Thursday, October 30, 2008

Recession Duck?

I was just watching the news and an expert testifying about the economy used the old saying about a duck:

"If it looks like a recession duck and quacks like a recession duck, then it is a recession."

This strange way to put it made me think. I wonder what a recession duck looks like?

This is a picture from our recent trip to England. During our trip there were huge headlines about the economic crisis in the UK. They had 10% increase in underground and train fares, 10% increases in food prices, and falling home prices. The pound began to slip against the dollar (just late enough not to be helpful to our budget, of course). This was right before the news became so desperate here, although there had been rumblings of it for awhile.

Our last night we stayed at a hotel where these ducks were in the bathroom. I had been taking a series of pictures with a little Shakespeare puppet (more on that soon) and I couldn't resist ending the trip with my little Shakespeare riding these somewhat ugly ducks.

If I needed to define what a recession duck looks like, these would be it.

As far as our economy goes, it certainly sounds bad if you pay attention to the media. I can only hope it will turn around. Until then, perhaps it will encourage us to save more, charge less, and be more cautious--not necessarily bad things, when you think about it.

When the recession comes, it is hard not to want to duck.

Collecting: A Hobby or a Problem?

"Hello. My name is Kim and I am a collector."

Okay, I've got that off my chest.

In fact, my husband is an avid collector and over the years I've gotten addicted to it too.

We collect books. We collect rocks, particularly fluorescent rocks. We collect Disneyland history stuff. We collect train stuff. We collect art work related to books. I have a lot of little boxes around which if I were being honest, might also be considered a collection. We collect (or, at least, collected) David Winter cottages (you know, the cutesy "tudor" cottage statues). We collect books. Oh, did I say that before? Well, we really, really collect books!

Mostly we have children's books, particularly series books, because that is what my husband studies and writes about most of the time. However, we are both avid readers so our collections include books which Disney made into films, time travel books, scifi and fantasy books, Clive Cussler, Douglas Adams, plus books on historical topics (including the stuff for my dissertation and field of study).

Our book collection takes up a great deal of space. We joke that you can never have enough books, just not enough bookcases, and our home certainly reflects that. It is a three bedroom place for two people and one bedroom is the "library" (not only wall to wall bookcases, but even bookcases in the middle of the room). The other rooms also have multiple bookcases in them (even the dining room). There are stacks of books on the floor. There are boxes of books in the closet and garage. There is a bookcase in the hallway. Our living room has a clock which is also a bookcase.

Books...Not All That We Collect

Obviously, I love collecting. I know that we will never be one of those people with modern, minimalist homes. We don't have empty spaces, blank walls, or clear surface tops to tables or counters. There are "things" placed everywhere. Mostly, it not only doesn't bother me, but it seems right.

However, I will admit that this collecting causes problems. When you collect as much as we do, you collect more than cool things. You also collect dust. You collect crowded spaces. You collect debt.

I know that we give up having a lot of clear space in our house by collecting. We have to worry about damaging our things. We have to worry about insurance and loss. There is some "psychic energy" which is given up by having so much stuff.

There is certainly cost involved. There is the cost in buying the stuff. Then some of this has to be framed or otherwise displayed--so there is the cost to display it properly. Some stuff has had to be restored or cleaned, so then there is more cost. Then there is the time to dust and clean and take care of the stuff. Not to mention the time to find it (I've spent lots of time on eBay looking for stuff, plus time in bookstores, antique stores, and using Google to find other venues).

Do We Own the Stuff or Does the Stuff Own Us?

I read a lot of sites which suggest that by collecting, we let the stuff own us. Perhaps we do. However, it isn't necessarily a bad thing.

If the "stuff" we have is something we truly love and spend time on (our hobby, our obsession, and--in my husband's case--a second profession) is it bad to be surrounded by it? Everywhere I turn there is something which has a story for me. There is nothing here which we don't love and cherish. Our home feels warm and loved. It is not clean, cold, and sterile. Okay, I hope it is clean (if sometimes a bit dusty), but it is certainly not the other two.

I long for a bit more space, but mostly so that we have room to display things with more space around them and put out things which have been boxed up or moved to less important spots in the house. I'd like to have more space, but just for the sake of having more room for our stuff and allowing us to honor the things we love. We get compliments on how our stuff is arranged in our current home and we try to keep up with it and the money we spend on it so that we don't get overwhelmed. As long as it isn't dragging us down, why should we get rid of it?

