Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Month of Letters: Addresses, Addressing

Tomorrow is the first day for The Month of Letters. Make sure to gather your addresses and put them in your address book.

If you don't have an address book, this is a good time to start one.

In the olden days, we'd write them in notebooks and place them near the "main" phone outlet.

Times change, and so do phone "books." If it's easier, include addresses in your cell phone; contact lists often have fields for mailing addresses.

E-mail contact lists also may provide fields for mailing addresses.

Be sure to include the ZIP Code, if applicable.

Finally, make sure you address envelopes or postcards properly. Visit the U.S. Postal Service website for information.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Month of Letters: Are You In?

I'm always up for a challenge, especially when it comes to writing — and this challenge is near and dear to my heart.

In February, the challenge is this: write a letter a day.  It doesn't have to be long. In fact, a postcard can do, too.

The Month of Letters encourages us to run at least one thing through the postal system every mailing day (excluding Sundays and postal holidays) in February.


Because we've gotten too cavalier about communication.

We used to call and chat with each other, often for hours. I remember talking all night to friends, my princess phone glued to my ear. (I provided myself my own line in my parents' house.) I'm sure the U.S. Postal Service lamented their demise when Ma Bell hit the wires.

However, nowadays, we don't even bother to call, let alone walk 10 feet to the office or desk next door to speak in person.  We e-mail, ostensibly to "have a record." But truly, it's easier and faster to shoot a message rather than talk to a person.

Even in that, we're short. We don't e-mail when a text will do. We don't even spell it out anymore — we abbreviate. We think it saves us time, but that's rarely the case: think about the flurry of emails you send daily on the simplest topics or tasks.  By being short, we often make life more difficult for ourselves.

So let's take the time to communicate effectively.

Try doing the following:
  • Begin with a salutation. ("Hello" always worked for me.)
  • Use entire words.
  • Spell every word properly.
  • Write the right word. 
  • Create complete sentences.
  • Practice proper grammar. 
  • When you think you're done, read the entire letters out loud. If it doesn't sound right, chances are, it's not. Fix what needs it.
  • When you're really done, sign your letter.

Apply these rules to postcards, birthday cards, everything. Put the effort into your correspondences. Communication counts.

Throughout February, from time to time I'll offer ideas, tips and tricks to make letter-writing interesting for the recipient and fun for the writer.  If you have anything to share, drop me a line or leave a comment at the end of the blog entry.

So, who will receive your first letter?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Goodbye, Ticketmaster

I'm done.

I'm done standing in line in freezing weather with the hope that technology won't fail me.

I'm done worrying if I don't pay exorbitant prices for processing fees that I won't get to see the artists I want.

I am done with thievery and usury — and difficult times.

Last week, my husband David found out Bruce Springsteen tickets were going on sale today, and we plotted our purchase strategy.  I'm a huge fan, which makes me one in a million. Or so. I have seen more than a few performers through the years, but Bruce is the only one for whom the sky is the limit when it comes to tickets.

However, I do have a limit as to how much surcharge (or "processing fee") I'll pay.  The last time I checked computer or phone purchases through Ticketmaster/Live Nation (which the federal government swears is not a monopoly), the fee was double-digit per ticket in many cases. The ticket price for "cheap seats" to see Nickelback in Utah last year were reasonable, but the processing fees would have nearly doubled the cost of each seat.

As a result, David and I try to purchase our tickets at the venues. Here in DC, the processing fee could be as little as $3 a ticket.

Springsteen tickets went on sale this morning. David and I were up before dawn to get to the venue and join the ticket lottery. At 8 a.m., those in line received a number at random. It could be 1, it could be 150. However, if you were there, you earned that place in line.  It didn't guarantee you a ticket, but your position was better than it was for those who showed up "on time."

David got number 89.

I got 148.

The box office opened at 10 a.m., and within 20 minutes, only single tickets were available. We got probably one of the last pairs of tickets, then two singles.  Minutes after that, tickets were sold out.
I can tell you why: scalpers.

