blog news, condescending twatbags, music, true crime

It’s the last Friday of 2022… so how about a few thoughts on the year?

I wasn’t going to share the featured photo, until I realized that it was dated December 24, 2021, which was a week before Betty White died… Eerie! I’d say that kind of sums up a lot of 2022.

Wow… here we are again at Friday! And it’s the very last Friday of 2022, too. Every year, I’m left amazed anew, when I realize how quickly time passes. The older I get, the faster it seems to go. As I’m sitting here thinking about what I would like to write about today, I decided to look at what I wrote about last year. I see that on December 30, 2021, I wrote one of my most popular blog posts– one I wrote about a 2008 French documentary titled America’s Broken Dream. For some reason, a lot of people have hit that post since I wrote it a year ago. I’ve even gotten some comments from people who aren’t regular readers. A couple of people also asked me to update the post with new information, which I haven’t really done.

I don’t really have any insider information about the documentary, or the people who were featured in it, including Amber and Daniel Carter, a young couple with two small children who seemed to be climbing out of poverty when Daniel got arrested for killing his neighbor. When I wrote that post, I was just inspired by my immediate thoughts, after randomly stumbling on the documentary while messing around on YouTube. A lot of people are still intrigued by America’s Broken Dream, but I’ve pretty much moved on, for now. I will keep allowing comments until the comments close automatically, but I don’t have anything to add at this point. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll be compelled to read more about Amber and Daniel Carter, and find out more about what became of them. They definitely have a story, and people are very interested. But, as I’ve unfortunately discovered, sometimes writing about true crime can lead to unpleasant interactions with people. I’d like to minimize those, if I can.

In August of this year, I decided to disable the Facebook page I used to run for this blog. I had been wanting to do it for awhile, but held off because I knew some readers used it to follow me. It also provided a way for people to contact me privately. I had some concerns about the page, though, because it was so public and difficult to monitor. I thought about circumventing that problem by converting the page into a group, but decided I didn’t want to do that, either. I already run two Facebook groups and I’ve mostly found the experience to be rather thankless and unsatisfying. If I’m honest, I think I’d like to discontinue my wine group, because half the time, it leads to drama and negative interactions with strangers who don’t appreciate what I do. The page was less work to administrate, but it was also a lot less secure. I knew the former tenant from our last home was watching it clandestinely, as a way of monitoring my activities. I don’t worry about her anymore, as the issue that prompted her to surveil me is now resolved… and also, I discovered that, for some reason, she decided to end her life.

So the former tenant stopped being an issue of concern… but then in August, I got a very irate private message from a family member of a true crime victim I had originally written about in 2014. The post was based on newspaper articles from several papers, and comments from a family member who messaged me when I originally wrote about it, in 2014. The irate correspondent apparently saw the repost and didn’t notice the original date of the article, which had been up for YEARS, and actually got little traffic. This person decided to send me a nastygram through the Facebook page, complete with legal threats. For the record, I was not at all worried about her threats. I use Statcounter, which allows me to see how long someone spends on my blog. I could see (and I documented) that she spent about two minutes, missed a lot of details, and was apparently unaware of a number of logistical issues that would have made her legal threats pretty hard to carry out. And if she was really that upset about the content of that post, she would have noticed and contacted me much sooner than eight years after I wrote it.

Nevertheless, even though I was pretty pissed off by her message and did not have to comply with her demands, I decided that the blog post she was upset about wasn’t that important, as no one but her and her associates were even reading it. So I’ve made it private, for now. I also blocked her on Facebook. Then I dismantled the Facebook page for this blog, because I’m not here to take abuse from random people who are upset by my opinions and just want to privately send me offensive comments. My mental health matters too, people. I am a real person, and I deserve to be addressed with basic respect, like anyone does. I will happily hear complaints from people, but I expect to be approached with civility. Those who can’t do that are not welcome here, and will be banned.

