Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ladies' Home Urinal

Gross name, eh? Also a completely suitable one for a certain magazine of a similar name, published by Meredith Corp. I made the colossal error of buying a copy at the grocery store last night. Thus how famous smiles and cheerful pastels make fools of us all.

I was enticed, I'll admit, by the cover shot of Candice Bergen, one of my very favorite actresses. Of course, my devotion does not extend to watching "Boston Legal," a flashy lump of TV dreck also featuring William Shatner. When Shatner isn't playing a leering, smarmy lawyer, he's found on UPN, pushing legal advice for accident victims.

Obviously, I should have resisted temptation. But follow me, my little Dantes, to Ladies' Home Urinal's Mother's Day Issue, where you will hear desperate cries and see tormented shades. It's for your own good, really.

We roll through the dumb editor's letter and nice pictures of women relaxing in hammocks and babies holding kittens. But the party's over on page 23 (page 8 of actual editorial content). "CONFESSIONS OF A WORRYWART" blares the headline, followed by 2,000 words of insomniac angst, from elementary school fears of nuclear war to 9-11. "America suddenly grew frightened and I found myself for one brief period not alone."

I'm not a big proponent of mind-altering medication, but this writer should consider it.

We then enter six pages of complexion hell (pimply skin, dull skin, burned skin, red skin, pores you could drive a truck through) and emerge in kicky shorts heaven. Yes, it's spring, and you can wear shorts everywhere, even to the office. "Pair them with a matching jacket ... Just add smart accessories and you're ready to close the deal."

But lest we're having too much fun with our culottes and salicylic acid, it's time for the feature "My Life as a Mom." We plow through a four-page (single-spaced) personal essay by a mother who's daughter has a speech disability. Then we get three pages of mother-daughter vignettes about cooking and a piece about a heroic rescue by a labrador retriever, followed by a dog food ad featuring a baby lab.

We need the break, because then it's time to meet a couple where the wife nitpicks incessently and the man punches a wall and calls her a moron. Then we read a multipage personal essay by a mother who lost her little blonde daughter in a tragic accident.

And how does this last essay begin? With the mother driving the girl in the car, and the daughter trying on sunglasses and giggling because the world looks pink. She calls to her mother and what does Mom do? She's too cranky to look and insists on focusing on her driving.

How that scene pulls at the mother's heartsrings now, how she wishes she had shared her daughter's joy. And every mother reading it should be felled to the core, guiltily remembering a similar moment. (Hell, I did it yesterday.)

Is this what women want? Is this what women need? Do we need to buy publications that attack every facet of our lives? Do the cheery little features sprinkled on this bleak landscape make up for the anxiety, insecurity and near-neurosis that permeate this magazine?

I never made it to the Candice Bergen article, or the talk with Blythe Danner, another favorite of mine. According to the table of contents, Bergen just talked about her hair anyway. I also missed how to manage stress before it kills me and my hidden heart attack risk that even my doctor might not know about. I also missed the six fabulous dinner recipes, which is fine because I hate artichoke hearts.

I can't believe a magazine like this is so successful, that women fall for this alarmist crap served with hearty doses of pablum. I stare at the Candice cover with the cheery teases in blue ("A Mother's Day Tribute") and the ominous teases in red ("Dangerous Drinking: Have You Crossed the Liine?").

And I think again of Dante's sinners: "Those who rejoice while they are burning." To the publishers of the Ladies' Home Journal, those poor souls are mothers.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I'm Fine, Thanks

That's Benny entering his Grandpa's house after a successful Easter Egg hunt on Sunday. Note how he insists on carrying ALL his little yellow eggs rather than put them in a basket. We all had a great holiday with Ron's father, his brother Steve and family, and his sister Marlene and family.

Today is, of course, Wednesday -- my favorite day of the week. Mondays are a little jagged around here because we're wiped out from the weekend. (There's no such thing as a relaxing weekend with a toddler.) If the weekend was rainy and dull, Benny is sick of us and sick of his toys. Plus Ron works long hours on Mondays, often leaving before Benny and I wake and returning late at night.

Benny is in daycare all day Tuesday, so I can catch up on errands and get a good chunk of writing done. I've found a sweet little cafe in a town called Saline (pronounced sah-LEEN). It's got yummy treats, free wireless access and plenty of electrical outlets. Ann Arbor cafes are wonderful, but can be problematic when you're trying to get real work done. They're often noisy and crowded, and a glass of Coke costs a mint. Then I have to fight rush hour traffic to pick Benny up.

But this Saline cafe works well, since Benny's daycare is halfway between Ann Arbor and this very small town. There's no outside seating and you can't get any decent newspapers, but you can't have everything. I like being only 10 minutes from Benny, too. The mother hen instinct pops up in the oddest places.

Back to Wednesdays -- Wednesdays are the best. I'm generally rested after a Benny-free Tuesday and ready for action. We go on an adventure in the mornings: to the museum, to the farm, to Ann Arbor's wonderfully big Gallup Park. Wiped out, Benny takes a nice long nap and happily plays with his toys all afternoon to make up for a day of neglect.

This morning Benny and I went to Gallup Park, a fine recreational area following the winding Huron River. It's got pretty bridges and fetching trails and little sunlit clearings. People can fish or kayak or paddleboat or rollerblade. The park also hosts flocks of big geese and their little duck cousins.

We brought a ball, some books and a picnic lunch and spent the morning. Benny ran along the trails, wearing his train conductor cap, beside himself with excitement. He would only eat one box of raisins, so I scarfed his goldfish crackers and peanut butter sandwich as well as my own lunch. It takes a lot of energy to keep up with him.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sentenced to the Writer's Block

A friend of mine is also working on a book. It sounds like a lovely manuscript about her experiences in Korea, and there isn't a creepy killer robot in sight. Plus, she's got an entire fine arts department behind her, since she's wrapping up a graduate degree on the East Coast. Double plus, she doesn't have a toddler whining to play Finding Nemo games on her computer all the time.

However, she still has problems (insert maniacal cackle here).

Elizabeth's problems sound a bit like mine these days, which is encouraging. Soon she will undoubtedly ask: "Which of these four illustrious agents should I retain?" or "Warner wants to buy the film rights, but should I give up creative control?"

But for now, her worries sound familiar: designing the book's structure, finding time to write every day, keeping Jupiter's moons straight (oh wait, that's me). She ended up throwing out her outline and knocking out her first three chapters. Then she started talking about a prologue. Elizabeth's writing is more sophisticated than my slapstick prose, so I'm sure she can pull it off.

My prologues, on the other hand, are always awful. When I start thinking about a prologue, I lie down until the feeling goes away.

"Secret Soldiers" remains an unholy mess, with gears and wires sticking out all over. I wrote an elaborate backstory for my villain, then threw it out. I cut half of Book Three, then put everything back. Finally I decided that my book suffered from three major problems:

1. I opened the novel with the pursuit of a wanted criminal, then abandoned the chase in Book Two.

2. My main protagonist started out making decisions and taking actions, then devolved into a smartmouthed package being toted around by loony guys.

3. My villain was sort of bananas from day one. Then he moved into ominously melodramatic and ended with completely maniacal. Perhaps a little more subtlety was in order.

Oh, and No. 4: Not enough killer assassin robots! HAHAHAHAHAHA!