Good Job, and other annoying phrases

. . . where my dark side is revealed.

“Good Job” is my current least favorite phrase. Take a walk through a suburban mall and count the number of times you hear it—from a mother while she helps with personal care in a restroom; or from a father to a child who allows himself to be buckled into a stroller. One time I was stuck in elevator while a toddler insisted on pushing the button, though he was too short to reach it. Finally the mother lifted the child, he pushed the button, and—yes—”Good job!” the mother said.

In my day (this is a historical blog) “Good job,” if it was heard at all, referred to handing over babysitting money, and the tone was more like “there better be a bigger wad next time.”

An unsurprising corollary to “Good job” is preschool graduation, complete with tiny caps and gowns. What? All that fuss when all the kid did was allow himself to be driven to school?

While I’m on this tack, I might as well get off my chest some other phrases that, for whatever reason, drive me crazy.

No worries. This can mean anything from “I’ll take care of it” to “It’s okay that you ran into me.” It can also mean “You’re welcome,” which is the same number of syllables, so where’s the advantage?

Going forward. Admittedly, the person who uses this the most is a current (7/22/18) spokesperson on TV. She uses it instead of “in the future” (too vague for someone purportedly giving us specifics?) or “I have no idea when”.

The last time I accepted a "young lady" comment.

Young lady. When spoken to me (old, gray, sporting a cane) exclusively by men, young and old. No woman of any age has ever called me “young lady” – we know better. I wish I could think of a good comeback. “May you die young” is probably too harsh. What if I add “so you won’t have to hear this” — still too harsh?

Happy Mother’s Day. Another phrase that seems directed only to women. Personally, I have no reason to celebrate this “holiday” – I didn’t have a mother in the traditional sense of someone who loved me unconditionally, nor have I ever been a mother. I noticed no one wished my husband a Happy Father’s Day, even though he actually is one. Next year, I might respond, “Thanks. All my children are in jail.”

It is what it is. Just say “I heard, you but I have no advice whatsoever, and really don’t feel like hammering this out with you.” Just sayin’.

Where have all the flowers gone?

I’m tired of seeing this “poll question:”

If you could visit the past, whom would you have lunch with?

So I thought I’d answer it, once and for all.

If I could time travel, I wouldn’t waste it on the past. I’d go forward.

I’ve lived through a few decades of the past—I know what it’s like to get by without running hot water and electric knives and cellphones. And I’ve read enough about the days before plumbing and the zipper.

I’d like to know what becomes of women’s marches and noise-cancelling headphones.

I’d love to go away for a while and rest, and then come back and talk to the grandchildren of the Millennials. That would put us at around 2060.

PAPER, in widespread use in 2018 a.d.

Some questions:

1. What’s the official language of the United States?

2. Does Safeway still have two aisles of pet food and only half an aisle of cheese?

3. Did Jennifer Lawrence’s face ever wrinkle?

4. Does anyone use paper anymore? For what?

5. Did anyone stop the rain?

6. Did we ever give peace a chance?

What would you want to know?

All Hat

Note: this blog appeared earlier on Ann Parker’s website. Now there’s someone who has resurrected the Old West with her engaging Silver Rush series.

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I’m not the first person who comes to mind when delving into conversation about the Old West. Or even the New West, for that matter.
But I do have a stepdaughter who is a prize-winning horsewoman and here’s what she said about a newcomer to the ranch.
CC: He’s all hat and no cattle.
Me: Huh?
CC: You know, he talks big, but no action.

Camille, hat, and photobombed horses (courtesy CC and the Cable Guy)

So there it is. The West creeping into my personal lexicon. Here’s a bit (so to speak) of its history:
Originally used in reference to people imitating the fashion or style of cowboys. These people wore the hats, but had no experience on the ranch — thus, all hat, no cattle. Similar to talking the talk without walking the walk, also used in reference to wannabe gunslingers.

It’s going to be hard not to overuse this newly learned phrase.

It’s a Grand Old Flag

I think there’s a song about that.

Largest American flag in the world: 90 feet x 160 feet. (from the Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection)

Happy Fourth everyone. How about a quiz to help you prepare for your Fourth of July party. What? No party? Well, there’s no excuse now.

(No, this is not a duplicate of the quiz in my newsletter — separate questions; separate prize!)

1. Who is the artist of the painting printed on the $2 bill?

(a) John Trumbull;  (b) James Whistler;  (c) Winslow Homer

2. Who wrote “God Bless America?”

(a) George M. Cohan; (b) Irving Berlin; (c)Francis Scott Key

3. What creature did Benjamin Franklin recommend for our national symbol?

(a) bald eagle; (b) beaver; (c) turkey

4. Who was the first president to be born in the United States?

(a) James Polk; (b) Martin Van Buren; (c) John Quincy Adams

5. Who was King of England when the Declaration of Independence was adopted?

(a) Edward II; (b) George III; (c) William IV

Send answers BY JULY 4, 2018 to camille (at) minichino (dot) com, subject JULY 4 BLOG QUIZ.

