Monthly Archives: December 2014

Top 11 Posts of 2014, With Thanks to Spinal Tap

Here we are at the end of the year when those of us in the entertainment industry run out of funny steam and cover it up with top 10 lists. Because I really want to push up the volume, I’m going for the top 11 posts. I was going to list a mix of posts that WordPress stats tell me you liked and add some of my own personal favorites. But as I reread them I realized I had a lot of fun writing most of them, so it’s too hard to pick. Plus, if you don’t like the list, you only have yourselves to blame.

Thank you for hanging out with me this year, and I promise more shenanigans in 2015. Have a happy new year!

11. Black Lives Matter Thanks for reading this one. It was a bit of a departure for me and more serious, but something I needed to write.

10. I would Have Gotten Away with It if It weren’t for that meddling Hamster, Who knew a hamster could be such a rich source of blog material? As a follow-up to this post, yes, he did need surgery, it cost a bundle, I learned that there is actually hamster medical literature, and he is still with us to ring in 2015. More Hamphrey posts to come!

9. Real-Life math Sucks. It still sucks, but I got to let off steam about my divorce and laugh at math, so it’s all good!

8. Let’s Do Things Without Shoes. This was the oldie, but goodie–misheard lyrics. I had a lot of fun reading people’s responses to this one.

7. It’s All About Me, Hannah. Alas, I never did get Lena Dunham to comment on this or respond to my tweet about it. I’ll increase my celebrity social media stalking next season.

6. California Steamin’ I wrote about two East Coast friends who left me for the Left Coast. I saw one at Christmas and I am happy to report he still has his Masshole chops. To the other one, who still hasn’t read this post and is from New York, I say, Boston’s bettah and Yankees suck!

5. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Divorce.  If your divorce isn’t funny, please feel free to laugh at mine.

4. I’m Sexy (if Only in My Head).  Perhaps it’s bad taste to be amused by your own writing, but this one still cracks me up. It made the top 5, so both you and I have excellent taste.

3. Radishes, Carrots, and Kale, Oh My! I love that this post is the third most popular and it was the second one I wrote this year. Foodies and their gastronomic obsessions are all over the blogsphere, but I’m a Cheez Whiz and Parmesan-in-a-can girl, as this post proves. Seems like I can work with that.

2. Thanks a Lot. I was surprised by how much the “kid table” really resonated with people. I also need to add a post script about my brother. For the record, I was describing our holidays from 20 and 30 years ago, because I’m a bratty youngest sister and that’s how I roll. He actually has been attending our holiday get togethers in recent years and seems to enjoy himself (as much as anyone can when they are with their bratty younger sister for more than 24 hours).

1. And what continues to be the Number One, most visited piece on my blog? Yes, It’s still that crazy serious piece I did about women and shaving many years ago. Shaving, Waxing, Electrocution: A Primer on Women’s War on Hair. So much for my humor ego. Go figure. Next year, I’m leaving that thing out of my stats or will try to sell the movie rights to Seth Rogen.

See you next year!

Hamphrey Says Happy Holidays

Hamphrey not only still believes in Santa, he actually believes he IS Santa. And I say, any hamster who survives surgery that cost three figures has the chutzpah to think whatever the heck he wants. I can’t say he has the cojones because, well, that’s what the surgery was for. It was a life-threatening situation I assure you, and he’s just as manly as he ever was and has become very wise. Anyway, Hamphrey would like to wish you all peace and happiness in whatever holiday you choose or don’t choose to participate in and urges you not to feel guilty for any of your choices. Life’s too short for such things–you never know when you’re gonna wake up and need to have a body part edited.

A safe and happy holiday or unholiday to all my readers. Thanks for checking out my blog!

The Santa Liar

One Christmas morning more than 10 years ago, I woke to the sound of footsteps bounding down the stairs and an implosion of anxiety. I’d forgotten to fill my then-four-year-old’s stocking from Santa Claus. Heart pounding, I went into super mommy mode: grabbed the bag of stuffers, flew down the stairs with ninja stealth speed, motioned behind my son’s back to my mother to stall him with cute grandma chatter, thanked the universe he was not the kind of kid who raced right to the presents, dumped the goods in the stocking, and then wandered back into the kitchen with a guilt-induced nonchalance perfected during my teenage years.

“So, should we see what Santa brought?” I asked, only slightly out of breath.

“Yeah!” my son answered and off he went.

“I can’t wait until he stops believing,” I whispered to my mom. “I just can’t get the hang of this!”

