2015: 13 books, 140 characters

It’s 2016. Let’s live our truth: I finish fewer books and I write fewer blog posts per year than I used to. Blame the busyness of life, the ease of sharing ideas online in smaller quick bites, the existence of the internet in general.

But also, I think, my twentysomething self (who started blogging in earnest in 2007) was a more obsessively introspective, self-discovering and self-centered type of self. (As she should have been! That’s what 20s are for! You go on and find yourself, baby SJ!) Whereas now, I’m a little more grounded in who I am, and feeling better about it (thanks, therapy!), and enjoying the things I like without the need to justify, explore or explain. This is all good.

Wasn’t expecting that nugget of self-discovery. Just occurred to me while writing. Funny how that works.

2015 was good to me. I still read 13 books, not too shabby considering that roughly 20% of adults read NO BOOKS at all. Oh my, internet, say it ain’t so!

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So here we go. Keeping with tradition (2009, 20102011, 2014), here’s my tweet-length year of reading in review:

On Writing | Stephen King
My very first S.K. book, and it’s not even a “Stephen King book.” Practical and poetic guide to the writing process—from somebody who knows.

Lizz Free or Die: Essays | Lizz Winstead
Memoir by Daily Show co-creator and feminist icon…I didn’t love it. But that’s okay. Not all comedy is for me. (Lookin’ at you, Master of None. I SAID IT.)

Man Seeking Woman | Simon Rich
Hilarious, bizarre series on FXX is based on a book by former SNL writer. So, duh. Inventive, of-the-moment romance chronicles, rated NSFM (Not Safe For Mom).

Syllabus | Lynda Barry
Part nonlinear graphic novel, part handwritten creative journal, part offbeat instruction manual. All fun to read and digest.

Attachments | Rainbow Rowell
Delightful YA novel recommended by my writing group. Set in 1999, the pre-Facebook story feels retro, as romance unfolds (or does it?) via intercepted emails.

Better Than Perfect | Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo
Perfectionism survival guide. 6 of 9 “Does this sound familiar?” intro statements sounded just like me. Scrawled inside cover: “So, wait, everybody’s self-worth isn’t determined by how well they live up to their own harsh, improbable standards?” (Not really joking.)

Harebrained | Meg Myers Morgan
Written by a college classmate and available at an amazon near you! I wrote a longer blog post singing its praises already. Go read that.

Theatrical Husbandry | Susan Mann
Not on shelves yet, but will be. Have gotten to watch the process as my writing group friend worked her way through revisions. Now she’s moving toward publication. How cool is that?

Funny on Purpose: The Definitive Guide to an Unpredictable Career in Comedy | Joe Randazzo
This book gets me. Funny, practical primer on all things comedy. He had me on page 15, with this horrifyingly, comfortingly accurate list:

FOP

Hey look! That’s me!

Writing Television Sitcoms | Evan S. Smith
Somebody wrote a whole book about this! Can you believe it?! (Exciting to only a small sliver of the population, but I’m one of them.)

The life-changing magic of tidying up | Marie Kondo
The title doesn’t lie. KonMari has changed my life for the better, and I’m still in process. Some of her philosophies seem foo-foo, but they also work. (Magic.)

“If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us.”

Mr. Puffball Stunt Cat to the Stars | Constance Lombardo
Happenstance while roaming kids section at Barnes & Noble. Almost didn’t buy it (see above, buying less), but very glad I did. Delightful and clever for film-buffs, cat-buffs and tiny-silly-joke buffs.

Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers | by Mike Sacks
447 pages of pure inspiration. Creators of Parks & Recreation, Cheers, National Lampoon. Writers for The Onion, New Yorker, Tonight Show. All in one book! And you can buy it!

black/white. either/or. one/the other. your side/mine.

The last thing the internet needs right now is another think piece about abortion. This isn’t one. This is just my little 1,400-word opinion, but I feel compelled to share it. I honestly sat down to scribble a few thoughts for myself, but then this all just happened. Some things I’m itching to say, I guess. Enough to drag me out of a long blog hibernation. There’s so much shouting going on right now. It’d be nice to talk.

Separately, this will be its own long story: I’ve spent the weekend cleaning my house (“tidying”) using the KonMari method from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. One remnant of the past, hidden in a desk drawer, was a stack of index cards from my senior research paper in high school. About stem cell research. (Very 2002.)

I tossed them in the recycle bin, but not before quickly flipping through. Couple of thoughts: 1) I was such a smarty pants and so thorough. Meticulously transcribing MLA sources by hand, and noting I’d met the limit of “2 internet sources,” funny. 2) It’s interesting to see my current beliefs at their very earliest stages. While the paper was mostly about stem cell research and its promising potential in medical research (pushes up 18-year-old glasses), there were some connections to abortion. Because embryos. And science.

