Monday, June 28, 2010

Me and Melanie Wilkes

I just finished a Live Chat with a rep to voice my concerns about problems with our online business. (I'm avoiding searchable keywords in this post.)

I wasn't expecting to get our highest-rated seller status back, but wanted to protest the policy, show what it's like on this end, explain the need for some kind of dispute/appeals process, and, basically Bitch Nicely.

Larry does more business work than I do, especially lately, but he told me "You need to contact them because I will turn into a New Yorker if I do it." I, on the other hand, will turn on the Southern Cream and Sugar.

Which I did, quite calculatingly. I was raised southern, raised to Work It and know how, but I also grew up in a different era from the one in which the people who taught me Southern Lady Behavior grew up.

I grew up in a revolutionary era; protests, feminism, skirts that did NOT cover our knees. One grandmother really had trouble with that. But not with short skirts (short within reason) when one was standing or walking. In particular, it was when sitting that a lady's skirt always covered her knees, and that was often achievable even with a mid-thigh skirt, if it wasn't a tight one. Ever after, I could feel very comfortable on my feet in a short skirt, but always spread it over my knees when sitting, or felt, if not guilty, at least aware of it when the style didn't allow knee coverage.

See what yall who weren't raised Southern missed? There are odd rules you don't even know about.

Anyway I was a grouchy anti-authority child in an era that encouraged that, and most of those proper southern behaviors became things I could do but not things that were a real deep-seated, autopilot part of me.

So with the online representative, I was partly calculating and partly not. Honest, there wasn't total cynicism in my niceness because I used to work for a county government, and got it in the face when someone was displeased with rules made way above my head. I hated the fact that hardly anybody grasps the obvious, which was that *I* had no power to change a rule for them. I know well that these reps are in the same boat. I've been on the receiving end, do NOT want to dish it out.

But I also knew that turning on the charm would make him/her (it was a her) more likely to listen. Nice, even vaguely witty words were more likely to get read, even if i repeated the complaints (A whole technique of its own -- rewording, to make it less of a dead-horse-flogging, and more like a clarification, or a refinement of the original thought), and my suggestions passed upwards (about requiring the customer to tell them what upset them, even if they don't tell us, thereby allowing appeal). Couple of repetitions of it being about power to dispute for us, couple of repetitions of how there really ARE nutjobs out there, who shouldn't have unquestioned power to hurt us financially. Blah blah.

And when I was done I felt wrung out.

So, Melanie Wilkes.

(This clip is completely unnecessary for this post, and both hilarious and annoyingly hyped up, but the part where Carol Burnett tells Dinah Shore to go stick her head in the punchbowl starts at about 1:45. It kinda goes with my point.)

Melanie in Gone With the Wind, typifies a woman who's physically fragile but mentally/emotionally strong. Much more adaptable to change than is her poor lost husband Ashley. Quite approving when Scarlett shoots the marauder, lies magnificently when the family out in the field starts to run home at the sound of the shooting, and has no compunctions about hiding the body.

But nice. Sweet. Self-sacrificing. And fragile.

It's supposed to show that physical fragility and mental strength can coexist, but as I look back on all the times I've gone into gear to Charm The Bleep out of someone, it tires me awfully. Not just now, not just stress or advancing age. Always did.

I don't think Melanie faded away at the end because "she never had any strength, all she had was heart." I think niceness sucked the strength out of her. Niceness Kills! That punchbowl can drown you. You know, just a thought.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I'm going away on a train

Not literally. It's something I say.

There's a wonderful 1950 movie called So Young, So Bad, about girl juvenile delinquents. A very very young Rita Moreno (she's billed as Rosita Moreno) plays a shy, sensitive girl who got left holding the bag for some crime (a robbery? Can't remember) committed by her creepo boyfriend. She's too emotionally delicate, cannot endure the rough life in the reformatory, and constantly says that the creepo boyfriend is surely going to come and break her out. I mean, he's so-o-o grateful that he got away and so-o-o sorry she got caught, and he lo-o-oves her with A Love That's True, so he'd never leave her in this awful place!

As the movie nears its end, young Rosita is driven over the edge of insanity. Clearly Creepo isn't coming but she dissociates and babbles: "I'm going away! I'm going away on a train! He's coming for me and we're going away! We're going away on a train!"

I've used it as an expression of Mental Breakdown, ever since.

A month ago ebay quintupled its fees to list a book for sale in stores. From 3 cents to 20 cents each. Making it nearly impossible to leave listings on for months until their buyer appears.

