Dialing for Democracy

Hey, remember those innocent bygone days of the 2008 election? The candidate with the ears whom I’d barely heard of beat out Hillary and went onto win a second term? McCain sunk his own ship by joining forces with that dingbat who could see Russia from her porch?

God we were naive.

Anyhooo, the feeding frenzy of ’08 inspired me to write a humorous feature for the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor, where I worked at the time. Reading it now, in the light of the shit show our country is in the middle of, I had to laugh or else I would cry (and possibly never stop until all the votes are counted tomorrow night).

I hope you get a little chuckle too…

Dialing for Democracy

My thumb has lost all feeling so I decide to switch hands and continue calling in my vote. I know there are people out there with way more spare time, as well as multiple phones, but I’ve got to get in my two cents worth. Maybe it won’t even matter, but I hit disconnect each time with a little swell of pride.

The year is 2032 and it’s that time again. Time to choose the president of this great nation the only way we Americans know how. Phone in voting, of course. When the powers-that-be realized how much command shows like “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars” had over the masses, our electoral system evolved accordingly.

dialingmadness

Six months ago the latest pool of candidates was formed following auditions from Vegas to D.C. We’re still enjoying tape of the worst rejects between weekly eliminations. There was the congressman from Montana whose moving speech and rendition of “I Am, I Said” were interrupted by his longtime mistress and 12-year-old love child. Well-placed cameras later caught the heavyset woman and the politician’s wife going at it in the parking lot. Yes, he had presidential potential but now the congressman was part of the gag reel with the rest of them.

Thanks to the Buffet law of 2016, candidates could no longer spend millions in advertising in order to woo American audiences. No, they simply had to rely on their charm, singing and/or dancing talents, photogenic quality of their immediate family, and of course, the fickle taste of viewers. A quirky black sheep or closeted skeleton was hardly a detriment to a presidential hopeful; nay, it just added texture and color to the televised competition when a redneck cousin popped out of the woodwork.

Legislation now allowed billions of dollars in advertising to be diverted, not to mention the forests of trees that were saved when political junk mail was outlawed. The surplus money went mostly to education — also provided entirely by television and Internet — and making sure each citizen had enough monitors and modems per household to receive their God-given right to the information highway. With the majority of the workforce operating from home, it really was a win-win situation. In fact, as soon as time’s up for calling in our final votes I’ll be back at the computer fielding angry I-M’s from India. My mom says it used to be the other way around but I find it hard to believe I would call someone in Punjab to discuss my credit card balance.

My eyes drift back to the set as the busty emcee of “The Amazing Race: Presidential Edition” points to the clock in Times Square. Voting is almost over and with today’s technology we’ll know in mere minutes who will be running the most powerful country in the world.

I think it’s going to be close. Dakota Fanning definitely won over the hearts of America with her childhood filmography montage and proposed line of biodegradable hand-held computers. But Ashton Kutcher has age, experience and let’s face it — he blew away the competition during the last round of “I Can Name That Third World Country in Two Syllables.” Even if he didn’t win, his audition tape punking Senator Chelsea Clinton would go down in history.

The election clock ticked off the final second and Jay-Z’s classic mix of “Hail to the Chief” blasted from the speakers. I reached for the remote and fell on my face.

As shag carpet tickled my nose I sneezed and came fully awake. Ah jeez. What a nightmare. To think I fell asleep watching the last of the nasty 2008 campaign ads, and almost woke to a country run by Ashton Kutcher. Although, Bruce Willis would have made a great Secretary of Defense. Yippee kai yay…

PS: I really wrote this EIGHT YEARS AGO with tongue in cheek and didn’t change a word. Kind of chilling. Now go vote, for the love of all that’s holy!!

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Creative Crackdown — #museclues

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I swear the glass isn’t the size of my head. Although I’d be okay with that.

I’d love to blame my current problems and frustrations on writer’s block or an MIA muse, but as most creatives will tell you, if you don’t work the muscle it simply atrophies. Staring at my blank canvas or page, waiting for inspiration to smack me in the face, usually results in the decision to pour a glass of wine and see what everyone’s talking about on twitter. Flash forward two hours and there is still a blank canvas/page, rolling its inanimate eyes in we’ve-been-down-this-road-before amusement.

In other words, there may not be a mystical muse to blame for my current state of overwhelming frustration and general dissatisfaction. Just me.

Well, crap.

So when I turned 52 yesterday [GULP, I really need to start lying about my age] and had just received $52 from mom to spend at will, I went to the local bookstore seeking inspiration. I didn’t buy any books but I did find some cool ideas for free. Then I went to the local arts and crafts store that doesn’t open on Sundays and doesn’t want to pay for their employees’ birth control which is fine but then don’t bitch about abortion and I eventually digressed down several aisles before spending $53 on art supplies in the full-scale hunt for my mystical, hooky-playing muse.