So here we are, today. Another awful news story about another terrible situation to remind us that the world is ultimately cold and cruel. (Think of the lions and poor zebras, even. It’s rough out there.) It is sad. Another sad gun story in America. (BUT THAT’S ANOTHER STORY!) On to my story:

The now-infamous Planned Parenthood Videos, which most likely inspired the Colorado Springs gunman to some degree, also inspired a local protest in August by our dear City Councilman Justin Burnett at the Springfield Planned Parenthood. (Which, of course, doesn’t provide abortion services. Nor does any other anyplace in the state of Missouri, save the one (1) in St. Louis.) When I heard there was a Stand with Planned Parenthood event to counter, I decided to put my hashtag activism to action and actually show up.

So I went. Early on a Saturday morning. Joined others in pink t-shirts and we held our “Stand with Planned Parenthood” and “Healthcare Happens Here” signs. We stood in the clinic parking lot, while the protest group set up across Battlefield (appropriate street name, if there ever was one), and some right near us on our side of the street, also holding signs. Most were silent, many probably praying, and surely well-meaning people, albeit misinformed.

But a few were outspoken. Sarcastic. Arrogant. Holding hand-painted poster boards with such winning slogans as, “Hearts lungs and livers? P.P. Delivers.”

I’ll admit some of the PP chants were obnoxious in their own right. Like flippant little Baby-Killer Cheers, if one chose to look at it that way.
– They say No Choice. We say Pro Choice!
– 5, 6, 7, 8 — Separate the church and state!

Oy. As a professional writer of ad copy, I’d caution that using rhyme in headlines is a dangerous game. I came up with a few alternatives, to entertain myself:
– These are complicated issues. Why you focusing on tissues?
– We have heads and we have hearts! We do not sell baby parts!
– Abstinence-only education / only leads to procreation.

(Man. Those are good.)

One of the Pro-Lifer women (who was there with her husband and children. A few whole families were there—good luck with those therapy bills in 20 years, kids!) was shouting things at no one in particular, at all of us, the whole time. Nothing too provocative, but still totally shitty. Verbally subtweeting. Her entire demeanor screamed for a good face-punch. (There’s a reason they make us sign a form promising not to interact with protestors…)

A few times, different people in our group outside the clinic took the (portable, shoulder-carried) microphone to motivate the crowd and speak-to-but-not-speak-to the people on the other side.

Partly because I just felt compelled to, but also because that lady’s shit-house attitude was pushing my buttons, I decided to step up to the mic as well. I tried to be a little peace-maker, build a tiny bridge between their side and mine. I said something along the lines of, “When I was a kid, I joined with my church at Pro Life rallies like this. And now that I’m standing here, I know it’s easy to vilify the other side. But we both want quality lives for all and we want healthcare for all.”

(Something like that. Like Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail: I was eloquent! Shit!) I’m sure I didn’t change any minds. But it helped me feel better, to reaffirm to myself out loud how I feel. And why I was there.

In retrospect, I kinda wish I would’ve finished with direct eye contact, a slow finger point and, “You don’t know my story, biiiiitch.” Mic drop.

Missed opportunity.

I was thinking today about misconceptions about Pro Choice people. And I’m sure that goes both ways. See, too many extreme believers in anything see things as black/white, either/or. One/the other. Your side/mine. Pro Life/Pro Choice. (Implying, or sometimes outright saying, that we are “pro murder” or “pro death.”)

Of course we’re not.

We look at a very complicated issue and see it differently. Pro Life folks think every fertilized zygote has a soul and God’s special twinkle in their developing tissue. (*Zygotes don’t have eyes.) Pro Choice folks (and the majority of scientists, physicians—people much better informed than I am) don’t ascribe to that notion.

I’m so sick of hearing about “baby parts” being “sold” by the big, bad evil scientists of Planned Parenthood. Besides all the ways that’s totally untrue, it’s so not even the point.

I’m reluctant to post much about PP on social media. Couple reasons: 1) I don’t like Facebook conflict. 2) My parents. But today, a tweet by Andy Richter resonated enough to get an RT:

To call fetal tissue “baby parts” shows a childish ignorance about medical research. Imagine a Dr. calling muscle tissue “people meat”…

(Stay out of the @replies if you, too, have internet-conflict-induced PTSD.)

Maybe the very complicated issue is that simple: You see it that way. We don’t. Maybe there is no middle ground, and there’s no coming to a compromise. Maybe it’s Dr. Seuss’ Bitter Butter Battle. Maybe we’ll all blow each other to Sala-ma-goo before we ease up a little and try to find a better way.

After the shooting, I saw another tweet (why do I go down these rabbit holes? why?) from some dude (always the foremost authorities on any subject: Some Dudes) about Planned Parenthood, saying something like:

“1 person shot in Colorado. 6,000 babies murdered a day.”

