Friday, December 28, 2012

Signs in China Town

San Francisco’s China Town always feels as if it is a magic portal.  The amazingly low veggie prices, the unusual children’s toys, the savory food with unrecognizable spices. And the signs that probably don’t mean what they say.

Signs from San Francisco’s China town:

Science fiction stories have made a cliche of the ordinary seeming shop that really sells magic.
This seems to be one of them – masquerading as a simple travel agency for geezers.

And this appears to be the sign for a true planned parenthood or baby programming facility – masquerading as a tutoring agency.

Finally, this sign may be for real:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rolling Rolls

I seem to be chief bread-baker in my family.  My older daughter does own an electric bread machine.  Every time I start to wonder if the art of baking bread from scratch will be lost, somebody asks for a lesson.  My niece is now an expert at unkneaded bread loaves.

One of my grand daughters asked me if she could help make rolls.  She thought rolls were just tiny loaves.  

Not the way I make them.  I make butterhorn rolls.

At first my family thinks I don’t know how to cook, because while I use measuring cups, I don’t really measure anything.  I know what texture I want the dough to be.

Approximately, I use: 

1 TBSP active dry yeast a cup and a half of warm water
1/3 cup honey or agave
If I’m in a mood for it, a Tbsp of olive oil.
Anywhere between 1 and 3 tsp salt (depends on mood)
enough flour to make a good bread dough – at least 6 cups -- I use whole wheat. My daughter likes white, so we compromised on white whole wheat.  It looks like white flour, but is supposedly still whole grain.

I combine all this in the mixer.  The dough is still wet. You don’t need a dough hook.

Let the dough rise.  
Beat it down again.
Let it rise again.

Dump it out onto a floured rolling sheet.  I like the silicone ones.

The flour on the rolling sheet is what makes the dough lose its goopy stickiness.

This is the point where my grand daughter became interested.  Having to explain what I’m doing means I have to go off autopilot – and actually think about how I make bread.  Having a helper is actually extra work.  

The last time she helped me bake it was a magic trick in which she made a cake in a hat.  That was magic – no oven involved.  This was cooking.  She already knew about wearing oven gloves.  I like these in silicone, too.

First she got to use the rolling pin to roll out the dough.  No, I don’t think this is why they are called rolls.  I think they are called rolls because they are round and they can roll.

Then I cut the dough like a pizza into triangles.  She got to roll up the triangles, into horns, and put them on cookie sheets.  We had enough dough for two circles, and each circle made 8 triangles, so we had 16 rolls.

We let the dough rise again.  We popped the cookie sheets into the oven, turned the oven on to 350 degrees Farenheit, and waited until they smelled right – about 20 minutes.

Cooking is a matter of texture and smells, and occasional nibbles of raw dough.  Since my grand daughter freaks out at raw eggs, these rolls have no egg. They taste good, so who cares?  

Cooking is a matter of getting something good to eat – the actual ingredients and process can vary. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Breast Cancer Surgical Flow Chart

Click to see larger picture of chart

All the press I’ve read about breast cancer for the past 40 odd years has said, “lumpectomy is the way to go.”  It turns out – often, it’s not.  First of all, if you get a lumpectomy, radiation is part of the package.  That’s weeks and weeks of it – depending on the type you choose, it can be twice a day for 5 weeks or once a day (not counting weekends) for 8 weeks. There are other variations. Radiation damages the lungs. If the lump was on the left, it  can also damage the heart.  I’d never read about radiation – just about breast conservation.

The articles didn’t mention pain levels, but I imagined that the less the surgeon removes, the less pain I’d feel.

Since my lump was on the right, I tried a lumpectomy.  That didn’t get it all. The surgeon offered to try again.  By this point, I was freaking out. I wanted that cancer out of my body. NOW!  So I told her – I want this over with!  We scheduled the mastectomy.

Yes, taking off more of my body does hurt more.

Now that it’s over and I’m healing, and the freak-outs are diminished, I’ve been thinking about what would have made this easier for me.

First, I think every woman should know the standard surgical procedure that will be followed if she has cancer in her breast.  There’s no reason to wait until after a woman is diagnosed with cancer.  One out of eight women will get breast cancer.  If a woman doesn’t get cancer herself, she’s likely to know someone who will.

I made a diagram.  I showed it to my surgeon.  She didn’t have access to women who don’t have cancer.  I showed it to the woman who runs the mammogram center at my local hospital.  She said, “This is a surgical decision.”  I told her women should know the surgical decisions before they face surgery.  She agreed to show it to the head of the surgery department. 

If I’d known the standard surgical flow chart, I could have had only one surgery instead of two. And I wouldn’t have been making quick decisions based on new information.  I’d also like to see a brochure describing radiation options sitting in the mammogram waiting room.  There’s no reason to wait to learn about any of this.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Paper-Training Me

Roar is the poopiest pooch on the planet.  He poops 3 times on an average walk.  The total can be as many as 5.  I’m used to re-using plastic bags to pick up pooch poop, but Roar’s pooping exceeds my bag supply.  I’ve asked dogless neighbors to pitch in with their extra bags.  But still, Roar is one poopy pooch.

Much of so-called dog-training is really human training.  First I had to learn to walk him 3 or 4 times a day so he wouldn’t poop in my house.  Now I had to figure out the best way to pick up his poop.

I remembered seeing Japanese dogs poop onto old newspapers.  I don’t subscribe to any newspapers – I prefer to read on line.  But, I get the free Wednesday paper.  And I get the advertising bundle on Thursdays.   Both of these use colored ink, so I can’t feed them to my worms.  (The worm composting manual, says to feed them black ink newspapers only.)

So, I broke my newspapers and ads into two-sheet stacks, and took a handful out on Roar’s walk, along with one used plastic bag to put the soiled papers into.

The first time, I wasn’t fast enough.  I put the paper down on top of the first deposit, but the rest landed on target.  I had to use the bag to pick up the speedy chunk.  It seems I’m a fast learner.  Or Roar is catching on and slowing down a bit.  Either way, the paper trick works on Roar just as well as on Japanese dogs.

There’s more than one way to recycle a newspaper.  Except now, the poopy papers wind up in the garbage.  They used to go into the paper recycling bucket.  Having a dog raises my carbon footprint no matter how I pick up his poop.  I live in a city. I can’t just kick dirt over it and go on walking.

I am, however, taking the used plastic bags to the bag recycling dump at my local drug store.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Making Science Fun

It’s been many years since I visited the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  I loved that place. It was designed for discovery.  No instructions. Just interesting things placed in proximity to each other and a tacit agreement from the museum designers that you could do anything you want without risk of blowing yourself up.

There was a huge powerful and heavy magnet near an old television set.  Nobody could resist touching the magnet to the screen and watching the distortion in the picture.  There may have been something else to do, but I was satisfied by sliding that magnet around on the screen and observing the crazy pictures it created.

There was a human-sized bubble cage.  And if you were in-the-know, you dipped your hands in soap water before entering the cage.  Soapy hands can go through a soap bubble without popping it.

