Monday, June 15, 2015

Tall Motel Beds--Form Over Function

Here's a picture of the bed in the Comfort Inn where we stayed last week in Marion, NC. There's a trend in motels now to make the beds tall--maybe to save the backs of the housekeepers, who have to make dozens of beds every day. However, I'm paying to sleep there, and even though I'm tall (5'8"), I cannot get in and out of the bed (and I need to do that 2-3 times a night). Sitting on the bed (like to put on socks) is NOT an option. I pulled the desk close to the bed for perspective. The desk is 29" tall--the bed is a couple of inches taller--so imagine trying to sit on the desk, then swing your legs up to lie down on it. I asked for a stool and all the inn could offer was a booster seat (it's on the floor by the bed). Also note the pillow--dollar bills are 6", so the pillow must be 8" or more--they look great at the head of the bed but are impossible to sleep on. I bring my pillows when I travel by car (not an option on flights).

Here's a quote from a site that popped up when I Googled standard bed height: "The average bed height today is about 25 inches. At this height, your feet can reach the floor when you're seated on the edge of the mattress."

This bed is at least 31".

One other really weird thing--there are no towel racks. Not one. The linens are stored on shelves below the bathroom counter, and there's no place to hang them when they're damp. We prefer not to get the room cleaned every day and to re-use the towels, so we've been draping them on chairs.

At breakfast Saturday there was a couple with their two children, a boy 5 and a girl 2-1/2. I asked the couple if the kids could get up on the bed. The father answered, "No, I have to lift them up every time. They get down by sliding off. Our daughter sleeps between inflated cushions that keep her from falling off, but we were concerned about our son rolling off the bed in his sleep, so we put pillows on the floor on his side."


The above was written 6-13-15; since then I've corresponded with Choice Hotels, the company that manages Comfort Inns. Their response was boiler-plate CYA, and they obviously will not deal with the tall beds. In response, I sent them this link:

Note particularly:

To improve accessibility of places of lodging, best practices include:

  • Ensure beds are of an accessible height (recommended bed height is between 20 to 23 inches from the floor to top of the mattress).
For my next out-of-town stay, I'm booked at the Hampton Inn in Brevard, NC, which also has tall beds. I don't really need a handicap room, but that's what I've booked, because it has regular height beds. Thus, if others follow my solution, there will be a dearth of handicap rooms.

As for pillows in motel rooms, again it's the motel's choice to put huge pillows on the beds--they look so nice, those fluffy pillows on those tall beds, but are impossible to sleep on. I wish the president of Choice Hotels had to sleep on one of those pillows.

That's a "before" photo of a pillow in a motel in Nashville, meaning before I operated on it and removed the excess cellulite:

That's the stuffing I removed (after carefully opening a seam on the pillow). Then I had something I could sleep on:

I of course replaced the stuffing before we left, and repaired the seam...the good night's sleep was worth the trouble.

Ah, well, I've accomplished nothing other than to get these issues off my chest. Now I go back to work, and will sleep this evening in my 25" tall bed on my 50-year-old feather pillows. Lovely.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

In de Stilla de night

Stilla, Our Odd-Eyed White

She was a flea-bitten mess when we got her from a farm in northern Orange County, NC, in 2003. Our first day with her was spent mostly at the vet. She was seven weeks old, barely weaned, and weighed all of 2 pounds. Two of the other cats in her litter--both white--were deaf. Her odd eyes--one blue, one gold--saved her hearing; in this photo she is about five:

For years when I left the house, I sang "Bye, girl. Talking 'bout bye-i-i girl." Then upon returning home, I sang walking up the ramp to the back porch, "Hi, girl. Talking 'bout hi-i-i girl." Opened the door, and there she was. Whether she knew the difference in the "Bye" and the "Hi," singing to her gave me enough pleasure to justify it.

We killed her yesterday. Had her put down. Put her to sleep. Euthanized her. Committed pet-icide. Watched while a kind veterinarian gave her a lethal dose via a needle inserted into the only vein they could find. Saw her eyes glaze over as I sang her away, cheek to cheek, "Bye, girl..." This time it was she who was leaving.

She had a lovely bed. 

But any open bag was an invitation she accepted over and over.

I used to teach a writing class on Tuesday evenings; one of my students had allergies. About half an hour before class, I'd start trying to get Stilla into the laundry room (where her litter box and food awaited her). She'd run wherever I wasn't. From the kitchen into the hallway. Then as I got to the hallway, back to the kitchen, then the living room. I'm chasing her all the while, calling, "Stilla, damnation, it's Tuesday." Eventually I got Jean-Michel to help me catch her, then deposit her in her room. One Tuesday evening we're about to go through this ritual, frustrating for all involved, and as soon as I say, "Stilla, it's Tuesday," she sedately turns and walks into the laundry room. From then on, no matter what day of the week it was, if we needed her to be shut off in the laundry room I'd call out, "Stilla, it's Tuesday!" then watch her run into the laundry room. No chase. In her own inimitable way, she won.

