Category : Personal

O Christmas tree

Two scenes from a recent jaunt to New York City.

Can you figure out the exact location?

How about this one -- where am I?

A few of My Favorite Things

In case you missed this list on Lois Winston’s blog a couple of weeks ago, I’m reprinting here.

Here are some of my favorite things, in various categories:

Element of the periodic table — Polonium, #84, the first element discovered by Marie Curie, and named for her native Poland.

Crime drama — “Ray Donovan,” because of Liv Schreiber, Jon Voight, the Boston accents, and the dark, dark mood: “You don’t want to know what really happened.”

Scientist— Enrico Fermi, “the architect of the nuclear age,” for better or worse, and author of one of my favorite quotes.

Favorite quote #1, from FermiBefore I came here I was confused about this subject. Having listened to your lecture, I am still confused. But on a higher level.

Female crime writer — Patricia Highsmith, because she gave us Tom Ripley.

Drink — very dry decaf cappuccino with whole milk (Reminds me of that scene in “LA Story,” where no one is ordering a simple coffee.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08NkaqoOELg

Favorite quote #2 There are some people that if they don’t know, you can’t tell them. – Louis Armstrong. (Know anyone who fits this description?)

Favorite animals — the lions, Patience and Fortitude, outside the New York Public Library.

Mathematician — Countess Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter and the world’s first programmer, not because she was an addictive gambler, but because many people think she’s an acronym. ADA, the Department of Defense programming language is named after her. And so is Ada Madison, one of my pen names.

Museum — one with a Hopper, a Stieglitz, a Wharhol, and a coffee shop.

Sport — whatever is off season.

Male crime writer — Stephen King, because I’m only one degree of separation from him (My first agent was his first editor. Or is that two degrees?), and because he hugged me when I handed him his Edgar for “Mr. Mercedes.”

All-round great Author — Joyce Carol Oates, because she’s on my mind. She was featured in the NYTimes, 10/23/17, as part of the Set the Page Free project, between Xerox and the literary community. And because she’s written a gazillion books that I love, from “Them” in 1969 to “We Were the Mulvaneys” in 1996 to “The Man Without a Shadow” in 2016. She’s quoted in the article as saying “I like to write.” Really, Ms. Oates? Tell us what you don’t like to do.

Sunset lined up with 42nd Street, on a summer evening.

•  Street — 42nd in Manhattan, running from the East River to the Hudson River. In between are the United Nations, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library, Times Square, and one or two theaters and eateries. Hmm, maybe it’s time for a visit!

Is it Winter Yet?

Not where I live.

So, I’m heading to NYC in a few days to see if I can find some winter. I know I’ll find winter scenes, like these, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Winter on 5th Avenue, Alfred Stieglitz

Central Park, the Lake in Winter, Emil Orlik

I’m getting chilly just preparing this blog. More when I’m back!

Thanksgiving

Here’s a throwback to Thanksgiving, circa 1950. That’s my Uncle Al at the head of the table; apparently I was at the foot, taking the photo.

We were at the New Hampshire home of Uncle Al and Aunt Teresa (near right).

Sadly, only one person (besides the photographer!)  is still with us — my wonderful cousin Gloria, third on the left. She calls herself “The Other Gloria” referring to the fictional Gloria Lamerino of the Periodic Table Mysteries, who’s named after her.

A long-ago family gathering

I wish you and all of your families a very nice Thanksgiving Day.

COLUMBUS DAY

Columbus Breaking the Egg, by William Hogarth.*

October 12 used to be a fun holiday. Christopher Columbus Day! Parades! A reason to celebrate in my Italian-American neighborhood.

Today, not so much.

Many years ago, before most towns, Berkeley, California changed the text for its parking meter holidays from “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous People Day.”

It’s been hard for me to adjust.

One of the first passages we had to memorize in Italian class as 6th graders was Cristoforo Colombo nacque a Genova nel mille quattrocento cinquanto due (his birthdate 1452, now disputed by a year or two). . . followed by accounts of his successful excursions and discoveries and feats of valor. No one ever mentioned his arrest for abuse of power, his presiding over a massive slave trade, or even that the Vikings may have gotten here before him.

A statue of Columbus stands outside St. Anthony’s Church in Revere, Massachusetts, where I was born (nacque in Revere nel mille novecento ??) My childhood friends and I always thought he was a saint, of equal stature with St. Anthony of Padua, who stood on the other side of the entrance.

In Revere, the tradition continues to this year, with a Columbus Day parade. If I can find a photo, I’ll add it! If you have one, please add it!

* Read the apocryphal story of Columbus breaking the egg.

My Dog is Friendly

First, a caveat: I didn’t do this research, nor did I sponsor it in any way. I’m really just passing it on.

The RAND study found no evidence that children from pet-owning families were better off in terms of their mental well-being or their physical health. (Click on the image to read the article.)

