T.G.I.M., Friends!


I can identify with Monday, the underdog among days of the week. Don’t we all sometimes feel picked upon, derided and bemoaned? Welcome to Monday’s world. Which is why I always go to school on Monday mornings and write T.G.I.M. on the board.

Yeah, it receives eye rolls, but also smiles. Smiles! At 7:30 in the morning! From teenagers!

When asked why, I simply point out the good side of Mondays. Everyone is once again among their friends after a two-day absence. Everyone is once again practicing the lifelong skill of structure. A life without structure, after all, is… jellyfish.

I daresay that Monday lunches in school cafeterias are the most entertaining of the week, as each child has a full stock of weekend stories to share (or make up, depending on where creativity takes them).

Mondays, for stay-at-home Moms and Dads, are akin to Friday nights. They bring a sense of refreshing renewal, a time to make plans, to sneak in what had to wait over the hectic weekend. The stores are finally manageable, as the workaday world has helped to clear the aisles.

Can’t you just see it, as Mom rolls her cart into Market Basket’s near-empty spaces? No carts to negotiate in crowded aisles, no people to elbow past for eggs, no lines to wait in at check out. Everyone’s happy except for the cashier (and it’s your job to cheer her up)!

Overall, not bad. Nowhere near as bad as you thought, thanks to stereotypes and prejudices against poor old Monday. Look at the bright side. Call that glass of Monday half-full. Then say, “Thank you, world!”

Or, as some of us would have it: “T.G.I.M.!”


Saying Sayonara to Goodreads “Giveaways”


This week the last Goodreads “Giveaway” I ever entered lapsed with another “Sorry, Charlie. You Lose. Again.” By my count, it was my 99th goose egg.

Why did I never win? First the obvious: The law of averages. When GR’s plucking one or two names out of seven or eight hundred (and sometimes over a thousand), the odds of winning are somewhere between slim and none.

Now the almost-as-obvious: I made the mistake of only trying for books I actually wanted to read. Thus, the 99–a paltry number of attempts given the span of time this “service” has been available to me.

Incredibly, however (or so you would think), some people have won dozens upon dozens of Goodreads “Giveaways.” But if you look at their update feeds, you will quickly see why. These Giveaway professionals simply enter for nearly every book available–not because they want to read them, but because they are free.

Thus, Poster X’s update feed might read “Entered Goodreads Giveaway for Blah,” followed one minute later by “Entered Goodreads Giveaway for Blah, Blah,” followed one minute later by “Entered Goodreads Giveaway for Blah, Blah, Blah,” and so on and so forth for numerous screens of minutes-apart Giveaway clicking.

Well, hell. If you want it THAT bad, so be it! You can even join a group called “Goodreads Giveaway Fanatics” where members crow about their hauls.

For me, though, the coup de grâce for Goodreads’ “Giveaway” program came not with my inability to win anything, but with GR’s decision to charge authors a minimum of $119 to use this program. Yes, it is a service, you might legitimately argue, and nothing comes for free.

But consider this: Thousands of posters write thousands upon thousands of wonderful book reviews for free on GR’s website, all of which drives traffic to the site and generates sales at the mother ship, Amazon dot com (you might have heard of it). Perhaps, if logic follows, Goodreads should begin paying $1.19 per review per reviewer in reciprocity?

Which brings us back to the twin chances, slim and none (funny how that works).

Bottom line: I am out two ways. As an author who listed two books four times, I sent off four books and received zero reviews, so for me the program was a roll of the dice that came up snake eyes. Yes, there were no doubt good people who signed up for a poetry book giveaway with every intention of reading and reviewing it, but alas their names were not drawn. And maybe, in all fairness, one of those people who DID receive a book just hasn’t gotten around to it yet.

More likely, though, the winners were posters doing the equivalent of “spamming” the Giveaways pages by clicking “ENTER” for everything. Everything, thus robbing the authors and publishers of both the cost of their book and the cost of its mailing. If you look at these posters’ “To-Read” stats, you will see numbers like 32,598.

But, hey, them’s the risks, as they say in Vegas. You enter the game eyes open, you play by the rules.

That was then and this is now, though. For me, no more entries because, unless you’re a huge publisher with the budget to cover for your author, it’s unreasonable and unfair to charge writers working with small, independent publishers that kind of money.

Likewise, I’m done entering Giveaways for myself as a reader, even though I would review any book I won. I’m boycotting the whole, pay-to-play hypocrisy of it all because, quite frankly, the “Giveaway” is now a “Takeaway.” Call it for what it is because it’s all about the money and the profit, putting the lie in the denotation of words like “giveaway.”