And most startling of all, you’d be walking along and out-of-the-corner-of-an-eye, you’d see a glowing flower or a word.  You’d turn towards it and see nothing.  Turn back and again – in the corner-of-an-eye, there it would be.  Something lit-up that can only be seen in peripheral vision.  I was really looking forward to seeing that again.  I asked a staffer about it.  He’d heard of it, but he said it used too much electricity.  I find that hard to believe.

The attraction of the Exploratorium is hands on experience and discovery.  Plus staffers who can give ideas or ask questions than aim you towards answers.  Now, the wonder is gone.  Every display has step-by-step instructions and explanations.  

Plus, there’s a whole section wasted with soft-science.  Two people are supposed to think of a a third person they both know and then use words on a list to try to describe that person.  You can do that on a computer screen on a website – it is not worth valuable floor space.  There’s a political section with political cartoons.  Visitors are asked to write their thoughts on scraps of paper. Most of the posted thoughts have nothing to do with the material on display.  Again, a website with comments enabled would be better.

The dimensionally skewed house is still there.  If they want an idea for better use of the floor space, I’d enlarge that house and make it more like the houses built at Mystery Spots where water appears to run up hill and brooms stand upright at what seem to be odd angles.

The magnet section still has most of the good material, including the hot metal display where a piece of steel still turns red hot and loses its attraction to a magnet.  There’s also the gap between strong magnets where visitors can drop washers and create a special effects bridge.

I know – there are people who like instructions.  There are people who buy hint books for computer games.  I wouldn’t object if the museum had a hint book for folks who want it.  But the way it is now – it isn’t fun any more. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Headlines from 1922

My mom is 90 this year. In honor of her birthday, I'm finding major headlines from the year of her birth and those of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  It amazes me that there are more headlines each year.  I originally found 18 pages of headlines from 1922.  I eliminated all the depressing ones, like Lenin's stroke, and assorted short-lived treaties.  I even eliminated the invention of the Charleston dance because further research said it didn't catch on until 1923.  So, here's the 4 page version.  I hope to cut it down to 2 pages before I present it at her party.  Nobody will stay awake  much past 1 page anyway.  I'm trying to have only half-a-page each for her generations.

1922 Headlines

 Jan 11, Insulin, then called isletin, was 1st used to treat diabetes on Leonard Thompson (14) of Canada.  
 Jan 24, Christian K. Nelson of Onawa, Iowa, patented the Eskimo Pie. The product reportedly saved Iowa's dairy business during the Great Depression.
 Feb 2, James Joyce's novel "Ulysses" was published in Paris with 1,000 copies.

 Feb 8, President Harding had a radio installed in the White House. 

 Feb 15, Marconi began regular broadcasting transmissions from Essex.

 Feb 21, Great Britain granted Egypt independence.

 Feb 27, The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that guaranteed the right of women to vote. 

 Mar 20, The 11,500-ton Langley was commissioned into the U.S. Navy as America’s first aircraft carrier.

 Mar 23, 1st airplane landed at the US Capitol in Washington DC. 
 Mar 28, The 1st microfilm device was introduced.

 Apr 3, Stalin was appointed General Secretary of Communist Party.

 Apr 15, Senate investigation of Teapot Dome oil reserve scandal begins.

 Apr 16, Annie Oakley shot 100 clay targets in a row, to set a women’s record.

 May 5, Construction began on Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

 May 25, Babe Ruth was suspended for 1 day and fined $200 for throwing dirt on an umpire. 

 May 29, Ecuador became independent.

 May 30, The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C.

 Jun 14, Warren G. Harding became the first president heard on radio, as Baltimore station WEAR broadcast his speech dedicating the Francis Scott Key memorial at Fort McHenry.

 Jun 16, Henry Berliner demonstrated his helicopter to US Bureau of Aeronautics.

Jul 15, 1st duck-billed platypus was publicly exhibited in US at a NY zoo.

 Jul 31, Ralph Samuelson (18) rode the world's 1st water skis in Minn.

 Aug 28, The first-ever radio commercial aired on station WEAF in New York City (the 10-minute advertisement was for the Queensboro Realty Company, which had paid a fee of $100). 

 Aug, The last California grizzly bear was shot by a Fresno cattle rancher.

 Sep 13, In El Azizia, Libya, a temperature of 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit (57.8 Celsius) was the hottest ever measured on Earth.

 Sep 21, Pres Warren G. Harding signed a joint resolution of approval to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

 Oct 3, The 1st facsimile photo (fax) was sent over city telephone lines in Washington, DC.

 Oct 8, Lilian Gatlin became the first woman pilot to fly across the United States. 

 Oct 18, Little Orphan Annie, comic strip character, was born.

 Oct 28, Fascism came to Italy as Benito Mussolini took control of the government. 

 Nov 2, English archeologist Charles Leonard Woolley began excavating the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur, located between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf.

 Nov 4, The US Postmaster General ordered all homes to get mailboxes or relinquish delivery of mail. 
 Nov 5, King Tut’s tomb was discovered.
 Nov 6, King George V proclaimed Irish Free state.

 Nov 15, It was announced that Dr. Alexis Carrel discovered white corpuscles.

 Nov 21, Rebecca L. Felton of Georgia was sworn in as the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. 

 Nov 26, Charles M. Shultz, American cartoonist who created "Peanuts" starring Charlie Brown, was born.
 Nov 28, Capt. Cyril Turner of the Royal Air Force gave the first public skywriting exhibition, spelling out, "Hello U-S-A. Call Vanderbilt 7200" over New York’s Times Square. 47,000 called.

 Dec 30, Vladimir I. Lenin proclaimed the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

 The Constructivist group of artists in Russia issued a manifesto calling for the defeat of art, which they regarded as the enemy of technology. Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956), a painter turned photographer, was founding member of the group.

 Walter Berndt premiered his comic strip "Smitty" in the New York Daily News. It was about an office boy and his annoying kid brother named Herby, who made his own debut in 1930.
 Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) published his novel "Siddhartha," a short lyric novel of a father-son relationship based on the early life of Buddha and inspired by Hesse’s travels through India. In 1951 it was translated to English.

 Franz Kafka (1883-1924) authored his novel “The Castle.”
 Sinclair Lewis (1965-1951) published his novel "Babbitt," a small-town saga of a real estate agent.
 Emily Post published "Etiquette," which became a best-seller.

 Lewis Fry Richardson published "Weather Prediction by Numerical Process." He proposed to setup 64,000 people to work together in a vast installation to formulate global weather forecasts.

Upton Sinclair self-published "The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education."

 "The Velveteen Rabbit" by Margery Williams was published. The book was illustrated by William Nicholson.

T.S. Eliot wrote his long poem "The Waste Land."

 Sid Grauman created the concept of the Hollywood premiere by throwing a glittering opening for Douglas Fairbanks Sr.‘s "Robin Hood" at his new Egyptian Theater. Its d├ęcor was inspired by the recent discovery of King Tut‘s tomb.
 The 1st arc-welded structure in the US was a 245-step, freestanding, steel staircase into the Moaning Caverns of Calaveras, Ca.

 Otto Meyerhof (1884-1951), German doctor, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of the fixed relationship between the consumption of oxygen and the metabolism of lactic acid in the muscle.

 The Hollywood censorship regime known as the Hays Office was set up. It established that no two people could be filmed in the same bed and helped to popularize twin beds.

