COVID, Friendship, Writing, and Books: We’re better

It’s official — as of yesterday, I can smell the cinnamon in my oatmeal and taste hot chocolate — hurrah! Smelling flowers is uplifting — but no longer worrying that I could be snuffed out by toxic air or spoiled food? — mega-hallelujah!

Senses, mwah and mwah! Please don’t ever leave me again! Here’s to hoping that a benefit of COVID will be more research spent to help all who have limited abilities to smell or taste…

Illness is dreadful, but now that I’m securely on the other end of it, I see it provided me some upsides. For one thing, it’s reminded me how beyond-lottery-winner-fortunate I’ve always been in regards to wonderful friends — and that includes you, dear reader. Most strangers are merely people we haven’t yet had the opportunity to become friends with, no?

Besides appreciating the kindness of pals and soon-pals, I wish I could say I completed extensive writing on my “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat” novels, but my writing energy was nowhere to be found.

However, sitting and lying about  enabled me to do some reading. Without revealing plot points, here are my reviews of four books I’ve just finished. When I review books I appreciate, I notify the authors. Occasionally they email me back 🙂

Cover of "Earthlings" by Sayaka Murata

Earthlings: A Novel by Sayaka Murata

Pardon the gray matter, but my brain just exploded. This book is like nothing I’ve ever read before — and I read a lot of books and genres.

Picture Sayaka Murata’s earlier book, “Convenience Store Woman,” as a string of firecrackers that cleverly illuminates how soul-sucking capitalism can be. “Earthlings” is akin to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when 80,000 people vanished in the blink of an eye and 200,000 mostly civilians perished.

Equal parts sci-fi, reality, magical realism, comedy, horror, satire, and gore, she says this is her other-worldly response to a Japanese health minister’s announcement. In 2007, he said, “The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can do is ask them to do their best per head … although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines.”

Granted, there are beaucoup reasons “Earthlings” isn’t for everyone — but I have no time for those who’re simply offended that the story isn’t as cutesy as the iconically Japanese cover. The same goes for reviewers who lament the dearth of “likable” characters. For Murata, no one is all-good or all-bad, and no gender or age has it easy. Surely when Murata named an essential character “Yuu,” she knew the meaning of “you” in English.

Cover of "Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends" by Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano

Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends by Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano

This is a wise and chatty culmination of what the authors learned as co-hosts of their “Friendshipping” podcast. Their mantra: “Friendship is a skill.” Indeed, it’s one that merits continual honing, for which they offer great suggestions.

Cover of "The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention" by Julia Cameron

The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron’s 12-week manual, “The Artist’s Way: a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” is ultra groundbreaking to creatives of any ilk. Each non-fiction book Cameron has published since then reiterates much of her original teachings — but for me, the repetition often works. This newest text is a 6-week DIY course that emphasizes the value of listening to each other, our environment, and ourselves.

Cover of "The 90-Day Novel" by Alan Watt

The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within by Alan Watt

Good chance Julia Cameron fans will enjoy this, given that there are a few similarities. If Cameron doesn’t resonate, you still may find this bread-crumbs/inside-to-out writing approach useful.

Are you reading or writing lately?

DIY Heaven by da-AL

Photo of my Cousin Ana's new rooster.
Cousin Ana’s Roco: Ro + Co = “rojo” (Spanish for “red”) + “colorado” (Spanish for “colored red”).

What if, despite what some writers and books tell us, there’s no afterlife? But there’s still a heaven, yet it’s one we make right here, right now. Better yet, what if it doesn’t take much to create? If easy micro-kindnesses wend far and meander back to us?

The holidays are upon us. It’s definitely not my favorite season. Not at all. It’s contrived; there’s so much expectation, manipulation…

Yet this last week turned me mushy. Not in the faux sentimental way depicted on TV and billboards targeting us to spend, spend, spend. It’s not by chance that Xmas decorations look sad in daylight. Ugh, these two months can really get on my nerves.

Back to mushiness. Years ago, when a sweet friend was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, another great friend and I pledged to do a walkathon for MS. One of those where we collected donations in advance of all the miles we planned to walk.

Walkathon day came… and… what can I say other than, the truth is not pretty? It was hot and crowded and yucky, and that was while we searched for parking. The two of us ate our sandwiches in the car and promptly drove home. Sans walking, we mailed in the monies. In my case, I’d amassed a few hundred dollars over just an hour or so of cubicle-hopping around the ad agency I temped for.

