Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Deification of Momdom or Why Christine O’Donnell is No Sarah Palin

Christine O or Pristine the Virgin Queen as she’s dubbed in some corners of the Internets, is the new “it” girl.  Since her surprise victory in the Republican senate primary in Delaware, she’s all over the headlines the youtube and the cable.

We see and hear her in many incarnations.  There she is in the 1990’s on Politically Incorrect, a woman in her thirties who still looks childlike and has big curly hair leftover from her college days in the 1980’s, promoting chastity and discussing her brief flirtation with Satan.  In more modern times, when asked about the whisper campaign started by her supporters that her primary opponent is secretly gay, O’Donnell replies that the opponent needs to “put his man-pants on.”

You can listen to a radio interview where a conservative announcer loses patience as she insists that in a previous senate bid, she  “tied” Biden in two counties that she clearly lost.

Post primary, she’s been handled, dressing now in Palin red and even adding eyeglasses to give her gravitas.  She skips Meet the Press, but stops in to visit the friendlier Scarborough Country because she had “business in New York.”  Pristine has now been parodied on SNL and been the subject of countless masturbation and witchcraft jokes.

Is it ok to laugh or should we be taking her more seriously?

After all Palin was funny at first.  Remember the good old days when she spectacularly messed up with Katy Couric and Charlie Gibson?  She might not have cost McCain the presidency; his complete befuddlement at the economic collapse probably sealed his doom, but she certainly didn’t help.  She should have retreated after the election, but instead she quit her job, went to work for Fox, got a fat advance on her book published by another Murdoch entity, and is now being touted as a likely contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

The joke has worn thin, and those of us who believe in evolution, like social security and understand that regulating health insurance companies does not mean “death panels,” are all a bit nervous and have stopped laughing.  Even if she can’t get elected, Sarah can certainly rile up her base.  Does Pristine represent a similar threat?

Probably not.

Is it because unlike Palin, O’Donnell has never actually been elected to anything?  Nope.  Is it because she’s dumber than Palin, more gaffe prone?  Doubtful.

It’s because she’s an unmarried woman with no kids who talks about chastity and decries masturbation while shaking her long locks and looking like an overage cheerleader.

There’s something just too weirdly jarring about this.  All we can do is wonder about what’s really in her dirty drawer or what led her while in college to give up her sexy ways and become a celibacy crusader.   Lots of spiritually seeking young people get religion.  Some may become missionaries in foreign lands, feed the hungry, go into seminary or join a religious order, but few translate their fervor into founding an organization devoted to promoting abstinence.

Maybe something happened.  It’s hard to look at her, especially in those clips from the 90’s when the bloom was still on the rose, and not wonder.  Was there some football hero she had a crush on who got her drunk and cruelly pimped out an incapacitated Pristine to his friends?  Was she too guilt-ridden and perhaps disturbed by her own vulnerability to call it rape?  Was her decision to be chaste a way of empowerment, keeping herself from ever feeling so used again?

That’s where my mind goes.  Others may have their own theories.  You can’t help having a theory.  Closet lesbian?  Out and out hypocrite?  Hormonally challenged?  Tease?

Rush Limbaugh and Jon Stewart both think her opponents will make too much out of Pristine’s anti-masturbation stand and the voters won’t care.   They may be right in that the jokes will become silly and her opponent can’t run on being the pro-jerk-off candidate.

But maybe Limbaugh is just trying to change the subject, canny enough to know that there’s something about Pristine that doesn’t make sense and won’t resonate with voters.

Palin may be a phony who uses her kids as election props, but she has kids to use.  Most of us don’t buy her narrative, but her audience does.  She’s a “mom”.  She’s not only a “mom,” but a “special needs mom.”  One of her sons is a veteran.  Her daughter made a mistake, but chose life and responsibility.

Palin gets that her audience isn’t anti-sex. They simply believe sex should be heterosexual and within the context of marriage.  Outside of that it’s sin.  They understand that human being are prone to sin and no one is perfect.  Thus Sarah’s daughter Bristol can be forgiven as long as she’s learned her lesson and has the baby.  An abortion would have been unforgivable, but “choosing life” is brave and they love her for it.  Doesn’t matter that who knows who is actually raising the baby while Bristol dances with the stars and collects fees for lecturing other teens.  Doesn’t matter that we were treated to a fake engagement during the Republican National Convention.  It’s the myth that counts.  Sarah’s “momma grizzly” rhetoric hits home especially for woman who’ve succeeded at little else in their lives besides having children.

Pristine is something else.  There’s a strangeness to a woman who extols traditional values but is unmarried, childless and chaste at forty-one.  We could take it if she looked more like the repressed lesbian/nun types with which we are familiar.   If she resembled your mustached, never married great-aunt, the one who sacrificed her youth taking care of her widowed mother while buying generous gifts for her nieces and nephews, voters might buy it. They’ve heard that story.  They could even feel a little sorry for poor Pristine, too plain to ever catch a man.  But the problem is Christine is just too sexy for her celibacy.

