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Lost in translation

Sandra-Moulin1-199x300People who travel to Europe are always amazed that Europeans are multi-lingual. Some arrogant Americans believe that every human should speak English, particularly those who choose to live on American soil. Others, like yours truly, are envious that Europeans live in such close proximity to other cultures so they can actually use the languages they learn by driving a couple of hours, and voilà, they’re in another country.

Americans are already multi-lingual. For example, I speak Ohio, Wisconsin, Maryland and Oregon. You laugh, but I’m not to amusing yet. I’ve discovered that men and women all over the world are multi-lingual in another way. Women speak the following languages fluently: often, long, whenever. Men speak: car, blame and dumb.

Women come out of the womb with an inordinate quantity of syllables. They are genetically wired to flap their jaws from day one. We speak often, using as many syllables as we can, and we do not discriminate as to time of day or night or even occasion.

Women come equipped with a detail app. We don’t want our listeners to miss anything so we gather adjectives to paint word pictures for our listeners. Men have difficulty with this. They want us to cut to the chase so they can get to the sports section. Women listen for key words, and we respond to them enthusiastically, even interrupting at times. This tends to irritate men who are trying hard to just articulate a response when coming out from under the barrage of syllables. Women are multi-taskers so we like to deliver several messages at a time. This makes men tired and has been known to send them into a mouth-open slumber in the recliner.

Men speak car, blame and dumb. Many, many are fluent in car, although some specialize in “Are you kidding, Ref?” The car language is lost on women. We go car shopping with our man, and while he’s checking out the handling and turbo, we are focusing on color and mirror. Mr. Wonderful has been known to watch car TV for up to 10 hours a week. He never tires of watching those wheels go round. Men can speak car to each other for hours at a time. Women are not interested in translation.

Men also speak blame. As they are programmed from delivery to never show fear, they turn their fear into rage and blame. Don’t ever expect a man to say, “Whoa, I’m really scared.” He would express this by saying, “Why the hell did you do that?” Women must realize that when a man is blaming her for throwing the open yogurt into the garbage can, that the man is really scared of raccoons. (There needs to be an English/Man dictionary, and I am just the person to write it.) Men also speak fluent dumb. For example, the other day, Mr. Wonderful asked on the way out the door to the country club holiday gala, “Are you going to wear that?” “No,” I said. “I am just getting in the car with this on until we get there, and then I’m going to change into a wait person’s uniform.”

Ah, the joys of communication. And we haven’t even addressed speaking thumb.

— Sandra Moulin

Sandra Moulin, a freelance writer from Wilmington, N.C., is a retired master French and humanities high school and college teacher. She has self-published two volumes of humorous essays, Before and Laughter and Laughterwards. She writes for four local publications and gives humorous workshops and presentations.

My mirror doesn’t work

Elaine AmbroseWhen my eyesight became weaker, I purchased a new lighted mirror with a 10X magnification so I could apply mascara without guessing the actual location of my eyelashes. The first time I looked into the mirror I screamed and jumped back in horror because there was a ghastly old woman staring back at me! I want my money — and my face — returned!

The illuminated, colossal reflection exaggerated the erratic road map of lines, wrinkles and crevices that sprouted around my eyes like jagged lightning bolts surrounding deep, bloodshot sinkholes. Why didn’t someone tell me my face resembled a damp shirt that been forgotten in the dryer? At least my friends also have failing eyesight so they may not even notice.

I flipped the mirror over to the normal view and was relieved because my poor vision couldn’t detect any flaws. I prefer that side now. For security and insecurity purposes, I have taped a warning label into the magnified side of the mirror.

It’s called a vanity mirror for a reason, but I refuse to channel my inner Queen of the Snow White movie and ask the mirror on the wall who is the fairest one of all. I know the answer and not even a flamboyant skit by the jolly Seven Dwarfs could make me laugh now because that would just add more unwanted lines.