So here’s my plan: Create something every single damn day until I’ve retrieved the passion and confidence that has taken an extended hike in the past few years. I know I suck at NaNoWriMo and I know my schedule and resources would make a Painting-A-Day difficult to keep up with, so I’m committing to SOMETHING CREATIVE every day and I’ll be accountable by posting it online at my creative blog AndSuzSays.com. Every day.

[[[ I’ll just keep repeating that until I stop hyperventilating at the mere thought ]]]

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I’m sure 52 will be as much of a hot mess as this first painting attempt is. I’m okay with that too.

Day 1: Last night I took a selfie of me and my first glass of wine as I “celebrated” the passage of time. Today I celebrated my daily #museclues with a painting of that photo. It’s not really finished because I got so zealous with the oils it was impossible to add details, but you get the idea… It’s a start.

I’ll be posting a blog, essay, story, drawing, painting or SOMETHING CREATIVE each day and tweeting it if anyone is interested, but mainly it’s simply a cheap ploy to lure my muse out of hiding and help me figure out what the hell I want to be when I grow up. Which I think happens at 53 so I better hurry…

Is it HOT enough for ya?!

This isn't me because this wouldn't be water in that bottle. Just sayin'...

This isn’t me and if it was there wouldn’t be water in that bottle. Just sayin’…

There aren’t enough cliches for the heat in Arizona in the summer time. I know — I heard them all when I moved here at the end of July. But I guess I can stand it because I’m not getting out of the kitchen any time soon.

Unfortunately, the heat doesn’t just apply to the temperature. I’m not gonna lie, It’s been hell.

Since I arrived, I’ve learned that parenting a challenging child is the toughest job I’ll ever do, blending families isn’t easy, finding fulfilling employment with zero local contacts is impossible, renting out your house from 800 miles away is stupid, making new friends at my age is awkward, money doesn’t grow on cactus any more than it does on trees, the sun is hot, water is wet and several other profound truths I can’t recall at the moment.

Fortunately, there have been some signs of improvement with the mad middle-schooler, a job was eventually secured, I’m not homeless, November started off in the mid-80s with no foreseeable forecast of snow, and the main reason I moved here is still my main squeeze in spite of it all. Crazy man.

So maybe I can stand the heat after all, stay in the kitchen a little longer, while resisting temptation to stick my head in the oven. (Because it’s electric and I need to ration the power for the air conditioning.) Obviously.

Post-hibernation homework

Published with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

After a few heartbreaking false starts, it appears that spring may finally be ready to stick around. Well, at least until it snows tomorrow. I can handle precipitation as long as it’s not frozen and accompanied by frigid winds. I’m more than a little whiny these days.

With the warm-up, I can tell it’s not just my attitude that needs adjusting, but my creativity as well. After a while of everything being brown or white, I’m simply not as inspired – be it words, art, music or other forms of expression – I’m just not feeling it.

Don’t be late for this very important date… with your creative self.

If you’re the same way, crawling out of your figurative cave this spring, I have some post-hibernation homework for you: make a date with yourself.

Years ago I read an amazing book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and I’ve carried some of the most inspiring points with me since then, one of them being an artist date. Cameron is primarily a writer but the spirit of the book and the artist date is really for all types of creative people – and in my humble opinion, we’re all creative no matter what shape that may take.

Unfortunately we’re all too often waylaid by work, family, obligation – or in my case, winter blues – to get those juices flowing and we need to assign ourselves the task of stimulating those senses again. It won’t take a lot of time and it may even be something you’ve already scheduled. The key is opening your eyes and looking at the world a little differently.

Start with an hour a week and designate that time as your creativity date. One of my favorite places to start is the local thrift or antique store. Look past the junk that no one else wants or the dated dishes and clothes that make you cringe.

Look for the treasure. Think about the history behind an unusual knick-knack. Imagine the story behind the old book with the personal inscription. Appreciate the intricate pattern on a single dish that survived from a whole set of old china.

When the weather is finally cooperative, take a walk – just you and your imagination. Along with your stiff legs, you’ll feel your creativity stretch and yawn while you look at the dark bare branches lacing against the sky, their buds not quite visible to those in a hurry. Really admire the mosaic of decades-old flagstone that graces so many of the streets in Berthoud. (No really, look at them and make sure you don’t trip on an uneven edge while looking at the trees.)

Sometimes the date can be less abstract and you can take the time to fully enjoy the arts as created by others. When the kids are in school, spend an afternoon in the theater with a small independent film that has the critics buzzing. Speaking of kids, the Annual Thompson School District art show “Look. Think. Make. Connect!” is at the Loveland Museum/Gallery through April 14. You will be awestruck and inspired by the talent of our regional youth.

So many stories... one of them could be yours. (What is that weird black thing on the table?)

