Have you ever seen a roast on Comedy Central? The “roasted” individual typically sits in a throne-like chair on a raised platform, as comedians take turns making fun of him (and of each other) in front of a live audience. The guest of honor then has the opportunity to rebut the merciless put-downs that have been hurled at him throughout the event.
In honor of Thanksgiving, I thought it might be fun to put the holiday itself on the dais. Over the years, comedians have certainly viewed Turkey Day as fair game, and the Internet is a veritable cornucopia of their insults. So, if you will, please imagine a plump turkey (possibly wearing a Pilgrim hat and holding an “Eat Chicken” sign) on a stage, gobbling graciously as it is lambasted.
- Johnny Carson: “Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday. People travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. And then discover once a year is way too often.”
- David Letterman: “Thanksgiving is the day when you turn to another family member and say, ‘How long has Mom been drinking like this?’ My mom, after six Bloody Marys, looks at the turkey and goes, ‘Here, kitty, kitty.’”
- Jay Leno: “Thanksgiving: when the Indians said, ‘Well, this has been fun, but we know you have a long voyage back to England.’”
- Jon Stewart: “I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”
- Dylan Brody: “You know that just before that first Thanksgiving dinner there was one wise, old Native American woman saying, ‘Don’t feed them. If you feed them, they’ll never leave.’”
- Roseanne Barr: “Here I am 5 o’clock in the morning stuffing breadcrumbs up a dead bird’s butt.”
- Kevin James: “Thanksgiving, man. Not a good day to be my pants.”
Unlike the ordinary “roastee,” a holiday cannot defend itself. Yet many eloquent individuals have, in effect, told the aforementioned comics to shut their pie holes:
- H. U. Westermayer: “The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.”
- Robert C. Linter: “Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day.”
- Edward Sandford Martin: “Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow.”
- Wilbur D. Nesbit: “Forever on Thanksgiving Day / The heart will find the pathway home.”
Stick a fork in me, I’m done.
I am not a big fan of horror movies. The Exorcist, which turned 40 this year, scared the Andersen’s pea soup (the actual brand used in that iconic projectile-vomiting scene) out of me when I was a little girl. Each time I approached my room, I was sure I would find Linda Blair on my bed, head spinning around. Ironically, when I do watch a scary movie, I tend to go for one about exorcism. Of all the horror ghouls, zombies frighten me the most; even the comedy Shaun of the Dead was too much for me. (Okay, even Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video gave me chills.) And I will not watch a home-invasion movie, especially if the bad guys are in masks. One relatively recent film I found deliciously chilling was The Fourth Kind, about alien abduction. I wish I had the courage to see it again (although most viewers would prefer to have their 98 minutes back).
Many filmgoers regularly put themselves in the position to be shocked by the gore, violence, and supernatural activity characteristic of the horror genre. (Of course, some don’t, and they are less likely to sleep with a night light.) Here are some of the more popular theories as to why horror movies appeal to us:
- They demystify the unknown.
- They distract us from our everyday concerns.
- They give us the opportunity to prove that we can master something threatening.
- They have fantastic visual effects.
- They induce catharsis.
- They allow us to face our greatest fear, the knowledge that we are all doomed.
- They provide an adrenaline rush in a safe environment.
- They satisfy our desire to feel intense emotions.
- They show us things we don’t see in our daily lives.
- They take us on a psychological ride.
I am intrigued by two additional theories, which are based on diametrically opposed views of our normal mental state (sane or crazy):
- Horror movies reaffirm that we are healthy and well-adjusted.
- We are all mentally ill, and horror movies appease our insanity, keeping it in check.
I tend to favor the second explanation, especially considering its source: horror master Stephen King. I figure he should know.
I recently completed a 10-day liver detox (trumpets and fanfare). It consisted of swallowing Chinese herbs three times a day and excluding all the best foods from my diet: coffee, wine, chocolate, heavy cream, steak, etc. I challenged myself to tweet each day about the cleanse’s deprivations—which were apparently so severe that one night I dreamt about cheesecake. It was Marisa Tomei’s cheesecake, but we don’t have time to analyze that now.
Here is a sampling of my detox-related tweets:
- I want cookie dough. #DetoxDay2
- Subsisting on rice cakes and peppermint tea. #DetoxDay6
- Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop eating most of the major food groups. #DetoxDay7
As you can see, I appended a hashtag consisting of “DetoxDay” and a number representing the day to each post. I was surprised to find that numerous other people had tweeted using the same tag:
Reading these posts made the world seem just a little bit smaller. (Impressively, the entries continue through day 28; that’s a long time to go without cheesecake.) I started doing Twitter hashtag searches on all sorts of things pertinent to my life: #ButtercreamFrosting, #WritersBlock, #CrazyDogs. It was fun getting different perspectives on inane subjects relevant to my existence.
I will leave you with a few takes on a daily occurrence in my house, #SpiderInTheBathroom:
So what are you waiting for? Try it! Warning: You will probably want to make spelling corrections to the search results.
The word editor has been in my job title for over 20 years. People seem to think I am always editing, even in my spare time. But when the clock is off, I remove my editor’s hat. It looks like this:
(Not really, but I might order it.) Aside from authors who pay me, the only people whose grammar I might summon the energy to correct are TV newscasters.
It’s another story, however, when I have that proverbial red pen in my hand. It looks like this:
Indeed, when I am asked to make a manuscript as morphologically and syntactically sound as possible, I take no prisoners. Here are some of the errors I eradicate most frequently:
- Two spaces between sentences. The number of spaces used between sentences has a fascinating history (if you’re into typography—who isn’t?), but single spacing has been the accepted printing convention since the mid-twentieth century. For instance, the following spacing is incorrect: “I like cupcakes. They are yummy.” Fortunately, this gaffe is easily fixed with a little “find and replace” action.
