Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Books I Read in 2008

I love talking about books. I really do. But I will caution you in advance: The books I managed to read this year were an uninspiring lot overall. Some good ones, even great ones, sure. But, looking back, not as many as I'd have hoped. Maybe that's because most of my actual sitting-in-my-house reading time was spent on books for my synagogue's book club, and as anyone who does the book club thing knows, those are more often hit and miss than the books you choose for yourself.

But, hey. They're also a lot more fun, for the same reason. You just never know what's behind that next cover when you're not the one doing the deciding.

And on that note...


1. Strange Bedpersons by Jennifer Crusie: I like series romances. They are fun, and they are relaxing, and they remind me of my grandma, who used to lend me all her Harlequins and Silhouettes when she finished reading them, because they were fine for me to read even if I was ten years old, and who talked about them with me, and even once took me to a fan luncheon to meet a Real Live Harlequin Author. It was awesome. Anyway...most of the time, I don't bother even listing the dozen or so that I read in a typical year, because they take half a day, and what is there to say? But I'm going to own up to a couple from this month, because they were sent to me by the folks at Harlequin, as part of some “get three books free if you try our book club” deal. And one of the romances was an early one by Jennifer Crusie, when what she wrote was romance rather than chick lit. Now, I have to say, Crusie can write really, really, really likeable almost nobody I’ve ever read. It’s fluff, but it’s fun fluff. This book did make me wonder about something though...about how romance and erotica and everything in between really ‘works.’ Because this was supposed to be a romance novel—obviously, coming from Harlequin or one of its other brands—and it has some serious sex scenes, but they were...not at all a turn-on. On the other hand, I’ve read some truly awful series romances—bad writing, bad characterizations, bad everything—that were nonetheless steamy. What’s the diff? I need to think about this more...

2. Just for Kicks by Susan Andersen: This was the second of the three books, and it, too, was fun. And steamier than Crusie’s, though not as well written. Case in point? (For the record, I couldn't face reading the third--some kind of historical romance, which is just Not My Thing--and gave it away to Goodwill.)

3. Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters: Hoo boy. That’s a rough read. Excellent book, incredibly ambitious. But sometimes I just don’t want to know, and as I read through Stuart’s life, I began to dread more and more the ‘beginning’ I knew was coming. This was somebody’s boy, and it all just went wrong. And worse yet, there was a lot in him to mourn when it did go wrong.

4. The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman: I read this for my temple book club and, well, I shouldn't even list this, to be honest, because I only got through half of it, or maybe less, before the club met. And I'm never going to finish it because I just didn't...I don't know. I didn't get it maybe. Or maybe it's just that memoirs are so prominent these days that a biography like this--written by someone who never met the people in question--just feels so distant. And fictional. I mean, I would read these details or thoughts or occurrences and know that there was no way Ackerman could truly know this to be true, and that put me off. I think I would have prefered it if it were presented as truly fictional. Or maybe not.


5. Life of Pi by Yann Martel: I already wrote a blog entry about this, but in short, it was really good. And wow. And I’m a sucky book critic.

6. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (with Em): We loved this to pieces. To pieces. I'd have thought it might be too 'young' for Em...not the language, which is plenty mature, but the whole sweetness and lightness of it. But not at all. We are now officially Ann Fans.

7. Atonement by Ian McEwan: Someday I'll write a whole long blog entry about how the one kind of story I just cannot abide--in books, in movies, on TV--are stories in which everything hinges on a misunderstanding, or a piece of information withheld. And that entry will explain why, although this was clearly a masterfully written book, I got about halfway through and had to stop reading. It was making me so uncomfortable that picking it up to continue reading resulted in my becoming physically ill. No book is worth that. I don't think...


8. Triangle by Katharine Weber: A fictional story about (though that ‘about’ should be in quotes, because it’s not, not really about) the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911. I read this for my temple book club, Just, no. Why so much? Why so ambitious? Why so ploddingly plotted...or, rather, ploddingly overplotted. Why so many parts that go nowhere? Why no characters that feel even slightly real? Seriously. Just no. Which is a pity, because it’s not that it’s bad. It’s just that it’ good.


