Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Rethinking this whole "til death do us part" thing...

Ian and I marched from the kitchen into the bedroom, where Jimmy had just gotten off the phone. We stood in the doorway with twin expressions of dismay, arms crossed.

JIMMY: What'd I do?
ME: The chocolate fondue I made for the party. Dark, rich, delicious molten chocolate from scratch.
JIMMY: Down the drain.
ME: Nooooooo!
IAN: Chocolate!
JIMMY: It had gotten all hard!
ME: It's CHOCOLATE. You plug the pot back in and it melts again!
ME: You killed the chocolate!
IAN: He needs punishment.
ME: He does.
IAN: He's grounded!
ME: Or something like that. You are a bad man! A bad, bad man!
JIMMY: I am not!
ME: From scratch. That was good chocolate. You know what that costs? You owe me chocolate.
JIMMY: I will buy you chocolate tomorrow when I get paid.
ME: It's not the same.
JIMMY: *tries to kiss me*
ME: No! I do not kiss bad men.
JIMMY: *kisses me*
ME: Bad, bad man!


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Laundry Day

Jimmy walks into my office (isn't that usually how this happens?)

ME: ...
JIMMY: What.
ME: Honey, what are you wearing?
JIMMY: Around-the-house stuff.
ME: *grins*
JIMMY: What?
ME: Black sneakers and white socks. Shiny red Santa shorts. And a KISS T-shirt with the sleeves cut off.
JIMMY: It's around the house!
ME: *hysterical giggles erupt* Oh baby, you're so sexy. I mean, I just want to rip your clothes off. No, I mean I really want to rip your clothes off.
JIMMY: It's my Redneck Ensemble.
ME: It's laundry day.


Monday, May 26, 2014

More random snark

Me: So that pork roast? I found out why it was cheap.
Jimmy: All that fat?
Me: It wasn't fat. It was skin. It still had the skin on.
Jimmy: Did you take it off?
Me: I couldn't get it off! I hacked and hacked at it, but it wouldn't come off. So I looked it up on the internet, and it said you can roast it with the skin on and it will actually add flavor. Then it'll just slip right off.
Jimmy: Then we can roast it in the oven.
Me: What?
Jimmy: Roast the skin, and it'll turn into cracklings.
Me: Cracklings?
Jimmy: *pats my knee* It's okay, northern girl.
Jimmy: Cracklings. Roasted pork skin.
Me: You just bake pig skin and eat it?
Jimmy: Mmmm.
Me: I have a theory that weird southern cuisine goes back to the Civil War, when everyone was starving to death, so they ate whatever they could. Then it became a point of pride: "We ate shit and we liked it!" 
Jimmy: *laughs*
Me: It explains giblet gravy. Fried pork skin indeed.
Jimmy: It's just pork rinds.
Me: .... I thought pork rinds were, like, pork-flavored corn puffs.
Jimmy: Cracklings.
Me: I will keep an open mind till I try it.

Me: Do you like my new haircut?
Jimmy: That's not a new haircut. You just pinned up your hair.
Me: It was close. I was so tempted to grab my kitchen shears and hack it off.
Jimmy: *touches my hair* Just checking.
Me: So this is what I'd look like with short hair, see?
Jimmy: Noooo. You wouldn't look good with short hair.
Me: So you're saying I don't look good right now?
Jimmy: .... I just like long hair.
Me: That was one of those questions, you know, where you're kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Jimmy: Oh yeah. That's why I'm not saying shit.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I defy you, stars

Boy's English class is reading Romeo and Juliet. They are watching scenes from the Zeffirelli movie, because the Luhrman has violence, sex, drugs and transvestism - you know, just like the play. 

Seriously, I don't blame them for sticking with Zeffirelli; it's safer than risking the parental reaction to Luhrman. But it means the kids miss the glory of Harold Perrineau's Mercutio, which is simply the finest Shakespearean performance in film. Luhrman's work is hard to take; it's frenetic energy and wild choreography hit you between the eyes, and it's often too distracting. But if you can make it through the first twenty minutes, your mind acclimates to Luhrman Land and that's when amazing things happen.

