Scenes from the Dog Park

Dogs play

The race had no finish line but the end of their boundless energy. There was no set course, no first place, no last place. They simply ran for the pure joy, smiling, tongues flapping outside of their open jaws.

There were at least ten of them, the lead a small, female red-nosed pit bull. She’d begin at the fence and lead her train as fast as they could go for fifty feet before rolling onto the ground as the others surrounded her, poking her with their noses until she was once again on her feet, running back to the fence.

I watched as I walked past them, my destination and purpose more clear, but not nearly as carefree. If only we could all be as joyous as a dog at play.

On Charlie Hebdo

On Wednesday, armed militant Muslims stormed into the editorial offices of a satirical magazine in France and killed 12 people — journalists and their police guards. They did this because the magazine, Charlie Hebdo (a name probably everyone on Earth now knows) published satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed. This is not the first time a publication published such a cartoon and not the first time there have been murders associated with militant Muslims not liking something.

And now I’m seeing people either privately or in public editorials talking about how the magazine “provoked” these people to kill them. One such statement was that if you know publishing something like that puts a target on your back, you shouldn’t do it. I understand the inclination towards self-preservation so I understand why many people would choose not to do it. These people are not journalists and I think they don’t really understand the significance and fragility of this thing we call “free speech.” People also described the cartoons as “not funny” and “12-year-old humor.” Maybe. The last couple probably do fall into that latter category. But the first one, the one that started the whole ball rolling, doesn’t. It isn’t funny, but it is poignant. I think a detailed explanation is necessary about why (at least I think) the people at Charlie Hebdo provoked those who threatened them.

The Huffington Post published an article giving the timeline and full story so I won’t reiterate it here. But I will include the first cartoon:

Je Suis

The text reads in English, “Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists.”

This cartoon resulted in a court case against the magazine asking French courts to force the magazine not to publish images of the Prophet. Charlie Hebdo won. These were journalistic satirists. They had a sarcastic sense of humor and an almost fanatical need to blow raspberries at people who couldn’t take a joke — to the point of trying to silence the magazine in a court of law. The court case was about free speech. It was about whether a religion can dictate what people who don’t even belong to that religion do or say. Charlie Hebdo’s staff wasn’t going to stand for that and they didn’t.

And so followed a series of increasingly offensive cartoons and increasing anger in the radical Muslim community. It was a simple thing, but it was a brave thing. On the surface, it was silliness and maybe a little 12-year-old humor. Underneath, though, it was a group of people taking a stand, saying that no one was going to tell them they couldn’t speak out. This was their own little revolution. They may be dead, but they still won.

Did Muslims have a right to take offense to any or all of the cartoons? Absolutely. Even if I disagreed with them, I would fully support their right to condemn the cartoons publicly in speeches, letters to newspapers and magazines, blog posts, even picketing outside the magazine’s offices or calling for a boycott. All of those things — even the court case — are acceptable and within their rights. Murder, however, is not.

This is not the first time radical Islam has taken such a stand. Salman Rushdie had to live in hiding for years because of one small passage in a novel he wrote. A radical Muslim murdered Theodoor “Theo” van Gogh for making a documentary critical of the treatment of women in Islam.

Charlie Hebdo said, “ENOUGH!”

Ironically, on the same day the murders occurred, over here in the United States, a local small-time politician took on his local newspaper. Kirby Delauter was angry that the newspaper published his name in an article about parking spaces for new council members in a small Maryland town. And he got a royal smackdown from the newspaper. His response was to apologize. Should that newspaper have backed down because someone was angry? He didn’t threaten lives, but he threatened a lawsuit. And he was wrong.

Whether it’s Kirby Delauter, radical Muslims or Watergate, the press has a duty to tell the important stories. Without a free press, we might as well go back to the Dark Ages.

And that is why Charlie Hebdo continued poking the bear and why those pokes became harder and harder each time.

Something to Remember

Writer reality

50 Happy Things

I posted this yesterday in response to a challenge on a fitness site I frequent, but I thought it was a good post for here. I know, I know … I have been quite absent from this place for a long time. But I’m posting today, so you all may rejoice.

Anywho, here is my list of 50 things that make me happy: 

  1. A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones (even when the show deviates from the books and annoys me)Image
  2. Mad Men
  3. Getting lost in a good book (noticing a theme …)
  4. Rolling green fields
  5. Large bodies of water
  6. Swimming
  7. Finding clothes that look super cute on me
  8. That awesome pair (or 50) of shoes
  9. Cuddling
  10. Finding long-lost friends online
  11. Pinterest
  12. Writing
  13. Listening to music I love at full volume and singing along
  14. Dancing

    Center Stage screen shot.