The collectors out there know what I mean. Our homes are not the typical showcases you see in magazines, but as long as you can keep it reasonably orderly and not cross the line to pack rat city (where you can't have anyone in and you don't have room to move) and the stuff you keep is truly loved (not just stacks of newspapers you think you might need someday), then I don't see why a little obsessive collecting is a terrible thing.

True, people do joke that we are the Addams family (because "their house is a museum, when people come to see them") but since I love a good museum, I take that as a compliment. I can say proudly, "Hello, my name is Kim and I am a collector!"

In the past few years, I've been interested in a number of blogs, some of which encourage readers to get rid of clutter. While I'm not getting rid of the collections, I do recommend these two sites for a good read: with many topics, including clutter)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Blog Issues

I am barely a month into running a blog and I've run into a few problems. Today I found I had comments to "moderate" and some of them were a little old. I thought I had it set up to tell me when these came in, but apparently I did not. I apologize to people who were kind enough to comment and then had a delay in having their comment appear. I will have to fix this issue.

I have several posts in the works but none of them suit me just now. I guess I'm having "one of those weeks" for writers. I am writing but I don't like the product. This feeling comes to us all, I suppose, and I usually find it doesn't last long.

Since I don't have anything prepared to post, I will use this moment to do some shameless self advertising.

Please check out the websites run by my husband and myself.

First, please visit It is our home page--where we link all the stuff we are doing. I'm a bit behind on updating photos because the last year of the Ph.D. really took up my time.

Then, if you like children's series books, my husband has which contains info about Edward Stratemeyer and Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Bobbsey Twins, etc. He is writing several books on these topics. The website hasn't been updated lately, but there is good info there.

If you like Time Travel Books, please see the searchable database my husband put together at He has more books still to add (it is a never ending process) but there are some cool books there.

If you like Disneyland,... well, you are in good company. Here are some links from our sites:
Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland
Disneyland Tickets
Disneyland Magazines

Finally, if you would like to hire me, you can view my online resume (I will be updating it this week, so stay tuned for changes to its appearance).

Thank you. I really appreciate any readers who are out there. Hope you will return when I have a new post. It should be soon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Writing a Novel in a Month: Fun or Crazy? How About Both!

NaNoWriMo is a great annual event for people who want to write a novel (or several short stories, screenplays--I've even heard of people writing code for several big programs--whatever will be 50,000 words or more).

Starting Nov. 1, a HUGE number of people will be starting a new project--something that they may have planned but not actually started writing. Then you just log in and keep track of your progress. The NaNoWriMo site has cool tips, forums, and other helpful stuff, and there are many ways you can meet other participants. Locally, my SD Writers Ink group is doing weekly NaNoWriMo meetings and a finale party.

I tried this last year, but didn't complete the project. I was in the middle of some very difficult dissertation deadlines and just couldn't concentrate on fiction. I decided to try again the next year when I would be done with my Ph.D. Well, here it is next year, and I am signing up again.

If you have ever wanted to write a novel (or something else big), this is a great time to do it with a lot of other people. Sure, it may seem crazy. It is a lot of words, but it doesn't hurt to try and there is a lot of support out there to help.

One writing blog I've been reading, How Not to Write, had a good post on reasons you might give to not join NaNoWriMo:

I agree with these sentiments. Decide to join and do it. No excuses.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Barnacle of My Imagination

When I was a child, I collected seashells and rocks. These were fairly easy and cheap things for a child to collect, so my parents encouraged my collecting habit.

The prize of my collection was a barnacle. I don't remember where we got it, but we didn't buy it. We found it somewhere on a beach and it came to rest in a special spot on my shelf.

I liked this barnacle for two reasons. One, I had seen live barnacles on piers and ships, but never a hollow shell of a dead barnacle. Two, on the base of it was something that looked like a tiny skeleton. This skeleton looked to me like a very small dinosaur.

In my imagination, I owned a tiny T-Rex or similar dinosaur. I imagined the impressed adults when they finally discovered my tiny little dinosaur fossil (as I saw it). Credited with the discovery of a new species, I would stand with my little barnacle in my hand while people took my picture and credited me for knowing how important this was to science.

Although I have long stopped collecting shells, I still have a nice grouping of them displayed in one room. Since my family lived in the Philippines for two years when I was about eight years old, I have some very nice shells in my collection. I enjoy looking at them, as many of them are very beautiful.

