Monday, September 30, 2013

That Midnight Train to Culver City

Patty here

I once told a friend that I used public transportation, most notably the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus. She stared at me in disbelief and then laughed nervously. Until that moment, I didn’t realize the perception of some Los Angeles Westsiders was that public transportation is an alien concept.

The Big Blue Bus

My mother never learned to drive a car, so growing up in Washington I always took the bus. When I moved to Seattle, I had a job on Queen Anne Hill where parking was street only and hard to find, so I took the bus to work, even though going home I had to transfer on a corner in downtown that after dark was junkie central. I never had a problem and never thought much about my personal safety. (Ah, youth)

The easiest subway to understand and navigate is the London Tube. Tokyo’s subway is a cookie cutter version of the Tube. Despite the language barrier, I was able to travel throughout the city by myself. Moscow’s subway was scrupulously clean, its walls covered with heroic worker art. Los Angeles is late to the party but it's in the process of building a light rail network that has been decades in the making. It will take several more years before a station reaches me but I see promising signs: some streets are now clogged with overpass construction.

The closest station to me is the Expo Line in Culver City. For a while I’ve been thinking about taking a ride to see how it works. Friday I finally did it. I wasn't sure where the station was, so I made a test run that morning to scope out the terrain. It wasn’t easy to find due to lane closures and construction. The park-and-ride lot was free, clean, well lit and nearly full. There are no paper tickets. You have to buy a plastic “tap” card for a buck. I think it’s like a debit card, i.e., you buy “credit” to add to it. I’m sure it’s easy when you know how to use it—and I thought I did—but the instructions weren’t all that clear as you will later read.

Expo Line

Friday night I had tickets to see Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch in The Sunshine Boys at the Ahmanson Theatre (wonderful!). To make sure I got there for the 8:00 p.m. curtain and a pre-show taco, I caught the 5:57 p.m. Expo Line train to the 7th Street/Metro Center Station and transferred to the Red Line headed for Civic Center Station. Both trains were full of mostly young people from various walks of life, including some walks I wouldn’t have taken. The route took me through parts of the city I had never seen before.

Now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles

Along the route, threatening signs warned me to tap, tap, tap my tap card at every turn and I ended up tapping away all my “credit” for the return trip. (Do you have to “tap” when you transfer? Nobody’s saying.) This exposed one of my pet peeves: If you’re writing instructions, you should assume people know nothing about the subject. If they do, they can skip ahead. If they don't, they'll know what the heck they're supposed to do.

After exiting at Civic Center Station, I strolled through the lovely Grand Park to get to the Music Center. That’s when I began to wonder whether the park would be as lovely at 11:00 p.m. when I had to walk back to the station in total darkness. I also worried who would be riding the train on the return trip to Culver City.

I’m happy to report that the park was just as lovely going back and all the young people who shared my car were mostly well behaved except for the four twenty-something guys hawking and spitting chewing tobacco into potato chip bags.

There’s the bottom line:
  • Train trip cost: $6.50 roundtrip because I over tapped. Should have cost $1.50 each way plus $1 for the card.
  • Train travel time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Drive trip cost: $5.00 gas (estimate) plus parking at the theatre $10
  • Drive travel time: 45-50 minutes to the theatre in rush hour traffic, 30 minutes home
Would I take the trip again? Sure. Why? Sometimes a writer needs to get out of her comfort zone and see what the rest of the world looks like. It's important to understand the struggles some people face every single day of their lives. I saw a few of them on my journey. It's humbling and I'm betting the experience makes for better writing, too.

What's your favorite train/subway? Your favorite anti comfort zone trip?

Happy Monday!

Friday, September 27, 2013

That Second String To Your Bow

from Jacqueline

First of all, I know Patty wrote about one of her dreams a couple of weeks back, and though I don’t want anyone to think we’re the woo-woo dream blog – I had a really scary dream a few nights ago, and it hasn’t let go.

