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Facebook faceoff?

It’s 11 a.m. — do you know where your morning has gone?

Mine, I realize with pangs of shock and embarrassment, has been frizzled away on Planet Facebook. This virtual neighborhood where you and your  50 or 500 or 1,000 or so “friends” let it all hang out: political declarations, pithy aphorisms, gut-wrenching messages about imploding marriages, cute things your little kids have said, and, increasingly, photos.

These days, Facebook is clogged with photos that “friends” expect you to view, comment on, “like,” and even “share.” This is especially true if the albums are of animals, particularly animals in cute pajamas or wearing jaunty berets. Don’t believe me? There is a plush toy (that’s the politically correct term for “stuffed animal”) named Boo the Pomeranian who is listed as a “public figure” on Facebook. His page has more than 350,000 “likes,” which may explain why Boo snagged an appearance on “Good Morning, America.” Mere humans like me who use Facebook as a marketing tool stand almost no chance of building our brand when competing with the “likes” of Boo the Pomeranian. (Note to God: If you bring me back for another incarnation as a writer, can you please let me return as a cute plush toy?)

Everyone knows that Facebook is a dangerous force field, hungrily vacuuming up otherwise productive time, yet the force is powerful, and explains why I am late on two assignments, have three days’ laundry piled up, the fridge is empty, and several bills are perilously close to accruing late fees.

This morning, for example, I felt compelled to view six new photo albums, including one of a cousin’s newly adopted puppy named Gus. This cousin was sure to ask me if I had seen Gus in his photogenic glory, so I posted the requisite “Aw, how cute!” comment to be safe. And how could I not comment on photos of my friend’s new son, posted just hours after his birth? What kind of ogre is too busy to type in “Congratulations!?” After that, I was this close to logging out when my favorite cookbook author posted the best recipe for raisin challah ever, along with photos showing easy braiding techniques.

I swore to myself that after “liking” the challah, I would really, no-kidding-this-time-really get to work. But the unfolding drama, surprises and needs of my “friends” kept me riveted to the screen. There was Charlie, riding an elephant in Thailand! Then I saw that a colleague was getting a divorce, and was collecting “likes” about her posts about her rotten soon-to-be ex-husband. I learned that a neighbor had scared off a would-be burglar, and another friend was mounting a campaign to shame the overpriced hotel in Hawaii where she was staying due to its slovenly housekeeping. In the perverse form of social support that is essential to Facebook, I “liked” the photos she uploaded of a grimy bathtub, cobwebby closet and stained carpet. After all, what are Facebook friends for?

An invitation to share my organ donor status — nobody’s business, not even on Facebook — jolted me into the reality that I really had real-life obligations. So why don’t I just stop the kvetching and dump Facebook? Because love it or hate it (and often, loving it and hating it at the same time), the ruthless reality is that writers and others trying to build their businesses need this maddening social utility, whose rules and features are changed every 15 minutes by the 20-somethings wearing jeans and hoodies who rule its kingdom.

Besides, I am guilty — if guilt is the right word — of wanting people to “like” and comment on my columns as soon as they are published. What? Only eight “likes” for this story in the first half-hour? Have I lost my mojo? I consider sending an email blast to trusted friends, encouraging them to stop their own productive work and “like,” share, comment on, or “tag” me in the post as a show of support. But I hold back, knowing it’s slightly obnoxious to do so. Displaying admirable self-restraint, I do not summon the troops until the next day, still dissatisfied with the number of “shares” and “likes” my work has received.

In this virtual community, one hand that’s glued to the keyboard washes the other, so I feel obligated to share the outrage over the grimy conditions of my friend’s overpriced hotel, help another friend win her iPad, commiserate with the lovelorn and gush over everyone’s new photos are, even if they are of a puppy named Gus.

Later in the afternoon, caving in to the temptation of seeing who may have “liked” my latest article, I log back on to Facebook. The first thing on my timeline is a picture that poses the question, “Are you on a journey to purpose this afternoon…?” I consider the question, “like” the post but do not comment, and log off for the day.

—Judy Gruen

Judy Gruen is the author of four books, including the newly released diet memoir Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping. This essay originally appeared in slightly different format on Aish.com.

Brad Pitt selling perfume?
Truly, end is at hand

(Reposted by permission of author Gina Barreca. This humorous essay first ran in the Hartford Courant on Nov. 29.)