So many stories… one of them could be yours. (What is that weird black thing on the table?)

The Longmont Library is holding a festival this month that includes a talk and slide show with renowned Colorado author and photographer John Fielder on April 17. Any library is actually a gold mine for creative dates. I’ve been known to walk the stacks without purpose, just looking at all the books and seeing what subject sparked my curiosity.

You get the idea. You don’t need to be a writer or painter or musician, but may just need a seasonal jumpstart to your creativity. So here’s your assignment, if you choose to accept it: take an hour this week just for you and your winter-worn imagination. Work that intangible muscle and see what tangible impact it has on the rest of your life. It’s an easy A.

I’m dreaming of a Skype Christmas

Reprinted with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

Home for the holidays is a popular wish for many, though not always possible due to circumstances such as distance, work, weather and even war. Years ago the only way to bridge those distances was letter writing or expensive long-distance phone calls. Sentimental carols like “White Christmas” or my personal favorite, “Please Come Home for Christmas,” made the longing that much more poignant.

I always knew the holidays had arrived when I saw the commercial where the college boy arrives home to make coffee and surprise his family. Tears were guaranteed.

Let’s pretend I cry this pretty.

Now I’m assured an emotional meltdown by the recent commercial of ongoing conversations between a college girl and her widower father, via computer. What can I say — I’m an easy consumer target as soon as the first hall is decked.

Times they are a-changing.

The last two decades have seen a growth in technology that has changed the world and made the simple desire to be “home for the holidays” possible in spite of the miles. Cell phones, Internet service and social media have connected us on a global level. In 2003, three Estonian software developers released Skype, an application allowing proprietary voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP). Not only does the software allow instant messaging and voice calls, but with Web camera hardware on the computer or phone, callers can see their loved one on the other end in beautiful — sometimes blurry and possibly behind a second or two — living color.

Skype eventually garnered more than 600 million users and was bought by Microsoft in 2011 for 8.5 billion dollars. Several competitive applications have been developed since then, including Apple’s version, FaceTime. The customer need only download the free software and create an account, then add contacts to their list. If both parties use the video chat, they can talk face-to-face on computers or even smart phones. The bigger and better the screen, the closer the other person feels.

Besides enhancing long distance relationships everywhere, Skype has become an invaluable business and educational tool. Employers have used it to interview prospective hires without the expense of flying them in from elsewhere and, with multiple connections allowed, audio conferencing with far-flung participants is possible. It’s even been used to assist in language exchange for students around the world.

For those of us who dream of going to the cyber office in pajamas and bunny slippers, Skype meetings make that possible. Just put on a nice shirt, wipe the oatmeal from your chin and no one’s the wiser.

They’re not hanging on every word of your presentation…
they’re wondering if you have pants on.

Professional tip: don’t stand up unless you’re positively disconnected.

Being far from those we love at the holidays can definitely be made easier with video calling. Imagine the joy of seeing your niece open her gift while you watch her reaction, or sharing a New Year’s kiss with your boyfriend while on separate coasts. Enjoy a little sibling competition by comparing the golden hues of your Thanksgiving turkey with your sister in Buffalo.

Personal tip: if you’re Skyping with grandma while wearing the hideous snowman sweater she sent that you have no intention of keeping, be sure to hide the price tag and horrified expression.

Yes, technology is a wonderful thing at the holidays, but it’s still not perfect.

Change is good…

… and other annoying cliches I take issue with.

To say that my fiftieth year has brought about changes in my life would be an under-statement of laughable proportions. About a year ago I formulated a wild list of goals to complete before the big 5-0 date. I’m still making progress on it, but I didn’t factor in some of the variables. Some of the items don’t really mean the same to me now. Some things happened that made a few goals much more important. So I’m being flexible and open-minded.

Which all sounds reasonable except the dichotomy of being flexible and fifty is adorably NOT reasonable.

I suppose most of us have complained about change being decidedly unwelcome at times in our lives. Books like “Who Moved My Cheese?” deal specifically with our innate aversion to change.

I once had a friend who told me I wasn’t satisfied with changing one thing, but that I had to “blow up the whole damn picture.” (I’m sure it was a compliment, but I won’t over-think that.) I admit that when I embark on a new adventure — a move, a new business, a family — I tend to go big. Whole damn picture big.

Case in point: When I moved back to Colorado, I chose a town where I knew no one but the woman who sold me my house. (Of course, her husband happened to be the mayor so that helped.) Although I had no job or contacts or experience, when I saw a small, empty space available I decided to open an art gallery within 6 weeks. When my biological clock went off, I didn’t get another cat, I adopted a real live baby. Solo.