That makes my head hurt for numerous reasons…but first, it’s not even accurate. CDC’s reporting from 2011 was literally 1/3 of that total number. (and some will still say that’s too many…and I wouldn’t disagree. So many potential tangents here: access to healthcare and birth control…Abstinence-Only sex education…complicated.)

But still. His point. And mine.

Goes without saying (I hope.): Abortion isn’t a convenient “oops, whatever” plan B birth control option. (I have to imagine very few women see it that way, btw.) What it is, is a personal and complicated and I have to believe difficult…can I say personal one more time? And not political? But personal?…decision.

But beyond the personal results or repercussions: I also wonder about the systemic side effects. And the quality of life for an unwanted child. That’s what I want to ask @ClosedMindedAsshole69 (not his handle. but like, same same?). Who’s going to take care of those babies? Are you, @ClosedMindedAsshole69? Do you have 5,999 friends ready to take in unwanted babies? Or I guess foster care? Welfare? A family situation with a high likelihood of child abuse and/or poverty? (Startlingly high incidence in Springfield, Mo, in particular.)

Is that the better way?

(Of course there are miracle stories in which it does work out that way. But “6,000 times” a day?)

Back to the PP rally. There was one chant I could get behind, 100%:

Every Child A Wanted Child.
Every Child A Wanted Child.
Every Child A Wanted Child.

I think that speaks most closely to my heart. Babies deserve to be wanted, loved, cared for (and eventually ruined in some way or another by their well-meaning parents, followed by years of therapy…You know, family!).

It’s just not as simple as some people are making it out to be. I shouldn’t assume Pro Life people are all closed-minded assholes. No more than they should assume that Pro Choice people are all slutty baby killers. (Though that’d make an excellent ironic punk band name.)

I don’t know how to end this. Thanks for reading, if you did. Back to cleaning my house. It feels good to let some things go.

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5 Stars

Three (3!!!) of my friends have written books. It’s a blessing and a curse to have such talented friends; they brighten your life with creativity, and they shine a light on all the ways you feel you could be doing better. Ah, well. As the old saying goes: Those who cannot do, read. 

So reading is what I’m doing. One 365-entry blog turned memoir. One delightful and decidedly un-chick-lit romantic comedy novel. And one collection of personal essays.

I just finished reading the third one, and since I can’t make it to the book launch party in Tulsa tomorrow night, I’m making known my (sincere and well-deserved) praise here on the ol’ blog.

Harebrained: It seemed like a good idea at the time (available at an amazon near you!) is an essay collection described in the blurb as “the collected ramblings of a tired mother, happy wife, grateful friend and busy professor.”

HarebrainedCover_Front_hirez

My tweetable review: It’s a damn delight!

My longer thoughts: Reading Meg in good-old-fashioned, page-turning, come-back-later-there’s-more fashion adds a layer of enjoyment for those, like myself, who were already fans of her blog. Her essays showcase the best of what personal blog writing can be: candid. vulnerable. relatable. fun. A well-balanced blend of slice-of-life sketches, thoughtfully revisited memories, and bigger-picture observations.

New readers will find this book is like catching up for drinks with an old friend. And all readers will most likely find an experience not unlike binge watching a favorite series: Reaching a stopping point, with a laugh or a sigh, and feeling the urge to read one more…just one more…

(If that reads an awful lot like an amazon review, that’s because I’m headed over there to post one right this hot second. Because when your friend writes a book, you spread the good word!)

Now for a little revisited memory of my own:

Spending 200-something pages and a handful of hours hearing Meg’s voice in my head took me back 10 years, to my junior year of college, and the days when we worked together in Drury’s Writing Center. As minimum-wage-earning student employees, our duties included removing rogue commas, helping international students come to terms with indefinite articles, and extracting viable thesis statements from the 5-page essays of our peers.

For a writing nerd in need of spending cash, these were glory days.

In the hours when the office was empty (there were many), we would, responsible go-getters that we were, “get some work done.” But attempts at silent reading with another human in the room most often devolved into swapping stories and comparing pop culture notes. (A mutual love of Tina Fey is nothing to sneeze at.) Meg was just a year ahead of me in school, but I looked up to her. She was interesting and smart, and the time I spent with her in that upstairs corner of Olin Library were times when I felt interesting and smart, too. (You know those people? The bring-out-the-best-in-you people? They’re the best people.)

A lot of my memories of 21-year-old me are long gone, or buried deep in journals somewhere, but I remember Meg as one of the bright spots in an otherwise angsty, torn-between-two-lovers, “what am I doing with my life?!” time in my history.

Which is maybe an even better review for her book than the one above: She’s the kind of person you’ll enjoy spending time with.

And since you maybe cannot do, you should read.