I dreamed I no longer had a day job and I was panicking.  Then I woke up and realized I no longer have a day job, and I panicked, went into the kitchen where my husband was making coffee and said, “That’s it, I’ve got to get a job.”  He looked at me as if I’d just dragged us both into a parallel universe and said, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve been working all hours and weekends on a manuscript revision. I think you’ve got a job.”

I shook my head.  “No.  I need another job.” I was still in my jammies and probably a little bleary eyed, but I was thinking fast.

He queried when I would be able to fit in this new job (I was ready to pick up application forms from a half-dozen retail outlets that very day), and pointed out that I’d had an anxiety dream, and in his best accommodating therapy voice said, “We all have those dreams in times of stress.” 

Don’t you hate that, the “Not to worry, let me just call the psychiatrist” voice.

The thing is, I know where this dream came from.  When we were kids my mother taught my brother and I that it was always really important to have a “second string to your bow.”  If you don’t know the phrase, it basically means have back-up, and usually in the context of work.  Never depend upon just one job, because you never know when that job will cease to exist.  Expand your skills set, in more common parlance. From the mouth of a daughter of the Depression to our impressionable little selves, that message hit home.  We’ve both had multiple jobs from the time we could follow instructions and count our wages to make sure we hadn’t been shorted.

At six years old my brother was going to the back doors of all the pubs on the way to school (about six in all) – he would rip the lead from the top of empty wine and spirit bottles left outside, and collect it in a drawstring shoe bag.  He also collected scrap metal from all sorts of places – a machine shop in the town or the blacksmith – and he would sell the lot to the scrap metal merchant every couple of weeks.  He expanded his business in the buying and selling of all sorts of things, and by the time he was about nine years old, my brother was running a few well-established revenue streams from the comfort of his bedroom.  Believe me, the kid in the new movie, The Family has nothing on my brother.  I think one of the most interesting was his book business.  He would skive off school (skiving = playing hooky), get the bus to the railway station eight miles away, and then go up to London on the train.  He’d head straight for Foyles Bookshop on Charing Cross Road (at nine years of age!), whereupon he would invest in a good selection of adventure books from the cheapie rummage pile – as many as would fit in a box.  Then he would schlep the lot back and sell them at school for a good profit. 

 And how did he manage to explain his absence from school?  Ah, well, that’s where I came in. I was the best – and I mean, The Best – forger of parental letters to teachers, the go-to girl for a sick note, or other explanatory communication describing reason for absence.  All I needed was a sample of the mother’s writing – or another female if mother wasn’t present; teachers didn’t really trust dads – and I was all set. The key was to keep it short, polite, and to use a few words that teachers assumed a kid would not know how to spell.  “Sickness and Diarrhea” was always a good one, especially when you consider the British spelling, “Diarrhoea.”  Gastroenteritis was another, though you had to be careful with that in case it resulted in a full-scale alert and newspaper headlines that the school was on lockdown due to an epidemic.  Earaches were handy too, for some reason, and I always cautioned my clients not to have more than a couple of days each month, and to look pasty when they came back to school.  I have forged other things since, but you would be shocked to know what they were.

We both had many second strings in our teen years, though to this day, my tenure in the egg packing factory ranks as the worst job I ever labored over. When I left college and began my “career” life, I always had at least one other job on the side.  While working in London, my second string was two or three nights a week bartending on the Thames party boats – what a kick that was!  After work, often in the small hours, the boat would moor on one of the pontoons in the middle of the river, close to Westminster, and the River Police would come down in their speedboats and ferry us to the dock.  And on the way they’d tell us how many “jumpers” they’d had that night, or who they’d “apprehended.”  I loved it!  I also worked a stall in Portobello Road market at weekends with a friend (Art Deco jewelry, pottery, chinaware, that sort of thing), while around the same time my brother was trading vintage clothing at Camden Lock market – his day job was working for the National Trust as deputy head gardener at Batemans, Rudyard Kipling’s former home in Sussex.

