Tag Archives: writing

Writing Excavation

Before I get into my blog proper, I need to detour one second for this brilliant tweet from @DrAndrewThaler: “Folks, I think we need to start coming to terms with the idea that the rapture happened and only David Bowie and Prince made the cut.”

And now back to our regularly scheduled shenanigans: While packing and decluttering before I moved, I went through my filing box of writing. Oh what a treasure trove of the good, the bad, and the incomprehensible, masquerading as mastery. Here are some of the more interesting (humor me) highlights:

This one I like — I’m not a natural-born poet, brevity being rather foreign to me. However, I do have my moments. I used to take a bus to the train to get to a 7 am meeting in Boston. One thing writers are good at is turning an unpleasant obligation into art, or at least something more palatable.

Early spring bus ride, 6:20 am
The light is so nice
It’s the planet and the sun
We’re doing the tilt.

I found a lot of random notes about possible essays from when Lucas was little. Which either shows my unbridled optimism or delusional tendencies — I had no time or energy to write an essay, but as they say in yoga, intention counts. This one made me smile:

When Lucas was about 8, he played soccer. His coach Giuseppe was from Italy and had a pretty heavy accent. We used to laugh that his son who was also on the team and a great player was the ringer — the kid probably had been kicking a ball around before he could walk. The rest of Lucas’s team was pretty much what you’d expect from a group of rag-tag, half-hearted 8-year-olds. The better teams always thought they had the game in the bag until Giuseppe’s son started weaving his way around them as if they were standing still. I also loved the way Guiseppe told the kids that “practeeks” would help them win. Short of having a wine flask to help take the edge off sitting through 8 am practices in 35-degree fall weather, the Italian imported ringer and the practeeks got me through.

In an unmarked manila folder I found a thin, plastic see-through record, a 45 size, but a 33 rpm. If you are younger than 35, this sentence may make no sense to you. Kind of like this one makes no sense to me (randomly found on a celebrity gossip site): Javi and Briana rub their romance in Kailyn’s face. Who are these people?

Back to my see-through record. It does play on my record player. (Yes, I have one, read all about it here: Put the Needle on the Record). The record is called “Star Track: Stephen Saban’s Greatest Hits,” and has excerpts from interviews by the “hottest” 80s stars, with a slant toward comedians: Judy Tenuta, Julio Iglesias, Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry, Steven Wright, Emo Phillips, Lily Tomlin. I listened to it, and it’s pretty incomprehensible — there is no theme or organization, just famous people saying random things. It says “Details” at the top, which I think means it was from the hip, happening 80s magazine of the same name, which I did not subscribe to. So the mystery remains: why was this (presumably) in a magazine, who the hell is Stephen Saban, how did I get this weird thing, and for the love, why did I keep it? Was it one of those, “Oh, this will be worth a lot on eBay in the future!” moments? We may never know as I threw it away, but was fun to find.

There were many painful attempts at fiction and interview notes from when I spent a few months as a stringer for a weekly local newspaper. Neither genre is my forte, so that’s part of the pain. But it’s not a bad thing to be reminded that being a young writer is what it is — bombastic, obvious, overly earnest, and just plain bad. But I had to write all that stuff to get where I am now: bombastic, obvious, underly earnest, and less bad.

And I’ll leave you with a deliciously bad piece of writing. Here is the winner of the 2017 Best Unoriginal Sentence: Hers was a beauty that was best seen through drunken eyes.

Thank you very much.

Alpha Flee

On Saturday, I, my friend Lin, and my son went on a road trip to Amherst, Mass., to see the Shakespeare Folio from 1623. It’s a printed book of his plays. From 1623. Think about it. It’s amazing. It was on display at Amherst College’s Mead Museum and we decided to drag my son with us to check out Amherst College, UMass Amherst, and Hampshire College. The college portion will be another blog, no doubt involving me mapping out college visits by student-only tours close to bars that open early.

