Minimalist Living: How to Start Today

messIf you’ve ever thought about chucking it all in and selling most of what you own, then you might be ready for a Minimalist lifestyle. But it’s more than less is more, and decluttering. Living a minimalist life allows you simple freedoms that you can’t have when you are drowning in possessions.

When I left Europe two years ago I worried that I would have trouble maintaining the lifestyle I had become accustom to in Prague. In my seven years there I didn’t buy any furniture, television, phone, car or major appliance. I never wanted for anything. I had hand-me-down furniture, and it suited me just fine. Minimalism isn’t really about stark, empty rooms with hardly anything to sit on. It’s more about removing from your life anything that is unnecessary or distracting. Finding alternatives to spending. It is about getting rid of excess and living with only essentials. *Essentials will vary from person to person.

I find television excessive. And expensive. So I choose not to own one. And I would never, ever have more than one. I’ve been in homes (mostly stateside) where I have seen multiple televisions. One in the living-room. One in the bedroom. One in the kitchen? Aside from the abundance of televisions, I found a desktop computer with an oversized monitor which the kids seemed to use as yet another source of televised entertainment. While some of you may think I’m old-fashioned, let me explain a few things. When you don’t own a television (or a car or a house or…) you are not only saving money on the purchase price of the item, but also on its upkeep. I don’t pay cable bills. I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t pay for gas or car maintenance. Living a Minimalist lifestyle allows me to be mindful about what I own, what I buy, and how I spend my time and money. Basically it boils down to this – My life is about experiences, not possessions.

Minimalism hasn’t really caught on here in the US, and I’m not surprised. After 9/11 our (then) President (the glorious Mr. Bush) chose not to mobilize the country or summon his fellow citizens to economic sacrifice, but rather he told us to … go shopping. Spend money. That’ll help! And we (as a country) did. And we still are. Americans seem to think it is their solemn duty to spend money on shit they don’t really need. It’s difficult to live a minimalist lifestyle in a country that doesn’t support it. But it is possible. You’ll have more time, more money, and more joy. How is that a bad thing?

  • What you need to do: Mentally prepare. This is a commitment. It doesn’t do you any good to get rid of things and then replace them with new versions a few months down the road. The idea is to take stock of your life. Go room by room and make a decision for each thing you own. Not only will you realize exactly how much “stuff” you have, you’ll realize how much time, money and energy each item requires of you.

    It won’t happen over night. It will take time, and it should take time.You’ll want to say goodbye to those ugly plates Aunt Grandma left you, and the hand me down bed your Uncle built that’s so short your feet hang off. Getting rid of things that hold sentimental value is difficult until you realize you can remember people, places and the good times without the tangible evidence. It’s kind of hard to live in the present when you are surrounded of memories from the past.

  • First step: Put a box in every room. When you come across something you haven’t used in the last six months (seasonal clothing not included) or ever, toss it in the box. Think with your brain, not with your heart. I always ask myself three questions: Do I need this? Is it usable, in good shape? When is the last time I used this? If my answers to these questions come up wanting, I toss it. No matter what it is.

    toomuchstuffIt can be overwhelming at first since, let’s face it, we like our “stuff”. But when you begin to look at your stuff not as stock-plied treasure, but in terms of time, energy and money, it becomes much easier to let go. That big house you have full of things takes time, money and energy to keep clean and maintained. Why not make it easier for yourself? Look at an item and think about how many hours you had to work, or will have to work, to pay for it. Every piece you own is a chance to regain time and/or money if you sell it or give it away. Once you’re ready to start purging, you’ll feel truly liberated.

  • Dig in: Now that you’ve thrown a few things in the box its time to step it up. Is there a closet you are afraid to open because the contents might fall out and suffocate you? How about that junk drawer that lives up to its name? Pinpoint these areas and deal with them first. No use putting it off. The time is now. Once these dragons have been slain, you’ll feel momentum to move forward. Nice clothes, household items are great choices for eBay… I hear. I don’t have the time or patience for that so I just give my things away. Yard sales are another great idea. It’s absolutely incredible the things folks will buy at a yard sale. Half a tube of toothpaste for .50? You got it!

    If this seems too scary, then start small. Keep those boxes for six months and then give them away. Another trick is to set a timer for fifteen minutes, and de-clutter until it goes off. Get rid of the easy things first, like your notebooks from Chem class… in high School. Ugly gifts you’ve received and kept “to be nice”. List those TV’s on Craigslist and sell that juicer you bought but never used. Having intent isn’t the same as doing.

