Monthly Archives: June 2015

Get Thee to a Shrubbery!

Alternate Title:

Beating Around the Bush*

Okay...you Google 'Giant Bush'!  I dare you.  I double dog dare you!
Okay…you Google ‘Giant Bush’!  See what you come up with.

I sat down this weekend to write. Or at least, I tried to. I reread chapters of my second novel making tiny, infinitesimal tweaks all the while recognizing that a major overhaul was needed. (Why the hell do I have heroes flashbacking what just happened instead of having them do it?) Once you see all the holes in your plot and need a chart to keep track of the characters, the task seems daunting. I am a huge fan of procrastination so instead of tackling my monster opus (three books and no end in sight), I decided to do some work on the garden.

“After all,” I reasoned, “I can always work on the book after dark. I can’t do yardwork after dusk or the vampire mosquitoes will get me.”**

In my glory as a new home owner, I purchased many gadgets unfamiliar to me. Going to the giant hardware stores is a lot like entering a medieval armory. There are lots of shiny metal, sharp-edged tools—in short, everything can be a weapon. Recently I snagged a pair of telescoping hedge clippers. (Scythes of Death.)

Because doing any work tends to be boring, when I go out to battle the crab grass dastardly foe, I like to pretend I am a knight entering a tourney—tilting at shrubbery at high noon. It is a harmless fantasy most of the time. I have yet to figure out an appropriately violent description for mowing the lawn though. It feels more like a Greek tragedy—entering the Minotaur’s Labyrinth never to return.

I wish my writing were nearly this tidy.   To see more hedgy perfection, go to http://www.homestratosphere.com/ for more.
I wish my writing were nearly this tidy.
To see more hedgy perfection, go to http://www.homestratosphere.com/.

This day, however, was epically appropriate. I was tackling three massive shrubs that were lush, sprawling, and took up way too much space in my small backyard. (Insert your own overblown metaphor here.) In short, they were in need of editing.

I’m hacking away at these monsters. Mercilessly chopping the unnecessary bottom half; stretching on tiptoes to lop off the heads. Then I finesse my way around the sides to trim the unnecessary foliage and attempt to bring the resultant blobs into some kind of shape. I was sweating and had two bags full of severed, oozing limbs by the time I was done. It looked like an evergreen massacre. It was an ugly job, but it had to be done. And all I could think was, “Why is it so hard to do this with my books?”

This brings up a post I read recently by reviled…I mean revered…author, Chuck Wendig who confronts wanna be writers with the awful truth about why their writing may be going nowhere in 25 Reasons You Won’t Finish That Story. Reading the bald-faced truth of it was painful.*** Especially getting to number 23 wherein he flatly points out: “Nobody wants to hear this, but maybe you’re just not a writer.” Claxon sirens go off. The noise a submarine makes before it dives rings in your brain. Red lights flash. This is the terrible, secret truth inside every single person who sits down with the pretension that they can, in fact, write. The problem with this doubt? It is self-fulfilling. You fear you don’t have what it takes to be a writer. So you don’t write. Yet you desperately want to be a writer. Angsty emotions are yo-yoing away: Will I? Could I? Should I? Stories are piling up in your brain like it’s rush hour traffic on a two-lane highway. And the only weapon you have in your arsenal is the quavering hope that refuses to die no matter how many times you read a particularly awful sentence that came out of your brain. For example:

“She could see the outraged questions forming on her mother’s beetled brow and cut her off before she could explode.”

You read what you’ve written and you want to pick your laptop up and hurl it into the nearest ravine and then fling yourself after it because, at least dying dramatically would feel artistic. But then your internal editor tells you this is trite and formulaic and to get back to the table and come up with a better ending. I’d like to say reading the reasons why my writing isn’t headed where I wanted or expected it to go makes facing the changes easier. It doesn’t. It is hard every single time I sit down. When I write something that makes me want to cry, and not in a good way, it is very discouraging. And yet…it is still better than the alternative.

As Lewis Carroll put it:

“If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both — you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*If you are expecting a sexual connotation, you are to be majorly disappointed.

**Face it, mosquitoes are vampires…let’s see Stephanie Meyer’s make a sparkling romance out of that!

***Almost as painful as reading my writing. But not quite.

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In Which the Author Considers Purchasing a Wood Chipper and Instead Sells Her Soul for an Easter Egg.

In honor of Father’s Day, I offer you a letter I started writing to my pater familias, which turns into a major, hissy fit rant.  Enjoy.

WoodChipper2
I found many disturbing images of woodchippers available online. Be grateful this is the one I chose.

