FORTHRIGHT – MALE VS. FEMALE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Forthright

When a man is forthright, he is energetic and ambitious. He gets a lot of slaps on the back and with a tidbit of luck, he winds up running the place. Or a piece of it, anyhow. Because if you are a man, forthright and a bit of a go-getter, you are the right kind of guy. You say what you mean and others automatically follow you.

Old Doubleday and Company

On the other hand, if you are a woman and you are forthright, you are probably a slut or at the very least, a ball-buster. If you say what you want, you not a “real” woman. If you are ambitious, you are ruthless. If you are a go-getter, you are probably sleeping with the boss (of either sex, these days).

Regardless, you get paid at least 25% less than men who did the same work and quite possibly, even less.

Recently I’ve read about how “we (women) used to handle ‘this stuff’ back in the good old days.” Like, say, the 1960s.

Those days weren’t quite as good and they definitely weren’t great, at least not for working women. We were just beginning to find our feet out of the secretarial pool. How many of us had to learn to avoid the hands and the tentacles (some men had really long arms) of the men who surrounded us? You didn’t have to look “hot” or wear sexy clothing, either. Just being female was enough. “Hitting on women” has nothing to do with sex or attraction and everything to do with power and dominance.

A lot of the worst of these guys had wives at home better looking than the women they were bugging at work.

Despite rumors to the contrary, it wasn’t necessarily “easy” to get around these guys. Easy if they were an equal or lower level colleague, but if it was your boss? When it was the guy who owned the joint?

You were screwed.

You could quit your job quickly before the boss had time to make up an evil reference about you. That is what I did because not only was he really making it very clear how long our evenings after everyone else left would be. On top of that, he was a handsome guy. That was not going to make the situation easier.

I could give in a bit, enough to shut him up while I bought time to send out resumes. Or I could give in and live with the shame. Because even if no one else knew, I knew. I have a conscience. It is often inconvenient.

All these situations were unique. We were not the same people. Our responses varied. Where we lived made a difference, too.

Every office is different and has its own social milieu. Every “boss” has his own playbook. Moreover, it depended on your position and who was badgering you.

Not your equal? Easy peasy.

Your equal? More complicated.

The 1970s Doubleday I remember

Your boss or worse, THE boss? Big problem.

Working at Doubleday was fantastic except for the pay inequalities. No one bothered anyone except by asking them to help them produce extra work. Which no one minded because otherwise, they treated us very well.

You never made the same money as men whose work wasn’t as good as yours. I remember when I worked there, having secured a pretty good job I managed to get a job for a friend (male) who had no experience at all but had talent. They hired him for several thousand dollars more per year than I was getting, yet I knew the work and had experience. He knew nothing and had to learn it from scratch.

I didn’t see the point in making a fuss. It was pointless. Men always earned more than me, even when they were inexperienced or not very good.

So much for forthright.

MINIMALIST PUBLISHING – Marilyn Armstrong

Why do publishers ONLY publish potential best-sellers? Many books we read from in those old days were not wildly popular. Publishers understood a good book deserved publication, even if it wouldn’t be a bestseller. Our literature would be a very poor place if we only published the most popular genres.

It’s true I don’t read every kind of book anymore, but I did when I was younger. I did when I was a kid and right through most of my adulthood. Only during the past few years has my taste become more specific.

I read all of Dostoyevsky in one year. Aside from never remembering anyone’s’ name, I mostly enjoyed them. I couldn’t read them now — too gloomy — but when I was 15? It was great stuff! I’m also pretty sure none of those books ever made anyone’s bestseller list. Can you imagine Proust topping the best-seller list? Or Gorky?

All writers wrote more and less popular material. Not everyone likes every book or every genre, but that ought not to be the only reason a book gets published. It’s depressing for writers and very off-putting for those who have written GOOD books and know that there isn’t a publisher on earth who wants it because it isn’t in one of their “niche” areas.

