Archive | March, 2014

Jimmy Carter Book Signing

30 Mar

Text messages to a friend while I was at Powell’s City of Books today:

Of course the parking lot is full.

I’m in the Whole Foods parking lot. There must be a way out.

I’ve never seen Powell’s this crowded.

This is crazy! A staff member is holding a sign that says “End of Line.”

[A customer commented, “Oh, good, I thought it said ‘End of the World.’”]

Cops in uniforms. The secret service. This is intense.

I ended up in oops the front of the Jimmy Carter line and asked Kevin Sampsell where we purchase books. They’re on a rack by the info desk.

Crap, they’re no longer taking any more in line for the signing, and I just purchased the book.

The line has reached its max and they’re no longer allowing people in the line. The first person who announced it said it depends on timing, and there’s a possibility that they might let more in.

It’s too busy to do it now, but maybe I can return the unsigned book and get a signed one, assuming he signs every copy like most authors. Ugh, I should have come here at noon.

False warning: I got to the end of the line, and they still had plenty of tickets! That stern cashier can bite me.

Oh, my, I’m standing in line in the feminism section. Drool, drool.


After my part of the line stood in the feminism and gender studies aisle for quite a while—with me browsing enthusiastically—the line suddenly moved forward. We wound through many, many aisles of books, following blue lines of tape on the concrete floor. This took place in several rooms and up two staircases. I happened to pause next to a shelf labeled “Jimmy Carter,” which featured books by and about him. At another aisle, I paused by a book called Make Congress Your Bitch, which was about getting Congress to actually represent the people. I don’t know whether I was in the politics section or the humor section.

Up in the Pearl Room, the line continued winding and winding through the stacks. I saw a man in a suit who was obviously a secret serviceman. He eyed people in line, but he didn’t search our bags. Finally, the line approached a line of red-shirted Powell’s staff and a long table, all roped off from customers.

Jimmy Carter sat at the long table and kept signing bright blue books.

The book, by the way, is A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power. I handed my books to a Powell’s employee. Several employees passed the books along till Jimmy Carter took them and signed them. Then he passed them to another employee on his right, and several Powell’s employees passed the books down till they returned them to me.

Secret servicemen hovered around not looking particularly secret. Customers stood holding up their cameras (mostly smart phones) inside a blue box taped onto the floor. We were allowed one photo each, and a staff member assured us that Powell’s will have photos online. I stood in the box, zoomed in as far as I could, and got a photo. I then moved on. I paused on a landing, where I took a picture of the big blue sign announcing the book signing.

Even Ursula K. LeGuin didn’t attract this big a crowd. Coming to think of it, I heard about the Suzanne Collins book signing, and I rather have the impression that it was rather similar.

Portlandia Fans

30 Mar

Text messages to a friend while I worked at In Other Words today:

Okay, now that there are no longer stupid Portlandia fans hovering outside the door, I’m going to sneak out [to attend the Jimmy Carter book signing at Powell’s] and come back later.

I repeatedly heard, “It’s a lot bigger than I thought.” One of them, peering through the front door’s glass, very loudly said, “What is that lady doing in there?” I feel like an animal at a zoo.

After returning from the book signing and parking by In Other Words: Oh, no, more Portlandia fans. Maybe I’ll sit in my car till they walk away.

Another Portlandia fan was just peering through the glass. Now camera and giggles. I’m ducking behind the counter. If I ever become one of those extremely famous in my lifetime, maybe I’ll be as reclusive as J. D. Salinger.

What Happens if a Bully Rear-Ends Your Car

27 Mar

On the twenty-first, I was driving up 20th Avenue toward my apartment, and at the intersection of 20th and Main I stopped for a pedestrian. It is true there is no painted crosswalk at this intersection, but it is nonetheless an intersection, complete with dipped sidewalks to accommodate wheelchairs. The pedestrian, admittedly, was still on the sidewalk, but she was facing 20th and watching traffic and clearly getting ready to step into the street. Therefore I came to a complete stop at the intersection. I stopped in a normal manner rather than slamming on the breaks.