My mother just shrugged, unsympathetic to the fact that it was her decision about Christmas when I was a kid that had led to this madness. At some point when I was very young, she got tired of missing the Christmas gift opening fun because she was in the kitchen cooking dinner. So one year she declared we’d open our gifts on Christmas Eve. My three older siblings were no doubt hip to the truth about Santa at that point, but I was young enough that to this day I don’t have memories of believing in Santa, although I surely must have. I mostly remember feeling lucky that we got to open our presents earlier than everyone else I knew. That I could count on my grandparents to get me something good—traditionally Santa’s territory. Add to this the fact that we didn’t fill stockings—either from each other or Santa—and you can perhaps begin to see how recreating the whole Santa myth thing for my son was a DIY project, made all the more difficult because I’m a terrible liar. Big lies, little lies, doesn’t matter. I have no poker face and when asked a direct question, like, say, “Is Santa Claus real?” I will crumble.

I averted the stocking crisis, but this was my next big dread. The Santa Claus question.  I marveled at all the other families I knew who celebrated Christmas. How they had no trouble at all telling their kids Santa is real—through all the stages, from the tentative, “I’ve heard rumors from the other kids but I don’t  believe them, so please confirm,” to the “I’m 13, so you can stop pretending now.”

I knew I had a few years before I really had to sweat it, but by the time Lucas was in fourth grade, the pressure mounted. In addition to my inability to tell a lie, my son is very logical and smart, and so he started wondering about the logistics earlier than other kids. He didn’t just ask straight out if Santa was real, which would be hard but also easily deflected with a quick “Yes!” and redirect. Rather, he asked a ton of ancillary questions in trying to make the logistics match the seemingly impossible feat of going around the world in 24 hours. Of course there are a host of newer animated Christmas shows that try to answer that very question—and they invariably involve very high tech equipment with Mission Impossible movie style antics. The ancillary questions could be evaded, but I didn’t realize they were actually zeroing on the “big” question and softening me up like a criminal in a  bad 70s good cop, bad cop show. The fact that I could evade them or turn the question back on him, “So how do you think the reindeer can fly?” only encouraged me to let my guard down, relax, think I had another year to quiz other parents, read up on the internet, figure out how the hell to do this…and then it happened. The topic hadn’t been mentioned in weeks, and I was distracted with something else when he asked: “Mom, is Santo real?” Wide-eyed and paralyzed like a woodchuck just before it’s going to become road kill, I paused. Somehow I’d hoped when he finally asked, I’d be able to discern in his voice where along the continuum he was in the belief—the beginning of the end? Half and half? Not believing, but still wishing to? I strained in vain to hear the undertones and my mind raced over the previous conversations we’d had. I came to this horrible, terribly flawed decision: He’s smart, he’s logical, he will be hurt in the future when he knows I lied to him right now, and he seems ready to know the truth. Otherwise why would he ask? I told you I was no good at this.

“He’s not real, sweetie,” I said. His crushed whisper “He’s not?” and his sudden fierce tears slammed into me like an 18-wheeler. Holy crap, what had I done? I backpeddled like a person backing away their promised soul from Satan. I have no idea what I really said, but in my mind it was a lame version of I was just kidding, of course he’s real, mommy made a really, really, really bad joke. The tears stopped, but it was horrifying. That was the beginning of the end. I think his belief lasted one more year after that, and then it was done. He still likes Christmas, so there doesn’t seem to be any permanent damage. At least for him. I still twitch a little when I fill his stocking, And I try not to think about the lies I may have to tell any future grandkids. Better work on my poker face. .

Black Lives Matter

Last Thursday my friend Mike texted me and asked if I wanted to join a protest against the decision not to indict the officer for the death of Eric Garner in NYC. Garner died while police were taking him down to arrest him. As a divorced mom, I only have certain evenings that I can be civic-minded, social, or watch old reruns of Starsky and Hutch, so I was happy the protest was on one of those nights. Mike and I had both been feeling frustrated and helpless about the Garner news following on the heels of the heartbreaking news out of Ferguson. Another grand jury failing to indict a police officer for a death of a black person. Like the NYC protest earlier in the week, the one in Boston was called to coincide with the lighting of the Boston Commons. I admit was a little conflicted on this point. I wanted to speak out and support racial justice and equality and I have no problem interrupting purely adult events, but as a mother, I didn’t want to be responsible for traumatizing a bunch of kids. I didn’t mind kids seeing us, but protests can quickly turn ugly, and I didn’t want to be a part of a toppled burning tree and kids who would associate racial justice with Christmas haters. I needn’t have worried. The protest was peaceful and orderly and although we stopped traffic in the street nearby the tree, we respected the barriers the police had erected around the ceremony. The kids may forever hear “Black Lives Matter” sprinkled among the strains of “White Christmas,” but I can live with that.

