Category Archives: Life in general

Mom, why would anybody buy unsanitary napkins?

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When I was in junior high school, I saw an ad in one of Mother’s women’s magazines for Kotex and was curious why ads for sanitary napkins always showed young women out playing sports instead of sitting around the dinner table.

Mother was washing pans in the sink when I walked into the kitchen and said, “Mom, why would anybody ever buy an unsanitary napkin?” She dropped the pan, turned around as white as a ghost and shouted “What?”

“I saw a Kotex ad for sanitary napkins and wondered if they thought other brands were unsanitary.”

“These are special napkins for women,” she said.

“Is that what y’all use when you go to a tea or have cakes while playing bridge?”

Mom was swaying a bit, possibly remembering it was just a week earlier when I asked her what the word “shit” meant. I learned that she apparently didn’t know but that it was a curse word we didn’t use in our family.

“Absolutely not.”

“They’re for rich people, then?”

“Rich and poor, I’d say.”

“Does grandma use them?”

“Listen, under no circumstances are you to ask your grandmother about sanitary napkins,” she snapped.

“So, saying sanitary napkin is sort of like saying “shit”?

“If you treat the words that way, I will be eternally grateful. Suffice it say, sanitary napkins are especially packaged like Band-Aids so that folks will know they’re germ free.”

“The ad said they’re fail proof. Is that what you need if you’re really messy and keep spilling gravy on the table cloth?”

Mother sat down and put her head in her hands, inadvertently putting her elbows in a spot of grease that hadn’t been wiped off the table yet.

“Now, look what I’ve done to my best blouse.”

“If there are any Kotex in the pantry, I can bring you one and we’ll see just how good they are.”

“No, but thanks for asking,” she said with an unexpected trace of a smile. “Now go do your homework and don’t use the words ‘sanitary napkin” in front of your father or brothers.”

“It’s like shit, right, but a more powerful curse?”

“Someday you’ll be a father and when one of your sons asks you what the words ‘sanitary napkin’ mean, I hope you’ll remember this conversation and what you put me through.”

“I will, Mom,” I said, realizing that I felt less informed after asking the question.

 

 

How well do you remember events of ten or twenty years ago?

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“Memory is fiction. We select the brightest and the darkest, ignoring what we are ashamed of, and so embroider the broad tapestry of our lives.” ― Isabel Allende, Portrait in Sepia

I first read Portrait in Sepia when it was released in 2000. As I re-read it for the first time this past week, I thought “how ironic this is that this is a novel about memories and I’ve forgotten most of it.”

The storylines of books tend to run together for me because I read a book per week. However, Allende is one of my favorite authors so, logically, I ought to remember more of each novel’s details. Except for high energy action books, I tend to read novels closely; I don’t scan sections or skip descriptions or conversations to get to the so-called “good parts” (as some people call the pivotal scenes).

Several weeks ago, I re-read The House of Spirits, a novel I read in 1982 when  it came out and one other time before this year. Again, the details were so hazy it was almost like reading the story for the first time. I can understand why high school and college literature teachers tell us they re-read the books they teach every semester that they reach them.

Even though I forget so many details of novels, I discover new things every time I re-read them. So, in addition to the surprise at how much I’d forgotten, there’s the excitement of seeing a character or an even in a new way.

When people ask me about my childhood, obviously I know most of it. Or, maybe I don’t. If I can’t remember a book in any detail several years after reading it, how reliable is my memory about anything in my past or the country’s past? Sketchy, at best. Though family Christmas letters have long been mocked as falsified (or carefully told) versions of what a family did during every past year, the only way I could be sure when I did something thirty years ago was looking in a binder of old Christmas letters to see what year something happened.

Things get worse when I realize that after using fictionalized bits and pieces of things I saw or did in some of my own novels, I begin to see that the line between what I really did and what a character did in my novel has gotten a little blurry.