That's Portobello Road - nothing to do with Batemans, which looks like this:

When I came to the USA, it seemed working several jobs was the American way – I was right at home.   While in sales and marketing for a tech start-up, I was also waitressing at two places in the evenings and at weekends.  Two spare strings to my bow!  And I was doing voice-over work.  Another string!  Funny, I just remembered a conversation with my brother, who was already living here when I was toying with the idea of hopping across the pond – I remember asking him, “What on earth would I do in America?”  His answer?  “You can be anybody you want to be here – as long as you’re prepared to work.” 

Bring on the strings!

When I wrote my first novel I was convalescing following that riding accident, and one of my motivations was that I really couldn’t bear not having work to do.  But by the time I’d found an agent, I was back at my job, and also had a couple of spare strings.  I kept the jobs going for a couple of years, but eventually discovered I couldn’t do it all – my second book tour, especially, seemed to go on and on and on for about four months as more events were added.  So, I gave up the day job and, eventually, the strings in favor of the writing and held my breath. It was the scariest thing I have ever done in my entire life, because I was saying that writing (and everything that goes with it) was my day job. The truth is, it's more than that, it's my passion.  Now it’s giving me nightmares.  This is the only string to my bow, and the fear has crept up on me.  What happens if I break the string?

and then...

But a funny thing happened.  The day after I had that dream, I received an email. I can’t say too much about it, but let’s say it was from a company tendering a proposition – somewhat allied to my day job.  And I’m thinking about it, weighing up whether I can balance it all again.  It’s compelling, not only because it would be fun, but, well, it saves me having to write sick notes in return for coin again.

Now - what childhood lessons still lurk in your life?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

John Grisham Books in Order

From the messy desk of Paul Levine

From "A Time to Kill" and "The Firm" more than 20 years ago to "The Appeal," "The Associate," and "The Racketeer," John Grisham has been the number one bestselling author of legal thrillers.

He’s been praised for his storytelling, though most critics don’t toss bouquets of roses for his prose. But the man can weave a tale.

His themes are clearly defined. Corruption, greed, and untidy justice permeate his work. Large corporations and Big Money exert cruel power over the weak...until a lawyer (usually flawed) takes up the cause.

This rings a bell with me. Behind the judge’s bench in every Miami courtroom is the sign, "We Who Labor Here Seek Only Truth." You can see the sign, barely, in this goofy publicity shot of me when I was flogging "To Speak for the Dead" many years ago.

My fictional lawyer, Jake Lassiter, examined the sign and cracked, "There oughta be a footnote. Subject to the truth being obfuscated by shady lawyers, overlooked by lazy jurors, and misstated by dunderhead judges."

But back to Grisham’s oeuvre. For a lot of people, "A Time to Kill," his first novel, was his best. A story of race, violence, and small town prejudices, it echoes with themes of "To Kill a Mockingbird."

But it was "The Firm" that rocketed Grisham to the top of the charts and spun off the hit Tom Cruise movie. A young attorney is seduced by the pay and perks at a Memphis law firm that is actually a front for the mob. Chaos and murder ensue.

Here are some other examples of his work that reveal Grisham’s underlying themes.

In "The King of Torts," a down-and-out public defender’s life changes quickly when a routine street killing leads to a conspiracy involving a huge drug company. Unlike our Supreme Court, Grisham doesn’t think corporations are people, too.

"The Partner" finds a lawyer-thief on the run. He stole $90 million from his firm and went into hiding. Then he’s caught, and his partners want revenge. Torture is on the menu.

"The Pelican Brief" finds two Supreme Court justices murdered in order to fix a case. Justice, as I said earlier, is untidy indeed.

Grisham’s latest legal thriller, last year’s "The Racketeer," involves a disbarred, imprisoned lawyer who tells the FBI he knows who gunned down a federal judge and will talk if they cut him a deal. (It’s probably the only commercial fiction ever written about Federal Rule 35, which allows for sentence reduction in return for "substantial assistance" in prosecuting someone else.