She comes off at best as a scold, a high-maintenance prude who never met a man who could measure up to her ideal husband — Jesus Christ.

There are of course women who do marry Christ.  They are called nuns.  But they choose the veil and not politics and cut off their locks.  Pristine is a Catholic while the majority Tea Partiers including Palin are Protestants.  Catholicism despite JFK and Joe Biden is still viewed by many “real” Americans as a foreign church.  The scandals haven’t helped. Joan of Arc may have led France, but there is no American mythological equivalent and real America disdain the French.  Our nuns may be beautiful like Ingrid Bergman or even cute and feisty and fly like Sally Fields, but they don’t rule.  Moms rule.

Real American women leaders aren’t nuns, they’re moms.

New Opportunities in Tough Times

According to this morning’s Wonkette (the website of record), a think tank called The Roosevelt Institute issued a report, The Stagnating Labor Market,  stating that most of those currently unemployed will never work again.

Pessimism will not help us in the current situation.  In fact, many Americans have not given up but are actively getting rid of old junk in the attic like jewelry that probably hasn’t been worn since granny’s day.  They are the new entrepreneurs creating a greener future by selling off their goods rather than simply disposing of them when they are forced to leave their homes.  Others have learned to make do by taking three or four part-time jobs, discovering that one can function fine on four hours a night of sleep (or rather a day since the break between jobs is often in the morning or afternoon).

But the Roosevelt report also misses the many opportunities for growth that will occur as the middle-class continues to shrink, especially if the Tea Party revolution succeeds and people are freed from the yoke of government interference.  We need only look at some of our neighbors in the developing world to see where the new jobs will come from and how people function without the so-called “safety net” of benefits like unemployment insurance, Medicare and social security.

Kidnapping is a growth industry and will soon offer many opportunities.  This is a labor-intensive field, requiring teamwork and several distinct skill-sets.  It’s not simply about raw strength.  There are leadership roles for those with communication and  people skills as well as  the ability to think strategically.  At the entry level there’s a need for drivers, clean up crews, guards, cooks, etc.

Increases in kidnapping mean that all types of security services will mushroom, from higher-level consultants, to construction opportunities in renovating homes to include gates, panic rooms etc.  The need for bodyguards, private negotiators, and private police will be astronomical.

Meantime, the unemployed should protect their remaining assets, especially their kidneys. You can function fine with just one and the sacrifice of even a small piece of liver could help with heating bills. Corneas are also valuable and depth perception is over-rated.  (In a pinch those with supportive spouses can sacrifice both corneas which may increase earnings in the panhandling field considerably.) With new technologies making transplant of hands and other extremities easier, there will be growth in this segment as well.

The last thing we can afford as we move forward and seize the future is the continued interference of a government that seeks to “protect” us  by making us completely dependent on it for basic services and a safety net.

Write a Novel in 3 Days? Why Not?

For the past 3 years, I’ve been booked Labor Day weekend — no picnics, barbecues, hikes or drives to the country.  You’ll find me out on my balcony (weather permitting) with my laptop and a cup of weak coffee by my side, churning out a mini-masterpiece for the  International 3 Day Novel Contest.  It’s a simple premise — start and complete a novel over the 72 hour holiday weekend.

On the honor system.  It’s Canadian.

The first year I entered, I did  hope to achieve the ultimate prize: publication.  The first prize is a book contract with a small press.  They don’t announce the winners till January.  I drove myself nuts waiting.  It was a more intense experience than any previous contest I’d ever entered before.  The reason now seems clear.  This isn’t a normal situation where you enter using something that’ you wrote long ago.  The 3-Day demands that you create something new and create it under intense pressure.  You are allowed to write an outline in advance though mine have proven useless once I started.  One emerges at the end with a sense that one has been through, if not an ordeal, then at least an intense ritualistic experience.

In my case, I’m not the only one going through it.  My better half  has been a devoted partner, acting as a caregiver, cook, sounding board,  personal assistant , and massage therapist.   He’s also signed off on the “affirmation” statement that the novel was started and completed within the time frame.

This year life issues were getting in the way of the creative flow. Ten days before the big day, I had no clear idea about what I even wanted to write.  The BH demanded I show him some outlines and pick a plot so that I would not spend the first few hours staring in horror at blank screen.  I came up with two ideas — one was a sort of As I Lay Dying set in present day Queens, the other a strangely lighthearted lad-lit tale of a youngish man getting romantic advice from an old man/ghost haunting his basement apartment.   Thank goodness, he advised me to go for the latter.

Have I ever won?  Not exactly.  But winning isn’t everything; in fact, it’s not even relevant.  I’d compare it to entering the New York City Marathon.  It’s much more about personal best and achievement than it is about getting first place.  (Though it would be nice if like a marathon they gave prizes in categories.  I’d settle for best novel in the under 25k words category by a woman over 40.)  However, that’s not how I felt the first time I entered.