Lin is a theater lover, author of her own fabulous blog, The Creative Part-Timer, and the genius behind the Tiny Colony (TC) in Boston, which alluringly combines the idea of a creative colony with the tiny house movement. I’ve been to TC and it’s fabulous, but little did I know TC can also go on the road. As we talked about our own college experiences on the trip, I unearthed one I had clearly stuffed up into the attic and is now coming to you in full blog color: Greek life.

To all of you who liked Greek life at college and actually got something out of it, congratulations. I was not one of you. When I started telling Lin the story, she, who has known me for 30 years, said, “I wouldn’t have thought you were a person who would do that.”

Indeed.

I’m not, which is how I got mixed up in it in the first place. I went to Boston University, and in the 70s it had kicked all the Greek organizations off campus. When I got there in the 80s, they were trying to make a comeback and four houses were sniffing around for recruits, two women’s and two men’s. My main interest in joining the yet-to-be-legitimized-sorority was to get invited to frat parties. The drinking age kept going up just a year ahead of me and alcohol was always just out of reach. So logically, one of my main college pursuits was procuring alcohol; who are you again? Alpha Phi? Sisterhood, alumni opportunities, blah, blah, blah. Oh, frat parties? Why, yes, I’m in!

And so for most of the year, I and two of my friends Gloria and Rosemary went along, getting our friends into the parties and attending meetings that I remember as mostly social and harmless. I’m fairly sure the whole thing was casual, otherwise I would have been suspicious sooner. Towards the end of the year, though, the group took a very disturbing and serious turn. Suddenly (or at least it felt that way to my frat-party addled brain) an adult from the national Alpha Phi organization was coming to anoint us, tap us on the head three times with a Greek wand, put a sorting hat on us, or some such thing.

The next thing I knew I was being blindfolded and led to a secret ceremony down in the bowels of a college building. I’d seen Animal House enough to think maybe it would be a cool thing, until the blindfold came off and I was sitting with a group of other 20-year-old women being sworn to secret handshakes and passwords. OK, historically women’s organizations were a secret because they were not allowed to exist. And I appreciate that reminder that women have struggled to be seen and heard. That’s cool. Still being secretive a 1986? Uncool. And dumb, like a slumber party for 13-year-olds. So we sat and had to swear to never reveal the secrets. Spoiler alert, the Alpha Phi secret handshake is squeezing someone’s hand to the syllables Al-Pha-Phi, Al-Pha-Phi: three quick squeezes, done twice. There were other secrets revealed, but honestly I don’t remember them. I was preoccupied with how we as women had worked so hard (and have to continue to work so hard) be seen and heard, and why the hell were we hiding in a basement swearing loyalty and drinking something out of the big goblet that wasn’t alcohol and passing it around? Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, they started outlining The Rules. In one minute we went from annoying 13-year-olds to feminist-destroying women. We had to agree that we would dress a certain way and act like “ladies” especially when wearing Alpha Phi crap.

Um, say what, now? I went to college to throw off society’s rules and find new ones. I became an atheist, I drank, I swore, I debauched, I wore ripped clothes and slammed against strangers to the Sex Pistols, I had a stint as the other woman. Why the hell would I want to pack all that back and cross my legs and wear “appropriate dress”?

I kept waiting for someone to jump up and yell, “Surprise! Gotcha! Just kidding! Let’s go drink!” But no one did. It should have been me, and I regret that I didn’t. I considered myself lucky to get out of there with my feminism intact. My two smarter friends bailed after that. But there was one more piece to this ghastly business: The Induction Ceremony. Requiring, of all things, a white dress. Never mind that I only come in two colors, pale and sunburn red, and look like crap in white. The real problem was how ridiculous this seemed to me. I assumed these women I’d been kind of hanging out with would all come to their senses, but they all fell in line and embraced this like a bunch of Stepford wives. Even me asking if anyone found this ridiculous made them look at me weird. Without my two friends as a buffer, I realized too late that these people were not my sisterhood.