We’ve heard often that those who witness traffic accidents and other events are often unreliable. They think they have a clear picture of the event when, in fact, they don’t. They think their view of an event was like that of a stationary security camera. In  reality, they glanced away at noises, movements of other people, etc. What they didn’t see, they think they did see because the mind fills in the gaps with what it thinks probably happened. They don’t know they’ve done this, and experts say that a lie detector test won’t pinpoint discrepancies in their versions of events.

An article in the current “Writer’s Chronicle” deals with this issue for the authors of memoirs and historical novels. It’s called “The True Story? How to Deal with Evidential Gaps While Writing a Biography,” by Viola van de Sandt. What really happened during such gaps often comes down to circumstantial evidence. Sometimes, important events can only be sketched in and presumed through fragments of diaries, articles, letters, etc.

I have often wished I’d kept a diary, a cut-and-dried account of daily events. I tried multiple times, but could never stick with it. So I have a lot of gaps in my own personal history. As Allende’s protagonist in Portrait in Sepia said, “I try desperately to conquer the transitory nature of my existence, to trap moments before they evenesce, to untangle the confusion of my past. Every instant disappears in a breath and immediately becomes the past; reality is ephemeral and changing, pure longing.”

I assume my memory is faulty. It’s been proven to be that way many times. Who I am and what I think I saw of daily events is more of an approximation than anything else. If you have a foolproof method of keeping track of your past, I’d sure like to know how you do it.

Malcolm

My novels At Sea and Mountain Song are partially based on my own experiences. But I can’t promise you I know the fact from the fiction in them.

 

Some days, writers are flat too tired to write

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Even the words of a decent blog post don’t come to mind.

This list of the day’s events doesn’t sound that arduous:

  1. Up at 7 a.m.. after five hours of sleep (typical)
  2. Emptied the dishwasher
  3. Ate breakfast.
  4. Cleaned frying pan and put plate in empty dishwasher
  5. Picked up garden soil and potting soil at Home Depot (still in the trunk of the car)
  6. Got four new tires put on the car and found out the alignment was messed up (wait time = 90 minutes)
  7. Bought a new coffee pot (took two stores to find one)
  8. Picked up a few groceries
  9. Lunch (not proud, it was a cheap TV dinner)
  10. Made a vat of beef stew (still simmering)
  11. Watered new veggies and flowers outside
  12. Wheeled garbage bin back up next to the house
  13. Cleaned up a hairball
  14. Fed the cats
  15. Publisher reminds me Eulalie and Washerwoman will be on sale on Kindle on Friday (don’t want to get in trouble by neglecting to mention that)
  16. Poured a glass of wine (just before burning myself out on this exciting post)

–Malcolm

What do people care about?

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A Google search on the question “what do people care about” returned 636 million hits. How do you answer that question if you have to list cares in order of preference? It’s not easy, is it? Some people will be pragmatic and say “good health.” Others will be assume money can buy everything, and say “wealth.” And then there are those who want to make sure their “good health” and their “wealth” aren’t occurring under some miserable circumstances in a horrible environment, and they’ll say “power.”

Then there are those who want to be shockingly honest who will say “myself” and those who want to be flip rather than thinking seriously about it, and they’ll say “sex” or “drugs” or “rock and roll.”

I was surprised when the top answer on my search came from a 2014 post called “9 Things People Around the World Care About Most.” The people they surveyed said:

  • Love
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Inspiration
  • Tolerance
  • Animals
  • Laughter
  • Music
  • Happiness

Maslow said we have to satisfy needs at the base of this triangle before we can move to the needs at the top. If so, where we are determines what we care about.

In a world where the daily news suggests that the opposite is true, I’m not sure whether I’m a hopeless romantic or just plain naive when I say that I hope this list is the reality behind all the storm and stress in our political and personal lives.

Business Insider surveyed people around the world based on the importance potential concerns were in people’s lives, finding that family, work, friends, and leisure time outweighed concerns about politics and religion. Where you are and what you lack might well play a role in what you think is important. For some people, the answer is “survival” followed by “meeting basic needs.”