  15. Long walks and talks with good friends
  16. Alone time
  17. Yoga
  18. Animals
  19. Mike Rowe (hee hee hee)
  20. Introducing people to things I love and seeing them love those things, too (i.e. yesterday I told my daughter’s boyfriend all about Top Secret! and insisted he watch it or he isn’t allowed to date her anymore — I know he’ll love it. Who doesn’t? But anyway, I’ve turned many people on to that movie and also Real Genius and none have been sorry.)
  21. Natalie Merchant live
  22. Sarah McLachlan live
  23. Editing
  24. A cheese plate and chocolate mousse from France at EPCOT
  25. The county fair

    2013 North Florida Fair. Photo by Renée M. Liss (c) 2014

  26. Cherry candy-dipped soft serve chocolate ice cream
  27. Shirley Temples (the drink)
  28. Waterfalls

    Ithaca, NY. Photo by Renée M. Liss (c) 2014

  29. Sitting outside reading a book
  30. Discussions with intelligent people
  31. Pretty language
  32. British sitcoms
  33. A dark, clear night looking at the stars
  34. Beautiful art
  35. Getting so lost in a movie that you wish it wouldn’t end
  36. Monty Python 
  37. Anything John Cleese
  38. Visiting old friends I haven’t seen in years and feeling like I just saw them yesterdayImage
  39. Halloween
  40. Baseball (live!)
  41. Boston
  42. A northeast autumn
  43. Snow during the winter holidays
  44. Throwing parties
  45. Realizing I have a wonderful group of friends where I live, even though I moved here as an adult and it’s difficut to meet people and make close friends once you’re out of school, especially if you move away from home
  46. Flowers
  47. A drama-free life
  48. Bookstores
  49. Caramel hot apple cider
  50. English breakfast tea with honey and cream

Call it Writer’s Block

On Facebook, I “like” a particular page for writers that regularly posts quotes about writing. Imagine that!

Today, the page administrator(s) posted,

Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all. — Charles Bukowski

I don’t think I necessarily have writer’s block. I’m not really sure what’s going on with me. Last spring, I hit my stride. I was writing like a madwoman. I would estimate I was about two weeks away from actually finishing a novel for the first time, with two more on its heals. I was on a roll.

Then I went rollerblading one Saturday morning.

Write SomethingI shattered my right wrist and fractured my left elbow. I was in a lot of pain. I had to have surgery to put a metal plate in my wrist and after they removed the splint, I had to wear a brace. My wrist hurt all.the.time. Even if my brain hadn’t been muddled by the pain killers, the pain was too much and I could only type with my right hand, which got tiring.

I lost my momentum. I figured I’d be able to pick right back up where I’d ended, but I couldn’t. I had to restart the book I had nearly finished and now the writing is coming hard and in spits and spurts. I’m frustrated.

Last week, I committed myself to write one hour a day, every day. I managed two or three days of that and haven’t done much else. I can’t get in the mood. I’m annoyed with myself.

So here I am blogging and hoping this little exercise will help me get back on track. While I love that I at least am able to make a living by being a writer, technical writer for a government agency is not my dream. I appreciate that I can be a little creative, that I can spend my days writing and editing and even more, I appreciate the paycheck and benefits that come with it.

I’m also quite afraid that if I do finish writing a novel, I will not find an agent or a publisher. I am afraid to fail. I’m not afraid of failure on its face. I’m afraid to find out that being a novelist is not really the life I was born to live. I’m afraid to lose my dream. But if I never try, I will fail for certain. That’s even worse.

And so back to the grind.

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A Plan Forms

It’s time to get serious. I have been writing on and off quite a bit. I have four or five novels in the works, none of which I’m working on nearly enough and none of which are anywhere close to finished, but they’re all good in their own right and I have goals. I want to be a novelist. I want to write for a living. It’s important to me to get there.

And I’m fat again. It’s mostly not my fault. The weight I gained over the past few years was a direct result of my birth control, but now that I’ve had that removed, I need to take control and lose it. I started out well with that yesterday. I planned a full day of healthy eating and I walked and jogged more than four miles after work. Then I went to a friend’s house and ate this:










And this morning, I nearly got sick in the shower (if you’ve ever experienced morning sickness, it felt like that) and then a pair of pants that fit me fine last year wouldn’t even come close to buttoning. Yeah. That happened.