9. Lamb by Christoper Moore: Funny. Interesting. And probably way more so to people who actually know ANYTHING about Christ's early life. Which I do not. Because I am only just catching up on the key points in my own religion, people! I'll get to it. But in the meantime, I'm going to carry Chris Moore's version of the story in my head for a while, and smile when I think about it.

10. Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata: Emily read this in maybe two days, and she's not usually a won't-put-the-book-down kind of kid. (Though she's since done the same with the entire Twilight series, swallowing it basically whole. Oy.) Then she told me I had to read it, too. It's a beautiful book on its own, 'juvenile' or 'young adult' or whatever it's supposed to be aside. I was glad I read it.

11. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: I read this for my book club, too. And enjoyed it. It was fun. It was well plotted. It wasn't especially innovative or anything, but it didn't need to be to be a just plain old good book.

12. The Maytrees by Annie Dillard: I would like to read it again, just so that I could mark the lines that stopped my heart with their earnestness and beauty and truth. I really would like to read it again...if I'd had the faintest idea what the hell it was about the first time I read it. All I know is that it was depressing, and yet sweet, and yet annoying.


13. My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger (with Em): A disclaimer, first. This is my brother-in-law's book. It's a young adult book, but it's also not. It's an everyone book. There's a young character in it who is based on N, and there are stories in it that come from Em, and there's a character named after me...two, actually...and I've read it a few times in its various draft forms, and of course I'm going to love it, because of all that. And yet I can still say with certainty that even if it weren't my brother-in-law's book, I'd have enjoyed it immensely. Because you can't not. It's that kind of book.


14. Fluke by Christopher Moore: He can’t write a bad book, and they’re all totally enjoyable. But if I had to say that one wasn’t my absolute fave, it would be this one, which just got a little too...bad sci fi for my tastes.

15. Miriam’s Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich: An interesting memoir made even more interesting to me because, while my own sort of Jewish journey isn't taking me anywhere near becoming kosher, my feelings about my journey are similar to Elizabeth's. Plus, you can't really go wrong with a book that ends most chapters with some yummy sounding recipes.


16. A History of Love by Nicole Krauss: This was intriguingly written, and it was ambitious, and it was unusual. And it was good. Better than I'd expected it to be when I started it. It lost me in the end a bit--there were twists I'm not sure I followed, threads that still felt tangled when I'd closed the book--but it was still good, for all that. I was impressed.


18. The Shiniest Jewel by Marian Henley: This was a graphic novel/memoir about an adoption sent to me by a publisher that wanted me to review it on my blog There wasn’t much to say. I was underwhelmed. So I never bothered to review it, and now I'm sure nobody will ever send me another book to review for them, and there goes my career as a book reviewer. Sigh.


19. Shiksa Goddess by Wendy Wasserstein: Read this for my book club. I know this isn't going to be a popular opinion, but...I don't think she's a very good prose writer. I don't think playwrights always are. These essays truly underwhelmed me. Even the ones that were supposed to break my heart. I mean, those were better than some of the other more reporterly stuff, but still. I just couldn't find anything to rave about. My book club compatriots disagreed with me. Strongly, in some cases. So...there you go. Just one woman's opinion.

20. In The Image by Dara Horn: Read this for my book club, too. Hmm. This one REALLY lost me in the end with a flight of fancy that just...turned me off. So much so that I think it tainted my opinion of the rest of the book, which I had been enjoying. Not loving, not eating up, not melding with, nothing like that. But I'd been enjoying it. Until I was knocked entirely off kilter by its bizarre finish, and left wondering if I'd ultimately wasted my time. (Some of my book club compatriots disagreed with me strongly about this one, too. That's why book clubs are so much fun.)


NADA. Sad, no?


21. Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner: Read this for my book club. (See a pattern here?) I found it a littel bit trite. I'm not a big Weiner fan, though. And while I didn't dislike it (like I did some of her other books, notably Goodnight Moon and Little Earthquakes), I just didn't find anything to write home about. And so I'll stop writing home about it now.

22. Flirting with Pride and Prejudice edited by Jennifer Crusie: Some of these essays were fun. Some of them had some insight. But some of them were kind of insipid, too. Still, time spent thinking about Jane Austen's work is never time spent badly.

23. Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky: The last of the book club reads for this year. I had very low expectations for this book, thinking it would be pedantic and preachy and some other p words I'm too lazy to come up with right now. I was very wrong. It was fun, and gossipy, and interesting, and it made me want to go out and find some Yiddish books to read. Even though my Yiddish is limited to less than a dozen words, most of them relating to body parts.


24. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery (read with Em): Nothing will ever beat the joy of discovering Anne in Anne of Green Gables, but we still loved this book.

25. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai: Too often, the circumstances surrounding the reading of a book influences your opinion of that book. Two of my all-time-favorite books (Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Morrison's Beloved) were books I read in a single weekend when I was, sick-sick...stuck in bed with a high fever and aches and pains and needing SOMETHING to distract me. Would I have liked them as much if I'd started them, as I did The Inheritance of Loss, on an airplane trip in mid-summer, then put them down for a couple of months while I read book-club books, then picked them up again only to get distracted by something else? Would I have liked them as much if it was only in the last third of the book that I actually read more than a few dozen pages in a row without reading another book in between? All of which is to say...I really, really was impressed with The Inheritance of Loss. I think that, had I read it like a book is meant to be read--in one more-or-less solid go, without huge gaps of time during which other plots got stuck in my head--it may have made even more of an emotional impression. Nonetheless, it's a definite recommend. Not a bad way to wrap up the year. Not a bad way at all.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Books I Heard in 2008

So earlier this year I said I was going to do my book lists and comments throughout the year, so as not to inundate you all at the end of the year. (Inundate you, bore you to's one and the same, really.) Apparently, however, I lied. I think I did manage to put up one list of books, but then never did it again.

And now, here it is, days from the new year, and I haven't posted in AGES, and even though I have the next week off of work, I have a freelance project to do, and I need to catch up on all the household chores I don't have time to do now that I work in an office, and my brain hurts too much to think of topics to blog about. come the books!

First up, the books I listened to on my iPod. All of 'em in one batch, some with very little in the way of commentary. Because, like I said, if my brain hurts too much to blog about funny things my kids say or stupid things I do, then it's certainly not up to the job of remembering what all these books were about. So if I didn't write up an in-depth commentary at the time, 'taint gonna happen now.

Like I said, I've already written about the first five, so they're without comment. After that, it's catch as catch can:


1. Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

2. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson


3. The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve

4. The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro

5. True North by Jim Harrison


6. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson: Not his best. Not his funniest. But even at his not-best and not-funniest, he’s still wonderful.

7. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe: Hmm. Not sure this was as great as I'd assumed it would be. Or maybe just not sure I liked it as much as I'd assumed I would.

8. Peony in Love by Lisa See: Mel. Oh. Dra. Ma. Oy vey.

9. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell: Painfully brilliant. Wonderfully brilliant. Brilliantly brilliant.


10. Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison: Revisiting characters from other books in other situations is risky. This was totally worth it.

11. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards: I thought this was a pretty mediocre book. But while she tied up the action in neat and annoying bows, she let many of the characters live and/or die without recognizing their flaws or uncovering truths, and that pleased me somewhat.


12. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: He seems to relish long descriptions of appalling violence, and that doesn’t work for me. His plots were obvious; there was hardly a surprise in there. And yet, I really loved these characters. And the very last line in the book made every single hair on my body stand on end. So it was worth it.

13. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell: Really fascinating book. I often go out of my way not to read nonfiction, especially nonfiction with any kind of science slant, because that's what I do for a living, and reading that sort of thing often feels too much like work. But this was fun, and fascinating, and diverting. I see why it made the splash it did.


14. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe: Sad and beautiful. Resonated even today. A bit of the too-tidy ending syndrome going on, but I probably would have been dissatisfied without everything coming together in the end.

15. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Wha? Huh? This was considered good once? People liked this book...and still do? They maybe found something redeeming about it, about a SINGLE ONE of its characters? I DO NOT GET IT.


16. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan: This was good. Even very good, though also sad and more than a little frustrating. What I may have liked most about it, though, was the interview with McEwan at the end of the audiobook, where he explains why he only tells the “what happened next” story for one of the two main characters, and where he talks about various unspoken subplots. I love that kind of thing.

17. Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian: [WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILER] The very second I heard the “doctor’s reports” and realized that they were genderless and undated, I knew what the ‘surprise’ at the end of this book was going to be, and I began hating it right then and there. I never really stopped, even though there were a few twists I didn't see coming.

18. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: Wow. Wao. This may be the best book I'll read all year. It's certainly the best one to date.


19. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell: Even better than Blink.

20. The Love Wife by Gish Jen: Eh. Felt contrived. Didn't much care for any of the characters. But it held me, and it made me think, and it caught me by surprise now and again, so...I can't really complain.

21. Identical Strangers by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein: A memoir of twins separated at birth and reunited as adults. Fascinating story, but it loses something along the way: Steam? Focus? Something.


22. Body Surfing by Anita Shreeve: I didn’t like ANY of these characters. Mostly because they were just that...characters. Calling them two-dimensional might give them credit for one more dimension than is actually deserved.

23. Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult: I have GOT to stop reading books by these same old same old ‘bestselling’ authors. They just aren’t especially good. This one had its occasional moments, but it also had some of the most egregious errors of fact I’ve ever read in a novel before, and I really wanted bad things to happen to most of the main characters at various points, because they were all so...stupid/misguided/trite/mean-spirited.


24. gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson: Wow. She is really good. By all rights, I should have hated this book; I’m not a fan of murders and suspense and issues that could be easily resolved if people would just TALK to one another. Plus, I am so very much not a southern girl, which should have made the whole mindset pretty alien to me. And yet I loved it from word one, all the way through to the end. Not a perfect book, but a perfectly wonderful experience with a book.

25. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler: What in the world made me think this was anything but trash fiction? Because it had Jane Austen in the title? Fun, frothy, and yet...HATED the main character in ANY incarnation, that self-centered little twit.

26. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri: God, she’s so good. Not a clunker in the bunch, though there were, as always, stories I liked better than others. The title story took my breath away.

27. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan: I loved him wholeheartedly before I listened to this book and got scolded by him and told how stupid and deluded I times using facts and/or logic that don't really hold up. Still, his main ideas are solid, if he wasn’t so obnoxious about them. (And I’m a convert; imagine how the non-converts feel.)


28. The Interruption of Everything by Terry McMillan: Ooooh, didn't you just want to SMACK the husband? Not a great book, not even an especially good one, but smooth and gossipy enough to make it fun.

29. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: I had no idea. This book wasn't at ALL about what I thought it was about. Which was wonderful. Because what it really was about was so much more interesting than a painting that grows old while its subject stays young. Haunting stuff.

30. The Nineteenth Wife by David Ebershoff: Gee, think Ebershoff has a problem with polygamy? Not that I don’t. Just that...this couldn’t have been a more thoroughly laser-focused novel if he’d tried. And it was long. Not like there wasn’t ROOM to consider other themes. I mean, he has at least one gay main character, and that makes barely a blip in the plot.


31. Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott: Not as good as the first two books of faith-ish essays. But I still think she can write the pants off most folks.

32. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth: Antisemitism. Lindbergh as President. An alternative history for the United States. It was chilling and mundane and disturbing. And hard, in the end, to figure out just what had gone on, and who was right and who was wrong and who the real villains were (well, aside from Hitler). Which is pretty impressive in a novel about Nazis.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Postscript, In Emails

From: N's Teacher
To: TC

By the way, N did say his poem for the class after lunch today. : )

From: TC
To: Baroy

See below, from N's teacher. It brought tears to my eyes. I'm not sure whether they're happy or sad.

From: Baroy
To: TC

A little of both.

12 Words

After the poetry recital, I sat in my car and cried--full of self-pity--for about 15 minutes.

All over 12 words. The 12 words in the poem N had been assigned for the class recital. The 12 words he just couldn't being himself to step up to the microphone and say to the assembled parents. The 12 words he had practiced dozens of times at home, full of expression and excitement, but which he had told us...and his teacher had told us...he hadn't yet been able to practice in front of the class. Which meant it was unlikely he would manage to pull it together for the recital. Which he indeed did not do.

