Category : Personal

A Pebble in My Shoe

I’m just back from New York City and the Edgar™ Awards. If you missed the nominations and the grand banquet where winners were announced, go here.

Jeffrey Deaver, MWA President (the tall one) and me at the podium.

The event had me thinking of Edgar Allan Poe and his legacy for mystery writers especially. But it’s this quote of his that I relate to above all:

The past is a pebble in my shoe.

And we probably all feel the same way about a pebble in our shoe: Out!

The high school history teacher tasked with giving me a healthy respect for the past failed—maybe because his primary duty, for which he was hired, was to coach the football team to victory. (He failed at that, too.)

But I can’t blame Mr. F. forever. I’ve had ample time to visit the past in a meaningful way, to learn the details of wars, to imagine lunch with the greats of bygone ages.

We see this “poll question” all the time: if you could visit the past, whom would you have lunch with?

I suppose I could go back and ask Poe if he could sleep at night after writing the “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I couldn’t, after reading, the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. The same with his “The Cask of Amontillado.” I was young enough to worry myself sick that I’d hurt someone enough for him to seek that level of revenge.

If I ever did have a chance to time travel, I’d go forward, not back.

I don’t want to revisit the time when some women had their lower ribs surgically removed to achieve a more pleasing (to whom?) waistline. And I already know all I want to about the days before plumbing and the zipper and all the iStuff.

I’d like to visit the future, find out what becomes of the Kindle.

It’s fun to have my slide rule hanging in my office, as a reminder of earlier times, but I wouldn’t want to give up my computer.

I’d love to go away for a while and rest, and then come back in 60 or so years and talk to those who are now toddlers.

Some questions for them:

1. Has there been a First Gentleman in the White House yet?

2. Was there a revival of regular cinematic dramas—no comic heroes, no animation, no “special” effects?

3. Did we ever give peace a chance?

4. Did Amy Adams’s face ever wrinkle?

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

. . .  and more.

Of course I could read sci fi and get someone’s idea of the future, or I could write it myself and make my own predictions.

But I want to know what actually happens, whether there’ll be paper books in the year 2100, and what became of the kids who grew up hearing “Good job!” just for waking up in the morning?

What would you want to know?

Nomophobia

Nomophobia: the irrational fear of being without your mobile phone or being unable to use your phone for some reason, such as the absence of a signal or running out of minutes or battery power.

OH NO Where's my phone?

I rushed out of my house the other day for an appointment 2 miles away. About halfway there I realized I’d forgotten my cellphone. OMG! If I went back for it, I’d be late, and the only thing worse than not having my phone is being late.

I did some quick troubleshooting.

What if I had an emergency? I wasn’t even going on the freeway, I reasoned; it would be easy to flag someone down. I’d be on city streets the whole way, no lonely stretches. I’d be passing the library, 2 churches, 3 schools, at least 4 gas stations, the homes of 5 friends, and a bakery where I often stopped for scones. I’d be okay.

What if my husband had an emergency and needed to call me? If it were something really bad, he should call 9-1-1 anyway. If he wanted tell me he needed bagels, well, he was out of luck.

How about an emergency deadline that might come through email? They could wait a couple of hours till I got home, couldn’t they? I’d tell them I was camping and out of range.

I drove on, phoneless. But it wasn’t easy. While I waited for my appointment, I wouldn’t have access to my email or my calendar or Facebook. I could miss a national crisis. Or a bit of juicy gossip.

I’d have felt more comfortable if I’d left my shoes at home, or even my wallet — I could always call and have them delivered! As long as I had my phone.

Without revealing my exact DOB, let me say I lived many years without a phone in my purse. In fact, for high school graduation, I got a hot-ticket item—a “portable” radio, which was about as big as a breadbox, with a battery much heavier than a loaf of bread.

But I’ve become a nomophobe.

I feel that I’m a polite nomophobe, however, never checking my phone or texting if I’m with a real, live person. Unless that person is checking, too.

Anyone else a nomophobe?

Socking it away with Ann Parker

What a thrill this week to have a special guest — my amazing friend, author, and traveling companion, ANN PARKER. Here’s her story!

First, many thanks to dear friend and colleague, Camille Minichino, for giving me one of her Thursdays to reveal the real me.

Second, lest you think the title of this post has to do with all the millions I’ve stashed away from my writing career… you are, alas, sadly mistaken.

You see, to understand the “real me,” you need to examine my ankles. (No, that isn’t a Victorian-era come-on.)

Most of the time, I dress fairly conservatively, particularly on those days when I go into the office (aka cubicle-land) or when I am doing a book event. A little color here or there, but basically I’m the “lady in black.” Black is practical. No muss, no fuss. When you wear black, no one can tell if you spilled coffee down the front of your blouse or if a chocolate bar fragmented all over your lap.