I know, I know. Who cares? I’m still playing in GR’s sandbox, after all, because there are so many good people and good readers I care about over there. Still, one man’s boycott is a start–a mini-message to the powers-that-be. They need to button up their shirts. Their generous hearts are falling out, all thanks to the tell-tale tailoring of Jeff Bezos, a poor upstart in the industry (perhaps you’ve heard of him).

I know I have. Like thousands of writers whose small publisher happens to use Amazon’s CreateSpace publishing platform, I’m in the ironic position of having two books for sale on that author-unfriendly site. No choice, there. And no boycotting possible, as it’s the only way my poems reach readers’ hands.

Some time soon, though. Some new book soon. Change is a-coming!



If We’re Not Reading Newspapers, What Are We Reading?


Irony. It can be rich, yes, but also cruel and sometimes funny.

A year ago, exasperated by adult newspaper delivery employees who never seemed to deliver a paper by the proscribed time (that would be “my breakfast”), I canceled my beloved subscription to the beloved paper-and-ink morning news in favor of a much more antiseptic online-only version.

Some months later, a new delivery man was hired. Now, as I walk the dog at outlandishly-appropriate (for newspaper-delivery people) hours (that’s 4 to 5 A.M. to you), I watch as headlights drift by and my neighbor’s plastic-cocooned newspaper flies out a car window onto his driveway.

Sigh. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes you lose.

On this morning’s walk, a different thought, however. A more alarming one. At age 12, I delivered The Hartford Courant, an early morning paper, and damn near every house on  the three streets of my route subscribed. Those who didn’t? They were outliers, eccentrics, or illiterates.

This morning, after hurling a paper on my neighbor’s macadam, the deliveryman drove his car the entire length of my street without so much as a second newspaper toss. The dramatic difference between my reading neighborhood as a kid and my non-reading neighborhood as an adult was depressing, to say the least.

Yes. I hear you. You’re saying most of these good neighbors are probably like me, reading online Boston Globes and New York Times and Wall Street Journals. And I’ll grant you five neighbors tops that you’re right. But only five.

Beyond that, my spidey sense tells me that most of them are not reading at all. Or, worse, that they’re getting their news in biased dollops of cable television “news.” Or, worse than that, that they’re merely picking up maligned bits and pieces from Facebook and Twitter feeds. Or, worse than all those things rolled into one, that they’re just reading texts on their binkies (read: cellphones).

As they say in Paraguay: Aye, Dios. The contrast was too much for me. As it was a beautifully-cool spring morning, I focused on the chirping sparrows, the cardinals, and the catbirds calling in the wood.

The news there was much more promising.

I Dreamed It Was a New Year


I don’t wait up for New Year’s anymore. For me, the ball and the TV are metaphors for boredom and social ruts. And holidays built around drinking (see Exhibits B and C, St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo) are paper tigers left out in the rain.

Visiting a city for First Night festivities? I can’t think of a worse start than fighting traffic, being elbow to elbow with crowds, and dreaming of my furnace back at home.

No, I took my own escape tunnel out of the annual New Year’s dog-and-pony show. I read in bed until the gaudy hour of 10:30 before falling asleep and dreaming of a year that will never be. One built on the ideas of the Enlightenment, now under siege, so long ago. One quickly buckling at the foundations like a sandcastle inside the high-tide lines.

And peace on earth, good will to men? But a lyric and a myth, like friendly green aliens from the red planet.

So sleep. Yes. Even thugs and murderers and white collar criminals are but innocent babes when they are asleep. It’s the waking hours that breed deceit, greed, crime, hate, war, hunger, and all those other mug shots that grace each year’s front pages.

All we can control is local. And if enough people go forward with that mindset and sense of activism, we can create chinks that will eventually change the greater misdeeds and injustices. It’s the only way, and it should be all of our resolutions once we’ve slept through the parties and hangovers associated with Dec. 31st and its little brother, Jan. 1st. Resignation and hopelessness are but arrows in the other side’s quivers.

So that’s what I dream for a 2017. Readopting the line that all politics and activism and volunteering is local. May the year be a happy one for you, gentle readers!

In Praise of Anticipation


Anticipation. Great 70s song by Carly Simon, yes. And almost ruined by her ill-advised agreement to lend it to a ketchup company for an ad. But still, there’s nothing quite like anticipation. It has the same salutatory effects on life as a massage does on the body.