  • Save for later: Once you’ve started to de-clutter, you’ll get to start on the fun part: Thinking about what to do with all of that free space, time, and money. I read of one couple that was able to pay off their home in less than seven years, and quit their days jobs in order to pursue writing full-time – all thanks to a Minimalist lifestyle. My fella and I have been able to travel across America thanks to a Minimalist lifestyle. When you don’t fritter money away on junk, you have more to put toward the essentials — and experiences.

    canuimaginedouglasfriedmanYou’ll also want to be smart about your future purchases. Let impulse buys be a thing of the past. You are better than that. Stop shopping at huge warehouse stores. Nobody needs that much of anything all at once. Shopping shouldn’t be something you do for fun or entertainment. It isn’t something “to do” like go to the movies. It is something you do when you actually need something.  Shop for multi-purpose, utility items. If you need to, inventory your home before you go to a store. Knowing that you have six black shirts at home will hopefully stop you from buying a seventh.

  • Remember it is an ongoing process: It’s not a one time purge. This is a commitment. The awesome rewards of this lifestyle only come to fruition if you stick with it. That means de-cluttering is an ongoing process. I have a one in, one out rule. For each new thing I bring in, one old thing has to go. That way I keep my personal mass of stuff to a minimum. I take books to a little sharing library. I give clothes to Goodwill.

    I’ve been doing this for two years in America and I’m super comfortable with it. Looking around my flat you’ll see dozens of books in stacks on the floor. And that’s about it. Everything else is either to sleep on, wear, or cook with. No excess. And it feels great. We live in a smaller flat than ever before and we are pretty happy. Downsizing isn’t easy, but having less space to put things definitely keeps you from buying things. And the things we do have actually matter. Each and every thing.

  • You are not your neighbor. Everyone knows that playing “Keeping Up With the Joneses” is a losing battle. But that never stopped anyone from comparing themselves to their cool friend or neighbor. Try to avoid doing this. It doesn’t help, and chances are the person you are comparing yourself with has different goals and values than you do. Make yourself happy and you win. If your friend just brought home a new flat screen TV, a new pair of shoes, and a patio set – don’t feel jealous or lacking. That’s a lot of cash to drop on non-necessery items. Use that money for a trip, or move someplace new. Or save it. Purchase art supplies or interesting ingredients to cook with. Try to infuse your daily life with your passions and hobbies and spend your money there.

    If your passion or hobby is shopping, then you’ve got bigger problems than clutter.

Books: What Book Should I Read?

Dougs-booksI often have strangers ask me for a book recommendation. They walk right up to me and say something like, “Can you tell me what book to buy? Because, I have trouble thinking for myself so I figured I’d ask you. You work in a bookstore.” Where that might be a good idea in theory, it isn’t a good way to find a book. For starters, you might end up asking the bookseller who is super into dry historical non-fiction, or worse YA fiction. You’ll get talked into reading a book about a seventeen year old girl in love with outter-space vampires who are dying of cancer. Which kind of sounds awesome now that I think about it… But how are we supposed to know what you like? You might as well ask me to pick out a gift for your wife and kids.

You should be able to give the bookseller something to work with. Tell them the last book you really liked, or an author you love. Tell them what themes you are interested in and if you are open to non-fiction. Do a little research before asking someone to choose for you. If you can’t be bothered to do even that, here are a few books that you definitely should read.