We stood in a crowd that began to grow. Every time we turned to look behind us more people joined. The crowd was encouragingly diverse, especially for Boston, which is pretty white. All shades of skin color and all ages, from gray heads to wispy-haired toddlers. We couldn’t see the speaker, and it was hard to hear, but the chants would flow back to us like the wave at a sports stadium. But honestly, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were there, with like-minded people, speaking out. After a while the crowd started to move. Even as I was chanting, a small part of my brain acknowledged the power of the crowd and giving myself up to it. The protest was not an elaborately planned civil rights March on Washington. It seemed more organic. I had no idea where we were going, but Mike and I followed and chanted. We stepped out into the street stopping traffic. For all of Boston’s bad driving reputation, not one driver yelled at us. Some cheered, some looked annoyed, and others just took the opportunity to text with immunity. We went around the tree lighting ceremony and walked up the small hill to the state house. The sight of police in riot gear “lite” lined up along the state house lawn was sobering. They had face shields and were wearing neon yellow jackets. I was somewhat reassured by the article I had read in the Boston Globe the week before about a longer march after the Ferguson decision. The police chief was exuberant that the police and marchers had been respectful and no property had been damaged. He seemed like a reasonable guy and so far this march was reasonable. We stood by the gates chanting while the cops stood in an impassive line. Finally the protesters with bull horns turned us back down the hill and we walked in the downtown streets. It was a little surreal. The traffic at this point was being diverted, because there were no more cars. Police on bikes rode alongside us as we chanted and walked. One of the chants was “Hey, hey, ho, ho, these racist cops have got to go.” Mike commented that he didn’t like that chant, but being the word girl, I pointed out that it could be interpreted as these racist cops over here have to go, while we support those cops over there who are not racist. Of course, one thrown rock and the cops wouldn’t care very much about the nuances of demonstrative pronouns.

We wound our way down Washington Street and we were getting a little punchy; a guy behind us tried to start rogue chants. Some were kind of funny, like as we were going by a tall skyscraper he started chanting “Take the bank! Take the bank” and then “Take them all! Take them all!” We all started laughing because it didn’t even make sense, and he was laughing too.  At the corner of State and Congress we stopped. Again I had that sense of just being in the crowd, in the moment. I didn’t know what the plan was or where we are even trying to get to. Mike and I joked they were just going to march us down State Street into the ocean. But then people started lying down. It was a “die in.” We’d been standing and walking for almost two hours so it actually felt kind of nice, even on the cold pavement in the middle of street. As we looked up into the dark night sky, Mike and I marveled that we’d probably never get to see this view, quite like this again. Then “Take the bank” guy started chanting “Get me a blanket! Get me a blanket!” and we started laughing again. Irreverent? Perhaps. But it occurred to me that the humor would help keep us safe from an anger that could turn into confrontation and get people hurt. Our presence, thousands strong was enough. We were lying in the street and chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and “I can’t breathe!” We were making our point without fire hoses, police dogs, and burning buildings. Without riot gear, tasers, and mace.

To fit in my space on the street, I was curled up on my side and the hip I was resting on started to hurt. The ground was getting cold. Finally we got up. It was 8:30. Mike and I, who had both marched on Washington in our 20s—he for the AIDS crisis and me for abortion rights—were tired and hungry. It was time for us to let the young ones carry on without us. At least for the night. A few blocks away we encountered another large river of people parallel to the folks we’d just left. Yes we were leaving the protest in good hands, and we would continue our own education—Mike reading about white privilege and I rereading my books about the Civil Rights Movement.

Black lives matter.

Cindy Eden’s Weaving Adventures

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month for those of you who have a life, has come and gone, and I for one say, thank goodness. The idea is for writers to spend the month of November writing an entire novel. As my friend and fellow writer Lisa Borders once pointed out, this seems a little extreme and unrealistic, even if we could manage to have a solid month off to write, free of distractions like working, buying groceries, and keeping our children/partners/elderly parents from running amuck in the neighborhood.

