Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Would you still work if you didn't have to?

The lady who lives in the apartment downstairs from me was laid off several months ago. I saw her the other day and asked how her job search is coming. “Terrible,” she said, in a voice channeling one of the bailiffs from Night Court. “There’s nothin’ out there. I still got my unemployment and my husband has job security at the cemetery,” she said with a wheezing smoker’s laugh, “but I’m bored out of my mind.”

I slowly shook my head, which she no doubt interpreted as an empathetic gesture. In real life, I was thinking, “You lucky stiff!”

I started my first job back in 1971 at Colonial Cleaners down the street from my house on Lincoln Avenue in Albany, New York. In 110-degree heat from the machines, I tagged and prepared garments for dry cleaning, which often involved the revolting task of pulling dirty Kleenex out of old guys’ pants pockets. From the very first day, I knew that work would be a part of life that was going to suck. I don’t know who came up with the big idea that women have to have a career—I guess it was intended to be a perk of some kind—but 36 years later, I can tell you I’ve never had a day at work that was better than a day at home.

It’s not exactly like I’m toiling in a third-world sweatshop—I have a master’s degree from one of the best technical writing schools in the country, a resume that would knock your socks off, and references that would make you wonder if I paid them handsomely for extolling such high praise. But I repeat: I have never spent a day writing a proposal or some of the other stuff I come up with that was more enjoyable than a day spent cleaning the house and watching Guiding Light. And with a ton of creative projects running through my brain at any given time, I would never, never be bored!

What do you think? If money were no object, would you still work?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Today's secret word: "mondegreen"

I often feel like such a Johnny-Come-Lately, like by the time I find out about something, it’s soooo 10 minutes ago. That’s what happened with http://www.pandora.com/, a music site that I think is freakin’ awesome. Man, when I got turned on to that site, I shouted its praises from the rooftops, only to be met with, “Oh, yeah. Pandora’s cool.” So I suppose I’m the last person on earth to hear of the word “mondegreen.”

Dictionary.com defines mondegreen (pronounced mon-di-green) as “a word or phrase resulting from a misinterpretation of a word or phrase that has been heard.” American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in an essay “The Death of Lady Mondegreen,” published in November 1954 in Harper’s Magazine. Referring to a 17th century poem that her mother read aloud to her as a child, the author tells how she misinterpreted the line "And laid him on the green" as “And Lady Mondegreen.”

My mother told me how when she was a kid, she misheard people referring to “the chest of drawers” as “the Chester drawers.” When my daughter was little, she thought a local newscaster went by the hip nickname “The Heat is On” until she was old enough to read and was shocked to see the name on the television screen was “Benita Zahn.”

Mondegreens often result from misinterpreted song lyrics, and they can be quite entertaining. My favorite mondegreen is the classic “There’s a bathroom on the right,” the line at the end of each verse of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.” And of course we all wondered what was going on with Jimi Hendrix when he shouted, “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy!”

Both Creedence's lead singer,John Fogerty, and Hendrix eventually capitalized on their fans’ poor hearing (or was it their own inability to e-nun-ci-ate?) and deliberately sang the mondegreen versions of their songs in concert. Alone in the car, I always sing “There’s a bathroom on the right”; it’s simply more fun that way.

I had my own mondegreen version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” that, quite frankly, had me perplexed for decades:

“I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I'm a rocket man
Rocket man, burning all the Jews I’ve ever known”

Jeez, Elton... WTF? Then years later I looked up the real lyrics and was relieved to find the line is “Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.”

Oh. That’s very different.

How about you? Any fun mondegreens to share? And did you even know there was such a word?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Remembering The Midnight Special

Recently my MySpace friend Bill posted a blog about how he enjoyed watching The Midnight Special on YouTube. Remember The Midnight Special with Wolfman Jack? No, unless you’re over 40, you wouldn’t. To clue you youngsters in, The Midnight Special aired late Friday nights from 1973 to 1981 after Johnny Carson and featured taped performances of rock bands and pop artists of the time. Like Badfinger, Kiss, and Peter Frampton.

Back in those days, you hardly ever got to see your favorite bands on TV. In addition to The Midnight Special, there was Don Kirshner's In Concent, the musical guests on Saturday Night Live (starting in 1975) and that was about it. Every once in a while someone cool might make an appearance on The Merv Griffen Show or The Mike Douglas Show, but mostly they stuck us with the likes of Charo. It was a real treat to see your favorite artists in action.

This was well before the days of MTV, which prompted an utterly dismal era in music history by placing more emphasis on how bands looked rather than the quality of their music. That's why VERY few bands from that time held up to join the ranks of "classic rock." Oh, to think of the drek we were fed in the 80’s! The only thing that makes me nostalgic for that sorry-ass decade is the price of gas.