 Washington made a Naval Treaty with Japan.
 James Dole, a Boston businessman, bought 98% of Hawaii’s Lanai Island for $1.1 million and planted 16,000 acres of pineapple. He imported plantation workers from Japan, China and the Philippines.

 Tinker Beads began to be produced. A full set contained 144 wooden beads, cord and a blunt needle.

 Vitamin E was discovered in when Evans HM et al. described a "substance X" that was essential to maintain rat fertility. After obtaining similar results, Sure B called the substance "vitamin E" because vitamins A, B, C, and D were already known.

 Vegemite, a salty, slightly bitter spread made from brewer's yeast, was introduced by Australian chemist Cyril Callister for the Fred Walker Cheese Company in Melbourne.

 Their was a rainfall of spiders over Hungary.

 In India civil disobedience demonstrators killed 22 police officers and Gandhi called off his campaign of disobedience.

 Scotland joined the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
1922-1928    Dolly Rekords were made during this period by the Averill Co. They were played on a small record player inside the body of a Madame Hendren Doll.
1922-1981    H. C. Westerman, American artist. He is recognized as the pioneer of the Chicago Monster School of grotesque comic art. His work included the watercolor "Mohave" (1966), and the box sculptures "March or Die" (1966), and "The Evil Force" (1962).

Friday, November 9, 2012

Getting Free Stuff on the Web

I like free stuff. When my yoga teacher has free samples, I take them.  When my gym has member party events with food, I go and eat enough for dinner.

I attended a writers’ workshop and a woman there had a combination pen and camera. It could even do optical character recognition and turn her cursive into text that she could then copy to her computer.  When I asked about the pen, she said she was a member of – a website that gives free and discount samples of new products in trade for buzz. In other words, you get free stuff but you have to agree to talk to people about the products.  It’s okay not to like the free stuff – you just have to agree to talk about it.

I’ve turned down free make-up and free sauces.  I liked the free yogurt.  This week, the freebie was an oven-ready Purdue package of cornish game hens or chicken.  I’ve only bought cornish game hens once before. They cost a lot and tasted like chicken.  My local store only had the game hens. I had the coupon.  So I got them using a free coupon from bzzagent.  There were two in the bag.

The game hens were in plastic bags, complete with a bit of soup and spices.  All I had to do was put them in a baking dish, cut a 1" hole in each bag, and pop them into the oven for a little over an hour.  The instructions suggested a baking thermometer, but I have no idea where mine is.  I bake fowl until the leg breaks easily.

I’m a big fan of baking in plastic bags.  They cut the baking time in half, and you never get a dry bird.

My opinion: they taste like chicken.  Good chicken. Tender chicken. The spicing is mild. The bags didn’t leak, so I didn’t even have to wash the baking pan.  So, it was a minimal effort to serve a tasty and attractive dish.  To serve, you have to cut the bag open, put the game hens on a plate and carve.  Free was a great price.  The regular price is about $12.  I think that’s high. It’s about 4 lbs of bird.  I don’t know about game hens, but chicken does not cost $3 a pound.

I have some discount coupons for $2 and $3 off.  I’ll take them to my Toastmasters meeting for anybody who wants them.

My main recommendation is for 

They may have something you want at a discount or for free.  The woman who had that fancy pen, said she paid $30 for it. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

My Election Rant

This is my election rant.

On Facebook, somebody posted a picture of a pretty 20-something woman, wearing summer clothing, holding a neat, clean diaper-clad baby on her lap, and a remote clicker in her hand.

The caption read:

Receives Monthly Welfare Checks
Feeds Child With Foodstamps
Child’s Medical Care Provided by Medicaid
Hates Obama Because He’s a Socialist

I thought the point was supposed to be that this young woman doesn’t appreciate the help that our government is giving her.

But then I read the comments from other Facebook users, most of whom I’ve never met.

These users speculated about why this woman is a single mother. They mostly accused her of promiscuity and a plan to live on welfare for as long as she can get pregnant. None of them responded to my statement that welfare is only for 2 years – not 2 year per baby, but 2 years only.

These users said they don’t think this child (who looked barely old enough to sit up) shouldn’t be sitting on his rear end while other people work to provide food and clothing for him.

They accused me of misguided naivete when I commented that I think all children his age should be fed and clothed with money they didn’t earn themselves.

These users wanted to punish this child for something they imagine his mother did.  When I pointed out that all children have two parents and there are many reasons why a child might be raised by only one, they continued to hurl insults at this child’s mother for actions they could not possibly know. All they had to go on was this photograph.

These same users oppose birth control and abortion, and Obamacare. Some oppose public schools, and public roads.  They think it is okay if this child starves to death, or dies of a treatable disease that his mother can’t afford to have treated.

I see this child, and all children as the future.  We have to take care of them, so they will take care of our planet and our future. 

Something went wrong in the education of these Facebook users.  Something has gone wrong in our society, our culture. We need to elect people who want a future in which the children of all mothers are fed and clothed, given medical care, and sent to school.  And we need to teach all our children why we need to care for each other.

Vote Obama.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Miscommunication in ScreenplayLand

My producer set up a skype session with my co-author and me.  We talked about using kickstarter to raise money to make a trailer to show potential movie funders.

One of the rewards we talked about was reprints of historical posters.

A few days later, the producer called – what would I think of hiring an artist to incorporate scenes from the movie into the posters?  That sounded fine to me.

A few days after that, the producer emailed me the link to a website where such posters are designed.  The website looked professional.  I sent the link to my co-author.  She agreed.

Then the producer called.  The cost for 4 posters was going to be $3500.  The originals are copyright free. He wanted my co-author and me to pay for these posters. He would pay the other costs for setting up the kickstarter.

I told him I hadn’t thought I’d be out-of-pocket to get the movie made.

Our option contract says nothing about my co-author or me paying anything.  We’re the writers. We get paid.

Besides, there’s no need for these fancy posters.  The originals we talked about are in the public domain. Our only costs would be for printing – not design.  But I didn’t think my co-author and I should pay even for that.

I freaked.  I emailed Gordy Hoffman of BlueCat. He responded quickly – there’s no need to pay anything up front for the rewards.  Build them into the budget for the kickstarter. Use the raised funds to pay for the trailer and the rewards.

I sent that information to our producer.  He became insulted. He said he’s done kickstarter before and he knows what he’s doing.

I emailed Hal Croasmun, founder of ScreenwritingU where my co-author and I learned our screenwriting skills.  Hal wrote back confirming that there’s no need to pay for any rewards in advance. And he suggested we consider Indiegogo as an alternative to Kickstarter because Indiegogo lets you use the money you raise, even if you don’t meet your projected budget (a requirement of kickstarter.)

By this time I was feeling frustrated, confused, and considering booking a flight to the next pitch festival in Los Angeles to find a different producer.  My co-author, a former college professor, offered to draft a letter to our producer.  I edited it. She edited my editing.  It was more work than some of our stories – we had to give this our best shot at diplomacy.  We had to work from the point of view that we all want our movie to get made, even though we weren’t sure what our producer was thinking.