After surviving the shock of magnified reality, I looked again at my eyes. These green orbs have been dilated, examined and corrected since I was 10 years old. They have peered from dozens of ugly frames that included cat-eyes with rhinestones, black square nerd glasses and delicate rimless beauties that cost a month’s mortgage and broke every time I sneezed. My eyes survived surgery for holes in both retinas and continued to work after a failed attempt at laser treatment. Best of all, these irreplaceable body parts have allowed me to write and read books and to see the wonders of the world.

These eyes cried with joy when I held my precious babies, widened with amazement when I visited 32 countries around the world, leaked buckets over physical and mental pain, and focused with passion as I stared into my husband’s loving eyes. Six decades of visions are stored within my memories as on-demand movies after a life full of adventure, tears and laughter that I have been privileged to see and experience. I have earned each and every line around these well-worn eyes, and I intend to earn many more.

Next week I’ll don my newest pair of spectacles and prepare the list for our family Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll check favorite recipes and pull out the good dishes and silverware. I’ll arrange festive pumpkins and colorful leaves into a happy centerpiece and imagine the cacophony coming from the children’s table. Then on the day of the grand feast I’ll witness the generations gathered around the tables squabbling over the last drumstick. With the blessed ability to see, I’ll give thanks for the abundant vision before me.

Today’s blog was fueled by a 2011 Jacuzzi Barbera from Mendocino County, Calif. I found this complex and vibrant wine on a recent trip to wine country and recommend the explosion of tastes with flavors of blackberry, raspberry, strawberry and vanilla. Preview their wines at www.jacuzziwines.com. And, it’s okay to pair red wine with turkey.

— Elaine Ambrose

Elaine Ambrose is an author, publisher, blogger and humorous speaker from Eagle, Idaho. Her national bestseller is Menopause Sucks. She blogs at “Midlife Cabernet.”

Complicated hair

Marci_Rich121107_8180Aemp_2-200x300Had fashions in the late 1960s been different, I would not have the strength of character I have today. I was born with complicated hair — thick, unmanageable, curly hair (and not the good kind of curly, either — the Andie McDowell/Julianna Margulies-kind of curly). My coarse, wiry and frizzy locks would be en vogue today; stylists spend considerable time crafting such looks for runway models. No, mine was a look that sent me reeling in horror from the mirror. It was my misfortune to grow up in the era of Jean Shrimpton, and I had complicated hair.

DannyThomasandMeHairstyles at the time were long, sleek and straight, like Shrimpton’s, or cropped pixie caps, like the iconic cut Vidal Sassoon created for Mia Farrow. (Both blondes, I might add.) But hope arrives in the form of a beautiful brunette named Marlo Thomas That Girl who wears her smooth, glossy hair in a flip with bangs. The fact that Marlo is Italian and Lebanese, just like me, with a father with whom I’d once been photographed, clinches the deal. That brown-haired girl will be my role model. God knows I need one. I have complicated hair.

“You have to suffer to be beautiful.”

That’s my godmother, Aunt Fannie, speaking. It’s 1968, and I’m in the seventh grade. We’re having our class pictures taken in a few days, and my parents drive me to her house to have my hair done.

Perhaps I should explain.

Aunt Fannie was a beautician. (That’s what they called hair stylists in those days.) My godfather, Uncle Bill, a gifted carpenter, turned one of their basement rooms into a salon for her. My father drove my mother over to have her hair done each week, with me in tow. With school-picture day looming, I had begged and pleaded with my parents to let Aunt Fannie cut my hair so that I would have bangs and a flip, just like That Girl.

Soon Aunt Fannie’s fingers are flying across my head, the silver scissors like a magician’s wand—snip! snip! snip! Sitting in the swivel chair, I’m turned from the mirror, unable to see my idol’s impeccable hairdo slowly emerge from my tangled Medusa mane. When she spins me around, I am stunned.

I look awful.

None of us took into account the density of my thick frizz when calibrating the outcome of my longed-for flip hairdo with bangs. With the flip flopped, I resemble a bereft Labradoodle in shock.