  • You should read the book that you hear two booksellers arguing about while in the bookstore. Whatever it is, it was good enough to garner debate.
  • You should read the book that you see someone reading on the bus, trying to hide that they’re laughing. Or crying. Or both.
  • You should read the book you find at a yard sale with the inscription which says, “Happy Birthday! I hope this book has brought you as much joy as it has brought me. Love Grandma Jolene. 1949″
  • You should read the book that you find in the airplane seat pocket, on a park bench, on the bus, at a restaurant, or in a hotel room, or in a Book Sharing Library. Free books are the best, especially when they are found books.
  • BeFunky_Zarsthors_Bane_1983_95491-X.jpgYou should read the book that you find on the library’s free cart with the best or most outrageous cover. I found a copy of Zarsthor’s Bane (1978) and couldn’t believe no one had snatched it up before me. Just look at that cover! PS – It has illustrations inside, and cats. Lots of cats.
  • You should read the book that everyone claims to have read, but hasn’t.
  • You should read the book you avoided reading in High School because you thought it looked boring.
  • You should read your favorite book from when your were in high school. Reading it as an adult will be a whole new experience.
  • You should read the book about a place or time that makes you uneasy. Broaden your horizons.
  • You should read prize-winners, bestsellers, beach reads, book club picks, and classics, when you feel like it. Mix it up!
  • 1959452_10152154561902496_1939943964569190439_nYou should read the book that is the polar opposite of the book you just finished.
  • You should read a book by a man if you just finished a book by a woman. (Or Vice Versa)
  • You should read the book that your favorite author says is her favorite book.
  • You should read the book that Jon Stewart can’t stop talking about.
  • You should read the book that your girlfriend just finished so you can talk about it with her. Chicks dig that.
  • You should read the book that your dad, teacher, friend or bookseller offhandedly says, “…which was a great book by the way…”
  • You should read the book before you see the movie.
  • You should read the book on the Staff Recommendations display of your local indie bookstore. The one with the funny blurb, not the one exuding exultations.
  • You should read the book about your city and its history that was written by someone who grew up there.
  • You should read the book set in the place you are about to travel to.
  • tumblr_lqswn2tC5r1qd9gmoYou should read a book from a genre you don’t normally read. Try a mystery or a science fiction novel if you normally go for literary fiction. You might be surprised!
  • You should read the book that your boyfriend says is his favorite.
  • You should read the book with characters you might not like.
  • You should read the book you’ve started a few times and keep meaning to finish.
  • You should read books about places you have lived or traveled to. See if your perceptions and memories match up.
  • You should read books about historical events you don’t know anything about.
  • You should read books about things you already know a little about and learn more.
  • You should read the book with an adorable kitten on the cover.
  • You should read the book you’ve never heard of before.
  • You should read the book that everyone is talking about. After they’ve stopped talking about it.
  • You should read books mentioned in other books.
  • You should read the book you feel drawn to.
  • You should read the book you feel like reading.
  • You should just read.

The 20 Coolest Authors. Ever.

Truman CapoteEverybody has their idea of what cool is. It’s a vibe. A feeling you get from someone. Being cool requires one to have a rebellious attitude, be an underdog, or one of societies outliers. Think bikers, but bikers from the 1950’s, not bikers from today. Today’s biker seems violent and rude rather than cool. But you get the idea. Fonzie was cool. Jim Morrison was cool. Wanda Jackson and Peggy Lee were cool. Kermit the Frog is cool. Einstein was cool.

James Blunt is not cool. Kim Kardashian is not cool. Either is Morrissey or Kanye West. David Foster Wallace was not cool. Brent Easton Ellis isn’t either. Writing a “cool” book isn’t what makes you cool. Having the most Twitter followers doesn’t matter either. It’s how you live your life. And obviously how much you like cats.

What follows is a list of who I think are the 20 coolest authors. Ever. I have intentionally listed 10 dudes and 10 ladies because I’m tired of reading lists about literature that do not equally include women. And yes, I am aware that there are more than just twenty super cool authors, and maybe I didn’t pick yours, but these lists take time and effort to create, so I kept the number reasonable. Fee free to add your picks in the comments. Politely.