Recently, I revisited the post I wrote about that incident. It occurred to me that the poster must have also tried to find the now defunct “contact form page”, which I also disabled for similar reasons. I only got one or two rude responses on that page, but I found that the contact page was problematic because people were leaving comments on posts without identifying them. There were times when I literally didn’t know what they writing about. If they had simply responded to the post in question, it would have been more useful to everyone.

The irate woman who wrote to me a few months ago had hastily identified which post had gotten her so rattled (after eight years of it being online… REALLY?). She must have been looking for the contact form, found my explanatory post about why I no longer have one, and found the Facebook page instead. Well, she can take a bow, because her abusive rant caused me to permanently ax the Facebook page, too. I can’t say I miss it, or the weird messages it used to attract from everyone from unhinged anti-vaxxers to obnoxious Trump supporters. I would always see them right after I woke up, which is not a pleasant way to start the day. Now, if you want to address something I’ve written, you can do it publicly, so everyone can see your comments and share in the response.

Like I said, I’m not here to take abuse from random people. I have a right to express my opinions, as long as they aren’t defamatory, malicious, or deliberately presenting false information as the truth. And this is my space– which I pay for– so I will run it the way I wish. I think of my blog space in the same way most of you would govern your own homes. You wouldn’t put up with abuse from a guest in your home. I don’t put up with it on my blog. This person also wrote, with evident disgust, that I just do this “for the money”, which really made me laugh. I don’t make money from doing this. I have made some ad revenue, but it’s not even enough to pay for the subscription to WordPress. So, if anyone ever does want to try to sue me to get some of the “big bucks” I supposedly make from sharing my opinions, they’re gonna be disappointed on MANY levels. Below is what I’ve made on WordPress so far… since I started hosting ads in July 2021.

And on the less visited travel blog, where I’ve hosted ads from the beginning (July 2019), I’ve made a whopping $7.25. It takes $100 to cash out, so I might make money there after I’m dead.

True crime posts do generate a lot of interest, though. I find crime interesting to write about, as they usually involve ordinary people who do extraordinary things. When I use the word “extraordinary”, I mean “out of the ordinary” or “unusual”. I’m not using that word in the normally positive way. Sometimes, I notice people repeatedly hitting posts I’ve written about, and it’s a little creepy. Lately, I’ve noticed my posts about Frederick West Greene are getting a lot of hits. I’m glad I don’t live in the United States– for many reasons, really, but especially because it creeps me out that he’s no longer in prison (as far as I know).

My post about Betty White and misattributing quotes to her was also a big winner this year. I had written about her in late December 2021, not knowing that she would die on New Year’s Eve. A few days later, I wrote a post about how people were “honoring” her by sharing a funny comment that she never made. That post consistently gets hits and the odd share, although no one has commented on it yet. I think it’s one of my better ones, even though I’ve gotten some shit from people for having issues with misattributed quotes, too. One guy got so angry about a post I wrote that he blocked me on Facebook and complained to all his friends, who later hit the post repeatedly and generated some AdShare pennies. Thanks, guys.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a blogger, it’s that people aren’t always going to like what you do. But if all I ever did was write things about hearts and flowers, this blog would be very boring, both for me as a writer, and for you as a reader. Besides, that’s just really not me. I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of person. I think if I were that kind of person, I would probably be a lot more miserable than I actually am. Because it wouldn’t be natural for me to be so cheery and positive. It’s not in my DNA. Seriously… read some of my posts, and you know I come from a long line of the miserable… but talented. We’ve got lots of funny, talented, artistic people in my family. Lots of attractive people, too. Too bad I didn’t get the gene for being thin and athletic. SIGH.

2022 has been interesting. I would say it hasn’t been as bad as last year. At least most of the stupid pandemic restrictions went away, although I haven’t been traveling more or even going out much, hence my low earnings on the travel blog. That’s mostly because of our dog, Arran, who has cancer and will likely be leaving us sometime in the new year. I am trying to prepare for his exit, because I know it will hurt. But I also know that once he’s gone, there will be new opportunities… for travel, for making new human friends (which often happens when one adopts a pet), for new canine teachers, and for new overall wisdom. Death is just something that simply happens to everyone, at some point. It hurts, but it’s a necessary part of life. Arran has taught us a lot, and continues to teach us everyday. I think one of the best lessons I’ve learned from him was reiterated yesterday, when Bill came home from work. You can see, he taught Noyzi, too… And I think he’ll tell us when he’s done teaching and ready to move on to the next place in the universe.