I always liked DiCaprio's Romeo - he didn't play a lovesick waif, but a street-tough young man with intelligence and common sense who is simply bowled over by love. Claire Danes is passable as Juliet, but the supporting cast really shines, even in the frenetic pace and sped-up choreography - especially Pete Postlethwaite as the friar.

There's nothing precisely wrong with the Zeffirelli, except maybe those tights, and Stephen Whiting plays a weak Romeo, if I recall correctly. Still, I told Boy to give Zeffirelli his due: Olivia Hussey is absolutely luminous as Juliet, and brilliant in her portrayal, though shooting her nude at age fifteen was not exactly Zeffirelli's best choice. (Wanna bet that scene is not on the approved list in English class.)

And let's just kill this now: I absolutely hate the meme that bitches that the play isn't a romance, it's a one-night stand between teens that got several people killed. They are young, but in that era, people married young, had children young and died young. Snide cynical memes forget what it is like to be young and in love, the overwhelming emotion that fills every waking thought. We all forget. And yes, they had only a brief affair and married quickly. Only knowing each other for days was a luxury in a time when marriages often were arranged by parents. We forget that these stories are also products of their times.

But in this it is right: it is not a romance. It is a tragedy, a tale of love torn apart by greed, hatred and prejudice. As discovered by Tony and Maria, there are no happily ever afters in worlds that let hate run amok as if it were something to which to aspire. That is, unfortunately, something from Shakespeare's time that continues today.

So Boy is watching the Luhrman at home, and it's fun watch him wig out to it. "Ha! Longsword!" Mercutio fanboy. Once he's done, we will watch Shakespeare in Love. It'll have a whole new meaning for him. 

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Signs you're too tired to write

Bottle of hard cider, check. Boy in bed, check. Earbuds playing slightly creepy classical music, check.

Distracted by internet. So what else is new. I turn on Freedom for Mac and instruct it to shut off my internet for a while.

Freedom reminds me that I'm still in my trial period for this program, which leads to twenty minutes of searching my receipts file because I'm quite sure I paid for it, quite sure indeed, and there's no receipt so maybe I'm just dumb. Fine, turn off my internet, Freedom.

Then I go to find the cemetery story file.

It's not there.

Oh God. That was a good story I had started. It was 1200 words of writing, and that's not much if you're, say, Bryan Smith or Angelia Sparrow. For me these days, that's an afternoon miracle.

So then I was searching every possible corner it could have been auto-saved, trying to remember how I titled the file since the story doesn't have a title yet, and desperately hoping that it wasn't victim to the Great Coffee Catastrophe.

The Coffee Catastrophe. That was the weekend my laptop was drying out on the dining room table. Which meant I was using the other computer. Which means the story is saved on that one.

So I dug it out and emailed the story to myself. Then I remembered that Yahoo Mail is weird, and if you email something to yourself within Yahoo it won't appear in your inbox. I am so switching emails when I get round to it. So I open a different email account and email it to myself. Again.

I open my laptop, and pull email. Ooops. Freedom is still running. No internet. I'm on a timer. There's no way to gently dissuade Freedom; if you say 45 minutes of no internet, that means 45 minutes of no internet. Dangit.

Do I have a thumb drive? Of course not. There are probably eighty-seven in the house, but they hide.

So I kill time. I clean up the desktop and file runaway documents. I look at my email and I've got about 487 emails to go through, 98 percent of which should be in the trash. I really need a new email account.

Freedom informs me that time is up. I can download the file now!

And it is only now that I realize I could have been working on the other computer all this time.

I think I'm too brain-dead to write....