One man who purchased tickets walked past the line and asked us, "So, when is the concert?" He wasn't a fan buying them for himself and a couple of friends. He was buying them for profit.

From the conversations I heard from others in line, their onslaught would begin at 9:58 a.m. with multitasking. These folks with cell phones and handheld devices were purchasing tickets however they could. I joined them myself, and after 17 minutes, I gave up.

David had a companion in line whose wife at home purchased great seats through the computer before he arrived at the ticket window. Around me, everyone had friends doing the same thing. No one at my end of the line expected to get a ticket, or at least a desirable seat. They hit send, stop, then send, over and over.

Within the hour, news reports stated that analysis of computer and telephone sales indicated that many buyers were using sophisticated equipment to purchase large volumes of tickets.  I could have told them that.

I also could have told these analysts that the system has been corrupt for years. Every "protection" set up has only hindered legitimate personal purchases, and music fans find themselves resorting to jamming Ticketmaster phone and computer line until all hope is gone — while, within minutes of a sell-out, scalpers post their booty on scalping sites (which Ticketmaster is kind enough to refer you to in case you really want to go to the show at any price).

I am done getting my toes stepped on in this dance: I am going to step aside and let others, hopefully fans, make these required herculean efforts.  I enjoy live music, but not enough to endure the pressure and inevitable disappointment as tickets sell out from under my fingers, no matter how many times I hit "redial" or "refresh."

I know I live in an affluent area with few good venues for the larger, more popular acts. I know there are more people on the planet jamming the phone lines and computer connections. (One would think the absurdly high ticket prices would warn them off — though, to be fair, Bruce and Nickelback had the most reasonable prices for a large venue I have noticed in a long time). I know times change, life goes on and the world keeps getting more expensive, impersonal and inconvenient. However, I also know I can choose, to quote George Jetson, to "get off this crazy thing," and that is precisely what I am going to do.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Going Black Against SOPA and PIPA

On Wednesday, January 18, I will join Wikipedia, Reddit and George Takei others by "going dark," or at least refrain from posting anything on the Web on my blogs.

I'll let Wikipedia do the talking:
The blackout is a protest against proposed legislation in the United States – the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate – that, if passed, would seriously damage the free and open Internet, including Wikipedia.

Click here for more information.  (Just don't try it Wednesday.)

I am suspicious of government control of information, whether it's telling me what I can access or trying to get more than they should about me without going through the channels set up to protect my constitutional rights.  

I am not keen on the PATRIOT Act.  President Obama's decision to extend it in 2011 is one of my greatest disappointments of his tenure in the White House. Our freedoms and rights are sacrosanct, and anyone who asks us to surrender them should be regarded with great suspicion.

So I'll see you on the other side.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing!

Jasper Fforde could not disappoint any of his devoted readers, not even in the bleakest of circumstances.

I wasn't in the mood for One of Our Thursdays is Missing, the latest installment of the Thursday Next series. That, of course, is when it's needed most — so I soldiered on.

I am glad I did.

As the novel opens, we find ourselves in Book World with Thursday. Well, it's Thursday, but the Written Thursday. Important distinction, and one that the Written Thursday never forgets. She's in charge of her series, keeping the characters ready for the next reader.

Characters perform only when there's a reader; otherwise, they keep their own personal lives rather busy (and, in some cases, steeped in tawdry.)  The Written Pickwick is played by a very snooty Dodo and Thursday has an understudy who, rumor has it, enacted the "snooze" button once, in a panic. (If you read this book for only one reason, you must read it to learn about Book World's snooze button.)

The Written Thursday is a very good Thursday, one who seems to be most like her Real World counterpart. That, of course, is what someone is hoping.  You see, one of our Thursdays is missing — and it's one that everyone will miss.

Only Fforde could create a reboot of Book World so amazing, so believable, that readers suddenly wonder what happens when they pick up and thumb through a tome. Who's between the lines? What does it take for us to enjoy what we read: us or them?