He also did not recite either of the two class poems along with his 19 classmates, instead standing stock-still, mouth clamped shut, twisting his hands compulsively, as the rest of the kids said the words in unison. When I asked him why after--as he came over for a hug, just like the rest of the kids did to their parents, if they were there--he said it was because he was too nervous. "I needed to just take deep breaths," he said.

When I'd asked him over the past week whether he'd managed to do his poem for the class, he'd shook his head every time. Yesterday, he told me, "They all keep saying, 'N, just say it.' They have too much pressure on me."

It's not like I didn't know what was coming today. So why the tears?

Because I could see he was sad, and a little afraid we'd be mad at him, though he kept insisting he was fine. Because most of the time, he 'passes' more or less seamlessly, but this time he was the sore thumb, the only kid out of 20 who hid his face in hands, pulled up his pants legs to scratch at his knees while the other kids recited, kept shrugging his shoulders every time one of his classmates would look at him as if to prompt him to keep up with the class.

Because I think he knew it, and was a little bit embarrassed.

Because--and this is the hardest part for me to admit out loud--I, too, was embarrassed...mostly because all this took place in front of the other parents, most of whom I do not know, most of whom do not know him. All of whom had to have 'seen.'

And because--and this is the hardest part for me to deal with in general--Baroy was so visibly shaken by this, angry even, though it wasn't clear at whom he was directing it. He gave N a fierce hug when he came over to us, but then proceded to vent to--no, to be honest, it was at--me as we left the school. Where I tend to spend too much time looking at and worrying over the 'differences' in N, Baroy tends to spend way too little time acknowledging them. Today he couldn't pretend there is no difference between his son and the rest of the kids, and he wanted an answer, a something-to-do, to make sure it doesn't happen again. And because I didn't agree with his off-the-top-of-his-head, man-like, needing-to-DO-something-right-NOW solutions, he got angry with me, and we snapped at each other, and something that should have brought us together left us stalking off in separate directions, him to head home, me to head to my car and drive to work. But only after crying for a while, wondering whether we'll ever figure out what N really needs, wondering whether--even if we do--we'll be able to get it for him, wondering if I can forgive myself for letting the presence of the other parents get to me, wondering if I am the only person with a 'special needs' kid who can't seem to get on the same page as her husband. Feeling generally sorry for myself. Feeling pathetic. Being pathetic.

All over 12 words.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fire on the Mountain!

Friday night I was planning on going to Shabbat services because of a special panel discussion they were planning for afterwards. Em was at a sleepover, Baroy uninterested. But N was dying to come with me, especially after hearing that his friend Zach would be there. This was a potential problem; I had planned some Chanukah and Christmas shopping, and didn't want to drag him along. So Zach's Mom (I'll call her ZM) told me I should drop him at her house--she lives right up the block from the synagogue--and she'd feed him dinner and bring him down to services when they came down.

We drove out there at around 5:30, and I parked the car by the temple and decided to walk up to ZM's house. It was while we were walking that I suddenly noticed something very...well, damn. I'm not sure how to describe it. It looked like an entire section of the ridgeline of the mountains north of us was being backlit. The mountains were outlined in the thinnest of lines of white, white, WHITE light. I would have assumed it actually WAS being backlit by a spotlight or something if I hadn't known that it was an uninhabited area...and if it wasn't such an obviously wide swath of ridgeland.

It was strange. Despite the whole Judaism thing--my increasing interest in theology and even to some degree in the concepts and practices of faith--I am still not very much of a touchy feely 'spiritual' person. (It's actually one of the things I always thought more or less precluded me from being involved in religion...a belief about which my rabbi and others have disabused me over the last few years.) And yet, here I was, walking past my synagogue and watching what I could only describe to myself as some sort of holy light emanating from the ridge. I actually shivered, and pointed it out to N, who was more or less unimpressed.

When we got to ZM's house, I asked her to come outside with me. I wanted her to see what I'd seen, to get her take on it. We had to walk a few houses south of hers to get a view of it, and what we saw alarmed her. What had previously been a thin line of light was now bluging right in the middle, flickering even, spreading as we watched. There were billowing white clouds of smoke above the flickering area, lit up and flickering a bit as well.

