Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Making A Major Purchase...

...and other thoughts about the spending of money.

There are lots of very good things written about financial prudence -- emergency funds, college funds, retirement accounts, mortgages, and various types of debt. And it is quite important, to my mind, to have financial prudence -- to live within your means and save a bit. My dad always taught us that you should save something from every paycheck, and this is excellent advice, as it accomplishes more than just ensuring that you build a savings account for emergencies and future needs. Saving a little bit from each paycheck helps you to control your spending, to think more about where your money is going, as you are not permitting yourself to spend everything you make (or more than what you make). Spending something less than you earn and saving the rest helps you to establish good financial habits for the long run. Living below your means and accumulating savings also provides for those times when you must make a major purchase. And those times do come.

And that's what I'm going to talk about today -- those times when you do need to make a major purchase. I'm not going to speak about major repair costs today -- as when something breaks and needs to be fixed on your car or in your house. What I'm going to address are those times when you need to buy something new or "new to you" -- such as a car or a washer/dryer or a refrigerator/freezer or a dishwasher or a new suit and shoes for a job interview or a cell phone or a computer or a TV. And -- let's not kid ourselves -- most people these days consider a cell phone and a computer and a TV to be "necessities." 

I am not, however, going to speak about finding good deals and making wise choices about affordable brands. I am not going to address the decision about whether or not you actually need to buy any of these things. I am going to assume that you have saved the money to make a purchase without using credit. Except -- perhaps -- for the car purchase. People oftentimes take out car loans in a very responsible manner. I am going to assume that you have been prudent in your budgeting and in your decision to actually go ahead with a purchase.

What am I going to speak about then? I am going to give some thought to the ATTITUDE with which you make your purchase. And I'm talking mostly to those people who really are quite frugal and agonize about spending money, even if they really have plenty of the green stuff. Yes, there are -- indeed -- those people among us. And it is to them that I am talking today.

The right attitude about making a big purchase -- which, necessarily, involves plopping down a good deal of $$$ -- is something I also learned from my dad. My dad never made a lot of money. We never had a lot of money. But, he had a very healthy attitude about money. He used to say, "If you can fix it with money, it's not a problem." And when something expensive needed to be purchased, he made it into a fun time. Yes -- a fun time. For example, if shopping needed to be done for a car or a carpet or a new dishwasher, there would be a rather celebratory atmosphere surrounding the whole thing. He didn't mope and drag himself down to the store and resentfully plop down the cash and come immediately home with a resigned, yet depressed, attitude. What did he do? He often included the whole family (or at least my mother) in the purchase. He would wake up in an excited mood, talking about the thing we were going to buy. We might all pile into the car and head to the store, all three of us kids providing our "helpful input" during the selection and purchase process. My dad allowed this because he was Italian (and Italians are quite forbearing of children) and he thought it would make us smart. (I bet we enamored ourselves to a lot of salespeople. Ha!) After the purchase was made, we might go to lunch or to get an ice cream cone or stop at the market to buy something special for supper. And then we would all gather around the newly purchased item at home, admiring it and talking about how much fun we were going to have with it or how useful it was going to be. It was always a grand time, with my dad never, ever letting on that buying this thing was any type of financial strain. Even though I know it was. I knew it at the time, too, because my parents were always quite open about our financial situation. Because they thought it would make us smart. My mom and dad often made things inconvenient for themselves by including us kids, because they thought it was an important part of our education.

These days, most people are financially stressed. In my opinion, a lot of this stress could be relieved by appropriate public policy. Unfortunately, that is probably not going to happen any time soon. So, what do we do in the meantime? Wring our hands and fret? That's a waste of this wonderful gift called life. So, what I do is look to my dad, who really didn't have an easy time of it during the turbulent 60's and 70's. Did things get to him? Yes, they did. But, I always saw that -- when the rubber hit the road and money needed to be spent -- he made the decision to turn the proverbial lemons into the proverbial lemonade. And he also had this attitude when deciding to make a purchase here and there that wasn't exactly a "necessity" -- such as the color TV he bought when I was in the 7th grade or the dinner at the nice restaurant for the out-of-town relatives. When he made the choice to make a significant purchase, he did consider it carefully. He was prudent. But, when he decided to go ahead with it, he turned it into a joy and some of the happiest of my childhood memories -- and some of the best preparation for my own adult life. Thanks, Dad. And may you be resting in peace. <3

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Writing Erotica... not something I have ever done.

But still -- true to form -- I have opinions about it.

And I can imagine writing about it. As in, I can imagine the things I would write. If I did, in fact, write erotica. Which I do not. At this point, anyway.