I saw multiple approaches across the Internet to answering this question. Many of them focused on people who could probably be construed as middle class who were probably employed and who more or less had their daily lives under control. For example, the three top answers on Thought Catalog about things “worth caring about” were:

  1. Keeping in touch with friends when one or both of you move away, even if that means reserving time to talk to them even when it isn’t convenient.
  2. Listening to someone when they’re going through a breakup and need someone to vent to.
  3. Paying attention to what your body needs in terms of nutrition and exercise, and not denying it things or overloading it with unhealthy stuff.

It’s hard to fault these answers as long as we presume they represent a mainstream, relatively affluent response that excludes people in third-world countries, surviving hand-to-mouth in a card board box on a city street, prison, gang-controlled neighborhoods, war-torn countries and other abusive-no-apparent-exit conditions. I can’t speak for them because I don’t know them and I’m not where they are. I wouldn’t fault them for saying “keep on living” or “stop hurting” or “get the hell out of this place.” (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs might determine our core cares.) Yet, the romantic in me wants to say that in their dreams and short moments of respite from the harsh realities of living moment to moment, they think about Love, Family, Friends, Inspiration, Tolerance, Animals, Laughter, Music, Happiness.

Inside or outside a mainstream religion, I can’t help but think there’s a larger order of reality behind what we care about as well as what we do to help others increase their opportunities for achieving lives filled with what they care about. Yet, as flight attendants say when warning about aircraft disasters, you have to save yourself before you can possibly do anything to save those around you. That’s probably mostly true. But how far do we carry it?

Do we need $100,000 in the bank before our survival is certain enough to allow us to reach out to others? Must our health be perfect before we can act? Some people seem to think so. But I think they miss a truth that may not be obvious: helping others helps us all. I didn’t see “helping others” as the number one concern on any lists,  but then I didn’t read all 636 million search engine responses. Some nuns, monks, doctors, nurses, first responders and others might put that answer first. I hope so because it’s nice to know somebody finds it important and perhaps that makes me feel a little less guilty for not listing “helping others” anywhere in my top five responses to “what do you care about?”

Perhaps we’re all brainwashed to see something of a genie joke in answering the question, fearing that no  matter what we wish for, the genie will give it to us under the worst possible circumstances. So, whether we’re afraid to put all of our eggs in one basket or we want to hedge our bets or we are simply human enough to care about a lot of things, we avoid the flaw of selecting one thing to top our list–or even making a list at all.

I’m not sure we can rank cares the way we list the year’s top ten movies, most popular books, or richest celebrities. Sure, we love lists showing us the top ten or the top one hundred of one thing or another, but real life isn’t a list. It’s more of a complex tangle that requires a lot of juggling, and the naive romantic part of me hopes that most people know themselves well enough to do what’s important more often than not.

Malcolm

 

 

Most politicians are people on parole from hell

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devilAs you might have noticed, there’s been a fair amount of political talk going around this year.

A lot of it illustrates my hypothesis that politicians–especially career politicians who don’t believe in term limits–are people who were consigned to hell who’ve been let out on parole because hell is full and/or because Satan thinks they’ve been rehabilitated and/or because having them running loose in the temporal world is the result of another one those “learning experiences” both God and the Devil want humanity to wallow through, albeit for different reasons.

Looking at the results of this learning experience so far, it appears we have failed. No, this isn’t a comment about who won and lost, but about how we’ve played the game.

Badly, I would suggest.

Will Rogers, who wasn’t a fan of government, once said, “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” Assuming he’s in a grave, he would be turning over in it now because the facts no longer matter. They’re not even funny.

We live in a world of fake news and selective-reporting-by-corporate agenda. People are arguing on Facebook, citing “the fake news I believe” vs. “the fake news you believe.” The gist of this approach is that people listen to “news” reports and editorials based on the fake news that best coincides with their view of the world as they think it ought to be. Any sane person steps into these debates at their peril usually to be slammed by people on both sides of the aisle as an ignorant troll.

So where are we now? Some say we’re in a hell of a mess. It’s so bad that most of our comedians have gone from being funny to being strident. It’s so bad that 75% of people’s prayers these days are that the people believing the wrong set of lies will perish in a flood or volcano. It’s so bad that hell itself looks like a paradise.

