Saturday, September 22, 2012

Now, I Don't Claim to Be an A Student

Daughter reeled away from the kitchen table, where she had been reading.

"May I have some pudding?" she croaked.

Usually I'm no great fan of the first meal of the day being dessert, but she had gotten up on a Saturday morning and, without complaining, grabbed a book she had to read for a class, sat down at the table and got to work. That merited something. When you factored in what she was reading, that merited pudding. I spooned some out. She leaned against the counter and inhaled it.

I said sympathetically, "I know. I believe I also told you in advance you would not actually enjoy this book."

She sighed, "You didn't tell me how bad it was."

I said  brightly, "Oh, but aren't you enjoying the scintillating plot? The believable characters? Come on, there's all that sparkling dialogue."

I was finding this too hilarious so I stopped. I composed myself. The kid looked unmoved.

"Mom, has anyone, anywhere, actually liked Pilgrim's Progress?"

"Well, the March girls. But come to think of it, they're fictional. Your teacher must like it. I mean, you're reading it."

She shook her head and added more pudding to her bowl.

"I get the feeling she hates it, too. But she thinks it's important or something." Her face slid into horror.


I patted her shoulder sympathetically. We've all confronted the boring, irrelevant, mystifingly important book -- that hellish goulash of tedious, obvious, obtuse and annoying prose that some well-meaning English teacher has nevertheless decided separates us from the animals. I'd have told Daughter: "Some day, you'll come to appreciate 'Pilgrim's Progress" but I made a promise I would never lie to my child about important matters.

My question to you: If you were Ruler of the Word, what books would you sentence to anonymity? I'm not saying we're going to burn these works; we're not those people. I'm just suggesting that if there was a product that dismayed 99.94% of its potential market, we'd probably stop foisting it upon people. At the very least, we'd have a special list of "This book is chewy and will probably not give you any actual pleasure" titles.  Books on this list might appeal to those people who prefer their triathlons in the driving rain.

So, what's your Beastly Bad Book?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

99 Luftballoons

...and then explains my life better than I ever could, without a single run-on sentence.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

And I Have No Privacy

"Quinn, where are you?"

I'm right here.

But so is everyone else.

I don't want to brag, but I can write with a certain amount of chaos going on around me, which is good, because this house is never actually quiet, or restful, or spalike, unless there is a spa I am unaware of staffed by flatulating pets. But ever since we've gotten back from New York, the house has upped its game. There is no rest for the wicked and there is no quiet for the writer.

First, there is Consort, who I am thrilled to say is working on something large and complicated. It's better in any measurable way when he's working on something large and complicated. I'm less excited to note that he's working on something large and complicated at home. Most days, he's got at least two online meetings to attend, which require quiet, so he takes over the bedroom, pushes out the pets and persists in speaking of "Net Present Value" like that's actually English. When he's not doing that, he's taking a class at Coursera, which he swears is interesting but I assure you is not. It is, however, is difficult, so he needs quiet to watch his lectures and study.

Speaking of studying, there is the kid. We're still home-schooling, but I'm not the main teacher this year, which bodes well for her future earning potential. Instead, she's in online classes, which is working fine but since she's live and intermittently on-camera in these classrooms, I have to remain a) out of sight and b) quiet. Right now she's in Chinese class which, being a tonal language, sounds like this to me:

"Shang-DO. Shang-DO.  Shang-DO. Shang-DO. Shang-DO."

Later, I will be told by Daughter that those are completely different words, words which sound totally different, and that my ear is made of mud. I'll grant her that if she allows that I show a certain graciousness in giving up my kitchen for hours at a time five days a week. Sometimes I bask in this world we live in, where my daughter can have classmates all over the world without taking off her fuzzy-socks, but mostly I just look bleakly down at my empty cup of tea and wish I had installed a hot-plate in the bathroom.

So someone is has annexed the bedroom and is talking in there, and someone else has annexed the kitchen and is talking in there; where can I work? Can I work in the office? Well, I can try, but one of the aural house-quirks is that people murmuring in the kitchen are bellowing in the office:


(Silence. I put my fingers on the keyboard to write about the cats.)