*

Dear Dad*,

I recently purchased a bed through Amazon. Wait, scratch that, I ordered what I thought was a bed through what I thought was Amazon. When, in fact, I received three-quarters of a bed from a third-party seller.  The seller—Home and Living—omitted sending the portion of the bed that actually holds up the mattress.  (Turns out I have woefully high expectations of the number of pieces required to make a bed.) If you have already had dealings with on-line purchases backfiring on you, you may skip ahead to the picture of the burning bed. If not, steady yourself for an ad nauseum retelling.

BRING ON THE IRRATIONAL OUTRAGE!

Upon discovering the perfidy of the missing ‘link spring’, I attempted to return said useless item or request that the seller send me, free of charge, the part of the bed that was in absentia. Emails and phone calls flew, mostly in one direction.  I managed to finagle a $20 credit for the cost of return shipping in one phone exchange with Amazon. Then I found out shipping these items using UPS would cost, at a minimum, $100.76.  Did I mention the purchase price of the item was $241.00?  (That, after getting a special Amazon Synchrony credit card to save about $40.00.)  Or the $75.00 restocking fee the seller wants to charge for grudgingly taking back their non-bed?  So, this almost-a-bed which I paid $241.00 for could cost over $175.00 to return. Now, most people at this point would throw up their hands and say, “I give up. Sell me the missing part for $150.” Most rational people would take this approach. I am not most people. Nor am I all that rational when I feel someone has deliberately duped me. Thus commences weeks of my fiendish plan: ‘Operation Threaten and Wheedle’. (This is where working in law offices and knowing terms like ‘misrepresentation of product’ and ‘consumer fraud’ are helpful. And regardless of the situation, Res Ipsa Loquitur always wows a crowd.)

BOIL WITH RAGE – SPIT LIKE A VIPER

First, I bombard the Amazon retail customer service with demands for satisfaction based on their A to Z policy. (Which, I have not read but assume has alphabetical significance hereto.)  I politely, but sternly outline my position: “I bought a bed. They did not send me a bed. I want my money back.” I may have thrown the words ‘I hate to be litigious…but’ into one email, I am not entirely sure. In return, I received a form letter from India which stated:

“Amazon is looking into your claim. Amazon has until June 21, 2015 to investigate your claim. Please standby.’  [Does anybody else hear Apu from the Simpson’s voice when reading this?]

So I wait for someone to contact me.  And I wait. And wait…After a few days, I send another request for review. And then I make a call asking, “What’s happening with my case?” This is where I find out that further replies came in the form of Junk Mail—informing me that I had three-days to reply before my complaint would be shredded and used to line the cage of a particularly flatulent rodent. (Can you guess how many days too late I was to reply?  Answer: enough.)

I am starting to seethe at this point. I am feeling great outrage at the anonymous corporation which has blindly dismissed a small, pathetic customer in favor of profits. I am irritated by the generic customer service form letter factory in India that doesn’t actually read my question but sends responses such as:

This transaction is with a third party seller and before they can proceed with your refund or replacement, they will need to have the item returned. Please contact the seller directly for any further details.

I think I read this sentence in almost every email I received—or at the very least, a running subtext to the effect: “Look, you buffoon, we’re just going to keep stringing you alone until sciatica forces you to give up and buy the damned ‘link spring’ or alternately we force you to pay for your mistake twice over by requiring you to pay the shipping cost, a $75.00 restocking fee, AND demanding your first born child. Mwua hah ha ha ha!”  So, I snapped.

Burning Bed
Thank you Flickr – here’s hoping this isn’t copyrighted.

I started fantasizing about how I would avenge my consumer outrage by getting a wood chipper and reducing the almost-but-not-quite a bed to so much mulch. I decided this was a bit dramatic, and expensive, whereas lighter fluid and a match would do the job just as well and provide a much lighter pile of ash to ship back to the seller. (Bonus: I could also roast marshmallows to toast the bitter-sweet satisfaction of pointless revenge.) It was at this point that a friend of mine suggested that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t being terribly reasonable about this.

“Yes, they sold you crap. You were screwed, blued and tattooed; but, they aren’t going to fix the problem and you still don’t have a bed. Just go buy the damned support and be done with it.” This is what a rational person would do.  (See above regarding rational behavior, and likelihood thereof.)

Be rational?  Okay, I could do that. I could suck up my outrage and my ire and submit like a whimpering dog…OR…I could do what I did.