In the fall of 2014 we were gone for five weeks. Our cat sitter visited Stilla regularly, kept her litter box clean, played with her, etc., so she wasn't abandoned. But upon our return, she stayed by my side for several days. This photo shows her at my elbow as I worked, and her naps on my desk gave me a good excuse not to deal with the stacks of mail that had accumulated in my absence.

And for about a week after our homecoming she slept with me at night (unprecedented)--in this photo I'm reading while scratching her belly; she fell asleep and stayed there until my hand went to sleep, too, and I had to disturb her.

For several years we had a portable humidifier in our living room, a water tank on wheels, maybe two feet square. After some trial and error, Stilla discovered that if she ran and jumped onto it, she could ride it for several feet across the floor. Jean-Michel didn't believe me when I first told him about this game, but one morning at breakfast he got to witness our cat turning our humidifier into a carny ride. (Never got a photo of it...)

Her most steadfast post was in the window of our laundry room, where we'd installed a board above the dryer for her to sleep in the sun. I wish I had a better photo, but am glad I at least have this one.

The thing I admired most about our odd and odd-eyed Stilla was that everything she ever did was on her own terms.

'Bye, girl. Talking 'bout bye-i-i girl.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Everyone's a Critic

Recently on Facebook I stated my opinion of a famous writer's most recent novels (a big thumb's down from me, after years of respect for his oeuvre). Several other members of the group followed up on my comment, agreeing with me. Last night I woke with an overwhelming need...went to the computer, found my post on Facebook, and deleted it. Went right back to twinge of conscience about having started a discussion and ducking out. This morning as I worked on my latest post here (Making Myself Up), I kept remembering my need to delete the Facebook comment...why?

The Internet has spawned a horde of critics. There are whole sites devoted to nothing other than opinions: books (novels especially), poetry, art, anything creative--as well as appliances, rugs, furniture, hardware, software--you name it, there's a site that will criticize it. Many of those sites track the numbers, giving a choice of, say, five stars for the best and one or no stars for the worst, then an "average" that can make or break whatever is being criticized.

I've tried not to follow the critiques of my novel on numerous sites:,,, etc., and discussions on several groups on,, and various such groups. But I do it...I go in and look at the numbers, then at individual comments. And I sweat blood over the negative criticisms.

This is not a plea for kind reviews, rather a statement about those who are--say--fans of the mystery genre, or of romance, or science fiction...they are highly qualified to post reviews in their genre. But what about a fan of literary fiction criticizing mystery or romance or SF because--in that reviewer's opinion--the work isn't literary enough?

I'm just saying: if you're a fan of illustrated short stories, don't review my novel. I'll return the favor.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Nothin' Ain't Worth Nothin' But It's Free*

I've seen a lot of Facebook posts about "women get it free"--then there's usually a URL that takes us to a site that promises all sorts of free goodies. All one has to do is sign up. I must reiterate what I've suspected for many years: beware of "free" offers--anything free is worth what you pay for it. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the user agreement at worldwide web dot get it free dot us:

" generally provide: your name, mobile phone number, zip code, e-mail address, postal address, date of birth, gender, user name, password and other registration information; (b) transaction-related information, such as when you make purchases, respond to any offers, or download or use applications from us; (c) information you provide us when you contact us; (d) credit card information for purchase and use of the Site; (e) information you enter into our system when using the Site, such as contact information which is clearly labeled at the time you submit it; and (f) information you post on our Site." (PLEASE note two things: "mobile phone number"--which renders your cell phone available to marketing calls; "credit card information for purchase and use of the Site"--Yikes.)

They then explain how your personal information is used: "We do this by transferring, licensing, and/or sharing your personal information with Our Companies and hope you will be interested in the marketing materials and/or promotions with which you are presented. Our Companies also transfer, and/or share your personal information with unaffiliated list brokers, affiliate marketers, and/or companies that want to advertise other products and/or services. Once a third-party obtains your personal information, its subsequent use is controlled by the business practices of the third party, which is beyond our control."

Is it free? Or are we being persuaded by the idea of getting something for nothing, especially when those "somethings" are products that have been pushed at women for decades--makeup (myriad ways to make us look "better, more desirable"--whitening toothpaste, anti-aging cream, lipstick, "intimate lubricant" (pink, of course); soap (laundry & bath products); chocolates and "get in shape" CDs; baby products; craft books & supplies, etc. All offers end with an exclamation point.