This morning I received an email.  Our producer has picked up our option. We are now officially in pre-production, waiting to learn if our first choice actor for the lead adult role wants the part. We are all on good terms again. Yay! 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bad Advertisement for Aging

I’m such a regular at the gym, that I’ve gotten a minor reputation. Some gym members correct my form and show me how to use equipment.  Others ask about the stretches I do – most of which were either given me by physical therapists, or modified by them. People over 50 seem to sense that what I’m doing might help them.

I'm always happy to explain what I'm doing and why.   And it often happens that a man who asks about my hip flexor stretch is awaiting a hip replacement. A woman who asks about my chest and shoulder stretches has a sister who had a mastectomy.

Yesterday a woman in her 20's came up to me. She was curious about a lot more than most people, and she didn’t seem to have any health problems of her own – at least that she wanted to talk about.

She tried to look patient when I explained that I do this because of my hip replacement. I do that because I had a broken collar bone, and this other one because of my mastectomy... I could see in her face that she thought she’d come up to a healthy old lady and instead found a really bad advertisement for aging.

It's not something I'd have wanted to think about at her age.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Blessing of the Animals

A friend whom I met, and only see, at the gym, a sister breast cancer survivor, told me about Blessing of the Animals at a nearby church.

Roar loves any chance to meet other dogs.  I suspect this is one reason he demands so many walks.  He sniffs every dog he meets.  I had no idea how many dogs get their owners out walking before 6 AM until we got Roar, or probably more accurately phrase, Roar got us.  Roar is training us – not the other way around.

My gym friend said the blessing would be at 7.  I asked AM or PM?  We often meet at the gym before 6:30 AM, so it could have been either.  She laughed – only us crazies are up at that hour.  The blessing would be at 7 PM.

I don’t know of any exclusivity in the invitations – but the only participants were dogs.  No cats, no birds, no fish, no hamsters, no ferrets, no skunks.  Roar was thrilled to meet about 30 other dogs, one of whom looked much like himself.  He and his reflection spent a long time sniffing each other.  

Finally the priest came out.  Many of the humans must have been there before.  They knew all the prayers and songs.  The priest passed out a pamphlet with most of the prayers on it and we tried to follow along.  The prayers had parts for the audience and parts for the priest. These were Catholic prayers, but none of the audience parts were sectarian.

After the last song, the priest came down the stairs and blessed the animals that couldn’t climb up to him. He called some of these infirm animals by name as he petted them. Then he climbed back up the steps and motioned the rest of us to climb up.

Roar, who refuses to climb the stairs in our house, rushed up the steps.  Then the priest tossed water onto the gathered animals.  Roar was confused.  He tried to get away from the rain. Finally it stopped and he pranced off.  None of the other dogs was in a mood to sniff any more.

My gym friend and her three dogs weren’t there.  The next morning she explained that she’d been waylaid.  Her dogs missed a good time.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Progress in the Movie World

Last time I wrote about this, the family screenplay I wrote with Jean had won the Gold Remi at Worldfest, and been optioned. 

So what’s next?

First we got a set of rewrite requests that we thought made sense. So we did them.

Then we got more rewrite requests that we didn’t think made sense. So, we explained why.

Then we got a skype session with both of us and the producer.  We agreed on an actor we’d like in the lead adult male role.  Turns out that the producer has worked with him before.  The producer promised to call him the next day.  

The producer emailed me that this actor has agreed to read the script.  Yay!

The producer also talked about using kickstarter to start buzz and raise money to make a good trailer to show potential bigger investors.  We know kickstarter donors like to receive goodies when they donate.  Since this is a period piece, we talked about modifying period posters that are now out of copyright (if they ever were copyrighted) by adding scenes from our movie script.

The producer emailed us the URL of a website belonging to an artist he knows.  Both Jean and I agreed that this artist could do a good job.

Then the producer asked us to come up with a name for our writing team.  Jean and I have been discussing names for 2 days now.  We have yet to agree on anything, but we have 3 contenders that might do, if we can’t think of a name we both love.  I want something silly like Bad Robot, and she wants something either about the two of us, or else something sweet.  I suggested Bat Watchers because we once went bat watching together.  She objected because we only did that once.

Now we wait.  Will the actor decide to be in our screenplay? Will we think of the best name for our writing team? And ultimately, will our movie go to movie theaters or direct to DVD, or even happen at all?  We have an option, not a contract.  So everything is still nebulous.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

If You Turn Off the Circuit Breaker, Nothing Can Hurt You

I used to be afraid of electric wiring. It was inside the wall. Sparks came out. The electricity experiments I’d done in science class frequently broke.

But, my husband, the alien, and I had maxed out our budget and spent all our savings to make the downpayment on our first home, a fixer-upper.  The house still had remnants of plumbing for gaslights.  The current insufficient and undependable lights were from old, illegal, knob and tube wiring.

We are both book junkies, who believe we can learn almost anything from a book.

We bought the Sears book on how to wire your house.
It was $5 then, but it’s about $3.50 now.

That book can be summarized:

Connect black wires to black wires and white wires to white wires unless you are installing an odd number of switches for the same light.

And be sure to turn off the circuit breaker switch first, before you touch anything.

This, we thought, should be easy.

But we wished we had somebody we could talk to for help.  We’d just moved to Denver for my husband’s first real job.  Here we were in Colorado and everybody we knew who knew anything about wiring lived in California.  Then we remembered Boyd.  Boyd loves train rides. Boyd never has enough money for train rides.  Boyd thinks it’s fun to pay for a ride on BART for one stop down the line and then ride the long way to get to that stop.  We wrote Boyd.  Would he help us wire our house in trade for train tickets round trip from California to Colorado?

This was going to be much less expensive than hiring an electrician. The entire house had to be rewired, and we’d need to install those circuit breakers that the wiring book said we needed to turn off.  Boyd wrote back: yes.

Soon our house was chaos.  We punched holes in the walls to get the old wiring out. And we punched more holes in the walls and ceiling to put wires where we wanted them.

Since we’d just moved to this city for my husband’s job, I hadn’t found a job yet.  I became an unpaid assistant electrician. Boyd would stuff a fat electric wire into the wall, and reel yards and yards of it in my direction.  My job was to feel around in the dark space through a hole in the wall, and grab it.

I was also chief cook and dish washer.  Memo: If you are only person in the house without an income, that means you have to work the hardest.

Boyd knew his way around wire strippers and wall smashers. I learned to create wiring diagrams, and soon began sketching variations to the book designs for those 3-switch lights that require attaching a black wire to a white wire. Our girls played electric ball games, by turning the light fixtures on and off while standing next to different wall switches.

Boyd had a reputation – he liked to have sex with other men’s wives.  But I’d never imagined that could apply to me.  I didn’t date in high school or college. The only man who had ever been interested in me was my beloved alien, whom I married.  But one day, when I was going up stairs, Boyd asked in a bedroom voice, “Now?”  I quickly answered, “Never!”  Soon after that Boyd took the train home.  He had outstayed his welcome and we didn’t really expect him to stay long in trade for train tickets, anyway.

My husband and I finished wiring the house.  We’d found a fix-up job we could do together. Feeding a wire through the walls and ceilings (and pulling it out in the intended location) is a two-person job. Together, we optimized the diagrams.  At one point, my husband created an entirely new diagram, unlike anything in the book – one fixture controlled by 5 switches.