A few seconds after I stopped, a vehicle rammed into the back of mine. The force took my breath away and shoved my car forward into the intersection, while I heard a horrible metallic groaning sound.

Shaking and in shock, I managed to pull over to the side of the road. The other vehicle parked behind me. While I got out of my car and stood on both feet, I was acutely aware of how much I was shaking. A driver with her window down across the street pointed her finger at the other driver and called out, “You caused the accident!”

The pedestrian was standing in the same spot. I smirked and told her, “Well, I guess you can cross now.” She looked both ways very cautiously before doing so.

I walked to the back of the car and stood between the two vehicles, where I surprisingly observed that neither appeared damaged. The other driver got out of her car and stood in the vicinity, commenting, “Hey, well, it looks like neither car was damaged.”

I turned to her and said, “Yes, surprisingly.”

The pedestrian joined us and stood on the sidewalk. I felt reassured by her presence, and the other driver (or OD for short) seemed to be speaking to both of us. She said something along these lines, to the pedestrian and me: “I used to live in LA, and this is what I hate about Portland drivers. They stop for pedestrians when they don’t have to.” She continued to rant in this vein, making me feel ashamed of having stopped for the pedestrian.

The pedestrian said, “I’m not even from Portland, so I’m not used to how people drive here. I’m just visiting. I’m from a small town.” The other driver may have responded with a snarky remark about how people drive here.

The other driver kind of towered over me, and when I turned to her she said, “Hey, I know you, you’re Susan, right?” I didn’t recognize her immediately. She was wearing big sunglasses. She added, “Remember, we were in that book group together.”

Suddenly I recognized OD, who participated in a writing group with me a few years ago.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right!” I said.

OD turned to the pedestrian and said, “We were in this book group a few years ago. What a weird coincidence.”

I said, “Actually, I just joined a new novel writer’s group. It’s through Meetup—“

“I don’t have time for a writer’s group right now.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” I said.

She quickly said, “Well, it looks like neither of our cars is damaged and nobody’s hurt, so it settled?” Meanwhile, I was still shaking and in shock while trying to converse.

I said, “I’m surprised neither car is damaged.”

The witness who had pointed at OD now began walking across the street and called, “Do you need a witness?” That was my cue, I now realize, to ask for her name and phone number so that I would have a witness’s information when I contact my insurance agent. The witness joined us and told OD, “The accident was your fault, because you rear-ended her. Now that it’s spring, there are going to be a lot of pedestrians. What if a baby stroller had been in front of her car?”

OD said something like, “Nobody was in the street. She didn’t need to stop for the pedestrian. This is what I hate about Portland drivers. Before I moved here, I lived in LA and [Santa Barbara?]. You don’t stop every time there’s a pedestrian. You keep going. The pedestrians know that.”

I turned to OD and said, “A friend of mine recently told me that there’s a five hundred dollar fine if you don’t stop for pedestrians.”

She said, “Even if there’s no crosswalk?”

I said, “Hmm, I’m not sure. I’ll have to look into that.”

The witness gestured toward the sidewalk and said, “Actually, there is a dip for wheelchairs.”

Looking at the dip in question, I said, “Oh, yes, that’s true.”

The witness may have said something else, but OD said, “I’ve got to get going. My husband and kids are waiting for me.”

OD may have said something else to the witness, and I may have said something like, “Well, I guess we’re all right.”

Actually, after one of OD’s little rants about Portland drivers, during which I smiled ruefully and felt embarrassed and guilty, I remember the witness walking back across the street.

OD’s comments about Portland drivers shamed me—while yes, I was still in a state of shock—and she convinced me that I’m a typical Portland driver and acted stupidly. Like an idiot, I said, “Well, since neither car is damaged, I guess we don’t need to exchange insurance information.” It’s interesting, as I look back on this, that OD never said anything about insurance.

OD may have ranted about “Portland drivers” one more time before getting into her car. By that time, still in shock, I felt intensely ashamed of allegedly being an overly polite Portland driver. Though I remained embarrassed, after the second or third time that she ranted about Portland drivers, I felt vaguely aware that she was insulting me and my driving. Simultaneously, I felt deeply ashamed and disgraced.