Arran reminds us that it’s important to appreciate and welcome those we love back to the pack when they come home…

Well, it’s probably time I finished this post and got on with the day. Got to practice guitar, walk the dogs, and work on reading my next book, so I can review it for the interested. Maybe I’ll even record another song. An old high school friend heard a Pat Benatar cover I did the other day… a B.B. King from her one “blues” album, True Love, which she released in 1991. It hasn’t gotten many hits yet, but she said I have a knack for the blues. I believe her, because she was originally a music major at my alma mater before she transferred out and became a therapist. She’s right. I do have a knack for singing the blues… both literally, and in this blog. So I guess 2023 will bring more of the same. I hope a few of you will stay tuned for that. Maybe I’ll make more big bucks from blogging in 2023.

ETA: I forgot to mention, just a couple of weeks ago, I got the most hits I’ve ever gotten in one day when someone on Reddit shared a true crime post I wrote in November 2020 about Jessica Wiseman. It wasn’t even a particularly newsy post, but I probably made $5 because about four thousand people hit it in one day. I grew up near where Wiseman and her boyfriend murdered her parents. She was a juvenile, so she only spent a few years in juvenile hall. Her boyfriend, who was older, but apparently the less guilty of the pair, wound up being executed. I remembered the case and wrote about it, and it got noticed… which is especially notable to me, because it’s definitely not my best work. 😉

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dogs, music, YouTube

Shirley Horn and Paulina Porizkova are both inspiring me today…

Today’s featured photo is of the new Toilight I got for Bill as a stocking stuffer. It lights the toilet at night, which we both find very handy… it also makes the water look really cool as it gets flushed. We gotta have our fun wherever we can find it.

Yesterday’s post was surprisingly popular, for my blog, anyway. I think sometimes people love a good rant, even if it’s petty and kind of stupid. I actually had fun writing that post. It gave me a lot to think about. I ended up doing a few edits after the initial posting, because I spotted some things that needed clarification, along with the usual typos. But anyway… I do love it when someone gives me a topic for my blog by way of inspiration.

This morning, I’m somewhat less inspired. Yes, I could write about how Donald Trump’s legal woes are getting worse by the day, and he’s being exposed as the crook that he is. But I don’t feel like writing about that today. The end of the year is looming, and that means it’ll soon be 2023. I realize I’m getting older and certain things just don’t matter the way they used to.

I just started reading Paulina Porizkova’s latest book. So far, it’s kind of a page turner. I liked her when she was on America’s Next Top Model and was annoyed when Tyra Banks fired her from the show. That was about when it became unwatchable for me. I think I hung in there for a couple more “cycles”, but soon gave up on it. I though Paulina was awesome on that show. In fact, I think she should have her own show. She’s very intelligent, and I like how plain spoken she is… but not in an obnoxious, narcissistic way, like Tyra is. Tyra Banks, I’m afraid, went from being a relatively pleasant host to an over-the-top nightmare.

I woke up at about 3:00 AM, thanks to Arran’s need for a potty break and demands for food. Bill took care of that, while I took a bathroom break myself. By the time I got back in the bed, I was wide awake. My stomach was annoying me, too. So, since I wasn’t going back to sleep for at least another hour or so, I opened Paulina’s book and started reading. I predict (but can’t promise) I’ll finish it quickly, and will be ready to review it by the end of the week.