My first entry, The Death Trip came in at a bit above 20,000 words, barely a novella.  They say size doesn’t matter, but then they say it might be a factor.  I didn’t even make the shortlist.  My better-half who loved the story, is still bitter.  But here’s what I did get out of it:  I got a novella draft in need of little (but not much) revision.  I not only got it quick, but I got it with a story that I might never have bothered with otherwise.  I learned that I could crank out something coherent in 3 days.  I also used the obsession I developed waiting for the results as the basis for a story I told at the Narativ Story Workshop which was filmed, and then used by 3Day on their website.

I revised the novella and realized after a couple of rejections there wasn’t a big market for it at that length.  I had no desire to either shorten or expand it, so I decided to put it out as an e-book. To date I’ve had over 1,800 downloads.

My effort the second time around, Hungry Ghosts, actually made the short-list.  It too barely made it to 20k, but I fell in love with the story and although other projects have gotten in the way, I’m still working on expanding it to a full novel length.  With its combination of erotica and horror, I’m hoping it may even be commercially viable.   I’m sure it never would have been written without the contest. All I had of it before Labor Day was a first line (which I wound up changing), a premise that wasn’t completely thought out, and a list of characters.

This year, I promised myself I would somehow get up to 27k, and somehow made it to just that point.   Of course I’m still hoping that the third time is the charm, but even if I don’t make this year’s short list, I’m still feeling high from the writing.  As a way to jump start a first draft, the 3 Day can’t be beat.

It hasn’t gotten easier over time.  I had a tough first night or more literally morning this go-round,  but the spirit of the thing kicked in — the idea that in some way, I’d been “preparing,” anticipating this special weekend, reserving it for a purpose.   I felt like I had nothing to lose by continuing, so there was no reason not to push on to the end.

I wound up with something unlike anything I’d written before — a lighthearted view of gentrification that almost celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of people who buy and develop property, a romance that might even work, a happy ending!

The process allows writers to take risks and encourages them to follow Elmore Leonard’s maxim and “skip the boring parts” because there’s simply no time to write them.  Whatever I think I learned getting my MFA is useless.  More useful is the storytelling  technique practiced at Narativ.  Although that method was designed for oral storytelling of true stories, the method of focusing on “what happened” and not explaining it, kept me from getting lost in my story and forced me to keep going, even when I wasn’t sure of where.

Thanks to the contest, I now have one novella out in the world attracting a little bit of attention, and I have two projects  that need development and expansion, so I don’t have to face the dreaded blank page.   I have confidence in my ability to crank out material under pressure and I’ve further honed my skills.  The contest allows you to turn your home into a writer’s retreat at a much lower cost than actually traveling to one.  It costs $50 to enter, waived if you got a prize or honorable mention the previous year.

So to anyone who writes fiction or has even thought about writing fiction mark your calendar now and start thinking  about the book you’ll be writing Labor Day Weekend 2011 (thinking is not against the rules).

Here’s the clip of me talking about my first  3- Day experience:

Another Letter from America

Dear Rest of the World,

I’ll keep this one short. In your blogs and editorials please remember that the wingnut Pastor of Hate with the Monty Python name has a tiny trailer-park church that no one had heard of till a couple of weeks ago. He still has a tiny church, though no doubt countless angry rubes have been filling its coffers since he became famous on the internets for threatening to burn a bunch of books that promote the idea that someone else’s imaginary best friend is better than his imaginary best friend.

This guy isn’t even Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell. He represents at most a few dozen people or did until the media made him a sensation and the state department started to fret about his antics becoming a recruiting poster for jihad. As if the jihadees couldn’t make enough hay out of the continuing presence of American troops in Iraq, the US support for a corrupt unpopular government in Afghanistan, the stealth bombings in Pakistan, the continued support for the blockade in Gaza, etc.

The pastor does not represent America. He has never been elected to any office. He is a grifter whose past includes a criminal conviction for insider trading and who like many has found a great way to combine fear and God to create a nice little revenue stream.

Even the usual suspects on the right — Rush Limbaugh, Alan Keyes, Sarah Palin have denounced him though of course their followers haven’t. That was inevitable. An old story of demagogues firing up the crowd only to have the crowd turn on them, though in Sarah’s case I suspect her condemnation of the burning was pro forma, a way of saying to whatever sane people are left in the Republican party, “See, I can act like a grown-up,” while still winking to her followers and sending them the secret message, “I have to say this, but we all know my true feelings.”

We can’t stop someone from burning books even when the act is clearly meant as a provocation because our laws supporting free speech and expression are very clear about that. That doesn’t mean his actions are somehow indicative of the pulse of the country or anywhere near the sentiments of a majority of its inhabitants. When “America” went to the polls two years ago we rejected McCain and Palin in favor of something else. Obama represents us, not Pastor Mustache or the ex-governor of Alaska.

Best regards,

PS This week’s recommended reading for any of you still trying to understand us is from the op ed pages of a newspaper not owned by Rupert Murdoch.