In a few weeks, "Sycamore Row" will be released. Going back to his roots, Grisham hauls out the hero of "A Time to Kill," Jake Brigance, who returns to the Ford County courthouse and a racially charged trial.

As promised, here are Grisham’s books in order. (I omitted the Theodore Boone Young Adult stories and some non-fiction).

A Time to Kill (1989)

The Firm (1991)

The Pelican Brief (1992)

The Client (1993)

The Chamber (1994)

The Rainmaker (1995)

The Runaway Jury (1996)

The Partner (1997)

The Street Lawyer (1998)

The Testament (1999)

The Brethren (2000)

A Painted House (2001)

Skipping Christmas (2001

The Summons (2002)

The King of Torts (2003)

The Bleachers (2003)

The Last Juror (2004)

The Broker (2005)

Playing for Pizza (2007)

The Appeal (2008)

The Associate (2009)

The Confession (2010)

The Litigators (2011)

Calico Joe (2012)

The Racketeer (2012)

Sycamore Row (2013)

Yes, the man is prolific. Just typing all those titles wore me out.

I'll leave you with a quote from young lawyer Rudy Baylor, a classic Grisham underdog in "The Rainmaker," who takes on a massive insurance fraud case against overwhelming odds.

"I'm alone and outgunned, scared and inexperienced, but I'm right."

Paul Levine



Monday, September 23, 2013

Annie Oakley Rides Again

Patty here...

A writer has to do what a writer has to do and sometimes that means research. My current work-in-progress is a police procedural. Since I know almost nothing about guns, I had to find out. This past Saturday I attended the 4-hour "Handgun Shooting Workshop for Mystery Writers" led by gun dealer, trainer, expert-witness Bruce Krell of Shooters-Edge, Inc. A couple of buddies joined me: TV-writer, playwright, novelist Matt Witten and actor, novelist Harley Jane Kozak.

The class was held at a private shooting range on Little Tujunga Canyon Road in the Angeles National Forest. I mentioned the class to a law enforcement friend of mine. He asked me where the range was. I told him in the middle of nowhere. He rolled his eyes and said, "All gun ranges are in the middle of nowhere." Now I know what he meant.

Matt helps Bruce set up the targets
Close up
Behind the cardboard on which the targets were stapled is a sand berm that catches the fired rounds. The metal poles the cardboard is hanging from were pockmarked with bullet holes. I quipped to Bruce that somebody must have been a really bad shot. "Cops," he said. (sorry, Jim Born)

During the first part of the workshop, Bruce schooled us on the proper terminology of gun parts (it's a cartridge or a round that goes into a handgun, not a bullet), gun safety, the three types of handguns (revolver, semi-automatic and fully automatic) and how crime fiction writers often get it wrong, i.e., the "Law of Conservation of Momentum" (the mass of a human body is greater than that of a bullet...oops round) dictates that it's unlikely that anybody will fly backward when shot with a handgun as we often see on television).

Bruce was patient and encouraging with a ready sense of humor. He was also tough on us if we forgot something important, like keeping our finger off the trigger until we were ready to fire. When it was time to shoot, each of us was issued either a Glock 17 or a Glock 19. I shot with the 19. We loaded cartridges (rounds) into the magazine or mag, not the "clip." This was more difficult than I expected. The first 2 or 3 went in easily. Then it got harder.

Harley demonstrates the proper way to hold a gun
Matt with ear protectors around his neck
The closer we got to actually shooting, the more nervous I became. I had no idea how much of a recoil I'd experience and I worried about hurting somebody. I racked the slide. A round entered the chamber. There was no going back. I placed my finger on the trigger. When everyone in our group started firing off rounds, I struggled to concentrate. Even with ear protectors, it was loud. And we weren't the only people shooting. There were other groups on other ranges in the area. It sounded like a war zone.

