Monthly Archives: November 2010

Rockin’ with NPR

I didn’t know about National Public Radio (NPR) until I was in my twenties. Friends at work would say, “I heard it on NPR,” and I’d nod as if I knew exactly what they were talking about, too embarrassed to ask. Sometimes it was worse. They’d say, “I heard the funniest thing on This American Life.” I was enough of a television addict to know they weren’t referring to a TV show, but I didn’t know what else it could be.

At that point in my life, radio for me was still all about music. I listened to the popular rock and roll stations of the day. I wasn’t living in a complete cultural wasteland when it came to radio. My father was always listening to classical music on WCRB. There was one program I actually looked forward to listening to with him, WCRB’s weekly comedy hour. I can still hum a few bars of, ‘When the Buzzards Come Back to Hinkley,’ a song set to the same tune as the one for the swallows and Capistrano.

Now that I have been listening exclusively to NPR for many years, I wonder why their audience is still so small; why they have to work so hard to raise money. I understand that some people eschew NPR, claiming it’s biased toward left-leaning liberals, but have they ever tried it?

Have the nay-sayers listened to Bill Littlefield talk about sports? He seems to know what he’s talking about, not that I can judge, it is sports after all, but he seems to know an awful lot about the field. He makes it even more appealing from time to time, by delivering the sports news in rhyme.

What about Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers? Surely there’s nothing to complain about there. Those guys fix cars over the phone, they’re wizards! Who cares if their real life garage is in the People’s Republic of Cambridge?

And Terry Gross of Fresh Air? She interviews all kinds of famous people. Why, the other day she was interviewing Jay-Z. Come on gang, Jay-Z! Admit it; none of you left-leaning liberals out there know who the heck Jay-Z is. She didn’t do that interview for you; she did it for the other guys. So where are they?

If everyone who listens to NPR introduces two of the uninitiated to the station, we can increase the audience exponentially. I suggest we start with people in their mid-twenties who can still stay up late enough to watch Saturday Night Live. Don’t give them the opportunity to pretend they know what you’re talking about. Just send them a link to a podcast from This American Life, along with an iTunes gift card. That way they can have their music, and NPR too.


It’s in the bag

Halloween has come and gone. It’s past the season for my coffin-shaped purse, which only gets used in late October. Yes, that’s right, a patent leather purse shaped like a coffin. It’s slightly marred by the logo for Disney World’s Haunted Mansion, a woman in a maid’s outfit, but I love it anyway.

I only use it in October

I have a tote bag that came from Victoria’s Secret; one of those free gifts they’re always giving away. It has laces that criss-cross up the middle to make it look like a corset. I think it’s clever. I try to use it from time to time, but whenever I dig it out of the back of the closet, I end up talking myself out of it. If I applied my sister’s rule for clothing to that bag – if something hasn’t been used in a year, get rid of it – it would have been due to go to Goodwill about five years ago.

I also have a small Anne Taintor wrist bag that a friend gave me for my birthday. Anne Taintor is a designer who mixes vintage images with modern captions, and then puts them on things. My bag has a picture of an Audrey Hepburn look-alike. The caption is, ‘She saw no reason to act her age.’ That bag gets used considerably more than the coffin-shaped one, but it still doesn’t get out much. The last time I used it was when my daughter and I went on our annual pilgrimage to Fenway. It was the perfect outing for that bag.

We took the subway, which is always an adventure for me. (Each time I get on the Green Line to Kenmore Square, I worry that I’ll end up on the one branch that doesn’t go there. Given the crush of humanity that uses the T to get to Kenmore Square on game days, it seems unlikely, but I worry nonetheless.) That day, we ended up on one of the trains that bend in the middle, and that’s exactly where we stood. I got a big kick out of it. My daughter rolled her eyes at me. I pointed at my bag, ‘She saw no reason to act her age.’

Recently, I went to the web to see what other things Anne Taintor designs. I discovered that my bag is actually meant to be used for cosmetics. Does that mean that the message, ‘She saw no reason to act her age,’ is meant to be seen only when I apply makeup? If so, it would get less use than the coffin-shaped bag. It might even have to join the corset bag in the back of the closet.

Upon reflection, and in keeping with the sentiment on the bag, I’ve decided to continue to use my Anne Taintor bag as a wrist purse. The corset bag, however, will remain in the closet, at least until my next trip to Goodwill.