I could quit here, but this is only one of my points. The rest have to do with other myths:

1. Pets give children a chance to take responsibility caring for the animal.

Well, yes, but I’ve yet to see a kid actually assume responsibility for the animal more than ~5% of the time.  In one case, a cat owner I know left her cat with her mother when she went off to college, with instructions on what to do with it.

2. Pets provide unconditional love.

True, but how is that a good thing once you pass the age of 2? How does this teach a kid reciprocation, the idea that it’s as important to give as well as receive? And not just on the kid’s terms.

And I’m disturbed by memes claiming that pets are “part of the family” or even “more caring than people.” Do we really need that in today’s world? Shouldn’t we be sure every human is taken care of before we put pets out in front? Another study found that half of all American pet owners consider their pets as much a part of the family as any other person in the household. That study was 8 years old; I’ll bet the number is higher now.

3. Pets are loyal.

Only as long as you feed them.

I cringe when I see photos of small children, even infants next to an animal three or more times their weight. All it would take would be one innocent move by the child to aggravate the pet and there would be sorrow in that household. And yes, I’ve seen that happen—an unfair competition between an up-to-then beloved family doberman and a two-year-old. For another, more famous example, recall the story of the silverback gorilla and the toddler in the Cincinnati Zoo last year—even granting the gorilla’s best intentions of taking care of the child, the protective arm of a 400-lb animal can be lethal to the child. Who was to blame for this? I say: the zoo. Why do we have them? But maybe that’s another blog.

The solution: leave animals to other animals. Nature will take care of them. It’s hard to carry out this philosophy. Even though I don’t linger outside (that’s “their” domain), it’s difficult to avoid pets. It’s my theory that animals would prefer this. I know of 2 large dogs that are in cages all day while their owners work. One parent told me the dogs like the cages. Oh, and is the horse that’s sailing down the freeway also happy? In many ways, non pet owners are kinder to the animal kingdom.

When one is outside my local coffee shop for example, essentially taking up the whole sidewalk, I step off the curb and cut a wide swath around it, preferring a sideswipe from a vehicle to contact with a dog.

Often the owner senses the reason for my maneuver and says, “He’s very friendly.”

“That’s the problem,” I say.

I’m not sure the owner understands this — it’s not that I’m afraid of getting bitten by an animal (though, that too), I don’t want it to touch me. To nuzzle, to drool, to pee on me, or to run its fur anywhere near me. Who knows what normal reflex on my part will send the pet into untamed mode?

And now for a PET PEEVE. (groan) Why do authors feel the need to tell you what pets they have? You know what I mean: ” . . . lives in Vermont with her husband and large pit bull.” If this to keep aggressive fans away, I get it. But what about “lives in Iowa with his wife, two children, and a tiny purse dog?” Do they think we’ll like them better if they not only write excellent books, but also rub noses with the lesser species? Why not something like “lives in Brooklyn with his partner, with whom he shares a couch.” Oh, never mind.

I know I risk losing friends, but it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of that RAND study. And as always, I’m happy to hear counter arguments.

Male or Female?

Teaching an international student body in two online science courses, I often don’t know the gender of some of my students. At first this was disconcerting. How could I know how to respond to a posting if I didn’t know whether it came from a man or a woman?

Girl or Boy?

I’ve had students with first names such as Xjigme, Myint-San, Widya, Lieu, and many more that are unpronounceable and unidentifiable as to gender. I can only do so much to encourage them to post a photo. In the past, I’d study the postings to see if he or she would refer to a wife or husband. But that’s no longer a clue.

Many “American” names are gender-neutral also. Was the Sean I had last term a girl, like the actress Sean Young, or a guy, like the actor Sean Penn? How about Lee? Female Lee Harris or male Lee Marvin? What about Alex? Casey? And fuggedabout Chris and Dana.

Every year that I’ve taught these classes in cyberspace, there’s at least one student whose gender I never learn, not even as I assign the final grade.

The Implorer by Camille Claudel, sculptor (1856–1943)

I had my own name trauma when I was 5 or 6. My family was on a trip up by the East Coast Canadian border. Some French-ish guy named Camille had the nerve to tease me by claiming I had a man’s name. Wah! He ignored my cries and pointed out Camille Henry, Camille Saint-Saens, Camille Pissaro, Camille Corot. Too bad I wasn’t smart enough to match him with Camille Claudel, Camille Paglia, Camille Guaty, or Greta Garbo (OK, that was a fictional role, but still.)

Back to my class rosters, eventually, I realized that it shouldn’t matter whether I’m reading the postings or the quiz answers supplied by a man or a woman. How does it help to know the gender perspective of a person if the issue is nuclear power or gene therapy or bitcoins or the Higgs boson?

Maybe it doesn’t.

One-offs

Another repost from LadyKillers — they do come up with the best topics!