Forget the Mayan calendar: Brad Pitt’s commercial for Chanel No. 5 is a sign of the impending apocalypse. Have you seen it? Pitt looks like Gen. George Custer right before his last stand.

Reportedly paid around $7 million to gaze into the camera and intone “every journey ends,” “plans disappear” and “wherever I go, there you are,” Pitt says the kind of things my father used to yell at us kids when we were annoying him on a long car ride.

My dad, of course, didn’t sound like Hamlet saying these things and Pitt does, so that’s part of the difference.

The other difference was that my dad, who would have been driving a ’67 Buick Skylark with a faulty muffler, had take-home pay of about 78 bucks a week. So when Pitt says “My luck, my fate,” he makes it sound very different from the way my father would have said it.

Pitt speaks so bewitchingly, however, you sort of don’t realize that what he’s saying the rest of the time is nuts. “The world turns and we turn with it,” Pitt declares. Well, Brad, until the end of the world was placed on this year’s calendar, we really didn’t have much of a choice, did we?

What’s the catch-line for Pitt’s Chanel campaign? “Inevitable.”

Yeah, right. Brad Pitt is a lot of things to a lot of women, but one thing he is not is “inevitable.”

Bunions, menopause and an increased need for periodontal care are inevitable; Brad Pitt is not.

Pitt’s shilling for Chanel as its first-ever male celebrity, therefore, shows that the apocalypse is heading our way. But the fact that he earned a fee in the high seven-figures without even needing to part his hair is only one indication that the world is drawing to a close even faster than a Kathie Lee Gifford Broadway show.

(That a musical written by Kathie Lee Gifford celebrating the life of a discredited evangelical preacher made it to Broadway could, in and of itself, be a heavy End Times indicator.)

Look, between the Mayan calendar’s prediction that life on earth will stop mid-afternoon on Dec. 21, Maya MacGuiness’ prediction that Americans will step off the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1 and My Little Pony’s declaration that “Princess Cadance can’t wait to marry prince Shining Armor,” after which “When you press her button, she’ll talk and her amazing wings will move and light up!” you know December 2012 is going to be a whole apocaly-lotta laughs.

Yes, My Little Pony’s magic unicorn horn has, by some, seemed to point increasingly to universal destruction.

I’m not cynical by nature, but the combination of these untoward events are enough to make even an unusually sanguine person such as me start watching “Doomsday Preppers” instead of watching QVC, HGTV or “Project Runway.”

After all, if it’s the end of the world, will I really care if my trousers are wondrously slimming, if my window treatments offer sufficient morning light or if tar as a fashion accouterment is the new bleached leather?

If the meteor hits, if dollars as we know them are entirely debased and we are all using socks instead of stocks for currency, and if Princess Cadance reigns over international politics once Shining Armor installs her as part of his “puppet” regime, will I care about whether my sister-in-law’s gravy is less lumpy than mine? Or whether her thighs are, for that matter?

No, I won’t. I’ll have new priorities, like trying to build shelter out of empty CD cases (I knew they’d come in handy), learning to forage for food (“forage” being a Brooklyn word for “steal”) and making fine wine from transmission fluid (it’s all about the horsepower).

Sure, if I’m going to survive the apocalypse, I’ll need to get used to some changes. Like Princess Cadance, I will be probably be all “shiny” as well as “glowy” given the pernicious effect of fallout. If the end of the world happens, I just hope I’m holding a martini made with Chanel No. 5 and just a hint of Valvoline.

But please, Lord: Before the world ends, if it must, can you make sure that comedian Gilbert Gottfried does a parody of Pitt’s commercial?

— Gina Barreca

Gina Barreca, one of the keynote speakers for the 2012 EBWW, is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books.

Ready, set, write!

It’s time to put your talent on the line.

Here are four avenues that popped up in our mailbox:

Unboxed Books seeks submissions of novels or short story collections from all writers — from the unknown to the well-known and everyone in between. The winner will receive $5,000, and his or her book will be published in both print and digital formats in fall 2013. The entry fee is $35, and the deadline has been extended to Dec. 9 for writers who say they heard about the competition from us.

Dahlynn and Ken McKowen, who spent a decade as co-authors and editors for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, are searching for submissions for 30 books in a new anthology called Not Your Mother’s Book.

“Not Your Mother’s Book is an anthology series for adults, featuring ‘edgy’ stories on a variety of subjects ranging from your deepest secrets and wildest night out to menopause and fishing,” according to the creators.