After practicing for a while, Bruce changed the target and the scenario. We were to load six rounds into the magazines, insert the mags into our Glocks and when he gave the signal, we were to fire continuously at the target as if we were in a gunfight. (90% of semi-automatic guns eject cartridges to the right. Average: 125 degrees and 9 feet from the bore line).

Harley, Matt and me
Matt and Harley check the results
Harley is a crack shot. She routinely outperformed everyone in the group. During the gunfight, one of Matt's shots hit the target dead center, a teeny tiny circle hard to see even close up. Me? Comic relief. My "gunfight" shots were off center to the left and ranged from the target's neck to the chest where the heart would have been if only I'd hit it on the correct side, which tells me I still don't know how to aim. At least I didn't hit the poles!

My six rounds
In the Q&A after the workshop, one of the participants asked about military weapons. As it turned out, Bruce had a sniper rifle in this SUV from a previous class. We were able to look and learn.

Harley holding an $8,000 sniper rifle

Here's what I learned from this exercise:
  • I have some awesomely talented friends, but I knew that going in.
  • More training is needed before I feel I know anything about handguns.
  • Heavy gunfire is disorienting even when you know where it's coming from.
  • Keeping your hands steady on a handgun in a stressful situation isn't easy.
Thanks to this workshop, I now have a greater understanding and appreciation for law enforcement officers and what they face on a daily basis. I also have new insights into the psyche of the main character in my WIP, which was, after all, my goal for the workshop.
Happy Monday and have a safe day!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Another Medley of Random Thoughts ...

from Jacqueline

Here are some of the various, random thoughts that crossed my mind this week.  Please don’t hold any of these opinions against me – treat them as clouds that pass in the sky, just dalliances with chance notions that presented themselves to yours truly as I went about my business.

First of all, guns.  It seems we have a bit of a problem with guns in this country that no one can seem to get to grips with.  Nutcases can acquire guns with no trouble at all.  Normally sensible people caught up in sudden moments of discord can get their hands on guns, then wonder how they managed to take out their loved ones in a moment of temper.  And children have been known to blast each other to pieces with guns.  This is a sad situation, and clearly some lateral thinking is in order.  Perhaps Chris Rock (was it Chris Rock?) had it right in that skit where he said that if we can’t control the guns, let’s control the ammo - $500 per bullet.  There you go, that would make people think twice before firing, perhaps.  I’ve a couple of ideas of my own.

 First of all, I wonder why these morons who go out to create mass murder with guns have a propensity to wear camouflage gear, the sort of designer duds generally worn by members of the armed services.  Interesting, that.  So, let’s do this – if we can’t control the guns, let’s control the uniform.  I don’t think I have ever heard of a dude in a Hawaiian shirt shooting up a MacDonalds.  Happy clothing, that’s what we need. So, if the background checks aren’t working, let’s give away a free Hawaiian shirt with every gun, and have it be mandatory that if you pick up that gun, you have to wear the shirt. 

Ooops, I forgot about him and the NRA.  OK, so maybe some Mickey Mouse ears.  Just no army fatigues. In fact, let’s take that a step further.

Only people in the armed forces can wear any kind of camouflage. Strict control over all green/beige/weird flappy-legged clothing.  

No army surplus stores, none of that – and you hand over your uniform when you leave the services, or the police or any security organization, with big consequences if you try to sell the uniform.  And no more war-ish fashion statements.  In fact, even one more step further – uniforms can only be worn by people who should be wearing them when they are at work.  Except Hawaiian shirts – they can be worn by anyone, and you have to smile while you’re wearing said shirt.

 That’s it from me on that subject. And don’t think I’m being flip about a serious matter.  I just want people in some sort of authority or government to take this issue seriously instead of pandering to the whims of those who keep quoting that darn Second Amendment.  Go get yourself a musket and try jabbing away with some gunpowder before you want to fire your gun ...

... and Jim, you know I don't mean you - you're a trained professional in the service of the people, and you carry a gun because you need to - and because of the people out there with guns not wearing Hawaiian shirts.