I hit the mid-century landmark with a bright eye to the future, but maybe less willingness to move my cheese — mainly out of fear I’ll forget where I put it, but that’s another post. My post-gallery job has expanded and evolved in the last year, allowing me to become a stronger writer and a more creative designer. It’s fun and it’s also relaxing. There is stress, but it was rewarded with several press awards earlier this year.

Change brings opportunity. – Nido Qubein

Then I was given a new computer. It’s a PC and I’m a Mac person. Let’s just say the muttered profanity coming out of my office lately is some of my best work.

Change is such hard work. – Billy Crystal

I’m in the first relationship I’ve been in for a dozen years, and it’s awesome! Well, except for the part where he folds towels differently than I do and I have to shave my legs more than three times a year, but I’ll get used to that, right?

In the past year my ‘baby girl’ — who is still in elementary school — shot up four inches, 20 pounds, and has decided to try on the sullen, moody, irrational teenager persona for size. I may be adding ‘collect military school brochures’ to next year’s list of goals.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. – Maya Angelou

There are numerous other little – and big – changes going on in my life right now and I’d like to know how to pace them, slow them down a little so I can better plan my tantrums in between each one. Maybe there’s a 12-step program for those of us unable (or unwilling) to cope with change. If so, there’s already a perfect quote on hand…

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

What about you? Do you go-with-the-flow when life throws you curves, or cross your arms and pout until it sinks in there’s not a damn thing you can do about it?

Baby, you can drive my car

I think I’m comfortable enough now to tell you all about my magic car. No, it doesn’t fly, although it really should. Seriously — look at the advances in technology: smart phones, high-def flat screen TVs the size of a football field and games that allow me to bowl in my own living room, minus the ugly shoes. Why don’t our cars fly yet?!

But I digress. I have a magic car and her name is Snowbell.

Snowbell is cleverly disguised as a 10-year-old POS to avoid rampant magic car theft in the region.

My daughter and I named her as a show of gratitude for years of reliable service and minimal repairs. Maybe if we personalize her, she’ll hang in there for another few years. One can hope (with all my heart and crappy credit score) that will happen.

Durable Honda genes aside, Snowbell’s magic is a little less tangible than a well-built transmission. Looking at the photo you’re probably not impressed by the white sedan that looks like it hasn’t been washed in the past year. Can I help it if my favorite parking spot at work is near a tree full of angry little birds with questionable digestive issues?

Underneath the dents, scratches, wonky driver-side wiper and copious amounts of bird shit, the car is magic. Behold:

I have a typical crazy morning getting my willful child ready for school before dropping her off with an air kiss and a sigh of relief. My drive to work is only ten or fifteen minutes but in that time my mind clicks into problem-solving mode. With laser focus, I prioritize my agenda for the day and easily visualize the tasks being knocked down like bowling pins. (Again, minus the shoes.)

The months I spent writing my first (un-publishable) novel were some of the most energized I’ve ever had and many, many hours were spent in the car — the magic car — solving plot knots or adding new threads of the story. Passersby undoubtedly enjoyed watching the wild woman bouncing in her seat, slapping the steering wheel with literary inspiration.

After a long day at work I find myself cataloguing all the chores waiting at home. Willful child’s homework, dinner, leftover deadline writing for work. I am empowered with the determination to walk in the door and get it all done (without drama) and hit the sack in plenty of time to achieve those desired seven hours of sleep.

[Insert fist pump here]

The problem with a magic car is you have to leave it eventually. Often, actually. And when I step out of the car the magic goes the way of the exhaust coming out of her butt and into the atmosphere. I walk into work and find my schedule has been blown to hell and I promptly forget the first three items on my to-do list because I just want my coffee.

The mind-bending idea I had for my current Great American Novel eludes me when I sit to write it down. Texting-while-driving is illegal in Colorado so I assume fine-tuning-witty-dialog-while-driving is also frowned upon. The state patrol doesn’t recognize magic cars.

When I pull into the driveway, still full of ambition for the night ahead, a resigned part of my brain knows what will happen when I open the door. So I hand the house key to my kid and just sit there in my magic car for a few minutes, knowing I’m about to forget how productive I planned to be in the coming hours.

So what good is my magic car if I can’t capture those bursts of brilliance and motivation after I’ve closed the door and hit the remote-lock that only works on three of the four doors? Maybe that’s why some people live in their cars — they’re clinging to that mystical power of productivity!

Okay maybe not, but I have thought a lot about this (clearly) and I think I’ve hit upon the solution: I need a driver. If someone drove me around in my magic car I could sit in the back and write down every brainstorm as it hits, catch up on emails, work my social networking to an extent heretofore unexplored.

Let’s face it people, I could probably come up with a cure for cancer if I had a driver on a cross-country road trip.

Like the Beatles, I can’t actually afford to pay anyone to drive me around yet, but I’d definitely ante up a percentage of the Nobel prize I’m bound to win for that cancer thing. Serious applicants only need apply.

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