The Original Selfies

Earlier this month, I wandered into the Morgan Library and Museum on Madison Avenue in New York. I hadn’t been there in decades and was pleased to see a new wing—a common occurrence in my museum hopping lately, a la the Gardner in Boston and the whole new Whitney down by the High Line. I’m glad to see museums prospering and do my best to help, especially in the gift shops.

Exhibits at the Morgan this summer feature 150 years of Alice in Wonderland (see what the real Alice was like!); photographs by Emmet Gowin; and portrait drawings from Durer to Picasso.

A fun observation in the Morgan: an intro to the portrait drawings refers to self portraits of Rembrandt, Matisse, and the like as Selfies!  So I had to take one.

A Miniature World

Open air playhouse

Here’s my latest dollhouse, shown with its master builder, my 11-year-old friend, Carmen. Carmen is the daughter of bestselling author (and assistant builder), Diana Orgain.

Over the next couple of months, we’ll decorate the house for Christmas and donate it to a raffle at a local school, an annual project for me.

Technically, this house is a PLAYHOUSE, not an official DOLLHOUSE, the difference being that one couldn’t really live in a house with a partial roof and rooms not enclosed by walls. Not that you could live in a dollhouse, but it looks like you could!

The rooms in a playhouse are easily accessible to young hands, to toddlers who might want to move things around. A dollhouse is more of a showpiece, meant to draw you in so that you feel you have entered a different environment. You can imagine yourself sitting at the table, taking a nap on the bed.

A Tudor you can live in

A suburban home that's been burgled!

Eventually the playhouse in the photo will be on its way and I’ll be ready for another dollhouse!

The Bystander Effect

A popular quote reads, If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me, attributed to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, and supposedly found embroidered on a pillow in her home.

I like the sentiment (Dorothy Parkerlike), but one thing I resist is dissing another author’s work. I like to wait until I have only good things to say about a book before writing a review or comments.

Edgar® Nominee for Best Fact Crime

Kevin Cook’s KITTY GENOVESE: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime That Changed America (2014) is that book.

I suppose one reason I appreciated it so much is that I was living in New York at that time (1964), and remember the crime and its aftermath very well. Before reading Cook’s book, if I’d been asked what the incident was about, I might have said: a young woman was stabbed to death on the sidewalk in front of her building in broad daylight while everyone looked on.

That particular crime defined New York City for a long time and the effect rippled around the world, being reported by countries far and wide. “The 38″ came to define the number of people who looked on; the outcry launched the “Bystander Effect.” It took Mayor Ed Koch to bring the city back to a favorable Big Apple image. The bigger the city, the bigger the recovery, apparently. I can attest to that from my many trips there, the latest ending just this week as I attended ThrillerFest. More on that later!

Cook’s research, which included interviews with Kitty’s partner, Mary Ann Zielonko, put the crime in a whole new light for me, shattering all the media spin I’d adopted as fact. I couldn’t put the book down

I learned that almost everything about the picture I’d formed was false, a set-up engineered by the press and the police administration of the time. The crime occurred not in broad daylight, but around three in the morning; most of it took place outside the view of all but two people, each of whom saw only a part of it, and one of whom reported it.

And so on . . .  leaving you the chance to read it for yourselves.

In no way does the book lessen the horror of Kitty’s murder or the impact on Kitty’s family, especially on Mary Ann. The book is a social commentary, an excellent example of how we’re influenced by how others want us to view what’s happening around us, often in a way that’s far from the truth.

Long may she wave

A tour of my crafts corner to commemorate Independence Day.

Thanks to AC, the flag waves next to my model post office.

A look inside the miniature post office.

Para what?

It’s the age of para.

Paramedics, paralegals, paraprofessionals, parapsychology, and everyone’s current favorite paranormal.

Formerly used to indicate side by side, its newer meaning is closer to an ancillary status, or almost, as in paralegal.

Another meaning of para is “guarding against,” as in a parasol, which guards against the sun, and a parachute, which guards against free fall.

My latest run-in with para is with the word paraprosdokian.

Def.: A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reinterpret the first part. It’s frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect. For this reason, it’s extremely popular among comedians and satirists.

Some examples:

• War does not determine who is right, only who is left.

• Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

• A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. What’s a work station?

• Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

• Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.

And my favorite:

• To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

Do you have any paras to add?

The Manhattan Project

On Monday, June 8, Camille gave a presentation on THE MANHATTAN PROJECT: The Physics, the People, and the Politics, at Roosmoor in Walnut Creek, CA.