A Book by Any Other Name

Some claim the e-reader dates back to 1949, when a Spanish school teacher, Angela Robles, wanted to ease the textbook-carrying burden of school children by spooling text into what she termed a “mechanical encyclopedia.”

Jumping ahead, Sony released its e-reader in 2004; the first Kindle appeared in 2007. Enough time for them to be welcomed into the world of readers.

There are many reasons to prefer e-readers to hard copy books, and vice versa. We have issues of eyesight, or cost, or the weight and manageability of one versus the other, for example. But I’m always amazed when I still hear this argument for a paper book:

“I like the smell and feel of a book. No one wants to curl up with a computer screen.”

The smell and feel. If you’re in the Morgan Library, maybe, where you can smell and feel fine leather from ages past.

From the Morgan Library, printable version

But inventory in the bookstores I frequent is made of fragrance-free paper, the same paper as a boarding pass or paper towels. The most you can count on is a bit of bling on the covers.

Fingering pages that used to be a tree seem important to some people, however, and I imagine taking taking a long, long time to get through a Harry Potter as they stop to fondle each page.

Curling up. Except for My First Book Ever, books are not soft and cuddly, but rather a constant source of paper cuts.

This nostalgia for technology past isn’t surprising. We see it with each new invention, that then becomes threatened by yet a newer invention.

I suppose there was a gathering of horsemen around the turn of the twentieth century, all bemoaning the arrival of the automobile.

“I miss the smell of manure,” one might have said.

“And the feel of the saddle under me,” from another.

“There will always be horses,” from a horse trader.

And they’d have been right. But stairs and elevators coexist, along with automobiles. And, yes, we still have horses, though you don’t find them used much for commuting any more.

My e-reader, with an old-time cover. The best of both worlds?

Assorted Quotes

We’re a puzzle/quote family. My husband (aka The Cable Guy) and I do puzzles together and separately—crosswords, acrostics, jumbles, cryptograms, word games.

Many of the solutions end up as quotes. And some of those quotes end up with a permanent place on our walls.

Here are a few favorites:

There are two kinds of truth, small truth and great truth. You can recognize a small truth because its opposite is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another truth. — Niels Bohr

The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer. — Edward R. Morrow

• My only concern was to get home after a hard day’s work. — Rosa Parks

• I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown. — Woody Allen

• Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world. — Hillary Clinton

And one of my all-time favorites (winter person that I am):

Every year, back Spring comes,

with the nasty little birds

yapping their fool heads off.

– Dorothy Parker

Home Again

Revere, MA post office, site of one of my college jobs

Who says you can’t go home again?

I know, Thomas Wolfe for one. But I just did, last week – went home to a college reunion in Boston and to many smaller reunions with family and friends in Revere and environs.

Unlike Wolfe’s fictional George Webber, I did not meet with anger and death threats, even though I’ve set several novels and short stories in my home town.

Here are some photos to show what a great welcome I’ve gotten over the years.

THEN:

Book signing at Revere Public Library, c. 1998

NOW:

My undergrad math teacher greets me with a tiramisu cake!

A "cool" greeting!

My cousins twice removed, and the tip of a cannoli, lower left!

Chris, a forever friend, once removed.

Home-again view from my room; looking out at the Charles River (Chahles Rivah)

All in all: a great trip! Thanks everyone!

Happy Birthday, Gemini!

Gemini dates: May 21-June 20

On the door of our local coffee shop is a sign: “Take Comfort in Routine.” Under the letters is a picture of a steaming frappa-thing. I turned away in disgust. Comfort and routine do not belong in the same sentence. I realize their marketing people are trying to build customer loyalty to the frappa, but I hope it’s a temporary aberration.

I don’t like routine.

I blame this on my start in life as a Gemini.

Here’s what one source says about Geminis:

There is a dual aspect to the Gemini personality, making it difficult for these individuals to stick with any one thing in order to master it.

It’s the logline of my life.

Please don’t ask me to do the same thing every Wednesday, or at ten every morning, or twice every day. (Geminis have trouble with meds; they fudge a lot.) I meet with a book group at our library on the first Tuesday of the month—this is fine since it’s always a different book. The same with regular blogs or meetings. As long as the content is different, I survive, but ideally I’d prefer to meet on a rotating basis, using a random number generator to pick the date.

What self-respecting physicist believes in astrological signs? Not me, but I have to admit that what they say comes eerily close to my MO:

• Geminis have a hard time finishing things.