Black is my color of choice… except when it comes to hosiery.

I have rarely seen a pair of nifty socks that I can resist. Socks sporting pandas, poison, or polka dots—makes no difference. If I have the pocket change and the urge, I’ll buy them. I am particularly drawn to three-of-a-kind sock assortments where you can mix and match, while staying thematic through color and/or pattern.

Pandas . . .

poison . . .

and polka-dots!

This obsession can be dangerous. I have three drawers, full to bursting, and ever more footwear pouring in. I get socks for my birthday. Socks for Mother’s Day. Socks for Christmas. Socks for Valentine’s Day. Socks for Halloween. If there is an occasion that involves gift-giving, I will invariably receive socks. And I love every pair I receive. I keep thinking I should set up a schedule, whereby I track which socks I wear when, so I can rotate through my stock of socks in an orderly way.

A portion of one sock drawer!

I’ve sometimes wonder if my love for snazzy foot coverings (socks, not shoes, that is) might be a physical manifestation of my love for those colorful, but much maligned parts of speech—adjectives and adverbs.

Just as with hosiery, I have never met an adjective or adverb I didn’t like. I know, I know, this runs counter to the current writing fashion, which favors stripped-down language—nouns bolstered by strong verbs but scant on the flowery curlicues and flourishes. Since I write historical fiction, I cut myself some slack in this regard. After all, 19th century writing is overloaded with long, circuitous sentences and heavy with modifiers. I don’t want to write like James Fenimore Cooper (read here what Mark Twain had to say about JFC’s many literary offenses, including his breaking of the rule: “Eschew surplusage”). However, I do want to evoke some of the feel of that time in my narrative, without sending readers screaming for the door; adjectives and adverbs can help me accomplish that goal.

So, I throw open the prose doors when I write and welcome in descriptors, just like I tug open my sock drawers and take on more pairs.

Finally, did I mention that my husband signed me up for sock-of-the-month club for my last birthday??

Sock-of-the-month club from SockPanda.com

I’m doooooooooomed!

At the Book Carnival earlier this month for the launch of Ann’s latest book, A DYING NOTE, with bookseller Anne Saller (left), Rebecca Wischkaemper, and Camille Minichino (right), with Ann in the middle. (Note the ankles!)

Ann Parker—science/corporate writer by day and crime fiction author by night—writes the award-winning Silver Rush historical series published by Poisoned Pen Press, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert. The first five books in the series are set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver boomtown of Leadville. The recently released sixth, A Dying Note, brings Inez to the golden city of San Francisco, California, in 1881. Publishers Weekly calls this latest addition to the series “exuberant” adding that it “…brims with fascinating period details, flamboyant characters, and surprising plot twists.” For more information about Ann and her series, check out http://www.annparker.net

Boston, the Hub of the Universe

Or so we were taught!

There’s a new movie out, Chappaquiddick. I don’t plan to see it, mostly because I prefer to hang on to whatever I think I know of the Kennedys. Reviews have called it out on historical facts, and also on the accents that are supposed to represent Boston.

So, it’s time to drag out my BostonSpeak piece.

I claimed Boston as my home for the first decades of my life. I was born in a suburb less than 8 miles away, went to college on the Fenway. Yes, THE Fenway—in certain classrooms on campus you could hear the crack of the bat. I also taught at that same college for many years. Is that enough Boston cred for you?

Besides hosting more than 53 institutions of higher learning, including MIT and Harvard, Boston has its own accent. Travel even 20 miles from Boston, and the accent is gone, indistinguishable from that of the network anchor in Grinnell, Iowa.

Everyone recognizes the accent; not everyone can imitate it. Even after many years in California, I can go back to it whenever I choose. Or, whenever I talk to my relatives and friends who still live there, says my husband.

“Hi, they-ah,” they say.

“Howahya?” I ask.

Even though I now speak like Californians, careful with my r’s, I’m very protective of Boston-speak.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when actors/actresses who are not natives try to take on the accent. It doesn’t work. Nothing can spoil a movie for me like a pretend Boston accent, which makes the actor sound like he’s rolling a hot potato around in his mouth. An old but good example is Rob Morrow in “Quiz Show.” In an attempt to sound out the broad a’s, his lips never met. Similarly, in “The Verdict,” set in Boston, no one got it right. Thank you, Paul Newman, for not trying. In newer movies, actors and their directors know enough not to try. They leave it to natives like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

JFK himself is often ridiculed for his accent. People laugh at his “Cuba(r) and Laos.” But Kennedy, and every other Bostonian, would pronounce Cuba as Cuba, unless the word is followed by another word that begins with a vowel. Thus:

“I went to Laos and Cuba,” but “I went to Cuba(r) and Laos.”