When I worked at Doubleday, we published anything that was reasonably well-written. We had more than a dozen book clubs that catered to specialized audiences as well as two generic clubs. I ran (they made me do it) two libraries: American Garden Guild (I learned a lot about plants!) and Doubleday Romance Library. To this day I know more ways to say “fell in love” than you can shake a stick at.

None of this stuff had to be bestseller material. It had an audience. The major point of book clubs what we knew there was an audience for just about everything, so we published for everyone. From military book clubs to science fiction and crime, if you wanted to read it, Doubleday published it and probably had a book club dedicated to it, too.

Many books were published because a real, live human editor felt it was worth the paper and ink.

Today, if you aren’t writing something the company’s editorial software thinks is “hot,” no human editor will so much as look at it, much less publish it.

Which is why writers end up with a boxful of computer-generated rejections. The computer scanned it, didn’t find the right buzz words, and threw it away. I finally had ONE editor willing to look at my book … and — this is true — he died a few days before he got to it.

I gave up. Not that I wrote anything really great, but it was worth at least a read or two.

My collection of Gretchen Archer’s books and cup, if you please

It really is going to be a sad batch of literature we leave to the next generation. Good thing there are still books from earlier years to read. So many great writers will never publish or will self-publish and no one will notice them.

Okay, this is my rant of the day. It worries me that so few writers get properly published. Excellent writers are rare beasts and deserve notice. Deserve publication. And all good writers deserve to have at least one hardcover book that comes with the delicious smell of ink fresh from the press.

Blurbs

The other day I had to write a couple of blurbs. It was a job – as in paying. Really. Try not to fall out of your chair. (No blog readers were harmed in the writing of this post.)

Along the twisting path of my professional life, my first big (read: good) job was as a promotional writer for Doubleday. I was editor for two book clubs, the Doubleday Romance Library and The American Garden Guild. It was a job so wonderful I never fully recovered. Aside from the perks — 2-hour lunches, unlimited sick days and all the books you could eat — my colleagues were intelligent, funny, literate and one of them is my best friend.

The work was fun too. It hardly seemed like work. I never stopped being amazed someone would pay me to do something I enjoyed so much. I got paid to read books on company time. Imagine getting paid to read best-sellers. Mind boggling, isn’t it?

After reading them, I would write them up for various book clubs like Doubleday Book Club and Literary Guild for which everyone wrote because they were the biggest clubs and had the most mailings and promotions. All told, we were 13 writers and 15 graphic artists, plus a few editors. I was a writer (big surprise).

Each writer had his or her club or clubs for which we did the mailings, promotions, flyers, blurbs, book flaps … whatever. It was advertising, sort of, but not exactly. Promotions are closely related to advertising, but not quite the same though there’s an overlap.

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The thing is, we lived and died by the blurb. Book flaps (the fold over pieces of a book jacket) are long blurbs. Promotional mailers can be long or short or downright tiny. One way or the other, you had to fit a lot of stuff in a very small space because how many characters you could use (no not words, characters … including punctuation and spaces) was determined by the layout. Which was designed by the graphic artist … not known for flexibility.

Sometimes you could negotiate a little with an artist (always be very nice to the artists … they control your space) if you absolutely couldn’t work in the allotted space. Usually there wasn’t much room for negotiations. If you had 1000 characters, you might be able to stretch it to 1050, but 50 characters isn’t much flexibility. So you learned to write to whatever space you were given. Or got a job doing something else.

Everything counts when have a 100-word blur. You can’t explain. You imply. Suggest. You can’t use sentences. You write words. Exclamations. You can’t tell a story yet you have to give at least a general outline of what the book’s about.

It’s interesting reducing the complex plot of a 500 page book to 100 words. That’s what I did. I hadn’t done it since the mid 1970s, so I wasn’t sure I still knew how, but it turns out it’s like riding a bike but you don’t break anything if you fall off.

I did it. Pretty well. One blurb, 250 words. Exactly. Second blurb. 100 words. Precisely.