I mostly remember watching The Midnight Special while working babysitting jobs in the neighborhood. We’re talking 1973-1975, and that was not only before the days of MTV, but before the days of cable television. Once The Midnight Special was over, the station would go off the air and I’d leap up from the couch to turn off the TV (yes, this was before remotes, too) before The Star Spangled Banner came on. For some reason, that song and the waving flag scared the shit out of me.

I’d be pissed if I had to wait too long after the TV went dark for the parents to come home. By then I’d have had quite enough of sitting around someone else’s house eating potato chips. If I was lucky, one of my girlfriends might still be babysitting, too, and we’d gab on the phone until one of us heard the sound of a car in the driveway. One house where I often sat, however, had a bookshelf of fascinating reads; let me tell you, this 15-year-old president of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee found The Senusous Woman downright tantalizing! Plus it took my mind off the serial killer/rapist who I imagined to be lurking outside the living room window, watching my every move.

Wow—until Bill’s blog, I hadn't thought about that show in years! Thanks, Bill, for the memories. And for making me feel old as hell.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Good news -- at last!

I want to tell you about a website I wish the entire world would read. Over a year ago, my dear friend and fellow Henderson Writers’ Group member Lisa McGlaun created Lifeprints—Good News for a More Compassionate World. In contrast to the page you’re reading right now, which is pretty much a collection of shallow observations and inane rants, Lisa’s blog is a testament to her belief that we can all do our part to make the world a better place, one compassionate deed at a time.

In addition to being a blogger extraordinaire, Lisa is a thin and gorgeous mother of five—the type you’d love to hate if she weren’t one of the nicest people on earth. And she’s a fantastic writer, too. Her manuscript, All Things Temporary, was picked up for representation by a prestigious New York City literary agency about a year ago. The story is a memoir of Lisa's experience as a young foster mother to a troubled teenager. Lisa’s agent is still shopping this beautifully written project to publishers—keep your fingers crossed that someone is wise enough to publish it for all the world to enjoy!

Please check out and bookmark Lisa’s site. Read her archives and see how one beautiful soul is leaving her mark on the world.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The comfort zone is now a little wider

In last Saturday's blog I wondered if I had finally turned the corner on stage fright or had just momentarily lost my pre-performance jitters. Well, I took the stage again last night and had my best performance ever! My nerves were totally in check and I had the right about of adreneline flowing. Afterward my dear friend Kri--who'd seen me last Friday night and thought that was my best performance yet--said she couldn't believe that I'd improved some more in just a week.

I am so grateful that 14 of my friends--mostly co-workers and fellow members of the Henderson Writers' Group--chose to spend their Friday night at the Royal Resort. Thank you to everyone! Your support means the world to me.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The increasing need for the wide-angle lens

The other night while flipping through the cable channels, I landed on National Lampoon’s Animal House. I remember watching that in the theatre 30 years ago (hard to believe, huh?) and laughing my head off. The movie has held up well; I’ve seen it many times over the years and still I laughed out loud.

One thing that struck me, though: I’d always thought of John Belushi as being a heavy-set guy, but as I watched this time, he didn’t seem that big to me. I couldn’t believe how small he looked! And you know, I saw a Bonanza rerun not long ago and thought that Hoss Cartwright didn’t look as hefty as I'd recalled, either, and he was supposed to be enormous. You don't earn the nickname "Hoss" for nothing!

Chris Farley and John Candy, I think, were way, way bigger than Belushi and Hoss. And look at Tony Soprano! Has there been a trend over the past few decades? Are today’s fat guys, like, super-fat compared to the fat guys of days gone by? Is that why they’re making all the TVs with wide screens?

What do you think? Do you see this, too, or might I just have an astigmatism problem?

(No value judgments here; I’ve made no secret of my preference for the hunk-of-manliness of the husky gentlemen. Just wondering.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More on my MySpace friends

Two of my MySpace friends are going through a hard time. I know them only virtually and by first name, but the compassion I feel for them is real.

Vince (The Groove Merchant), a DJ in Pierz, Minnesota (wherever that is), posted a bulletin a couple of days ago with the headline “A Sad Day for the Groove Merchant” informing his MySpace friends that he’s getting divorced. Having been there twice myself, I sent him an email offering words of encouragement. The title of today’s bulletin was “A Very Heartfelt Thank-You.”

My MySpace friend Shanan is a 38-year-old Las Vegas native who now lives in Golden, Colorado. I accepted her friend request several weeks ago, and not long after I noticed she posted a bulletin asking for prayers for her ex-husband, who was suffering with cancer. My heart ached to read it; I can’t bear to think of the sadness I’d feel if either of my beloved exes were seriously ill. I sent her a quick message saying I’m sending positive vibes and she replied with a note of appreciation.

Last Thursday Shanan posted a bulletin, “In My Sad Time…” Her MySpace site was flooded with comments expressing condolences.