Only we got a break. We paid less. We got this break for being a Top-Rated Seller with outstandingly good ratings from buyers.

Today, we lost that rating, based on getting a 3rd poor mark for "Communication".

These marks are simple "click-the stars to rate." Anonymously. There is no way for us to know what we did or to whom we did it.

A week ago, a buyer wrote us a very frustrated email saying: "This is my THIRD attempt to get you to answer my question! I will leave appropriate ratings for this!"

Only we had never received the two previous emails. Everybody says that, but the messages, swear-on-the-Bible, never came. I checked every place a note or message could be left. I told her that, and she was nicely mollified, said "I understand, these things happen." I'm pretty sure the bad communication rating didn't come from her.

But that means that a lost message might have happened to someone else. Someone who did not try again. Who just decided we didn't give a rat's...

Or maybe not. Maybe it was something else. We aren't allowed to know, and can't dispute the particulars. It will -- or, it would -- cost us literally hundreds of dollars in higher fees and there is no appeal. Yes, I will contact them to dispute it, but if we get a break, it will be strictly because they took our word. That's because the system creates no details or evidence whatsoever.

I, The Buyer, can do this to a seller because they said something rude, or because they said, "I'm really sorry but we can't send you a diamond watch with your book for a dollar" or because they gave me a kind caring answer and perfect satisfaction, but closed the email with "Have a nice day!" and the phrase annoyed me. Or for no reason at all, OR by clicking the wrong star by freakin mistake.

Anonymous ratings are clicked by the buyer with the following instructions: "These are anonymous so don't be afraid to rate honestly!"

There's no reason to give anyone, ever, complete unfettered freedom to give unfair, unwarranted or erroneous ratings that will never be questioned. Sellers can only leave them positive feedback now.

There's also no reason why ebay can't require the buyer to give reason or details to them, to the ebay Powers ... and then simply keep the identifying info from us, so we can at least ask ebay to look at it again.

But there's no information, no appeal, and we can be accused without any method of defense. And it can cost us reams of money.

It will not cost us all that extra money, because we're dumping listings. Each would cost us if we let it renew. Those 20 centses would be a mountain of dimes in no time.

Instead, we'll have to constantly add and delete active listings. It will become time intensive. Meanwhile, we live here to act as my parents' assisted living, and recent health issues -- fortunately things that allow at least partial recovery -- are causing them to need a lot of our help these days. We were just on the brink of configuring our work, writing, and family activities into some kind of manageable routine, but that, because of losing our seller status, has now gone up in smoke.

The display on my camera is burning out.

Out-of-town guests are coming.

Just for today, I will not drink.

I'm online so much anyway that it won't really change my online presence, except that I will not be fine-tuning blog posts. Blogging is a great escape, swell way to vent, and general line to the world, so I really can't see giving it up. I may post a little less but it actually may not be noticeable. What's more likely to be noticeable is that I'll post off the top of my head. I'll sound more scattered, less thoughtful, and somewhat weirder. Thought I'd issue my disclaimer now.

Though I may be so strange already that that won't be perceptible either.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Very Tiny Mantis

This little guy(?), who is hanging around upside down on the underside of our front rail, is the tiniest praying mantis I ever saw! He must have just hatched. That's a dime on the rail, for reference.

Monday, June 21, 2010

It really exists. Honest.

I won't try to pin the slowness of my completing this novel (which everybody's probably sick of my talking about, and which I'm sicker of than anybody) on all the real-life things that take a lot of my time. Some do, but I'd write at a snail's pace anyway.

It's not really a mystery story. A fairly attentive reader could figure out what the deal is very early, and that's the way I wanted it. But it's a plot with mystery elements, where events have to hide the true nature of what's going on, and to mislead some of the characters, and, honest, I'm probably too ADD to write stuff like this. There's too much to keep track of.

Every time I polish off another draft, I truly think it's done. I print up a copy and plan to read through it for typos and minor problems, sure that they'll be quick fixes and that I'll be hitting the "Make it public" button very soon. The picture shows 4 different drafts, going back a couple years.

This print-up is both a self-indulgence -- seeing it as a real book is like a reward, and I need that reinforcement -- and useful, because it's a lot easier to edit. I can catch typos much better in this format.

But then I find, not only typos, but true plot holes. Really really bad things, like an event.... followed by a chapter describing changes caused by that event that develop over a week's time.... only I kinda forgot that I wrote the chapter to take place only a day later.

It's not that these goofs are hard to fix. They're pretty easy. The problem is that I find them after so many re-readings that I fear other screwups/anachronisms/etc., will be lurking there even when I think I've caught and fixed them all. Readers will catch them right away and say, "That's ridiculous." The New Yorker magazine will feature me in one of their "Our Forgetful Authors" dingbats....