OD again said, “I’ve got to get going. My husband and kids are waiting for me.” She seemed to be in quite a hurry. She got into her vehicle, and I got into mine. I don’t remember her saying, “Bye,” or anything courteous, but of course I was in shock and shaking the entire time.

I was sitting in the driver’s seat and fastening my seat belt, and my driver’s window was open. OD pulled up next to me in her vehicle, and the front passenger window was rolled down. She leaned toward me and with a smirk shook a finger at me and said, “I’m getting in front of you, Susan.” I gave her a forced smile and nodded.

I wonder if she’s a reincarnation of Svengali. The moment I was alone in my car and OD was no longer around, I was aware that she had made it sound like I’m one hundred percent at fault in this situation. In that moment, despite my shock and need for time to think, I considered her fifty percent at fault. I had yet to acknowledge that she was the true culprit.

It wasn’t long before I noticed that my left knee was sore…as was the left side of the base of my neck and the left side of my lower back. I recalled that my next chiropractor’s appointment is in early April, and I’m looking forward to it.

In the evening, as I got ready to go to bed, I noticed that my left knee was swollen. This was rather disconcerting. It proved that I really was physically hurt by the accident. I got an ice pack out of the freezer and arranged my bed so that my legs lay on two pillows, and I placed the ice pack on my left knee for a while.

Over the next few days, I increasingly had a bad feeling about OD’s behavior. I had a sense that I had been polite to her and that she had been somewhat mean and aggressive and accusatory. I also became increasingly more convinced that she had largely caused the accident. I found myself wondering how fast she was driving, and whether she was tailgating me. Surely she had to have been doing one or both of these things, considering the impact. As the witness pointed out, she pushed my car forward. She also sprained my knee.

Today, I finally spilled the beans. I’d had enough days to process, and while I still felt embarrassed to confess about my driving, it came up in conversation with a friend after I picked her up at the airport and took her to a cafe. She made it quite clear that OD was being a manipulative bully. OD projected all the blame onto me and didn’t admit to any fault on her part. She was also in a big hurry to get away from the scene of the accident—my friend said it was practically a hit and run. Meanwhile, I was both emotionally and physically hurt.

She said that I need to send OD a Facebook message indicating that I’ve had injuries after all and we need to exchange insurance information. At first I thought that sounded crazy, confronting this bully. But after she talked about it a little more, I was convinced that this was the thing to do, and that I could write the message diplomatically.

My friend furthermore pointed out that bullies are a karma issue with me. The throat chakra is not only about creativity but also about self-expression, and my verbally abusive relatives took away my ability to express myself and stand up for myself. When she brought that up, a lightbulb went off. I said, “From earliest childhood, my mother and aunts conditioned me to have unquestioning loyalty to them. Even after I went off to college, there were situations in which I was at first in denial that certain people were bullying me. It’s like my mother and aunts tried to condition me to be a victim.” Those bullies in college were behaving like my mother and aunts, as was OD. In short, I was trained to side with my enemies against myself.

I experienced a new wave of shock at the realization that yet another manipulative bully took me for a pushover.

The following is the message to the bully:



I hope you are doing well. Now that I’m no longer in shock and shaking from the accident, and I’ve had time to process, I’ve had counseling and have come to realize that the car accident wasn’t my fault. Also, though I thought I was fine at the time, in the evening I realized that my left knee is sprained and that I need to visit my chiropractor.

Sorry for the inconvenience, but it turns out that you have a legal obligation to exchange insurance information with me (specifically, the company and policy number). In hindsight, I now realize my mistake in not requesting this originally. In rear ending situations, typically the rear car is at fault. Let’s exchange this insurance information, and then we can let the insurance companies work it out.



I came up with the above message while going over the notes I took while my friend and I talked about what I should say and how I should phrase it. The above letter is based on my friend’s suggestions. I wanted to make sure it was civil and diplomatic, in hopes that OD would be relatively civil. Based on my experience with manipulative bullies, my diplomacy and civility doesn’t guarantee the bully will refrain from lashing out.