I don’t want you thinking that I spent my entire childhood in tears, but I have to tell you that I cried. Not a full-throated cry — just a whimper, with a steady stream running down my cheeks.

“Isn’t — isn’t there anything you can do?” I ask my godmother, sniffling. Flat irons had not yet been invented, so that was out. She thinks a moment, then brightens.

“We can straighten it!”

My father, who had been watching television in the other room, walks by just in time to hear this. “Not if I have anything to say about it!” he thunders. “She has beautiful hair.  Or she did. You never should have cut it in the first place.”

“But George, look at her,” my mother says. “She can’t go around looking like this!”

“I can’t go around looking like this, Daddy.” He should know where I stand on the matter.

The tension in the air is as thick as pomade. Aunt Fannie busies herself by rearranging her hair clip drawer while my parents exchange words. I escape upstairs to soothe my nerves with a tall glass of 7-Up. When I come back down, the charged atmosphere has calmed. I’ll never know who convinced him — my mother or Aunt Fannie — but my father backs down. Aunt Fannie is mixing the chemicals that will solve the crisis and turn me into “That Girl” for my school pictures.

“This stuff stinks!” I cry when she begins stirring the mixture near me. And when she starts combing the goop through my hair, my eyes begin to water — and not from tears, either. “It burns!”

“You have to suffer to be beautiful,” she replies, a sage in a pink smock.

7thGradeMarciI don’t remember how long I sat in that chair. It seemed like months. But finally I am directed to the shampoo bowl, where the cool spray of water soothes away the stinging, rotten-egg smell of the chemicals. Aunt Fannie washes and conditions my hair and combs it through. I am entranced. What I touch feels smooth and sleek; I’ve never experienced such a sensation before. My head looks smaller, too. It isn’t my hair anymore; it doesn’t even feel like me anymore. It’s better — new and improved, as the commercials say.

Aunt Fannie sets my hair in rollers and puts me under the dryer, where I flip through the latest movie magazines like the sophisticate I imagine myself to be. When I’m dry — cheeks red-hot from the heated air, rolled hair crisp to the touch — Aunt Fannie ushers me back to the swivel chair and begins unpinning the rollers, vigorously brushing out my strange, beautiful, uncomplicated hair.

It gleams. It shines. I’ve never seen anything like it. She sprays hairspray all over me — the air is thick with it. I sneeze and cough. But I look beautiful. I had to suffer to get there.

But look: just look at that girl!

— Marci Rich

Marci Rich blogs at The Midlife Second Wife and The Huffington Post. She won a BlogHer Voices of the Year award in 2012, the same year The Midlife Second Wife was named one of the top seven blogs for women 50-plus by The Huffington Post.

New Year’s resolutions for real people

Beth MarkleyLast New Year’s Day I resolved to commit time to writing every day for fun. A couple months later I started pushing some of that work out through my blog. It helps. I crave attention as much as I actually care to accomplish anything, and it doesn’t bother me much if I embarrass myself or my family.

Carving out a daily hour or two isn’t easy. Everybody’s day around here starts early, and in order to get my me-time, I have to get up earlier.

I’m not a morning person.

I’m also not a New Year’s resolution person. Those things are pretty much doomed by Valentine’s Day. It’s hard to decide on something every year that’s simultaneously important enough to do, but not so important I mind dooming it to the traditional resolution process.

But I’m on track to have written every weekday (and most weekends) from January on. That adds up to thousands of words, mostly crap, but some okay. Rather than losing steam, I’m more energized than ever. No more dreaming up a good subject, then forgetting it because it worms its way out of my head before I give it attention.

So, the making-actual-time-for-writing thing has become a habit, and I’m going to do the resolution-thing again this year.

Last year my resolution was about self-improvement. This year I’m going to change it up and focus outward. Here’s what I’ve decided:

I will be prompt. This may seem to be another self-improvement resolution, but it’ll make life a lot better for more than just me. With the kids a little older, able to put on their own coats and wipe their own butts (in theory), it’s doable. I don’t have to dress anyone but myself, put anyone in a car seat, pack a diaper bag, gather spare changes of clothing, snacks or bottles.

