Accept It?

IMG_4431We all gripe but maybe there’s a way to not mind this endless winter and it is this: Accept it.

Look at it this way: Sure there’s always that salt-and-sand mix on the floor by the door, agreed. You track it in on your boots and shoes and every day there’s more of it. Always with the salt and sand by the door!  But what are you gonna do? Sure, you can sweep it up every day and sure, you can put down a mat for those boots and shoes, but mostly things are gonna look a little litter-boxy for a while yet over there by the door. 

Accept that fact. Accept the fact that there’s still treacherous walking caused by the snow and the ice and the slush and the more snow. Over the last few weeks I have seen so many people take that banana-peel-style leap-and-tumble I feel like I’m watching some kind of super-athletic dance company in action. The other day at the grocery store I saw five people on crutches with casts on their legs. Five! And all of them were under 40!

Sometimes it just feels safer to just stay indoors, so accept that fact.

Maybe even try being glad for it. Because when you’re spending more time indoors you have the chance to tidy up a bit.

Take the job of cleaning your closets. People don’t clean their closets in summer. It’s now that we’re moved to do it.  I’ve been cleaning closets myself lately.

 I’ve also been customizing things. Yesterday I dyed a bunch of sad old towels with hilarious results. (Let’s just say it looks like my man will be wearing underpants of a gorgeous sunrise hue for a while.)

And today I began going over letters sent to me by people who have been reading my column all these years. 

I laughed all over again at the one where a woman wrote, in reference to the picture that accompanied my column at that time, “What makes you think you’re so great? Your eyes are beady, your hair is out of style, and your teeth look false.”

After the initial shock, I laughed when I first saw it too. And when I published my first collection of short funny pieces I put that quote right on the back cover where the gushing remarks usually go. 

I took at lightly in other words. I took it with a grain of salt.

Maybe that’s what we all have to do right now. Maybe we have take these snow banks with a grain of salt – and God knows the salt is in good supply. We can just amble over to that spot where our boots and shoes are and take some from there.

As I say, what’re you gonna do?

the above-mentioned blurb , I Thought He Was a Speed Bump

Speed Bump Back Cover closer

 

 

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Vacationing in My Ride

So I guess what I was saying is that first book o’ mine  was basically about those awkward moments like  like the parish priest shows up at your door and your dog comes downstairs with half a box of tampons in his mouth.

Or when your children’s poor daddy, as sleep-deprived as you are with your two little girls under four, opens his briefcase at the big presentation to find the frilly underpants of Baby Crawl Away tucked carefully into one corner.

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That’s I Thought He Was a Speed Bump, the book I was waxing nostalgic about yesterday. I wrote it when I was young and almost everything in life struck me funny, aside from the sudden death of my only parent, which threw me for a loop that looped for four long years.

With the passage of time however, I began to see how death fits into the larger scheme. That’s when I wrote this book whose cover you see here.

I had two themes in mind for it: that everything returns if you wait long enough – like spring for example – and that you can find a wonderful kind of calm in this crazy modern life if you can just manage sit there for a minute when you pull up outside your house – just sit there and let the inner waters clear for a bit instead of rushing inside and bossing everyone around, including yourself (‘Start the dinner!’ ‘Fold those clothes!’ Why do we shout these things to ourselves all the time?)

I love a double theme, in this case the theme of the seasons AND the theme of learning to chill out more, and come to think of it so does my littlest grandson who can’t resist being two things on Halloween. (This year he was a Power Ranger AND a Vampire.) But they say what you need to sell a book or movie is “high concept,” the ability to sum it up in a sentence and that’s where I might have gone a little wrong with my two themes. It did OK though; I got it into all these Barnes & Noble stores and then drove all over the map giving funny talks about it.

Then of course it all slowed down and the books gradually came back to me.

This happened right after I had gone to a second printing so I still have almost 3,000 mint copies which is why I’m offering them here.

As I say, this book is funny like Speed Bump AND has some death in it but what doesn’t, right?

YOU can have a copy for just $10 bucks too if you like.

One of my favorite chapters is this one about letters to Santa, taken right from the pages of an actual newspaper. (You’ll have to click on this first image to see it in a readable size..)



and the last page of the chapter:

This story makes me laugh even today . Kids huh?

When Will Dad Become a Woman?

Now that it’s December I could start right in making fun of the crass materialism of the holidays – OR I could offer for your reading delight a series of lovely books with nice large print and free shipping ha ha!

This odd purply-looking book is the first one I ever wrote and is funny in the way all books are funny that have in them small children saying embarrassing things. I called it I Thought He Was a Speed Bump because all 50 of its chapters revolve around the fact that we rush so much in life we don’t notice what we’re running past. Or through.  Or  over.

I also called it that because that’s the exact answer  the two-and-a-half year-old next door made when questioned about WHY, two times in a row, he climbed on his tricycle and ran right over his little friend’s tummy.

The best fun with this book was deciding on the copy for the back of it which appears below. Once an angry reader said of my column,  which has always appeared with my picture, that my teeth looked false, my hair was out of style and my eyes were beady. I just had to put that on the cover; it was such a good comeuppance for the mighty amounts of showing off I had done in the by-then dozen years I had been writing a weekly column.

As you can see, John Updike once said something about my writing too so I put that there as well. There can be no doubt that short phrase is what got the book noticed and reviewed and bought by public libraries and schools all over the country. Maybe it’s a painless way to reach the sort first-person essay.

