Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday Fun

Overheard at Target circa 11:30 am on Black Friday...

"Wo-man, I'm like to sit down righ-chere in the middle of this aisle and go to sleep. You've had me up since two am."

"Oh suck it up you big wuss. I've sat up in a tree with you for eighteen hours straight. I don't wanna hear it."

That's why I go out on Black Friday.

It's all about the entertainment for me. Sure, I buy a few things. Some deals are just too good to pass up (like a copy of The Princess Bride for $2), but the real fun is meandering through the store and alternately watching a sleep-deprived shopper pulling the last portable DVD player off the shelf and my shopping partner, Patricia, happy-dancing over a Pink Floyd t-shirt in the right size.

I only see Patricia three or four times a year, and somehow, we always end up shopping. Well, she shops, and I mostly travel behind in her wake, awed at her ability to find a deal. We have a good time, though. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and neither of us take ourselves too seriously (as evidenced by the modeling we did in the dressing room of a department store).

We ninja'd through traffic, spent an inordinate amount of time in the bookstore, undressed a mannequin, tried unsuccessfully to tip the guy at Steak-n-Shake's drive thru, bought matching leopard-print sleep pants, and laughed uproariously...a lot. As entertainment goes, it was a lot of bang for my buck.

It beats the hell out of staring at football all day in a tryptophan coma...or sitting up in a tree for eighteen hours straight.

I hope your Thanksgiving was happy and your Black Friday shopping productive. :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I recently asked my Facebook friends to suggest possible blog topics. The last month or so has been particularly stressful, leaving me creatively dry. A few of my friends openly commented, but more messaged or texted me with their ideas. One of the first suggestions I received was to write about the stress that was bogging me down. I liked the idea, but I'm not willing to publicly share all of my life, and I didn't want to write a whiny "poor me" post.

I sometimes start a writing session by playing word association. I'll type a word, usually the topic I'm considering, and then I'll type whatever word jumps into my mind as a result. After a few minutes the random words get in line in my brain, and I'm in business.

This time, the words refused to form neat prosaic lines. I've learned that fighting the words is futile, so I let them have their way. As a writing exercise, it was fun, and I learned some new html code playing with the indentation. Enjoy.










no one

goes on


ing game

ing blame







ure eases


new leases


hammering coal

forging soul


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thank You J.K. Rowling

Yesterday, I took my son to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, a fact that seems fairly mundane given that literally millions of other parents did the same. But for me, it was special, a not-quite-final step on a journey my son and I have traveled together.

Ask anyone with a 19 year old son. Having him choose his mother as a movie date is a rare thing. A young man of 19 generally prefers his friends, his girlfriend, even his younger brother for an evening at the multiplex.

But this was Harry, and Harry is ours.

I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone eight years ago when a student recommended it. I remember thinking the characters were vivid and likable and the plot was original, but most importantly, I remember thinking my eldest son, then 11, would like it. I had not come to grips with the fact that he didn't enjoy reading fiction. I love fiction passionately. I had read stories to him since he was in the womb. How was it possible he didn't feel the same way I did?

The only fiction my son ever enjoyed was fantasy. He had a collection of books about dragons and the origin of dragon myths. He liked stories about magic. Harry seemed the perfect vehicle to show him the the joys of reading fiction for pleasure.

I bought him the book and then watched it sit on the floor next to his bed, untouched. When it disappeared under the pile of various and sundry crap that always seems to litter his floor, I changed tactics. I offered to read it aloud to him at night. He has always enjoyed being read's how we got through Jane Eyre, so he could pass Senior English.

We started with chapter one, "The Boy Who Lived," and I could see the interest on his face, but then as we read chapter two and the first part of chapter three, I lost him. He was the same age as Harry, and he hated the way the Dursleys treated Harry, so much so, he wanted to stop. The effect of that mistreatment is mitigated in the movies by making the Dursleys objects of derision, but in print, with nothing but an 11 year old's imagination, it was powerful.

We stopped reading for a week. He refused to read a story where the character he identified with was so powerless. I begged him to persevere, swore to him it would get better, and promised the Dursleys would get their comeuppance. And he finally, albeit reluctantly, agreed. Once Hagrid arrived and whisked Harry away to Hogwarts, he was hooked.

Interestingly, Voldemort never seemed as threatening to my son as those abusive, neglectful Dursleys. There is a poignant moment early in the Deathly Hallows where Harry takes one last look at the cupboard under the stairs. My son and I turned to each other, and he smiled. Both he and Harry had moved past those bad times early in the story. The Dursleys no longer held any power over either of them. It was one of those transformative moments the best kind of stories bring, where you feel what the character is feeling.

After the first book, my son read the rest of the series on his own. The summer the fifth book, The Order of the Phoenix, was released, we went to a midnight release party. He was a piece in a game of wizard's chess. We drank butterbeer and ate lots of foul-tasting Bertie Botts every flavor beans. Then, we both stayed up all night with the book. Yes, we each had a copy.