"I think that's a fire," ZM said. And while that's not what I'd seen at first, I saw it now. How could I have missed it? Flickering. Smoke. Growing in size.

We returned quickly to her house, wondering whether we should bother calling the fire department, assuming a fire that large would have already prompted many calls from panicked homeowners closer to the site. We decided ZM should call the local fire department--not 911, just the regular number--to see if it had already been reported.

The woman who answered said that no, nobody had called this in yet, and we were puzzled. Really? Could we possibly have been the first? We told her the firemen could come by ZM's house if they wanted on their way up the mountain, so we could show them the area where the fire was, but that it was pretty obvious; they really couldn't miss it. Then we bundled up N and Zach and went back outside to wait, walking down the few houses to where the ridge could be seen. "Funny how we're not smelling any smoke," ZM mused as we turned around, looking up at the rideline to find...

The moon.

The MOON. Which had just risen. Against a white fluffly cloud Not smoke. CLOUD.

"Oooookay. I'll tell them not to come then," said the clearly unamused fire department operator, when ZM called back, somehow managing to choke out an apology around the laughter.

"Oy," I said, wiping the tears from my eyes when we finally stopped giggling.

"Oy indeed," ZM said, setting us both off again.

A few hours later, during the panel discussion...after a disastrous attempt on my part to trap a cricket that had somehow made it into the social hall and jumped onto our table, an attempt that resulted instead in the cricket hopping onto several other people, making each of them scream in turn and totally disrupting the entire proceedings...ZM leaned over to me and said, "Well, that was embarrassing."

"Please," I said. "We called the fire department tonight to report the MOON. Nothing else can touch that."

I do have to say, though, that ZM's helpless, doubled-over laugh-weeping--and the many, many heads it turned--as a result of that comment came pretty darned close.

[Amusing postscript: When I got home Friday night, I logged onto Twitter to find a tweet from one of the women I follow, who lives near me. The tweet said, "biggest full moon of the year. go out and enjoy."

I immediately emailed DZ. "So, see? It was unusually big! And probably extra HOT, too. THAT is why we had to call the fire department on it. I feel much better now."]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How Bad Is It Out There? Soooooo Bad.

It's just terrifying, isn't it? The way the world is imploding? Or is it just those of us in the world of publishing and such?

All I know is, each time I send out a press release to our list of media contacts, I get back a good half-dozen new bouncebacks that say something along the lines of, "I no longer work for Big Important Newspaper/Small Important Newspaper/Interesting Magazine. You can now reach me at Some University PR Office/the Local Burger King/the Unemployment Office."

But it's not even safe here in the ivory tower. We've been getting dispatches from the university's president telling us about the hits to the endowment we've taken, and the fears about promised gifts, the money for which may no longer exist in this stock market. Not to mention that there will be fewer gifts coming in in the future, and who knows what's going to happen to all the other sorts of funding we receive?

There are, these missives state uncategorically, going to have to be cuts. Nobody's saying yet what those cuts will be, and how deep, and where. But they will happen. And here I am, just three months into this job and with three months left on probation--which means they could let me go without paying me an extra cent, any time they want, for no reason at all. So, yeah. A little worried here.

Which of course has led me to look around for ways to soften the blow, if it comes. It'd be a huge blow, this being our only source of income. But if I could know that there are places to scurry off to, or if I could start gathering freelance jobs now--god knows my income alone isn't enough for us as it is, Baroy's freelance income is pretty minimal right now, and I've been too busy to search for freelance work to add to it--then I might feel a little less like throwing up 24 hours a day.

So off I went to ProBlogger to see what might be out there for an enterprising not-so-young blogger like me. And there was nothing...well, maybe pennies-a-post stuff that I would qualify for, but really. What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? I mean, so many people make Big Bucks out there in the blogging world. Why can't I find even Little Bucks (as opposed to little pennies)? And yet, I can't. I feel like an outsider in a field--writing, I mean--where I used to be a Big Fish. It's upsetting from an ego perspective, and terrifying from a "what happens if I'm laid off" perspective.