I'm done. This is my warm-up writing for the day.
*Title is from "Me and Bobby McGee" by Kris Kristofferson.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ray of Light

I'm slowly going through my correspondence with Ray, my friend of 26 years, upon his death on October 20, 2012. On his Death Certificate the cause should be: "His body couldn't keep up with his spirit."

Age in years, 67. Age in wisdom, infinite. Here's a letter he wrote about writers' block or being in a fallow place (as my teacher calls it). This is the letter he wrote, with one sentence deleted because it was too personal:

   My impulse is to try and fix your reality for you. And, of course, I know better.  (Pretend I did not suggest the following.)
   Sit down and write about not wanting to sit down and write. Write about not knowing why you don’t feel like writing.  Write about not knowing why or what it is that’s the problem.  Write about not wanting to know. Write about not caring. Write about not writing about not writing about not writing about not writing.
   Pretend that you’re going to throw it away.  And so, write about what you do not want to write about.  No one has to know.  Decide to write poorly.  Choose to write inefficiently.  Lead with your chin. Botch it. Fuck it up purposefully.  Wallow in it.
   Misspell words.  End sentences with prepositions.  Dangle infinitives.
   Write about the child, sitting there refusing to participate. Hold your breath until you get your way.  Lay on the floor, kicking and screaming.  Be ugly and vituperous [sic—vituperative].  Tell God to eat a lump.
   Trick yourself.  Write letters.  Write as if you were hiding in letter writing.  Write about this powerful broad who rocks with intelligence and a capacity for caring, and is merely eaten up with low self-esteem, wasting away there, ego-tripping.  Banality itself.
   Write about not wanting to write about not wanting to write, and about why you don’t want to write about that.  Or throw that out and start a good science fiction story with lots of sex in it.  Wherever the bouga-bouga is hiding—whatever is taboo—wherever is the darkest shadow, write about that.  Fill it with light.  Radiate light into the darkness of your angst.  See the situation being illumined with the light of your very resistance to seeing your way to the solution.  See the resistance as the right course of action.  See the light increasing to the level of functional blindness.  The whole planet of beings, surrounded with so many suns they are all blinded by the light, and having to develop sense organs within their skin to compensate for being blinded by the light; beings who are intuiting through their skin, who feel beyond the wall of light and sense the entire universe, past, present, future.  Be the earthling receiving their signal.  What are they saying to earth?  And who are you to be receiving these intergalactic images?  What drama does that set up?
   Have a set back.
   Imagine someone taking advantage of you, and then kick their ass from here to Botswana.  (Write about the carnage of it all—the trail of blood and guts, bone and hair, snot and piss stains…)
   Write about two or three pages an hour.
   Don’t write.
[Signed] An early Happy Birthday!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Making Myself Up

A couple of weeks ago I shared time in the car with a friend who is also a writer and has a tremendous influence on my own writing. We were going to a fancy-dress event, and I'd taken great pains choosing what I would wear, tending to my hair, jewelry, and makeup. When I picked up my friend, I noticed how nice she looked, and for the first time in the 25 years of our friendship also noticed she had on no makeup. My skills at observation aren't bad...I love to write about details, and I tell my writing students to use details to further plot, setting, character, often citing Chekhov's gun: "If there's a gun in act one, it must go off by act three." Or some variation on that notion. I pride myself on my powers of observing and remembering details. So how is it that I'd never noticed that my friend doesn't wear makeup?

She and I are the same age, so it's not as if a youthful countenance makes it unnecessary for her to paint her face. Her skin is lovely, but not flawless. She uses her best feature to her advantage: a full head of curly black hair that she keeps dark, but allowing the gray at her temples to remain untouched. That evening I asked her if she'd ever worn makeup, and she said, "Oh, I experimented with it in college, but it always made me feel clownish, so I never used it again."

Lately, in addition to having new thoughts about makeup, I'm questioning pocketbooks (I will get to the point of this blog in a minute or ten, I promise). An acupuncturist who's been seeing me for shoulder pain has recommended that I rethink carrying a go-to purse is a Baggalini, designed by flight attendants for ergonomics and efficiency. I carry it backpack style, one strap over each shoulder. It's filled with what's always felt requisite: in two outer zippered compartments are a calendar, a notepad (for random creative thoughts), a comb, a bib (don't ask) and a handkerchief; inside are 10-12 credit-card thingees (eg, three credit cards, my AAA card, my social security card, my library card, etc.), a change purse, checks (to keep from having to carry a checkbook), my cell phone, business cards in a fabric case, 3 pens, a small tube of hand lotion, a cloth for cleaning my glasses, folding money, bookmarks to advertise my novel, and my makeup bag (zipper closure, about 4x4", crammed full).