But here’s the thing. Despite the fact that I thought it was ludicrous and hauled women’s rights back 30 years, I couldn’t throw off my family programming that quitting equals failure, even if it’s a goal you decide you don’t want to achieve. So I found a white dress, god knows where, and allowed myself to be herded to the high-rise apartment of the aforementioned adult representative of Alpha Phi, once again blindfolded. Seriously, what the fuck is it with the blindfolds? Were they getting us ready for Fifty Shades of Grey? There was white gauzy stuffed draped everywhere like we were in a bad sci-fi movie on a planet with a city in the sky. There  was some pseudo-Greek babble, more shit about swearing loyalty to the sisterhood forever, and severe awkwardness as I realized I had nothing in common with these women. It was all I could do to keep from screaming. Then it was done, and I fled the spread of cheese and crackers and a punch bowl like the Moonies were after me, and went straight to my real friends to spill the whole thing.

For many years, Alpha Phi magazine still found me after every move, which used to creep me out, but nowadays is no more creepy than Facebook knowing you were looking at blindfolds on Adam and Eve.com. Also for a long time I was mad at myself for not being the person who stood up and said, “This is ridiculous.” But speaking up is still a work in progress for me, so I try to forgive myself. These sisterhoods should be teaching that shit.

But now I realize the real purpose was so I could write about it so fully now. If I had quit after the goblet and secrets, you would have been entertained/horrified by only half a story. So thank you Alpha Phi. I dearly hope you have moved on from the blindfolds, or at least are exploring more interesting uses for them.

Nerd Nirvana at PAX East 2015

This past weekend was our annual visit to dorky cool nirvana, aka PAX East, the Boston gaming convention. This is my fourth year taking my son who is now 16. When I told friends and coworkers how I would be spending my weekend, I got looks running the gamut from sympathetic, to puzzled, to a blank stare: “What’s PAX East?” Indeed, what it is? It’s short for Penny Arcade Expo, and is an explosion of sight, sound, and happiness all focused on video games and whirling around 80,000 people. “It’s THREE days?” is usually the next question. “What on earth do you do?” Mostly, I just follow my son around and enjoy how happy he is. I don’t play video games myself—my hand-eye coordination was formed before gaming was popular, and I don’t work well under pressure, even when it’s supposed to be fun. However I can do credible damage with Ms. Pac Man.

This year we pulled out all the stops, logging in 13 hours on Friday and 12 on Saturday. Most of that was due to the screening of the Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN) movie on Friday night and then waiting two and a half hours to have the filmmaker and You Tuber AVGN James Rolph sign the PAX East badge and the movie poster. It was an Olympic-level test for both me and Lucas: I was making a monumental effort not to clock the only annoying person in the line who would NOT stop talking loudly, and Lucas was battling the leg pain from standing for 12 hours (they are called muscles, he should use them more). We both survived.

This year brought more people dressed up as game characters, although I only recognize Mario and Zelda. Other than people watching, there is a main floor of all the gaming companies, big and small, where you can try out new games and buy games and game-related merchandise. The rest of the convention center is filled with all kinds of events and panel discussions—yes, you heard me—panel discussions. About gaming. Some are about the state of the gaming industry. Others focus on specific games. We saw a couple of panels of well-known You Tubers, that is people who actually make a living by making funny and serious videos about video games on You Tube. You Tubers are stopped in the hall and asked for photos and autographs. They are politely swarmed by fans after the panel discussions to chat and sign. And everyone is soooo patient. They will wait an hour for a signature, two hours to play the hottest new game. And no one gets mad, no one makes a scene. They are happy to be there, they are happy to get deeply involved in a conversation about a video game with the person waiting in line next to them. They are just happy.