Boyd had put in the circuit breakers.  Since we were doing the work ourselves, and electrical wires, receptacles, and switches are a minor cost of any wiring job, we put switches and outlets wherever we pleased. Every door to every room had at least one light switch. Every wall had multiple outlets.

And we learned not to fear electricity.  Those electrons only go were we tell them to go. We grounded everything either to ground or to plumbing that touched ground.  Our home did not make sparks. Our love did.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Two Updates

First: ben wa balls
I have a sneeze and leak problem.  About six months ago, I bought a set of ben wa balls, otherwise known as ½" ball bearings.  I’ve built up to being able to go up and down my staircase 10 times without dropping them.  But I still sneeze and leak. And my husband, the alien, says he doesn’t feel any difference.  My conclusion – they don’t work.

I’d tried kegels before and had no results.  My gynecologist said I just wasn’t using the right muscles.  I don’t think it’s possible to use any wrong muscles when I’m keeping those ball bearings in.  The exercises just don’t help me stop leaking when I sneeze.

Recently I read an article that claims doing squats will help.  So, that’s my next experiment.

Second: house-training my dog
It’s really not a matter of house-training the dog.  It’s a matter of dog-training me.  I was only walking my dog twice a day.  Now, I come home at lunch to walk him and I walk him a 4th time right before I go to bed.  We have had no accidents since I began this routine.

I can also recommend the ChewMan dog toy.  He has been unable to destroy it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Other People's Weddings

Last Friday my husband, the alien, and I attended the wedding of one of his students.  During the ceremony, the officiator (I’m not sure of her title) said, “If you remember anything of this day, I hope you remember that you love each other and that your friends and family came together today to support you in your new life together.”

That got me thinking – what do I remember about my own wedding?  Not much.  

I remember that I made my own dress and the zipper got stuck and I called my husband at work to ask him to come home and get me out of it.

I remember that the key to the room where the flowers had been stored was lost and my mother was upset, but all I cared about was that my beloved husband-to-be was there safe and sound.  We’d been living together, but my grandmother was not officially informed of that fact, and she expected us to show up in separate cars. 

It turned out that flower delivery folks had taken the key and they did refund my mother for the cost of the flowers.
I remember that the rabbi had spittle coming out of his mouth while he talked.

I remember that I had to drink a sip of wine. I find the taste of alcohol totally repulsive and I had to really want this marriage to actually imbibe.

I remember my husband telling me that he and his best man (with whom he is no longer in contact) had to stop at the grocery store to buy a glass to break.

I remember my husband kissed me in front of everybody and afterwards some of my parents’ friends said their husbands had never kissed them that passionately.

And, I remember that my husband had printed out maps to my parents’ home for the reception but almost nobody needed one.

But I do not remember what the rabbi said. I have a vague memory that the rabbi used the “obey promise” even though I didn’t want him to and rather than interrupt the wedding, I went along with it. Today, I would interrupt. But that was over 45 years ago and I’ve become stronger.

I remember much more about what was said at other people’s weddings. 

And I think maybe that’s the point.  Each time I attend a wedding, I remember my luck at finding my beloved, and I mentally renew my commitment.  Those promises were unimaginable when we made them. This time, after both of us having been through illnesses, the “in sickness and in health” part was no longer scary. We’ve had the poverty experience several times, and the good financial times. We’ve done those promises. It’s just what we do because we love each other. 

Somehow, seeing those promises from the other side feels like a milestone.
And yes, what I mainly remember about my wedding is that my husband and I love each other and our friends and family came together to support us.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Giving Feedback on Cancer Research Proposals

Now that I’ve had breast cancer, my opinion is sought after.  A local medical researcher asked my thoughts on his latest grant pre-proposal.  The Komen foundation actually requires applicants to consult with women who have had breast cancer before submitting their requests for money.

This particular application was for research on mice. I’m okay with animal research.  My opinion on animal research was not affected by having had breast cancer.  The medical researcher wanted to know if I think his idea has potential for helping humans. I told him I’d need to see the mouse data before I could think about it.  Again, my need for data was not affected by having had cancer.

The proposal outlined 3 experimental groups.  I thought a 4th group (combining two of the drugs) would also be appropriate.  When I mentioned this to the researcher, he said, “I hear you loud and clear.”  I felt as if he’d been trained by a therapy group. He has now done his required “show it to a breast cancer survivor” step.  But nothing I said to him was influenced in any way by having had cancer.

If the real goal is to get input from lay people, that was not accomplished.  I am scientifically trained. I understood the polysyllabic gobbledygook of the proposal.  I was able to use appropriate tech talk when I suggested that I’d like to see the problem stopped earlier in the process.  Who wouldn’t?  Nobody wants to get cancer.  

Perhaps the thinking is that women who have had breast cancer will be more interested than other women in helping evaluate research proposals.  That does apply to me.  I think it would also apply to women who have family members who have had breast cancer.

The researcher told me he got more than he’d planned on when I suggested rephrasing some of the words in his application, and adding experiments to his proposal.  But the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of involving non-scientifically trained people in planning scientific research.  I hope that the more people feel involved in research, the more they will support it and the sooner cancer will become an easily treatable disease.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Talking to my Surgeon

Another dialect I don’t speak – Surgeonese.

I went in for my 4-month checkup after mastectomy.

I never wear the paper costume. It wastes trees. I wear a front button blouse when I have medical appointments.

I’ve been to this office about a dozen times now. Still when I arrive, the assistant or the surgeon instructs me to take off my clothes and put on the paper costume.

I skipped the explanation. Went into the room. Removed my bra with the prosthethic and put my blouse back on unbuttoned.

The surgeon entered the room.  She didn’t ask how I’m feeling. She just told me to lie on her paper-covered examining table.  I didn’t see any way around wasting that paper, so I did it.

The surgeon told me to raise my arms over my head.  I told her that hurts. She said I need to stretch more.  This surgeon didn’t ask me what stretches I do. She didn’t suggest any specific stretches.  


I hang by my hands from a chin-up bar and do a set of 15 abdominal curls at least once a day

I do a back bend over a ball and use my arms to push my weight up off the ball

I do downward dog

I lie lengthwise on a 3-foot long by 6 inch diameter foam roller, and do snow angels with my arms

I do arm / leg opposite lifts

I do upper spinal floor twists in which I let gravity pull my shoulder to the floor

I put my hands behind my head and push back with my elbows

I’ve been swimming half a mile almost every evening for the past 3 months. I do mostly freestyle, but all swimming strokes stretch both chest and arms.

I don’t know any other stretches. And I doubt my surgeon even imagines I’m doing this much. But I don’t know how to get her to help me. If “that hurts” doesn’t elicit any helpful advice, I don’t know what would.

She felt both my breasts and was about to leave the room, without comment.  I figure if there was a problem, she’d have told me, so I didn’t ask about my health.  Instead, I asked about the scar. It looks like a gathered skirt. I asked if this was normal. I’d already checked the web.  Other women have asked this question.  The only answer they get is that it is caused by the stitching and that it will go away when the stitches dissolve which usually takes about 8 weeks. But it’s been about 18 weeks and I’ve still got that tight feeling puckered look.