Whether we've met each other in the flesh or not, we’re all in this together. My joy is your joy; your heartbreak is my heartbreak. Take care, my friends.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Turning the corner on stage fright

Hobbies are something you’re supposed to enjoy, right? Well, I’ve had a hobby on and off for the past 5 years that's been nothing but a neck-blotching source of stress: performing stand-up comedy.

I have terrible stage fright, but only when it comes to comedy. Being in front of people doesn’t bother me in the least; I’ve done a ton of public speaking in my writing circles, and my resume details years of my experience as a corporate trainer. So it’s not like I’m worried about people noticing my crappy hair or making mental comments on my age-inappropriate outfit. I couldn’t care less about those things.

Of course, I interject a lot of humor while I’m training, but my real purpose is to instruct; I need to get people from A to B so they can better understand something or improve their job performance. With stand-up, however, the only reason I’m in front of people is to make them laugh. And that’s what scares the shit out of me. Understandably, right?

Well. last night I did a set at the Royal Resort here in Las Vegas and for the first time, I actually enjoyed performing. I wish I could identify the specific variable that made me lose my stage fright, but there have been many other times when I knew I had good material and felt confident about my appearance as well as other factors and I still approached the stage with a sense of dread.

All I can say is that last night was different, and because my nerves were under control, I did my best set ever. Keeping your nerves in check is the key to a good performance; I know this from the acting classes I took 30 years ago. And I also know a variety of strategies on how to reduce performance anxiety (meditation, visualization, etc.), but I can’t say they’ve actually helped me.

So whatever the reason, I’m hoping that after 5 years I’ve finally turned the corner. It’s hard to believe, but I’m actually looking forward to getting up there again next week! Wish me luck, and if you can, come out to see the show (9 p.m. at the Royal Resort on Convention Center Drive, just east of the Strip).

P.S. How about you? Any wisdom to share about overcoming stage fright?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fearlessly putting yourself out there

One of the things that writers are told over and over again in writers’ groups and at writers’ conferences is that you need to build an author’s platform. By that, I mean you have to develop a following so that the agents you query will look at you more favorably; they judge your commitment to your project by how hard you’re willing to work to develop your author’s platform. The understandable assumption is that the more extensive your following, the more apt your book will sell when it is finally published. Building your platform is even more important—no, essential—if you intend to self-publish.

So how do you build an author’s platform? By getting yourself out there. I jump at every chance to speak in front of people, whether it’s to teach a mini-workshop for my writers’ group, moderate a panel discussion at the library, or perform stand-up comedy. You have to make yourself known—you can create a website or start a blog site and then actively participate on other blog sites and online forums. Google “author’s platform”—and you’ll see there are a million other things you can do to build awareness of yourself and your project.

For some people, maybe even most, “putting yourself out there” is easier said than done. They question their credibility and sense of self-worth by wondering, “Who am I to be speaking to anyone? What do I know? What if someone doesn't like me or thinks I’m stupid?” Some people are just plain uncomfortable with the idea of self-promotion because they were brought up to value modesty. How many times have you heard, “Don’t brag”?

But the fact is, if you want to sell books you need to build your author’s platform, and building your platform requires you to put yourself out there. Sorry, there’s no way around it. And another fact is, the more you put yourself out there, the more you open yourself up to criticism and to people who for one reason or another will put you down.

So what?

Really. So what?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

No-calorie food for thought

What if society assigned no judgment to one’s weight? What if actresses weren’t pressured to be a preposterous size 0 and the only criterion for models was the ability to emanate beauty from within? What if your weight held no more significance than the randomly assigned digits on your license plate?

How much do you think you would weigh?

I bet most of us would still be within a few pounds of the number we saw on the scales this morning.

How much time do you spend thinking about how fat you are, talking about how fat you are, planning mealtime strategies, feeling guilty over cheating on yet another diet, lamenting about your inability to just get out there and exercise, dammit…

What if you didn’t have to worry about that anymore? Imagine how liberating that would feel--wouldn't that be quite a WEIGHT off your shoulders?

Maybe we’d be a few pounds less than the number we saw on the scales this morning.

What do you think?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sweet Laramie

Not to sound like that annoying “I love my life” Julia Roberts, but I really have had an amazing life and it bums me out to think that it’s just about half over. (I fully expect to live to be 102.) One of the many things I’m grateful for is the opportunity to have lived in Laramie for a year when my ex-husband was a visiting professor at the University of Wyoming.

When we first moved to Laramie I was immediately struck by the kind and genuine spirit of everyone I met. People in stores were the friendliest I’d ever seen, a refreshing change from the Night of the Living Dead who manned the cash registers in Buffalo, where I'd lived most recently. Even the high school and college kids were nice and polite—products of ranch life, my husband said, not the snotty, spoiled, self-centered brats that typify the offspring of today’s “helicopter parents.”