How do men do it? How do they survive without pocketbooks? For one thing, they don't carry as much as women do, and for another, they have pockets (many years ago I stopped buying slacks without pockets, but even still, my pants only have two, not the four that men count on, and I seldom have a pocket in my blouses). And for a third and most important thing, most men don't wear makeup (I know a couple of them who do, but I won't go there).

Back to my friend who wears no makeup...she carries a huge pocketbook that is almost always crammed full, so it's not true that giving up makeup will free me of pocketbooks.

TWO WEEKS LATER: For at least two weeks now I've gone without makeup, with one exception--a reading last the car I put on makeup without even thinking about it. When I realized what I was doing, it was too late, and I shrugged off my feelings of having in some way let myself down. My title for this post came to me in several variations: "Making Myself Up" and "Making Up Myself" and "Making Up" and "Pretending." I'm keeping the first one, because it most conveys what's behind this ramble...when I cover my skin with concealer (aptly chosen Mad-Ave term), when I define my brows, thicken my lashes, add blush to my cheeks and color to my lips, I've made up someone I am not.

For now, I'm facing the world with what assets I have: good skin, clear blue eyes, hair that behaves most of the time. There's something honest about not enhancing myself, and I plan to continue this experiment until I have a definite take on how I want to live from now on (with or without my concealers).

I have a new Baggalini--a hip bag, no weight on my shoulders. Most important of all, it's too small for makeup.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Back to High School

Last week in Clinton, NY, I returned to high school. First in two senior creative writing classes taught by the phenomenal Deb Hepburn, Clinton High School. Her energy and enthusiasm are amazing. I don't know how old she is, but I think she's close to a contemporary of mine, and I'm 71. I'm tall-ish (5'9") and she's short-ish (I'm guessing 5' even); I'm bountiful and she's trim...physical polar opposites, but meeting her was like meeting an old friend. If I could be a high school teacher, she'd be my model. When she welcomes a visitor to her class, she rings gongs, over and over. I never saw her sitting down, and when she walks, she bounces. She introduced me to the kids and stepped back, letting me take over. The only time she spoke up was on the one or two occasions when no one was coming up with a question for me...she prompted her students and they responded immediately to that. When I appeared at Barnes & Noble the next day, she bought 21 of my books because she wanted to give them to her students. I'm still stunned by her generosity and dedication. She wants to teach until she drops!

My second experience with high school students was having dinner with the ABC Scholars of Clinton and the Mohawk young men: two freshmen, one sophomore, two juniors, and two seniors; four are from New York City, one from New Jersey, one from Connecticut, and one from Massachusetts. Their newsletter says: "Since its inception in 1972, A Better Chance of Clinton & the Mohawk Valley has graduated more than ninety young men from Clinton High School. They have continued their education at colleges such as Clarkson University, Cornell University, Columbia, Fordham, Gettysburg, Hamilton, Ithaca, Macalester, MIT, Princeton, Rollins, Siena, St. Lawrence University, University of Rochester, and Union." The boys are welcomed into the community and assisted by students from Hamilton College. I had such a great time with them. Had one humorous exchange as a result of a generation gap: A young man introduced himself, "Hi, I'm O'Neal." Simultaneously we spoke...he said, "Like Shaquille" as I said, "Like Eugene." I know who Shaq is, but had to laugh when he said, of Eugene, "Who?" So a conversation ensued in which I explained about my love of O'Neill's plays.

Then, over the weekend after I returned to North Carolina, I went to Banner Elk for a reunion with a senior high group I was adviser to at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charlotte from 1977 to 1979. Those “kids” are now in their late 40s and early 50s...what a remarkable experience.
And yesterday I went to a senior honors English class, via Skype, at Charleston High School in Charleston, IL, with another fine teacher, Dawn Drake. I met her when she put a review of my book on youtube...another example of the internet bringing people together. The 40 minutes of Skype in her classroom sped by. The students had read the first four chapters of my book and their questions were great.

Bottom line is this. After my experiences in Clinton, NY, Banner Elk, NC, and Charleston, IL, I want more time with high school students! And would love it if I could follow up with them 30 or 40 years later…of course, given my current age, that’s not going to happen. But I never again want to deprive myself of their curiosity, their vitality, their thoughts and ideas. They live in a world of the future that I can never inhabit, as Kahlil Gibran notes in the poem, “Children,” in THE PROPHET:
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, "Speak to us of Children."
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.