  1. Truman Capote – Because he gave zero shits about what people thought. He said what he wanted. Wrote what he wanted. Because In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Because he liked cats pre internet. Cool Quote: “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”
  2. 50459320Margaret Atwood - Because The Hand Maid’s Tale and Alias Grace. Because she went toe to toe with Norman Mailer on gender issues and came out on top. He said that men were intellectuals first, writers or poets second. Women were not. Atwood pointed out, in a speech, that she had herself attended Harvard, and therefore had “a smear of intellectualism.” Cool quote: “Another belief of mine; that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.”
  3. Maurice Sendak - Because Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen. Because In the Night Kitchen was BANNED in America on account of the little boy in the book is naked and therefore inappropriate for children. ‘Merica! Because he was on The Colbert Report right before he died spreading the message for LGBT equality. Cool quote: “Fuck them is what I say. I hate those e-books. They cannot be the future. They may well be. I will be dead. I won’t give a shit.”
  4. Joyce Carol Oates – Because she has published over fifty novels exploring themes of gender, violence, race, monsters, and the darker elements of being alive and human. Because she’s been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize three times. Because she writes horror that will keep you sleepless. And because she kind of looks like Shelley Duval and Olive Oyl. Cool quote: “Homo sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that symbols are inventions.”
  5. ahem2Ernest Hemingway – Because Ernest once took a urinal from his favourite bar and moved it into his own home, arguing that he had “pissed away” so much of his money into the urinal that he owned it. Because he won the Nobel Prize in literature. Because he once caught seven Marlin in one day. Because he loved cats. Cool quote: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
  6. Mary Shelley – Because Frankenstein. Because she hung out with Lord Byron and had picnics with him. Because she wrote the seminal gothic novel. Cool quote: “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”
  7. Tom Robbins – Because he has lived an outlaw life. Because he met Charles Manson and told him he wasn’t up to snuff. Because Still Life with Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. Because he was suspected of being the Unibomber. Cool quote: “Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.”
  8. Patti Smith - Because she’s as good on stage as she is on the page. Because she lived for many years at the epicenter of cool, the Hotel Chelsea in New York City. Because Horses. Because her nickname is “The Godmother of Punk.” Because she co-wrote a play with actor, playwright, and my fantasy Granddad, Sam Shepard. Cool quote: “To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It’s freedom.”
  9. haruki murakami and kittenHaruki Murakami – Because he is 65 and he is a dedicated marathon running Iron Man. Because he loves cats. Because he writes food and music better than anyone else. Because he refuses to write blurbs for the back of novels. Because 1Q84, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and Kafka on the Shore. Cool quote: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
  10. Agatha Christie – Because she was “Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds pretty badass. Because she created the best detective ever, Hercule Poirot. Because she wrote over sixty mysteries and they are all fun. Cool quote: “Any woman can fool a man if she wants to and if he’s in love with her.”
  11. Roald Dahl – Because The BFG. That’s why. Because he didn’t pander to children. Because he wrote dark, funny books which may or may not have a happy ending. Because when I met him as a kid, he was indeed the Big, Friendly Giant. Cool quote: “So, please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookcase on the wall.” 
  12. Zadie Smith - Because she changed her name (as a teen) from Sadie to Zadie because it sounded more exotic, and Sadie means Princess - she didn’t like the association. Because On Beauty. Because she was in TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005 list. Not bad. Because she wears cool turbans. Because she is rumored to be working on a musical of Franz Kafka’s life. Cool quote: “An English Lit degree trains you to be a useless member of the modern world.”
  13. Stephen KingStephen King - Because more of his books have been adapted into films than any other author, so sayeth Guinness Book of Records. Because Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Lisey’s Story and On Writing. Because he survived a near fatal car accident and kept going. Because he writes NY Times book reviews. Because he was in a band called Rock Bottom Remainders with Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Matt Groening, and Scott Turow. Cool quote: “Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.”
  14. Octavia E. Butler - Because she was the multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards – the highest praise for science fiction writers. Because she was born and raised in Pasadena, California… just like other cool women like me and Julia Child. Because she attended my alma mater, Pasadena City College for her AA, and eventually moved to Seattle. Because she called herself a hermit, and because I met her and she was awesome. Because Parable of the Sower and Kindred. Cool quote: “Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”
  15. John Waters – Duh. He is the epitome of cool. Cool quote: “You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.”
  16. George Elliot - Because she was a badass feminist in Victorian times. Because, like the Brontë sisters, Mary Ann Evans created a pen name so the sexist assholes of the times would take her seriously. Because Middlemarch. Because she had a twenty year-long relationship with a married man. Because she wrote what many say is the greatest novel in the english language. Cool quote: “You may try, but you cannot imagine what it is to have a man’s force of genius in you, and to suffer the slavery of being a girl.” 
  17. 251550_523966377619405_374295507_nMark Twain - Because he was a riverboat pilot. Because his BFF was Nikola Tesla. Because A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Because he loved cats, and played pool with them. Because the awesome Hal Holbrook did a one man show AS him. Cool quote: “One cannot have everything the way he would like it. A man has no business to be depressed by a disappointment, anyway; he ought to make up his mind to get even.”
  18. Ursula K. Le Guin - Because her first name is Ursula. Because she is considered to be the best science fiction writer alive. Because The Dispossessed.Because her books tackle complex subject such as alternative worlds, politics, natural environment, gender, religion, sexuality and ethnography. Because she submitted her first story for publication at age 11. Cool quote: “I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.”
  19. Alexandre Dumas – Because he wrote about the most badass dudes ever, namely The Three Musketeers, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Because he was a world traveler and a ladies man said to have fathered at least seven children from some forty affairs. Because he was a well liked dude of his times described as, “the most generous, large-hearted being in the world. He also was the most delightfully amusing and egotistical creature on the face of the earth. His tongue was like a windmill – once set in motion, you never knew when he would stop, especially if the theme was himself.” Cool quote: “Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures.”
  20. Susan Sontag - Because her nickname was “The Dark Lady”. Because she was admitted to college at age 16, and married her professor two weeks after meeting him. Because her book On Photography (1977) did not contain a single photograph – as specimen or illustration. Favorite quote: “I don’t like America enough to want to live anywhere else except Manhattan. And what I like about Manhattan is that it’s full of foreigners. The America I live in is the America of the cities. The rest is just drive-through.”