 On to real estate agents.  Seen in an advertisement – in fact, often seen in property advertisements, especially in the San Francisco area.  “Queen Anne Victorian (house for sale …)”  Couple of things occur to me about this. First, Queen Anne lived from 1665 to  1707.  Houses built in her reign tend to look like this:

 Queen Victoria lived from 1819 to 1901, and houses built in her reign looked like this:

 Or this:

There is a difference, and there was no real overlap, so I’m wondering about this Queen Anne Victorian. But more than anything, I wonder about these houses named after British monarchs in American Cities. I mean, Queen Anne, yes, because she was also queen of America during her lifetime, and London was effectively the capital of America at that point.  But Victoria, no, America had its own government established by the time she rolled around, so I wonder why houses are not called, say, a Quincy or a Tyler, or Grover. Just wondering.

And there’s another thing that real estate agents do that’s seems a bit weird to this Brit.  When I firsr came to live in the USA, I stayed with a friend who was a real estate agent, and having seen several properties described as a “manse” I asked, “Wow, why so many vicars selling their houses?”  She looked at me blankly.  “A manse," I said.  "The home of a man of the cloth!" Manse was not, traditionally, an abbreviation of “mansion” and when I see it used in advertising for big houses, it makes me giggle.  Now you know I look at photos of houses I can’t afford.  By the way, this is an old English manse:

All very Wuthering Heights, eh?

This is a San Francisco mansion:

The size of that thing!  Can you imagine yelling up the stairs that dinner is on the table and getting cold!

And while we’re on the subject of men of the cloth, I was reading a review of Robert Redford’s new movie this week – All Is Lost – when I came across the paragraph where the reviewer informs the readers that at one point Redford has to use the “sexton” to plot a course after his yacht is severely damaged at sea.  A sexton, eh?  This is a sexton:

A sexton is the officer of the church (or other place of worship) responsible for buildings, maintenance, etc.  I think the reviewer meant this:

A sextant.  Typically used in celestial navigation (correct me if I'm wrong, Patty).  Clearly, All Is Lost in more ways that one.  Let's start with vocabulary.

Finally (thank the Lord, I hear you say).  Could I be the only person who thinks an advertisement for “Conflict Free Diamond Engagement And Wedding Rings” gives the impression that marriage needs all the help it can get?

So, that’s it from me this week.  Have a great weekend! 

Oh, and one more tiny thing - why "real" estate agent?  Why not simply "estate agent"?  What is an estate, if not real?  Especially Queen Anne mansions and Victorian manses.  I think I am slipping into locution's netherworld ....

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Curious Case of the Shrinking Newspaper

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

On July 25, 1925, at the height of the South Florida real estate boom, The Miami Daily News published a 508-page Sunday edition.  The newspaper itself was three weeks old.  For many years, it was the dominant newspaper in Mia-muh.  Some of its reporting was quite good; other reporting was, shall we say, less than prescient.

In the 1980's, then called The Miami News, an afternoon paper, was losing tons of money, but for the fact that it was supported by a Joint Operating Agreement with the The Miami Herald.  I remember when I lived on a cul-de-sac street in Coral Gables.  There were 13 houses on the street.  Mine was the only one getting home delivery of the News.  I took this as a bad sign.  So, too, was the fact that the paper kept getting slimmer and slimmer.

All this was brought to mind today by what seems to be the skinniest Miami Herald in memory.  A 12-page "A" section.  A 1-page Business section.

Downsized in staff and newsprint, The Miami Herald has already sold and abandoned its iconic building on Biscayne Bay, where I worked as a young reporter in my brief, unspectacular career as a journalist.
The Herald's new, smaller digs are now west of the Palmetto Expressway in what properly be called the Everglades.  I don't know what is in store for daily print journalism, any more than I know what will happen to brick-and-mortal bookstores.  But I feel a loss as each of those enterprises that depend on the written word seem to shrivel every day. 

The irony is not lost on me that I am expressing these thoughts on the Internet.  But then, there isn't room for a letter-to-the-editor in the newspaper.