One complete sentence. The rest? Murder! Chaos! Poison! Kidnapping! Secrets! Thrilling adventure from the author of …

If you are a writer and think this is easy, try describing your favorite book in 100 words. Exactly. Then tell me it’s easy. If you have to write it for your own book? No writer should have to do blurbs for his or her own book. It’s cruel and unusual punishment. Like someone asking you to describe your leg. I always went blank when asked. My book was like a body part. I couldn’t separate myself from it sufficiently to say anything intelligent. I still can’t and it’s 6 years later.

It took me almost a year to remember how to write whole sentences after I left Doubleday. I wish I could go back. Those really, truly, absolutely were the good old days.

The Far Arena, by Richard Ben Sapir – Roman Ways In Modern Days

The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir

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I just bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I first read it when it was released in 1978. I was working at Doubleday as a book club editor. It fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that went to book club members.

A large part of my job was to read books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best of the best. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my Doubleday years. Not merely was I paid to read and write about books, but I received (as did all the editors and graphic artists in the department) new copies of every book we worked on. We all had very large personal libraries. We also had 2 hour lunches and wonderful co-workers. I looked forward to work the way most folks anticipate the weekend. It was that good. I realize this is a digression, but I wanted to put this in context and maybe brag a little.

The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, sort of, but not in any traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any of the usual sci fi categories. Time travel? Not exactly, but it has a time travel-ish feel to it.

The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil and subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of the modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 1600 years ago.

His observations on modern society are priceless. For example, while he is in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring of course to the to nurses and other workers who attend his needs.

His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea. “You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves, but without responsibility.”

“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.

“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds. Who would like to argue the point? Not me.

That is paraphrasing, of course, but is captures the gist of the dialogue. I have never looked at the world quite the same way since I read this book. Modern workers have all the freedom of slaves, but no assurance that anyone will care for them when they are no longer able to work. That’s a pretty good deal from the owners’ … I mean employers’ … point-of-view.

This is a brilliant and unique book. It stands apart from the thousands of books I’ve read over the years. All other time travel stories are about modern people visiting the past. This is the only book I can think of where a man from the past offers a view of the modern world and it’s not a pretty sight.

Richard Ben Sapir wrote other books that are unusual and worth reading. I especially liked The Body, but The Far Arena stands head and shoulders above the rest. He only wrote a few novels. His world was really comic books, or what are now called “graphic novels” … making locating copies of his books more challenging. However you can get your hands on one — beg, steal or borrow — it’s a must-read,even if science fiction is not a genre you normally seek out. Whether “A Far Arena” is science fiction or plain fiction is a matter of opinion. I think it sits just on the edge where genres meet. (Question: When genres meet, do they have coffee together? Just wondering.)

You might check to see if your local library has a copy. I scored a good copy in hard-cover from a second-hand seller on Amazon for $8.50 plus shipping, not bad considering the book’s been out of print for 30+ years.

It would make a great movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. I recommend you read it if you can. You can find copies around occasionally and although he was not a prolific writer, he wrote a few other novels, all of which are very good and have unique stories.

Did I mention that it’s exceptionally well written? Highly literate? Well-researched? Convincing? All those things and a great, gripping story too.

You can hunt down used copies. They are available on Amazon (I just bought one  as a gift) and more come up periodically. Sometimes you get lucky and find one of these rare books at yard sales or the Salvation Army. Then you get the book for literally pennies and you  have fun hunting it down, too. On the average, you’ll find it’s less expensive than most new paperbacks and more than worth the price.

Turning your life around

The purpose of a cliché is to make creative thought unnecessary. Television and Hollywood are cliché driven. How could scripts be cranked out without clichés? When I worked at Doubleday, we used to post (in those days, “posting” meant putting a printed paper on your bulletin board using a tack) lists of useful clichés for various writing problems.