But no worries because even before the truffle/cheesecake incident, during my workout, I had formed a plan in my mind. I am going to remedy all my woes.

First, I will go to the gym three times a week to lift weights. On the days I go to the gym, I will do some sort of cardio exercise to round out a full hour and on the days I don’t go, I will do a full hour of cardio. I will also do at least thirty minutes of yoga every day. I will write for a minimum of one hour per day and I will read a book each week. I mean, I started the book review blog before my surgery and I feel like I wrote two great reviews and was on a roll and then … I stopped. And that isn’t OK with me. I have big plans for that blog. It has a theme and a purpose and it’s pretty. It’s time to get serious.




Photo courtesy http://www.fanpop.com.

I’m going to keep this short because I don’t think there’s a need to dissect this movie. I simply want to say that I think you all should see it. I haven’t read the book, but I’m told the movie compares very favorably. And the soundtrack is to die for.

In basic terms, the movie will make you feel:

You know when you’re on a roller coaster and you have that constant knot in your stomach from the tension of climbing hills and knowing that when you reach the top, you’re going to go really fast down a hill of equal proportions and while it’s exhilarating, it’s also incredibly scary?

That’s how this movie made me feel. And I was on the verge of tears from start to finish, even though there were some funny parts and sad parts and everything in between.

And it makes us children of the ’90s (well, adolescents of the ’90s, because really, it’s us Grungers who will really understand it) nostalgic for a different and simpler time.

Finally, anyone wondering if there’s life after Harry Potter, wonder no more. Emma Watson’s performance was superb.

Should I Read this Book?

On Labor Day (United States), I went with a friend to Goodwill. She wanted to take advantage of the store’s sale on clothes and I was just going along for the ride. I need to lose about forty pounds before I even think about buying new clothes. But  a welcome surprised when we arrived was that there was also a sale on books, most of which were no more than three or four dollars full price.

One of the books I left with was Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. I’d been interested for several years in reading that particular book, but hadn’t gotten around to it. Since it was such a good price, of course I snatched it up, along with four others.

If you read the back of Reading Lolita, the publisher describes it as being about a woman who holds what basically amounts to a book discussion group in her Tehran, Iran, apartment where the members (the former college professor’s students) read books that the Iranian government has banned. Obviously, one such book is Lolita.

By that description, the book most definitely sounds interesting. But the description is misleading. Yes, this book group is a part of the book. In fact, it takes up the entire first section. But there is so much more to it.

For those less familiar with Reading Lolita, the author is a woman who received a literature degree in the United States and then returned to her native country in 1979, just as Ayatollah Khomeini and his, shall we say minions?, seize control of Iran from the Shah. I’m more than half way through the memoir and the majority of it is about the author’s experiences during and after the revolution and of course throughout the course of the Iraq/Iran war of the 1980s. Her life touches those of her students and she tells what she knows of their experiences, as well.

What this book is, really, is a personal history lesson about an extremely tumultuous time in history that changed the world and I’m learning so much more than I ever did in school.

Miss Auras by John Lavery

In reading Reading Lolita, I began thinking about how publishers so often drop the ball in promoting books. I suppose in a way, what they’re doing is working, since the books I’m talking about have been best-sellers. But I wonder at the same time, what am I missing out on?

I’ll begin with Harry Potter. I didn’t read a single word of any of the books until last July and then I devoured all seven of them in sixteen days and re-read them all within the next year. But I only did so because I happened to catch a couple of the movies on television. The impression I had of the books, based solely on the publicity they received, was that they were very juvenile and a bit silly and while others may have loved them, I didn’t think they were for me.

The next book I nearly missed — and didn’t thanks to a movie preview — was The Help. Everyone raved about it. I thought I should give it a go. Then I walked into Borders, picked it up and read the cover. It said something about a young southern girl looking for her missing nanny and learning lessons along the way. I immediately put it down. I only bought it after seeing a preview for the movie (which I hated) and realizing there was much more to it.

Once I’d read The Helpit became clear just how ridiculous the description was on the back cover. Was Skeeter, the heroine, looking for her missing nanny? Well, yes. But that was mostly a subplot that took a back seat to her stealthily interviewing black housekeepers in Alabama at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in order to publish a book exposing the truth about what went on behind the manicured lawns.

That was an excellent book. The one described is sentimental and hackneyed.

