Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dog Day Afternoon


I wish I could remember what that editor said to me about how her boss hated when columnists would write essays about dead dogs. It was “dead dogs and…” something else. I can’t remember.


Live cats? Broken romances? Near-fatal car accidents? Still can’t remember. I only remember the dead dog part.

Which is why I was reluctant at first to put this picture and this quote on my personal Facebook page.


“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished.” --Dean Koontz


Even though this dead-dog-story-hating boss is a friend of mine on Facebook and may have seen the post, I felt OK about doing it, because I didn’t make any additional remarks. Didn’t have to. Couldn’t. What could I say? RIP Sirius Black Dager, 10-15-02 to 03-02-15? That just sounds so... yucky. I admit something equally yucky--that even though I don't believe in heaven, that's where I told my grandson that Siri went: doggie heaven. Because he's four and I'm either a coward or a wonderful grandma for not wanting to traumatize him. I'll go with wonderful coward. 

Anyway, I’ve been moping around for four days, crying occasionally and second-guessing our decision to let Sirius go. Based on his declining health, it was clearly time to do so, and he wasn’t going to get better, nor was he going to leave on his own.

But "helping" him pass doesn’t make this any easier, "right thing to do" be damned.

He really was the best dog I ever had. I’ve loved all my animals, but this guy was special. I know I sound like everyone else with a beloved dead pet, but you can think whatever you want. I don't care. He was a great dog and this one was a lot harder than every other pet's passing I've had to deal with. Harder than some people I know, too.

And while I try to forget his last moment, which was, thankfully, peaceful, he prances and herds in memory, and lives on in cumulative dog hair that the vacuum will never pick up, and is mine forever in the password to my laptop.

And if you don’t like this particular dead dog story, don’t worry because I’m not writing another. I can't vouch for others, however. There will always be some dead dog somewhere to write about.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Short Goodbye


Someone asked me if I got to write a farewell column after my newspaper informed me of the budget cuts that killed it. I only thought about it a week or so after the fact, being a little in shock (but not really: see my anticipation of being terminated in the blog post of November 4, 2014).

And then, stubborn me, I figured why write a column, even a goodbye, if I’m not going to get paid for it?

So, since this blog makes precisely two cents a month on ad clicks, I thought, OK, I’ll write that column. Because two cents can buy me .0043 of a tall, skinny vanilla latté, that’s why. (Please no jokes about how I like my coffee the same way I like my men. The barista has heard it before and will be sh*t-talking you in the break room later.)

A Short Goodbye

This is my last column. The Ventura County Star, like every other newspaper, has had to make serious cutbacks over the last few years. But don’t cry for me, Ventura County. These cutbacks were much worse for laid-off staff writers and other employees who depended on their income and health benefits and such, and felt they had lifelong jobs in a career they chose because it was supposed to end at a normal retirement age. My column—for which I got paid, even though some people thought I did it out of love of hearing myself speak—financed a few extras, like, you know, food. And shoes. Man, I love shoes. Also food. Possibly more than shoes.

My best way to say goodbye is by sharing some of the experiences I’ve had because of my column.

I once wrote about being a short woman married to a tall guy, and received an email from a man who was president of a short persons’ society. He essentially told me I was a traitor to others of my size.

It’s fun when someone recognizes me at the grocery store from my headshot and is excited to meet me. I feel very good about this. Then I go home and clean up dog poop. Because there is nothing wrong with having an ego as long as you have poop to keep you grounded.

I received the most fan letters from readers when I wrote a 2003 column about Los Angeles-area 1950s-1970s children’s television show host Sheriff John Rovick. His phone number was listed. I called him at his home in Idaho and we talked and I told him how important he was to kids like me. I sent him a copy of the column. He sent me an autographed picture. Sheriff John passed away in 2012.

I received the most hate mail when I wrote about some problems at my kid’s middle school. One of the things I said in the column was that my kid, who was in the midst of a growth spurt, got in trouble for wearing a t-shirt that was too short, and it exposed her midriff if she lifted her arm. A man (who did not personally know me or my family), identifying himself as a teacher, told me my daughter dresses like a “whore,” so “you must dress like a whore, too.” I can’t remember how I responded, but I think I was civil. This was before menopause, or I probably would’ve let him have it.

I once got an email that was so threatening (not the whore guy; another one) I saved it in case something happened to me. Years later, the person who sent it showed up at one of my book-signings and was very nice. I don’t know if all was forgiven or what, but I was still a little scared.

When I get handwritten letters via mail and they have perfect penmanship, I know they are from seniors who want to share a story related to one of my column topics. These people are lovely. I keep their letters. I am ashamed of my penmanship.