All I know is I loved looking back through all my old columns to choose the 50 best, based not only on my own assessment but also on the amount of mail each one had  generated.

And I boy did I get a kick out of making up the titles for each short chapter, as well as names for each of the book’s five sections. The section about learning stuff, for example,  is called “Thy Kingdom Come I Will Be Dumb,” what one of my kids somberly intoned at age four while trying to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

In the section called “When Will Dad Become a Woman?” these are some of the chapter headings:

  • Nine Months Later it Turns Into You
  • Boy, Oh Boy
  • Perfume-Giving Ken
  • I’m Not Naked (I’m Wearing My Penis)
  • Pod People from the Planet Destructo
  • Smoke ’em If You Got ’em
  • Bum Bum!
  • Nothing But Gonads and a Grin

Gosh it was a fun book to write, and it’s still a fun book to read. The best letter I got was when a lady wrote in to say she laughed so hard reading one of its stories the coffee she was drinking shot out her nose and across the kitchen table.  High praise!

So if you’d to have like a copy or two for holiday gift-giving just go here for the form. The very day your check comes to my PO Box, I’ll hurry over to my ‘warehouse,’ crack open a fresh case of Speed Bumps and send however many you would like, for just $10 each, shipping included.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow I’ll tell about the next book I did, which is also fun but with a little crying in it too. For now though, here’s a very small taste of one story (click on it to make it readable.)  Maybe it will make you smile – hope so!

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When in Doubt Cut it Out

The day my piece about how to write the college essay appeared I heard from a young woman in Canada who was wondering if I could take a look at what she had written for her first-person essay. Hers was 80 words longer than the 500-word limit she said. Could I see what I thought of it and maybe help her figure out what to cut?

“Sure!” I said. I’m 30 years a columnist! I probably can’t write more than five or six hundred words together anymore. I told her I’d love to read her essay, which turned out to be so charming, I almost couldn’t see what to cut.

So instead I gave her a piece of advice I’ve never given myself, which was to go through the piece and take out just about every adverb she came across. In fact I went through it and did that, then emailed it back so she could see what she thought.

I’m not sure she liked the new version but I sure did. To me it seemed so much stronger and more, I don’t know.. authoritative without the adverbs. It’s a paradox: I mean you think these modifiers are really going to light up your writing but instead they make you sound like you’re trying to coerce a certain response from your readers, or put something over on them, or God forbid sell them something.

Today I’ve been mentally composing something about this past weekend when our littlest grandchild, under our care for a day and a night, slowly sickened. I could write “He was very cold, he said,” or I could simply write  “He was cold, he said.” Just setting this down helps me see that the second sentence is probbaly the more effective one – and not just because it’s shorter. Sooooo what if I apply this rule to my own writing? Flipping through the first book I ever did, I came upon this description of the day my appliances died. Here’s how it looks as published:

Last week the dishwasher, bloated up with its weird fluids, suddenly chuffed dangerously and began bleeding water from every seam; water which flooded, Nile-like, under the island, under the rug, and on 20 feet or more into the living room. Two hours later, the air conditioner groaned by way of a suicide note, leaned back sharply and tried to jump out the second-story window. Strong hands and split-second timing were all that stood between it and shattering death on the sidewalk.

And here it is without most of the modifiers:

Last week, bloated with the usual fluids, our dishwasher suddenly chuffed and began bleeding a stream of water that flooded both floor and rug and snaked all the way to the living room. Two hours later, the air conditioner groaned by way of a suicide note, leaned back and tried jumping out the second-story window. Strong hands and split-second timing were all that stood between it and death on the sidewalk.

The second one really is better! Anyway it’s far less wordy.

Which means that Strunk & White were right in saying “When In Doubt Cut it Out” and that old Shot Myself-in-the-Face Hemingway knew what he was doing when he took that boning knife out and pared, pared, pared away at his sentences.

I read back over this and see that I too have gone over 500 words,  which I hate to do to you guys, suffering already with eyestrain. So hey thanks for wading through this. And thank YOU Emily from Canada for helping me re-learn a valuable lesson. 🙂

(A page from the chapter of my first book here. God it was fun to publish these collections! )

Thank You Liz

Elizabeth Taylor gave me my first lesson in how true it is that nobody likes a wise-guy. This was back in the mid-80s when face lifts were relatively rare  (meaning before current times, when even the family dog is getting work done.)

Liz got some done on her jawline and then kept gaining weight so she kind of grew around it. I was mean and chilldish enough to mention this in one of my columns. What I actually said was  “at least one of her chins is still pointy.”

And boy did I get a lecture!  “Who do you think you are?” this one woman wrote in an angrily scrawled hand. “Where do you get off making fun of others when your eyes are beady, your teeth look false and your hair is out of style?” She could tell all that from the headshot that accompanied the column. And she was right on two counts: my eyes are beady and my hair is generally out of style but did that stop me? Nah. I then took that quote and put it on the cover of my very first book I Thought He Was a Speed Bump.

Dear Elizabeth: she couldn’t learn to stop marrying (and what did Samuel Johnson call that, the triumph of hope over experience? ) Me I couldn’t learn for the longest time stop trying to get the laugh even if it meant sometimes getting it at somebody else’s expense. She did a lot of good that lady, AND singlehandedly saved over-the-topness after we lost Liberace. I hope the lids closed easily on those amazing blue eyes.