Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day: Problematic Day

My father is now dead. He died exactly how he didn't want to die, by inches, bits, and pieces, as his body kept telling him that he was done. Yet modern medicine ignores the body's telltales signs and keeps coming up with medications and treatments that prolong our lives beyond their "sell" date. When he lost his capacity to swallow, I thought to myself, christ on a bicycle, if that doesn't signal that the body is done, then what does? And yet, doctors also take oaths that demand they do everything to preserve the sanctity of life. I'll let the ethicists debate this one, because, really, at this point I don't have a frigging clue what that means.

Anyway, that's not the point of this piece, which is, the problematic father. My dad was a man of unbelievable strengths and profound weaknesses, and it's hard to think of him without acknowledging the whole: the brilliance tempered with the massive self doubt and hatred; the wit juxtaposed to the caustic jibe; the gentle man whose politics were so right that they made my teeth ache.

But on this day I think I should concentrate on the good. The trips to Tilden with my sister for pony and carousel rides. The Sunday afternoons spent at Oakland's Fairyland. Endless games of pee wee golf at that place on Telegraph Ave. I'm sure all this was unspeakably boring, and yet he weathered through it and I don't remember any complaints. The carousel at Tilden still survives, as does Fairyland. The pee wee golf place got swallowed up years ago by an office building. Some landmarks of my childhood still survive--not many--but enough that I've taken my children to these places and in the process walked in my father's shoes for a bit.

So, yes, I chose to remember those Sundays at Fairyland and Tilden, and hot dogs at Oscars. Good times, Dad. Thanks..

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Hair

I have a love/hate relationship with my hair. At one time it was my glory. Truly. I have gobs of it and when I was younger the color is what is known in Victorian novels as "titian." I was extremely vain about it, and damn it all, I had a right to be. At various points in my life I grew it so long that I could sit on it.

As I stare at fifty-five this year, my hair is now the bane of my existence. Mostly because it grows like a frigging weed (always has), and it is now starting go grey. Which in and of itself isn't that much of a tragedy, however, when you already have "spunky" hair, grey hair, which in and of itself is spunky enough (a nice way of saying porcine-like), grey spunky-squared hair is a BITCH.

I must keep it short because the grey has a mind of its own, and if it's any longer than two inches I start looking like a one of the witches from Macbeth. Not a look I want to cultivate.

Unfortunately, whenever I feel blue or insecure or just fidgety I think, wow, that grey is depressing. I should do something about it. You'd think I would learn. The first time I felt this way I had a biggish book event looming, and two nights before I got a case of the wibbles and dyed it. Sigh. Because I have WAY TOO MUCH HAIR, and I didn't cover it nearly enough. I ended up looking calico. That mottling on cats is adorable. On me, not so much.  I should have gone to a salon and had them cover it up with something, anything, but I didn't. I asked my daughter to help me apply another coat. Two hands are better than one, right? I ended up with muted calico. Needless to say I wore a beret to that event. In the middle of a northern California fall day. The temp was maybe 85 degrees at seven at night.

But it doesn't stop there. I did it again, the NIGHT BEFORE another event, thinking it was just that particular brand. It wasn't. I had shorter hair by this point, but it was not so much calico as lopsided--lighter on one side. I spent the entire night with my head slightly tilted so that people would suspect the light was wrong, not that this fool woman yet again was playing Revlon roulette.

The last three weeks have been grim for various reasons, and I've been feeling hermitish and blue, and in a fit of insanity, yes, you guessed it, I dyed my hair last night. It's a horrible color. Medium brown, my ass. It's kind of a deep red that probably would look cool on someone twenty-five, but on me it only looks desperate. Even more horrible, it looks REALLY permanent. Like it will take a good six months to grow out.

Sigh and damn.

Clearly, she cannot be taught.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What Every Writer Needs: An Editor

So. I've been browsing through my book reviews, and still debating whether it's wise to write and review, and I don't want to chuck the writing but I enjoy reviewing, and, oh, crap. What to do, what to do, what to do? While browsing I keep noticing the fatal flaw that dogs nearly all of these books that are good books but fall short of great, and that's the absence of the editor. And by that I mean that these books might have been vetted by a marketing crew, a production crew, and possibly a copyeditor (although even that is becoming rare), but NOT AN EDITOR. Or at least undergoing what I consider a rigorous editorial review.

The classic role of an editor is to browbeat, chastise, sternly lecture, and/or praise a writer into producing the best possible book with the material they have. Being something of a Hemingway and Fitzgerald fanatic, I often reread the letters between them and their editor, Max Perkins, and I think, wow, that is just not happening today. As New York publishing continues to flounder, the traditional editorial system is going by the wayside. You can see it in the writing. There is a lack of focus, a fuzziness. A good editor sees the promise of a whole book and does everything they can to push the author to her or his best writing self. It's having a sense of a book's integrity that is unique to that book.

I'm even talking about schlock. There is a case to be made for decent schlock. I've spent many rainy afternoons curled up on the couch reading decent schlock. It has a place on my bookshelf and rainy afternoons are tailor made for the potboiler. But even a decently written potboiler needs a second eye. Someone who says, wow, the schlock in Chapter 5 is marvelous. But Chapter 8 is largely unadulterated crap so rewrite or remove.

It's a jungle out there. Competition for people's time is fierce. It seems to me that instead of firing the editors, we should be hiring MORE of them. There are so many books that I've read in the last three years that I believe could have been great if handled by an editor with a fearless pen.