Similarly, a Bostonian would say “I obey the law,” but “I’m studying the law(r) of gravity.”

This is a common practice in many languages, where the letter used for the elision is actually written, as in Italian with e and ed, the words for and, depending on the first letter of the next word.

Back in the days of landlines, I called the San Jose Airport, seeking information (pre-Internet) about the layout of the airport before I drove there for a flight.

“Can you tell me where to park my car?” I asked.  ["Pahk my cah."]

“I’m sorry,” the clerk said. “We have no flights to Pakaka.”

At that moment I decided to learn to speak like a TV anchorwoman. Now, I do. Well, most of the time.

March: Women’s Month. Why?

Yes, it’s that time of year.

Mary Cassatt's "The Cup of Tea." From the Collection of James Stillman, Gift of Dr. Ernest G. Stillman, 1922

MARCH – Women’s History Month.

I have mixed feelings about women’s anything, unless it’s the feminine care aisle in the supermarket or the OB/GYN specialist.

I remember being in Washington DC many years ago, during the opening of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the self-proclaimed “gender specific” museum. I saw a wonderful exhibit of the works of French sculptor, Camille Claudel, as well as works by Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot.

Who thought we needed to build a special museum for the work of these and other female artists? Didn’t they deserve to be shown at the National Gallery of Art, only 20 minutes away by foot.

I almost regretted buying a ticket, seeing it as supporting continuing sexism in art and culture.

Yes, this is another of my rants against separating women’s achievements, singling them out, as if they can’t compete in the real, co-ed world.

Years ago, I was part of a program I’ll call XYZ, to give girls an extra push by having a day of science, for girls only, taught by female scientists. Sounds good, right?

Wrong.

First, there was the giggle factor—boys, young and old, giggling over the fact that girls had to be taken aside and given special attention to learn science. They obviously weren’t good enough to be taught science with the boys.

The guys were right—that’s exactly how it looked.

That should have been enough to kill the program, but it didn’t. I tried several times to change the course of the program, simply by inviting boys to the classes. Let the boys experience female science teachers, too (see above for why that’s important!) I continued to volunteer in the program, constantly petitioning for a change of philosophy and was shot down each time, until I finally quit. I realized that sexism was still rampant, and the powers that be would always consider that girls need special TLC to learn the hard stuff.

The program, started in the 1970’s, is alive and running, and still girls only. I know personally two of the Board members, and I know they “mean well.” But — When I ask, “Why is there still such a thing as the XYZ program?” the answer I get is “Because girls and women are still underrepresented in science and technology fields.”

If after 40 years of XYZ, that’s still true, here’s another possibility:

Girls and women are still underrepresented in science and technology fields because programs like XYZ exist, and encourage people to think girls can’t cut it in the normal learning environment. Because boys who are left out will still go on to be the CEOs and Research Directors and giggle as they look at women applicants and remember those special girls who got together to play scientist.

A President’s Words

February 22, 1732, the birthday of George Washington, our first president.

Here are a few quotes from him:

A good moral character is the first essential in a man. It is therefore highly important that you should endeavor not only to be learned but virtuous.

I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.

Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world that a Freeman, contending for liberty on his own ground, is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.

I had always hoped that this land might become a safe & agreeable Asylum to the virtuous & persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.

Imagine if these were the tweets we hear today.

The Jig is up

I borrowed the title and content for this blog from my engineer husband. One of his passions is doing puzzles — acrostics, cryptoquotes, anagrams, and the ones requiring some amount of real estate in our family room: jigsaw puzzles.

He has his own blog that features all the puzzles he and his family and friends have done over the last couple of years. But high-level security concerns make him wary of posting his blog publicly. Potential readers and contributors are required to submit an application to his editor at camille@minichino.com. I’d post his URL here, but he’d only delete it.

Being an engineer, he looks for problems to solve.

The latest, in his own words:

Have you ever wondered if a puzzle maker uses the same cutting process for all the puzzles of the same size and number of pieces?  I have. The next puzzles to be solved are going to be that kind of 500 piecers.  After one of them is solved, I’m going to keep it assembled and compare it to the second one, to see if the pieces are related to each other.

Fortunately for us, the project has been completed and we have the answer: yes! The bottom left-hand corner of two 500-piece (brand name here) puzzles are shown here, as evidence.

If you have any other crucual puzzle-related problems you need solved, submit to the email address above.

The Oscars

It’s Awards season, and I feel it’s my duty to provide handy guides. Last week it was the Edgars™, this week the Oscars.