Saying good-bye to old LPs

If you saw my record collection, you’d probably think it was pretty big, and by today’s standards you’d be right. Most people got rid of their records a long time ago. Me, I never bought a CD player. I did finally acquire one through marriage. You may recall that my husband is somewhat younger than I am. He had CDs, I had records. Oh, he brought a few albums with him (which is how we ended up with two of the Beatles White album), but not enough that we would ever refer to it is our record collection. They were mine.

They were especially mine when he wanted to get rid of them. They took up space, the stereo cart was old and ugly, and besides, he complained, did I ever actually listen to them? He had me there. One birthday he got me a record player with a built-in USB, and a gadget that would let me play music from the computer upstairs, in the living room downstairs. All we had to do was digitize my records. That was a few years ago and we never got further than the letter C, at which point the magnitude of the project overwhelmed both of us.

I’ve finally started to wean myself from my records. When I’m in the mood, I comb through the collection and pull out a few more I’m ready to part with. In the beginning, I did it grudgingly, but recently I’ve been picking up steam. I loved the Alan Parsons Project, but I could only sing the songs from Eve, so did I really need the others? Wasn’t it time to admit I’d outgrown T. Rex? Actually, the answer to that is no. I put it back on the shelf.

Now what? I could drive all the way to Norwood to sell them to Newbury Comics for fifty cents a piece (“No Eagles, please,” as if I’d ever sell my Eagles records!), but I didn’t need the money badly enough to schlep down there. I just wanted to find someone who would give them a good home. It turns out that there is a woman in my town who has a real collection, somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 albums. She collects, and trades, and, here’s the corker, listens to her records. When she left with a box of LPs culled from my collection, she said, “If you ever just want to listen to one of your records, bring it over and I’ll play it for you.” If I’m too lazy to lift the arm of the turntable, I’m probably not going to go over to her house to listen to music, but that’s the kind of person I was looking for.

Slowly but surely I’ll whittle away at my collection until I’ve got it down to records I could never, ever part with; Bonnie Raitt’s Home Plate, Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, Livingston Taylor’s eponymous first album. Once I’ve done that, I’ll go buy them on iTunes so maybe I’ll actually listen to them. How about that, I never did need a CD player.


November is National Novel Writing Month, better known to the cognoscenti as NaNoWriMo. During NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel. That’s a lot of words. If you write every day, it’s 1,666 words per day. If you want your prose to be flawless, you probably won’t succeed, which is why the organizers have established rules to help you.

The NaNoWriMo rules say that you are not to edit, delete, or otherwise second-guess yourself. You can’t go back and revise; you have to keep moving forward. The idea is to free yourself of any writing-related activities that will slow you down. You’re supposed to let your imagination do its thing. NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality. As a matter of fact, if your imagination refuses to do anything, the organizers suggest you copy the phone book just to keep the words flowing.

At the end of the month, you submit your document to their word count gonkulator, and it verifies that you’ve met or exceeded the goal of 50,000 words. Success means you’ve “won” NaNoWriMo, for which the only prize is a PDF that says as much, and bragging rights.

The year the contest was created, 1999, 21 hardy souls participated. The next year, there were 150. By the third year the number had climbed to 5,000 and by 2009 there were over 167,000 registered writers. The number of people who actually “win” is much lower. In 2009, the last year for which numbers are available, only 19% won.

I am one of those people for whom NaNoWriMo works like a charm. To write without listening to the critical voices in my head is beyond liberating. I know I’ll need to go back and do some serious editing when the month is over, but that prospect is far less daunting to me than facing a blank page. The fascinating thing is that I need NaNoWriMo to give me permission to behave in a certain way. I’ve registered and “won” NaNoWriMo twice, this will be my third time.

As I observed at the beginning, 50,000 words is a lot of words. Fortunately for me, Young Adult novels tend to run from 45 to 55,000 words. I was able to write the bulk of the first draft of my first YA novel during last year’s NaNoWriMo, a feat I hope to repeat this year.

Meanwhile, I have written almost 400 words for this blog post. If I used this as the beginning of my NaNoWriMo writing for the day, I’d only have 1,200 or so words to go, but it’s far too early in the game to be stuck for words so I’m going to wait a while. If my imagination takes a vacation, I’ll insert a blog post into the middle of the novel. At least I won’t have to copy the phone book.