Nestled in amongst the flashier pieces is the little barnacle, skeleton still intact. I doubt it is an important find or a little dinosaur (fossil or otherwise), although I still don't know what, in fact, it is. For me, it stands for my childhood, full of wonder and imagination, when I would gaze at a little skeleton-like item on the bottom of a barnacle and dream of great things.

If you know what my barnacle is, please let me know. It won't spoil the memory, and I've always been curious about its true nature.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Grammar, Obsessions, and Nazis

Have you ever seen someone accused of being a "grammar nazi"? We all know, from numerous films and television shows (Indiana Jones is a good example of this), that Nazis are the easiest shorthand for "villain." Nobody likes Nazis, except other Nazis. Therefore, when someone is annoying, especially in a way that indicates their enthusiasm or a policing of others, out comes the accusation of "Nazi."

It is rather like the accusations of "elitism" which are bandied about during election time. Our "western" culture seems to have a distrust of academics and intelligence. We talk about wanting "joe sixpack" representing us, ask which candidate we would rather have over for a barbeque, and dislike politicians who seem too smart or have a good education. Both John Kerry and Al Gore were told they lost partly because they seemed too smart and, therefore, too cold, too elite, too.... well, too much like a politician.

Correcting others' grammar mistakes will often bring about the same charge. It may be annoying to be wrong and to have it pointed out in a public forum, but if the person was polite in pointing out the error, should "grammar nazi" charges really start flying? It makes the offense of pointing out an error seem hideous while reducing the seriousness of the Nazis' offenses. The phrase seems a lose-lose proposition.

Professionalism, Trust, and Grammar

I used to teach business writing at a local community college. One thing I tried to teach my students is that grammatical mistakes make a business look unprofessional. I have less trust in a business to take care of my needs if that business can not be bothered to have correct grammar in a sign, brochure, menu, or letter.

Years ago, I wrote my local councilwoman (she is now a state senator) about a local issue. I received a letter in return which almost made me cry. It had ten major spelling and grammar issues. It was typed by a secretary, but the councilwoman had signed it. I had been a secretary and I knew that my boss would never have signed a letter containing errors of any kind. She knew that the letter would represent her to the reader; I would have to redo a letter containing errors before it could go out. Here was a politician who either didn't bother to read the letters she was signing (and didn't know how bad her secretary was), didn't care about presenting herself professionally, or didn't know that these were errors. None of these options seemed good to me and I was unhappy to see her climb the political ladder (although this was partly because she did not help in the local issue I was concerned about either).

We all make mistakes. I am sure that someone will probably point out an error I have made, either in this post or another post. The point is whether the author tries to correct errors and makes an honest effort to improve.

There are some bloggers out there, even some popular ones, which I have trouble reading. One young and popular author does not know the difference between "its" and "it's" and "their" and "they're." I cringe to read his work, even though the content is frequently good. I unsubscribed eventually; although I still check in occasionally, I soon leave because I find that while his content remains good, his grammar remains bad. Even after it is pointed out to him, the errors remain and continue in newer posts.

I once read a very good post on a favorite blog where the author gave tips to "perspective home buyers" instead of "prospective home buyers" and it gave me a headache. This is like taking a diamond ring and wrapping it in dirty newspaper before giving it to the reader. The diamond ring is still lovely, but the recipient can be forgiven for not wanting to handle it. The covering sullies the content.

Obsession: It Comes Now With Sentence Diagramming, But No Vandalism

I will admit to a slight obsession with grammar. It is to be expected after teaching composition courses in colleges and universities for over fourteen years. I have spent a lot of time teaching grammar errors and correcting papers. It can get to be a habit, a slightly addicting one.

I enjoy the day I introduce "dangling modifiers" to the class (probably the funniest error one can write). I have fun with subordinate clauses. Commonly mistaken words can lead to some funny sentence exercises. I use traffic accidents as an example of passive voice and how the person doing the action can disappear (making it seems like it isn't your fault that the old lady was hit). Grammar is never boring for me and I try to pass on the enjoyment to my students.

A recent court case brought it home for me. Perhaps you heard of TEAL? This was a project/blog by a young man who thought it would be fun to go on a road trip and correct errors on public signs. TEAL stood for "Typo Eradication Advancement League." His blog was well written and contained many funny pictures of errors he had spotted and then corrected. I checked in on it every day or so. The problem came when he corrected a sign in a national park. The park found out who had "vandalized" the historic sign and went after the two young men. (More info can be found here.) They are now banned from national parks and face other penalties. The blog is gone.

