Going Political

Image of airport protests over the weekend from Reuters
Image of airport protests over the weekend from Reuters

Yep, going political on the blog today. So if you think that might bug you, move along…

An open letter to my pro-Trump friends (and yes, I do have several) who have said, “This isn’t a ban on all Muslims. It’s only a ban on the seven countries that pose the greatest threat.”

You are partially correct. It’s not a ban on all Muslims.

However, it also does not ban immigrants from those countries which history shows us pose the greatest threat to the United States with regard to domestic terror attacks. The nations included in the ban are as follows:

Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Where is Saudia Arabia, home of most of the 9-11 hijackers? What about Pakistan, birthplace of at least one of the San Bernardino shooters? How about Kyrgyzstan & Russia. birthplace and previous home of the Boston Marathon bombers?

Nope. None of them are on the list.

So you are indeed correct, it is NOT a ban on all Muslims.

However, this ill-thought-out, sloppily executed order has banned many already thoroughly vetted refugees from coming into this country. Many of them are coming from places like Syria, countries we have frankly helped to destabilize with our many years of half-hearted war in that region, our short-sighted diplomatic policies there, and our apparent complete lack of understanding regarding the various sects of Islam in that part of the world and how they do (or more often, don’t) fit together. 

Basically, we helped break a number of these countries. Surely the least we can do is to help clean up the mess by allowing those desperate to escape to come here and live with us.

You may say, “Well, my president isn’t the one that created their mess.” But yes, he was. The previous president was your president, whether you like it or not. Just as, although the majority of voters in this country did not actually vote for Donald Trump, Mr. Trump is in fact their president now. Either every U.S. President is the president for all of us, the spokesman for all of us, the man we employ to implement our will; or he has no authority at all and this great experiment in democracy is at its end.

If, as I believe, each president is the president for all of us, then each president carries the burden of all his predecessors. That’s essentially the definition of the job: volunteering to come in and clean up the mess you think the previous guy made in the office.

Banning refugees who have already spent years having their credentials checked will not clean up that mess. Handcuffing Iraqi interpreters who worked with our soldiers won’t help clean up the mess. Separating a five-year-old child from his parents while checking his paperwork won’t clean up that mess. Sending a Cleveland Clinic doctor back to her homeland, where she had the nerve to go and visit family for a vacation – that will not clean up our mess in the Middle East. Detaining those who have Green Cards and other thorough documentation of their right to be here – that does nothing to clean up our mess in the Middle East.

In fact, nothing about this policy will clean up the mess made by the Obama, Bush or any other previous administration in the Middle East. It will merely add to the series of mistakes we’ve made in that region, mistakes which scream how little we understand the groups active there, the issues at play, and why the hell we are there in the first place. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world and gives a new recruiting tool to groups like ISIS.

Worst of all, this ban will do nothing to make any of us here in the United States safer.

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Hibernation Mode

I’ve written before about my desire to spend January and February hibernating. I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, I used to just love love love winter! But that was before I moved to Green Acres and getting anywhere after a big snow became a much bigger ordeal. Also, I think I’m just getting old. Lately, I want to be somewhere warmer and sunnier, even though I was never a beach-y person. I can only assume that dwindling hormones lead to an increase in susceptibility to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Truthfully, since the election, I’d probably even settle for moving somewhere colder and not sunnier, but it turns out fleeing to Canada isn’t as easy as I’d hoped. I have friends — intelligent, kind-hearted friends — who voted for Donald Trump, and although their choice disappoints me, I respect their right to choose. So I’m trying to say as little publicly about this election as possible. Other than, as I pointed out, Canada turns out to not be a realistic option at all.

I’m spending a lot of time this winter repeating the words of Julian of Norwich to myself: All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. Let us hope she was right, and let us all do what we can to make the future a better place for everyone of every class and every color.

And in the meantime, I’m all for avoiding reality as much as possible! Herewith, my suggestions for how to get through the Hibernation Season:

Listen to some great music!