What’s stayed with me is how out of the thirty or so people I begged (please don’t ask me to attempt math here), most gave anywhere from a few to twenty dollars. A little pitched in by each person within a bunch added up very quickly!

Another personal story of how one small gesture can ripple wide, this one recent

Last April, a friend mentioned she’d begun foster parenting. It was the start of Los Angeles’ quarantine, and Covid-19 was creating a worse need than ever for people to take care of kids. (Note to self: when I am Goddess of the Universe in my next life, foster parents automatically get express tickets to heaven.) For anyone who isn’t aware, the 24/7/365 job requires half a year to get certified and pays heck, as this foster parent reveals.

My friend is Wonder Woman when it comes to embracing all that life presents. A devoted mother, wife, business owner, daughter, and more, she and her husband are now fostering an adorable baby girl with health issues and a super charming little boy with challenges too. When I mentioned to my husband what she was doing, he decided to knock on the doors of several of our neighbors who have kids. He requested whatever hand-me-downs they could spare and Voila! Over two weeks, even the friends’ friends contributed to what became quite a heap of helpful kid things!

Further confirmation that our little gestures can create a positive groundswell was in my local newspaper a couple of days ago

(And by the way, this also shows why local news is a necessity, not a luxury. Every city would benefit greatly to have a news outlet of its own.) Turns out the good deeds of a man living on the street have given rise to much more goodness. As you’ll see in this article about him, as well as this one that includes a video link, generosity small and large boomerangs all over the place and continues to add up to a whole lot of fabulous! The comments on the GoFundMe page that Bruce De Mille put together are beyond heart-melting.

All this leads me to explain these delightful pictures

Any little stray dog or innocent chick who meets my Cousin Ana has hit the sweetness jackpot! Her house is t-h-e place to go to be safe, sound, and never eaten…

Cousin Ana's chicken, Pepa, was 11 when she passed away not too long ago...
Cousin Ana’s chicken, Pepa, is 11 years young…

 

When Pepa was gone, Cousin Ana got 5 baby chicks. Here they are, 3 months old now! Surprise, one is another rooster...
When Pepa was gone, Cousin Ana got 5 baby chicks. Here they are, 3 months old now! Surprise, one is another rooster…

 

Cousin Ana's is heaven for needy little dogs! (L-R) Here's Tiky, Albert, Bella, Nike, Beethoven, Charlie. The last ones are brothers and sister.
Cousin Ana’s is heaven for needy little dogs! (L-R) Here’s Tiky, Albert, Bella, Nike, Beethoven, Charlie. The last ones are brothers and sister.

 

Beethoven loves modeling whatever Cousin Ana knits.
Beethoven loves modeling whatever Cousin Ana knits.

 

Here's Cousin Ana's Albert, on his way home from the groomer's.
Here’s Cousin Ana’s Albert, on his way home from the groomer’s.

When I try to be kind or when I see others being nice, I feel safer and happier — like heaven is here, right now.

How do you create your own heaven?

A plea and a solution for food sellers by da-AL

My dear blog reader, if you or anyone you know agrees with the letter below, won’t you please share it, hashtag it, copy/paste it, add your name to it, and do whatever you like to get the basic sentiment out there? (And read on for an additional message to you that follows it.)

Dear Trader Joe’s, as well as other grocery stores and processed food manufacturers,

Food, glorious food! I love your stuff, and I adore it all the better when you sell it in containers that are healthy and easy to re-use.

Rather than cans and near-impossible-to-recycle (let alone repurpose) plastic vacuum-sealed boxes, sell us stuff in containers like these!…

Something delish…
Tastes better when it’s in something useful…
Like how this keeps a snack fresh!

Here’s the kind of jars I love best — think healthy, easy-to-clean, and uniform in which to store my beans, grains, flour, pasta, and such:

  • Straight-sided and where I can easily reach in wash clear down to the bottom.
  • Labels that require just a quick soak to remove.
  • Better yet, no labels at all, as in the case of the adorable drinking glasses illustrated after this letter — how sublime that the Welch’s name appears only in fine print!
  • Interchangeable sizes and lids would be extra classy!

The mustard sauce in the photo is great — and is all the better for the jar!