The last email I received was in response to one of my last Star columns. I wrote about it not being mandatory to be nice to your relatives just because you are related to them. I’m not going to tell you what she wrote, but I was very touched and honored. Then I went outside and cleaned up poop.

Every single column I have written over the last 27 years—16 with the Ventura County Star—I meant. And I always tried to do my best no matter the subject. I wasn’t writing the Great American Novel. I wasn’t addressing any huge political or environmental or social issue. I would try to write for the masses, usually about those annoying little things in life with which all of us regular folks have to deal. Some columns were not written as well as others and occasionally I wished I could go back and fix them or make them more clear or change a word or two here or there. But once they are out in the ether, they’re done. I move on to the next column. That is, I moved on.

I considered myself an entertainer more than anything, not a journalist. Now it’s time for me to move on to something else, which is hopefully as entertaining. But with less hate mail. Because I don't want to have to be short with people.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pants Afire


People keep asking me what I think about the Brian Williams debacle, so I’m going to tell you succinctly, in the form of a tweet.




Don't worry about #BrianWilliams. He'll get reprimanded, apologize over and over, then get a book deal. #seenitbefore

And now I’m going to tell you the long version.

I’ve seen a few people let go from my newspaper for lying/plagiarism/taking gifts. Not recently. Many years ago. One of them, I believe, as rumor has it—and, please note, all I heard were whispers from others in the stable, since the horse’s mouth had already departed—was that this guy with an otherwise very good reputation was making up stuff for his column. Another guy, who had a very minor role at the paper, was allegedly taking information from other sources and reusing it (aka plagiarizing). Then there was the staffer who was accepting tickets to sporting events. This is bad to a degree, but I think he was also having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a coworker. Again, these are the rumors. But all three people had their contracts terminated.

Even though one of them was a fairly big dog at my newspaper, he was still a little dog in the great scheme of media. And that’s how we come to Brian Williams. You can compare him to other well-known fallen writers/journalists: Janet Cooke  or Jayson Blair or James Frey or Stephen Glass or...

You get where I’m going, right?

All of these people are doing just fine, thank you very much. Except maybe Cooke, who, with her former lover and biographer Mike Sager (whose work I admire) allegedly got $1.6 million for a biopic that never happened. She has since disappeared from the public eye, and we all know a million bucks doesn’t last forever. Still. $1,000,000. That's a lot of zeroes.

The point here—and I do have one (see above tweet) is that the writers/journalists with major chutzpah and enough surface remorse do recover. By surface remorse, I mean that which is currently known as #sorrynotsorry. Because I don’t think Brian Williams or any of the others are sorry for making up stuff. Their egos simply don’t allow them to be sorry, and their excuses, though hollow to others, are good enough for them.

To personalize this somewhat, on a much smaller and more remorseful scale, I once put the wrong development name by mistake in a real estate advertorial and received an angry phone call from the agent whose house was featured. The actual neighborhood, a prestigious one, is around the corner from the house. I thought the house was within the boundaries of the neighborhood. I apologized, my editor printed a retraction, and even though nothing happened to me employment-wise, I still felt awful that something I wrote was incorrect. An honest mistake, but it’s stayed with me as if it were a major offense.

That and a $1 million advance against royalties is the difference between me and all those other writers.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Beyond Burnt


Hey guys and gals! I am so cooked right now that my meat has long since fallen off its bones and the bones have dissolved into a semi-liquid state. I am stew. Stew whose water has boiled off and left an icky goo you see on that TV show with all the quirky actors who wouldn't talk that way in real life, and then the goo is analyzed by that doctor guy who likes bugs and realizes that my goo comes from me being bugged to the point of burnt.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer. A real writer. Not a blogger. They didn’t have bloggers or an Internet or other such nonsense back then. No one threw around the word “monetized.” Everyone got paychecks. Or, if you didn’t get a weekly paycheck as a regular employee, you’d at least get a check for your freelance work. And that’s what I wanted: I wanted to write for a living. First like Ray Bradbury, but I realized fiction wasn’t my thing. Then like Mike Royko. I even sent him a fan letter. He didn’t answer, but I think he was in the process of dying at the time, so I forgave him.

So I wrote and I got checks. And everything was fine for about twenty-five years.

Now I’m a massive pile of burnt bug goo and I can’t stand it anymore.

Here are a few things that have driven me to Cajun-fried corpus, not necessarily in order of irritation.