The surgeon told me that I have forgotten how swollen the site was after surgery.  Like I could forget having to come in every week for about a month to have her jab a needle in and suck out tube after tube full of red fluid which she squirted down the sink drain.  I didn’t see any point in telling her that I do indeed remember.

“Is there anything that might help?”

She stared at me, and then said, “You could try massaging it. Some women say it helps.”

Then she left.

This surgeon was difficult to talk to before the surgery. Her main redeeming feature is that I’ve seen the lab reports. She got all the cancer out. I’ve heard other people say similar things about their surgeons.  Surgeons seem able to do their cutting and cleaning up, but they don’t know how to talk to people.  

Either the rest of us need to learn surgeonese, or surgeons need to hire somebody to do their talking for them.  Healing requires more than just surgery. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Roar Updates

Roar loves Buffy’s bunny.  When we first got Buffy, I went to the thrift shop and bought her a stuffed animal to sleep with.  That animal was shreds within an hour.  After that I tried an official pet toy from the grocery store. It lasted a few days.  Then I tried a mail order catalog – I ordered two bunnies – a white one and a blue one. That way I could have one to wash while she had one to play. 

These were odd little bunnies. Cut face forward with their ears sticking up and their hind legs sticking down – sort of a cross between a gingerbread man and a bunny.  These bunnies lasted her throughout her life time.  She ripped at them with her fangs. She played tug of war with them with humans and other dogs. The blue bunny got lost.  But the white one waited patiently in the basement until Roar arrived.

Roar ripped at it with his fangs. He played tug of war.  He got onto his dog bed and let me pull him around the livingroom while he held onto the bunny with his teeth and I held the other end with my hands and walked.

Roar has saliva that rivals snail slime.  The white bunny is turning black. I want to get that bunny away from him so I can wash it. So, I tried searching the web for  “stuffed bunny”. Nothing even close. I tried “plush bunny.” I found something similar – a plush bear with the same look of being cross-bred with a gingerbread man.  It’s on order.

Meanwhile Roar passed the incubation period for kennel cough, without getting sick. Yay! Plus double yay – this meant that our local groomer would now be able to see him. His hair is thick. In this heat, long thick hair is miserable.  He looks much more comfortable now.  Our groomer took over 4 hours with him because he is so much fun to play with.  He also marked her office as his territory.  

She loaned me a copy of Way to Go – How to Housetrain a Dog at Any Age.  Roar is partly trained. He loves to poop on walks. And he knows how to use the dog door into the back yard.  But he goes where he is when ever he wants.  I’ll be posting about whether the ideas in this book work.

Friday, August 17, 2012

His Name is Roar

It’s been two years since we buried Petruccio, the Incorrigible. Three years since Buffy, the best dog ever, died.  We weren’t in a hurry to get another.  Then I got a hip replacement, and had to learn to walk again – dogs need walking.  Then I got cancer, and had to get my right arm working properly again. I hold my dog leashes with both hands.  Finally, about a month ago, I felt strong enough both mentally and physically to get another dog.

Adopting a stray dog is becoming almost as difficult as adopting a human child. When I filled out the adoption forms for approval, I felt pressured not to admit that I hadn’t liked Petruccio.  I wrote about the good times with Buffy and about how she selected Petruccio when we took her to the shelter.  I filled out forms for 3 animal rescue agencies.  I gave them names of neighbors who had known our dogs. And I waited.  

One agency called and interviewed me.  When I said that I let my dogs have free reign in my home and 24 / 7 access to the dog door, the interviewer disqualified me.  She believes in crating dogs and not giving them freedom.  That left two agencies.

One called to tell me that the dogs I had wanted to meet on their website had already gone to their forever homes. I asked about other dogs.  She said to check the website.

The third one called my neighbors.  Both neighbors told me that the interviewer could have given me 3 human children in the time it took for them to be interviewed. These interviews lasted over an hour. Both my neighbors stressed that my dogs have freedom to use the dog door which lets them into my fenced yard.  My dogs get walks. My dogs get fed with home made chicken soup poured over their official dog food.  My dogs get plenty of playing time.  I told the agency interviewer that the thing I want most from a dog is the dog should like being with us.

Finally, I got the call – there was a male shih tsu mutt I could meet downtown.  The adoption agency had named him Jeff Spicoli.

My husband, the alien, and I, biked 4 miles to the rescue center.  There, a 3-year-old human boy was visiting the available animals with his family.  The family was there to donate their deceased dog’s food and toys.  The boy wanted to meet the shih tsu mutt.  The shih tsu mutt wanted to meet the boy.  The three of us went into the room.  Jeff only had eyes and nose for the boy.  He ignored us.  He played very nicely with the boy. He was gentle. He was enthusiastic.  And when the boy left, he looked out the window in the door, watching after the boy.

We told the women running the center that we understood if they’d rather give the dog to the boy’s family.  They said the boy’s family wasn’t ready for another dog yet.  They suggested we go for a walk and come back after the boy and his family had left.

We went for a walk.  We stopped at a snack shop and ordered Dark Side of the Moon just because it had a silly name.  I make much better chocolate cake, but we split one slice and ate it.  We went back.  The Shih Tsu mutt (I couldn’t make myself call him Jeff Spicoli) was willing to play with us since there was no human boy available.  He brought us a green plastic toy.  We threw the toy.  He brought us the toy.  We threw the toy.  It was sort of a truce.  We weren’t as much fun as a 3-year-old boy, but we would do.  He wasn’t Buffy, the world’s best dog ever, but he had potential.

I told the women who run the center that I’m not going to adopt a human child to go with this dog, but that the dog seemed like a good fit for us.

We biked home.  We rented a car from our car share group, loaded it up with our dog carrying box, and went back to get him.  We talked about the Shih Tsu Mutt.  He needed a name. This little dog looked like a small version of those stone lions outside of restaurants in Chinatown.  We decided to call him Roar.

Roar only took a few days to master our dog door.  He has also mastered our stairs.  The adoption center gave us the green plastic toy.  He loves to chase it and bring it back.  He loves to go for walks.  We aren’t supposed to let him sniff other dogs for 2 weeks because he has been exposed to kennel cough.  If he gets it, they’ll give us medicine.  If not, he needs to be cleared by our vet.  Then he can sniff and be sniffed.  

Roar alternates between high energy play time and lolling time in which he is awake, but observing us without moving.  I’m thinking of giving him the middle name of Zen.

It’s odd to have a dog again.  I have to remind myself that I have to walk a dog first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  I have to add dog food to my grocery list.  I’d gotten out of these habits.  But being greeted by a dog when I come home. Wiggle. Wiggle. Jump. It’s time to sit down and let me lick you and climb in your lap. That’s a good human.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Optioning My Screenplay

It’s not just my screen play – it’s also my co-author Jean’s.

Jean and I have a truce – we will fight about plot, about character, even about which of our many ideas we will work on now.  But we will never fight about money. We have lost money together when we ran a feminist science fiction magazine. We have spent money together on vacations. And we have spent money together on classes to improve our writing skills.