That's a joke. Twenty people might read this book if I get really lucky.

Anyway, I thought I'd show yall, right here, the true, actual, verified existence of the thing! See? There it is! It's real. Lousy, but real. And I'm certain that this next read-through and cleanup will be the final one......

I hope. Because I can't "system restore" this miserable, soundless, freeze-and-crash computer till it's done.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sunshine. Again.

Does it get any more mundane or impersonal than a weather post? Well, I am sick of chirpy sunshine and I'm starting to take it personally.

Over and over, the forecast tells us we'll get a storm. What's more, over and over, the weather radar will show a big ol' Jabba The Hut of a storm system heading right for us.

So I act like it's real. I finish using the dryer or the stove. I shower early so as to not get fried by a lightning strike. I wrap up computer activities and shut down. We decide not to set the trap for our latest intrusive raccoon that night since the poor thing would sit out in a storm in a metal trap.

Then we wait. And the storm vanishes. It breaks up, or rains itself out before it gets here, or shrinks to a tiny green/yellow (green for light-to-moderate rain, yellow for heavy rain) blip on the radar that now misses us.

Last night, the big green-and-yellow Symbolic Storm was churning across the radar map, bearing down. No rain or electrical rumbling all night. Overcast all day today, until about 3PM and then the blasted sun came out.


We get an odd shower, so it's not like we're under some kind of dark-fantasy-novel curse but it's not enough.

I like storms, and I even like simple dreary rainy days. Even I can get too much of that but my tolerance level for cloudiness is very high. I'm not a sunny person. I feel affirmed and nurtured by grouchy weather.

We'd need rain whether I liked it or not, though. I. Am. Sick. of pretty pretty pretty, sunny sunny sunny. Maybe I should go outside and wash the car.

Monday, June 14, 2010

First, assemble your ingredients...

Vegetable gardening has a down side. If the garden is a bust, that's frustrating. If the garden produces loads of stuff, I have to cook.

This year we got smart and planted in early March instead of June, and it paid off. My beets and carrots are looking impressive (pictures later), though that, as i discovered last year, doesn't mean there's any substantial root under all the lovely leaves. I'm leaving them in the ground for awhile because Larry's plantings are yielding so much. The squash started coming in, the tomatoes are piling up, and he's picked a couple zucchini.

I will never never never enjoy cooking for its own sake. It really is possible to be a good, if not great, cook, but never really find it fun. Means to an end. Period.

The home grown produce is forcing me -- horrors! -- to learn new recipes and processes. After i'd made 2 of my old standby squash casseroles, I had to blanch and freeze the extra squash. This being a new experience, I couldn't do it in my sleep, the way I can do longtime recipes I've made a gazillion times -- recipes that I have, actually, selected for my repertoire just because they're that easy and foolproof. Not that it's hard to blanch and freeze, but to discover that I had to, like, research and read instructions and everything.

Cooking, in my opinion, should be doable in one's sleep at all times.

But I pulled out and put back books until I found that Fanny Farmer explained it (Joy of Cooking doesn't tell you how to blanch vegetables for freezing - unless I just couldn't find it in the book. You gotta have Fanny Farmer. Or Google, but I like books), and got it done.

Today's project: zucchini. I've never bought or cooked zucchini. I decided to start with something decadent. If I have to actually work at this, I want a treat.

So! Zucchini Bread! I really love it when something that's actually a cake is named a "bread," which sounds like something that it's mature, responsible and healthy to eat.

Still, this would be Work. That 4-letter word.

All the cooking guides tell you to assemble your equipment and ingredients before you start. That's no problem. I wouldn't even consider starting without the most important equipment of all:

1. Music. Keeps my brain from shorting out. Well, usually.
2. My thickest, most comfy bedroom slippers.
3. A headband. Cooking is aggravating enough without hair in my eyes.

Oh...oh yeah, the edible ingredients.
Not pictured are the spices, eggs and oil. Or the zucchini themselves, but they are shown below.

This is our yield so far, but the heat and the bugs that plagued us last year are taking over again now that we're back into June (97 degrees f., yesterday, high humidity, ghastly, and the weather won't break for another day or 2). Anyway these 2 may be it for this year.

Notice the difference! I love genetics. The zucchini were planted next to the yellow crookneck squash and our bees cross-pollinated squash pollen into one plant.

And here's the bread. It hardly rose. It looks less than appetizing, to me anyway.