Paul Levine

Monday, September 16, 2013

Last night I dreamt I went to...well, not Manderley again

Patty here...

Do you remember your dreams? I almost never do. But last night I had a vivid dream that unfolded, not in bits and pieces, but as a story.

In my waking life, I'm the president of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime, an international organization of mystery writers and readers created in 1986 to promote women mystery authors. Los Angeles is the largest of the chapters. We meet every month at a library and feature speakers related to crime, including those in law enforcement, crime scene cleanup and forensic science. For thirty minutes before each meeting we have refreshments and network and that's where my sleeping story begins.

In my dream, the chapter was meeting, not at the library, but in a large auditorium at a convention center. The speaker was an author who was lecturing about writing. Prior to the meeting I had met a man at another event. He was in his 60s, shy but sweet, who told me he was a musician. I invited him to perform during the 30 minute networking event before the meeting. I assumed he'd arrive with an old guitar and murmur a few folk songs in exchange for a store-bought cookie past its sell-buy date and a plastic cup half-full of Sprite.

However, when he arrived, he wasn't alone. An entourage of at least 5 other band members and a publicist trailed him like ducklings. And then other people started arriving in droves and filling the seats in the auditorium. He was obviously an important musician whom I had failed to recognize. The publicist told me the event was sold out. I was nonplussed. I told her we were a non-profit and couldn't afford to pay a band. She told me not to worry, that payment was covered by others. It was explained in the brochure, she said. Except, there was no brochure.

The band took the stage and began playing music. Their repertoire was part performance art, part comedy, part political satire and totally entertaining. The audience was thrilled. Just as I began to worry about pushing our scheduled speaker off of the program, one of our board members rushed over to me. Something big had just happened in downtown L.A.—a game changer for everyone. Before she could tell me what it was, I woke up to my cat, Riley-girl, licking my chin. Her food bowl was empty and she wanted it filled.

I complied. Then I consulted a tome that's been on my bookshelf for years. It's called The Dream Book by Betty Bethards. I once attended a workshop presented by Ms. Bethards at the Whole Life Expo in Pasadena. The book includes a list of key words that appear in dreams and her interpretation of each. Below are several words I lifted from my dream. Unfortunately, Riley-girl kept me from learning if that last event was good or bad. It was probably bad because this is a story and stories always have heightened stakes. Here's what Betty wrote:
Author: You are the writer of your life script. You can make it easy or difficult.
Stranger: An aspect of self you are not yet familiar with.
Stadium: Huge capacity for all parts of yourself to join together in a team spirit for life.
Stage: The stage of life. How you present or show yourself to others, beliefs, attitudes, behavior. Roles may change at any time. Your present performance. See actor.
Actor: Role you play, how others see you; a role you are playing at the moment which is serving some particular purpose. We all are actors; roles and life experiences are illusion. Our presentation of self changes as we grow; our roles change with expanding awareness and self-knowledge.
Music: Healing, creative flow of life: joyful, uplifting. Inner harmony peace, beauty.
Comedy: Do not take yourself so seriously. Remember everything is a set-up to help you learn your lessons. Lighten up. laughter heals.
Crowd: Many parts of self. Dream context would show whether noisy, peaceful, purposeful, or whatever, indicating how well different parts of self are integrated.

What do you make of it? Any key words I should have included?

Happy Monday!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Ramble About Cooking ....

from Jacqueline

I know this might seem mildly controversial, after all, with cooking shows running from noon until night on TV and an abundance of celebrity chefs, I have come to believe that the ability to dish up a good meal is overrated.  I’m with Princess Grace of Monaco.  “If you can read, you can cook,” she apparently commented, though I am a bit pushed to imagine Grace Kelly getting to grips with a good old fry up.