Jean and I have the ultimate goal of being able to make a living from our screenplays.  This means we have to sell them.  And if we have to sell the first one for a pittance, just to get a reputation, we will do so.  

Last week we sold our first option for a dollar.  This means that the potential producer gave us $1 for 1 month exclusive rights to try to put together the necessary people and funds to produce our gold-remi winning screenplay.  

The option contract gives this potential producer the additional option of a 2nd and 3rd month at $1 each and then an additional 3 months for $500. And it specifies the terms under which we will sell the rights to make the movie, if / when  he can put a package together. 

Jean and I live over 1000 miles apart.  We’ve written together for over 30 years. At first we did our writing by snail mail.  Now we communicate by email and our discussions go much more quickly.  

I was able to attend the dinner that our potential producer threw for us, our potential director, some of his neighbors, and a woman who wrote a book he is considering producing as a movie. We made an agreement that if we started talking business, we would Skype with Jean.  I brought dessert.

The potential producer introduced me to the potential director. The closest we came to talking business was when the potential director explained to me that what the school teachers called a mimeograph when I was in elementary school was really a spirit duplicator. As he said, I “knew just enough to get it wrong.”  He knew the right names because his father sold and serviced these machines.  There is one in our plot.  It’s a duplicating machine. The operator pours clear fluid in and purple ink comes out from the spirit master sheets. 

The potential director said he would be giving us notes about additional writing he wants us to do. He said he has worked on “a lot of crap.”  And he said our screenplay would give him the chance to be shameless. He could be sentimental with no regrets – it’s that kind of family film.  I had the impression that he has yet to make the movie that will truly satisfy him as a contribution to society. He sees our script as that movie. 

But we did not spend the evening talking about Jean’s and my screenplay.  Instead I spent the evening talking with the woman whose book this potential producer is considering turning into a movie.  I had the idea that she thought I would be the person who would write the script.  I have so many ideas of my own that I want to turn into scripts, that writing somebody else’s story does not excite me.  But I tried to help her focus on her most important story elements because movies only run 90 to 120 minutes and her book was much longer than that. I suggested she take a screenwriting class.

The potential producer handed my husband, the alien, his cell phone and asked him to take a picture of the two of us, as he handed me the signed option contract and my check for 50 cents. The other 50 cents goes to Jean.

Then he asked what I was going to do with the check.  I told him I was going to scan it and deposit it via the web, so I can have my check and cash it, too.  A far cry from spirit duplicating!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My first 2-piece swimsuit in over 40 years

I just bought my first two-piece swim suit in over 40 years.

Those one-piece suits don’t hold a prosthetic very well. Even after I sew a pocket into one. It looked okay while the suit was dry. But when I started swimming, the prosthetic drooped and moved around oddly.

I tried adjusting the pocket, shrinking the pocket, using different prosthetic materials. I think the only way a plastic breast would stay put is if it was stitched into the suit itself.  I actually saw a type of plastic online that looks like it would work.

But I emailed the company and they told me that their flexible bounce-back plastic absorbs water and would have problems.  I suggested they dip it in silicone, and they didn’t write back to me.

There are a variety of companies making breast prosthetics for swimming, but none of them can be stitched into the suit to make sure they’ll stay in place.  All of them say they should be removed, washed and dried between uses.

With a two-piece suit, the prosthetic has no place to sag into, or move around in. There’s the band around the ribs, and the shaping of each breast cover to protect the sides. I wore a two-piece in my 20's, even when  I was pregnant. It was practical then and it is practical now.

All I want to do is swim without chasing my prosthetic around the pool (light weight ones come out of the pocket), or stopping to wring it out, which looks really odd (but is necessary with a bath puff).

I bought a regular two-piece and sewed a piece of old stocking as a pocket on the side that needs to be filled.  It works.  I swam half-a- mile and didn’t have to think about the stuffing in my top, once.  I’m the only gray-haired person at the pool in a two-piece. I’m also the only gray-haired woman who swims.  I told one of my neighbors, who is even older than I am about it.  She said she’d get out her bikini and compete with me. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

What Does It Mean to be Alive?

I attended a Creativity in Nature session at the Cancer Support Center.  The leader handed out rocks to each of the participants.  One rock was rounded and blobby, yet had the texture of sedimentary stone.  “Is this coral?” asked the woman who was holding it.  She paused. “Is coral a rock?”

This is a group of modern women.  One got out her smart phone and did a quick web search.

According to NOAA, “The branch or mound that we often call “a coral” is actually made up of thousands of tiny animals called polyps. A coral polyp is an invertebrate that can be no bigger than a pinhead to up to a foot in diameter. Each polyp has a saclike body and a mouth that is encircled by stinging tentacles. The polyp uses calcium carbonate (limestone) from seawater to build a hard, cup-shaped skeleton. This skeleton protects the soft, delicate body of the polyp.”

Normally, a sedimentary rock is laid down over time and formed by pressure, all by physical means.  Coral is a name given to both the animal and the house it builds for itself from dissolved limestone.  In short, the coral animal takes the limestone out of sea water solution, builds itself a house that outlasts its lifespan.  This woman was holding a piece of empty limestone house.

From here, the conversation veered into “what is life?” Not a philosophical question, but rather a practical YES/NO question.  Is soil alive?  One woman insisted – yes, it’s full of bacteria.  Another woman mentioned that she bought sterile soil at the hardware store.
The leader asked, “Can anything grow in sterile soil?”  I volunteered that I start my seedlings in sterile soil every spring.  The leader asked how life could grow in something that has no life.

I felt as if I had walked back into the 1700's.  Scientists used to believe in a theory called Vitalism, which meant that chemicals found in organisms could never be made in the lab. It was well known that the chemical called urea was found in urine, and was therefore organic.  In 1773, Wohler accidentally synthesized urea crystals in his lab.  He recognized them instantly, and was not happy about it.  He wrote a friend that his discovery was, “The great tragedy of science, the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

These women seemed perplexed by the fact that living organisms can make coral, or kidney stones, or pearls.  That farmers add rocks to their soil to feed their plants. 

It is life that can metabolize rocks, and life that can form inert substances that have the same chemical formulae as rocks.

And it is living beings who ask these questions and design experiments to find answers. It is living beings who can teach each other these concepts and discoveries, so that each generation does not have to figure it out anew.

In my view – to be alive is not only to metabolize, but also to share knowledge and wisdom. These are women who need more than YES/NO answers because cancer is a disease of living cells and cancer can kill.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Picking My Arguments

I try to pick which arguments are worth my time.  Yesterday I got into an argument about which arguments are worthwhile.  Talk about circular arguing?

A friend had read an article in which the author claimed that the Supreme Court decision that prayer cannot be required in public school had resulted in a drop in SAT scores for 1963.

I looked up the SAT scores between 1952 and 2011:

Simple fact – the average 1963 SAT scores were higher than any previous year.  Not by much, but definitely higher. I’d have thought the argument was over. 

I was wrong.  Suddenly I was embroiled in an argument about how I had to do something about this man who was blaming a non-existent problem on a Supreme Court decision.  I went to his website. I posted the link to the SAT scores.  Anybody who reads his nonsense will see my link.