Travel: Troll Hunting in Seattle

BeFunky_IMG_2532.jpgYesterday my sweetie and I went troll hunting. We had heard of a rather large troll who lived under the George Washington Bridge, so we put on our walking shoes and set forth on an adventure. We walked from our little pad in Capitol Hill to the Fremont district of Seattle. We walked something close to four miles. It felt good to get out and walk the city. Something we were never able (or willing) to do in “Holy Shit It’s Hot Here!” Austin. We walked through Downtown, through the Marina and alongside Lake Union. It was beautiful, hot, and peaceful.

We walked through Lake Union Park and saw the Museum of Industry (Currently having a CHOCOLATE EXHIBITION! I will have to go back for that) and we saw The Center for Wooden Boats. The park was big and surprisingly not crowded for such a beautiful day. I guess that is the bonus of having weekdays as my days off. No crowds at the park, movies, or anywhere else. SN859028You can rent small-scale wooden boats and sail them in a pool, or you can just chill out on the docks and watch as seaplanes take off and land. Across the marina we had great views of Gasworks Park, the Space Needle, and beautiful Mt. Rainer. We cruised past  adorable houseboats and quickly decided we needed to live on one.

We walked alongside the water for a while and then began trekking uphill. Or shall I say, hills. Seattle is full of secret stairways and hills to climb. You don’t even need to leave the city. There are so many different stairs hidden around that you might need a book to find them all. And there is one! I’ve looked through the book at work, but it wasn’t until I actually saw all of the hidden stairways that I understood the need. Locals, check out the webpage. The climbs were a little tough but worth it. The views are incredible. From the top of the hill (where the Fremont Troll resides) you can see all the way to the water. SN859021As we descended the hill we walked under the bridge and caught Mt. Rainer looming behind the city. It was an awesome sight. We were also treated to a lift bridge right as it began to lift. As we waited for the bridge to come back, we looked out over the water as we listened to P Funk blasting from the dude on a bike next to us. Doesn’t get better than that.

The troll itself is an art installation that was funded by a city grant in 1989. It was the winning design in a contest for the use of the space. He is made from made from rebar, steel, wire and two tons of messy ferro-concrete. The Troll  took about seven weeks to complete, and was made by four local artists. He guards the bridge from any straying goats or cars that happen along. He is clutching a red VW Beetle. Drivers beware. The Troll is an interactive sculpture. Visitors are encouraged to climb onto his bony fingers, pose picking his gigantic nose, or poke at his one good eye with a stick. He measures 18 feet, and weighs 13,000 pounds. He’s a big boy.

SN859006We also happened past another strange Seattle sculpture called Waiting for the Interurban. It’s a group of six figures waiting for the next bus. They are all cast aluminum (including the dog) and are subject to constant humiliation and costume changes. Which is great since this type of public art is so self-aware that it almost asks for it. Built in 1979, it has become part of the Fremont art scene, and a tourist destination. It is always decorated for a birthday or wedding, or in festive attire for any upcoming or just past holiday. When we saw it yesterday, they were all wearing creepy masks and holding a sign that said, “Happy Birthday, Baby”. I’m glad it isn’t my birthday. I’d have to lock the doors and keep a knife under my bed.

10347709_10152239223207496_2720645507684949035_nWe had a hamburger and then a frozen custard from Old School (so yummy!) before going home. We walked up some more stairs and caught the bus back to our neck of the woods. It was a great day. It made me happy that I decided to move here. It’s easy to get stuck in routine or forget that there is adventure just outside your door. All you have to do is be brave enough to find it. By the time we got home we had a little sunburn and we had seen: One troll, three billy goats gruff, a gnome holding a sausage, a flock of geese bigger than I had ever seen, and Brazilians crying on the tele.

It was a good day.

Let Freedom Ring! (Unless you work for Hobby Lobby)

hobby-lobby-reality-check-Miss-R.EVOLuntionaries-FBI’ve never been a very patriotic person. Sure, I love being back in America, but I am not naive enough to say “It’s the greatest country in the world!” It gives me hives to see families wearing matching American Flag outfits, probably purchased at Old Navy, knowing they were made in Cambodia under sweatshop conditions. We certainly have a knack for celebrating freedom yet not actually believing in it. Woman in America are watching their rights be stripped away. Gays can’t legally get married. (There are 18 countries in which it IS legal, including So. Africa and Uruguay. But not America.) Let freedom ring! Throw on that flag shirt and light up the grill!