Which is why I like to be there. Sure, it’s loud, overstimulating, I don’t get the inside gaming jokes, but being a writer, I do get the creativity—serious gamers care deeply about the story of a game, the quality of the characters, and the originality of the game play. And I recognize that while they are a group of people who are gaining acceptance, they are still outside of the mainstream. Ultimately I go to support my son, because that’s what parenting means to me. Some parents spend many hours over a season watching their kid play sports. I efficiently get all my hours logged in over a two-day period. Seems like a nerdy good deal to me.

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.

Image credit: http://www.mrxstitch.com/category/weaving-2/

It’s Nothing Personal

So here I am four years post-separation and marriage. During the summer I amused myself by getting reacquainted with girlie things—dresses, shoes, and those whatchamacallits…oh, yeah, accessories. I couldn’t quite pull off sexy, but I got and had a lot of laughs. Summer slipped into autumn and winter is nearly upon us, and even though the girlie dresses are getting cold, I still want to wear them. Out. Somewhere. With sincere apologies to Keats, I now find myself slouching towards dating Bethlehem. I’m still not interested in actual dating, but I’m interested in the idea of thinking about maybe seeing what might be out there. Makes me a perfect catch, don’t you think? I am the consummate researcher and thinker, which, for your information is absolutely very different from a procrastinator. I’m a writer, I know the nuances of language better than you.

In any event, I realized I’m in a good position to evaluate the personals. What do they look like compared to when I answered my ex’s personal ad in the Boston Phoenix, Boston’s alternative weekly newspaper, more than 25 years ago? Of course the internet and apps have intervened in the interim, but I limited my research to just personals because 1) I’m too lazy to actually create a dating profile on a site like Match.com, 2) I’m still scarred by my friends’ stories about how brutal and dishonest these dating sites are and 3) I’m not quite ready for an app like Adult Friend Finder—no explanation needed for that I think, except to emphasize that the technology allows you to meet someone RIGHT NOW. No judgment and call me old fashioned, but I just like to get a drink or two and dinner first.

So where to go? Craigslist personals, that ubiquitous, democratic, free internet space that provokes pretty much the same response from people as the Boston Phoenix personals did 25 years ago. Mild shock quickly followed by admonitions to be careful of all the murderers on there. The similarity was downright heartwarming. So far so good! I plunged on with my research, and here, dear reader, is my take on personals then and now:

The Phoenix had the regular personals and a section where sex was a main feature. I believe it was hip enough to also have the basic categories for gays and straights. Craigslist has nine sections and within in them, evidence of the wonder of human variation and preference. Since I’m kind of boring, I stuck with two, “casual encounters” and the “men seeking women.”

All I remember from the Phoenix was that the personals pretty much sounded all the same. The guys liked dinners, movies, and walks on the beach, which was pretty useless—what kind of food? What kind of movies? My ex’s ad actually had specifics, which made him stand out. Now? Holy acronym Batman! LTR, BBW, HWP. Within minutes I was Googling “Craigslist acronyms”: long-term relationship, big beautiful or black woman, height-weight proportional. And that’s when things really got interesting. At one point I forgot I was looking to see if there was anyone I maybe wanted to think about contacting because the specificity is fascinating. This ain’t no dinner and movies crowd.

First there are all the attributes. Ladies, if you get discouraged about all the ways the media reinforces ridiculous standards of beauty, just go to Craigslist—fair warning you are going to see more pictures of men’s junk than a porn site and the fetishes are rampant, but once you get past that, you will find guys looking for BBW, bubble butts, big breasts, small breasts, requests that a woman have a little meat on them. Tall women, petite women, single mothers, HWP, geeky women, tiny waists with big hips. Something called “thick” which even the guides can’t agree on. I thought it was maybe somewhere between HWP and BBW, but then I saw a picture of a “thick” example, and I thought she was actually HWP, so what do I know? I guess the poster will know it when he sees it. Of course there are the straight out requests for being hot looking and thin/athletic. But there are not as many as you would think, and the guys claim to be the same. And that has been going on since Adam was hoping for a hot babe who was an independent thinker and had healthy eating habits.