As I pointed out to my friend, when I’ve even mildly objected to verbal abuse from relatives, their typical reaction has been to lash out even more and be even more verbally abusive because I had the audacity to object to their verbal abuse. Their manipulative victim-blaming knows no bounds. No doubt I’ve been force-fed manipulative crap like this all my life.

This morning, I checked to see if OD responded to my Facebook message. She hadn’t, though I read “Seen 11:34 am.” About an hour later, while I was on the phone with a friend and discussing the situation, I checked again.

I discovered that I could not “reply to the conversation.” The bully completely blocked me on Facebook. I’m utterly flabbergasted and in shock all over again.

As soon as I hung up, I called my Allstate agent’s number. She was off for the day, but her assistant answered and I told him about the situation. He was new on the job and recommended that I call 1-800-Allstate and report a claim on that site. I had a very reassuring and hopeful conversation with a representative. She gave me a claim number and the name and number of my new adjuster, who will call me in the morning.

I also sent a Facebook message to former members of the writer’s group, and I now have a partial address and the recommendation that I file a police report. I’ll do that tomorrow also.

Dealing with Criticism as a Writer

23 Mar

It’s reassuring to know that even successful and famous authors are hurt by criticism.

I was surprised by the author, in the attached article, who said that writing is just a job. I think getting my writing criticized is a personal attack, at least when it’s a mean critic. I have also come to the conclusion that mean, shallow, and insensitive people will hate my work. It seems like a personal attack, even if there’s nothing truly autobiographical in the work. I think most fiction writers, except hacks, put their soul into their work.

If I receive constructive criticism, I am eager to revise my manuscript. As an undergraduate so many years ago, I had a great fiction instructor, Joe Schuster, who gave such positive feedback that I invariably was eager to head for the computer lab and revise. Since then, I’ve had very different feedback that has given me the impression that, even though Joe’s feedback should be the norm, it’s apparently unusual.

That said, next week I’m attending a new novel critique group, and I’m hoping all the feedback I receive will be constructive and therefore inspire me to revise rather than give me writer’s block. I could be wrong, but I think my feedback is much more like that of Joe’s—positive and inspiring. I certainly try to make it that way.

A Visit to the Gay Library

20 Mar

After reading that the extreme homophobe Fred Phelps died, I decided to dig up my humorous essay “A Visit to the Gay Library,” which I wrote back when I dwelled in Topeka (which I renamed Bigotville), Kansas (which I renamed the Twilight Zone). (And for the record, the only reason I moved there was because an uncle died and left me a Craftsman-style house.)

I half expected this article to announce that a family member discovered that Fred Phelps had a close full of gay porn. After all, for someone to be that overtly and openly and actively homophobic, surely he was deeply in the closet. He protests too much. It’s a theory, anyway.

This is the essay:

A Visit to the Gay Library

After work today I went to the Gay Library. Out in front were picketers with big bold signs displaying black letters like, “GOD HATES FAGS” and “GAY LIBRARY.” I’ve been to this library several times before and saw the picketers, but I had never noticed the “GAY LIBRARY” sign until now. It made me feel so hot and bothered, but I drove past and walked into the Gay Library anyway.

I went down the hall, past the Gay Library Book Store and into the Gay Café, where all these homosexuals were sitting at little round tables and necking. I mean eating and talking. I got myself some gay scones and some gay muffins. They were cold by now, at this time of day, but I’ll bet the pastries were flaming early this morning. After I paid for these, I went back down the hallway and past the checkout desk, where I considered saying loudly, “Hey, did you know this is the Gay Library?” Of course those check-out clerks would know, since they must be a bunch of fags, fag hags, and lesbos.

I walked up to a computer and looked up a few things on the online public access catalog. I found some strange stuff, let me tell you. There’s a book in this Gay Library that’s called Homophobia: a History. Don’t you know, these gay librarians have the audacity to even keep a book about homophobia in relation to Judeo-Christian culture. The nerve of them. They even have history books like Passions Between Women and Out of the Past. The very idea—suggesting that such things have been going on for centuries and are something other than abnormal.