I was the editor of the Romance Library, so I became the go-to writer if you needed an alternate way to say “fell in love” or “wanted to jump his/her bones” but being a G-rated enterprise, had to put it more delicately. If that failed, there was the “shout out” method. We had open cubbies, so if you needed another way of saying something, you yelled it out and voices from around the office would offer suggestions. It was a lot faster than looking it up, which back then, meant getting out the thesaurus and actually looking it up. To write, we used — are you ready? — typewriters and carbon paper! To handle corrections, we used liquid white out and correction tape. Whoa, you’ve never heard of correction tape? You are so young, grasshopper.

My husband, having spent his working life in the news biz, has his own favorite broadcast news clichés and he is kind enough to share them with me. He knows how fond I am of words. My personal favorite, when speaking of the murderer du jour is “He kept pretty much to himself.” To be spoken with a straight face and utmost sincerity. They do this in television shows and on the news, but remarkably, they also say stuff like this in real courtrooms. It turns out that lawyers and D.A.s are just as unoriginal as everyone else.

Then, there is the reporter, looking dolefully over the scene of destruction: “Can you give me a sense of how you feel?” he or she says. Surprisingly, very few people whack him or her upside the head with something hard and heavy. I think it’s largely because the presence of cameras pretty  much guarantees getting bagged for assault.

Moving back to the courtroom, the mother of the thug who proudly flaunts an encyclopedic resume of violent crime says “He’s a good boy. He’s been turning his life around!” The same, using the past tense, can be said of victims of drug deals gone bad. It never gets old. Guffaws are muffled as judges look down on loud laughter during trials and arraignments.

Let’s not forget the classics: sports! Wow, there are too many great clichés to cover in a short post. Every announcer and player knows them and they say them with total conviction as if they are the first people to have ever spoken these words. Do they memorize them in advance? There’s a scene in “Bull Durham” where Kevin Costner, the old pro, is teaching the rookie (Tim Robbins) how to talk to the press so he will know the right clichés when the moment comes. Maybe they really do memorize them.

What would we do without clichés? How about some original thinking? I mean it’s possible, right? I grant you sometimes originality is a waste of valuable time when a perfectly good cliché will do. But sometimes, situations arise that beg for something clever. New television shows might benefit from not being exactly like every other show the preceded it and against which it competes. Every now and again, a show comes along where characters, plot and dialogue are not 100% predictable, so it can be done if anyone is willing to make the effort. Mostly, they don’t. And they wonder why people lose interest.  It would also be nice if the few shows that start out with a bang wouldn’t end with a whimper. Writers quickly become lazy, but despite rumors that viewers are morons, we do notice as the quality of a show deteriorates. We notice and we stop watching.

The other night, Garry commented that whatever it was — a new show I believe and no, I do not remember its name — we’d seen it before. Being as this was the premier episode, you would think that if they are going to bother to bring on a new show, they might consider writing an original script for it. You would be wrong.

“We’ve seen everything before,” I said.

“We’re old,” he said.

“We may be old, but that’s not the problem. New shows are exactly like old shows. I think they resue the old scripts too, change some names and use them again. We need to get our head right and stop hoping for originality and just try to appreciate when they do the same old stuff better than usual.”

“Maybe. It would save us from continuous disappointment.”

“Yup.

Currently on the tube there are perhaps half a dozen shows that surprise us sometimes. “White Collar” wins for being the only crime or cop show that doesn’t only solve murders. They deal with crimes in which no one got killed! What creative genius thought of that?

Elementary” has been unpredictable and has, in return, won our loyalty.

Amongst the surprises, “Anger Management” is actually funny. Laugh-out-loud funny. Wow. A funny comedy! A unique concept indeed. It has been a long time since a television sitcom was anything other than dull, insipid and often insulting to what’s left of our intelligence.

Our Friday night fix is “Blue Bloods.” The scripts are not always as original as I would like, they aren’t rewrites of old “Law and Order” episodes either. Tom Selleck alone is worth your time.