I wonder if it’s always been this way. I don’t think it has. I’ve been a reader my entire life. I don’t recall a time I wasn’t. I’ve always chosen books at random. I walk into a book store or library and a title catches my eye. I read the back of the book or the inside jacket if it’s hardcover and if it interests me, I take it home and either love it or hate it. This method has worked well for me for thirty-five years. And now? Not so much.

Now I walk into a store and look at the books and they all sound awful. And many of them are. And now I can’t even count on the publishers to help me figure out which is which.

Last night, Christian Grey kept me up very late. Past midnight. I’m very tired this morning.

I first stayed up to finish Jennifer Armintrout’s recaps, chapter by chapter, of 50 Shades Darker, the second book in the 50 Shades of Grey series. I finished reading her recaps of the first book on Tuesday night.

Before I get to my point, I want to make some clarifications about my experience with this book. Because of the hype about it, I downloaded the free previews — the first two chapters — of each book to see if I could even stand to read them. Set aside the fact that E.L. James couldn’t write herself out of a paper bag, I got really, really, really bored and decided it wasn’t worth the torture to even try. Then I read Katrina Lumsden’s reviews of the books on www.goodreads.com and they were so funny that I kind of wanted to read the books just to laugh at them. But the thought of spending actual money and adding to the fortunes of the publisher who stooped so low as to publish this drivel was too much for me. So, if someone wants to lend me a free copy of the series, I’d appreciate it. 🙂

So … with that said, let me take you all through a couple scenarios:

Imagine, if you will, a 19-year-old girl sitting in a mall food court with a man. They’re having a conversation and once or twice something catches her attention out of the corner of her eye and she glances in that direction, finds nothing of particular interest and looks back at the man she’s with and continues the conversation.

And then …

He accuses her of staring at a man who was in the general direction of where she’d turned her head to look. She tells him she didn’t see anyone, but he doesn’t believe her. Of course, this “staring” she did in the split second during which she turned her head means she wants to have sex with a man she didn’t see. An argument erupts and in the end, they make up and move on.

A few months later, this same teenage girl and the same man are in a restaurant having dinner. By now, she’s learned to keep her head down in public, lest someone with a Y chromosome wanders into her line of sight. They get up to leave and she notices that there are three men sitting in a booth towards which she must walk in order to get out of the restaurant. She is careful to cast her eyes to the floor and not look at them at all on her way out.

And yet …

The man screams at her for hours about how she was “staring” at the men in the booth.

Every time she’s in public with this man, she gets a sick feeling in her stomach. He calls constantly and demands to know who she’s with and what she’s doing. He attempts to separate her physically and emotionally from her family and friends she’s known her entire life.

Put billions of dollars in his bank account and make him “hot” (as in good-looking, not with a fever) and I present you with Christian Grey, the man millions of women are “in love with.” The man millions of women compare to their own boyfriends or husbands and find their real-life partners lacking.

Let me tell you right now, Christian Grey is not a catch. He is not a good person. He is not someone you want to be involved with. He is most definitely not romantic or heroic. If someone you cared about was in a relationship with him, you would be afraid for her life and begging her to leave him.

Prior to reading Armentrout’s blog, I was mostly just annoyed that a publisher picked up the books. The writing is horrible. The theme and plot barely exist. This thing with Leila? I’m not even sure why James bothered. Take out the sex scenes and these books are the ideal romantic relationship that might spring forth from the not-quite-formed psyche of a ten-year-old girl. But they came from the clearly stunted psyche of a woman who, based on photos I’ve seen, is in her thirties or forties.

To the women who look at Christian Grey and see the ideal man, I ask: WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU??? I know I’m going to offend some people, but seriously, you need therapy. Intense, serious, deep therapy.

This book would have made more sense and been a more honest story if it was a thriller about a young, innocent woman who fell in love with a billionaire who turned out to be a psychopath (because that is absolutely what Christian Grey is) and she has to somehow escape him. Hmmm … perhaps this should have been Sleeping with the Enemy fan fiction. It’s closer to the reality. One of them will have to end up dead in the end because that is how this kind of thing ends.

I know plenty of people are going to comment here about how it’s “just a book,” but it isn’t. I can understand that the sex scenes maybe turned you on. I can get that you maybe even enjoyed the story. But what I don’t understand, the thing that should concern any of you who think this way, is why you believe this is a romantic story? Why do you think Christian Grey is the man of all your dreams? Why in the holy hell would you want to even know someone who won’t even allow you to choose your own food or when you will eat it?

Here’s a tip: If you enjoy having every last detail of your life micro managed, commit a crime and go to jail. You’ll have more autonomy that way.