The Muse Drops Me a LIne

ME: Urrrrrrrgh. I'm awake.
MUSE: No, you're not.
ME: Am too. I'm sitting up in my bed, holding my iPad.
MUSE: Better put it to use, then.
ME: You. YOU. Where the royal fuck have you been?
MUSE: Working on this. Here, have the entire plot and every word of that project. *waves*
ME: Holy crap. I know what happens. I know how it ends. I even know how to get to how it ends. I have the whole damn thing in my head. Fucking finally.
MUSE: Told you I was working.
ME: You might've shown up a bit earlier. This thing was due months ago.
MUSE: Fuck you.
ME: Glad to see you still have the same agreeable nature.
MUSE: You gonna write that down or what?
ME: I don't think I can get it all in the iPad. I should go downstairs and find my laptop.
MUSE: You're not gonna be able to do that.
ME: Why not?
MUSE: I told you. You're not actually awake. You're dreaming.
ME: What? I'm dreaming? So what about the story? The words? All this in my head -
MUSE: It'll be gone when you wake up. You're only dreaming that you have it.
ME: You bitch.
MUSE: Sure, call me some fucking names, then I'm definitely running back. Me and all my friends.
ME: Since when do you have friends?
MUSE: Shut the fuck up and go back to wake.
ME: No, no no no I need the story I need the....


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Monday, May 05, 2014

Snark, thy name is Boy

BOY: Mom, can I have a cuppy cake?
ME: Hmm. How many did you have this morning?
BOY: Two.
ME: That's a lot of cupcake. 
BOY: Pleeeeease?
ME: First explain why you're calling them cuppy cakes.
BOY: I've always done that.
ME: You have not. You started when you heard Jimmy do it.
BOY: Pleeeeeeease.
ME: Okay.
BOY: *arrives*
ME: I said ONE cupcake!
BOY: This one is for my imaginary friend.
ME: Oh really. Who's your imaginary friend?
BOY: Bob.
ME: That's the best you can do?
BOY: Wilfred the Magic Dragon. What.
ME: Better.


Friday, May 02, 2014

Emptying the ocean with a cup

Fighting with people online is like sitting on the beach and trying to empty the ocean with a cup. You pour it out on the sand, and it flows right back in.

Social networking is a constant love-hate with me. I love that I can stay in touch with my family and old friends who live [anywhere but here] on a daily basis, bringing us much closer together than we ever were as children or as young adults. I love that I can talk to my readers, have a convenient feed of interesting material from wildly diverse sources, and toss my own stuff out for those who might be interested. The Social Network is a fun place for diversion.

And I'm much better than I used to be about getting into fights. In fact, I first wrote this a week ago, and then shelved it because it wasn't worth the inevitable nastiness. We all know it's pointless to sink into the drahmah. But it's a struggle for me, because the very nature of my profession is to dispel ignorance with facts. Not truth - truth is a matter for philosophers. What is truth to you may anathema to me, and vice versa. But facts... that's what we in the news business are compelled to provide, so that people can make informed decisions about the important issues of the day.

I used to wade in every time I saw people re-posting yet another sadly misinformed or outright false meme, every time people clearly had fallen hook, line and sinker for another asshole spouting a conspiracy theory as fact. Ocean, cup. I'm better now, partly because I recognize there are times I just need to walk away. There's real work to be done, after all.

The one I don't seem to be able to resist is, "Mainstream media is ignoring it, but THIS is happening!" As if "mainstream media" is a giant hive Borg-mind and we are all doing the bidding of our corporate masters (who couldn't pick any of us out of a lineup). As if we just walk on by enormous stories because we're too busy reorganizing the icons on our desktops or something.

Sometimes it's not as prevalent a story because it happened weeks ago, and the major coverage took place when it actually happened and nobody notices the date-stamp on the story they're linking. Just because they just found out about it doesn't mean it's fresh.

Sometimes it's not all over your feed because it's not true. If I see any of these items one more time... or the Easter-Ishtar thing, that was big a while ago, and then recirculated as a correction, which is rare (and I don't know how helpful it is). Don't forget the number of really disgusting falsehoods spread about the Boston bombing, such as "teacher from Sandy Hook listed among the dead at Boston Marathon - proof that it's all a conspiracy!" Which, of course, was total nutbar nonsense.