It’s not that I can’t cook – I am told I’m a pretty good cook, which is all very nice – but I have realized that I don’t get a heck of a lot out of it.  Now, if you love to potter in your kitchen, that’s fine – invite me over anytime, if you think you can deal with my list of food intolerances.  Really, I never used to be like that – had a cast iron stomach from Crete to Jeddah, and from Rabat to Algiers – but a bad stomach bug, picked up while on book tour a few years ago, has left me “delicate” in the digestive department.  I like to keep it simple – no fancy sauces (my Dad was right – they cover up the flavor of good produce), and nothing with more than five ingredients.  Any more than five ingredients, and I know one of them will keep me up at night.  But back to cooking.

I’ve always been able to cook. I came from a household where both parents worked - pretty much all of my peers at school were in the same boat - so my first job upon arriving home from school was to “start the dinner.”  That meant preparing vegetables.  So, off came the school uniform, on went the jeans and t-shirt – and apron.  Before starting my culinary chores, I’d make a quick tea for my brother (he was my job, when I was a kid) and any pals he brought home – his friend, Pete, still remembers me bossing a little gang of 6-year-old boys around, making them sit nicely at the table while I put cups of tea and slices of bread and jam in front of them, plus a chocolate cake I’d made the day before.  That would tide everyone over until dinner. 

It was therefore strange, at age 11, to go to a girls’ high school where “Domestic Science” was part of the curriculum – most of the girls knew how to cook an entire roast dinner before they even left primary school!  Yet there was Miss Chapman – who had it in for me from Day One – trying to teach us how to make cheese on toast in the first lesson.  Cheese on toast?  My friend Anne-Marie looked at me and rolled her eyes – she could make the best risotto bar none by the time she was ten, and was known for being able to rustle up a great meal for twenty, if the occasion demanded.  I still love her risotto!  But back to Miss Chapman.  She loved to hover near my “station” in Domestic Science, hoping to catch me doing something wrong. I remember the day she leaned over me as I was chopping onion.  “I’ve caught you!” she said.  That was a giveaway, wasn’t it?  “You’re not using your vegetable knife!” She pointed to the offending large knife in my hand.  “Well,” I said, “I prefer this knife because I can really get going with some speed and cut finer slices.”  She reddened, as if to explode.  I might as well have said, “Who gives a flying you-know-what whether it’s a vegetable knife or not?”  Which is what I was thinking.

Back to the main point of all this. I think cooking is overrated.  I don’t enjoy it, though I love to have people over to dinner. I love setting the table with linen and silver, my best crystal glasses, and the little cruet set I’ve had for years.  But all that messing with pots and pans – heck, you can keep it.  I’m always a bit taken aback when I’m asked for the recipe for a dish, because I can’t remember how I’ve cooked something half the time – slap a bit of this or that on the salmon or chicken and hope for the best.  And always roast the potatoes.  I have to tell you, I make great roast potatoes – always have done.  But you see, I don’t know how people don’t make good roast potatoes. A friend even asked me around to her house to cook them in front of her in her kitchen, so she could watch – and she still can’t cook roast potatoes.  She can do everything else far better than I ever will be able to, and she loves – just loves – to cook.  Just not roast potatoes.

To wrap this up – and I am amazed you’ve got this far – I remember reading that author Sue Grafton has a personal chef.  Personal chef!  I’ve met authors who have their own jets (yes, really, though I had better not tell you who it was – he told me about the jet when we were on panel together.  His wife was also there, head to toe in Chanel), and I have met authors who have made it really big and have large properties and – get this – bodyguards.  Now, you can keep your private jets, and your bodyguards, and your big compounds and luxury apartments. I have a small bungalow, and that’s just fine – but I would give anything, almost anything, to have my own, private, personal chef.  Someone who can do gluten free, no dairy, no soy, only fish and fowl, and never shellfish.   Wine would be nice. 

I should probably add that I really love making jams and chutneys. My Summer 2013 Mixed Berry is the best yet, to say nothing of my Spicy Tomato & Apple.  Making some more this weekend.

Enjoy your weekend - I hope you've not been landed with the cooking, unless you really, really love slaving over a hot stove.