Lisa should know—she’s a talented writer and it took her many years to write her latest novel, The Fifty-First State. This spring, she instead started the more practical version called BoNoProMo, or May Boston Novel in Progress Month. The idea was just to set aside 10 hours a week to write and be doing it with other writers. It came on the heels of a blog post she wrote about not being too hard on yourself when life gets in the way of writing and to create a schedule based on your needs, rather than those edicts that declare if you write less than five hours a day, you’ll never amount to anything. OK, maybe that’s just what we writers see when we read any advice about how much to write. Once we see a number, all we can think about is how many errands/gym sessions/babysitter dollars/partner forgiveness points/doctor’s appointments are going to have to go out the window.

When Lisa declared BoNoProMo, I was actually in a place where I could devote more time to writing, and lucky for me I had a novel that I’ve been writing way longer than Lisa had. I loved Anne McCaffrey’s fantasy dragon novels as a teen, and they inspired me to write my own. My novel is about a woman who saves the world by weaving–I kid you not. I wrote a big chunk of it in my 20s…on a Wang word processor (go ahead and click on the link, I dare ya!), which even then was on its way out. Lost the hard copy in a move, but had the floppy disk backup! Except that by that time even the last adopters of technology had moved past the Wang. I was heartbroken, but decided to try to rewrite it. If I had fun doing it, I’d keep going. If it sucked eggs, then I’d leave it relegated to its magnetic, floppy disk form, perhaps to be discovered in the future by aliens with a penchant for retro human technology.

I wrote, and it was fun. I wrote some more. Still fun. I wrote until I had more than a 100 pages. Then I started working on and published a nonfiction book, had a kid, and only worked on the novel sporadically for the next 10 or so years. It has never left me. Every few years I pick it up again. The last serious attempt was when I took a writing class, which forced me to realize that while I’d been having fun all those years ago writing 100 pages, I’d just written all the scenes as they had occurred to me. The plot was nowhere to be found. I always thought the plot would take care of itself, right? I mean, when I wrote about my family in WWII, I didn’t have to structure anything–history had done that for me already. Wasn’t novel-writing similar? My teacher’s raised eyebrows and stern expression said otherwise. So I soldiered on in her class, trying to create and lay down a plot structure on a piece of writing that was like a rebellious teenager. It stayed up late, slept all day, it didn’t come home some nights, and I swear it was doing drugs. Or maybe I was when I had written some of these scenes. It wasn’t pretty.

Lisa’s call to write got me going again. Since I already knew the problem was the plot, or lack of one, I put on my riot gear and dove in. I actually made some real progress—there are lots of helpful tools and tips for getting your plot in shape. I was merrily feeling like a real writer when the novel’s deadly flaw revealed itself like a zombie hand coming out of the dirt in a bad horror movie. No, the real problem was the main character. I thought I knew who she was, but as the plot came into focus, I realized with that sinking feeling you get when you watch a bad horror movie, she was whoever I happened to be at the time I was working on the story. She was first a young women in her 20s, and then she was a women in her 30s. All her traits, fears and doubts changed as mine changed. Don’t get me wrong, as a character based on me, she’s fabulous; but as a real character who has to carry a whole book, she hasn’t got a clue. And neither do I. I love putting her in different situations, but this whole writer’s thing of knowing where she is going and what she’s going to do to get there–well, I’m still writing my own pages, so how should I know about hers?

And there’s the rub. Novelists know. Essayists and bloggers report on what is and give it a twist. I should have realized this earlier; I used to tell my friends I’d write a thinly disguised novel about us. Like my character’s name would be Cindy Eden. I’d write about what happened to us, but just make us look cooler. Now that’s a fantasy novel.

My son learned about the book back when I was taking the writing class, and every once in a while he asks me about it. I don’t know if he saw NaNoWriMo on YouTube or what, but yesterday, the last day of the month, he asked me again. What I couldn’t confess at the end of BoNoProMo, I confessed to him: I realized I have no idea who the main character is and that’s kind of a deal breaker. But when he asked if I was going to give up on the book, I knew I couldn’t. So what if the main character is sketchier than an iPhone seller on a street corner? Who cares if I have no idea how to get her from the edge of the sea to the deep, misty forest (which is a really cool place if I may say so). Maybe I wait until I’m old and know her story, or maybe I just write scenes that are fun and not worry that the plot needs recreational drugs to make sense. Maybe I shake out some of the other characters to see if they have enough moxie to lead the way. Maybe I just write. NaNoWriMoBoNoProMo. Sounds like plan.

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