Yours truly,

da-AL — a customer who I doubt is alone

P.S. Don’t think you can get away with overpricing products with super-cute holiday gift-type containers and expect us to think you’ve done anyone a favor.

Back to you my dear cyberland friend,

As you can guess from above, I’m asking businesses to go beyond using less plastic. It’s lovely when grocers sell us food in glass jars. Let’s encourage them to take it up a gazillion notches by doing something that’ll benefit us while making us more loyal to them!

I hope you’ll share this with anyone who’s as upset as I am with how impossible it is to get away from plastic. Share this with individuals as well as with businesses. Even small gestures can go a long way when they’re multiplied. As consumers, our wallets wield immense power.

Every time I turn around, I read more scary stuff about how corrosive plastics are to our bodies, and downright catastrophic to the environment. There may have been a time when we deluded ourselves that plastic was better than glass, but these days, we know better.

When I was small, my family ate Welch’s jam. Why? Sure, it was tasty, and we needed something not too expensive for our toast — but with all the jams out there, Welch’s outsmarted the others! Theirs was in glass jars meant to be repurposed into drinking glasses! Customers wanted to collect the cute freebies while getting decent jams at the same time.

In the stone-age, harhar, jam came in these. They were great to drink out of and made shoppers want to go buy more to collect them!

Win-win joy here, there, everywhere!! Pardon me while I do a little jig at the keyboard! Why the heck don’t all stores and all brands continue to do something like what I described?

For crafty readers and those of us who enjoy looking at stuff we’ll never do — here and here and here and here and here and here and here are some links. Key search words: repurpose and up-cycle.

Are you concerned about plastics?…

Happy Un-Holidays by da-AL

Still from John Water's film, "Female Trouble"

Not feeling holiday cheerful? Don’t despair — holidays are merely dates on the calendar. Before you know it, they’ll be over and done with.

Here’s confirmation that Xmas isn’t always merry — but life can still be funny or at least interesting. The Davenport family holidays, as realized by John Waters, the king cult film-making, with the help of Devine who departed from us far too soon…

Are you feeling holiday-ish?

Willie Nelson: Vote ’em Out VIDEO by da-AL

That’s what election day’s all about!

(Left) Nelson, 1949, high school (Right) Nelson, 2016, Topeka, Kansas
(Left) Nelson, 1949, high school (Right) Nelson, 2016, Topeka, Kansas

Willie Nelson (born April 29, 1933) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, author, poet, actor, and activist.

Willie Nelson – Vote ‘Em Out lyrics

[Verse 1]
If you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out
That’s what Election Day is all about
The biggest gun we’ve got
Is called “the ballot box”
So if you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out

[Chorus]
Vote ’em out (vote ’em out)
Vote ’em out (vote ’em out)
And when they’re gone we’ll sing and dance and shout
Bring some new ones in
And we’ll start that show again
And if you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out

[Verse 2]
If it’s a bunch of clowns you voted in
Election Day is comin’ ’round again
If you don’t like it now
If it’s more than you’ll allow
If you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out

[Chorus]
Vote ’em out (vote ’em out)
Vote ’em out (vote ’em out)
And when they’re gone we’ll sing and dance and shout
Bring some new ones in
And we’ll start the show again
And if you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out

[Outro]
Vote ’em out (vote ’em out)
Vote ’em out (vote ’em out)
That’s what Election Day is all about
The biggest gun we’ve got
Is called “the ballot box”
So if you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out
If you don’t like who’s in there, well vote ’em out

Did you vote yet?

Guest Blog Post: My Road to Getting Published by Geoffrey Simpson

The story of how author Geoffrey Simpson, who just released “The Three Hares,” got his first book published — in his own words…

Geoffrey Simpson, author of The Three Hares
Geoffrey Simpson, author of The Three Hares

On a gloomy January morning, the air was heavy and uninspired. I read an article about ancient symbols—a distraction from those about politics, rife with propaganda. One symbol, with three rabbits chasing one another in an infinite circle, struck a chord. A whirlwind flooded my conscience.

Although I’ve never written before, a few story ideas were tucked away for a rainy day. That same morning, I began to plot. That same gloomy day was the beginning of an adventurous journey to becoming an author. 

Three months later, manuscript in hand and an intent to self-publish, an author friend of the family strongly encouraged me to find an editor. I hadn’t planned on investing in this project, but I also never expected to write a novel. 