And that’s the America that I know and love. It’s the country that boasts the loudest and the proudest. With not much in recent memory to boast about. Let’s see… in 2014 we were number one in divorce rates, 23% of us can’t read, we are number one in defense spending, we make about the same amount of money as folks in Ireland, and we die just like everybody else does. And don’t get me started on maternity leave. We are not special, and we certainly are not the greatest country in the world. We just shout louder. We belittle those who disagree with us. We shun and disgrace the poor. We are pompous and arrogant. We don’t care about gays. Or women.

It’s hard for me to want to celebrate The Fourth of July when just last week the Supreme Court declared (in a 5-4 ruling) that for-profit companies can use religious objections to avoid paying for contraception coverage required under Obamacare. Hobby Lobby is a corporation. Corporations get certain benefits that people, actual human beings don’t: protection from criminal charges, tax breaks, etc. If Hobby Lobby would like to be a PERSON with religious beliefs, then Hobby Lobby should not get the protection of a corporation. It’s a case of you can’t have it both ways.

First off, The Hobby Lobby claims to be a christian company with conservative beliefs when at the same time they sell products made in China. This is straight up hypocrisy. The companies that HL deals with in China that have a reputation for labor rights violations and rock-bottom wages. Employees often end up working ridiculous hours in conditions you would never even dream of working under. They will never earn enough money to escape the cycle. Not to mention China’s dark ages, one child policy. This policy leads to the arrest of women and forced abortions. Not very Christian. Yet HL turns a blind eye to this.

tumblr_n816mzyt111r83d7lo1_500HL also invests in companies that make the morning after pill. This from a company who claims to operate in a manner “consistent with Biblical principles”. Whatever that means. Hell, Hobby Lobby cited their religion as defense to explain why they don’t sell Hanukkah decorations. But I digress. Hobby Lobby’s founders have made it clear that any abortion and certain contraceptives are unacceptable in their eyes. Yet HL invests in numerous companies that manufacture birth control (like Mirena and ParaGard). Can all companies claim religious beliefs as reason to deny coverage of other health care needs like blood transfusions, vaccines, or organ transplants? No. According to the decision, written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, it’s really just about preventing women from accessing certain health care coverage.

‘Merica! ‘Merica! ‘Merica!

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote a descent and it is well worth the read. She says it better than I ever could. This ruling will impact millions of American women who don’t share their employers beliefs. This ruling tells me that some beliefs are more important than others and that men are still deciding what women can and cannot do with their own bodies. Some women take birth control to help them with blood pressure or acne. Some women need that medication. And you know what? It isn’t anyones business why they need it. Nobody is going through Sam Alito’s medicine cabinet deciding which medications HE should or should not be allowed to use. “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,”Ginsberg said. And she’s correct.

So have a happy Fourth of July. Enjoy your grilled hot dogs and potato chips. Enjoy the freedom’s that this country decided you could have, but remember all of us who don’t get the same consideration. We still live here too.

Tom Robbins in Seattle: It’s All Cosmic Theatre

Tom Robbins, Seattle 2014

Tom Robbins, Seattle 2014

Last night I was fortunate enough to hear Tom Robbins read from his new book Tibetan Peach Pie, at Town Hall here in Seattle. The event sold out months ago. I worked selling his books so that I could have a front row seat and finally meet him. I would have worked for free. Tom Robbins is one of my favorite humans. Ever. Definitely one of my favorite Toms. (Having already met Tom Waits, Robbins was the final Tom on my list.)

There were a few hundred people in attendance. The 82-year-old author read stories from his life and from his latest, and probably his last book. The hall was silent and respectful as he spoke. Heads nodded in agreement and understanding, and faces were plastered with smiles. These were my people. We all came out to sit in the glow of the man who had written our collective favorite books. Robbins wore exactly what you would expect – standard dark sunglasses, jacket, green sneakers and blue jeans. Nothing about his presence said, “I’m 82 years old!”. He was funny, charming, flirtatious and cool. Just like you’d expect.

He spoke at length about Seattle and its past. Smart guy. Seattleites love to talk about Seattle. One woman asked, Do you think Seattle has lost its soul? She had to repeat the question a few times. Robbins paused before saying he didn’t think Seattle was ever a very soulful city. It has a lot of heart, but soul? Not so much. If anyone else had said that?They would have been drawn and quartered. But it was Tom Robbins. Little Tommy Rotten. He gets to say what he wants.

Tom Robbins - June 26, 2014

Tom Robbins – June 26, 2014

He talked a little bit about his process. He doesn’t do multiple drafts. Just one. (That’s what do! I rarely tell folks that because it isn’t normal. But nothing about being a writer is normal. Normal people don’t lock themselves away with blank pages and agonize over them for hours on end.) Robbins says he tries to write about two pages a day, correcting and changing as he writes. ‘When it’s done, it’s done.” He said. Amen.