- Missing serial comma. It says in the bible (The Chicago Manual of Style), “When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series of three or more, a comma—known as the serial or series comma or the Oxford comma—should appear before the conjunction.” Here is an example of the profound confusion caused by a missing serial comma: “I am making the following flavors of cupcakes: strawberry, orange and chocolate and banana.” So, in addition to strawberry cupcakes, am I making cupcakes that are (1) orange and (2) chocolate and banana? Or (1) orange and chocolate and (2) banana? Either way, it looks like I’m making cupcakes.
- Random capitalization. I wish I could get inside the head of the writer who, without warning, capitalizes words that should be lowercase. If I were editing a book on baked goods (please send me manuscripts on baked goods—or just baked goods), I might find a sentence like this: “A Cupcake is a small cake designed to serve one person, which may be baked in a paper or Aluminum Cup.”
- Dangling modifiers. A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that describes a word not clearly stated in the sentence—often to humorous effect. For example, “Standing at the dessert counter, my eyes took in the rows of colorful cupcakes.” In other words, my eyes were standing at the dessert counter—which is absurd, because eyes don’t even have feet! Here is a possible reworking: “Standing at the dessert counter, I ogled the rows of colorful cupcakes.”
- Pronouns with unclear antecedents. I often encounter pronouns that could refer to more than one noun in a sentence. For example, “After putting sprinkles on the cupcakes, I sealed them in a container.” We don’t know if “them” refers to “sprinkles” or “cupcakes.” We only know it refers to something good.
The law of irony dictates that if you write about editorial pet peeves, you will make a stupid mistake and have it pointed out to you—which is where a comforting cupcake comes in.
I have scant memories of being read to as a child. I recall that my sister and I once persuaded our father to read to us, possibly from Walt Disney’s Classic Storybook. The volume was thick and hardbound, with a sampling of characters depicted on its red cover (I think). In the fifth grade, Miss Brown read to us from Watership Down (all I remember is that it was about rabbits) as we worked on latch hook rugs (I believe mine showed a farm scene). Teachers couldn’t get away with this activity today, because there is nothing about latch hook rugs on standardized tests.
Perhaps it makes sense, then, that I came to audio books late—specifically, last month. But I’m on a roll. I have already consumed two 500-plus-page novels as well as two books under 200 pages. And I’m several chapters into the next one. I listen while I walk the dogs, wash dishes, fold laundry, vacuum, blow-dry my hair, etc. I wonder if people “curl up” with a good audio book as they do with a printed one, or if multitasking is always involved.
I have been blown away by the talent of some of the narrators, especially how they are able to voice different characters, both male and female. Sometimes they must speak multiple languages or do accents. The audio book for Cloud Atlas featured six narrators alone, so I got a good sampling. In some cases, the readers are screen actors. For instance, Jeremy Irons recorded The Alchemist. And I recognized another narrator as an actress from a Woody Allen movie.
There are some technological pitfalls of listening to audio books, however. My iPod shuffle presented the two files for the novel Life After Life in reverse order—so I heard the second part first. “Wow!” I thought. “This author really throws you in there, introducing so many characters at once. But I’m game!” Ironically, the subject matter of the book (a woman continually reliving her life but making different choices each time) rendered the unintentional reorganization plausible.
I have a feeling my husband will rue the day he encouraged me to use some of his Audible credits . . .
In a recent session, my writing coach, Ziva, blew my mind. When I stopped resisting her suggestion (after about 30 seconds), my mind was blown. So I am back to square one with my novel—sort of.
Some sources put a negative spin on the idiom: “If you are back to square one, you have to start working on a plan from the beginning because your previous attempt failed and the progress you made is now wasted.” Ouch. I prefer this kinder interpretation: “returned to the beginning.” It sounds almost poetic. As a side note, Square One was also a restaurant in Santa Barbara; it’s closed now, so no one can go back to it.
Actually, I don’t think we really can go back to square one, because we have learned what doesn’t work. For example, it is said that Thomas Edison made thousands of unsuccessful attempts to invent the electric light bulb. In the midst of these trials, a young reporter asked him if he felt like a failure and should just give up. Edison replied, “Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.”
Indeed, returning to the beginning has exhilarated and energized me. Perhaps starting over appeals to the Aries in me—good at launching projects, not so good at finishing them. As I conceive of my novel anew, ideas from the first beginning start to find their proper places. I envision cozy compartments, in an expansive structure, for all the things I want to say. If everything goes as planned, this work could very well be my “magnificent octopus.”
Or maybe my incandescent new approach is just platinum wire on the road to a carbon filament.
I didn’t know it was the last time…
You would slurp noisily from the water bowl
You would crunch a stick in half
You would stumble into the bathroom to eat toilet paper
I would scoop your kibble out of the bin
I would take you on a walk around the backyard
I would give you your aspirin half an hour after lunch
Your little brother would snuggle up next to you
You would take a wrong turn trying to find the kitchen, while the others waited anxiously for the meal to be served
You would sniff the air
I would help you down the ramp
I would lead you to the fluffy bed in the living room
I would say, “Good dog!”
I would pick you up after you had fallen
If I had known, I would have paid attention to every detail, so I could always recall the moment with perfect clarity.
But if I had known, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the moment, because it would have been touched with a sense of loss.