Sunday, August 14, 2011


I engaged in a little four-year marriage when I was very young, and the only way I got through that last year was by devouring an entire paperback romance novel each day, accompanied by an excessive amount of Cheetos®. The books are so formulaic that the guidelines are actually written down, body part by body part, and available from, for instance,

I was avoiding my life in pre-Internet days, but I still knew the rules. A blond man and a brunette man would vie for the heart – et cetera – of our heroine. We orange-fingered readers would know within a couple chapters that the fair-haired man was up to no good. But wait. Maybe it was the dark fellow who was going to do her wrong. It got pretty tense, waiting to see if she'd choose correctly, and knowing, from the sweet experience of just yesterday, that she would make the right decision did not detract from the suspense, or from the subsequent relief.

But reading romance novels was a pleasure tainted with guilt. My mother was a librarian, for god's sake. There was a world map on our dining room wall, and a dictionary on the shelf. There was also a washer and dryer in this "dining room," lest you get the wrong idea, and seven chairs cluttered up against a table for four. Okay. Maybe it was meant to seat six, but it was always felt too small and, to this day, I'd really rather have a whole side to myself, thanks.

My point is that I was no more raised to read romance novels than to listen to country music, so if I ever actually enjoy either one, I feel bad about it. I feel as if I'm letting someone down – Mom, Dad, god, someone.

When I got divorced, I gave up romance novels, having lost the need to blot out the pain.

Nearly twenty years later, however, I had a co-worker who unabashedly enjoyed romances, and I realized that in my dirty little fling with that ilk, I'd never read one from the Queen Herself, Danielle Steel. So I bought one and started reading it.

I don't remember the details, but I do remember the page number. On page sixty, the blond guy said something that made me snort in derision. "There's no way he'd do that!" I tossed the book down in disgust and have never read another romance. However, that book – whatever it was – set a standard for me. I now give the author a sixty-page chance to prove herself. If I'm still heaving melodramatic sighs, rolling my eyes like a teenager, and talking out loud to the book at page sixty, I'm allowed to snap it shut and bring it to the thrift store.

So thank you, Danielle Steel, and happy sixty-fourth birthday. In a burst of meaningless coincidence, that four-year husband will also turn sixty-four – in exactly a week, as a matter of fact. Danielle has just published her ninety-seventh book. You heard me. Hell, most people don't even read that many in a lifetime. So good for her ... but I still don't like the genre.

However, there's a wonderful book with a major theme of writing romance novels, and the novel itself has romance in it, but it's not a romance novel. It's The Boyfriend School by Sarah Bird. It was out of print for a while, but it's back. Go read it. It's one of my favorites. I understand that's like the waitress saying, "Good choice! That's my favorite, too!" but I don't care. Go read it anyhow.

I don't know if you were with me when I praised Hannah's Dream, a novel by Diane Hammond, but the actual Diane Hammond commented on my blog. That was embarrassing and thrilling, and it made me a bit afraid of naming names. Even so, at the risk of conjuring her, I'm going to name a fourth writer, Joyce Carol Oates. She, like Danielle Steel, is prodigiously prolific. She also has three names which, for reasons known not even to myself, I always connect with romance writers. So I avoided her like, like ... like a romance writer.

But one day I picked up one of her books and behold! She's great. Dark. Bleak. Depressing, perhaps, but hey! she writes about my home area, non-city New York. I also love how she looks, which is irrelevant and enchanting. Her sentences are perfect. No blond guy ever says something in a book he wouldn't say in Real Life. And her stories don't require assistance from Cheetos.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Please Pass the Word

I think it's hilarious, in a non-funny sort of way, that we're told to use a different password for each account we have. Clearly, it was some twenty-five-year-old who thought that one up. Who can remember even three passwords? Not I, although I could have, years ago.

I had a file named PASSWORDS in my email for a while ... until I couldn't get into my email because I didn't have the password. Mister Google so seldom asks for it that I had simply forgotten it. Now it's all written down in the back pages of my desk calendar, except for the ones that are written down ... elsewhere. Probably.

A couple years ago, I got a letter from my bank. It said someone had been caught phishing in my account, and so I should change my password and, in fact, change the password of any other accounts that might have the same password. "Might," indeed. At that time, I used the same password for everything.

Now I have a different password for every account, and there are fifteen, at a quick glance. I voted for Gulfport for the Best of the Road competition from Rand McNally. There's a password I'll never use again. I'm voting for SHAMc – the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center – so they'll get a ton of money from Pepsi-Cola which, by the way, when its letters are rearranged, spells Episcopal. I pay my bills online, so there are all those passwords. So some I'll use again, and some I won't, but when I need them, I need them, so I have to keep track of them.

Today is my Uncle Eddie's birthday, except that he died on January 1 of this year, so it's no more his eighty-sixth birthday than yesterday was Lucille Ball's hundredth.

I know it's his birthday because Facebook said so. I went over to his Wall and behold! there are birthday greetings for him. One is from his great-nephew, who says Uncle Eddie has joined his late siblings, but another is from a Nicolazzo in Italy who may or may not be related, but who clearly doesn't know Uncle Eddie, um, transitioned.

A friend from my hometown in rural New York moved to an even more rural place in Montana, and he started dying of lung cancer. His wife got on his Facebook page and kept us abreast of his condition, and when he died, she posted it, and we all responded. It actually was touching. It was like being at the wake without having to take time off work and pay for a plane ticket to Montana, and a rental car, and a hotel room. Ah, yes, it was virtually like being there. Hm.

And so now I'm thinking that when we die, we not only live on in people's hearts and minds, but on Facebook, too. Unless your Last Will and Testament includes the pertinent passwords, your Wall will stand forever.

I'm not sure I want that, but on the other hand, it would be a sort of legacy, wouldn't it? I don't have children to carry on whatever dysfunction I'd have given them, so I'll have to settle for everything I've splatted onto the Internet. I have a blog with all my painted cars on it. That will just sit there, unchanging, while I'm off trying to learn to play the harp and walk with wings at the same time.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily want all the LOLs my Friends have posted on Facebook to remain with us forever, but my photo albums? Sure. Why not? I'd love for a great-great-great-niece to stumble upon the photos of mailboxes I've painted, and pine for the great-great-great-aunt she never had a chance to meet and love. One of my cousins posted a bunch of photos from the early fifties, of our parents (see above), and it's wonderful. We all get to leave comments and argue over who's who. It's almost like we're in the same room. Almost.

Facebook, Picasa, Flickr – these are all good ways to preserve photos, and everyone can see them (if they remember their passwords, of course), not just the one kid in the family who's the unofficial archivist, the one who has all the black album pages with fading snapshots and ballpoint captions, the one who has forgotten which was Aunt Erla and which was Grandma.

But surely all these cyber storage spaces will morph into something else, and then something else. Maybe Facebook will go bankrupt and all our shared daily profundity will disappear in the blink of an eye – along with the need for its password.

Dad is the man on the far left, top, and Mom's on the far left in the next row in pink. With a hat. And a shawl. Have mercy!