I also got an alert from my favorite backing tracks Web site that Shirley Horn’s luminous version of “Here’s to Life” was available for download. I love that song, and to date, have recorded it three times. I don’t expect people to know it, but I fell in love with it in 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina. The Jordan Family did a very poignant version of the song for a fundraiser. At the time of their performance, they were still missing their father from the storm. I would actually love to record their version of the song– with the same key and arrangement. Shirley Horn’s comes closer to that than either Barbra Streisand’s and Bob Stewart’s versions do. So that’s why I decided to do the song one more time, but in a different manner. I prefer the jazzier style to the more Broadway interpretations I did before.

I couldn’t think of a pressing topic for this morning, So I spent about two hours recording Shirley Horn’s “Here’s to Life” in two different keys. I tried her original key, then went a step up. I think the higher key is better for me, so that’s the one I put on YouTube. I think both turned out pretty well, although it’s kind of a challenge to get the video right. I’m struggling with coughing, a runny nose, and an itch, too… not from a viral illness, but probably more from allergies or my lack of attention to dusting.

I’m glad I don’t look like I’m climaxing in this still.

When I last sang “Here’s to Life”, I wrote a post about it on this blog. I wrote a bit about who composed the song, as well as some personal philosophies and other assorted stuff. It’s not a super exciting post, because I also wrote about a Facebook argument I had some time back with a cop friend of mine, and Amy Duggar King, who had just given birth at the time. And I wrote about sweet Zane, who had, at that writing, been gone from our lives for a matter of weeks. I was missing him a lot then. I still miss him, especially when I see old pictures and videos that remind me of what a sweet soul he was. I truly do hope the Rainbow Bridge is a real thing, and I can see him again someday after I’ve departed the mortal coil myself. I noticed that I wrote that post on October 10, 2019, which also happened to be the 16th anniversary of the loss of our first rescue beagle mix, CuCullain, who had bright blue eyes. He was a special soul, too. Sometimes, he seems to visit us through Noyzi.

Our very first beagle rescue, CuCullain (C.C.)… He was a really cool dog.

I don’t even have those things to write about today. My dogs are impatiently waiting for me to finish up and take them for a walk. They’ve learned that when I quit doing music, it’s walk time. Usually, I play guitar before we walk, but today it was singing… which I tend to do much better. I did learn to play the rhythm version of “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart yesterday. It was surprisingly easy, with open chords that are fairly easy to tease out, even with fingers as unpracticed as mine are.

I suppose I could write about the cop videos I watched yesterday, which were surprisingly outrageous. I never understand people who get loud and belligerent with cops and expect them to cut them a break. I’ve also noticed that American cops aren’t as professional as German cops appear to be. Here, you can get a huge fine if you cuss at the cops. In the United States, people say whatever… even threaten cops and their families. The lady in yesterday’s video told one cop she hoped his wife got raped. Horrible! And then she moaned and cried because she was in handcuffs and about to be charged with a felony.

Um… you shouldn’t involve yourself in things that are none of your business…

The other video involved a very bellicose drunk driver who cussed non-stop. He actually made ME blush… and I cuss like a sailor! I feel sorry for the people in this man’s life. He’s a mess. He’s got a very foul mouth, too… and if I’m saying that, it means something.

“What are you talking about, dude?” Enjoy your Christmas in the jug, guy.

But really, I think I just want to walk the dogs before they have a fit… and then maybe go back to reading my latest book. I wish I felt more inspired to write something compelling, but I think recording a song kind of took it out of me. Maybe I’ll be back later… but I probably won’t. So have a happy hump day.

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celebrities, expressions, music, musings, YouTube

“I’m glad to be so lucky to make you feel yucky everyday…”

Before I get started on today’s post, I want to state upfront that I’m not upset about anything. I don’t need advice or consolation. This post is meant to be a matter-of-fact look at a phenomenon I’ve noticed when it comes to people who dare to “put themselves out there” or share their creative pursuits. It certainly doesn’t just affect me, either, from which I take some solace. I’m just hoping that people who read this will stop and think about it a minute. The world needs less cynicism and meanness, and more kindness and compassion, don’t you think?

James Taylor annoys Oscar the Grouch with one of his more upbeat songs from the 70s.