My chronic lateness is embarrassing, and actually only rarely the kids’ fault. In fact, they’re more likely to be on time if they’re not waiting on me. The handful of times anybody was tardy for school, it was on me.

It doesn’t help that I stopped wearing a watch some time ago when I read a magazine article that listed wearing a watch as a sign you’re old. Young people don’t need to wear a watch. They carry cell phones (they also shave their bikini area). So….goodbye watch, (hello razor burn). Youth before promptness (or a full bush), I always say.

I tell myself I’m tardy because I’m using every minute so efficiently I push the promptness envelope in order to get that ever elusive one-more-thing done. What can I tidy up on my way through the room? I’ll let the dog out once more before my appointment. Can I run by the bank on my way to this meeting?

Mostly, though, I’m just kind of lazy. And I don’t wear a watch.

I will call others by name. I have a terrible memory. I can never remember names until long after my cheery “hey there!” when passing someone on the street.

I’m also insecure. What if I have a brain fart and call someone Sam when his name is Seth? Will he hate me forever?

Mike has a group of friends who do “guy stuff” together. Two out of maybe 10 of them are bald. One of the bald guys is Steve. I’ve mistakenly called the wrong bald guy Steve more than once. Now they’re all just Steve. Or Richard. Richard with the goatee. They think I’m a dingbat, but I tell myself that it’s in a charming way, so it’s okay.

Calling someone by name conveys that you care enough to remember their actual moniker. I do care. I do. I’m also usually thinking about several things at once, one of which is how in the Hell I’m going to get to where I have to be on time.

I’m working through all of it.

But if I run into you on the street this winter and I call you Steve, and you’re not Steve, take comfort in knowing that Steve is probably the name of the bald guy with whom I’m late to meet.

And lend me your watch.

— Beth Markley

Beth Markley is a 40-something fundraising consultant, writer, runner, overcommitted volunteer, wife and mom to two boys who graciously allow her to poke fun of them and all things related to parenting in manicmumbling.com.

You can write!

writingcompetitionlogoCapture the essence of Erma Bombeck’s writings, and you could win $500 and a free registration to the sold-out April 10-12 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

The 2014 competition opens Jan. 6. Personal essays of 450 words may be submitted in either the humor or human interest categories until Feb. 17. The piece must be previously unpublished. The entry fee is $15, and the four winners will be announced in late March.

In 2012, 525 writers from seven countries and 48 states entered the competition, which is hosted by the Washington-Centerville Public Library in conjunction with the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

To learn more details about the competition or to read past winning entries, click here.

Write on!

ww_finalHave you always wanted to write? Do you need a nudge or a kick in the butt to start (or finish) a creative writing project?

Then check out novelist Katrina Kittle’s upcoming classes that start this month in Oakwood, Ohio.  She’ll offer guidance, inspiration, chocolate and coffee. (Not to mention really cool fellow writers who will enrich your life.) For details, click here.  Kittle taught workshops in plot and character development at the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Creative Nonfiction is seeking new work for an upcoming issue dedicated to memoir.

“We’re looking for stories that are honest, accurate, informative, intimate, and — most important — true. Whether your story is revelatory or painful, hilarious or tragic, if it’s about you and your life, we want to read it,” the editors say.

Submissions must be vivid and dramatic; they should combine a strong and compelling narrative with an informative or reflective element, and reach beyond a strictly personal experience for some universal or deeper meaning. The editors are looking for well-written prose, rich with detail and a distinctive voice; all essays must tell true stories and be factually accurate.

Creative Nonfiction editors will award $1,000 for “Best Essay” and $500 for “Runner-up.”