I have read some erotica, though, here and there, throughout my life. And most of it, in my opinion, is pretty boring. And sort of predictable. And often gross. Although, admittedly, these things are matters of taste. And I am just talking about my own.

So, after much consideration, here are my thoughts about that literary genre known as "erotica."

First of all, it should be a bit subtle. A lot of erotica is not subtle. It's like, "He marched over to her and yanked her hair back by her ponytail and shoved his tongue down her throat while simultaneously taking off his pants. And she yielded to his irresistible irresistibleness."

It's true, isn't it!?!? It's just like that a lot of the time! And I mean -- really!?!? REALLY!?!? Because that is just lame. And not at all erotic.

Where is the subtlety? Things that are erotic -- or sexy, if you will -- have a bit of subtlety to them. A bit of mystery. Things that are erotic should be enticing. And enticing things don't come at you all at once. They build slowly, gaining your attention a little bit at a time, until -- finally -- your full attention is held.

Erotica should also be about more than just the physical. Sexually attractive things encompass not just the body, but the intellect and the spirit. They appeal to the wit, to the sense of humor. They might make you laugh. I guess what I am saying is that erotica should appeal to the whole of a person, to all the aspects of what make a human being human. Yes, there is physical attraction; but, there is much more. And not only does foreplay include the successful unhinging of a bra strap, but a funny face and a giggle, as well. Or the sharing of a sorrow. What is erotic is the feeling that a person understands at least something of the deepest parts of you, and beholds and embraces those parts.

Keeping this in mind, erotica does not necessarily have to include full-on sex, at least not in a way which comes prematurely in the story. That which is truly sexy, truly erotic, has to do with the touch, the gaze. This big old rush by writers of erotica to get to the orgasm -- putting the orgasm on a pedestal -- robs this genre of a lot of what could be interesting about it. And it should be interesting, meaning that the story surrounding and involving the characters should be given at least as much thought -- if not more -- than "the act" itself. Most erotica that I have encountered in my lifetime does give this sense of "let's hurry up and get to it." There might be a little bit of story involved, but it is clearly not carefully crafted. Its importance is marginalized. And this, to my mind, undermines most of what could actually be erotic about most erotic literature. The characters, their individual stories, their story together -- these things are incredibly vital to a believable and compelling sexual dynamic. 

I read an article once about how reading erotica influenced young people's ideas about how "real-life" sex should be. An anecdote that made me laugh -- and also made me think -- was related by a young woman. She said that she came to realize that she didn't have to behave like some sort of gymnast in bed -- transitioning from one position and "activity" to another, in an effort to keep herself and her partner "entertained." She said that it dawned on her, as she had sex one time, that it was infinitely more pleasurable to just lie still and relax and enjoy her partner. She found that she was much more gratified and pleasured by having sex in this more "restful" way. She realized that she actually became more aroused. Yes, I laughed, because the way she related the story was kind of cute. But, it also made me a little bit sad, because a lot of people are getting at least some of their ideas about how to have sex by reading erotic literature.

Of course, some people will say that we should just "stamp out" erotic literature. But, that's not going to happen. There has always been erotica, and there always will be. But, maybe, more of it should encompass what is real, what is human, what is truly engrossing in human sexuality and the whole of human relationships, rather than insulting us with cheesy, thoughtless, hastily slapped together, very mechanical, and fairly dull attempts to cheaply titillate.


Monday, July 14, 2014

White Space

I should probably not read blogs when I am tired, which is what I've been doing lately. I should probably not write when I am tired, which is what I have been doing lately.

Oh, well.

I was going to write about writing erotica. I have not actually written erotica, but I have some thoughts about writing it -- were I to do that -- which I wanted to express here. Maybe I will do that in my next post. If I ever did actually write erotica, I would probably do it in some other forum, under a pseudonym. So, if you would want to read my erotica -- should it ever materialize -- you will have to let me know and I will tell you where to find it. I think it would be quite good, and not lame. Most erotica is pretty lame, these days. I think my mom would have been excellent at writing erotica.


Instead of writing about erotica, I am going to write about a mom thing. The other day, I was reading the blog of a homeschooling mother of several children. Her kids have been busy with a variety of activities during these long, hot summer days, so she has had a lot of time alone. She writes: "....the house is mostly empty and I'm understanding how people who send their kids to school and work from home (Writing erotica, perhaps? JUST KIDDING! She did not say that. I am just being a wise-ass.) are able to accomplish so much. The rhythm definitely offers a great deal of white space."