One-off: done, made, or happening only once and not repeated.

Possibly the story of my life. Once I’ve “done” something, I don’t want to do it again. There are so many other things to do that first time.

This can be good, when it comes to a marriage, for example. But for other projects, results vary.

I blame my Gemini beginnings—by some readings, we’re “restless and distracted.” Not the kind of person who can do the same thing twice.

In my knitting days, this was borne out by the fact that if I wanted to make a pair of mittens, I had to do it with both mittens on the needles at the same time. Otherwise, there was a good chance the second would never get made. The same with socks. My best products were one-offs: ponchos (yes, it was the sixties); hats; scarves. Especially scarves, since I could quit whenever I wanted to.

My husband, an engineer whose favorite thing to do is something he’s already done over and over, says I’m not a finisher, thus compounding my one-off personality trait. (It’s also said that Geminis can’t do the same thing once.)

By contrast, the Cable Guy, as I call my husband (he who will not be named on social media), is an obsessive finisher. Case in point: We both do crossword/crostic puzzles. Once I know what the theme of the puzzle is and I know I could finish it, I’m done (see definition of One-off, above). The Cable Guy on the other hand, is not finished until he puts that final letter in place, even though he crinkles it up and tosses it away immediately after.

The same goes for jigsaw puzzles, even though—hello? the picture is on the cover!

The Cable Guy never tires of asking me, “Aren’t you going to finish that?”

“I’m done,” I say, but not every time.

Multitasking

Topic of the week: Who doesn’t multitask?

There are a few ways to do it.

1. How to multitask a movie.

For example, say you think you’ve earned a couple of hours for a movie. Before you sit down with a cup of coffee, you

• put in a load of clothes

• start a soup in the crock pot

• set the timer for a pan of hard boiled eggs

• make sure a pad of paper and pen are handy for notes for:

– to do list

– critique of movie for:

— blog

— writing class

• set timers for laundry, soup, eggs

• have pile of magazines handy for sorting

and during the movie

• watch for useful tips for:

– writing class or

– your next short story

• grab a dust cloth and clean up the small table next to you, including:

• pull the odds and ends container onto your lap and

– sort out the nailclippers from the vitamins, etc.

• whisk off the cloth and arrange a clean one on the table

then

relax with cold coffee during the last 10 minutes of the movie

Not an uplifting news segment

2. Watching the news.

It’s harder to multitask on your own while watching the news, because they do it for you. Here’s a typical screen from CNN.

In the one second that this frame is showing, I’m getting 15 pieces of information:

• the voice of the anchor woman

• an image of the guest

• audio from the guest

• the name and affiliation of the guest

• the time zone the guest is in

• the time zone the anchor is in

• separate image of the content of the interview, which includes:

– a video connected to the content

— ID of video provider

• a video and captions of separate news item (Irma in FL)

• a thick banner with a summary statement from the AMB

• a scroll along the bottom with information on donations

• a small box with Dow Jones info toggling with time

A few seconds later I saw

• a pop up with COMING SOON (documentary on Reagan)

• news of a royal pregnancy

3. Computer Multitasking

I have 2 monitors in front of me.

Monitor #1 has

• list of writing students and status of submissions

• record and schedule of blogs

• handy addresses/phone #s

• Word doc for science students needing attention

Monitor #2 has

• docs being worked on

• folders with open projects

• email open

• FB open (in case of emergency)

I’m exhausted just writing this. I’m going to relax and fold a pile of clothes while I stir the soup and finish a chapter for tomorrow’s book club.

LABOR DAY

SPECIAL LINK FOR FLOOD RELIEF

Hoping for the best for all affected by the storms in Houston and other towns.


LABOR DAY WEEKEND COMING UP — put away your whites!


Digging a ditch, 1937. Joe Minichino could have been there.

Labor Day always reminds me of a talk I gave at a local business meeting. The group of about fifteen work at various jobs: banking, real estate, small business, and consulting are the ones I know of. It was a breakfast meeting at 7 in the morning, before most work days began.

I’d talked to them before and they were receptive as usual to my topics: the writing process, the state of publishing as I experience it. One woman in particular always asked when my classes were since “some day” she wants to write a book.

On this one particular day, people stayed around after my talk and then, one by one they left, uttering some variation of “I wish I were a writer, but I have to go to work now.”

Can you hear my groan?

To my parents, who had six or seven years of school between them, anyone who dressed up before they left the house in the morning was not really working. I understood that—and I’ve always been able to see the difference between my father’s kind of work—heavy construction labor—and my kind of work.

But I don’t expect to hear remarks like that from professionals. How can an educated person think it’s not some measure of work to write two books a year, for example, or even a half a book a year?

The last woman out the door of that meeting said, “Once I don’t have to work, I’m going to write a book, too.”

“Good luck with that,” I said.

Too wise**s?