We have seen all of the movies together. Even as he got older, got his driver's license, and became more independent, we still shared Harry. He never considered seeing any of the movies with anyone else. We discussed the different directors' visions, the minute changes in plot, the choice of actors. (Neither of us got over the loss of Sir Richard Harris and his Dumbledore. The new guy never measured up.)

I'm glad the producers decided to break the last book into two movies. Even though my son and I both groaned after the last scene in part one, I have at least one more Harry Potter experience to share with my son. I'm glad it's not over yet.

I sobbed, yes, literally sobbed, through the last twenty pages of The Deathly Hallows, and I know I will cry at the end of the last movie. I love those characters that much. They are real to me. That final sacrificial walk Harry takes into the forest is archetypal and so well-written, I was there with him. And so was my son. He walked that journey with Harry, and he cared as much as I did.

Thank you J.K. Rowling. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Never, Ever Piss Off a Writer

I texted the title of this post to my friend, Pam, just last week. I was being facetious at the time, but the story I just stumbled across via Liana Brooks' blog is proof positive that it's true.

Cooks Source Magazine, a for-profit publication, lifted a post from this writer's blog and printed it without her knowledge or permission. She contacted the magazine and got this response from the editor:

But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it!

Wrong answer. Aside from the fact that lifting someone's writing and putting your name on it is plagiarism, my blog and everyone's blog is protected under copyright law. While most folks don't mind being quoted or linked...we do want may not take my writing and print it for profit without my permission.

Writers on the web are an interconnected bunch, and this gem of a response from Cooks Source bounced around from blog to blog, including John Scalzi's blog (one of my personal favs) which gets approximately 10,000 hits per day. Blog readers reported it to several watchdog organizations, and then it blew up on twitter.

@neilhimself (Neil Gaiman) retweeted it. He has 1.5 million followers.

People found the Cooks Source Facebook page and flamed it mercilessly. I'm sure they'll be taking that page down any moment now, but check it out if it's still there. Wow...just wow...

Edward Champion did some investigating and discovered that Cooks Source has made a fine living reprinting content from the Internet without permission.

Any money Cooks Source might have saved by stealing from mostly unknown writers will probably now be paid ten thousand times over to lawyers. Honestly, after following this thread from link to link, I'll be surprised if they're still in business this time next month.

Never, ever piss off a writer.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, and well, you know the rest...

I hated my statistics class in college with a blue passion. The words "standard deviation" still make me shudder. Ironically, though, I find reading statistics someone else has generated endlessly interesting.

For instance:

Lord knows, I'm doing my part on that last one.

Recently, I've become fascinated with the statistics for my blog. Blogger tracks your page views by blog post, time of day, geographic place, referring URL's, and the search terms that got people there. Some of the statistics are illuminating, but most leave me bemused.

The United States is naturally the country in which most people view my blog, but just this week alone I had 19 views from the Netherlands and 14 views from Russia. Really? What am I saying that interests the Dutch? Or the Russians? I even had four views from Slovenia. Wow...

I normally have the biggest viewing spikes when I put up a new post which makes sense, right? But occasionally, I get these crazy spikes on old posts. My post on Self Doubt contains a Diana Ross video. 457 people viewed that one in one day, a month after the original post. My readership is modest, so I'm attributing that spike to Diana and not my own words of wisdom.

Posts which share titles with something more famous get lots of views as well. My Invictus post has been very popular, although I suspect some folks are disappointed when they find me instead of Matt Damon. Expectation is the Root of all Heartache has also gotten mad hits. Again, some poor high school student looking for help with his English homework is probably frustrated when he finds me.

Embedded pictures lead people to me. Twice, I have included pictures of buffalo in my posts. (Here and here.) Both have brought people my way. I wonder if any of them stayed after looking at my buffalo?

The most entertaining statistic is the list of most popular search terms which connected people with my blog. My name is at the top of that big surprise...but once you get past the obvious, I find myself in WTF country. Just this week, people found me by googling "he makes my cherry pop" and "Jazzercise with colostomy." Last month, someone used "I never sit on a toilet." Granted, I have actually used the words "he makes my cherry pop" and "I never sit on a toilet," but why would you google those phrases? I've used "Jazzercise" multiple times, but this is the first time the word "colostomy" has graced my blog.

The big dumb eighth grader inside of me wants to let loose a string of random, unrelated words just to see what kind of bizarre Slovenian (no disrespect to Slovenians intended, it's just...Slovenia?) traffic I get. So here goes...

I would expect Dutch apple pie and Russian dressing to make my cherry pop, but expectation is the root of all heartache. Mark Twain knows I don't wear a colostomy bag, even if I never sit on a toilet. It's all lies, damn lies, and well, you know the rest...

I am the master of my fate, Diana Ross, I am the captain of my soul.