“The series will not focus on death/dying, cry-your-eyes-out sad selections, but only hip, fun, modern and very-much-today type stories specifically selected for maximum education and entertainment,” they say.

Stories must be between 500 and 2,500 words. Click here for story submission guidelines, copyright and royalty information.

The Truth About the Fact: International Journal of Literary Nonfiction, based at Loyola Marymount University, is accepting literary nonfiction essay, memoir or commentary (1,000-5,000 words); literary nonfiction narrative poetry; and black-and-white art and photography.

“We’re interested in publishing true stories well told. Artful narratives that offer some insight into the human condition…while keeping us enraptured during the process of the telling,” according to the journal’s website.

Submission deadline is Dec. 31. Submit via email to editor@thetruthaboutthefact.com. If you have questions, email Joseph Demes (jdemes@lion.lmu.edu) or Michael Datcher at michael.datcher@lmu.edu.

The 2013 Great Southeast Book Festival has issued a call for entries to its competition honoring the best books of the late winter/spring season.

The Great Southeast Book Festival will consider published and unpublished works in fiction, non-fiction, biography/autobiography, how-to, compilations/anthologies, photography/art, children’s, cookbooks, poetry, spiritual, young adult, business/technology, unpublished manuscripts, wild card (anything goes!), nature/animals and regional lit.

The grand prize is $1,500 and a flight to the awards ceremony in March 2013. For more information about the competition, click here. Submission deadline is Feb. 25, 2013.

Hi! I’m my mother! Nice to meet you!

Posted by permission of the author. This essay originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

While lamenting her daughter’s latest eye-roll over something or other, a friend said, “The problem is, I remember this. I remember having this attitude and talking back to my mom, and I remember what my mom used to say. I can’t quite reconcile that I’m now the mom saying the things I used to hate to hear as a child.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. “I not only use the same lines on my kids, I sound so much like my dad when I use them that the hair on my own neck stands straight up.”

This is how it happens. This is how we become our parents. We start with the best of intentions when we have kids — “Oh, we’ll be great parents! We’ll do things our own way! We’ll talk to our kids and discuss issues and establish behavioral guidelines that they will understand and follow! Our kids won’t hit the teenage years thinking we’re idiots!”

And it may even work for a few years. Our kids may dutifully follow our lead, may take our suggestions for the wisdom behind them, may even ask our advice on hair or clothes from time to time. But then, for some reason (although I myself blame double digits), POOF! It’s gone. The tender thread that held us together snaps like a fresh green bean. They become their own people. And their people no longer like our people very much.

My parents’ way of doing things, I’ve come to realize, is not unlike my red hair, which I spent the first half of my life hating and the second half trying to match exactly. As this boy and girl to whom I’ve given birth, for whom I spent a combined 36 hours in the kind of agony that horror movies only hope to convey, and with whom I assumed I would achieve the perfectly nuanced relationship that generations before me have failed to achieve — as they now look at me the way I looked at my parents when they tried to sing along to a current song, I finally get it.

And the “it” is this: It doesn’t matter that I was revered as an all-knowing, all-powerful goddess whose side they couldn’t bear to leave for the first few years of their lives. Because for these next several, if I’m lucky, I might get the occasional “hello.” And with that revelation came another: I’m reacting to the news not unlike the generations before me.

Oh, sure, there were clues over the years, vocal hints of the changes to come; the oft-hailed “Don’t make me come in there!” chief among them. The first time I uttered those words, I could actually hear my mother’s  “I told you so” all the way from Buffalo. Next came the ever-popular “Am I talking to myself here?” and before I knew it, I’d realized the value in those words and adopted them as my own.

I thought it would stop there, though. It didn’t.

Once I started, the floodgates opened. At every turn, a new phrase escaped my confused lips – “Because I said so” and “Those clothes aren’t going to fold themselves, you know,” and “Yes, well, life isn’t fair.” These were followed by the evocative “If you don’t stop crying, I’m going to give you something to cry about,” the circular reasoning of which drives children nuts — which I now realize is half the fun.

I started sensing a pattern, maybe seeing parenting with a little more clarity than I did in the old days, before, say, my children could speak. I began to see my own parents in a somewhat different light, also, with a dawning realization that they, too, might have once harbored the delusion that they would escape these years unscathed … until my brothers and I hit our teens, and doors started slamming and eyes started rolling and words started leaving their confused lips.

I suppose in the natural course of events, my children might one day find themselves saying the same things to their kids, and thinking back to their own teen years and what their parents used to say to them. Maybe it’s the circle of life.