Essays must be previously unpublished and no longer than 4,000 words. There is a $20 reading fee (or send a reading fee of $25 to include a four-issue subscription to Creative Nonfiction — U.S. submitters only); multiple entries are welcome ($20/essay) as are entries from outside the United States. All essays will be considered for publication in a special “Memoir” issue. The deadline is May 31. For more details, click here.

For an upcoming anthology, In Fact Books seeks essays by writers with insight into the nature and experience of profound psychiatric challenges — as patients, mental health professionals, or both.

“We want well-written, true narratives about the enigmatic, creative, frustrating and triumphant moments of the recovery process and the therapeutic journey. Scientific information should be balanced by the writer’s unique perspective, and the stories should combine a strong and compelling narrative with an informative or reflective element, reaching beyond a strictly personal experience for some universal or deeper meaning,” the editors say.

Essays must be previously unpublished and no longer than 4,500 words. Multiple entries are welcome, as are entries from outside the United States. The deadline is March 1. For more details, click here.

Digging deep for laughs —
Why humor writing is good for you

bombeck1-childrensbookSMALLAny budding writer who has ever attending a creative writing seminar or course will most likely be familiar with the advice to “find your authentic voice” or “write from the heart” and although these phrases are often so overused as to sound trite, the advice is solid.

For any piece of writing to truly dazzle, it comes from that deep place the writer sometimes goes to, when it’s just you and the pen — or keyboard — and the outside world fades away. To come over all Zen like, there is no writer, only the writing.

We’ve all experienced that sense of flow sometimes when you feel like you’re writing from the very core of yourself and the words just pour out of you. For a humor writer, it’s those times when the work takes on a life of its own and the laughs come thick and fast, whether it be black humor, a scathing and witty observation or chick-lit lite. You’re funnier than you ever thought you could be.

Serious Writing

It’s a great place to be. Yet of course, striving to get there can make it all the more elusive. For a humor writer there is also a double bind — there is often a perception that humor writing is, by its very nature, not “serious writing,” which can be taken to mean, not authentic, not coming from that deep place. As Laraine Herring, writing tutor and author of Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying your Authentic Voice tells us, humorous writing can often come from the deepest source of all — our sense of inner joy, or alternatively as in the case of black humor, our deepest sorrows, be they individual or societal.

In short, humor writing can be simultaneously one of the most fun and yet one of the most serious creative pursuits of all.

Reaching Out to the Reader

There can be no better way of connecting with your readers than to make them laugh, whether that be a bitter laugh at a recognized truth, a giggle at a wry observation or a deep belly laugh at some fundamentally hilarious truth of life.

The best laughs are those that take readers by surprise because such moments are what make readers carry on reading, whether their material of choice is an online copy article, an e-zine essay, a witty novel or a dazzling piece of non-fiction. Laughter, and reading material that makes you laugh, is therapeutic.

A good laugh can make light of the darkest situations, bring people together, even strengthen the immune system and ward off illness. So don’t let anyone tell you that writing humor is anything less than a valuable vocation. At the very least, you’ve brightened up someone’s day.

Connecting with Yourself

What about humor writers themselves? How do we write from that authentic place where our observation skills are keenest, our ability to find humor in the blackest of situations the sharpest, or our wit and verve the lightest — and still be funny? Not to mention, still be happy?

Deep writing can be draining, and giving those insights and often-private thoughts to others in the shape of creative humor can be very draining. It’s no coincidence that high levels of depression can be found among history’s funniest comedians — and among our most talented writers.

To guard against this feeling of being drained — which in turn can lead to the dreaded writer’s block or, disastrously for a humor writer, leave you feeling too bleak to see the funny side of anything — Laraine Herring recommends a period of solitude and/or stillness, every day for at least half an hour. No writing, no thinking about writing, no talking about writing. No reading either. Meditation and contemplation are of course perfect but if you’re not that way inclined, then a hot bubble bath or treating yourself to a massage are other great ideas. Afterwards you’ll be refreshed and recharged, and your writing will benefit.

