Month: January 2017

Reading About Writing

Back in the day — I like this expression because it’s so vague — my sister used to buy and read every cookbook she could get her hands on. She never followed one recipe from any of them, but she had lots of information to share at parties. I thought this was a riot.

Until I realized that I was currently doing the same thing, but with a book about writing.

I like to write, and the occasional person has occasionally suggested that I should write a book because I’m a gluttonous reader of them. By their calculations, I should inherently know how to compose a novel, by osmosis.

However, I have no idea how to plot a book, or how to make the characters come to life. I also remember a college professor saying that it is damn near impossible to find someone to publish a first novel. Some writers do, of course, but if you look at the New York Times Best Sellers’ list, the same writers’ names appear there week after week and year after year. That fact alone suggests that publishers (and readers) like to stick with already-successful authors.

So, I bought a book on writing, written by an author I admire, Lawrence Block. The book is Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel. Block broke down every step of how to write a book, and how to get it published. I read the first 13 chapters with a student’s attention (a good student’s), but stopped reading a few pages into Chapter 14, “Getting Published.” That chapter is followed by chapters on “The Case for Self-Publishing,” “The Case Against Self-Publishing,” “How to be Your Own Publisher,” “Doing It Again,” and finally, “Now It’s Up to You.”

What I learned from the first 13 chapters is that writing a novel is extremely hard work that must be done consistently. What I learned from the beginning of Chapter 14 is that, while I might produce a publishable book, getting someone to actually publish it is an even harder job. I didn’t even bother reading the self-publishing chapters, because I know many people who have self-published and, once their friends and family bought their books, sales dried up. The authors had no idea how to market their books and no giant publisher to help them, so along with sales, interest in their books disintegrated as well.

Unlike my sister, I’m not going to buy more books on writing. I’ll either write a book, using what I learned from chapters 1 – 13, or I won’t. I probably won’t be able to find a publisher without having an agent represent my book, or find an agent without having published before, so I’ll have to leave it up to serendipity, or luck.

It’s worked for others. Those others were probably predestined to become published authors, and there’s no way to check if I’m on that list, so I’ll have to leave it to chance. I’ll cross that bridge, as they say, when (and if) I come to it.

Right now, I think I’ll go read a cookbook.


Why I Didn’t March Today

Today, January 21, 2017, the day after the installation of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, tens of thousands of women, and many men, marched on Washington, D.C., as well as in cities across the country.

When I first heard about the march, I got excited. Two of my sisters immediately made plans to go to Washington with their daughters. One flew in from California, and one took the train from New York.

However, I had a previous, unbreakable commitment and was therefore unable to go to Washington. I could have participated in the satellite march held in Stamford, Connecticut. But, I didn’t.

I didn’t march for a number of reasons. Chief among them was that I wasn’t sure that I supported all of the causes that precipitated the march. Of course I’m for equal rights for women. Of course I don’t like the idea that our president has treated women like sexual objects. I also want Obamacare to continue to exist because my family bought a health-insurance policy that exists only because of the Affordable Care Act. And I especially don’t want the repeal of HARP (the Home Affordable Refinance Program, the government program instituted by President Obama,) which has saved the homes of many Americans. And finally, I believe in the accuracy of the statement chanted by thousands of marchers and emblazoned on their signs, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”

But what does “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” really mean to women in the U.S.? We women still have glass ceilings to crack in business, salaries that need to be equal to those of men doing the same jobs, not to mention housework and childcare that need to be more equitably split between partners but, all things considered, women in the United States have it pretty easy compared to women who live in countries that routinely disfigure their genitals, stone them, refuse to educate them, or keep them hidden from society.

After much thought, I’ve come to the uneasy conclusion that “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” is code for “Save Our Right to Legal Abortions and Impeach President Trump.”

“Not true,” you say. “We’re marching to ensure that all women in this country have equal rights—no matter their race, creed, sexual orientation, or income bracket.”

And here’s my problem with that argument: The demand for “equal rights” loses its power for change when the expression is used like an umbrella to cover every eventuality, even one such as not liking who is president.

It is no secret that the catalysts for this march were the election of President Trump and the subsequent precarious position of the “Roe v. Wade”decision. Abortion rights have long divided our country and our political parties, and now that the anti-abortion candidate is our leader, those who champion the right of every woman to be able to choose birth or abortion are very nervous.

So, I understand why many people felt the need to make their voices heard. As U.S. citizens, we have that right. However, every demonstration needs a clear goal. What do the marchers want to accomplish, besides the impossible? President Trump is not going to step down, no matter how many women and men express their anger at his election.

I am not happy about the outcome of this election. I didn’t vote for President Trump, but as a citizen of the United States, I will support him. It was drilled into our heads during the presidential debates that, “the peaceful transition [or transfer] of power” is a key element of our democracy. The concept has existed since the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800.

That contest made this race look like a picnic. Elections were far more complicated then, with two men running for president from each party (Federalist and Republican). By the time Thomas Jefferson had become president, there had been bitter name-calling and character assassinations, threats of secession, possible backroom dealings, rumors of a mob breaching an arsenal in Philadelphia, destroyed correspondence, and a deadlock between Jefferson and Aaron Burr (the Republican candidates), after the Federalist candidates (John Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney) were eliminated. The election resulted in a bitter divide between the Republicans and the Federalists, and between people within each party. However, Jefferson’s election didn’t result in the overturn of our republic or the overturn of his election. Federalists didn’t like it, nor did some Republicans, but they dealt with it.*

And we have to deal with the election of Donald J. Trump. If you’re unhappy with the results of this election (and/or with the results of the George W. Bush v. Al Gore race in 2000), identify the cause of your wrath—the existence of the Electoral College, which is able to negate the true wishes of the electorate—and protest that.

There’s a march I would support. If anyone wants to organize a march on Washington to repeal the Electoral College, I’ll be there. Secretary Clinton, let me know if you need a ride.

A New Life Event

My family has Obamacare. Despite what Fox News and the conservative press want you to believe, it’s not free.

We pay $1,071/month for our health-care coverage. If we didn’t qualify for a government subsidy, we would be paying $2,400/month. I’m not going to go into why $2,400/month is an insane amount of money for a struggling-to-remain-middle-class family to pay every month. I think it’s obvious that most families couldn’t afford that premium. We can’t afford the $1,071/month premium either, but we have to, in order to be insured and not fined by the government. Other things, like bills, have to be shuffled around in order to pay our premium, but that’s just life, I guess.

What is worrisome is that President-elect Trump and many Republicans are determined to get rid of Obamacare, i.e., dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Ordinarily, one cannot qualify for new health care after January, unless he or she has a “life event,” which could mean anything from unemployment to a marriage. Now there will have to be a new qualifying life event, “loss of insurance due to Obamacare going away.”

Obamacare was not built overnight. And even when it was built, it was not problem-free. I hope the Republicans have the foresight and sense to not obliterate the program until they have another one built and ready to replace it.

I also hope that my hope is not for naught.

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