Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Who's Taking Care of Us?

They’re suing the Colonel? When I first heard it, I thought it was a joke. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed a suit against Kentucky Fried Chicken because the company still fries chicken in oil that has trans fat in it. I guess the CSPI has concluded that we are not smart enough to decide for ourselves if we want to take the health risks of eating our Extra Crispy drumstick now and then.

Since the folks at CSPI are so concerned about my health, I decided I should check them out. According to their Web site, “CSPI is a consumer advocacy organization whose twin missions are to conduct innovative research and advocacy programs in health and nutrition, and to provide consumers with current, useful information about their health and well-being.”

The Web site also lists their mission statement which is comprised of three main goals:

To provide useful, objective information to the public and policymakers and to conduct research on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues related to science and technology;

To represent the citizen’s interests before regulatory, judicial, and legislative bodies on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues; and

To ensure that science and technology are used for the public good and to encourage scientists to engage in public-interest activities.”

All very noble ideals, but I don’t remember them asking if I wanted them to represent my interests, and nobody in my family recalls hearing from them either. And why should we be so concerned about trans fat now when the CSPI wasn’t concerned about it in 1988. That’s when the organization pressured McDonald’s to stop using beef tallow to cook french fries and basically dismissed the dangers of using hydrogenated cooking oil that contained trans fat.

So why is it suddenly so bad for us? In moderation, I don’t think it is, and if you do a Google search of Trans Fat, you find many Web sites that state all the dangers of ingesting the stuff, but there are some that hold a different view. For one:

It’s no wonder that consumers are baffled when it comes to what is harmful and what is beneficial to our health. Scientists can’t even agree, and every other year some study refutes what another study proved.

What I would like to know is what happened to common sense in this frenzy of studies and litigation and media hype. Unless you’ve lived on a desert island somewhere, you’re aware of the problems of obesity and poor nutrition that are swiftly outpacing smoking as a major health issues in the United States. We now know that we should not subside on a diet of fast food – especially of the fried variety – and we need to eat more fruits and veggies. Think of it as a tasty alternative to medicine. Would you rather take a pill to control your cholesterol or take a walk and eat an apple?

Okay, maybe some of you would prefer the pill. That’s your choice. But if organizations like CSPI continue to try to regulate the food industry through litigation, or pressure to the FDA to step in, we won’t have choices any more.

So maybe we should start taking more responsibility about these health issues before we lose all control. I am really going to be pissed if someone outlaws Funnel Cakes.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Writer's Workspace

When we built our house a number of years ago, the spare bedroom was delegated to be my home office where I would write the novel that would enable my husband to retire and live off my royalties. I’m not sure if the agreement stemmed from some magnanimous gesture on his part, or if he was just sick and tired of my creativity cluttering up the rest of the house. This new room was the place where my typewriter, along with other bits and pieces of sewing or craft projects would reside. It was to be a true segregation of life essentials and creative essentials.

Initially, the system worked well. I maintained my right to my creative room through thick and thin and the advent of the twins. We bought bunk-beds and stacked kids in the corners of one bedroom so I wouldn’t have to give up my precious space.

But over the next few years, I found the lines between ‘life’ and ‘creative’ dimming. Space in the kids’ bedrooms became so scarce that more and more of their clothes and toys found their way to my study. And every time we had a houseguest, our oldest daughter would sleep on the sofa-bed.

One day I discovered that I had one kid’s pajamas in one of the desk drawers with the first chapter of my novel. Her socks were in the middle drawer with my pencils, paper clips, and used typewriter ribbons. Her training pants were piled in a corner on top of a stack of jigsaw puzzles that wouldn’t fit in the closet.

During an extended visit by my mother, our eldest moved into my study for several weeks. That was not a fun time. I enjoyed my mother immensely, but sharing space with an incredibly messy twelve-year-old girl was not my idea of a good time.

She shared my creative bent, so there was no telling what kind of painting project I might have to dodge to wend my way to my desk. Assuming I could actually find it under the mountain of discarded clothes tossed in the general direction of the hamper next to the desk.

During those times of ‘invasion’ I could also forget any impulse for late night writing. Which, by the way, was usually the only opportunity for uninterrupted creativity, unless I fell asleep.

What I find absolutely amazing as I look back on those years of chaos, is that I actually managed to get a great deal of writing done.

The other thing that amazes me, is that not all that much has changed. Despite all my efforts to be neat and organized, my current office is often as messy as that old one. And I don’t have any kids to blame.