Exhibit one is the contrast between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and you can look through the lens of a child or an adult. On the Eve, everything is ahead of you, bigger than life. Anticipation multiplies the number of gifts you receive. It increases their size and value. It takes every glinting light on the tree, in the windows, and atop a candle wick and makes of it a holiday brushfire to warm the sugarplums of your heart.

The Day? Rip. Tear. Oh, that’s it? And then the aftermath, when every decoration in the house is less a festive source of cheer and more a visual reminder of work to be done: putting Christmas, already stale, thankfully away.

Let’s consider books, shall we? I read about new books all the time on Goodreads, in The New York Times, and in the Boston Globe. The descriptions whet my parched literary appetite. I go to the interlibrary loan page on the Internet and, with relish (I see a condiment theme developing here) put holds on dozens of books.

In short, my to-read eyes are bigger than my time-to-read clock. The books come in. The books wait in their lonely tower at home while I trudge off to the mines each morning. I read upon my return but, like Christmas Day, most of the books disappoint without the pixie dust of anticipation to burnish their credentials.

And so it goes. Shopping at the grocery store for this healthy vegetable and that healthy fruit in anticipation of a new page in diet? All good and anticipation at its best until, weeks later, the wilted produce must be given its 21-gun salute and burial in the garbage. Minus the anticipation, there’s the pain of preparation and challenge of taste, you see.

“This is going to be so-o-o-o good. Can’t wait!” It’s the kid in you, over and over. Anticipation is a gift of childhood that follows you into adulthood. Don’t banish it. Luxuriate in it, even if it eventually comes to naught. Life isn’t overloaded with pleasures, after all, and as Carly reminds us in the golden refrain: “These are the good old days.”

Kindred Death


Debbie Reynolds, mother of Carrie Fisher, has died one day after the death of her daughter. The clinical cause is stroke, and no doubt the stress of her beloved daughter’s demise played a role, but what the coroner would never write in his report is “kindred death: broken heart.”

It happens. We all have stories of spouses who die unexpectedly only days or weeks after the death of their lifelong partners. The same can occur in parent-child and spouse relationships. Sometimes the brain tells the body to follow and the body listens.

From a deeply religious point of view, there’s something Romantic to kindred death. To join family in the after life is the ultimate sacrifice, a paramount expression of love. But you need to own stock in the alleged oxymoron “after life” to pull that off.

On the other side of the coin, we have widows and widowers, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters who live years, decades, half a century beyond the deaths of their loved ones. Still, kindred death, sooner or decidedly later, is kindred death. In the gaping eons of time, 50 years is all one and as insignificant as not.

Rest in peace, Debbie and Carrie. As in life, in peace and together.

Hygge Is the Word


Forget bird. Forget Grease. Hygge is the word.

For those of you who think Danish is something you wash down with coffee, that’s pronounced by the consonant-happy Danes like so: “HOO-gah.” In English, it translates to “cozy.”

Right out of the gate, I prefer the sound of hygge over cozy. When I hear “cozy,” I think of overpaid realtors who love the wimpy euphemism to describe a cramped apartment. Hygge, on the other hand, sounds like something privates might bark in reply to a drill sergeant. Or something a runner might hawk up and spit out to clear his air passages.

I discovered this word in The New York Times in this feature. What it all boils down to is comfort at home. Nothing’s rotten in Denmark if you’ve got a fire blazing, a few dozen candles flickering, a hot cup of coffee, and, of course, big warm socks to fend the cold from your most distant provinces.

You’ll want some porridge, too, and none of this Goldilocks take-out, either. Hearty stuff with ingredients like rye, barley, black lentils, and bits of pumpkin and turkey. And if it’s late in the day, you can dispose of the coffee and substitute in off the bench. You know. Something appropriately Nordic (read: “alcoholic”) like glogg.

What I liked least in the article was it’s not so subtle advertisements for a couple of books on the topic. And its headline, telling Crazy Marie Kondo, the neatnik apparatchik , to move over and give hygge its 30 seconds of fame.

Blah, blah, blah. If you’re hyggelig (the adjective form, pronounced HOO-gah-lee) and you know it, you don’t need no stinking books. Just sort of take the article’s cue and grab the things that make you feel home for the holidays (“holidays” meaning “any day you’re not at work”).

This is all guaranteed stuff, this hygge. The Happiness Institute (yes, Virginia, it does exist) has proclaimed the Danes princes of world happiness year in and year out. How do they do it? A whole lot of hygge. That and bacon.

And so I’ve done my civic duty for the day. Told you to get in touch with your inner Dane. And please. Swear off the Danish pastry, will you? It’s not hyggelig to weigh 250 pounds.