So I dreaded tasting it, but I steeled myself and sliced off some.

It's wonderful.

It's delicious. Seriously. I'm stunned. So I guess the whole thing was worth it! This will definitely join the recipe repertoire. After all, eating "bread," especially with green vegetables right there in it, is mature, responsible and healthy.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Why vote?

They give you a sticker. I like stickers.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

God's will, my ass

To feel the truth in Christianity, I have to go back, back, deep into its quiet beginning, because the insane corruptions of it that I keep running into enrage me.

I'm talking about its earliest days when no one had any motive to make up the things they claimed --- not even the motive of being gathered 'round and listened to in awe and called "Wise One" or "leader." No liturgy, no "ology".

In that early dawn light, a handful of people walked through the world saying that they had met someone extraordinary, had been befriended and taught and embraced by God Himself, God willing to incarnate as a man and willing to feel every joy and misery it brings. It redefined joy for them, and they said it was for anyone who wants it, not just them for being So Special, which they weren't, particularly.

Stories of the disciples depict them often as dolts who had little understanding when Jesus tried to teach them things, who said, "Huh? Whuh?" a lot and, even wimped out and denied Him when things got nerve-wracking. If they were all, like, into themselves, they sure seem to have dismissed the golden opportunity to retcon their reputations, or else we'd instead have all kinds of boring stories of how Calm and Wise and "We totally got it!" they were when they hung around with Jesus.

That's why, no matter how mutated the faith has become with its bizarre later thousand-page theology textbooks, the beginning....the very very early beginning rings true to me.

And why bastardizations of it infuriate me. They hurt the most vulnerable. Not wanting it is one thing. Wanting it but being driven away from it by some twisting of its tenets is another.

So lately I keep running into personal stories by Christians who are undergoing horrific pain and suffering -- illness, accidents-- and are saying "This was ordained by God," and my blood pressure threatens to blow the top of my head clean off.

I don't want to explode at them. I admire them. They're a beautiful affirmation of not rejecting God, of being sustained by God through pain. Why they need to believe not only that He allowed their pain, but that He ordained it, I even kind of understand.

I've heard too many abuse victims say of their abuser: "He had a good reason." Making God the Ultimate Abuser, whose abuse we must not only accept as "reasonable" but celebrate --"His hurting me to glorify Himself is a privilege!"-- is similarly twisted thinking. Who could blame anybody for rejecting such a religion?

If God is a sociopath, send me south.

Each one who's written a "God ordained this" essay has hauled out the Bible verses about how God's wisdom is not our wisdom and God's ways are not our ways, and I'm on board with that. If I'm to believe in God at all, I have to believe that His essence is way beyond human understanding, and agree with Paul that on this earth we see only "as through a glass, darkly."

We want explanations. We want to believe that when we hurt there's some reason, some way it's making good triumph over evil.

It does and it can, but that God can transform us and overpower evil does not require that God use us as bait. Why would He need to? To use suffering that evil visits on us, for turning the Adversary's own deeds against him, is plenty -- for God to instigate suffering would be nonsensical, and superfluous.

The whole basis of the Biblical God -- call it literal, call it metaphor -- but the basis is that God wants unblemished joy for His children and that we, humanity, let evil into the world. And that, even in getting us through this now-painful life, God does not cause the pain.

The many wrongs that we do to one another are the biggest source of our pain, and we may eventually get beyond them, whether there's a God going "Finally the dimwits get it!" or not. Others, the random things, may, because we can't stop them, be The Devil's best weapon, but the message is and always was that evil is not God's doing.

Take that lovely Book of Job ("Please!" Haha, I understand). Does God perform the acts of torturing a follower for the revelation of His Glory?

Does He even come up with the idea?

NO. It is Satan's will, not God's. God is certainly depicted as Sovereign, and could refuse to allow it, but does not, according to the book.

In the opinions of many, that makes Him a useless, if not a non-existent, God.

Understandable. But no matter how you feel about the God idea, there's a clear difference between allowing hurt to come down on us, and instigating it, hiring the Adversary as hit man for the dirty work. A big honking difference.

So kick my blog to the Christian curb, but I'm not OK with the idea that God would ever create suffering for His people "for His Glory, hallelujah!" That appalls me beyond words, though I obviously can come up with a few.

For some people the agony of life seems almost all-encompassing. But through the relatively light problems of my past and present, and through whatever may come, the one thing that must stand, that must be there for me when there's nothing else, has to be the belief that God would never never raise His hand against me.

I weep for my faith, and I long for its cool dawn of simple belief that something holy had happened.