So, what’s to be done?

Some say, if you can’t beat them, join them. That sounds unseemly, like a sell out, like the fastest way to hell in a hand basket. Some say, “sue the bastards,”  though the trouble is, we can’t seem to agree on which bastards need to be sued. Some say, “make love, not war,” and while that’s not a bad idea, it probably won’t send the nasty politicians back where they came from. Others are running around like chickens with their heads cut off and, as we all know, that doesn’t accomplish a whole hell of a lot.

My advice–which isn’t worth a damn–is to keep silent until the extremists on both sides of the political spectrum run out out of ammo. That may take a while, but better safe than dead.

–Malcolm

 

 

Memory Lane: Kellogg’s Krumbles

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krumblesResearching a novel set in the 1950s–during my childhood–brought me many memories as I looked at the political issues, the fads and the products. While I didn’t mention Kellogg’s Krumbles cereal in the book, seeing the familiar box again was definitely a trip down memory lane.

Krumbles was my favorite cereal because I liked the taste and the fact that it didn’t get soggy in milk. Supposedly, Kellogg’s was trying to make a shredded wheat like product, but it ended up crumbling in the box. So, they crumbled it on purpose and it made a fine, high-fiber cereal that was on the market between the 1920s and the 1960s.

According to Murphy’s Laws, if you like a product, that’s the one the grocery store and/or the manufacturer discontinues. Losing Krumbles wasn’t a loss of innocence, it was a lost of a tasty breakfast.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s 1950s novel is called “Eulalie and Washerwoman.” It’s the story of a conjure woman who uses folk magic to fight a corrupt businessman in her small Florida Panhandle town.

 

There’s nothing in your spam queue at the moment

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An empty spam queue is good news whether it’s one’s e-mail account or one’s blog.

According to “A Brief  History of Spam,” a pervasive urban myth is that (when referring to the meat product introduced by Hormel in 1937) the letters S, P, A, M are an acronym for “Scientifically Processed Animal Matter.”  I’m sure the Hormel company doesn’t agree. But I wonder, what does the company call its e-mail queue of unwanted junk mail?

snakeoilWordPress protects bloggers from most of the SPAM. I look in the queue from time to time to see what’s there. Unlike my e-mail accounts which occasionally have legitimate e-mails in the SPAM queue, there is almost never anything other than the lowest quality animal matter in my WordPress SPAM queue.

I’ve written about the SPAM queue here from time to time because I can’t figure out how or why SPAM would ever work. It has a snake oil quality about it that looks even worse (assuming that’s possible) when the messages are written with the pretense that the spammer has actually read the post to which they’re attached.

Many newsletters destined for my e-mail accounts suggest that I put their addresses in my “this stuff is okay” list (or whatever it’s called) since they often have links in them that anti-SPAM software interprets as SPAM.

That’s too bad because my e-mail account has way too much SPAM in the SPAM queue for me to sort through it item by item. Maybe spammers should wise up and make their e-mails and comments look less like SPAM.

If spammers tried to sell me what my blog subjects suggest I might be willing to buy, they might have more luck. That’s what I would do if I went into the SPAM business. Goodness knows, I wouldn’t be peddling Viagra to people with writing-related blogs. I’d be peddling writing services. I never find any of those in my WordPress SPAM queue.

Not that I want to. When we advertise legitimate products, we’re advised to target our audiences. That’s what we do when we boost a post on Facebook. We look for people who might really want our book or short story collection or authors’ services site. Spammers don’t seem to do that. I’m glad they don’t, because I don’t want more stuff I have to manually delete.

You can tell it’s a slow day when I waste time pondering SPAM.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s publisher, Thomas-Jacob, is giving away a free Kindle Fire tablet to one of the people who subscribes to the new mailing list. The Random drawing is a couple of weeks away. So, if you want a shot at the Kindle and if you want to keep up with my work and the work of the other authors at Thomas-Jacob, here’s the link for the subscription/entry form.