December 13, 2019

Traveling Solo, inspired by Ann Garvin

My post is inspired by this one from Ann Garvin:

A Quick Question. I Need Some Tips

Quick question. Who here has gone on vacation entirely alone? No conference or professional meeting to take up your time, no friend waiting at the airport to whisk you off for a chat. Alone. Alone. I’m asking about solo traveling. Sacajawea without the hangers-on, Lewis and Clarke. Amelia Earhart without the scary flying goals. Just you with your kit-bag and a smile. I'm asking because I need tips. READ THE REST OF ANN'S POST

Here you go, Annie, here's why you should embrace solo traveling:

I travel solo all the time. Well, not ALL THE TIME because really…I do have some friends. We never wear matching T-shirts, though, and don’t even ask me to do that (you'll have to read Ann's post to see what that's about). 
When I'm telling someone about one of my trips and they ask, "Who did you go with?", I say, "I went alone," and they say, "Like, on a tour?" and I say, "No, just me, with myself, unattached, unescorted." They just don't know how to respond to that.  
Sometimes I do go on tours. The problem with tours is there are other people on them. That's not always a bad thing, it's just that there's so much pressure to be sociable. If you're a single woman traveling solo, other people, especially women traveling in twos or threes, are anxious to include you. They think you probably want that, that being with people is everyone's preference. Most folks don't get the concept of actually liking to be by yourself.
When people hear that I travel solo they call me courageous, fearless, defiant, adventurous. It's none of those things, it's fantastic! Here are some reasons why: 

  • You meet people you would never meet when traveling with another person. I was in
    Frankfurt once, heading to a bike tour (yes, a tour) in Switzerland. I spent a couple days in Frankfurt, alone. I went to lunch one day and was seated at a table outside, by myself. I ordered my food and then, as often happens in Europe, the hostess brought someone to sit at my table. We acknowledged each other briefly and then went about our business. Later, when he heard me speaking English to the waitress, he struck up a conversation and after lunch he took me on a tour of his city. That's all, really, just a tour. It was great.
  • In her post Ann says she felt obvious. Maybe I felt that way, too, in the beginning, but soon you stop noticing if people are looking at you. Or maybe you still notice, you just don't care. Maybe you smile at them. Maybe you don't. It feels so normal to me now. Perhaps people feel sad when they see me alone in a restaurant or a museum or a movie theater but I would have to say, save your feelings for the state of our country or world hunger, because I am happy as a clam. 
  • You never have to force conversation with someone boring and self-centered. Unless you want to.
  • If you go to a play or a concert and you don't like it you can just leave. You don't have to wait for the intermission to say, "What do you think?" and have someone else say, "I don't know. What do you think?" Or if you both agree it's not the best thing you've ever seen then you have to negotiate whether or not to leave: "I don't know, maybe the second act will be better." "I don't know, it got four stars, there has to be something good about it," and on and on. Traveling alone? Just get up and go. Yay!
  • If you go to a museum and you get bored you can cut your visit short without feeling guilty. And you won't have to wait, tapping your foot, while your companion admires glass case after glass case of Chinese pottery or ancient Greek masks.
  • You can get everything in a carry-on no matter how long you're gone because you can take one outfit and wear it every day. Who will know?
  • If you waste an entire day sleeping or watching movies in your hotel room rather than going to visit the approximately 1000 things to do in this wonderful city, no one will nag you to get the hell up and get dressed. 
  • No one will be snoring in the bed next to you.
  • Best of all, you don't have to wear matching T-shirts with your travel companion(s). Ann.

November 23, 2019

The First Deep Breath - Theatre Review ***

The First Deep Breath, the world premiere at Victory Gardens Theatre, is an ambitious work with a whole host of messages. So many, in fact, that it takes 3 hours and 45 minutes to impart them. Way, way, way too long.
Playwright Lee Edward Colston II says his play is in the style of August Wilson, Eugene O'Neill and Tracy Letts. Mighty heady company to keep. By, "in the style," he must be saying that the theme of this play is a dysfunctional family (is there any other kind?), and that's fair, but the writing is not exactly in that style. Maybe Colston's work will, some day, be on par with those writers but he will need to learn to dial it back a bit, and trust his audience as those playwrights do.
The First Deep Breath is about a black family in Philadelphia, apparently well-off judging by their home which appears to be large, with many levels and elegant furniture, yet they lament money troubles and speak ghetto (with poetic interludes), which doesn't feel authentic to their situation. It feels as if the set designer did not read the script or speak to the playwright or the director. Are they ghetto? Are they upper middle class? To my mind they are not both. 
There is grief and betrayal, dishonesty, motherhood out of wedlock, a prison conviction, hidden sexuality, deceit, Alzheimer's, forgiveness, punishment, mistreatment, resentment...I'm not finished, there's more, something for everyone and then some, but I'll stop here. 
It was engaging enough to sit through the first two acts (there were two intermissions which gave me the opportunity to skip out, but I stayed). The performances were wonderful and the characters were ones I wanted to learn more about and who I became invested in. But then there's the third act. I wish the playwright had quit while he was ahead. Or that I had, and left at that second intermission. The final act builds and builds and builds to a crescendo of craziness that stretches credulity.
Mr. Colston would do well to study August Wilson, Eugene O'Neill and Tracy Letts a little further if he wants to compare his work to theirs.
Three out of five stars for The First Deep Breath.