But my opponent – who was on my side regarding the angry man – was not satisfied.  She wanted me to “call him out” for his wrong headedness in criticizing the Supreme Court. She thought he was immoral. Evil.  She read me the riot act that all it takes for evil to happen is that good people do nothing.  Yet she did not bother to post her thoughts on this man’s website.

This man has no power. He wrote a book with a faulty premise. I think he’s best ignored.  Why give him any more time, any more space on the web or in our lives?  Note: I’m not giving his name or a link to his site here. I’m not really discussing him.  I’m discussing a tendency to argue about nothing.

If this man were running for office, I’d support his opponent. 

If he was teaching a prayer class to increase SAT scores, I’d leave him alone.

As it is, he’s just saying untrue things and calling these statements facts. There have always been people who tell lies in attemt to convince people to do what they want.

What’s new is having an argument about how seriously to take such liars. How to deal with them. This seems to be arguing for the sake of being heard.

Has argument become a form of entertainment?  If so, this is also something that concerns me.
Argument can be intellectually stimulating if the disagreement is fundamental.  

But argument, just to get attention is no different than crying wolf.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Entering Screenplay Contests

When you take screenwriting classes, the teachers claim that it’s easy to tell a good screenplay from a poor one, and to recognize an outstanding screenplay on the rare occasion when you see one.

My friend Jean and I have co-written several screenplays.  One in particular has received high praise from friends and family.  We thought it was time to get professional opinions that might help us bring this script to market.  

We sent it to professional evaluators.  Again, we got high praise and that coveted Recommend rating.  But our evaluators didn’t have contacts with producers who could get our screenplay made into a movie.

So, we decided to send it to contests that advertise the names of professional movie making companies that will look at the winners.  We tried Scriptapalooza.  The reviewer said many complimentary things about our screenplay, but then noticed the page count was under 100 (which is typical for family films), and gave us a Poor rating.  This rating came with a cover letter telling us that if we wanted to we could do a rewrite and submit again (for more money) and possibly get a higher rating.  

They have to be kidding. That letter made the whole contest look like it can only be won by people who pay multiple entry fees.  

We decided to enter Worldfest, which has a family film category.  Worldfest is one of the oldest screenplay festivals in the US. It is where Spielberg won his first contest.  The woman I spoke with on the phone (this contest has real humans you can talk to) said that the family category was one of the most popular this year.  Our screenplay won the Gold Remi for Family Film Scripts. 
A far cry from the Poor rating.

But we still don’t have a producer.  Several people we met at Worldfest said they knew producers who worked with Hallmark. We have emailed these people to ask about introductions.  So far no responses.

My conclusion from all this is that there is not a clear general perception of what constitutes a good or outstanding screenplay.  And even once you’ve written one, getting it in front of people who can produce it is possibly even more difficult than writing it.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Getting Out the Vote 1964

I considered myself to be a teenaged rebel. I questioned everything adults told me to do, except when it came to homework and politics.

I always did more homework than was assigned and I did whatever the adults at the American Friends Service Committee suggested.  Without question, without doubt, without fear, without any sense of self-preservation.  Okay, I told my parents, but they were so relieved that I wasn’t interested in drugs or boys that they didn’t question my political activities.

It was Tuesday, November 3, 1964.  Even though it was a Tuesday and I had homework, I drove my shabby old car to the AFSC office and picked up a list of registered Democrats in a neighborhood that usually had a poor vote turnout.  

I didn’t ask why this neighborhood had a poor turnout.  I didn’t ask about the crime rate. The polls closed at 7 PM and I had to get there quickly to get out as many voters as possible.  

My instructions: do what it takes to get them to vote.  Drive them to the polls. Babysit their children. 

I am white. I am small. I am middle class. I was a teenager in high school with a new driver’s license, and an unreliable car, that I was supporting on my after school job as a crafts teacher at the Girls’ Club.

I was sent to a low income black neighborhood.  It never occurred to me that this wasn’t someplace I should go alone. An adult I trusted without question had sent me.

I knocked on doors.  I offered to drive women to the polls.  They did NOT want a pimply teenager driving them.  But free babysitting!  By a crafts teacher! By a high school student who could help their children with homework.  The first woman  promised she’d vote and be back quickly, so I could help somebody else.  She let me into her home.  She left me in charge of her children.

The children didn’t want crafts. Or help with their homework. They were busy with their games and snacks.  One of them told me his big brother could teach me something.  It sounded like a threat, but there was no big brother in sight.

I wasn’t worried.  Their mother would be back soon. I was doing something good. I was getting out the vote. I sat on the couch. I watched the children – easiest baby sitting job I’d ever had, except I wasn’t being paid and I didn’t know when Mom was coming back.

This was in the days before cell phones.  Mom was gone over 40 minutes.  I started wondering if she was really a Republican, just keeping me here so I couldn’t help real Democrats get to the polls.

Finally Mom returned, arms loaded with grocery sacks.  As long as I was babysitting her children, she just ran a few errands.  The folks at AFSC hadn’t warned me about this possibility. I was supposed to visit as many homes as possible and help as many people as possible get to the polls.

The next few homes were uneventful. Women politely thanked me for reminding them to vote and closed the door.

The next woman asked me to get dinner started while she was gone.  I’d never made instant mashed potatoes before, or since.  But I read the instructions on the box. The children helped me select a pan, and find a measuring cup. I figure out the stove by myself.  While the mess boiled, I chopped veggies.  This woman returned about the time the potatoes were done.  She was angry that I’d chopped the veggies. She wasn’t planning to eat them today.

I’d allocated 3 hours between 4 PM and 7PM for getting out the vote.  It was now nearly 6PM and I’d helped 2 people.  I kept telling myself – one vote can make a difference.

For the next half hour, I knocked on doors, and the people who answered told me they had voted, or promised they would vote, anything to make me go away.  It reminded me of the time I tried to sell canned peanuts for the Camp Fire Girls. People don’t want things that get sold door-to-door. Especially from somebody from a different cultural group.

At 6:30, another woman wanted babysitting for her children.  She promised to be back quickly.  I reminded her that the polls close at 7 PM.  She left.

I made peanut butter sandwiches for her children. I read to them. 7 o’clock came and went.  Mom had not returned.  I reminded myself - there might be a line at the polls. The polls do stay open later if there is a line, and after she votes, she still has to come home.  There was no reason to expect her at 7 PM.  Then again, she might have abandoned her children on my watch.  I wanted to call the AFSC for advice.  The home had no phone.  

My mind went through a list of possibilities.  Should I go next door and see if they have a phone? Who should I call first – AFSC or the Police. Or maybe my mom?  I was becoming a dither-head..  I didn’t dare start my own homework for fear of what these children might do if I took my eyes off them for an instant. I wasn’t even sure how I would get them to accompany me if I decided to go next door.

About 7:30, the mother returned home.  She’d gone out drinking with friends.  Yes, she assured me she had voted.  She walked me to my car, which was still there and had air in all its tires.

As I drove home, I thought – maybe 3 votes will make a difference.

In retrospect, I was incredibly lucky. I survived going alone into strangers’ homes in an unsafe neighborhood, and using knives and fire around children I didn’t know. And yet, when I look back on this experience, I was right to trust the world – everything came out fine.