The most frustrating is that often, the story that people are screaming about is all over the so-called mainstream media. It's everywhere, and they just haven't seen it because they don't have news outlets on their feed. It's astonishing to me how many people do not follow a single news feed, and instead rely on other people retweeting or reposting a story that someone else posted from a news outlet. It's like we're all playing a massive game of Telephone. So if none of their friends are on CNN, and thus none of them re-posted a story, does that mean the CNN story doesn't exist?

My absolute "favorite" is when someone posts, "I bet mainstream media won't say anything about this!" and the link they put up is to the Washington Post... or even better, to the Huffington Post, which is just linking to the Washington Post. That's when I'm jamming a sock in my mouth to stay quiet and go back to actually writing the news.

The latest one is the terrible tragedy in Nigeria, of hundreds of young girls kidnapped from a school. First, let's smack the number of people referring to the kidnappers as "Islamist," which is a word that doesn't fucking exist (shame on you, CNN). Boko Haram is a jihadi group largely considered a terrorist organization responsible for about 10,000 deaths and is believed to have links to al Qaeda, on a path of revenge after more than 900 members of Boko Haram died in the custody of the Nigerian government last year. "Islamist" is not a word approved for ethical news coverage, as it unfairly slants the entire faith with the extremists. It's like calling all Christians members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

But let's back up. What's that thing I said a minute ago? Yes: "Shame on you, CNN." Because Boko Haram is on CNN. And was a week ago, and before that.

Also on BBC, the Los Angeles Times, Al Jazeera America, PBS, the Guardian, New York Daily News, the Washington Post, USA Today... everywhere from the Detroit Free Press to the Bangkok Post. That's just on the first page of Google News one week ago when I first wrote this. As of today, the first page includes the Chicago Tribune, more from CNN, Al Jazeera and NBC, plus CBS, Nigerian and other international news sites, Reuters and look, CNN again. The stories have progressed over the last week and a half from "this happened" to "why we think this happened" to "why aren't national and international governments doing anything about it."

Yet nearly every post today about this horrible event insists, "Why isn't mainstream media covering this?" Hell, today it is on page one of Did anyone look?

It's a horrifying, terrible event... and even more frightening, it's not new. It's believed Boko Haram has kidnapped girls many, many times before in their war against female education - especially Western education. In fact, it's bigger news overseas than it is in Nigeria, because according to them... it's nothing new. Here, have a story about that - from CNN, a week ago.

These are things that need to be talked about. These are things people should know. But it's not going to magically pop up on the average reader's feed, because the average reader is relying on his cousin and next-door neighbor and that stranger who posted the cat video to be the gatekeeper of his news. Events like the Boko Haram kidnapping call for protest and action, yet most of the protest I've seen has been wasted on blaming the media for allegedly not covering it.

Before you repost something that insists this super-secret news story is being ignored, consider on what you're basing that assumption. If your assumption is based on your Twitter feed and ten seconds on, that's not a wide enough net. Google News is your friend. Better yet, find some newspaper web sites for respectable publications, and add them directly to your feed. Skip the game of Telephone and get real news, directly from real news sources, and I think you'll be surprised how much they aren't ignoring the important things happening today.

And sometimes the crazy stuff... well, it kicks off a more interesting and important discussion. A fraudulent net-outrage tiff might fade in a day, but if it gets people talking about the underlying issue, that's the important point, whether it's road rage or racism or the NYPD's image issues.

To paraphrase a friend, it's incumbent on all of us to reduce the signal to noise ratio on the 'net. A little more substance and a little less histrionics and fingerpointing, and we can find out what's really going on in the world. There are important things, sad things, scary things.... and good things, too. We can educate each other, learn from each other, maybe make the world a better place through the single most powerful informational tool in the history of the human race.

Just strip off the "mainstream media" hate, unless you're damn sure we deserve it.