October 28, 2019

Can 257,901 People Be Wrong?

Last time I checked 257,901 people on GoodReads had given Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens 5 stars. Can all those people be wrong? That would be crazy, right? 
So let's not use the word 'wrong.' But really, I am completely baffled.
In the beginning I was engaged and thought the writing was lovely. And then as the pages wore on it seemed the author became more interested in finding new ways to describe things than in telling the story, and so it went on and on with pages of tedious description, quotes from nature books, poetry, etc.
I am a writer. I'm not well-known, I don't have a NY Times best seller, but I am published. I write and read and study writing continuously. So when I read there's a little critique going on in my head. When something annoys me or pulls me out of the story I highlight it so I know not to do that in my own work.
Here are things I highlighted in this book (they became more frequent as I continued on and by the end I was skipping large passages):
1. The book is written in the point of view of Kya but every once in a while it switches POV, out of the blue, to explain something.
2. Then, about 1/4 of the way in there is even an omniscient narrator (another POV) who tells the story of Kya's parents. Annoying.
3. Another POV switch to explain why Tate never came back. Again, jarring, pulling me out of the story. It could be explained later when he returns.
4. Then, it all of a sudden changes to present tense, when all along (and through the rest of the book) it is past tense.

                                                    WHERE IS HER EDITOR, FOR GOD'S SAKE?

5. There are long passages from the nature articles Kya pours over, because even though she did not learn to read until she was a teenager, she suddenly is reading scientific materials. I am not interested in those passages, and they don't move the story along.
6. She goes to the library to request those scientific books (let me just say her sudden knowledge is a huge credibility stretch) and the librarian offers to get them for her. How do you get a library card if you live in a marsh and have no i.d. and no address?
7. Then, guess what? She writes a nature book and gets it published. Talk about a suspension of disbelief. And then at some point she gets a check for $5000 from her publisher. She could not receive a check from a publisher without having a completed W9 which would require a social security number. She continues to get substantial checks, so let's just say that COULD happen - how would she cash them? She has no bank account.
8. When she fixes up her shack (which she's lived in her whole life without toilet facilities or heat or running water or a place to plug in her blow-dryer) and puts in running water and electricity, did she get permits? Does her contractor just come in and jury-rig all the utilities?
9. She orders stuff from the Sears catalog. With what?
I could go on...
The last 1/4 of the book is tedious and repetitive with much unnecessary description. And then I kept thinking I'd reached the end and I'd be so relieved, and then I'd turn the page and it would just continue on.
The trial scene, in particular, could be cut entirely. There's nothing new or revelatory there. It's predictable and mind-numbing.
Ok, I'm done.
Books are subjective, we all know that. But I can't believe 257,901 people could be so wrong.

February 27, 2019

Writing Tip: Writing Doesn't Have to be Lonely

I read post after post about how difficult writing is; how lonely, how stressful, how agonizing, how no one really likes doing it.
Here are just a couple:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
“If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.” ~ William Zinsser
“I really hate to write. I get no fun out of it because I can’t get up and say I’m working, close my door, have coffee brought to me, and sit there camping like a ‘man of letters’” – Jack Kerouac

Oh, pish posh! Then quit it if you hate it so much.
Is writing a novel easy? Of course not. If it was, everyone would be doing it. But what in life (that is worthwhile) is easy? Quit whining.
If you don't like how solitary writing is, find a critique group or a class or a writing partner. Not that they will sit with you while you're creating, but you have your characters for company when you're engaged with them; they're fabulous! If they're not, change them, find new ones, learn more about them, have a relationship with them.
And when you need real people around, it's simple...turn to your writing community. It is vast; it's real-life or virtual, it's one person or five or ten, it's in every bookstore and on every website, it's at a writers conference. If you need people they are out there and the writing community is an amazingly supportive one. Just look around.
So now, it's time to get back to your writing, and enjoy it.