Have you ever noticed that some people delight in watching the whole world burn? They enjoy taking a big dump on other people’s joy. They live for raining on everyone else’s parades. They love criticizing anything and everything, even if it’s just someone’s creative expression. They lack the ability to simply “scroll on”. Instead, they feel the need to be negative, judgmental, insensitive and, sometimes, downright MEAN.

As a blogger and very occasional musician, I’ve run into this particular phenomenon more than a few times. When we lived in Stuttgart, I used to promote my travel blog. I did so because I truly thought some of the posts might be helpful for some people in the community. It was our second time living in that area, and I was pretty seasoned as a military spouse, even though Bill had retired. While not everyone likes what I do, writing has sort of become my vocation. Being a writer can be a tough road to hoe, as one chagrined author recently found out when almost no one showed up for her book signing. She tweeted about it, and was soon consoled by the likes of Margaret Atwood, Jodi Picoult, and Stephen King, among others, who were similarly dissed at early book signings.

Many people seemingly liked my blogs and, for awhile, they were pretty popular. I had a lot of regular readers. But there were also people in the community who seemed to hate my blog and apparently resented me for sharing it. Some didn’t like the name of the blog, assuming that I was “bragging” about my education. For the record, I’m not. I literally am overeducated for what I’ve done with my life so far. I spent seven years and many thousands of dollars on formal education that I’ve never gotten to use in a professional arena. While I don’t regret furthering my formal education, I mainly went to school out of a perceived need to do it– so I wouldn’t be waiting tables for the rest of my life. I’ve got nothing at all against people who wait tables for a living, but that’s a job that I really didn’t enjoy, even though I made good money doing it.

When I went to graduate school, I was hoping to launch a career that didn’t involve being abused on the daily and surviving on tips. I ended up meeting Bill, instead. The realities of life as a military spouse made pursuing my field problematic. I’ve always liked to write, so that’s what I do. I’m not the best writer, but I try. Some people enjoy my stuff. Some people don’t. I’ve made some money as a writer… actually more than I ever made doing social work or public health. And yet, I think if I’d been a public health social worker, I’d probably get a lot more respect for what I do.

I stopped sharing my blog in military communities, though, because I’ve found that people are triggered by it, for some reason. A lot of people– especially in military communities— find bloggers annoying, especially when they dare to call themselves “The Overeducated Housewife”. Personally, I think it’s because a lot of people in military communities are sexist, and too many of them disdain the spouses (really the wives). The more educated and accomplished the wives are, the less the servicemembers tend to like them, especially if they’re also liberal. And sadly, a lot of the spouses also buy into that limited mindset, willingly referring to themselves by derogatory monikers, like “dependa” instead of insisting on being treated with the basic respect one generally extends to human beings. So, because I don’t enjoy being ridiculed, and I don’t like to bother other people, I’ve decided that it’s better to let people find the blogs on their own.

I also stopped sharing my travel blog in military communities because of the weird, intrusive, psycho landlady situation we’d had in Stuttgart. A former tenant, who had lived in our home just prior to us, had found her way to my regular blog, and was using it to cause trouble with our ex landlady. The ex tenant got upset with me about one of my creative writing projects, which she had freely CHOSEN to read and falsely interpret. She’d actually been following my blogs for over four years, even though it was evidently a negative experience for her. She sent me a nasty message, mocking me for “intruding on my space” and interfering with my “creative pursuits”, clearly indicating that she didn’t appreciate my efforts, and basically calling me “crazy”. It was at that point that I decided to close the Blogger version of this blog and move it to WordPress. Then, I went right back to doing what I do. She, on the other hand, went on to commit suicide. I don’t know what led her to take that action, but I did realize, at that point, that I wasn’t the one with the worst issues. I don’t want a repeat of that bizarre situation, though, so I’ve gone back under the radar.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not looking for sympathy when I write about this. I’ve come to understand that no one bats 1000 every time. Not everything a person does is going to be well-received. And even if you aren’t a creative type, chances are excellent that someone is going to dislike you, for whatever reason. Even if you’re the nicest, most considerate, most tolerant, least offensive person on the planet, there will be someone out there who is going to find fault with anything and everything you do. As painful as that kind of rejection can be, I’ve found it helpful to realize that in those situations, it’s almost always not about anything you’ve done or said. The negativity is usually about something intrinsic to the critical person– in other words, you might remind them of something negative, so they respond to you with negativity, even if you haven’t specifically done anything to them to cause that reaction.