What I’m listening to these days is still Hamilton, the original Broadway soundtrack album and Beyonce’s LemonadeMake sure to buy the actual CD of Lemonade,  so you can see the amazing videos that accompany the songs and hear the stunning, heart-rending poetry of Warshan Shire, which Beyonce recites in between each of the songs.

If Beyonce’s Lemonade isn’t lefty-liberal enough for you, or it’s just too rock-n-roll and rap, try her sister Solange’s beautiful album, A Seat at the Table. Solange explores many of the same themes Beyonce explores on Lemonade, but her music is more introspective and soulful.

Shearwater, a fave alt-rock band of mine, recorded a cover of David Bowie’s Lodger album. There are a limited number of vinyl and digital copies available. Get one if you can. It’s an excellent tribute to one of rock’s greatest innovators and my personal idol.

And of course, if you are still listening to Hamilton, you probably also want to listen to The Hamilton Mixtape, with great covers of songs from the soundtrack by artists like Sia, Queen Latifah and Regina Spector.

Watch some great television!

There’s so much good stuff out there now, thanks to streaming. Here are a few recent faves:

  • Sensitive Skin – a wonderful series on Netflix starring Kim Cattrall and Don McKellar, this dramedy charts a middle-aged couple’s move back to the big city (in this case Toronto) after years of parenting and being buried alive in the suburbs.  All kinds of things happen, a lot of them very sad and very real, but there are a lot of laughs too. Kind of like life. The two stars make every moment feel very real and very believable. I am in awe of Kim Cattrall, who just gets more beautiful and more accomplished as an actress with each passing year.
  • Under the Shadow – Oh, remember how I said I’d try not to be political? I lied. This is an awesome Iranian film set in the early days right after the revolution that put the Ayatollah in power. A young mother goes almost overnight from being a hip, with-it medical school student who watches Jane Fonda videos to living in terror of what will happen if she walks out of the house unveiled. Meanwhile, her husband is off fighting an endless war and her increasingly unstable little daughter is talking to someone who isn’t there and isn’t very friendly. Is it an angry imaginary friend, or is it, as a neighbor suggests, a djinn? Maybe it’s also a symbol of how quickly our lives can be upended when we put our trust in the wrong leaders? Or it’s just a really really good ghost story. You can decide when you watch it. Available on Amazon ($5 to rent and worth every penny).
  • The Man in the High Castle – the best thing Philip K. Dick never wrote.  Because let’s face it, while his ideas were awesome, the execution was frequently fairly addled thanks to all the drugs. I personally think Bladerunner is about ten million times better than the Dick book on which it’s based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And the same thing is true here. The creators of The Man in the High Castle took Dick’s idea of an America divvied up by Japan and Germany after WWII and they really ran with it. Dick’s book focused on some characters on the west coast, under Japanese rule. The TV series also spends time on the east coast, examining life under Nazi rule. Rufus Sewell blows my mind as a not-at-all nice Nazi commander, John Smith. Smith was an American Army officer before the war. Now it’s seventeen years post-war and he’s working for the Nazis pretty enthusiastically. Doing whatever he has to in order to keep his family alive and together, is how he justifies himself to his wife and his own conscience. But the truth is, he kind of enjoys the work entirely too much. This show does a masterful job of showing us how very easy it is to fall into a certain way of thinking when it’s the view pushed by the majority, or whenever it just seems easier to shut up and go along with things. Oops, did I just get political again??? Alexa Davalos and Luke Kleintank are great as a couple of weirdly star-crossed lovers, and Cary-Horyuki Tagawa is excellent as the mystical Mr. Tagomi, who somehow finds himself able to move between alternate realities.

That’s probably more than enough to keep you busy for awhile.

Next week I’ll tackle some reading suggestions. And just keep telling yourself — All shall be well. [A setting of Julian of Norwich’s prayer by Julia Tindall Bloom, with artwork by Kristen Kopp which I found on YouTube.]