Maybe I was in an overly sensitive mood when I read that statement. But, that statement seemed to me to be just a little bit judgmental and just a tad ignorant. It's kind of like this mother has allowed herself to feel inferior to these other mothers who send their kids to school and work from home and seem to get so much more accomplished than she does. And then she tells herself that she doesn't have to feel inferior about not getting as much accomplished, because these other women are sending their kids away every day. And -- it seems to be implied -- that she is patting herself on the back because she doesn't send her kids away. She goes to the trouble of keeping them with her, which is -- in her mind -- inherently superior.

It could very well be that this mother did not mean to be at all judgmental in what she said. Here is the thing, though: WHY DOES SHE EVEN HAVE TO SPEAK ABOUT THESE OTHER MOTHERS, who send their kids to school and work from home, AT ALL?  She doesn't. She could just say that her kids are off at wonderful summer activities, which means she has lots of wonderful time to herself to get many things done. No comparison needs to be made to any other mothers. No mention needs to be made of any other mothers and their choices and their lives. Because these other mothers -- the ones who send their kids away to school and rejoice when summer vacation is over -- love their kids every bit as much as the homeschooling mothers. And they also feel plenty stressed out -- even with all their "white space."

Now, I have gone to school and taught school and sent my kids to school and homeschooled. And -- yes -- there is more "white space" when the kids go to school. But, let me tell you, the hours between 5:30 and 7:30 AM and 3:00 and bedtime are no picnic. Those hours are much, much, much harder when you send your kids to school than when you homeschool. As a homeschool mom, you get a lot of flexibility as to how school is done by your children. You can load up certain days with more assignments and lighten things up on other days, according to what else is happening in your life and your children's lives. You don't have bring junior home from soccer practice late in the evening and make sure the math assignment gets finished. You don't have your long weekend -- during which you are taking your family on a long-anticipated camping trip -- surprisingly usurped by a project that the teacher sends home at the last minute because she decides that you have all this time since it's a long weekend. You don't have to spend every Thursday night with your teary little girl, making sure she is ready for the dreaded weekly spelling test. You don't have to rush around in the morning finding missing shoes and trying to get that kid who just doesn't like breakfast to eat breakfast and then helping him clean up when he barfs because he really doesn't like breakfast. You don't have to cope with make-up work when your child is out sick for a week with the flu. SENDING YOUR KIDS TO SCHOOL IS DAMN STRESSFUL, in ways that homeschooling is not. Homeschooling my kids was WAAAAAY easier than sending them to school, even though I didn't have much precious "white space."

Of course, you could say that I am being all judgmental here. And you would be right. The thing is, though, that it is possible to think about and speak about and write about our life choices without bringing up other people and their life choices and making comparisons. We can just say, "This is what I decided to do and this is how it's working out for me." And we can realize that we really don't know what goes on in other people's homes and in other people's hearts.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

How To Meet A Celebrity...

...without being self-conscious.

Again, I am writing about something that I really know so much about.


Although, I have met a few "celebrities" over the years. Some of them were just celebrities in their own minds. Or to their own "elite" group of groupies. But, no matter. A celebrity is a celebrity, no matter the size of his fanbase.

What really qualifies me to speak on this subject is the fact that I met Captain Satellite when I was about 4 and 1/2 years old. Now -- don't be rolling your eyes. Stay with me here.

Do any of you remember Captain Satellite? He had a kids' show when I was a very little girl. I adored his show and I adored him. And, one fine day, he made an appearance at our local McDonald's. My dad found out about it and brought me to meet him. I was SO excited! I had never been so excited in my whole and entire 4 and 1/2 years of life. And when I got to the front of the line, there were a couple of things that were painfully obvious. First -- he didn't look like he did on TV. He had on no make-up and his hair wasn't styled and he wasn't in his "uniform" and he wasn't handsome AT ALL. In fact, he was fairly homely. Isn't that mean? I'm sorry to be mean, but it's true. And it frightened me. Second -- it was quite clear that he was NOT AT ALL comfortable meeting all these little kids. He didn't know what to do or say. There was no script and no director. Now, of course, at 4 and 1/2 years old, I didn't have any concept of scripts or directors; but, I could tell that he was at a total loss as to how to behave. And this made me feel quite bad, really. I didn't know how to take it. Was it me he didn't like, or was he just some sort of poser? I wasn't quite sure. All I know is that I never felt quite the same way about Captain Satellite or his TV show again.

Being the kind of little kid I was, it took me several weeks to process this whole experience. I have never been the type to be able to let go of traumatic experiences easily. I need to sort them out in my head first. And I came to the conclusion -- even at my very young age -- that there must be some sort of very vast difference between a fictional character and the person who plays him. I somehow understood -- even at that very young age -- that an actor (or any other famous person) is just a person, after all. And you shouldn't expect any more from him than you would expect from any other human being on the face of the planet.