I got all of my facts in a row. I contact the Amazon Synchrony credit card company. They do not offer the option for a consumer complaint and redress of consumer fraud. (And yes, I will be canceling this card just as soon as this is resolved.  They are too closely in bed with the pimp who sold me the trashy furniture. Goodbye Pimp Card.) Their customer service rep in India transfers me to the same exact Retail Customer Service professionals I have been tangling with for the past couple of weeks.  Operation Smooth Talker to commence in t-minus 10…9…8…

“Hi, I’m Adam. How can I be of service.” A man’s voice purrs to me.

“Ohhh, yeah.” Wait…did I say that out loud?

Adam is my representative. He sounds like a hip young man who drinks Southern Comfort and rocks a bolero tie.  He speaks smoothly with a hint of Georgia in his syllables; I want to melt listening to him.  “Okay,” I think, “so they brought out their big guns. Two can play at this. I see your Southern Gentleman and raise you an Earnest, Disabled Widow with a Special Needs Child…and a blog”. We both put on our genteel, company-is-coming manners and exchange points of view with sugary assurances that: “Ha ha, I know how frustrating it is…blah di blah blah.”  “Yes, I’m sure Amazon is doing all it can… Yaddah Yaddah.”

Our exchanges were terribly polite and, probably, totally superficial. But, once he spoke to his overlords, I did get a promise out of Adam. He would make a one-time exception regarding the return of the item. He was authorized to cover the cost of shipping…but there was a catch. The money won’t actually appear in my account. He is now emailing me proof of a secret credit to cover the expense of the shipping. It won’t be a reimbursement, per se, but the next time I go to spend money on Amazon, a magical amount will appear cloaked by a shield of invisibility until the one true king returns….or words to that effect.

Upon hearing this, I sat up straight.  “You mean…it’ll be like an Easter Egg?”

“Ha ha. Yeah.  Like that.” Adam says, probably thinking the batty old broad is referring to colored eggs which turn rancid over time.  (Not that that would be a bad analogy.) He further reassured me that this money would never expire. It will live on in infamy…but only as a credit on Amazon…and only coming into existence when I spend money. It sounded fishy, but I’ll admit, it also appeared to be the compromise I swore was my goal. Continuing this argument would be small-minded and mean, even if it meant I could listen to Adam grovel so nicely on behalf of his superiors.

As much as I would like to say I was willing to fight the good fight, I recognized a concession when I heard one.  I asked a few questions more, and have come up with a list of recommendations for anyone who is even considering a large-ticket purchase online:

  1. Read the product description three, four, maybe even a dozen times. Look for very tiny print in inscrutable language that might possibly be offering you a lower-price at the cost of your soul, your sanity or both. If you read stuff you can’t understand…walk away.
  2. Check out something called the Seller Feedback page. This is where you can itemize exactly where, how and in what creative ways the seller screwed the pooch. (You, being the pooch in this particular analogy. Probably a female one.) A link to the Seller Feedback page can be found in the section of text below the item listed following the phrase: Ships from and sold by (insert scurrilous villain’s company name here – Home and Living** in my particular case).
  3. Lastly, I highly recommend you avoid third-party sellers*** if you can at all manage it.  While Amazon promises to back all of the items purchased ‘through’ Amazon, not all third party sellers actually fall into this category. You have to read their customer service policy.  If it states that it abides by Amazon’s A to Z policy, then Amazon can work to get you customer service satisfaction—eventually.  However, some of the third party sellers require expensive returns, as in my case, and are thoroughly unpleasant to try and deal with. The phrase you want to see under any item you buy is “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com”.

So, Dad, when I finally do get my imaginary money, I am planning on buying you a CD: Bouyer’s Silver Fanfare.  Since I know this will be a vile use of funds, try not to grind your teeth into a powder and know that at least I am paying for it with hard-earned revenge. And that’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Yes, I am just that cheap that my entire gift to my father is a letter ranting about online purchases. It’s still better than a tie.

**I will be linking this post to my Seller Feedback–F*ck ’em if they can’t be bothered to call me back. They deserve $75.00 worth of retribution. Feel free to pass this around.

***Here is the ‘bed’ in question. See if you can find the tricky lawyer-ese that explains this is missing the  bottom.  This Is Not the Effing Bed You Are Looking For!

Blue Willow and White Wash

Blue Willow Chicken
One of the few items I don’t actually have…a Blue Willow Chicken. Feel free to gift it to me as a house warming present. (Easier than catching and painting an actual chicken.)