Here’s an example. My sophomore year in college was rather traumatic. I spent it sharing living space with a woman who drove me crazy. We were very incompatible roommates. A few years later, I met another woman who reminded me a LOT of the first woman who drove me batty my sophomore year in college. Upon meeting her, I instantly had a negative reaction, even though we didn’t know each other. As time went on, I still disliked that woman, partly because she reminded me so much of someone I used to know who drove me nuts. It wasn’t her looks that reminded me of my ex roommate, but more her behavior that I found reminiscent. In spite of those similarities, I know she was, and still is, a good person. However, even if I had never gotten to know the first woman, I probably still would have found the second one annoying. The difference would be that I would have found her annoying solely because of things she’d actually done or said, not because she reminded me so much of someone else I hadn’t liked.

The same thing can happen in creative pursuits. A lot of people love the song, “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” by Meat Loaf. I don’t like that song, although it is in my musical catalog. It’s not that I don’t think Meat Loaf had talent, or even that the song isn’t entertaining. If I’d heard it in the 70s, I probably would have liked it a lot more. But it reminds me of an awful night in 1994, I spent at a party with my cousin. She had abandoned me to make out with her boyfriend, while her boyfriend’s extremely drunk father kept hitting on me. Before the evening went into full swing, I heard “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” for the very first time, while we were waiting for my cousin’s boyfriend in that yucky drunk man’s house. Drunk dad had wanted me to go back to his house with him, alone, to wait for his son and my cousin. He was so drunk he could barely keep his eyes open. When I refused, he called me a “bitch”. So now, whenever I heard Meat Loaf’s best known anthem, it reminds me of that guy. I am only now getting to the point at which I can disassociate that song with the memory of that gross guy who went to high school with one of my uncles and apparently wanted to deflower me.

Last weekend, I was feeling inspired to make music. I made two videos in one day, which is unusual in and of itself, especially since Bill was at home. I usually prefer to make music when I’m alone. I uploaded the videos. One has me on camera, and the other is set to photos. I don’t like to sing on camera, but I’ve found that people tend to find the videos with me in them more engaging. They don’t even seem to mind that I’m not wearing makeup or a bra.

One of the songs I did last week was James Taylor’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I was inspired to make the video by my former therapist, who loves James Taylor’s music, just as I do. He had mentioned that “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is his favorite Christmas song. So, I made a recording of that song and dedicated it to my former shrink. He shared it on his personal Facebook page and tagged me. One person commented, and said “I love that song too, but no one does it as well as Judy [Garland] does.” I noticed that the person hadn’t even listened to the song, and apparently never considered that I would read her comment, which was actually kind of thoughtless and rude. I wonder if this person thinks that no one should ever sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (a Christmas standard), simply because “Judy did it best”.

An old friend of mine said the same thing about “The Rainbow Connection”. I had used the song on a tribute video I made for our dog, MacGregor– Willie Nelson was singing it. I love Willie’s version, and the fact that I used it for a tribute video for a beloved dog makes it especially poignant to me. My friend, who even knew MacGregor, said that no one but Kermit the Frog should ever sing “The Rainbow Connection”. I found that comment thoughtless and insensitive; yet knowing her as well as I do, I realize that her thoughtlessness was entirely unintentional. I didn’t call her out about it. Still, it would have been nicer if she’d kept that thought to herself.

At this date, this video has fewer than 50 hits, but it means a lot to me, because it’s about MacGregor… and Willie Nelson’s version of “The Rainbow Connection” really fit his personality, even if my friend doesn’t think anyone but Kermit should sing the song.