  1. Newspaper publishers did not anticipate the power of the Internet. They screwed up. They ruined lives.
  2. I get a bit irked when employers don’t pay me.
  3. I don’t like middlemen who are in control of my earnings and give me vague b.s. answers about when I’m going to get paid. Or not.
  4. I hate-hate-hate when people who I am supposed to interview for articles do not call me back. If you are going to blow me off, seriously, just send an email that says “I’m not calling you back” or “I don’t want to do this” or “F--- off.” I’d prefer it to having to call or email you repeatedly. I know my editors want me to keep trying, but since I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do, can you copy them on your f--- off email, please?
  5. It physically causes me pain to see my work on other people’s websites.
  6. It does not help when others email me links to websites of thievery and say, “Hey, isn’t that one of yours?”
  7. Condescension. Of any sort. Despise it. I’m not doing this kind of work for free. I get paid to do my job, just like you get paid to do yours. Also, I am not 15. I don’t care how young I sound over the phone. Respect, please.
  8. Whoever you are, get me off your email list. I don’t want your publicity release or “op-ed” or press invitation to your client’s event. I’m not a newspaper editor. And, if I were an editor, I’d probably be fired by now. I am a freelancer who can’t pitch anything because there’s not enough in the budget to pay me.
  9. Everyone’s a writer now. Look! A keyboard! You’re a writer! And since everyone’s a writer, here’s my job. You can have it. I'm so done that you can't even stick that proverbial fork in me. You may, however, be able to scoop me up with a spoon and shovel me onto a new career.


Friday, January 9, 2015

A Cut Above


When it comes to being lucky she’s cursed.*



A beautiful song. I didn’t know Cat Stevens wrote it until I found this on YouTube. I’d always heard hoarse, crusty ol’ Rod Stewart in my head.

My Ventura County Star opinion column has been cut for budgetary reasons.

Yep.

It seems as if many of my readers didn’t know I actually got paid to write this thing every two weeks for over a decade and a half, and several of them asked me to keep writing it and post it elsewhere. I tried to explain that I can’t/won’t do that unless I get paid. The Star did offer to allow me to continue the column, but without pay. I said nope.

Don’t read anything into that. It was all very civilized. I completely understood why it happened, and I expected to eventually be cut. Also, I must reiterate that nearly every editor at the Star has been wonderful to me. They have always treated me as a professional and a team member.

Here is the Star column headshot you will no longer see. There is a backstory to this smirky, snarky-ass expression. The photographer was so good-looking that I kept blushing and acting otherwise stupider than my (at the time) thirty-something self.

I still have my other regular freelance for them—in fact, I have a Homes cover story assignment today—and I’m doing articles for Edible Ojai & Ventura County magazine. I also have a number of projects related to my vintage purse museum. So, no worries. I’m busy.

I am, as I told one of my readers, considering writing an opinion column and posting it here, but I was very clear about the fact that I do have ads on this blog, with the idea being I’d get ad revenue in return for writing. I’m not really in this biz for the byline. Which sounds a little hardcore, but hopefully not mercenary.

That said—and to maybe personalize it a bit—here’s what I told a fellow freelancer (and former staff writer) in an email about the death of my column: “Yeah, man. I knew it was coming, but I was a little shaken when I got that email today. This is a morbid analogy, but it's like having a terminally ill relative—you know he's going to die, but it's a shock when it actually happens.”

*A week before my column got cut, I won $200 on a lottery scratcher.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Losing My Religion


Not that writing was a religion, per se, but I used to write religiously.


There was that particularly intense year. 2009. You know. I’ve told you about it. Every day for one full year, I sent out a query, article, short story, contest entry, haiku, button slogan, greeting card idea, and did my regular freelance work. Had a lot more of it back then.

Sold my novel that year. Won a few contests. Got some T-shirts. A fountain pen. Made a little money.

Had high hopes.


Today, not so much.

I don’t write any more. Not like that. There is no hopefulness left in my writing. Which sounds defeatist, but is truly realistic, without any whining. Seriously. There is no crying in baseball and there is no whining in realism.

I’m still writing. I still get assignments from my newspaper and a magazine. I still have my opinion column. I recently heard from someone for whom I used to write greeting cards. He wanted me to come up with an idea for a drawing, which was fun to get back to. Here's a card I did for him many years ago.




See more of Scott Austin's great designs at http://www.SnafuCards.com/ and buy them.

Mostly, though, I write for my vintage purse pages, which I am hoping (so, see, there's some hopefulness, just not 2009 hopefulness) become more profitable. I’m good with that sort of writing. It’s promotional, like advertorial work, but it fills the creative and financial (somewhat, almost) need.

It also takes the pressure off. No longer do I have to think about writing that blockbuster, because I know it’s not going to happen and I'm OK with that.