Steamed about STEM

Everything that’s wrong with the over-emphasis on STEM in today’s educational system, in one simple, badly thought-out ad campaign:

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No, Wells Fargo, being an actor or ballerina is not something you do because you CAN’T be a botanist or engineer. To be a really good dancer, singer, actor or musician takes as much training as (or more than) becoming a scientist. People who succeed in all of these fields, both science and arts, have one thing in common: they choose their paths out of love, not because some statistical trends and educational fads led their parents and teachers (and banks!) to badger them into a particular career.

Arts change lives in ways just as important as the sciences. if you don’t believe that, Wells Fargo, go ask a few engineers why they became engineers. A bunch of them will tell you it was because of watching shows like Star Trek or reading science fiction books by people like Isaac Asimov.

Why is everything in modern society so US versus THEM? People, can’t we all just get along?

 

A Time to Rest

sabbatical-mug-300x260The word “sabbatical” comes from the same root as the word “sabbath.” Sabbatical means “of the sabbath,” and Sabbath means “rest.” Which is what I am going to be doing for at least the remainder of this year, possibly longer.

I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a pen. Really. My mom had some stories I wrote at the age of maybe ten, all about Ollie the Elephant and my imaginary friend Paula. (Not to be confused with the later real-life friend also known as Paula.) For decades, I wrote nonfiction in the form of newspaper and magazine articles and press releases for WORK and I wrote fiction for FUN.

Around ten years ago, I decided to get serious about fiction. I just wanted to see if I could finish a full-length novel. I did. Then I wanted to see if I could sell it to a big-name publisher. I didn’t. Then I decided it would be nice even to sell it to a small publisher. I did. But the experience with the small publisher was disillusioning to say the least — three changes of editor in the course of editing, a last-minute publication date that allowed no advance time for promotion and a poor job of promoting it once it was published. I started a second book and pitched it to a very big-name publisher  when they held a writing contest. As originally written, the book was a spy adventure with a touch of romance called The Capri Caper. An editor at Very Big Name Publishing took a liking and convinced me to take the characters out of that plot and turn it into a steamy romance. I did. After months of round-the-clock writing and revising to their specifications, Very Big Name Publisher ultimately rejected the novel anyway and I wound up going back to the less-than-satisfying small publisher for an even less satisfying editorial experience than I’d had the first time around.

Then the self-publishing wave hit. I decided it might be cool to get my rights to both books back, get new editors, new book covers and do my own promo. It was fun. The books actually made a bit of money this time. One even made the Amazon Best-Seller List for a little while.

Since that time, about three years ago now, I’ve written and published a couple of short stories and contributed to a cookbook. I’ve started at least three different “chick lit” style novels and failed to complete any of them.

Meanwhile, my nonfiction writing career has picked up enormously in the last year — I’ve been writing half of every issue of a local glossy mag that gets distributed in a major newspaper. I’ve also done a fair amount of PR work for a couple of local clients.

And for the last year, I’ve been struggling to help my son, Dr. Sheldon Cooper as he is called on this blog, transition to adulthood. It is going very so-so at this point. He is still a good kid, still mostly happy, BUT…. And the list of “buts” keeps growing: he rejected offers from two very good local colleges for a major he seemed very sure about in favor of going to community college. Once there he changed his major four times in the first semester until a counselor pretty much ordered him to put down “General Studies” and his father ordered him to not change it again at all if he wants us to continue footing the bill. He has drifted away from a lot of  hobbies he had in high school and refuses to consider even a minor in Music, his one area of true giftedness that could help pay his tuition in the form of scholarships, not to mention leading to a fulfilling career in something he loves and at which he excels. He’s developed a serious and unexpected case of stage fright.

Frankly, life with Dr. Cooper has ever been a roller coaster, but it’s always a worry when the car takes a downhill turn, as it seems to be doing this year. I foresee another season wherein I spend almost every free minute getting him organized, boosting his spirits, cheering him out of his dark moments. A season filled with visits to doctors, counselors, coaches, psychologists, acupuncturists, even priests, trying to get him to Focus! Cheer up! Have confidence! It is an exhausting, time-consuming place to be and it is a place I come back to with him every few years. Many parents of special needs kids or kids with developmental challenges know this place as “Holland,” from the Emily Perle Kingsley essay “Welcome to Holland.” And indeed, Holland is not a bad place to be. But we wouldn’t want to, say, let him take the wrong train entirely and wind up leaving Holland for Outer Slobovia or something even less appealing.

So I will put aside much of my self again and make one last push to try and help him acquire the confidence, the optimism, and the social skills he will need to succeed at an independent life without me someday. I will fit that around the newspaper, magazine  and PR writing that pays so much better than novel writing now (although ironically it was the opposite just three years ago). I will fit it around that stuff because it’s what I do. The Boy Who Was Autistic eventually graduated from a mainstream private high school with a 3.6 GPA and a bright future. I believe he can still find that future, but he needs a few more years of coaxing and coaching and maybe even a little hand-holding to do so.

But the coaxing and coaching of Dr. Cooper takes a lot of time and mental energy away from things like novel-writing. And then there are all the market changes in the novel-writing world. Self-publishing was fun, but I’m pretty burnt out on the whole phenomenon now. The market is flooded with new self-pubbed authors who have no professional background whatsoever in writing or editing and just hope to hit it rich “like that 50 Shades writer.” Unfortunately, the market is definitely not flooded with an equal influx of new readers, leading to entire sets of full-length books being sold for as little as $0.99. You can see, then, why novel-writing isn’t even on the back burner for me right now. It’s in the freezer, cats and kitties. A freezer in the basement. In the back. And the stairs to the basement are missing.

The bottom line, cats and kitties, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now is: no new chick noir novel in 2015. Probably not in 2016 either. Even if I get back to novel writing at some point in the future, I suspect it won’t be chick lit. Maybe it will be horror or steampunk or my old first love, science fiction. Maybe it will be a weepy women’s novel or an edgy action thriller. There’s a good chance it will be something for kids or teens, since I’m reading and enjoying more and more of that stuff these days.  But all that is in the vague future. Right now, the focus is on Dr. Cooper and my freelance business.

There will probably be book review posts in the future, and there may be some short stories and another cookbook contribution coming in the next year, but I don’t see a novel coming soon. And trying to pretend I even want to write another one right now has become another thing just making me tired and stressing me out. And so this post: a confession and an acclamation: Lynn Reynolds the novelist is on sabbatical.

The White Man’s Burden Just Never Stops

white-mans-problems.w250Funniest quote about books this week  (or possibly ever) has to go to Michael Wolff of USA Today. . .

In a recent article, Wolff bemoans the fate of middle-aged white guy Kevin Morris who, despite being a successful entertainment lawyer, couldn’t get a book contract with a mainstream publisher. The article goes on at length to talk about what a hard thing it is to be a white guy in the entertainment industry these days (?!) and how little entertainment is geared toward such folk.

Because you know, Jack Reacher, Tom Clancy, Liam Neeson, Duck Dynasty, football  — apparently none of that counts. Although if those things are not for middle-aged men, I can’t imagine who they’re actually for.

And if you’re grousing about wanting a more literary level to your middle-aged white guy entertainment, what about Updike, Cheever, Jonathan Franzen, and almost any freaking short story published in The New Yorker? What about the hundreds of years of accumulated writing and work that has already been written by and aimed at middle-aged white guys? I guess Mr. Wolff has already read all of that.

Now I have no idea of the quality of Kevin Morris’ writing. I haven’t read his book yet. And I have to confess that as a non-middle-aged-white-man, it’s not at the top of my list. My quibble is not with the quality of his writing, the state of entertainment for middle-aged men, or his feeling of being marginalized.

In fact, I applaud Morris for doing what so many other successful writers of all ages and colors (myself included) are now doing — self-publishing his collection of stories, White Man’s Problems. My quibble is not with Morris at all, but rather with this truly priceless line, found near the end of Michael Wolff’s bafflingly outraged column about this book:

“Amazon’s legion of self-published authors is perhaps just more evidence of our infinitely fractured culture. Too many stories is just another sign of a broken world.”

That’s right, the same columnist complaining about the lack of representation for middle-aged white men in literature and praising the brilliance of Kevin Morris’ self-published book is the same columnist suggesting it’s a BAD THING that absolutely anyone can now self-publish a collection of short stories whenever they so desire.

Wait, what?

Telling more stories is bad? The fact that human beings have stories to tell and new ways to share them is a BAD THING?! A sign of a broken world?

If a burning desire to tell your story and the ability to share it with anyone is a sign of disaster and brokenness, I guess it’s clearly been one long downhill slide since the first caveman picked up his brush. And frankly, if more people wanting to tell stories is a sign of a broken world, then I’d be happy to live in one that’s crumbling to pieces.

Rant done. Thanks for the laugh, USA Today.

My Favorite Pin

I love Pinterest. I know a lot of people don’t get it at all. They think it’s the ultimate time waster. But it’s turned out to be a fabulous place to save all those recipes I stumble across on the Interwebs, as well as a great place to save story ideas, favorite books, favorite quotes ~ and of course, favorite pics of Hollywood heartthrobs. Right now I’m sure you are asking yourself: What is Lynn’s most popular pin on Pinterest?

Surprisingly, it is not the picture of lemon cake for the Pinterest board promoting the cookbook, Bake, Love, Write to which I just contributed.

Nor is it one of the fabulous quotes about writing by Neil Gaiman or some other Word God. It is not even any of the many pictures of my erstwhile boyfriend Nathan Fillion or my current #1 boyfriend Tom Hiddleston.

Actually, the fave pin on my board is this very yummy Esquire magazine photo of Corey Stoll.

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You’re welcome.

 

[* Corey is currently being cruelly forced to battle both zombies and a floppy toupee in the creepy Guillermo del Toro TV series “The Strain.” He previously caught my eye in an epically witty performance as Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen‘s “Midnight in Paris.” But his very best role to date has to be the troubled, doomed congressman Peter Russo in “House of Cards.”]

 

 

My List of Favorite U2 Albums. Because John Scalzi.

So John Scalzi just posted his ranking of U2 albums in honor of the release of their new album, and that seemed like as good a reason as any for me to waste time on my own list. Also, how cool is it to discover that John Scalzi is a fan of MY BAND?! Because in my heart, they will always be my band. I mean, those who know me well know my long-standing U2 obsession. I was the geeky American girl with weird hair and a neon pink and yellow dress in Dublin in the early 1980’s writing my name on the wall outside Windmill Lane Studios. Of course, all I had with me was a lipstick, so I’m pretty sure it’s gone by now. I was that oddball night owl who felt like her entire life changed when she stumbled across these raucous Irish guys late one night on Tom Snyder‘s Tomorrow show. I have the single and the T-shirt for “A Celebration” (never released in the US) and yes, yes, my children — I have this:

U2-3 - a signed, early re-release of U2's first EP. The EP released in 1979 and then this later edition came out around 1981, think.
U2-3 – U2’s first EP, released back in 1979. Does not have the original cover sleeve. But is still PRICELESS as far as I’m concerned.

I haven’t listened to the new album, Songs of Innocence yet. To be honest, I’m a little afraid. The last two albums — No Line on the Horizon and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb were very so-so albums. “Going through the motions, putting something out there to give us an excuse to go on tour” albums is how I’d class them. Not bad, just very uninspired. And I get that, I completely do. I have been so creatively uninspired for YEARS that I still haven’t finished my third book, begun back in 2012. And in 2013. And twice in 2014!

So Bono, my man, if you are reading this, I’m not judging — I’m just sayin’.

But I don’t really care how good or bad the new album is. U2’s music was such an inspiration to me in my youth, I feel like they could do an album of Bing Crosby cover tunes and I’d probably buy it. The best of their music still lifts me up when I’m feeling low (Boy) and still channels all the anger I sometimes feel — whether it’s anger over the death of a loved one (All That You Can’t Leave Behind), a betrayal by a friend (Achtung Baby) or an incompetent government lurching into its thirteenth year of endless war (yes, obviously, War).

One thing I have in common with Bono is the ability to take 50 words or even 500 to say what could be said in 5. I think it’s an Irish thing. Or an ADD thing. Or an Irish/ADD thing. Where was I? Oh yeah, so after entirely too much ado and verbosity, here’s my ranking of U2 albums:

1.  Boy – because it’s the beginning.

2.  Achtung Baby – because it’s a fabulously angry and bewildered and intense album.

3.  The Joshua Tree – because it came during a very big emotional crisis in my life and I honestly believe if it hadn’t been for this album & a fortuitous visit with a friend in Arizona (who coincidentally took me to see the Joshua trees) – I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be alive today.

4.  Zooropa – Lemon! Stay! Johnny Cash, for God’s sake! How can anyone NOT love this album?!

5.  All That You Can’t Leave Behind – just has a nice, clean, stripped-down sound and the whole band seemed so reinvigorated with the release of this album. To be brutally honest, I kind of wish they’d stopped there. (Although to be fair, I just downloaded Songs of Innocence and haven’t listened to it yet. Maybe that will be fresh and invigorating too. Although I suspect it’s really just going to be one of the aforementioned excuse-to-go-on-tour albums.

6.  War – I kind of hated this one for awhile, because this was when everyone else discovered MY band But it does have some great songs, especially “Two Hearts Beat as One.”

7.  October – I like how introspective and openly spiritual it is, although I know that annoys some people.

8.  Rattle and Hum – Pompous and self-important, yes; but it does have “Desire” and “When Love Comes to Town.”

9.  The Unforgettable Fire – I like a lot of songs on this album, but it just doesn’t excite me very much anymore. Loved it at the time though.

These last three are all just sort of “meh” albums. Not inspired, not bold, each one with a couple of good songs but largely forgettable. But I think that’s allowed when you’ve recorded so much other good stuff.

10. Pop – Best song: Do You Feel Loved? or If You Wear That Velvet Dress

11. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb – Best Song: A Man and A Woman

12. No Line on the Horizon – Best Song: Magnificent or White As Snow

I didn’t include the “Wide Awake in America” EP that’s on John Scalzi’s list, because it’s not an album. But I have great sentimental memories of that one, having purchased it at the original Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street during my summer in London, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and people bought music on these big vinyl platters. I know! Crazy, right?! Because who BUYS music these days???

I also didn’t include Songs of Innocence because it’s too new. I’ve only listened to one song on it and even if I had listened to the entire album, I couldn’t rank it yet. Some things take a while to grow on me musically, especially (and I suppose, rather oddly) songs by U2. I really hated Zooropa when it was released, but I love it now. In fact, musically, I’d really rank this one higher than Joshua Tree, but Joshua Tree has that sentimental thing going on with me. Go figure.

So that’s all I really have to say about U2. If you love them, great; if you hate them, I’m okay with that too. People seem to mostly feel one way or the other about them (sometimes the same people on the same day, including myself), but that’s another thing I like about them. They definitely provoke a response.

Last but not least, in case you didn’t see it that night, here’s the performance that changed my life from Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow show. YOU SHOULD ALL BE VERY GRATEFUL FOR THIS, BECAUSE IT WAS AFTER WATCHING THIS PERFORMANCE THAT I GAVE UP THE GUITAR AND DECIDED TO FOCUS ON WRITING INSTEAD….