I have been so busy unpacking my life, it is almost a metaphor.* You have dusty old boxes you have been carting around for years that sentimentality prevents you from throwing out, and yet, the emotional scars they hold keep you from opening them up. Then there are the boxes with carefully wrapped and painstakingly placed treasures. You lovingly tucked them in and worried about their safe arrival. Those were the first boxes you packed. They have color-coded labels and warnings to ‘Handle With Care’. You expected to take time with every one of you millions of items. However, by the time you reach the end of your tether/patience/time-to-move you are shoving possessions in willy-nilly and throwing stuff away just so you won’t have to pack one more damned thing. Case in point, my computer tower didn’t fit into the boxes I had left, so I taped the giant rip which formed when I crammed it into one anyway. I strongly suspect my lack of finesse may be why it refuses to turn on at the new house. It holds a grudge.

After struggling so long to find a place to live, it was almost a relief to move. Almost. I dragged a hundred boxes into a house with room enough  for maybe twenty and a few plants. I was careful to instruct the movers to put the furniture in first, otherwise we’d never have made it. As it turned out, the house wasn’t big enough for everything. There are two giant bookshelves and a piano sitting in the garage as proof. It is no doubt very odd for the neighbors when my son goes to practice. I plan on telling them he’s starting a garage band, if anyone asks.

One thing I really wanted to do when I finally got my home, was to unearth my china. It has been ten years since I saw it. I only got to use it once during my marriage. It was always kept ‘safe’ for a special occasion. After my husband died, it became a symbol of all the times we would never get to use them again. After the move, though, I was itching to get at the Blue Willow because I had the perfect place to store it—a built-in china cabinet tucked in my new home. Through the chaos of packing and recovering from surgery, I focused on uncrating my tea service and putting the cups and saucers in a perfect arrangement around the pot—like a herd of blue-speckled chicks around a fat hen. It became a symbol of hope. Or perhaps I should say ‘cymbal’ the way it crashed all around me those first few weeks.

My first act after the movers left was to carefully unbox my brand-new teapot and reach for the door to my shiny white cupboard…only to discover that the paint crew had managed to shellac the door closed. After I yanked and tugged on my glassed-in door to no avail, I allowed myself a massive hissy fit of frustration. I called the painter, who promised to come out and fix it. He never did. I ended up hiring someone else just to come out and sand down three doors that kept sticking too badly to tolerate.

The noise and dust storm that followed coated the walls and floors of the house which had just been painted. I gritted my teeth—not just because of the dust—and stalked to the paint store to repaint the sections exposed by the overzealous use of a circular sander. I knew the name of my paint and asked for “Snowfall White”. Or, I thought I knew my paint color. Because, as it turns out, there are many, many shades of white.** Specifically, there was more than one shade of Snowfall White. I didn’t realize this until after I had re-painted every damned surface into the wee hours of the morning.

I was cross-eyed with exhaustion when it dawned on me that the paint that had dried hadn’t turned into the color that was on the walls and trim in the living room. In fact, it was a hideous shade I would have called ‘autopsy white’ because it was actually a corpse grey. There was some moderate swearing—I may have cursed the Fickle Sherwin-Williams Gods who stole a name from another company. The next day, I trudged back to the store where I’d picked up the outrageously expensive can in the first place. I begged, I cried. I may have troweled it on a bit thick—I think the man gave me the replacement paint so I would leave. I tromped home and looked at the room decided which things absolutely had to be changed and which ones I could live with. (Who cares what color the inside closet door is anyway?) After applying some paint—a touch here, a dash there—I had a sense of foreboding. “Hmm, this seems really light.” I waited for a small area to dry only to discover it was in fact, a horse of a different color. Alternately hyperventilating and swearing, I ended up repainting the entire china cabinet the third shade of Snowfall White. What I think happened is, the original, benighted painters somehow mixed the paint wrong in the first place. I have no idea what color it is—probably something called You-Will-Never-Match-This-Again-In-A-Million-Years White. But I have decided I can live with the piebald walls…as long as I never look too closely and pretend any shadows are a trick of the light.

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the past few weeks. Struggling with unpacking boxes, some which haven’t been touched in  a decade.*** And when I am not over-emoting about the zillions of pictures I find, I am trying to white wash my world so that I have a blank canvas to work with. But an artist has to admit that sometime, the paint of a previous work is going to bleed through.

Blue Willow 1
What you can’t tell is that there is actual tea in the teapot. I was drinking a cuppa while writing this post. I ran upstairs to photograph the dishes in situ and just popped the pot back in to take the shot.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

* Except metaphors don’t usually make you sneeze this much.

**Even more than 50 shades of gray…and a lot more tasteful too.

*** It is like maneuvering an emotional mine field; every item revealed is a bomb waiting to go off. I’m crying over tchotchkes, dammit.