Which is when I hide in the kid's room, a place which is technically quieter, but not if you count the shouting in my head. Imagine that the night before, you had told your daughter to clean up her room because the clothing free-ranging across every single horizontal space was provocative, but in the annoying way. Imagine you came in a half-hour later and the clothing was off the floor, the bed, the dresser, the hamper and the blinds. The drawers were closed, leading you to assume they were filled with clothing.

(Because you also believe passionate clapping brings Tinkerbell back to life.)

 But now, having sat down on the bed with your laptop to write, your ankle touches something under the bed; you lean over and discover all of your daughter's clothing under there, scrunched up and melding with cat fur. You are now left with what to do with this information. Do you grab the child from class to have her clean this up? No, you do not, because while taking care of her clothing is important, you're still convinced the reason you loathe and fear math is because you missed that one week in second grade when you had pneumonia. What profiteth Daughter to gain folded clothing if she loses the quadratic equation? What you should really do with this clothing is just put it all in a bag and tell Daughter that if she's that careless with her clothing, it obviously doesn't matter that much to her and take it to children who will care for their clothing. THAT would be a bracing experience, only a quick glance in the drawers indicates she'd be left with rainbow toe-socks and a Christmas sweater from two years ago. Even if she worked back her clothing one item at a time she'd never be dressed in time for practice this afternoon and you all desperately need to be away from each other for at least an hour today. No, best to just make this a learning experience, and by that of course I mean a droning lecture. But it's virtually impossible to sit in a room which is filled with an incipient lecture and write about anything but thankless children who apparently need to be sent to volunteer at an orphanage in Africa for a year or so.

Which is when the laptop and I head to my bathroom, which should be quiet. Cool, too, which isn't nothing here in Los Angeles these days. I could sit on the toilet and bask in the cool, echoey silen...

Oh. Hi, Diana.

This is Dumb Cat. There was controversy in our house for a while as to whether she is fat or not. I stand squarely on the side of "Big-boned, just with a freakishly small head" camp; God knows there isn't much brain there. She frequently walks behind the open door in the hallway, gets stuck between the door and the wall and wails until someone picks her up and turns her around, towards the light. Diana likes to spend about half an hour a day walking around the bathtub, meowing. I may remove her from the tub, but as inexorable and mystifying as the eels returning to the Sargasso Sea, she will go back there. Kick her out of the bathroom and she stands at the door and screams. Best to just let her finish her religious ritual and then spend the afternoon being frightened of an extension cord. Not exactly conducive to writing in there, though.

The dining room has no chairs, but I could bring in a chair were it not for how much of the sound bleeds through from the kitchen ("SHANG-DI, SHANG-DI, SHANG-DI. New page. SHENG-DO, SHENG-DO, SHENG-DO.")

The living room is a possibility, but the dog is in there, making noise. Oh, my poor old man. First, we thought the scratching was just the allergies and then it turned out his thyroid has gone into the Witness Protection Program, so he began thyroid meds. One of the side-effects of this medication, I have come to find out, is that he pants constantly, noisily. He also stinks, partially because he is old, partially because the AWOL thyroid dries out his skin and partially because he's on fish-oil and salmon-based food to help his skin. The combined effect kind of makes him smell like a dumpster at the cannery. Also, he still itches because of his allergies, so there's a lot of scratching going on. Between the panting, the scratching-leg thumping, and the general canine miasma, he's a lot more of a presence than I need when I write, not the least of which because I'm doing the math of "Can he have his next Benadryl? Did he spit out this mornings's thyroid pill? Didn't we just wash him, like, two days ago? How does he already smell like Thai food left in a hot car?"

So please know that while sometimes when I am not writing blogs I'm off cavorting and frolicking and enjoying the pleasures of my estate near Lake Como, mostly I'm just drifting about my house, desperately in pursuit of a room of my own.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Let's Do It

People have graciously and kindly offered to set up readings for me in their cities. I'm staggered that people think I'm worth the effort, but it's not a good use of resources right now. But I tell you what I would love to do; visit your book club, homeschooling or parenting group. If you all read "Year of Learning Dangerously," I'll Skype with your next get-together and while I can't promise I'll be illuminating, I can say with some confidence that I won't be ashen and smelling slightly of gin, as I do when I've just flown.

If you're interested, you can reach out to me at and we'll make it work. I thank you advance and will now go look for outfits which are cute from the waist up.