I later noticed that my Christmas video for my ex shrink/current friend, which hasn’t done nearly as well as the other one I did last weekend, had one dislike rating. Two people liked it, and one disliked it… giving it a score of 66% (a failure if we were going by school grading scales). It occurred to me that the “dislike” button is kind of worthless, since there’s no way to know what the person disliked about the video. Was it because I wasn’t on camera? Was it the music? Were they just being mean to me? It’s impossible to know. But I had made the video with love and good intentions, and had dedicated it to someone who helped me a lot when I really needed help.

I’ll admit, those two negative reactions to my version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” kind of hurt my feelings. But the wiser side of me realizes that the negative reactions weren’t really personal, since the people involved don’t know me. Everyone’s a critic, and even the best people get criticized sometimes, and the better a person is, the meaner the critics tend to be. Even James Taylor gets mean tweets! See the hilarious video below…

Someone called James Taylor a douche! I admire how most of these musicians accepted the not so constructive criticism they’ve received…

I’ve also noticed that some people feel like creative pursuits shouldn’t result in anyone making money. I’ve ranted many times in this blog about people who don’t think they should have to pay to read newspapers. They don’t seem to realize that journalists have bills to pay, just like they do. It takes time, money, and training to skillfully deliver the news. They bitch and moan about paywalls.

My mom ran a knitting and needlepoint shop for many years. She is very talented and skilled with needlecrafts. Lots of people felt that her time and talents weren’t worth paying for. Mom was also a church organist for 50 years, and some people felt that she should just be willing to play for the glory of God, rather than money to pay her expenses. It took a lot of time and energy to learn how to play the organ as well as she did… I’m sure she could play beautifully today, too, but she’s pretty much retired from playing the organ now. She’s still stitching, though. Below is my mom with one of her more recent creations, done even though she’s in her 80s. I love what my mom does, although I could never do anything like this myself. I’d rather write or sing… two things my mom doesn’t do.

I didn’t inherit my mom’s gifts with a needle. I look a lot like her, though. Mom is now working on another project like this one.

Anyway… to wrap up this post, I’d like to add one more observation I’ve made. At this writing, I have 109 YouTube subscribers. That’s not a lot of subscribers. I’ve had my channel since 2009 or so, but I’ve never really promoted it. When I first started the channel, I mostly used it for uploading videos from our travels or other random stuff. It wasn’t until I’d had it for about three years that I started making music videos, which I never really shared. And it wasn’t until last spring that I ever showed myself on camera.

YouTube recently told me that I gained 20 subscribers this year, which is a pretty amazing thing. I recently uploaded a video and promptly lost two subscribers. I was feeling kind of sad about it, since I had only recently surpassed 100 subscribers, and YouTube had congratulated me for that. But then, I got seven more subscribers! I guess that just goes to show you that sometimes, even if someone takes a dump on something you put out there, other people will still like what you do. So the best thing to do is keep going and ignore the “haters”. Their negativity is usually much more about them, than you. And creative pursuits, especially when a person feels compelled to engage in them, aren’t for anyone or anything else than satisfying that itch to create… put something out there. Maybe it won’t be what everyone likes, but you still made the effort. And I guarantee, there’s an appreciative audience for everything.

Maybe a couple of people decided to crap on my version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, but the person it was meant for got it… and apparently enjoyed it. So that’s really all that matters. The rest of them can take a cue from Miley Cyrus’s reaction to “mean tweets”… See the featured photo.

Bwaahahahaha… they are good sports. The haters are probably just jealous.

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book reviews, music

Kathryn Walker’s A Stopover in Venice– a novel with thinly veiled references to James Taylor…

Time for another book review. This review will be an unusual one for me, because I very rarely read novels anymore. My time as an English major kind of killed my once robust love for reading fiction; I’d rather read biographies, memoirs, or other books based in truth, or at least one person’s version of it. I’ve actually been thinking of reading Kathryn Walker’s debut novel since it was first published, back in August 2008. At that time, I was living in Germany for the first time, and I read People Magazine on a regular basis, instead of The Washington Post and The New York Times. Someone reviewed Walker’s novel. I sat up and took notice, because Kathryn Walker happens to be singer-songwriter James Taylor’s second ex wife. She’s also an actress, and had been in the quirky 1981 film, Neighbors, which also starred John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Cathy Moriarty. I remembered that film and, in fact, had recently purchased and viewed the film on DVD.

