Who Stepped On Tennessee?

I was staring at a big map of the United States hanging on an office wall at work  the other day, because I like to gaze at brightly colored, inanimate objects when it’s late in the day and my other tasks have been completed. And I noticed a few things that really got me thinking.

Tennessee, for example. It looks as if it’s been squashed beneath somebody’s foot. It certainly doesn’t have the vivacious, full-bodied look of an Ohio, for example. States, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Tennessee is far from the only one to have drawn the short end of the geographical straw.

Pity poor Rhode Island. It’s almost like an afterthought, stuck onto the end of Connecticut. Makes you wonder if one of our forefathers back in Hartford lost a bet once and had to forfeit a small section of his state, thus giving birth to Rhode Island (which isn’t even an island!!).   Delaware, with size issues of its own, is a giant in comparison.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, why is Texas so big? You could probably fit, I don’t know, approximately two hundred Rhode Islands within its borders, and still have room for a Delaware or two. Do you think Oklahoma ever looks at its neighbor to the south with anything short of derision? Texas already took over a good portion of the Sooner State, leaving it with a thin little panhandle (which could still fit a few Rhode Islands, but that’s neither here nor there).

At least Texas has an interesting shape. Colorado and Wyoming are nothing more than boxes, nearly perfect squares lacking in creativity. New Mexico is spared their fate by that little hanging piece in the southwest corner, which by all rights should be a part of (Old?) Mexico. Wouldn’t a perfectly round state be fun?

Do you think Florida ever gets lonely, dangling out there all by itself in the bottom corner of the country? You know how they always say California is in danger of breaking apart and floating away? I think the real trouble spot is Florida, especially with five or six hurricanes pounding at their door every year. If any state is in danger of breaking off, it’s gotta be that one.

What’s the deal with Michigan, anyway? It’s like two states in one. You’ve got the upper peninsula, which really should belong to Wisconsin, and then the lower peninsula. Are they even connected? Hawaii, for that matter, consists of seven islands, yet it’s a single state. I never was very good with math, so I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Finally, answer me this. We’ve got a North and South Dakota. There’s a North and South Carolina. Why, then, is there a West Virginia, but no East Virginia? It’s just plain old Virginia. If I were West Virginia, I’d take that as an insult and rechristen myself. Maybe strike a deal with Ohio and name yourself Oloo. You know, Oh-low-oh, because it’s right under Oh-high-oh. Makes perfect sense to me.

And you thought geography was no fun.

Popeye Would Approve

For the first time this century, I’m struggling with what to call the New Year.

2010.  Is it two-thousand-ten or twenty-ten?

Personally, I’m leaning towards the former.  Every other year of the past decade has been called two-thousand-fill-in-the-appropriate-number.  So maybe it’s just a force of habit.  When 2000 rolled around, nobody called it twenty-zero-zero or twenty-oh-oh, and that set the precedent.  Why change now?  Maybe twenty-ten rolls off the tongue a little easier, but it just sounds wrong to me.

Apparently, some linguists are up in arms over the whole thing.  They argue that, one hundred years ago, nobody was calling it one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-ten.  Good point, and in another hundred years, I’m sure our descendants won’t be stumbling over two-thousand-one-hundred-and-ten.  But right now, it’s not a big deal to go formal.

Some language experts explain that the way people pronounce years is based more on rhythm rather than logic, and predict that next year, many people will make the switch to twenty-eleven.

Once we come up with a consensus, I’ll have no problem using the common terminology.  I think it’s all pretty silly that there are organizational think tanks having closed-door meetings, trying to figure out how to brand and market the year. 

I’m more concerned with what’s going to happen on the next New Year’s Eve.  There is no way anybody will ever be able to figure out how to make a decent, functional pair of oversized 2011 glasses that the revelers in Times Square are so fond of.  Unless everybody walks around squinting.  Popeye would approve, but the rest of us? 

Not so much.

I’m not sure why we even insist on coming up with a snappy name for every little thing in the first place.  People are still arguing over what to call the first decade of the 21st century.  There have been some ridiculous suggestions – the aughts, the oughties, the noughties.  Ugh.  It’s over and done with, so why does it even matter at this point? 

Things would have been a lot simpler if the world had just ended when Y2K rolled around, as so many doomsayers predicted.  At least then we wouldn’t be worrying ourselves over stupid things like names. 

Then again, if those same doom-and-gloom prognosticators are correct, the world is going to end in 2012, anyway.

We’ll probably still be debating whether it’s two-thousand-twelve or twenty-twelve even as the hot ball of gas we call the sun explodes.

In The Bleak Midwinter

The Christmas season is in full swing all around us, and this means an incessant dose of holiday music everywhere you turn.  On the radio…in the grocery store…in the background of your favorite sitcom.  We are being implored to deck the halls and haul out the holly left and right.  But did you ever stop and really listen to a lot of these songs?  I had an epiphany a couple of years ago when I realized that many Christmas songs are actually sad and depressing.

True, I was in the midst of relationship turmoil that year, but now that the dust has settled in 2009, I’m still hearing a lot of sadness and mourning in those lyrics.

Take, for instance, Christmas Bells.  I’ve only ever heard John Gorka’s version, but man, talk about cynical.  “And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”  Definitely not a feel-good paean to peace and joy.

Have you heard that song called Christmas Shoes?  Talk about a depressing little ditty.  There’s this little kid, see, and his mom is dying, so he wants to buy her a pair of shoes…whenever that one comes up on the radio, I switch the dial.  It’s too hard to drive with tears streaming down your face.

Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg is another one.  First off, I don’t consider this a “Christmas” song per se, but you only ever hear it during the holidays.  The lyrics tell of a chance encounter between former lovers on Christmas Eve, and is full of melancholy and regret.  It’s a double whammy for me, because it happened to be playing on the radio while I was driving to court to have my marriage dissolved…five days before Christmas.  It would be depressing enough even without that association.

Long live The King, but Blue Christmas is another song full of morose and longing.  It’s hard enough when the person you love packs up and moves on, but combine that with the Christmas season and you have a recipe for an aching heart.  “You’ll be doing alright with your Christmas of white, but I’ll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas.”  Emphasis on “blue.”  Got it, Elvis.

How about Please Come Home For Christmas?  I don’t think any other song smacks of desperation like that one.  “My baby’s gone, I have no friends, to wish me greetings once again.”  Yikes.  Somebody contact the nearest suicide hotline.  “Cries will be singing Silent Night.”  Better hurry!  “There’ll be no more sorrow, no grief and pain, and I’ll be happy, happy once again.”  Man, I hope so, Glenn Frey – you’re bringing me down!

The tune that probably earns the title Saddest Christmas Song Ever – the one that takes the (fruit)cake, for sure – has got to be Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.  Cheery title aside, the lyrics were so depressing, they had to be changed!  Originally, it went, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last, next year we all may be living in the past.”  Wow.  How dark is that?  Even when it tries to aim for the upbeat – next year we might be together, if the Fates allow – it falls short: “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”   Sheesh.  Makes you think the person singing the song is secretly wishing for a Remington shotgun wrapped up in a bright, shiny bow, and a carton of ammo in his stocking.

Give me Frosty The Snowman any day!  Only wait…don’t…because that’s nothing more than one long near death experience for the ol’ snowman, who is in grave danger because “the sun was hot that day.”

Merry Christmas, kids!

Necessary Cuts

I have one goal in life: to publish a book before I die. 

OK, that’s not true.  There are actually many things I’d love to accomplish, though I refuse to write them all up in bullet form and call them a bucket list.  But getting that book published is at the top of the heap.

The first step in the process – writing the book – is actually, for me, the easy part.  I’ve been writing for years.  Have completed several novels, most of which are gathering dust in my bedroom closet.  Am I disappointed that they have failed to see the light of day?  Not in the least.   Let’s say you want to run a marathon.  You’re not going to hop out of bed one day and cover 26 miles in three and a half hours on your first attempt.  Instead, you’ll work up to the feat.  You might jog a mile the first day.  After a month, you may be comfortable with five or six miles.  Eventually, you’ll have the strength and stamina to go the distance, but you have to put in many hours of training first.

And that is how I view my first few attempts at writing a novel: as training.  When I began my first book, Y2K paranoia was gripping the country, the Clinton years were winding down, and I knew that I had stories inside me wanting to be told.  I just didn’t know how to go about doing it, so I plunged right in.  There’s nothing wrong with that; I actually think it was the smart thing to do.  Don’t think about it, just write.  That first book was a legal thriller, because I was reading lots of John Grisham at the time, never mind the fact that I didn’t know a tort from a torte (hint: one’s a civil wrong, one’s a cake).  Even though the feedback from friends and family was positive, I personally don’t think it’s all that great, and yet it served its purpose by teaching me the rules of the game: making time to write, never being content with the first draft, marketing the book through a literary agent.  A year later, when I sat down again to write, the process ran more smoothly.  The end result?  A little less shaky.  And so it went.

A couple of months ago, I finished what I consider my strongest book ever, and the first one with a real shot at publication.  This is the one, I tell myself, and it’s more than wishful thinking: I really do believe that. 

Yet, my work is far from over.  And that’s where this blog comes in. 

As I said, writing is the easy part.  Marketing, especially if you don’t have any publishing experience, is a lot tougher.  It’s hard to get your foot in the door.  There’s a business side to the business, and if you’re not savvy enough to tackle that head on, your odds of being successful are greatly diminished.  Random House isn’t going to come knocking on your door, after all.

I’m reading an excellent book called How To Become A Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.  It’s chock full of fantastic advice, and written in a breezy, conversational style by an author whom I feel would be perfectly at home perched on a bar stool beside me, tipping back a drink.  Her name’s Ariel Gore, and she’s actually local, living in Portland, as a matter of fact.  Anyway, one thing she stresses is, get your work out there!  One very simple way to do that is to start a blog.  So, here I am.  Hello, you.  And you and you and you. 

This is actually my second attempt at a blog.  A little while ago, I trashed all my previous entries and renamed the whole thing.  A writer shouldn’t be afraid of making necessary cuts.  I had envisioned the previous blog as a “writing blog,” but that was too limiting – and also, boring.  I don’t want to read about conjugating verbs and dangling participles, much less write about ’em.  To fill the gaps, I began writing as if this were a diary, but I didn’t want to do that, either.  I keep an online journal elsewhere.  I was struggling to find my balance here, to figure out what, exactly, I should cover in these electronic pages.  I thought of doing a hiking blog.  A blog about Portland.  A food blog.  A blog that would cover current events.  And then, I had an epiphany.  It seems so obvious now.

I can cover all of that in my blog.  There’s no need to focus on just one topic; I can move around from subject to subject on a whim.  Whatever I feel like writing about on any particular day, I’ll write about.

What a novel concept.

So, welcome aboard!  Again, if you’ve been here before.  Thank you for following along as I dish up my innermost thoughts on a wide variety of topics.  Feel free to comment, to offer suggestions, feedback, whatever.  I won’t write here every day, but I promise not to let weeks go by between posts, either.

The only other promise I’ll make?  I will be a published author someday.

Mark my words.