“Besides, it’s how I did things, and I turned out all right!”

—Maggie Lamond Simone

Maggie Lamond Simone is a national award-winning columnist and author of From Beer to Maternity and POSTED! Parenting, Pets and Menopause, One Status Update at a Time.

An evening with a bunch of characters

Humor writer Molly D. Campbell, two-time Erma Bombeck Writing Competition award winner, will launch her new book, Characters in Search of a Novel, at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6, in the General Motors Rotunda of the Dayton Art Institute.

The event, “Spend an Evening With Some Real Characters,” features Campbell and illustrator Randy Palmer. The evening will include a book signing, readings and a raffle for prizes — including Campbell and Palmer collaborating on an original character story and illustration that will be custom framed for the winner.

Currently a best seller in pop culture on Amazon.com, Characters in Search of a Novel is a collection of short-short stories about everyday people. What started as a Twitter stream of unique names and attributes (Loretta Squirrels beats her husband and makes moonshine) has turned into a book.

“Loretta Squirrels developed a kind of cult following on Twitter,” says Campbell. So when a few fellow writers suggested I write stories about each name, I decided to do it. I am currently working on a second anthology of short stories.”

The Charles Phoenix Retro Holiday Slide Show will follow the book launch at 8 p.m. Phoenix, who collects old Kodachrome slides of unusual families, delivers a hilarious riff on Christmas, families and Americana. Tickets for his performance in the NCR Renaissance Auditorium are $30.

The public is invited to both events.

Barking up the wrong tree

It’s happened several times now. Over the past few months, I’ve gotten calls from four different strangers, all in Rhode Island or Massachusetts.  Every one of them had obviously dialed the wrong number. I know this because they’ve all asked the same question when I answered:  “Is this Animal Control?” And then someone left this message:  “My neighbor’s dog is out, and this is not the first time I’ve had to deal with this. You need to come do something about it.”

Oh, the irony. Apparently, I’m only a digit off from county animal control somewhere in the Northeast. But in that single digit lies a world of difference.

You see, there is no animal control at my residence. Around here, the animals are in complete control.

That word, “control,” reminds me of something that happened 10 years ago.  I was sitting on my back porch talking on the phone with my husband, who was in a treatment facility in Arizona, and he was telling me he had come to the conclusion that he was in rehab because I was too controlling.

At the same time he hurled the accusation, one of the kids from across the street walked out of my pool house holding a Sprite, asking, “Can I have this?” as the family’s golden lab jumped into the deep end of my pool. I remember thinking, Is he serious? My SUV still has remnants of the time our son spray painted the entire driver’s side, I can’t order anything through the mail because the dachshunds will intercept the UPS guy and eat the package contents, and I’ve unwittingly become the unpaid sitter for the lady across the street. What part of my life is under control?

Ten years later, my husband and I are divorced, and I live in another state.  Everything’s changed, and yet some things will always be the same.

I have a swimming pool and a three-legged dog who swims laps in it every day. My daughter moved back in with me and brought her two Bengal cats, nocturnal creatures who define the word caterwaul between three and six o’clock every morning.  And Laverne and Shirley, the dachshunds? Still massively unmanageable. I have three fences around my yard, and none is very good at containing Laverne, who’s only eight pounds.  The first fence encloses the pool, and she’s thin enough to squeeze through the rails. The second one, a white picket fence around the perimeter of the yard, she easily digs under.  So I spent $500 a few weeks ago to have Invisible Fence re-install the wires that were broken during the pool construction.

Finally, I told myself, I have Laverne under control.

One morning, I opened the door to the garage and heard a bad sound.  It was a beep that alerts me to the fact that the Invisible Fence isn’t working. It also alerts Laverne to the fact that the fence isn’t working. I unplugged the fence to end the incessant high-pitched beeping and called my local Invisible Fence franchise.

Of course, when I plugged the fence back in to show the Invisible Fence guy that it’s broken, it was miraculously working again.

He charged me a $25 trip fee for coming to my house for nothing.

I think I actually saw Laverne grin. Well played, little girl.

As of this very moment, my dogs are contained. But under control? That depends upon whom you ask. I have a neighbor who thinks they bark too much. She even went to the trouble of tearing out a newspaper article for me about using acupuncture to curtail barking.

As if a bunch of needles can change doggie DNA.