November 11, 2018

Dear Officer Aaron Huizenga

Dear Officer Aaron Huizenga,
Thank god you saved the streets of New Buffalo, MI last night from the threat of a 69-year-old woman from Chicago, driving a rental car with Arkansas plates, who had a glass of wine with dinner. I hope you feel good about yourself.
My friend Kathleen and I rented a car this weekend to drive to New Buffalo to see Chicago, the band (our 4th time seeing them in concert - we're aging groupies), at The Four Winds Casino (which has a nice theatre venue but is a disgusting place where gamblers are allowed to smoke indoors). But I digress.
After checking in to our hotel we had a really nice dinner at the Bentwood Tavern. We each had a cocktail before dinner, and then a glass of wine, and Kath asked if I wanted to share another glass of wine but I said no, I better not, I'm driving.
So then we head to the casino for our meet and greet with the band because we had front row, VIP seats for the concert which included a photo op (very cool, and fun). The casino is less than 4 miles from the restaurant and I'm driving along, in the right lane, looking for the turnoff when I see a police car with flashing lights in my rearview mirror. At first I don't think it's for me because I'm not speeding, but after a minute it's still there so I pull over. An officer comes up and I roll down the back window because it's a rental car and the controls are new to me, but then I roll down the driver's window and he asks for my license and registration. I tell him it's a rental car and ask why he stopped me. He says he ran the plate and it came back unregistered, or something like that, whatever that means. "Well, it's a rental," I say. "It's not mine." He does not say I was speeding, or I ran a stop sign or anything like that. I can only guess he ran those plates because I was in Michigan and the plates were from Arkansas.
He asks what we're doing in New Buffalo and we tell him. "Did you drive here directly from Chicago?" "No," I say, "we checked in to our hotel and had dinner." He asks if we had any liquor at dinner. I say yes, a glass of wine. Note: Okay, I don't mention the scotch, but later, when he's harassing me, I fess up.
He takes my license and goes back to his car and he's gone for a long time and Kathleen and I are looking at each other, not worried, but totally confused, wondering what's going on. Finally he comes back and asks me to get out of the car and for the next 20-30 minutes he scares the shit out of me, having me walk the white line, wanting me to balance on one foot, telling me do a finger coordination exercise, all of which I did.      
Meanwhile, Kathleen doesn't know what's going on or why it's taking so long, so she tries to find out but each time she opens her door he yells at her to shut the door and stay in the car.
So now I'm getting scared. I ask why he's doing this. He says he smelled alcohol when I opened the window. Liar. He also says because I rolled down the back window instead of the front when he came up to the car. "It's a rental car," I say. No matter. That must be the mark of a hardened criminal in New Buffalo, MI.
Then he wants me to take a breathalyzer, says it's Michigan law. I think that's bullshit too, but what do I know?
What would that show? I had a scotch and a glass of wine over the course of a couple of hours, what would my blood level be? I have no idea. I don't even know what the numbers are. I didn't feel drunk, I didn't even feel buzzed, but what would a breathalyzer show? I was terrified.
He says I can refuse to do it. "Is that what you want to do?" he asks. I ask what would happen then and he says, "This is where we are right now, ma'am. Are you telling me you want to refuse?"
I say no, I want to know what happens if I take it and what happens if I don't. He won't tell me.
Finally, another officer comes up, a woman, I don't know where she came from. She doesn't seem particularly sympathetic but she sees the state I'm in (because by now I'm crying) and she explains what would happen, which frankly I don't even remember and am not sure it even sunk in at the time, but I agree to take the breathalyzer and pass it and he tells me to get back in my car and he will bring me my license. More time goes by. He finally brings my license back and says I'm free to go.
What the fuck was that? Did he have a quota? Did he want to be the first guy on the block to arrest an old white woman for driving to a Chicago concert?
All I can say is thank god I'm not black - who knows what would have happened?
And to the New Buffalo Police Department, and to Officer Huizenga in particular, if you really want to save the streets of New Buffalo you could just go sit outside the casino when all those drinking, smoking gamblers get in their cars - you're sure to reach your quota then. And then some.
On a happy note, the concert was fantastic.
And you'll be happy to know that New Buffalo is a safe place now because you will never see me there again.

November 4, 2018

Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody ****

Don't read the critics' reviews of Bohemian Rhapdody. Listen to mine, and then go see it.