There are a few other shows that occasionally aren’t completely predictable, but for the most part, we know what’s going to happen from the opening scene. Often, the credits are enough to give away the story. The guest star did it. Why else would he or she be on the show?

It’s not impossible to write original material, but it does require extra effort. C’mon guys. You can do it. Give it a whirl. We will all be grateful … and you can be proud of your work. It’s a win-win.

Daily Prompt: My Favorite People, Weird Things and Kismet

How long were we apart? How long. An eternity? Or so it seems. Sometimes it feels like a strange dream I had as it fades in memory and so few people remember the places we lived or the language we spoke.

My home in Jerusalem.
My home in Jerusalem.

From the end of 1978 until August, 1987, I lived in Jerusalem, Israel. It is where I wanted to be and I was there by my own choice. I had wanted travel. I didn’t want to only travel. I wasn’t looking for a long vacation. I wanted to become part of another culture, another world, as different I could manage from the world I knew where I felt I was being swallowed by blandness.

Never did I have great yearnings for fame and fortune, though I wouldn’t have turned either away had they come knocking on my virtual door. But there are those of us who need to not only dream of other places, but experience them directly and apparently, I am one of them. My friends warned me I would suffer from culture shock. “Yes!” I said. I wanted culture shock. I wanted to be smacked in the face by a different lifestyle.

“You’ll be poor.”

My mother stepped in. “Marilyn’s never cared about things very much … she’ll be fine.” I didn’t know she knew that about me.

My friends sang three choruses of “What about me?” and I said “Buy a ticket. Visit.” Only Garry and one other friend … and my ex-husband (yes, we stayed friends until he died in 1993) took me up on the offer.

Garry, now my husband for 22 years (heading to 23) took me to the Four Seasons in New York and told me he’d really miss me and he would write. In all the years since we’ve been married, I’ve never seen him write a letter to anyone,  but he wrote me twice a week, sometimes more, for 9 years. Those letters became a lifeline. I used to call them my fan letters, but when everything seemed to be falling apart around my ears and the life I’d built shattered, there was Garry. No surprise that we hooked up as soon as I got back and were married a few months after my divorce came through. Life take its own time.

And then there was Cherrie, my friend. When I said I was leaving, she said she was too. If I was going to quit Doubleday, she wasn’t going to quit too. We have this parallel life thing going. She wanted Hawaii, wound up in Austin. We completely lost track of each other for all the years I was away.

JerusalemNow, we get to the good parts of the story. When I came back from Israel, I had nothing. A suitcase full of ratty tee shirts … a couple of hundred dollars … and my résumé. It was 1987 and the economy was beginning to move, especially in the Boston area where — coincidentally — Garry lived. Meanwhile, though, I got a job working for Grumman in Bethpage where among other strange and wonderful top-secret and not so secret jobs, I got to work with a bunch of NASA scientists on the design of the satellite catcher. We concluded that an effective satellite catcher had to have no fewer than 3 arms. Ignoring all recommendation, the U.S. government went cheap and made a catcher with 2 arms. It didn’t work. Mainly, as we had said, it wouldn’t catch satellites that were not rotating along a single axis. So, proving why humans have risen to the top of the food chain, our astronauts reached out and grabbed the spinning satellites with their dextrous hands and convenient opposable thumbs and easily caught them. Everything is weightless in space. We didn’t need a machine at all. Oops.

I also discovered we are hunting for anti-matter. Here’s a quoted interchange between Marilyn the Blogger in her incarnation as atomic editor anda  highly place NASA physicist:

Me: “I thought anti-matter was a science fiction thing.”

He: “Oh, no, it’s very real. We want it.”

Me: “And you are sending probes to the ends of the universe to try to collect it?” (Unspoken: “Isn’t that a little bit dangerous? Like, to the world which you might eradicate?”)

He: “Yes. We have several probes seeking it and hopefully they will be able to collect some and bring it back.”

This ranks high in the weird conversations of my lifetime department.