Here’s the full list of nominees.

There was a time when I’d try to see all the nominated movies, but I’ve gotten old, and, for the most part, movies have stayed young. Fortunately, there’s always at least one I can recommend. If you liked All the President’s Men, you’ll probably like The Post, and, in a few years, maybe Fire and Fury will be out.  But for now I just concentrate on my Oscar party.

Dusting off party goods for the Oscars

I know it’s early, but I need time to get quizzes and prizes ready. Here are some sample Name That Movie quotes from 2012 and 2013. Who said this? Try them and let me know how you do. You know there will be a prize or two.

1. Person A: “How did she die?”

Person B: “Saw herself in the mirror one day.”

2. “Can you please not fight in here? I don’t think I can take it. For some reason, my Xanax isn’t kicking in.”

3. “Half of North America just lost their Facebook.”

4. “Your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?”

5. “No one freely shares power in Washington, D.C.”

6. “It used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.”

7. “I want you to help me catch a killer of women.”

8. “Make for the sewers!”

9. “It’s incredible that the Coliseum is still standing after thousands of years. You know, Sally and I have to re-tile the bathroom every six months.”

If you’re in the neighborhood, drop by on March 4, 2018. Costumes welcome.

Some Mini Fun

The Christmas dollhouse, traditionally decked out with a tree, lights, Santa in the window.

You’ve probably seen photos of this dollhouse — a gift from LR.— here and there throughout this season. The house is finished on the outside as you see, but the inside is not finished, just bare wood with spots of paint and other marks. Eventually, I’ll paint or paper the walls, lay flooring, and set up the rooms with cute furniture.

But first I wanted to have some fun with the house. I ran the idea of a crack house by some friends. I wouldn’t have to do anything but toss some mattresses and backpacks around, maybe set up a “lab” in one of the rooms. I got so much negative feedback, I scrapped the idea. But I still wanted to have a little fun before going suburban. The least I could do was dress some dolls in SWAT clothes and raid the house. No harm in that, right?

A mini SWAT TEAM, ready to invade the crack house.

If there are any shrinks reading this, please refrain from analyzing me. :)

CHRISTMAS WRAP

Christmas is over, for the most part. I always find a stray ornament, a “Santa” dish towel, and some other surprise red thing after I’ve sealed the boxes for storage. No problem; I have a drawer in the guest room for “Holiday Addenda.”

A lot of food came in the door this year as Christmas presents—pears, home made biscotti, several kinds of fudge, and too many cookies to count. I loved them all and made sure I had enough company to share them.

What I didn’t get was:

1. Fruitcake. Yes, I like fruitcake. I know it gets bad press, but freshly made fruitcake is delicious, and this “like” is one of many others I have to defend.

Others are listed here.

2. Christmas letters. I read them all, carefully. Sure there’s a lot of duplication, like soccer/basketball/other-ball trophies won by grandchildren, and bucket list trips to Machu Pichu. But I love catching up. My Christmas list includes some I haven’t seen in decades. Even so, I like knowing what’s happening in the lives of people I once saw every day.

3. Cold. It’s hard for me to feel Christmasy when I’m wearing sandals.

4. Crackers. Not the edible kind, but the ones with silly hats and sillier jokes.

Sample: What do you call Santa’s little helpers?
Answer: Subordinate clauses!

5. Carols. I like them all, from Away in a Manger to Santa Baby to Jingle Bell Rock. And, yes, all the verses of 12 Days of Christmas.

6. Calendars. You can’t have too many. I need an arty one (Central Park in Art); a hometown one or two (Boston); one that has large numbers for the dates; one nearby to mark up; one right above my computer monitor; and a nostalgic one (from 2008 – can you guess what that is?) And those are just my office calendars.

New (l.): 2018 Picasso calendar; Old: NYC Cal to mark weeks of class

7. Needles all over the rug. Love them! I even featured them on my card this year. If you didn’t get one, it’s because I don’t have your address. Send it and you’ll have a card in the mail before all the trees are gone from the rubbish pickup pile.

What I don’t like: mystery presents, since I don’t know whom to thank. Here’s this year’s unknown:

CHOCOLATE ALERT

Mystery chocolate!

Does anyone recognize this gift? A box came in the mail with a large tin of Godiva truffles and a festive collection of cookies. The only return address is Bloomingdale’s in Palm Beach, FL. I don’t know anyone in Palm Beach. There is a name associated with the box, but I don’t recognize it — I’ll call it just D. B., to protect a potentially innocent person. A reward leading to the identity of the sender . . .

Finally, HAPPY NEW YEAR! And—wait for it—as of this writing there are 357 days, 2 hours, 37 minutes, 22 seconds till Christmas 2018!