Thankfully, I controlled my laughter when she said it. Then I gave her my cell phone number and told her to call me the next time my dogs were bothering her. She’s never dialed my number. But she has complained to the neighborhood association. I got a call last week saying that my dogs were barking, and it was “the third time in six months” that it had happened.

Did you catch that? Three times in six months? That means my dogs were not barking 179 out of the 182 days between January and June of this month.  To my mind, that is curtailed barking.

And that is what I believe this idea of control is all about. It’s all in how we perceive things. For years, I tried to manage my husband’s behavior by changing myself. But control isn’t about changing another person’s (or even a dog’s!) behavior. It’s about changing how we think about a situation.

The only thing in this whole wide world that I can actually control is how I respond to what life throws at me.

So the next time someone from the Northeast calls to ask if they’ve reached animal control, I’m going to give them my neighbor’s number. Just to needle her.

— Sandi Hutcheson

Sandi Hutcheson, who writes under the name Grace Adams, lives on the beach in St. Augustine, Fla., with a pair of defiant dachshunds named Laverne and Shirley, a three-legged Australian Shepherd and a teenage son who is suffering from a serious case of Senioritis. She blogs at “Looks Great Naked.”

Previews of coming contractions

A new humor anthology, My Funny Major Medical, promises to be therapeutic. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.

Stacey Hatton, who blogs at Nurse Mommy Laughs, says this collection of hilarious medical experiences is “not a gift for your young grandchildren, but perfect for anyone sedated and strapped to a hospital bed.”

Other EBWW contributors to the anthology include Lisa Tognola, Barb Best and Dawn Weber.

The book features humorous essays by columnists, comedians, authors, TV writers “and people with unauthorized access to hospital files,” according to the book’s description. “This inexpensive, pocket-sized book is a time-released ‘get well card’ for the ailing and afflicted, an inside chuckle for medical professionals, and a collection of healing fun for those who aren’t under care at the moment.”

Some sample chapter headings: “My Hysterical-Ectomy” and “Previews of Coming Contractions.”

My Funny Major Medical is available in paperback and for the Kindle from Amazon.com.

Humor writers join farces

Award-winning humor writer Susan Reinhardt (Not Tonight Honey, Wait ‘Til I’m a Size Six and Don’t Sleep with a Bubba) and author DC Stanfa (The Art of Table Dancing: Escapades of an Irreverent Woman) have joined farces to edit a humor anthology titled Fifty Shades of Funny: Hook-ups, Break-ups and Crack-ups.

The two met at the 2006 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, became “fast friends” and sought out a number of other EBWW faculty and participants for the book. Reinhardt, Tracy Beckerman, W. Bruce Cameron and Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant have all served on the EBWW faculty, and several other contributors are past winners of the Erma Bombeck writing competition.

The anthology features stories by both Reinhardt and Stanfa as well as some of the most successful humor writers and bloggers in the country, including Bruce Cameron from The 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter fame, and Writer’s Digest Break-Out Author of the Year, Hollis Gillespie, author of Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch and Confessions of a Recovering Slut.

Also contributing to the project is Nikki Knepper, founder of Moms Who Drink and Swear, whose book by the same name is due out in April 2013. Other contributors are nationally syndicated columnist Tracy Beckerman of the “Lost in Suburbia” blog, who also signed a recent book deal, and Robin O’Bryant, blogger and author of the best-selling, “Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves.”

The PG 13(ish)-rated anthology showcases a collection of eclectic, ironic, often embarrassing and always hilarious stories of relationship mishaps. The stories seem to fit like your perfect little black dress, but with a twist: This time it’s a little black rubber dress. (Spoiler Alert: Those librarians can be quite naughty once the doors close and the moon rises.)

Tales include exploding hair caked in Final Net and flaming Lee Press-On nails, to one contributor’s ongoing tumultuous relationship with pool boys. Fifty Shades of Funny offers up unconventional and often prickly pairings, like one writer’s harrowing relationship with her mother’s horrendous hairdo, and a consuming obsession-confession from a man who explores life, death, and his love and desire for a popular snack cake, Little Debbie—a  tart in more ways than one. There’s also a comical confession from a cougar-in-training, and one man’s transgression with a “woman in a box” that he bought at a store.

Fifty Shades of Funny is sweet, salty and spicy followed with some just desserts and some unjust desertions. (Second Spoiler Alert: You didn’t really think The Hot Drummer was going to marry her, did you?)

The book is available in both print and e-book editions at Amazon.com.  For more information, visit the website.

Reflections of Erma