Can I Help You, Young Lady?

You can avoid mirrors and wear scarves to hide your neck, but you know you’re a woman of a certain age when they start calling you “young lady.” By they, I mean the people who sell you tickets and check out your groceries. They’re the ones who offer to carry your bag to the car though all you have are two cans of soup and a box of cereal. They’re the ones who all but push you into the seat they just vacated, though you insist you’d rather stand.

I tell them I’d prefer to be addressed as “ma’am” or even “miss,” but they insist “young lady” is a compliment. If that’s the case, I reply, why do you address my husband (who’s older than me, by the way), as “sir?” It’s virtually impossible to convince them that “young lady,” is something you call a little girl to make her feel like a grown-up, not something you call a grown-up to infantilize her.

When someone “young lady”s me, I’m tempted to drop to the floor and give them ten push-ups. But then, they’d probably comment on my “vim” and “vigor,” or tell me how “spry” I am, which would make me feel almost as old as addressing me as “young lady.”


What to do with Rejection Notices

Those of you who have been submitting work to publishers for many years have probably collected more rejection slips than you’d care to admit. It was more fun in the old days when the slips came in the mail and were quite colorful despite their depressing message. Back in the day we would share creative alternatives to trashing them. Some people made them into piñatas, and some papered their powder rooms or depending on quantity) family rooms with them . I took a bookbinding workshop so I could compiled my first set of rejections into a book.

Just because rejections are now delivered online doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with them. Regardless of how they’re delivered, rejection notices are depressing. Instead of taking anti-depressants, you might consider getting crafty and transforming them into objects d’art. Though we all know that the best way to handle rejection is to sit back down and write.

Hear No Weevil

Growing older can be challenging. But viewing one’s diminishing capacities through the lens of humor can ease the transition from salad days to golden years. Though hearing loss is no fun to the loser, it can magically transform the world of said loser without the aid of controlled substances.

I discovered that magical power years ago when I asked my son if the Metal Ants were new rock group, since that’s what I thought I heard on the radio. After a moment of bewildered silence, he answered, “Mom, the Giants are playing at the Meadowlands!” I didn’t know whether he was laughing at me or with me, but no matter. I’d made someone laugh. Since my conscious efforts to be funny fell flat, I decided to let my subconscious take the lead. I’d view my hearing loss as a strength, enabling me to create unexpected connections and provide amusing commentary. Here are some examples, and I swear I’m not making them up.

When my husband said he was going into the orifice, I thought he was offering a clever description of his dental practice, until I realized that his intended destination was the “office.” Then there was the realtor who announced that futilities were included in the rent. Even when I realized he was referring to “utilities,” it struck me that for many tenants asking the landlord for more heat, new appliances, or lower rent, they were, in fact, engaging in futilities.

Sports have never made much sense to me, so when one of the Philadelphia Flyers made a cross-eyed pass, I didn’t think much of it. But when my husband explained that the announcer had said “cross-ice pass,” I was disappointed. The perception had far surpassed the reality.

To further world peace, our national leaders would do well to follow my lead. I once thought a newscaster announced that the US was going to launch an aerosol. The thought of the Pentagon spending billions developing a supersonic can of shaving cream was amusing (though somehow, not surprising). But the casualties resulting from an “aerosol” would be minor compared to those resulting from an “air assault.”

Then there were the Freudian slips. I worried about all those employees working in pubicles. Then a friend of mine told me she was having a crotch sale. Goodness, I thought, I didn’t realize those things went on sale. Who’d want to buy them? Doesn’t everyone already have at least one? Then I saw her putting tags on her lawn furniture for her “garage sale.”

Finally, my favorite one to date. I was at the Million Mom’s March in DC with my sister, and I told her I was going to repeat whatever I heard, regardless of how ridiculous, before asking her what they were really saying. For a while I was able to accurately echo the chants, but then I heard one that had me totally stumped. I could have sworn they were saying: “Women serve butter. Women serve rice.” I told her what I heard, and when she finally stopped laughing, she said they were chanting: “Women deserve better. Women deserve rights.” Personally, I like my version better.

I’m enjoying the slightly skewed version of the world that results from words bumping into each other in strange and unexpected ways. I try to keep this in mind as I feel strength and health diminishing and watch as time slowly rearranges my face. I don’t know whether Picasso laughed as he scrambled body parts on the canvas, but I’m having fun with auditory abstractions. You’ll have to excuse me, but it’s time to listen to a rebroadcast of “Carrot Talk” on NPR. I just love vegetables…oh, it’s “Car Talk”? Never mind.