This is a fabulous installment — and, if you're new to the series, one that serve as a good introduction. However, after reading this one, you will want to go back and read every other book in this series. (You could save yourself the time and just start at the beginning with The Eyre Affair. This one will be waiting for you when you get back.)

But be forewarned: Fforde is a way of life. Once you go Fforde, you'll never go back.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Frighteningly Classic: The Woman in Black

Rarely have I read something as subtly frightening as The Woman in Black.

This relatively young ghost story, published in 1983 by Susan Hill, is insidious.

The book opens on Christmas Eve, as Arthur Kripps refuses to participate in the telling of scary tales with his wife and her children. He is a well-loved and good humored stepfather, but the tales push him over an edge no one, not even he, knew was there.

You see, his ghost story is true.

Arthur is a solicitor whose employer has assigned him to execute the estate of Alice Drablow, who lives in a small coastal town a day's journey from London. He leaves behind his young fiancée and expects to spend a day, maybe two, straightening out the late woman's affairs.

It begins with Mrs. Drablow's funeral, during which he sees a woman in black — someone who goes undetected by the only other person at the funeral, a fellow solicitor whose firm refuses all business from the town's wealthiest resident.  In fact, everyone in town seems very friendly — until it comes to Mrs. Drablow's business or the woman in black, then they go mum or change the subject.

Then things get weird.

This classic story is masterfully told, with suspense and fear building with every page. The ending — oh, my stars, I never saw it coming. Neither will you.

Read this book — but don't do it alone, or after dark, or when you're apt to see shadows where there are none. It's that scary. Really.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lights Out at the Bookstore in Toronto

Bookstores are alive.

If you ever had any doubt, watch this lovely video from Type Books in Toronto.

(An added bonus: perhaps finding another adventure with Mr. Pusskins!)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Poem: Drinking with Friends Amongst the Blooming Peonies

We had a drinking party to admire the peonies.
I drank cup after cup 'till I was drunk.

Then to my shame I heard the flowers whisper,

"What are we doing, blooming for these old alcoholics?"
— Ling Huchu (Tang Dynasty, 618-907)
Thanks to author Gregory Maguire for pointing me to this gem.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Peculiar, Indeed: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

The cover captured my attention.

The title, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, intrigued me. Above the title was girl in a dress reminiscent of the 1920s, wearing a tiara, possibly hovering above the dirt and stones under her feet.  Hovering? Pecuilar, indeed.

On the back of the novel were more intriguing photos of children: painted like clowns, in a bunny suit, a girl with a reflection of two girls.  Ransom Riggs had some explaining to do.

So, apparently, did Abe, Jacob’s grandfather. Jacob adored his grandfather and believed the stories behind the photos Abe showed him: a skinny boy lifting a boulder above his head, a girl holding a ball of fire, a suit of clothes standing upright without a child in it.  Abe told his grandson all about these children, who were in an orphanage with him when he was a child. Jacob believed him — until he grew old enough to wonder, and doubt.

That all changed when Jacob received a panicked call from his grandfather — a call that divided Jacob’s life into Before and After. Suddenly, that which seemed unreal and fantastic no longer was totally out of the realm of possibility, and Jacob had to find out whether he was losing his mind, or finding his true self.

Riggs creates a taut, brilliant story fraught with peril, wonder, shock, fright and tales too real to be true.  His characters are rich and complex, and they carry the story forward effortlessly. Peppered throughout the book are snapshots that describe that which sometimes defies description.  The book is awash in mystery and amazement: not everything is explained because some things defy explanation. However, some explanations in the book make perfect sense, and readers may find themselves looking at the world differently.

I enjoy books that successfully join images and language, and I can’t believe I waited so many months — and actually returned my library copy — before opening the covers of this book. Shame on me! I understand there will be a sequel, and I will be among the first at the bookstore the day it is released.  I can’t wait.