Category : Personal

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.

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.