When men do make very specific or even wacky requests, they often apologize for it and explain they don’t mean to offend, it’s just what they prefer, which I found kind of touching. Sure they may have gotten flamed by some pissed off women or they are simply savvy marketers. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s a nice touch.

The details included in the personals turned out to be my downfall. I stopped looking for myself and got lost in my writer’s curiosity. I tend to be attracted to guys who make me laugh, and so don’t really have a type. How do people get such specific types? For example what is it about a bubble butt that gets you going? Honestly, thank goodness they included a picture, because I wasn’t even sure what that was. Of course the pictures, clearly of real people, got me started on a whole other line of thought. Where are these people now? Do they know they are a Craigslist poster girl for a ______ (fill in the blank). Then I think how many women actually respond? How many of a type can there be?

Which of course brings it around back to me. I’m happy for all the women out there whose type is being called out and worshipped (a lot of guys promise to worship these various parts). But then that means I have the opposite, but equally annoying problem of 25 years ago when the ads were too vague. Then it was OK, we both like movies, but what if I like “Equalizer” and you like “Her”? Now I have to figure out where my body fits into the acronyms. I can knock out the extremes—I’m proudly not fit or athletic. Which is just as well because the guys who ask for a fit or athletic woman always list their hobbies as hiking, running and all manner of exercise—ugh. I tend to gravitate to the guys who talk about food and wine. Also, I’m not a BBW or a bubble butt. My breasts have never been big, and thanks to my recent weight loss, they have actually gotten slightly smaller (you really can’t win sometimes). I have big hips, but my waist ain’t anywhere near tiny. It actually was a while before I encountered HWP, which shows you how many requests there are for just a regular gal—not many. I guess they are all on Match.com.

Once I could tear myself away from these fascinating guys and their requests and I decided I was HWP, I started lurking among this small number of ads. I could eliminate at least 75% of the guys off the bat. They are in their thirties or younger, and I’m not quite ready to be a cougar (although that is not an infrequent request).  Of the remaining men, there are the people who are looking for love and long-term, while others are uncomfortably honest (married seeking same). A few are just liars/too creepy if true. One guy claimed to be very successful and was looking for someone to travel with him on his boat and winter in Florida. Um, I was just looking for dinner, wine, a few laughs, and home by midnight, thanks! And that leaves me about one possibility every few weeks. And even at that point the general rule of Craigslist is that half the time, people will flake out on you and not show up.

So through very careful, research, combing through pages of original documents, I have come to a very scientific conclusion about dating today versus 25 years ago. It ain’t any easier, whether you are looking for an LTR, an Adult Friend, or just looking for dinner, wine and a few laughs. But at least if you have been hiding your Craigslist lurking habit, you can tell people you only know about it because you read it here. You’re welcome. The girlie dresses can wait until spring.

Photo credit: Glamour.com, “Here Are a Few Not-So-Solid Dating Tips From the 1930s”

Anna Karenina and The Muppets: More Similar Than You Think

Just like your trash pickup — I’m a day late because of the holiday! Hope you had a great weekend.

There were a number of books I read in high school that I was too young to understand, and I often wonder at the value of having kids read these things. The Scarlet Letter comes to mind—as a 17 year-old, modern-day honors student, I couldn’t connect to the characters’ situations. A terrible teacher didn’t help matters. A Separate Peace, was another book I didn’t get. It seemed to be picked only because the character was about our age. It was slightly more modern than Scarlet Letter and has a backdrop of WWII, but this incomprehensible story about a private school boy who ends up crippling his best friend because he’s jealous, was in some ways farther away from my experience than a woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock. At least I knew a girl who’d gotten pregnant. A Separate Peace haunted and mystified me for so many years that I inflicted in on my book group, hoping maturity and other smart readers might help me make sense of it. They were fairly mystified as well.