There were a lot of aspiring, struggling, or otherwise stumbling writers in the audience. One young lady in a Cat T-shirt asked, When did you stop being afraid of your writing? Robbins walked away from his podium and approached Cat Shirt. I guess he didn’t hear her, or he found the question so ridiculous he had to get a good look at who was asking. Cat Shirt repeated the question, touched his green shoes, and backed away almost blushing. Tom Robbins returned to the mic and told the audience he had never been afraid of his writing. Why would someone be afraid of their own writing? Afraid? Silly.

He said he only has a vague idea when he begins a novel. He knows the effects he wants to leave the reader with, but not much more than that. He does a lot of research, educates himself, takes what he knows and sets out to write… like a canoe on open water. Let’s see where this baby takes us! He said that John Irving works the other way. Irving doesn’t begin a novel until he has every detail in place, until he knows everything that will happen down to the final line. Two great writers. Two completely different ways of writing. (I loved hearing that! John Irving wrote my other favorite novel, A Prayer For Owen Meany.) As a writer I think it is important to understand that there is no right or wrong way to write. You can read as many books about writing as you want, but it won’t teach you how to write. All you can do is read. And write. Every day.

“It’s all cosmic theatre,” he said. Tom Robbins has indeed lived an imaginative life. His life and his books have influenced my life choices. I told him that when I finally got to meet him. I’ve been waiting close to thirty years to say thank you to the man who changed the way I see the world and the way I see language. I read Still Life with Woodpecker and it changed everything. Language suddenly came alive for me and I was hungry for it. I didn’t know books like that existed. Books filled with outlaws and women who said fuck. Books with talking inanimate objects and recipes for homemade bombs.

SN858950Tom Robbins opened my eyes to a new way of living and a new way of thinking. He wrote books about people who didn’t just accept society as it was and lived life on their own terms. He wrote books about the falsity of religion and the transitory nature of love. He wrote books that spoke to me and for that I am forever grateful.

“Who knows how to make love stay?

1. Tell love you are going to Junior’s Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if loves stays, it can have half. It will stay.

2. Tell love you want a memento of it and obtain a lock of its hair. Burn the hair in a dime-store incense burner with yin/yang symbols on three sides. Face southwest. Talk fast over the burning hair in a convincingly exotic language. Remove the ashes of the burnt hair and use them to paint a moustache on your face. Find love. Tell it you are someone new. It will stay.

3. Wake love up in the middle of the night. Tell it the world is on fire. Dash to the bedroom window and pee out of it. Casually return to bed and assure love that everything is going to be all right. Fall asleep. Love will be there in the morning.”

Thanks again, Tom Robbins. I love ya.

Books: 10 Mid-Summer Reads

jaws_bg_0June is called “mid-summer” even though it is technically the beginning of the season. It’s the month of weddings, graduations, and pool parties. This is my first summer in almost eight years that I am not landlocked. Austin was just hot and steamy. Prague is pretty rad, but it doesn’t have an ocean or bay. Summer just isn’t the same without open water and a book to read.

Here is a list of books for your own Mid-Summer enjoyment and relaxation. Best if enjoyed near open water! (You can get any of these books at your local library, or Independent Bookseller.)

Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974) – You’ve seen the movie. It scared you from going into the water for years. Now read the book. It is quite possibly the greatest beach read and the one that will keep you from putting even a toe into the ocean again.

Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch (2014) – imgresIn his follow-up to The Dinner, Koch once again delves underneath the smiles and laughter of friends sharing a summer together and pokes at it with a stick. Until it bleeds. And oozes. It’s a summer book with a real dark side. The narrator is a Doctor who find his patients disgusting. The book opens with him looking back at the events that have unfolded, wondering what he could have done to avoid it. Any of it. It’s a great read, but if you are looking for a “light summer read” this isn’t it. This is a book about the underbelly of human beings. The puss. The nasty, filthy things that go unsaid are said here. And it’s pretty dang good.

 

The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses  (2014) by Kevin Birmingham – MDBcover021314I have not read James Joyce’s classic Ulysses. I admit it. That book is really long and really hard to read. I had no idea that the book struggled for publication for nearly fifteen years because of the controversy surrounding it. Ulysses was considered “poor taste” when it was written, and because of shameful things like female sexuality it was banned. Banned! This book explores why it was banned and how it eventually got through to the public. Any book that could make me actually want to go back and attempt to read Ulysses has got to be good. The book is funny and has a light tone considering the weight of the subject matter.

Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America (2014) by John Waters – John Waters is one of my favorite people in the world. Ever. If I were to write a book like his book Roll Models, he would be in there. He has made a career of breaking taboos and bringing the perverse to the mainstream. His books are as funny as his films, if not more so. “Waters, who is now 68, was looking for an adventure he could write about. So he decided to hitchhike cross-country from his home in Baltimore to his co-op apartment in San Francisco.” Hilarity ensues.

Tibetan Peach Pie (2014) by Tom Robbins – Speaking of my all time favorite people… Tom Robbins has a new book out. It is a memoir… of sorts. He doesn’t call it that. Of course he doesn’t. This is Tom Robbins we’re talking about. He writes about his childhood, growing up in Appalachia in the 1930’s, and how he came to be the bad boy of the literary world. Tom Robbins was my personal introduction to Zen ideas and what it meant to be a Bohemian. I think I (unconsciously?) lived my life like one of the fiercely zany female leads from one of his novels. Reading Tibetan Peach Pie made me laugh out-loud more than once and remember why I fell in love with outlaws, literary and otherwise, in the first place. Long Live!

jamesandthegiantpeach1James and the Giant Peach (1961) by Roald Dahl – No summer reading list is complete without at least one great adventure. James and the Giant Peach is a perfect summer read. When a crazed rhino kills his parents, James is sent to live with his horrid aunts Sponge and Spiker. Dahl delights in writing wicked, truly horrid adults in his books for children. And these are two are the worst. James gets a little help from a little man and soon grows a rather large, let’s call it a giant, peach that squashes his aunts and sets him on big adventure. If you haven’t read this before, or since you were a kid, then give it a try. The least you will do is smile. “James decided that he rather like the Centipede. He was obviously a rascal, but what a change it was to hear somebody laughing once in a while. He had never heard Aunt Sponge or Aunt Spiker laughing aloud in all the time he had been with them.” 

The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (1998) by Susan Orlean – {98130EFB-3E0D-4065-90A2-D786959FAA00}Img100This is one of those books that you read and you can’t quite believe that what you’re reading really happened. I get the same feeling when I read anything by Eric Larson. (Devil and the White City) The book started as an article Susan Orlean was writing about the 1994 arrest of John Larouche and a group of Seminoles in south Florida. They were stealing Orchids so Larouche could clone them. What follows is Orleans journey through the odd world of plants and the people who cultivate and kind of worship them. The book was later made into a movie (kind of) and creates its own awesome journey of flowers, passion and truth. A great book and equally great movie.

Outlander (1991) by Diana Gabaldon – imagesIf you like historical fiction, sexy sex, time travel and evil villains, then this is the book for you. The story follows a 1940’s war nurse who accidentally travels back in time to 18th century Scotland. I know. It sounds ridiculous. It is. But it is also addictive and awesome. Outlander is the first in a series of eight novels. I only read the first three or four, but I loved every minute of them. Here is a quote from Diana Gabaldon, the author. “In essence, these novels are Big, Fat, Historical Fiction… However, owing to the fact that I wrote the first book for practice, didn’t intend to show it to anyone, and therefore saw no reason to limit myself, they  include…history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul…” The eighth (Written in My Own Hearts Blood) was released just a few weeks ago, and the Straz series based on the books airs August 9th so you better get crackin’ if you want a head start on the next big thing.

Swamplandia! (2011) by Karen Russell – Set in the Ten Thousand Islands off the southwest coast of Florida, Swamplandia! is the story of the Bigtree family, and centers around the smart and precocious Ava, daughter of famed of alligator wrestlers who live on Swamplandia!, an alligator-wrestling theme park. The book is beautifully written and I couldn’t put it down last summer. It’s one of those special books that stay with you long after you’ve closed the cover for the last time. Inside the world of Swamplandia! there is mystery, magic, seances, water slides, ghosts, tragedy, a boy named Kiwi, love and loss. It is a fantastic book with one of the most likeable narrators in recent memory.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985) by Haruki Murakami – hard-boiled-wonderland-and-the-end-of-the-worldMurakami has a new book coming out in August called Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. I’ve read it, and it is beautiful. But since that book doesn’t come out for another few months you should read this one. You could read any of his novels and walk away happy, but this one is the most… Murakami of all his books. It takes place in the real world… for the most part, and in a fantasy world. It’s part science fiction cyber punk and part dreamlike fantasy. It’s like reading a surrealist painting. The story is split between two parallel narratives: Hard-Boiled Wonderland (odd chapters), and The End of the Wold (even chapters). This is a great introduction to Murakami and his lovely, weird, sad, funny, and ultimately wise characters.