• They have many careers and are easily distracted.

and (this is a biggy):

• Their favorite color is yellow.

Geminis  are superficial, says one esteemed astrology site. Well, not Frank Lloyd Wright or Francis Crick. And not Sally Ride.

But me? Yes, I admit, I’m the cliché Gemini. I’d rather do a lot of things than one thing well. It’s nice to know it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of June 3, many years ago.

An exception: I love the routine of a homemade Boston Cream Pie on my birthday (Thanks SAS)!

Anecdote about finishing

My husband, The Cable Guy, has the opposite traits. (There’s a rule about that, isn’t there?) He’s a finisher; I’m not.

Take the way we each do word puzzles. As soon as I “get” the theme and fill in about one third of the squares, I’m done. I need a new challenge. Not so for The Cable Guy. He fills in every box to the last letter, even though the puzzle is destined for the waste basket thirty seconds later.

I dislike finishing so badly that I often do the end of a project rather than plow sequentially through the middle and get to the end last.

I have many reminders of my Gemini status—when I attend a miniatures show, for example, where I look at museum quality vases and furniture, like a miniature Shaker chair I saw recently (which deservedly cost more than my entire collection of life-size chairs).

30 books for 30 years of the conference at which it was auctioned

My miniatures are “cute” (see photo) and they’re received well for their personal touches, not for their amazing craftsmanship.

Many of my writer friends dream of being able to quit their day jobs and do nothing but write. Not me. Not a Gemini. If I had only one thing to do, I’d probably go into a null state and do nothing, ever.

In Flanders Fields

Memorial Day Weekend, May 26-28, 2018

MEMORIAL DAY was originally called Decoration Day, after the practice of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers.

Entrance to Flanders Field American Cemetery in Belgium, image courtesy of National Archives

Soldiers of the 119th Infantry, 30th Division, entering trenches at Watou, Belgium on July 9, 1918. Image courtesy of The National Archives.

Some history, and a meditation to mark the day, to think about the too many graves.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

It Takes a Village

It’s only May, and I’ve already been to 3 significant writers’ events this year: Left Coast Crime annual conference in Reno, Nevada; the Edgar™ Banquet; and Malice Domestic, a conference in Bethesda, Maryland. In a couple of months, I’ll be attending a 4th, ThrillerFest, in New York City.

Jeffrey Deaver (the tall one) and me at the podium for the Edgar™Awards

In between there have been writers meetings, bookstore events, and book clubs.

One of the things that worried me when I thought of writing as a career was that it would be a solitary occupation. So much for that.

I’d been a physicist for a long time. No one does physics alone, not since Newton, anyway. Who can accommodate something like a 17-mile-long tunnel to house a collider, or a 192-beam laser, in her garage?

Physicists gather around huge equipment in giant laboratories these days, working as a team. My graduate school mates and I spent long hours together in the same laboratory every day, sharing power supplies, monster-mentor stories, and data. We became close friends and knew each others’ families as well as our own for a few years.

All the while, I’d wanted to be a published writer—something with more popular potential than my technical papers on the scattering properties of a titanium dioxide crystal. But I couldn’t imagine sitting alone in a room with pen and paper, or keyboard and monitor, pouring out my thoughts and plots, in solitary confinement.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that writing—mystery writing especially—was a community endeavor. I discovered not only professional organizations and critique groups, but book clubs, conferences, Internet lists and groups, and blogging colleagues. Who knew?

Sure, there’s a lot of me-and-my-chair for hours at a time, but I always know I can call or email any number of colleagues if I want to brainstorm a plot point, or discuss a new character I’m developing. With each book, my acknowledgments list gets longer.

Also, like physics, writing requires research. Most of it is people-oriented, which has turned out to be quite a bonus. In the course of writing themes and subplots for 25 books, I’ve interviewed an embalmer, a veterinarian, a medevac helicopter pilot, an ice climber, a telephone lineman, a hotel administrator, an elevator maintenance man, a postmistress, a musician, and countless experts in forensics, and—uh—ways to kill people. I even have a special cop who never minds answering procedural questions.

I’ve gone to conferences in cities I’d never have visited otherwise, like Omaha and Boise and Milwaukee (I usually fly over these states on my way to and from San Francisco and Boston or New York.)

And the readers! In each series I’ve tried to make the protagonist sleuth someone readers would like to have lunch with. I’m still amazed and pleased when readers approach me, through email or at a signing, with a kind word about my books, and I remember whom I’m writing for.

Research at the Morgan Library

I’m sure some writers prefer go it alone, but I never would have made it.

The writing and reading community are smart, fun, and generous.

I’m glad I found them.