I do not condone vandalism. The guys from TEAL often asked the owners of signs to fix them, but they also would correct things themselves (which is where things got ugly). I do understand the desire to fix the typos of this world. When an error is repeated too often, it becomes commonplace and may even become accepted usage. Just a few years ago, many newspapers decided to accept the split infinitive. My local paper uses the split infinitive several times an issue now (and I notice every one of them). What was once an error is now accepted usage. The split infinitive (made famous by Star Trek and "to boldly go where no man has gone before") is here to stay and perhaps that is okay, but there are plenty of errors I do not want to see become acceptable in modern English.

A few years ago, near USC, I saw a campaign to promote the local street of Figueroa with signs proclaiming of the area: "Its whats happening!" This was a large campaign and was right next to a major university. I was embarrassed for us all. I just never got out a pen and fixed the signs. Vandalism was the line I would not cross. However, I have been known to point out errors to business owners or blog writers; I want them to be able to present themselves professionally. I hope they will appreciate my concern and I try to be polite. I am often greeted with polite (and, occasionally, not so polite) scorn but at least I tried.

Nazis and Nerds

I began this post by talking about Nazis. What I really want to point out is that an interest in correct grammar (even an obsession about it) does not deserve such a stupid label. Nazis are an easy enemy today because we all know that they did some truly evil things (unless you are a Holocaust denier, of course, but that's a different issue). Wanting people to have correct grammar and spelling is not a sign of a Nazi.

I would like to see our culture move back to accepting education and intelligence as good things--rather than denigrating it with labels like "nerd," "elite," or "grammar nazi." Being smart and literate should be desirable--especially in our leaders. I hope that the politicians from both parties are very smart and educated people; I want a leader who is intelligent, not just one who would be funny while standing next to a grill with a beer in hand.

Some of my favorite grammar-related blogs:
The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotes
Apostrophe Abuse
Engrish (errors in English by non-native speakers, which may be offensive to some, but I enjoy puzzling over what it was in our grammar or word definitions which led to such a bad translation--probably a holdover from teaching many ESL students.)
Cake Wrecks (sometimes has grammar issues, but often just funny cake designs, but either way it is too good to miss)

P.S.: I promise to be grateful if you point out any errors you find in my writing. I will know it is just because you care enough about my writing and about my readers to want to see the problems corrected.

UPDATE: An hour after I posted this, my attention was brought to a post on Engadget which generated debate over the usage of "further" and "farther" (with jokes about "father"). My favorite comment was:
And further, my father can throw your father further than Brett Favre can throw, which is farther than a few furlongs, furthering the argument that father knows best.
That commenter became my "hero of the day" for bringing humor to an increasingly pointed discussion. Further, this is a difficult word usage issue and I am glad to see that several people did care enough to write in and discuss it and no "nazi" accusations had flown (at least at the time I read the comments).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Writer's Brain: A Rewired Way of Thinking

About a year and a half ago, as I finished up my dissertation, I thought of an idea for a novel. In the next day or so, I'd come up with much of the plot and made some notes on its structure and characters. However, I had other writing priorities right then, so I forced myself to set the idea aside and told myself I'd take time to write fiction when I finished my Ph.D.

It is strange, but I never thought of myself as a writer. Sure, I wrote poetry in high school. Two of my poems went into the literary magazine published by my school. I won a position in a citywide high school playwriting workshop my senior year. My first year of college, I started a fantasy novel (heavily influenced by quest novels, Tolkien, and some cultural anthropology classes) which I gave up on after 40 pages of plot and two notebooks of notes/cultural background and maps.

In other words, I did a lot of writing when I was younger. However, as I wrote more and more academic papers, I stopped writing fiction, and during that entire time I did not think of myself as a writer. I was a student, and eventually a teacher, a writing instructor, and sometimes I wrote academic papers (and eventually a dissertation of 340+ pages), but I did not see myself as a "writer." Any fiction I dealt with was by reading it. I have always LOVED reading. There is a reason why I became an English major in college; I am completely addicted to good narrative. However, I never saw myself as a writer.

The "Muse" Strikes, Again and Again

Then one day a good idea came to me--literally while I was in the shower. I couldn't leave this idea alone. I kept writing little notes about what I'd write "when I have time." Then another idea came, and then another. It is now a few months since I earned my degree, and I have four books planned in the series I've started writing, another four books in another series, three more books in yet another series, and another two which stand alone (so far), three children's books, and a vague beginning to a short story collection. Some of these ideas are more fleshed out than others, but I can't seem to stop coming up with ideas for the series I've already planned, and even more ideas keep coming.