Creative tutor Julia Cameron, author of the phenomenally successful The Artist’s Way recommends taking yourself on regular “artist’s dates” to inspire the same feeling and even lay the seeds for future writing ideas. An artist’s date could be a trip to the theater, the circus or even a toy store; just make it fun.

Yes, that’s right. Let yourself laugh.

— Claire Parker

Claire Parker is now a freelance writer, but before she chose this precarious path, she worked as a graphic designer and artist. She divides her time between her family, her friends and her computer these days and likes to creatively juggle her workload with a good sense of humor.

It’s a good time

Judy ClarkeThree years ago, when I told husband Peter I was going to take a line dancing class, he envisioned the Radio City Rockettes and he laughed. Then he did his version of a high step-kick across the kitchen.

And I howled.

No, we are not the precision long-legged beauties you see in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But we do dance in a line, without partners, and we follow a choreographed pattern of steps … at least that’s the idea.

Our class of “seniors” has a heck of a good time. We press on; never mind that we don’t remember the steps that go with the music from one week to the next.  I look forward to Thursday afternoons.

Cass, our instructor, flits across the floor the way a reflection bounces off water.  She must have wondered if she’d ever get through to us.

“Mama Maria” was our first dance. We caught on so slowly. As simple and boring as it seems now, it took us weeks to master.  We now know the names of steps — grapevine, rocker step, jazz box, kick ball change, Charleston, cha cha, hitch —but putting them to the music without Cass’ repeat instructions?  Never happens.

The “old faithfuls” from the original bunch, Lois, Joanne, Barb, Judy R and me, have been joined by “new faithfuls,” Gini, Pat and Gay.

Lois, the stalwart,  never forgets the steps once she’s learned them, though she refuses to count much to Cass’ dismay. “I can’t count and dance,” Lois grumbles. “Which do you want me to do?”  Joanne insists she’ll never learn whatever new dance Cass trots out, but she counts determinedly, concentrates so hard her red hair sizzles, and learns the routine quickly. Barb has a loosey-goosey interpretation of the steps that works for her. Judy R is so polished and perfect when she slips into the room during her lunch hour that she looks the part, so it doesn’t matter if she misses a kick-stomp here, a cha-cha there.

Me, Judy C.? I sweat. You know the saying, “Southern girls glisten, Yankee girls sweat”?  I’m a Yankee.

Early on I caught on to the new dances more quickly than now. “I was better but I got over it,” as my dad liked to say. I had to sit out most of last year because of my crumbling knee. (See Good to go wherever). For months, all I could do was try to learn while sitting on a chair and moving my feet to “mark” the choreography: chair dancing. That helped some, but chair dancing is probably akin to learning how to pole dance without a pole. Not that I’ve ever tried it, nor would I!

Now that I’m able to dance again, my balance has gone kaflooey.  Some of the twists and turns make me feel as if I’m on a Carousel riding a horse that’s made a dash for greener pastures.

Line dancing is usually done to country music, true. But our Cass has eclectic tastes that veer to breakdancing songs, Lady GaGa, gentle waltzes and even Christmas carols. I’m not a fan of the singer who wore a costume made of raw meat, but once I got the steps to “I like it rough,” I changed my tune.

Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” is our current challenge.  Most of the group have it nailed, but the full turns make me feel like I’m in a centrifuge.  I may have to sit that one out at the Christmas performance.

Alan Jackson’s “Good Time” is my favorite.  Love the beat and that it’s used in this GE commercial.  As a former GE employee, it’s great to see that the giant, rather stodgy company I once knew introduced such a catchy commercial for … ecoimagination?  That term hadn’t even been coined when I retired 25 years ago.  Imagine that!

— Judy Clarke

Judy Clarke is a wife, mother of two daughters, grandmother to two grown grandchildren, reader, writer and blogger in southwest Virginia. Her two non-fiction books, Mother Tough Wrote the Book and That’s all she wrote, can be found on her friends’ and family’s shelves, and she’s working on a novel, But why? (That’s the title of the novel, not a question to self).

Reflections of Erma