Submission Guideline Hell

Submitting a story to multiple publications can make your head spin. Each has its own VERY SPECIFIC guidelines regarding formatting, word count, when you can and can’t submit, etc. etc. Submitters are urged to read the overview and philosophy of each publication to get an idea of what they are looking for. After doing this for at least 50 publications over the last few years, I have come to the conclusion that the degree of a publication’s self-importance is inversely proportional to the age of its editors.

I was inspired to write the following satirical piece after going through the submission process for my latest story.

Submission Guidelines
We at Snootenanny welcome submissions from people of all ages, ethnicities, creeds, colors, gender preferences, and regions (except Hoboken. We hate people from Hoboken). We accept all literary forms: short fiction, long fiction, poetry, tweets, texts, proclamations, orations, declarations, declamations, indentations, perforations, you name it.

We are looking for stories and poems that surprise, amaze, sing, gyrate, tap dance, and smack you upside the head. We want work that grabs us by the neck, shakes us senseless, and leaves us sprawled on the floor in astonishment and excruciating pain.

1. Submissions are only accepted from January 1 to January 31. Manuscripts submitted outside of those dates will be trashed. We are way too busy and important to bother with people who are too stupid to follow simple instructions.

2. You must number every page except the first in Roman numerals. The first page must use Arabic numerals and include at least one emoji. Any manuscript deviating from this guideline will be set on fire.

3. You must use Times New Roman 12 point for all pages except the last, which must be Comic Sans 18. Any manuscript not adhering to this guideline will be cursed and spat upon personally by the editor-in-chief.

4. Do not include any personal information in the text. If we see even the tiniest hint of who you are, your manuscript will be composted.

5. Double-space all text. The top half of the first page must be blank. The title must be in 18-point Copperplate Gothic Bold followed by 7 hard carriage returns and one soft one. The authors of manuscripts not adhering to this standard will be drawn and quartered.

Fabulous Bookstores

Independent bookstores are the best! Here are some of my favorites. I invite you to contribute your own.

My local favorite: The Open Book Bookstore, a small independent bookstore in Elkins Park, PA, is a gem. It’s everything a book store should be—and more. Though the book selection is limited, the collection is top notch and prominently features local authors. There’s also a book club, a writer’s workshop, a writer’s retreat, preschool storytime, and author readings. Or you could just stop in, browse, and schmooze with the owner, Lynn Rosen, who can tell you about every book in the store. Then, stroll across the street to the Creekside Coop, a cooperative member-owned food market, or the Elkins Perk coffee shop.

The Northshire Bookstore  is a large, lively bookstore in Manchester, VT. It’s so much fun to browse, and I dare you to leave without purchasing at least one book.

The Toadstool Bookstore(s) in New Hampshire. I’ve spent lots of time browsing (and buying) in their Peterboro, NH, store, but they also have locations in Keene and Milford. The Milford location features a café that offers all-day breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Books and food—the perfect combination.

Write, Rewrite, Rinse, Repeat

You’re feeling good. You’ve completed your first novel, gotten good feedback from your peers, and you’re ready to pitch it. Then you hand it over to the editor. “You have an intriguing concept,” she tells you  “BUT…” She says you have to change the POV, slim down the cast of characters, and perform a radical personality transplant on the protagonist. You know she’s right, but the changes touch virtually every page of the novel, so you’ll have to restructure and rewrite the everything. Aarg!

Now you have to make a decision to make. Do you want to revisit the characters you thought you knew so well, the ones that consumed so much of your waking hours, and start over? Do you think you’re up to the task? After all, you were so sure you had it right before, and look what happened. What if you spend another year spinning your wheels and come up empty handed? The clock is ticking and you’re not getting any younger. Wouldn’t it be easier to just work on the smaller projects you enjoy, the short stories that stand a chance of being published in your lifetime?

Now’s the time to remember what motivated you to write a first draft, take stock of all that was right about your first draft, clean your desk, and commit to the messy job of rewriting your work.

I wrote this post because I’m about to embark on the second draft of my novel and I can’t procrastinate any longer. So I’ve pulled out my trusty mug, cleared my desk, reread the editor’s feedback, and have planned a lot of long walks to get the creative juices flowing.

Wish me luck.