope. Since John Goodman is now a talking head (or fingertip), fat men are difficult to find in TV programs and ads.

Plus-size men also have limited apparel choices similar to those of plus-size women. Some clothing stores have a Big and Tall department, but their definition of big and tall leaves a lot to be desired. Again with the underwear. Plus-size underwear is invariably white. And plus-size underwear is about all big men are offered.

For fat men to find clothes that fit them, they must go to special shops that cater to their needs. Some of them even have tailors to make sure that the fit is right, and customers pay a price for that. The selection is larger than at non-specialty shops, but the prices are higher – much higher. Sometimes an adequate selection is not even present and the plus-size man must place a special order rather than buy something off the rack. Fortunately, the stores’ selection includes ties and belts for the large man, something that is available practically nowhere else.

In fact, it was difficult to find a photo to go with this post. I use a stock photo service and their choices were severely limited and confined mostly to the standard images that most people think of when they see fat men. There were large men eating pizza and drinking beer. There were fat men portrayed from the neck down, often with a tape measure circling their girth. There were plus-size men exercising or being defeated by exercising. There were even “standard” sized men pinching a scant inch on their obviously toned bodies. I had to search to find one of a fat man doing a normal activity – reading the paper.

One of the few places where I’ve seen plus-sized men presented as desirable is in the song “Fat Boys” by Uncle Bonsai. Here’s it is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHzHhV456pk

(If that link doesn’t work for you, here’s a sample of the lyrics.)

Skinny boys got nothin’
To lean against in bed
Bony arms and shoulders
Only bruise my head.

I just want an overgrown boy
Unconditioned, unrehearsed
Fleshy body waiting for the squeeze
Overweight and overblown boys
Whet my whistle, quench my thirst
Chubby cheeks just drop me to my knees.

I love several men who are overweight, downright fat, or obese even. Does it bother me? Not at all. I also love bald-headed men. (Here’s another link, this one from Christine Lavin, if this one works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sirJa_OltKk.) Men with hairy backs. Men who smoke. Men who flirt (even with other women). Really, the only quality that really attracts me is a mustache or beard. And I’ll give a guy a pass on that if he has all my required attributes above the eyeballs: bright, witty, and creative. Body size and shape have nothing to do with it.

Full disclosure: This is a rewrite of a post I shared four years ago. I thought it was time to refresh it, especially since the problem still exists.