What happened? When I set aside that one idea during my dissertation something changed. That thing that changed may seem rather simple, but it was profound. I told myself, "I'm a writer." That's right, I decided that when I got done with my dissertation, I would write fiction and that from that day, I was a writer, whether I was taking the time to write fiction right now or not.

I Am What I Am!

That change in self definition started an avalanche of ideas. I may only have a few chapters done in my first book (although it is fully outlined), but I have no shortage of ideas to follow up. I just need time to finish them. Everywhere I go I think "this could be a good idea for a story" and I write down a note. I see people and wonder what their story is and how it might relate to what I am writing. Everything around me is an inspiration.

I think there is an important lesson in this. If you want to write (fiction or nonfiction), don't just say "I want to write" or "I'm going to be a writer." No, YOU ARE A WRITER--right now.

That's right. Decide you are a writer. Writers write, and that's what you are doing. Then get to it. Take notes of ideas, plan your work, and set aside time to write, even if it is just a little time. For me it made all the difference. Even though I didn't have time to write my fiction during my dissertation, I still changed the way I saw myself, which opened up a flood of ideas--all of which I took notes on for later. Now that I am actually writing my first book, I feel confident I will finish it. After all, I am a writer.

I found that just defining myself as a writer was enough to open up a well of creativity which I had never know was there. Now I just have to work on becoming a published writer.


A Few Resources for Writers:
Nanowrimo (November is National Novel Writing Month, so get ready!)
Write to Done
Uncle Scott's Writing Class (I took Orson Scott Card's Fiction class a few months ago and had a great time, but here are some of his online resources) (one of many good writing blogs out there)

And perhaps your area has some groups for writers. San Diego certainly does and I have started joining some of them:
San Diego Writers Ink
San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime (yes, my first book is a murder mystery)
San Diego Writer's Guild

Money in Your Mattress? Bad Idea!

It is natural for people to be worried with the doom and gloom financial news coming at us from every media outlet. You might be asking yourself if your money is safe. Some people are even withdrawing large chunks of cash from the bank and hiding it away in their homes.

I'm here to tell you now--it is a bad idea. Money hidden in your house, whether in a wall, buried in the back yard or stuffed in or under the bed, is vulnerable to theft, fire, and forgetfulness.

Forgetfulness? That's right. It is not uncommon for people to hide money and then forget about it. A couple of times a year there will be a story of people discovering long lost boxes or jars of cash, sometimes from the 1920s and 1930s.

Think about how poor many people were in the 1930s. Do you really think the person meant to leave that money behind to be discovered by someone else in the year 2008? No, the person who put it there forgot where it was or died without telling his heirs.

There was a story just the other day about $1500. It seems a man was cleaning out his sister's house. He hired a junk company to come take away the bed. It is only because the company's employees were honest that he was told that when they tore apart the bed that they discovered money.

It seems that this wasn't the only money his sister hid, fearing the banks would not be safe. However, how safe was her bed? The money was almost thrown away or taken by others. This loss never would have made the news; the money would just be gone.

What should we learn from this? Yes, the news about our economy is bad, but the solution does not lie in your mattress. Instead, learn about the FDIC and NCUA guarantees. Make sure that you do not have more money in any one bank than will be covered by the insurance. Check to make sure that each investment or account you have is as safe as it can be.

You can make sure you have a little bit of extra cash on hand, just in case of emergencies, but resist the urge to hide your cash. The banks may not seem safe, but they are a lot safer than hiding your hard earned money in a hole in the back yard.

Personal Finance Blogs I like:
The Simple Dollar
Wise Bread
Get Rich Slowly

Introduction to This Blog

Welcome! This blog is a place for me to share my thoughts on a variety of subjects and to advertise my writing abilities.

I earned my Ph.D. in English at the University of Southern California in the summer of 2008. I am now seeking employment. I am skilled at writing, editing, teaching, and basic web design.

I have taught composition classes since 1992. My Ph.D. is in Literature and my specialty is Shakespeare and Pre-1700s literature, including women authors and representations of both London and Women in Medieval and Renaissance literature.

I am also interested in freelance writing and editing work. This is one of the main reasons I began this blog. I had no place to show samples of my writing and it seemed that a blog would be a good place to get my writing out there where others could see it.

If you are interested in hiring me or would like to use one of my posts, please contact me. Thank you.