A well-known, oft repeated quote from Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

And a somewhat less known quote from Kurt Vonnegut:

I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: we’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.

I’m in the Vonnegut camp. As far as I can see, we haven’t learned much from probably millions of years of human history, about 6000 of them “civilized”. One obvious example: we remember that war is hard on a country and its citizens, but that doesn’t stop us from engaging in wars, often overlapping, with bigger and better weapons.

For many reasons, I’ve never found history particularly interesting. But recently I’ve become fascinated by one specific period in US history – the years of the Manhattan Project.

So many issues came into play on an isolated mesa in Los Alamos, New Mexico:

• the way the military personnel and the scientific community had to work together though their usual modus operandi were so different;

• the strategy of setting up two groups of scientists with a challenge: team A tries fission; team B tries fusion. Both succeed.

• the very human emotions of fear, jealousy, suspicion that resulted in one of the most famous feuds in modern times: Oppenheimer v. Teller;

• the tremendous feat of turning bits of scientific theory and blackboards full of equations into something tangible, that worked in the real world.

It has taken many volumes to collect the data and report on the aftermath, and I have a feeling it’s not over yet.

Free Tickets for All!

Souvenir from my fan days, c. 1952

A few weeks ago on the LadyKillers blog we were asked to take on the topic: “IF I RULED THE WORLD.”

I thought they’d never ask. Now I’m pretending that you Real Me readers have also asked.

I could take a tip from all the partial Miss America interviews I’ve heard before I could reach the mute button, and call for world peace and more money for homeless shelters. Or I could indulge myself in the fantasy of complete science literacy for every child and adult.

But those are unrealistic goals. So I’m choosing a goal well within reach:


See, how easy is that? Of course, this means that no one would be paid for playing (hello!). People could still play, to their hearts’ content, but they be paid only at their day jobs, like the rest of us. Fans could watch, balls could be signed, and popcorn eaten. Selfies with the cute guys in uniforms would still be encouraged. Possibly even little tip jars could be available at the gates, to defray costs of equipment, in case the players‘ day jobs were, say, minimum wage, like those of some artists and writers.

Here’s a sampling of the way it is now for sports players:

• an NFL cornerback (what is that even?) recently agreed to a five-year, $70 million contract;

• a hockey player signed for $14 million;

• a starting pitcher for one team makes (can’t bring myself to say earns) $4,275,000 for 1 year of playing;

• another pitcher in the south signed a contract for $210,000,000 over seven years. $30,000,000 a year!

An author friend recently blogged about this last contract, breaking it down by inning. The player pitched an average of 210 innings a season, so he makes roughly $140,000 for every inning he “works”.

The average teacher’s salary in the same state is about one third that: $50,000 for the whole year.

Is this the fault of the ancient Greeks, who honored their athletes often at the same level as their gods? I wonder how much the Greeks paid their teachers back in 100 AD?

A Mystery

Maybe someone in those jam-packed gyms can explain this to me. A basketball player who’s taking home roughly $15M (not the highest paid) steps up to the free throw line. Remember, all he’s had to do for his adult life is practice, and play basketball. Presumably, every court has the same dimensions, every ball the same size and weight. We’re indoors; there’s no wind, such as a sniper might have to take into account, for example, or even a golfer (a mere $600,000-midpoint of tour earnings). So this $15M-basketball player has to get the ball into a basket with nothing moving around him. And sometimes he misses! The top ten free-throw percentage leaders are from .72 to .83. Severn or eight out of ten free throws make it? Not good enough for 7- and 8-figure salaries.

I understand fandom; it can be addictive. I was once a fangirl, the kind who worshiped players, hung posters of Warren Spahn in my bedroom. But then, I was only twelve.

So, be ready, fans. As soon as I’m appointed to rule the world, all spectator sports will be FREE to all! No more Red Hat Days or Senior Wednesdays! Every day will be a Fan Day. The boys will still be playing, and we’ll be watching and cheering as we should—a game, not a paid profession.

The sleuths behind the scenes

In April, my 21st cozy mystery, MANHATTAN IN MINIATURE, was released. In November, my 22nd DEATH TAKES PRIORITY, will be released. I think I’ve earned my creds to speak about amateur sleuths! (Parts of this blog have been repurposed from previous rants—uh—posts.)

I know a gazillion amateur sleuths. Every day, on bookshelves everywhere, crimes are solved by florists, cooks, ghosts, beauticians, photographers, quilters, nurses, tour guides, and pet owners. They are solved on cruise ships, in cafes, in haunted and unhaunted houses, at concerts, in churches, and on the golf course.