The book my book group is reading now, Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, has given me the opposite feeling. I should have read this when I was younger. Probably not high school, but definitely college. Why? Because I can identify all too closely with the characters. If I were younger,  I’d just see the characters as interesting people and not uncomfortably close to my life. Also, I’d recover a lot faster from the destruction I know is coming. We all know Russian novels don’t have happy endings — heck they don’t even have neutral endings. I have 30 pages left of this 900-page behemoth, and I had to stop because I know Tolstoy’s going to lay waste to this huge cast of characters, who he has manipulated me into caring about. Thanks a lot, jerk!

Which brings us to the second reason I should have read this when I was younger — all  the unpronounceable, multiple names of all these characters. Dear, god, I don’t have the brainpower to keep that in my head now (if I ever did). I should have created an Excel spreadsheet at the beginning to keep track of the nomenclature. Everyone is referred to by at least two, three, and sometimes four names. Many of the characters have the same or similar names. There are still two characters I confuse. Worse is that the characters are referred to by different names depending on who they are with. There are familial names and pet names and nicknames. Whether you are for or against writing programs and workshopping your writing, I could make a strong case that Tolstoy’s naming structure (if you can call it that) wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in a workshop. And I can say with certainty that Anna Karenina’s greatness would not have been diminished in least by simpler names.

And Karenina is a problem too. I’d always heard people pronounce it Karena and apparently I never paid close attention to how it was written, but that extra syllable kills me. I feel like I’m stumbling over the word, which I am for all the other characters like Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky  and Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky (say that three times fast.) To help me out, my book group member Becky graciously suggested that Karenina rhymes rhythmically with “Mehna Mehna” (for all you who grew up in the 70s, just think “The Muppet Show” and you’ll hear the song in your head. If not, you can relive it here:

So, back to the last 30 pages. Will I finish it? Of course — I have my English major reputation to protect after all. But when? Hard to know. I need to rewatch the “Mehna Mehna” video of few times, for research, you understand. And then I have to finish the James Bond novel I picked up yesterday as the antidote to grand Russian doom. Nothing like post-WWII political intrigue, Bentleys, and martinis shaken, not stirred to lift your spirits.

But wait, WWII — that’s it! I finally understand. Getting through the last 30 pages can’t possibly be any worse that reading A Separate Peace. Twice. And that’s the benefit of age. I’ll let you know how the Russians turn out.

The Original Funny Writing Mom: Erma Bombeck

I almost didn’t want to write about Mother’s Day, because 1) it’s technically over, and 2) it seems best suited for those natural earth mother types — you know, they have always known they wanted kids and have a total lack of fear of being responsible for producing a functioning human being. They seem to thrive in the chaos and intensity of it all, and have absolutely no fear of various bodily fluids. I am not that mother. I am the mother who hides her fears of failure in irreverence, which must be why I have always loved Erma Bombeck, the original irreverent mother/writer. I followed her newspaper column as a kid and it made me and my mom laugh. And though she is no longer a household name to anyone under the age of 45 and some of her writing is dated, she can still make me laugh. So here’s a little post-Mother’s Day homage to Erma. Thank you for making motherhood real and really funny. These quotes and more are posted on Brainy Quote. Learn more about Erma here. 

Never have more children than you have car windows.

One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child’s name and how old he or she is.

When a child is locked in the bathroom with water running and he says he’s doing nothing but the dog is barking, call 911.

Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.

All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them.

In general my children refuse to eat anything that hasn’t danced in television.

I take a very practical view of raising children. I put a sign in each of their rooms: ‘Checkout Time is 18 years.

Onion rings in the car cushions do not improve with time.

Youngsters of the age of two and three are endowed with extraordinary strength. They can lift a dog twice their own weight and dump him into the bathtub.

Being a child at home alone in the summer is a high-risk occupation. If you call your mother at work thirteen times an hour, she can hurt you.

Photo credit: Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop