Ode to Trader Joe’s

Oh, the many reasons to love this little market chain.

The Greek-style yogurt.

The fresh flowers that stay non-dead in the vase for at least a week.

The pita chip rainbow: sesame, sea salt, cinnamon sugar.

The hummus! The dried cherries! The two-buck chuck! The hilarious and blog-provoking commercials!  


And now I add to that list: the laugh-inducing literary catalogues!


I quote from the Trader Joe’s 2008 Summer Guide:


“Lemon Tartes

“$3.49 for 2 tartes

“This dessert is such a tart, we almost called it Lemon Hester Prynnes. But then we’d have to put an ‘A’ on it, and it all sort of unraveled from there. So, we arrived at Lemon Tartes. Not as literary perhaps, but far more simple.”


I remember reading The Scarlet Letter when I was in sixth grade or so. The last 50 pages had me lying on my bed, crying so hard I could hardly see the words on the page. I thought it was the tragicalist, romanticalist story ever written. And now Trader Joe’s has appropriated that tween tearfest and made it a laugh riot.


Thanks, Trader Joe’s. You just make everything better!

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Remember When You Were a Kid?

I do.


And one of the things I remember is that there were loads of things I wanted to do that I couldn’t do.


I wanted to drive a car.

I wanted to find a secret passage to Narnia.

I wanted to wear makeup.

I wanted to see fairies.

I wanted to get locked in a grocery store overnight. (Which would have inevitably led to death by overdose of Reddi-Wip and Hostess cupcakes, in which case you would not be reading this entertaining blog entry. Sometimes it’s not bad when dreams don’t come true.)


Needless to say, I learned pretty early on that just because I wanted to do something… that did not in any way mean I would end up getting to do that thing.


This lesson I have retained. Recently it has come to my attention that there are many people who have

  1. not learned this lesson or
  2. not retained it.


I have a couple of editing gigs where I answer to other people. It is my misfortune that among these people are some who fit category a and/ or b above.


So when I was being taken to task by a committee for not covering a major event, and I told the committee that I had planned not only to cover that event, but to make it the centerspread of the publication in question—only no one would return my phone calls! So then I bumped the story back to a photo essay on page 2, only—literally—no one returned my phone calls. So then the major event ended up a series of photos on the back page… As I was saying, when I told the committee this chain of events, you should have seen the shock! The dismay! The incomprehension!


It never occurred to them that I might want to cover a story—but be unable to.


Same thing yesterday. After tearing apart the story budget I’d worked on for months… had made assignments for… had edited for… had virtually brought to fruition (two pieces—that’s right, TWO PIECES were not yet turned it; everything else—you read it right, THE ENTIRE PUBLICATION was otherwise FINISHED), my boss suggested a handful of new story ideas to fill in the blanks that our recent meeting had just created in my formerly beautiful budget.


Story ideas that had occurred to me, too.

Story ideas I’d tried to pursue.

Story ideas that had fizzled into non-stories.


In many ways, writing features is easier than writing fiction. You get to mix it up with other people, and they provide you the material; all you have to do is shape it into a pleasing form. But I feel compelled to point out, for those of you who suspected otherwise, that fiction has its benefits, too—not least of which is the fact that if you want to write something, you can. Let’s hear it for fiction! (Also tequila. But that’s another entry entirely.)

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Growing Up!

Having recovered from the crotchety incidents of recent weeks (including, but not limited to, evil email, cranky voicemail, a broken stove knob, earwigs (how do they grow so big? And why are some of them albino? They are just the creepiest, creepiest bugs ever), and discussions of death, I set to work on the revision of the revised rewrite of my MG (unless it’s YA) fantasy novel yesterday.


This is a manuscript that has been in flux for a few years. (I would tell you how may if I knew. Maybe four. Maybe six. I’m not at all sure. But I wasn’t working on it chronically the whole time.) And I always liked the world I created, and I always felt kindly toward my characters (not the villain, of course), and I always, always had trouble with the plot—mostly because there wasn’t enough trouble in it.


That has changed. There’s an old boyfriend, and an old friend who might become a boyfriend. There’s a natural disaster. There’s a tyrant. There’s a Mean Girl (and brother, is she mean!). There are thoughtless parents. There’s a murder. There’s a riot.


This plot is hopping!


And yet… it seemed to me that there was still more trouble my MC could get into. After all, she’s a short-tempered girl on a short leash, and the world around her is rockin’ and rollin’ (sometimes literally, sometimes less so).


So yesterday I sat me down with my printed pages and my spiral-bound notebook, and I wrote in some angry villagers (don’t worry, no pitchforks!) who had been in previous drafts, and really, really needed to come back. And they wrought havoc. And my MC was beyond distressed. And you know what? I felt great.


So here’s my new theory:


While I do not seek out conflict in real life, it is sometimes necessary to face it in order to decimate it.


While I plan to resolve conflict in my fiction, I must introduce it at every opportunity (and where there is no opportunity, I must create one).


All this, without a therapist! (I think I’ll save my money for professional help with the earwigs instead.)

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Look Out, Trouble!

After the Evil Email Incident of last month, I foolishly thought I had met my quota for trouble gettingintoness. (Laugh along with me, dear reader.)


Yesterday I got a crotchety email on the same subject (and I thought I had trouble letting things go!), not from a colleague—but from the second-in-command. (The first-in-command, whom I had seen just the day before, had just told me what a nice job I’m doing on the organization’s publication. Good thing I had that to buffer me, eh?) Most of the crotchetiness appears to have stemmed from a meeting attended by the third-in-command, who drives me mad and was seriously irked that I had not jumped into my dancing shoes the minute she decided to start piping.


The original Evil Email Incident made me so mad my fingers shook. (Which prevented me from shooting off an equally snarky defense, so that was probably a good thing.)


Yesterday’s email just made me chuckle and shake my head. After all, when you’re in trouble that deep, you kind of build up a tolerance to it, you know? I mean, why bother getting all worked up about it?


So watch out, world. Now that I am feeling so at home in Trouble, there is no telling what mischief I will get up to.


And an added bonus: if I have to put up with all this crap, you should see what my MC is going to have to go through! I have never been a fan of conflict—which generally leads to peace (with the potential for ulcers) in real life, but to somewhat-less-than-thrilling plots in fiction. Well, those days are over! No more Ms. Nice Author! Bring on the firing squad and the natural disasters and the stupid teenage boys—and watch my MC taken them all down!

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I Needed That!

I don’t often consider the fact that big laughs are one of the perks of my job editing a magazine for a particular patient population… until an especially big one (laugh—not patient) rolls along to remind me.


This morning in my inbox, this message was waiting for me:


I am not a member but, would like to possibly become one. My name is [name] and I am [age] and have had [disorder] since [age].  I recently, a couple months ago wrote a poem on [disorder], it really speaks to people who know exactly whats going on who have it.  I literally wrote it in 10 minutes.  Could I possibly have it in your next Magazine??


Allow that one to roll around inside your mind for a while. Appreciate the creative comma-ing. Ponder the missing apostrophe and the sudden capitalization. Consider the writing books you have read, and the advice that they all contain about how not to approach an editor—by sharing unimportant information (like age), mentioning how long you worked on a piece (perhaps especially if it is a shockingly short period of time), and not knowing the market (like pitching a poem to a publication that does not print them).


Now—don’t you feel better about yourself as a writer? (You’re welcome!)

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Visiting the Twilight Zone

The same person has cut my hair for a few decades now. I call her Mom. (Mostly because she’s my mother.)


I’m just not a salon kind of girl.


Which isn’t to say I haven’t, on occasion, visited salons for various services. The trip is usually worthwhile just for the comedy value. Where else can you hear such calm, objective statements about all your flaws—with (and here’s the important part) an immediate follow-up about how they can be rectified? (Example: “Your eyebrows are too thick. … Want me to fix ’em?”)


So I was a little nervous, but nevertheless ready to laugh, when I headed to a salon very, very early Saturday morning in preparation for a day of bridesmaiding. And, dear reader, I was not disappointed.


I started out getting my hair done. There I learned that my hair was a) tangled; b) fine; c) in need of a hot oil treatment; d) too short. Which is pretty funny to anyone who’s seen my hair (although it’s considerably shorter now (i.e. not waist-length) than it was for a couple of decades. It was even funnier when I realized that the hairdresser thought my bangs were too short because she wanted to put them up with the long part of the hair—and then she took some of the long hair and made ringlets alongside my face, when she totally could have used the already-naturally-ringletty bangs that she had scraped back from my face and shellacked to the everlasting damage of the ozone layer.


Interestingly, though she spent 45 minutes curling and spraying and ratting the long part of my hair into a tower of curls, she determined that the best look for my bangs was pointy and superflat. That took considerable spray, as my hair really doesn’t do flat. Her bangs, however, do. (I was not surprised when she concluded that superflat bangs were really the best look for all the bridesmaids.)


Later I discovered that the hairdresser (who was kind, though perhaps more objective than she absolutely needed to be) had used about two dozen black bobby pins to hold my tangled, fine, damaged, short hair in place. My hair is considerably lighter than black.


But that was good preparation for the makeup lady, who had very, very firm ideas about feminine beauty (and my distance from that ideal). I escaped the false eyelashes by warning her that my skin is pretty sensitive, and often reacts badly to substances (which, given the itchy and watery eyes of the other bridesmaids, was an incredibly clever move on my part). I also escaped the torture device known as an eyelash curler by cringing away from the makeup lady so dramatically (and, I might add, unconsciously), that she calmly set it down and said, “We’ll just skip that too.” She made up for it, though, by jabbing my eyelids rather more violently than necessary as she applied about eight different colors of eyeshadow. And, though I had brought my own eyebrow pencil in case there was any difficulty matching my hair color, I allowed her free rein—after all, she had like a watercolor palette full of colors, and she mixed three of them to get the appropriate eyebrow hue. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be black.


All this, naturally enough, made me think of writing. (Well, not right then. But eventually.)


I am forever reminding my CP that one editor’s or agent’s rejection isn’t really a rejection. It’s just the lack of clickability between a lone individual and a solitary manuscript. (Really, the word “rejection,” which sounds so all-encompassing, shouldn’t even be used in pitching situations. How about, “Aw, man—I got a no-click from that agent I thought was totally clickable!” Doesn’t that sound better?)


Just as the hairstylist believed that the best look for everyone’s bangs was the one she favored for herself, editors may believe that the best manuscript is the one that suits their own tastes. That’s logical, though, isn’t it? Why would they want to spent months or years working on a manuscript that they didn’t enjoy?


The world is a subjective place, filled with eyebrows that some people want to thin and fantasy stories that some editors wish to realismize. The trick is to find the people whose views align with your own, so that your hairstylist really does only trim half an inch when that’s what you ask for, and your editor understands what you’re trying to achieve, and—rather than trying to curlicue hair that should be pulled back and pulling back already curlicued hair—helps you to achieve it… in your own style.

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Seriously—What is UP with People?

Sometimes people are jerks (for more on this subject, see previous entry). And when you’re a pseudo-semi-public figure, like an editor, it is unfortunately to be expected that readers, and sometimes even contributors to your publication, will be have in an obnoxious manner.


But a colleague?? Someone who’s supposed to be on your side? (Okay, sidebar: exactly how naïve am I? Discuss amongst yourselves.)


Late yesterday afternoon I received an email from a colleague so sarcastic that my computer screen fairly crackled. On and on he went about the fabulous job I’d done on a recent issue, citing specific examples (some of them erroneous, but that’s a topic for another day). He then proceeded to expand his aim, and “compliment” the art department for reasons I don’t really understand (what’s a “modern color?” I know Crayola added some new hues to the big box, but surely that’s not what this person was referring to).


Then he went over the top—turning so sarcastic that he sounded completely sincere. It was baffling. I had to re-read the email, and even then I didn’t get it.


The best part: he copied like eight of our other colleagues, so they would all be well informed about what a loser editor I am.


Kudos, Mr. Colleague. Those years of honing your workplace etiquette skills have clearly paid off.

Seriously... would anyone mind if I just took an extended nap till next week rolls around?? I think that might be safest!

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If Only There Were an Inoculation…

If it’s called “foot in mouth” when you say something stupid, into what orifice should we say you have jammed your keyboard when you email something obnoxious?


I am well accustomed to humiliating myself by inserting foot in mouth. Given the volume of my conversation (by “volume” I mean “amount”—although I take it that audibility is not generally one of my conversational challenges), it is probably inevitable that I will say a fair amount of ridiculous stuff. And in fact, I had a rash of conversational embarrassments just recently, so I can assure you that this is not something I have outgrown (or am ever likely to).


But while it is not unusual for me to, say, touch on a hot-button topic, completely oblivious to the fact that I am pushing any buttons at all…  I am not very often rude (and only very, very rarely on purpose).


Lately, though, I have been on the receiving end of some rude emails. There has been a veritable spectrum of evil in my inbox: passive-aggressive (thanks for editing my story that way—I’m sure you did the best you could); emails about me that were accidentally sent to me (I don’t see why we have to jump just because she thinks she wants to run a story on us right now); and outright obnoxious (thanks for not giving me a byline—that’s going to help my business a lot [I should perhaps note that the person who sent me this email did have a byline, which was evidently somehow overlooked]).


Does no one re-read their emails before they send them? Is it—as I read in a recent article about cyberbullying—simply because the writers are not face-to-face with the recipients that people so easily write (and send) snotty emails?


I’ve been in situations where an email I received made me so angry that my hands were shaking almost too much to type coherently. I responded to every issue that upset me, being very clear—and not the least bit polite—about what the truth of the matter was.


And then I put that email into my Draft folder.


A while later, after the shaking subsided, I pulled out the email. Read it through. Deleted most of it, responding only to the core issue. Rephrased it so that, while it might have been chilly, it was in no way rude.


Then I stored it again.


One more read-through, and it was ready to go—and I could be confident that I wasn’t exacerbating an already tense situation.


Revision, people. It’s all about revision. That’s something writers already know. Perhaps it is our mission to take that lesson out to the rest of the world, and cut off Rude Email Disease before it becomes an epidemic.

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Making an Omelette

There are plenty of things I enjoy about sewing. Most of these involve actually stitching things together. The cutting and ironing and pinning and ripping out of faulty seems, I am less enthusiastic about.


But you can’t have one without the others.


I recently started a quilt—my first in a couple of years. (Well—to be fair—they are very big projects!) And I am way excited about it. It’s a maple leaf pattern, with green and gold leaves, and though I went fabric shopping in February, I managed to find a completely perfect autumn leaf fabric for the borders and backing. Despite the hours of cutting and the steamy bouts of ironing I have already undertaken, my enthusiasm remains unflagging.


One of the other things I like about sewing is that when I sit stitching at my machine, my mind drifts free—much the way it does when I’m driving on the freeway. (Do not in any way interpret this as an admission that I am a terrifying driver.) The characters of my YA (unless it’s MG) fantasy manuscript twist themselves into problematic situations, and then together we try to wrestle them free. I work through challenges I’ve encountered in my short stories, and brainstorm query ideas (and sometimes blog entries).


And then sometimes, I go on a philosophical bender.


The most recent one started out as a good ponder about the nature of sewing. I bought yards of a beautiful fabric—picture perfect from the bolt. And what do I do to it? I hack it up into little pieces, and sew it to some other hacked-up picture-perfect fabric, and then I brutalize the seams into delightful flatness, and stitch the blocks to each other, and then sew the resulting rows to other rows, until it looks to me like I am holding nothing more than a collection of tiny rags in my hand. (That’s from the back side, of course. The front side looks very much like a maple leaf.)


From there, I thought about writing. Because isn’t the process very much the same?


In my mind, I have an idea or an issue—connecting with other people, or growing up, or figuring out one’s place in life. I have a character in mind, and a path for that character to walk. And what do I do? I pull that issue apart, and spread it over a couple hundred pages; I break up the character’s path from A to B, strewing it with detours and difficult situations and characters. I withhold information from the reader until I reach a place in the plot where the revelation of that information is going to make the greatest impact.


I chew up the truth, spice it with lies (who is it that said fiction is a lie that tells the truth?) and regurgitate it on the page, configuration completely altered—but more beautiful, hopefully, more meaningful to the person who reads it, just as my little quilt blocks are more intricate or interesting than a piece of plain fabric on the bolt.


And what of cooking? We take blocks of perfect baking chocolate and melt them, mix them with milk or butter or flavored extracts, and then combine them with dry ingredients for cookies or apply them to a cake. We chop up perfect vegetables and sauté them with spices, or add them to stews, or mix them in a salad. And painting—all those tubes of glorious color, squeezed out onto a palette, combined with other colors to make still new colors.


I still don’t like cutting or ironing—just as I don’t thrill to outlining a plot, or rewriting wonky manuscripts. But you can’t have a quilt without chopping and pressing, and you can’t have a perfect story (or nearly perfect, anyway) without preparation and revision. Dang it.

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