Meanwhile, I had met a couple of people at Grumman and one of them published his own jazz newsletter, telling people what groups were playing where on the Island. He asked me to write some stuff for it. I said “How about an astrology column?” I actually can do astrology, though I don’t anymore for a whole bunch of reasons, but astrology columns are so totally bogus that it’s effectively straight fiction-writing, but people actually believe you (how cool is that?).

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Ed, the guy with the newsletter, left them in pile free in the lobbies of buildings, local delis, and so on. And one day, my friend Cherrie who had returned from Austin and was living with her Mom while I was temporarily abiding in my ex-husband‘s guest room, was walking through the lobby of the building in which she worked and she saw there “The Jazz Ragg” and picked up a couple of copies.

There was a column by Marilyn Tripp. She read it and she said “That has GOT to be Marilyn, whatever her last name is now.” She knew my writing (we had worked together, after all), so she called my ex-husband and it turned out we were living a couple of blocks apart. Yay team. We have never been parted by more than a couple of hundred miles since … and after the Atlantic Ocean, that’s nothing.

By the Blackstone River

As for Garry, we got together, married, bought a house, had our lives fall apart, put our lives back together and now live in the middle of nowhere in an oak woods with many dogs, my son and his family, way more bills than money to pay them, and a legion of aches and pains. In compensation, we also have a really huge television and many computers — 6 on this level and 5 or 6 more downstairs. It’s compensation for destitution.

So although we were apart,Garry and Cherrie and me, we found each other and are busy getting old together. How strange and wonderful to get old with the same people with whom you were first young.

My Empty Bucket

postaday 2013 - long

WordPress suggested we write about the 11th item on our bucket list. The subject alarmed me. I don’t have a bucket list. I’ve never had a bucket list. Until the movie of the same name came out in 2007, I’d never heard the expression.

Clearly I am and have always been out of touch with popular culture. When I was a kid, I always had my head in a book. When everyone else was dancing to the tunes on American Bandstand, I was practicing Chopin or Mozart on the piano. I didn’t have time or — if I want to be honest, the inclination — to spend afternoons watching something I found kind of dopey. I wouldn’t have admitted it under torture, but I never understood what they found so interesting.

In elementary, junior high school, and even high school, I was so out of step that even amongst misfits I was a misfit. Yet by the time I got to college, there were enough people like me to form a sub-culture of oddballs who did their own thing. I finally fit in.

At some point in my life, I opted out of trends and fashions. I stopped reading reviews, cancelled subscriptions to fashion and home decorating magazines. I have no idea what’s in style. I’m wearing the same kind of clothing I wore in college. As for home furnishings, decisions are entirely based on affordability, back-friendly design and how well the upholstery can withstand and/or blend with dog hair.

Because I read voraciously and enjoy movies, I poke around to see what’s coming out, but I have no idea what’s on any best-seller or most-popular list. I have favorite authors and genres. I listen to the same music I listened to 40 years ago. It wasn’t popular or fashionable then either, but I like it. Good thing my husband shares my lack of concern with what’s current, trendy, or “hot.”

The closest thing I have to involvement with The Latest Things is a passion for technology. From the day I first got my hands on a computer back in the early 1980s, a lightbulb went off and I said “This is a better way.” I never looked back. I’m not quite as on top of the techno wave as I was a decade ago when I was working in the development world, but I retain a keen interest and strong opinions about technology, operating systems, databases and software. My granddaughter makes fun of me … until her computer stops working and suddenly, I morph from granny to guru.

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Photo credit: Affendaddy

I enjoy donning my cape and mask and slaying computer demons. It is a rare Old Person who gets to be a heroic in the eyes of  a 16-year old, however briefly.

I am most at home in the world of words. As much as I write, I read even more. Obviously I don’t sleep much. This blog is my reward for spending my entire working life writing about abstruse software and hardware. I finally get to write for fun.