So then off I went to my old friend MediaBistro, to see what sorts of traditional freelance gigs might be in the offing, or even what sorts of jobs are out there, either here or in New York, should worst come to worst. And what I saw made me almost literally gasp out loud. Back in the day, when I'd go look there, I'd be depressed because out of the 1600 to 2000-plus job listings they'd have, only a small handful would be SoCal based. But now...omigod. Look in the left hand column of that link. As of this writing, there are 664 jobs posted TOTAL. Literally less than a third of what I normally would find there. If that isn't a sign of a media apocalypse, I don't know what is.

And, as I was saying to Kristen earlier today, it seems like all this economic illness is getting into people's bloodstreams. Every day, it seems, I have another friend telling me about her cancer diagnosis, her parent's imminent demise, the loss of a baby, the end of a marriage. It just feels ugly out there. Ugly and mean and scary. And whereas in years past I would have been able, at least, to tell myself that that's just my screwed-up neurotransmitters speaking, that's not the case these days. Right now, it's ugly, mean, scary...and real. Very, very real.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The No-Time-For-An-Update Update

Em had an initially Very Disappointing Day today, wherein her soccer team lost its second playoff game in these double-elimination playoffs, ending their (really wonderful for many reasons) season. At the end of the game she was told by her coach that she had apparently missed the cutoff for the all-star league by just a couple of girls; he wasn't at the 'draft' because he was coaching their game, but the report he got didn't include her name.

So it was a double thrill when Coach D called tonight (and left a message on Baroy's cell, AND emailed Baroy as well) to tell Em that she had indeed made the team, and was she interested in playing for him during the All-Star season?

You could have read the fine print on a contract using the glow of delight from her face. Me, I was kind of looking forward to being done with soccer for the year. But I can't begrudge her this. She so loves playing this game, and to be singled out as an all-star, after being the highest-ranked of the younger half of the team...Like I said, I can't begrudge.

Go, All-Stars!

I went to a short adult-ed class at my synagogue this morning, where we talked about Chanukah and its meaning and how to make it more meaningful, etc. At the end, I asked my rabbi about the whole new book thing, and it's official: I need to let it go.

Well, that's giving myself a little too little in the way of credit. What he actually said to me, in short, was that it was perfectly reasonable for agencies/groups/organizations to ask for new and unwrapped toys and even books. But he also said that it was perfectly reasonable for me to respond to that by saying, "In that case, I don't have anything to give you," and to go off and find a group that would be happy to take what I have to offer. And, most importantly, he said that while, yes, there is this commandment to give tzedakah (a Hebrew word which both does and doesn't mean charity), there is no commandment that says I have to give tzedakah to my school district's Healthy Start program. If what I have or want to give does not match up with what they need, I should move on. I shouldn't resent them, but neither should I feel badly for not doing it their way.

And so that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to let it go. I'm even going to try not to make a big (OK, bigger) deal over why I'm not giving to this specific toy and book drive. I'm just not going to give, and I'm going to try really, really hard not to assume that I'm being looked at as a cheap Jew for not giving. I will, instead, bring my gently used books to the places my rabbi suggested today, and if I am asked by anyone at school, I will say that I've already done my charitable giving for the holiday season and leave it at that.

Or, at least, that's the plan.

Now, if I can only stop myself from snarling at the gay-hating evangelical Salvation Army crews outside every single frigging supermarket in the world right now, I'll be damned near eligible for sainthood. If Jews had saints, I mean. And if saints were allowed to curse like sailors.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's That Time Again!

Yup. Just sent off my first Scrooge-like letter of the year. I'm startin' early!

Before I get into the specifics, let's take a little trip down memory lane, shall we? Do you all remember last year, when I was all pissed off about demands for new and unwrapped toys? (It's the second half of that post that's relevant here.) And how, even after I'd thought about it, I still didn't entirely buy the argument? (And for the record, the really cool Tasmanian-devil-playing-golf shirt I found at Goodwill is STILL one of N's favorite pieces of clothing. So screw you all. And I say that with love.)

So, guess how I greeted the flyer that came home with the kids from school today...the one that read, in part:
Your donations of new toys and books will let these children and their families know that our community cares about them.
The flyer goes on to mention how the toys AND BOOKS have to be new at least four more times. Each time with the word in bold, and sometimes underlined.