Did I mention that amateur sleuths also include retired physicists, miniaturists, college math professors, and (with DTP) a postmistress?

I feel I know them all well, inside and out. They’re smart, brave, righteous, and sometimes too stupid to live (TSTL).

I’m constantly defending them:

• Of course she has motivation to investigate a murder, even though her day job is running a community garden and she has no training in criminology—after all, the victim was a bridesmaid at her roommate’s cousin’s best friend’s third wedding.

• She’s curious, so Yes! she drive out to the cemetery in the middle of the night to meet someone who says he has an important clue to the killer’s identity.

• So what if she withholds information from the real police? She has a good reason to—she wants to look into it on her own. She is, after all, an independent thinker/investigator. Never mind that she has neither training nor a badge.

• Yes! It is possible that the cupcake-maker sleuth found the clue that experienced homicide detectives and a crew of trained CSI techs missed. After all she has be very observant to bake cupcakes.

Members of my critique groups who do not write amateur sleuths are the biggest skeptics. Who’s going to believe blah blah blah? they ask me all the time.

I think the answer is: readers. They believe it enough to enjoy the story. There’s a reason there are so many cozies and a reason they are very popular. Readers enjoy reading about normal people like themselves—knitters, grandmothers, bakers, journalists, innkeepers, and beekeepers. They like to think anyone can be smart enough to follow a few clues, put the puzzle together and make the world safe again.

Don’t you?

Dialogue with Alyx Morgan

This week, The Real Me is trying something new. My writer friend, Alyx Morgan, and I became engaged in a dialogue on Facebook, and decided to take the discussion to our blogs. Here’s the text, which will also be on Alyx’s blog tomorrow, with her comments.

Camille: What’s your response when you see people sitting at a table, each using a portable device?

What’s your response if the people are each reading a book?

What if a teenager comes to the dinner table with her phone? With a book? With knitting?

Alyx: There have recently been lots of videos posted on social media lately about the disconnectivity caused from people constantly being on their smartphones.  I’m sure you’ve seen these people; walking, head bent downward, seemingly fascinated by the small electronic device nestled between their hands.  The videos talk about putting down the phone & getting back in real touch with the world around you; your friends, nature, your community. One in particular suggests that when you “connect” with the world via your phone, you’re actually lonely, because you can edit your life into a beautiful 148 character version of what’s really happening, or a simple snapshot or meme with a few pithy words attached.  This same video, however, says that it’s not loneliness to spend time alone, reading a book, or meditating or even dining out alone, because you’re being a “productive & present, not reserved & recluse.”  Do you agree with that, or do you think you’re being just as recluse if your nose is stuck in a book as if it’s stuck staring at your screen?

Do you feel we’re more connected nowadays than before cell phones & social media, or less, or both?

Camille: Great question, Alyx. I think there’s a bigger issue around this — Ludditism! One of my missions in life has been to defend technology against bad press. When I hear someone refer to reading a “real” book, for example because they like the smell and feel, I wonder what kinds of books thehave. Mine are all just paper, and smell a lot like my Kindle.

Alyx:  I actually had to look up Luddite, Camille, to make sure I fully understood the term.  I don’t think that technology is entirely evil, but I think some people take it too far & use it too much as a way to fill up a void that they fear is there.  I think this is often the case with regards to cell phones & those who are on them constantly.  It’s like my step-daughter who says she’s bored unless we’re doing something.  There are SO many other things to spend your time on that will actually progress your life instead of just sitting around & checking & rechecking Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc. for the latest funny memes or to find out what your friends are eating for lunch.

I even know some people who will have the TV on in the background (often muted) while doing something else on their computer &/or listening to music through their headphones.  That constant barrage of electronic stimuli would drive me insane.  Maybe I’m just wired in a way that it’s too much noise in my head & I want to pay attention to it all, but can’t, so I become exhausted by trying to divide my attention.

I will say that I’m of the former group with regards to books, though not quite for the same reasons.  While I definitely notice a scent to books (especially older ones), my preference is because the typeface is bigger & it’s easier for me to hold a book, rather than a small, half-inch thick device.  Plus, I stare at a computer screen all day long at, so I prefer to give my eyes a rest when reading.  I do see the benefit of being able to have 5 (or 25) books all in one small device, rather than having to lug them around on vacation, but I just don’t think I’d ever be able to do it.