As an author, I’ve transitioned through two distinct phases. There was pre-Janet, and post-Janet. As you probably assumed, Janet Fix, owner of thewordverve inc., agreed to become my editor, mentor, and inspirer.

With a polished manuscript and newfound confidence, I changed course from self-publishing and sought an agent. A thrilling adventure began, but as the queries went out, the feedback was unanimous. “Unfortunately, I’m not the right agent for this project.” Not a single manuscript request came forth.

Discouraged and circling back toward self-publishing, I spoke to Janet the Inspirer. She, who wasn’t just an editor, was transitioning her business from hybrid to traditional publishing, asked me to join Team Verve.

Twelve months after that gloomy January morning, Janet became my publisher, and there’s no looking back. Today, Janet is editing the sequel to The Three Hares, and I am writing the third installment of this five-book YA adventure/mystery series. It is this partnership/friendship which has made all the difference.

Cover of Geoffrey Simpson's book, The Three Hares

I’ve got two novels I’m writing. What are your experiences with traditional publishing vs. self-publishing?

Guest Blog Post: “Buy My Book!” in the exact words of Bookshelf Q. Battler

Supporting writers, as well as readers, is our mission, here at Happiness Between Tails.

A more direct sales pitch has yet to be found than that of blogger and book writer Bookshelf Q. Battle

Bookshelf Battle

Hey 3.5 readers.

BQB here.

Just a regularly scheduled begging session, asking you, my beloved 3.5 readers, to buy my book, “BQB’s Big Book of Badass Writing Prompts.”

It’s 99 cents.  Honestly, other than a trip to the nudey bar, this is the best value you’ll ever get for a dollar.

I mean I don’t want to spell it out, but if you walk up to a nudey bar and wave a single dollar bill around, a stripper will show you her hey-nanner-nanner.  At least, they usually do.  I can’t guarantee they will.

But you’re upstanding citizens who don’t frequent such terrible places.  So check out my fine book.  You know you want it.

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Bah! Humbug! is Perfectly Fine by da-AL

burnt gingermen cookies
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

It’s quite alright to say, “No!” to a holiday. It’s ok to write off an entire season. Sometimes holidays are worthy of looking forward to. Sometimes they’re not.

tray of burnt cookies
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

It’s perfectly fine to ignore the myriad external messages elbowing each other to influence us. People, companies, cultures, they all would love for us to spend, do, and feel exactly as they think we should.

Never mind them. Really. Sometimes some holidays (and/or seasons) are best ignored.

tray of burnt cookies
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Do whatever works for you. Mark time, survive, thrive. Before you know it, it’ll be holiday-free January.

Photo courtesy Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com

Whatever any one of us does, we’re never alone. We’re all unique yet all human. Be good to each other. Take good care of yourself!

Photo courtesy Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com

What do you do when you want to ignore a holiday?

Guest Blog Post: “Open Me First,” in Sharon Lynne Bonin-Pratt’s exact words

Drawing of a wrapped present6 tips for heartfelt giving by writer and fellow blogger Sharon Lynne Bonin-Pratt

Sharon Bonin-Pratt's Ink Flare

The holiday dilemma: what do you get for the person who has everything?

Perhaps something goofy like slippers that sing Rock Around the Clock, or something extravagant like a set of diamond encrusted napkins rings, the kind of thing that becomes an expensive party joke. Maybe a bauble like a garden statue of lighted snowmen or a set of holiday themed coffee mugs, useless most of the year because, well, they’re holiday themed and who wants to drink coffee in July with Rudolph’s red nose stenciled on it? We can get truly original: a dozen bottles of wine with personalized labels, Humphrey Malarkey Family Reserve Chardonnay, so it looks like Uncle Humph became a boutique vintner on Christmas Eve.  Another possibility is the very exclusive Himalayan Cilantro Sea Salt Spa Scrub with Acai Crystals – imagine how much fun Great Aunt Agnes will have trying to figure out…

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Video: “Let’s End Ageism,” TED Talk by Ashton Applewhite

Author Ashton Applewhite is a great blogger too: ThisChairRocks.com
Author Ashton Applewhite is a great blogger too: ThisChairRocks.com

We’re in the age where we’re boxed into ‘isms’ — sellers want us to buy more, more, more — and the most effective way for them to reach us is to niche-itize us.

I’m sharing this video because author/activist Ashton Applewhite discusses more than simply old-ageism …

Please share your thoughts …