As the years went by, my little hypothesis about actors and other celebrities was pretty much confirmed -- at least in my mind. I have met some well-known speakers. I have met some Blue Angels and other "hot-shot" military types. When I worked at a credit union, I met a few cops and firefighters who could -- basically -- cause the whole loan department (which was composed entirely of females, excepting one lone male) to swoon in their cubicles. And I have met some "creative types" here in California. Some of these people have been very friendly and outgoing -- the kind of people who have the gift of putting others at ease and making conversation. But, some have not. And those who have not haven't been bad people; they have just been kind of shy and awkward themselves. Okay, once in a while, there has been an snot in the crowd. An ego. Somebody who doesn't want to have anything to do with anybody, except for the gal who is 36-24-36 with long legs and a thigh gap. There are those kinds of people. And you shouldn't really give a shit if you run into one of those. Their problem is their own. Don't let them make you feel bad. But usually, the "celebrity" who is not good at "meeting and greeting" is just a person who does not have an outgoing personality. This can -- admittedly -- be very hard on fans. But, not a whole lot can be done about it. A lot of slack needs to be cut all-around.

I think about it this way. I was involved in music as a young person, as were my sisters. My youngest sister was also heavily involved in drama. She participated in much theater as a teen. Therefore, I was exposed to a lot of "drama kids" when I was a teenager and young adult. And it is these "drama kids" who grow up -- if they are extremely driven and hard-working and a little bit lucky -- to be the Hollywood celebrities we see around us. And even though they might be rich and famous, they are still the "drama kids". And do you know what "drama kids" are like? I'll tell you (while trying not to over-generalize). They are a little bit quirky. A tad eccentric. They live their lives "off the beaten path". Some of them are outgoing, but a lot of them are rather introverted. This doesn't mean they don't like people. They do. And they absolutely adore a good "after-party". But, they tend to be most comfortable with their besties and other "drama kids". They are not entirely comfortable having to interact one-on-one with a vast crowd of strangers. Or even one stranger. They have these wonderful imaginations, which allow them to do the work that they do. But, this often means that they live a lot of their life "in their heads", if you will. So, they can be a bit shy -- especially among people they don't know -- because they haven't necessarily spent a great deal of time developing the kinds of social skills that would make them immensely popular and great with strangers. Yes, they can get up in front of a crowd and put on an amazing performance. They can love and play to the reactions of an audience. During a performance, though, an actor is exercising his creativity -- playing a character, being that character. This is a completely different thing than having to actually interact with somebody on a personal level. These are two completely different skill sets. So, somebody who can give the impression -- onstage or onscreen -- of being friendly and outgoing and demonstrative can really be quite the opposite in real life.

So, I guess the point that I am trying to make with all this gibber-gabber is that these people everyone gets so intimidated by are just the "drama kids" you remember from high school or college. Really. Okay -- so, maybe they're the "cream of the crop", and they have been professionally waxed and highlighted and tweezed and exercised to flawless perfection by a team of experts. But, they're still the "drama kids". And without their team of experts, they'd probably look at least fairly regular after a month, or so.  Therefore, if you get to meet one, don't be all intimidated. They are no better than you. They are just human beings. Often human beings who are a little bit shy, and perhaps even anxious because of all the judging they are subjected to in our society. Therefore, try to put your celebrity at ease. Try not to hyperventilate. Just smile and extend your hand and express your admiration/gratitude for their work politely and in a calm voice. Then, use your best judgment as to how long to linger and whether or not to ask for a selfie. Maybe treat it like a dance, and let the celebrity take the lead. But, for heaven's sake, don't feel like you're meeting some kind of god. Because you're not. It's just that drama kid who used to day-dream his way through geometry class. And then worked his freakin' ass off after high school chasing the dream. God bless him.

P.S. -- When I say "him", I also mean "her". But, I hate doing the him/her thing and most of my readers are female and get more intimidated by male celebrities. ;-)

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Little Bit Of "Gotham" Fan Fiction

(I know. "Gotham" hasn't even come out yet. So, it's kinda silly to write fan fiction. But, I'm kinda tired and I've missed writing lately and I enjoy being creative and Miss Pinelou keeps posting pictures taken by people in NYC who are happening across the shooting of that much-anticipated show. So, I just felt like writing some fan fiction.)

Protagonist: Annie. Middle-aged widow and mom of two young adult children who have graduated from college and gone on to greener pastures. Long-time resident of Gotham City. Diner waitress.