Here’s something really scary: the Gay Library has aisles of art books, in this 700 section of the Dewey system. Those 700s should just be removed from the Dewey system—they’re just terrible. All that art is dangerous for the mind. I’ll bet it’s mostly gay art, since this is the Gay Library. They must have pictures of nude statues, like those ancient Greeks. I heard that Michelangelo was a fag. They must have books on his art. The list of gay artists has got to be endless, since artists are dangerous people who think for themselves and are, horrors, creative in ways other than breeding children, like they think they’re the one and true god or something.

Altogether, a public library is a dangerous place. It’s for people who think, people who are curious, people who want to learn more, and for that very reason it’s the Gay Library. It wouldn’t do for people to think for themselves or to seek knowledge or learning. Terrible. They might want to do something like change the world. Next things they’ll be asking for is world peace and equal rights. I’ll bet this Gay Library even has books on those things.

Don’t Write Fiction that Promotes Rape Culture

18 Mar

If you don’t understand the phrase “Rape Culture” or think it’s overblown, then you need to read the anthology Transforming a Rape Culture.

I just read two deeply disturbing articles about toxic relationships and rape culture in YA fiction. Here are the links to them:


Some YA books that promote rape culture:

The Twilight Saga (of course) by that Mormon, Stephanie Meyer

Hush, Hush by Mega Sociopath

Swoon by Another Mega Sociopath

Evernight (series) by Claudia Gray

Pamela (granted, it’s from the eighteenth century—that said, it was an etiquette guide for debutants, and the protagonist ends up married to her rapist)

Reading the above-mentioned articles has reminded me of the importance of writing from an extremely different perspective from those authors. It is my duty as an author to write anti-rape culture literature.

I’m not saying that my fiction should be preachy—definitely not. That’s highly frowned upon. I can proselytize all I want in nonfiction, but not in fiction. Fiction can be anti-Rape Culture without being preachy. I need to show characters behaving drastically differently than they do in Rape Culture-promoting books such as Twilight and Hush, Hush.

Of course, it would never occur to me to write anything that promotes Rape Culture. But now that I’ve read up on this topic, I’m aware of the importance of simply being conscious and keeping this disgusting crap in mind while writing. I feel like it’s my responsibility as an author, whether I’m writing Middle Grade, YA, or adult fiction, to write fiction that is anti-rape, anti-harassment, and anti-abuse.

Horse and Water Dream

17 Mar

I had a dream in which I was in high school and had to go to gym class. I was absolutely terrified of gym class and of the mean gym teacher. I showed up for class, which was I think outdoors in this space where there were many folding chairs lined up. As I was approaching this space from the right, there were bushes or small trees on my right, and at first I only saw the chairs and didn’t see any students, even though I thought I was running late. This lack of students contributed to my anxiety. But I got past the bushes and finally saw many students, male and female, standing amid the chairs.

Next I was sitting with these many students. We were all sitting on the folding chairs and waiting for our names to be called out. The instructor was a middle-aged and very stern and tall man. He shouted some verbal abuse at someone, and I feared I’d be next.

Strangely, the folding chairs were now soft, dark grey or black movie theater chairs. I looked down at the grass in the aisle between my seat and the continuing row, and I saw a red-covered smartphone lying in the grass. Alarmed and suspecting that it was mine, I reached down and picked it up. I reached into my pocket and discovered that I had my phone. The fallen phone had actually landed closer to the dark-haired emo boy in front of me, so I at least considered slipping it over and placing it on the cushioned seat next to him. Soon I had a third red-covered smartphone handy, because someone else lost their phone. I didn’t know what to do with them all.

At some point, I was standing on the edge of the crowd of students. I was turned toward a road or highway that was mostly submerged in water. It was very dramatic, billowing white water. Many other students also watched the water. In the water, a horse ran in a straight line, pulling a chariot behind it. The horse kept running and gradually ran on higher ground. It emerged, with the chariot and whoever was riding it, out of the water and onto a bridge-like section of the road that was above ground. The horse emerged dripping water and making splashy sounds. Above water finally, the horse shook itself and kept running. Students made comments or giggled about the horse and the water. Someone who was more serious said it was amazing that the horse didn’t drown, and I agreed.