Something else that drives me crazy about technology is when people who are out dining with others sit at the table with their noses buried in their cell phones.  It seems rude to me to ignore someone who’s sitting right there next to you in favor of someone who may be miles away.  What’s your take on that?

Camille: We’re not too far off, Alyx, but I admit a bias toward “the latest” and toward noise. I grew up with the sounds of people/city above, below, and around me — never lived in a single, separate house until well into middle age. So I do like the comfort of noises! I understand the need to get away from a screen, however. One reason I like my e-reader is that I can make the font as large as I need and even though it’s a screen it seems be more in my control.

As far as dinner — I think it depends on a mutually agreed upon “rules.” If I know my dinner (or shopping or driving) companion is annoyed by devices, I refrain. If I know my companion is also dying to check her email, then we go for it!

And often the connections are part of the conversation. “Oh, Ian just told me he passed his test.” or “Can you make lunch with us on the 20th?”

Alyx: I agree that if both (or all) parties are okay with it, then it’s none of my business.  My husband & I have been known to go out to dinner together & bring separate books to read.  We don’t do it often, but sometimes that’s the only time we have to read & I kind of think of it as no different than when couples read the Sunday paper together on the couch or over breakfast.  We put the books down when food arrives & relate to each other then, but we still got a little bit of down time in our fantasy worlds.

So, if you’re into the “latest”, how much time do you spend on your smartphone?  Do you spend a lot of time on social media with your smartphone?

Camille: I use my smartphone for Internet only when I’m on travel, pretty much only to check email and take pictures. My eyesight isn’t good enough to do too much FB or videos on my smartphone. Sorry I misled you about “the latest” which refers mainly to our home “entertainment” system, not portables. My husband is a retired tv engineer, so we’re the early adopters w/r satellite dishes, dvrs, and so on. Which means we’re left with a laser disc player and other now outmoded devices!

I agree about being together but engaged in something else, something that’s likely to be shared in the end, like reading a book, on screen or off. My husband and I do separate puzzles together, calling out for help from one chair to the other.

I wonder how often that’s happening when we think people are “not connecting?”

I do have one awful story about phones – a woman pushing a stroller was crossing a huge intersection in front of me not long ago as I was waiting to make a right turn, cars stacked behind me. She had one hand on the stroller and one holding the phone, her head buried in the phone. Unsafe! There’s a line to draw.

Alyx: I agree, that’s SO unsafe!  And I think that’s one of my main problems with this trend . . . people who can’t seem to take their eyes off their phones for even 5 minutes!  It’s almost like people are afraid they’ll miss something important if they focus on “mundane” things like having dinner with your family, walking, or (heaven forbid) driving!  If you’re sitting down somewhere & invested in your phone, that’s one thing (except for when parents use the phone as a babysitter for their young children), but when you’re doing some other activity, put the phone down & focus on that activity!  I promise, the message or Facebook status update will still be there when you arrive at your destination.

Camille: Yes, safety first! There’s another aspect of this, maybe for another time, and that is that often our jobs require constant availability. Even if we’re freelancing, our clients expect us to be ON all the time, for appointments, cancellations, last minute questions. There’s a different expectation than there used to be, say 20 years ago, maybe even 10. In a sense, we do run the risk of missing something if we’re around at the “right” time.

Remember to get Alyx’s take on this at on Friday 5/29/15.

Good riddance, Mothers Day

Another Mothers Day has passed. Whew.

I wish people would keep it to themselves. Or to their own mothers.

We’ve learned not to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. What if that barista is Jewish? Suppose the bus driver is an atheist? Not everyone celebrates the birth of Jesus.

And not everyone celebrates a mother, or even the concept of motherhood.

Some women would have liked to be a mom but it didn’t work out; why remind them? Some of us had nasty mothers or no mother at all. For others, the word “mother” conjures up bleak memories of a brutal childhood.

Doesn’t anyone remember Norman Bates? Joan Crawford?

A little sensitivity here would go a long way. There should signs reminding us: Please wish only your own mother or mother surrogate a Happy Mother’s Day.

Motherhood can be enriching for some women; for others it simply turns them more inward, toward family, to the exclusion of the wider community. I’ve seen mothers fight for their children, at the expense of other kids. I’ve heard mothers complain that their kid, one of twenty-five or thirty, gets only one twenty-fifth of the teacher’s attention. Maybe that’s the mother who should get flowers. Or maybe the women who chose to “mother” other peoples’ children, or students or nieces and nephews should get the flowers.

Motherhood and apple pie?

To sum up and perfectly ruin a good Godfather line: Leave motherhood. Keep the apple pie.