But not since my own college days at Plattsburgh State University in the 70’s had I seen such pervasiveness of alcohol. Drive-through liquor stores stood on every corner, or so it seemed. They closed late and then opened again early, even on Sundays--perfect if you wanted to get all loaded up before church. What you wouldn’t know, unless you stopped in, is that many of these establishments had a full bar set up inside; you could sit and drink right there among the shelves of spirits.

At the time, the Wyoming legislature had recently lowered the legal limit to .08 and open containers in vehicles were still fine as long as the driver didn’t have one in hand. Amazing, considering the two alcohol-related tragedies that had made national headlines in the early part of the decade: the Matthew Shepard murder and the accident on Route 287 that claimed eight members of the University of Wyoming track team.

We once saw an incredibly drunk guy staggering in the Buckhorn Bar downtown (a Wild West place complete with bullet hole in the mirror behind the bar), and when we returned hours later, we saw him continue to be served. Clearly he was shitfaced. All I could think was, how’s he getting home?

The sense of isolation was something I’d never experienced before. There we were in a city of about 25,000, with literally nothing around for miles. Cheyenne’s about a 45-minute drive, but between the tandem trucks, wind, blowing snow and black ice on I-80, I remember feeling we were taking our lives in our hands every time we made the trip to Sam’s Club.

But I-80 wasn’t as treacherous as I-287, which ran south to Fort Collins. Fort Collins is only 66 miles away and is a funky college town with shops, restaurants, and a pedestrian mall. I remember wishing Laramie could be more like Fort Collins; even just a coat of paint over downtown would have helped. Laramie had a couple of coffee shops, some nice restaurants, a yoga center, a brew pub, a few kitchy stores, but not enough going on to make it a happening location.

The Wyoming wind, as I remember, could make you mental—someone told me Wyoming had the highest suicide rate in the country because of the wind. I don’t know if that was true, but it seemed plausible enough. The air was continually out of control, resulting in an overall sense of disarray, though there’s really nothing to blow around in Wyoming. It’s that barrenness that's part of Wyoming’s appeal. You could think it’s the most beautiful or the ugliest place you’ve ever seen. I thought it was beautiful.

Railroad lines separate downtown Laramie from West Laramie, and for the first time in my life I understood the meaning of the “other side of the tracks.” One morning, soon after we first moved there, Phil and I were scouting out a place for breakfast and stumbled upon a restaurant in a truck stop out in West Laramie that reminded me of a scene from Deliverance. Cigarette smoke filled the filthy dining room.

The waitress was nice enough--her long brown hair pulled back into a thin ponytail, her happy smile revealing a dental nightmare. Who knew how old she was, probably a lot younger than she looked. I imagined her to live in one of the many trailer parks nearby. At another table sat an older couple with a young man whom I imagined to be their son--probably in his early 20’s--and, sad to say, with an IQ that was probably not much higher.

The place scared the crap out of me. Country-scary is much more uncomfortable than city-scary to me. And as small as Laramie is, much less West Laramie, I could never find that truck stop again.

I hold a true fondness for Laramie. We could get from one end of town to the other in no more than 7 minutes, even with “traffic.” I doubted we’d ever have an easier lifestyle; Phil could walk to work and so we needed only one car. The supermarkets were never crowded.

And the sun always shines on the Wild West town of Laramie.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Time for a change

Last weekend while visiting my family in Albany, New York, I noticed some leaves on the tips of the trees starting to change. While some people look forward to the end of the summer heat, when I lived there, the onset of fall gave me nothing but a sense of dread. I knew what was soon to come: a long, cold, winter.

It's a whole different story, living here in Las Vegas. The seasons are changing, to be sure; the days are noticably shorter and the average daily temperature has dropped to about 98. It will still be a while before I break out the socks and sweaters, and though I can't say I look forward to putting away my sundresses, the winters here are hardly anything to whine about. But I do welcome that sense of "summer's over, back to business."

The world (okay, the northern hemisphere) seems to be on hold from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I've had enough--I'm ready to get back to it. Correction: I'm ready for something entirely different. Maybe it's time to shake the Etch-a-Sketch of life again.

Yep, that's it. Big changes ahead...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

An uneducated choice

As I've readily admitted in a previous blog, I know nothing about politics. I don't follow what's going on in the political arena. At all. But I happened to catch a fast fact about John McCain's vice presidential choice on the front page of the newspaper that almost made me spray my morning decaf out my nose.

Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor on deck to assume the duties of the commander-in-chief, has a bachelor's in journalism.

A bachelor's degree in journalism. The person who's a heartbeat away from being the leader of the free world--and the heart in question belongs to a 72-year-old--has a friggin' bachelor's degree in journalism.

You gotta be kidding me.