One of the things I try to do is correct cultural errors, as least as they pertain to books and movies. If I feel something has gotten a bad rap and deserves better, I tell people about it. Movies that got bad reviews, books that have been overlooked, authors who haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve. I’m kind of like a literary Chicago Cubs fan. I hang with underdogs.

Many of my favorite books and movies got lousy reviews. The books didn’t sell, the movies flopped at the box office. Garry still reads reviews and passes them to me if he thinks I’ll be interested. It is not uncommon for us to wonder if these reviewers watch or read the same stuff we do. It doesn’t sound like it.

My life in publishing … ah memories

I worked at Doubleday back in the 1970s before it became part of an international conglomerate. I worked in the book club division. Each of the writers — we were called editors even though we had no editorial responsibilities — had our own book clubs. We wrote flaps for book jackets,  monthly mailers for club members and promotional stuff for whatever was new. Everyone wrote for the two general interest clubs — The Doubleday Book Club and The Literary Guild.

The difference between the two was entirely a matter of presentation. The Literary Guild was supposedly more high-brow than Doubleday Book Club. In fact, the same books were sold in both clubs, but you used bigger words when writing for LG than DBC. And LG was more expensive because paying more makes some people feel superior. I have never been one of them. My mother taught me  only fools pay full price. If it isn’t on clearance or at least a second mark down, why are you buying it? It wasn’t just a matter of money: it was a point of pride. There are people who feel anything inexpensive isn’t worth owning. Thank God for them. They keep the economy going.

When you wrote up a new book, you got the book plus the official summaries and descriptions from headquarters. Most editors used these summaries as the basis of whatever they wrote.

I read the books. All of them. I’m a fast reader and getting paid to read seemed a great gig. More often than not, the material from the main office had little or nothing to do with the books. The writers of the summaries hadn’t read the book either. I got the impression that me and the author were the only ones who had actually read the whole book.

Flaps were often embarrassingly wrong. I couldn’t control what others wrote, but if it was anything coming through my clubs or any club for which I was writing, I read the book. I was considered extraordinary. After all, this was just promotional material. I thought even promotional material should be accurate. Apparently I was one of few who felt that way. I suspect a great deal of current “critical reviewing” is done using the same inaccurate write-ups from corporate publicists.

I thought then … and still think … that a combination of laziness and an unwillingness to offend The Powers That Be has more influence over reviewers than the quality (or lack thereof) of books and movies. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

Then there’s the politics, about which the less said, the better.

Back to the future … or present

This all leads back to why I remain so disconnected from pop culture. Call me cynical, but I’ve seen too much to trust anything that comes out of a corporate office.

And thus my failure to have a bucket list. If I really wanted to do something, I did it. If I didn’t do it, it was because it wasn’t all that important to me. Today I’m limited by money and health, but when I was younger, I did my own thing. I wanted adventure. A life composed of suburban predictability was much scarier than any risk I could take.

I wanted to live in another culture and I did. It cost me a lot. International moves with 10 year interruptions of career are not fiscally sound life choices, but I wouldn’t trade that “lost” decade for anything. And who’s to say it would have turned out differently anyhow? I bet we wind up where we are supposed to be no matter what we do.

I don’t need to regret what I missed. I know it’s a cliché, but “at least we have memories” isn’t ridiculous or sentimental. It means you’ve lived. You can’t buy a  life you missed. You have to be there, have been there. You had to choose the foolish, unsafe path to get the stuff that money can’t buy.

The whole idea of a bucket list bothers me. How can you codify life on a list? You get opportunities, see forks in the road. People come into your life. You choose to do it or not. If you say no, maybe you’ll get another chance, a different opportunity … but most people never accept any invitation to get off the path, even temporarily. They have lots of good reasons. Money, responsibilities, uncertainty. Fear.

They wind up with bucket lists that are a summary of regrets, an organized statement of missed opportunities, paths not taken. Maybe that’s the sensible way, but I would have hated it. So I don’t have an 11th item on my bucket list. I don’t have a 1st item. I just have a life.