But… if you have a drawing that needs copy or want a slogan about PMS, let me know. I love that stuff.


Wrote it. Sold it. Badge of honor.


Wrote and sold this one, too. FIRST.




Saturday, November 15, 2014

It's A Mystery to Me


I put my resume on Monster, just because, you know, someone may contact me about a writing job. Or a museum job.

I’ve been getting emails asking me to sign up as a Mystery Shopper.

Yep.

Because over twenty-five years of writing experience and a pending certificate in Art Museum and Gallery Studies qualifies me to go shopping. Which I hate. I mean dislike. (My husband tells me not to hate.)

While I do enjoy thrifting and antiquing, I do not like most other types of shopping, particularly the department store variety. I can, however, be mysterious at times, but that generally involves lack of sleep, a cold gifted to me by my grandson and his preschool germs, and half the adult dosage of Nyquil, which is all I can tolerate. Thus, the mystery becomes what it is, exactly, I’m trying to convey to the people who live here. My children mock my inability to complete a sentence, which doesn’t even require the foggy trinity of insomnia, a virus and medication. I often finish a thought in my head instead of aloud, while only under the influence of myself. It drives everyone I know crazy.

Anyway, here’s one of the emails in its entirety, except for the name of the guy who sent it to me, even though it may be a pseudonym for Automatic Email Generator. I left in the company’s name, because I suspect they send out a million of these emails to everyone who has a resume on Monster, from freelance writers to nuclear physicists, so it’s not as if I’m defaming anyone. (Note that their company name is a registered trademark. That's legitimacy right there, I tell you.)

Hello,

I am ________, Recruitment Specialist with Sights On Service Inc.“We have a mystery shopping assignment in your area and we would like you to participate". Secret Shopper® has been in business since 1990. We are a charter member of the Mystery Shopping Provider's Association (MSPA), the professional trade association for the Mystery Shopping industry. There is no charge to apply to be a Secret Shopper® and information is protected. Secret Shopper® is accepting applications for qualified individuals to become mystery shoppers. Its fun and rewarding, and you choose when and where you want to shop. You are never obligated to accept an assignment. There is no charge to become a shopper and you do not need previous experience. After you sign up, you will have access to training materials via e-mail, fax or postal mail.
                                                                    ABOUT US
Secret Shopper® is the premier mystery shopping company serving clients across America and Canada with over 500,000 shoppers available and ready to help businesses better serve their customers. Continual investment in the latest internet and communication technologies coupled with over 16 years of know-how means working with Secret Shopper® is a satisfying and rewarding experience. Secret shopping as seen on ABC NEWS, NBC NEWS, L.A.TIMES.Since 1990, Secret Shopper® has delivered actionable intelligence to our clients, helping to drive exceptional bottom-line performance. Nearly 1,000 shoppers have registered this week, performing millions of mystery shops throughout North America and the Caribbean. When coupled with our continual investment in the latest internet and communication technologies, you can rest assured that working with Secret Shopper® is a satisfying and rewarding experience.Secret Shopper® is also a charter member of the industry trade association, the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). Benefit from partnering with America’s premier mystery shopping company. We have been building our tradition of excellence for two decades.

Stores and organizations such as The Gap, Walmart, Pizza Hut and Banks. One amongst many others pay for Secret Shoppers to shop in their establishments and report their experiences. On top of being paid for shopping you are also allowed to keep purchases for free. Secret Shopper® NEVER charge fees to the shopper. Training, tips for improvement, and shopping opportunities are provided free to registered shoppers.Mystery shoppers are either paid a pre-arranged fee for a particular shop, a reimbursement for a purchase or a combination of both. Secret Shopper® has available for immediate assignment an inspection of the customer service of any walmart in your area. You are to shop secretly. This fee will be paid upfront. During this shopping, you will visit a location and make several observations asregards the customer service. You will be required to interact with the shopper clerk. You may conduct the shop alone or as a couple. The assignment will pay $350.00 per duty and you can be able to get up to 2- 3 duties in a week depending on how fast you are able to execute the first assignment. Kindly Fill Out the application form below and we will get back to you shortly with the assignment:

PERSONAL INFORMATION:
First Name:
Middle Name:
Last Name:
Street Address:
City, State, Zip Code:
Cell Phone Number:
Home Phone Number:
Age:
Current Occupation:
Email Address:

We await your urgent response. Thank you your willingness to work with us. We look forward to working with you.

Sincerely,
_____________
Secret Shopper®

In other news, the Orange County Register is making its reporters deliver newspapers. In other, other news, it's still a better job than being a mystery shopper.