I know. I'll blame it on the cats.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


At age ten I decided to be a writer. My friend and I were in our favorite reading spot, a small clearing in a wooded area with a blanket between us and a colony of ants. I hugged my just-finished book to my chest, watched wisps of clouds drift across the blue expanse of sky, and relived every precious moment of the story.
“I’d love to do this,” I said.
“What?” Karen continued to read and munch on a cookie.
“Write stories. Books.”
I watched for her reaction and it took about three seconds for the words to sink in. Then she closed her book and sat up. “Then lets do it. We’ll be famous.”
Fueled by mutual enthusiasm we started putting words on paper in simplistic efforts to create our own essence of the books we loved so much. My fantasy was to write a story so wonderful it would inspire some future ten-year-old girl to spend an entire afternoon sprawled in a wooded hideaway savoring my book. Maybe she’d even decide to perpetuate the species.
We carried our dream through high school and into college, where we tried to adopt a Bohemian attitude that seemed fitting for “future famous writers.” I went to a boring Community College, but Karen went to Wayne State University in Detroit, a creative oasis inhabited by artists, dancers, musicians, and writers When I visited her, we’d put together some ‘appropriate’ outfits and join a party where people loudly debated the merits of Joyce in one room and read original poetry in another. We were both so na├»ve, we had no idea that the blue haze hanging over these rooms was not from the incense.
What I didn’t know then and took me too many years to learn. was that there’s nothing magical about establishing a writing career. I wasn’t going to become a better writer by absorbing that funky atmosphere. No publisher was ever going to be there to ‘discover’ me. And I’d never write a single thing if I didn’t stay home now and then and ratchet a piece of paper into my old Underwood manual.
Sure, there’s magic when the words just flow and you know these last ten pages are the best you’ve ever written. There’s magic when your characters start talking to each other and the lines zing. There’s even a bit of magic in finding that one word that says so perfectly what you’re trying to convey.
But there’s no magic on the business side of writing. Sometimes there's luck – being in the right place at the right time with the right project. More often, success comes after diligently studying the marketplace, editing and rewriting your book until you never want to look at a single word again, and learning how to ‘sell’ yourself.
We who put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, do so out of a driving need to say something. Thoughts, ideas, opinions, feelings stir around inside us seeking expression. If we never make an investment of time and effort into the ‘business’ of writing, our expression will have a severely limited audience.
I may never be ‘famous’ as that long-ago dream envisioned. And I may never earn enough money to buy a country estate and while away my golden years in obscene luxury. But I can take comfort and pride in the fact that I did, and still do, face that blank sheet of paper everyday and make myself put words on it.
And I’d like to think that Karen is doing the same thing. I lost track of her before I ever had the chance to tell her she was much better at it than I am.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


As we all know, writers are by nature very insecure people, especially in the early years when perhaps the only thing we get published is a letter to the editor and that’s cut from four paragraphs to three lines. In fact, for years basic insecurity was the only thing I had to affirm my credibility as a writer.

But even in my moment of greatest anxiety, I never reached the heights (or should I say the depths) of insecurity as did Glenda Gibberish. She wrote an entire book on squares of toilet tissue and hid each page in an empty roll. When her husband, Harry, asked about all the cardboard cylinders lining the dresser, Glenda told him she was making toys for the gerbils. That worked well until he decided to take an interest in the welfare of the pets. She lost one whole chapter in a single afternoon.

Realizing that would never do, Glenda resorted to stuffing the rolls in her underwear drawer, in the empty cookie jar, and in the springs of the old sofa bed. She figured she was safe since she put her own clothes away and nobody ever bothered with the cookie jar since she never baked. But she forgot about her mother-in-law’s visit. Oddly enough, the other woman said nothing when they unfolded the bed, but Harry gave her one of those looks that we women enjoy so much. Then he surprised the gerbils with new toys.

This ruse went on for years and she couldn’t bring herself to tell a soul that she was writing. Then one day she was hit with this overwhelming urge to “out” herself. It was the same compulsion that drives a dieter to a banana split at Dairy Queen and try as she might Glenda couldn’t shake it. So she had lunch with her best friend.

“Oh, no. Is it serious?”

“Not right now, but it could be.”

“How long... I mean, have you been this way forever?”

“Since I was a little girl. But, you know. It isn’t the kind of thing you just drop into casual conversation.”

“Good. Maybe we can keep it from getting around.”

“Don’t worry. I have plenty of editors looking out for me on that count.”

“Have you told Harry yet?”

“No. But he did wonder about the sudden demise of Jake the gerbil. I think he choked on a particularly graphic sex scene.”


“No. The gerbil.”

“How have you managed to keep it from Harry?”

“Right now, I tell him I’m going into the closet to straighten up a few things. But that’s not going to last long. Sooner or later he’s going to remember that I don’t like to straighten anything.”

“Don’t worry. You can trust me with your secret.”

“Actually, I wouldn’t mind if you told a few people. My book comes out next month and I need the publicity.”