And so, just moments ago, I emailed the woman on the PTA board with me who is in charge of this program for our school:
Hi, Woman On PTA Board With Me:

I was wondering if you perhaps had a contact at Our District's Healthy Start regarding the holiday book and toy drive. I wanted to pass along my disappointment at the idea that we're only allowed to give to our community if we're willing to spend money--the implication that only people who have extra money these days care about their community. I sort of understand why they care so much that toys be new...but books? Does a crease in the spine of a book really devalue it so much? Why would you turn away used books?

Maybe I'm just touchy on this subject because those tough economic times are pretty much everywhere, and it's been ages since I have bought my kids a book that wasn't used (from Local Kids' Consignment Store, or the library, or Goodwill)...and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Anyway, I shouldn't be dumping this on you, and I doubt that one cranky, stressed-out parent's opinion is really going to make a difference to the folks down at the district office, but I feel like I need to share it with them. So, if you could point me in the right direction...


When I indicated, just a few days ago, that I wasn't planning on rejoining the PTA board next year, that I feel like I need to step back a bit, take a break after SIX YEARS of doing this, one or two people told me how disappointed they were. I didn't buy it; I'm pretty sure they're secretly planning a We're Rid of TC party. But after this? I'm thinking there's going to be an open bar.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Let Go

I've been doing this for well over 20 years now, this writing for money thing. And yet, the moment of letting go remains terrifying for me.

It happens every single time. I finish an article, a book, a press release. I put it into an email for an editor to look at, or a scientist to review; I post it on a website for the world to read. And then, with almost as much inevitability as my next breath, comes the panic.

Sometimes it's brief--a blip, an extra heartbeat, maybe a catch in my throat. Sometimes, though, it nips at me for hours, on and off. Today's was a true nipper. I sent off a press release to the scientists about whom I was writing, asking for their changes and comments. It was a good release, I was sure of it. Well, not sure. Fairly sure. As sure as I ever am.

But then, half an hour or so passed, and the doubt started creeping in. I rarely hear back quickly; scientists are busy doing science, most of the time, and it often takes hours for them to be in a place where they're ready and able to review a document. But surely--my brain hissed at me--one time, the delay will mean more than that. One time, my brain said, it will be because they hate what you've written, think you're an idiot. One time, it will be because you got it all wrong, misunderstood the entire study. Who do you think you are, anyway? Like you couldn't get it wrong? Like you're so smart?

And just like that, the panic set in. It followed me on a walk to a restaurant to meet with a writer; it jabbed at me while we ate, then followed me back to my office. Where there were no emails in my inbox from the scientists in question. And so it jabbed away some more while I tried to do some other tasks...jab, jab, jab...until I finally gave in and contrived an excuse to email them again, asking if they'd received my initial mail, you know how these campus email servers are, just wanted to check, no pressure, no rush.

And received a response within an hour telling me what a great job I'd done on the release, how there were only a couple of very small changes, thanks for all your work.

So dumb. So unnecessary. So classic me.

Last night was the worst, though. I'd posted a press release online--a release already approved by several scientists, as well as gone over by some copy editors. It was after midnight--I'd needed to get it up on the site asap for reasons that are too boring and complicated to go into--and I was working on my laptop, in bed, ready to roll over and go to sleep once this task was done. All I did was copy, paste, fill in a form, and push a 'submit' button.

But as soon as that was done, the terror swooped in. As planned, I'd put the laptop on the night table, turned off the light, and slid under the covers. And then my heart started to pound. What if I'd pushed the wrong button, posted it in the wrong place? Surely, somewhere in that release was a mistake, a big mistake, a life-altering error, something I was bound to regret. In a release. A press release. About subduction zones. (No, it's not only you. The panic made no sense to me either. But, of course, that defines panic, that non sense.)

I timed it. It took more than 45 minutes for my heart to stop thudding, for my finger and cheeks to stop tingling, for my chest to loosen up. I was asleep within minutes, after that.

This is what I love doing, mind you. I love writing. I love learning about all sorts of really cool scientific findings and then telling other people why they're really cool. I'm good at it. I know it in my heart, my gut.

Now someone just needs to convince my brain.