Two o'clock in the morning, iPhone screen says. Hmmm... If I can afford this iPhone, why am I living in this rather questionable apartment building? Well, it's clean. No cockroaches, anyway. Simple and clean. And Roy -- my late husband's best friend -- he does give me a good deal on the rent. A little bit of a discount, for friendship's sake. Not a huge discount, mind you. But -- ha! -- enough to pay for this iPhone. And he doesn't expect anything in return, if you know what I mean. Not that any guy in his right mind would. In fact, most guys would probably pay me to keep my clothes on. Oh, well. Maybe I'm being too hard on myself. After all, when I take that pretty, but neglected, negligee out of the back of my bottom dresser drawer every once in a while and put it on, what looks back at me from the full-length mirror isn't so bad, I guess. Not for a fifty-year-old, anyway. It's a lovely negligee. And a lovely mirror. My husband -- God rest him -- enjoyed surrounding me with loveliness, even though he really couldn't afford it, not on his sergeant's salary.

Yes. My husband was a cop. And that's what killed him. No. He wasn't killed on the job. He wasn't shot or stabbed or beaten or run over by a "bad guy." So, how was he killed by his work? Heart attack. A heart attack brought on by what he saw happening in this city. There has been an evil growing -- growing for a long time now. Barely discernible at first, it now penetrates and is choking the life out of all that was good about this once beautiful place.  And it was such a beautiful place -- for a family, to be a cop, to be a wife and mom. My husband saw the evil from the beginning. He tried to warn people -- the other cops, our pastor, our friends. But, they just laughed at him. Called him paranoid. But, he was perceptive and he was right. And by the time others noticed what he had been seeing for a long while, it was too late. And it broke his heart.

It made me angry, really. I was angry with him for dying, for leaving me and our daughters. Our bright, beautiful daughters. I felt like he loved the city more than he loved us. Why couldn't we have just left, moved away? It would have been hard, but not impossible. He was stubborn, though. He felt a duty to the city. And the city took him from me, from our kids. It made me so angry. I'm okay now, though. Because -- in the end -- I understood. We weren't raised here, in this city. But, it did become our home. We somehow came to belong to it and it to us. After all, I'm still here, aren't I? Here in this rather questionable apartment that I moved into after selling my house. My daughters had already gone away to college when they lost their father, and our neighborhood was becoming less-than-safe. So, I sold the house. It was a good move. It was paid for and I made a decent profit. I think it's a rental now.

Yes, I really could move away. Between the money I made selling the house and my husband's life insurance and pension, I really could move away. But, I stay. Like my beloved stayed. So, how can I be angry with him?

You might think I'm rolling in dough, but I'm not. My house wasn't worth that much -- not in this housing market, in this deteriorating city. I've invested the money, though, along with the life insurance, in relatively "safe" investments. Have you checked the returns on "safe" investments lately? And the pension and social security payments are modest, as my husband was young when he died. So, I work. I'm a diner waitress. It's only part-time, but it's adequate for now, and I like it. And it, too, was a lucky break -- a gift bestowed on me by the manager, who was a buddy of my husband. Cops love diners, and my husband frequented this one for years. So, when he died, Johnny offered me the job. He knew I needed one. And -- frankly -- I think I'm pretty good at it. I enjoy the banter and wielding that coffee-pot. Those who make the coffee rule the world, when you think about it.

Another reason I love my job is it gives me the opportunity to keep my finger on the pulse of this city. A never-ending stream of cops comes into and out of that diner, along with every other kind of character this city holds. And though that pulse has been weakening for some time, as the evil my husband warned about years and years ago continues to grow, seemingly unabated, I heard something the other day that gives me a bit of hope. It seems there's a new kid coming to town. A relatively young man named Jim Gordon has just been hired as a detective. Actually, he's not technically a "new kid." He grew up here, apparently, although we've never met. And I'm hearing he's a good man, a strong man. Some of the cops I know -- the ones not really worthy of the badge -- they're a little nervous about Jim Gordon. Although, they try to hide it with bravado and dark humor about "putting him in his place." But, the good cops I know -- and those are few and far between -- are actually excited about the guy. Apparently, some of them knew him growing up. Or knew of him. There seems to be something about this guy, something a little out-of-the-ordinary, something a little inspiring. We'll see. I've learned by now not to get my hopes up about so-called "good news" in this city.

And I think about my husband, my Tommy. He was good, too. He was strong. He was special. And the evil in this city just chewed him up and spit him out. So, God help this Jim Gordon, if what I'm hearing about him is even halfway true.