I held off on buying Walker’s book for eleven years. Even though I was very curious about the comments the People Magazine reviewer had made about Walker’s “thinly veiled” comments about James Taylor through one of the characters, I was put off by the negative reviews left by regular readers. I also don’t like reading novels that much, and didn’t want to wait for the book to get to me. Back in 2008, I didn’t have a Kindle or an iPad. 😉

I can see by Amazon.com, I finally downloaded Walker’s debut novel in December 2019. I just now read it, and that was probably because Bill and I saw James Taylor perform last month in Frankfurt. We had second row seats, and I was reminded yet again how fascinating I find James Taylor. I had already read Carly Simon’s book, Boys in the Trees: A Memoir, which contained a lot of comments about James– kind ones about his immense talent, as well as negative ones about his drug addiction, alleged philandering, and lack of commitment to being a husband and father to their two children together, Sally and Ben.

Kathryn Walker has always seemed a lot more mysterious to me than Carly Simon is. I’d only seen her act in Neighbors, although I know she’s been a lot of stage productions and on television shows. About 20 years ago, I read the exhaustive book, Long Ago and Far Away: James Taylor His Life and Music by the late Timothy White. It was an extremely comprehensive read, yet I don’t remember too much coverage of James’s years with Kathryn Walker. I remember a single photo of her in that book, and a few comments about how she was there to help him as he got sober. Other than that, Kathryn Walker has always seemed to me like a blip on James Taylor’s history. And while I know not everyone likes James Taylor’s music or who he is as a person, I still remain fascinated by him and the rest of his family. So, after seeing him perform last month for the fourth time in my life, I decided I’d finally read Kathryn Walker’s “thinly veiled” novel about her time with a debatable “rock star”– James Taylor.

Now… enough of my personal bullshit, and on to my review of the book…

First, a brief synopsis…

Cornelia “Nel” Everett is a young and bored woman, unhappily married to a brilliant, piano playing, self-absorbed rock star named Antony Casson. Antony and Nel have been on his European tour. She always goes with him on his tours, and she’s always bored and lonely, as each day is in a new city, where Antony’s time is consumed by sound checks and performances. At the beginning of the story, they had been married for eight years, and Nel is feeling restless, irritable, and useless.

On the Italian leg of Antony’s tour, they land in Venice, where Antony performs and Nel waits for him, never taking the time to explore the amazing places to where Antony’s work takes them. Nel is dissatisfied and longs for something more. So, after an argument with Antony, she impulsively decides to get off the train that would take them to Verona, the next city on his tour. He doesn’t see her leave, because he’s always exhausted by his work. She’s not exhausted, because she has nothing to do.

Standing on the platform, watching the train pull away, Nel feels a surge of nerves. She doesn’t speak Italian and isn’t used to traveling alone. Somehow, she still manages to make it to The Gritti Palace, one of Venice’s best known and most expensive hotels. She asks for a room, and is told that the hotel only has a tiny one in an area where renovations are ongoing. She accepts the room, sight unseen. It’s tiny, dark, and has a narrow bed. But the friendly receptionist promises that he might be able to move her the next day. Nel is just grateful for the kindness, since she’s truly in unexplored territory. She hasn’t told Antony where she is, and she has no solid plans… but this impromptu stopover in Venice will turn out to be an adventure that completely changes the course of her life forever.

The next day, Nel takes a walk, where she begins to see Venice for the first time. While walking, she runs into a pack of aggressive boys, torturing a tiny dog. Consumed with compassion for the little Chihuahua, Nel forcefully tells the boys to beat it, and rescues the grateful little canine. Completely ignoring the logistics of adopting a pet in Europe when one lives in the United States, Nel decides to keep the dog. She sneaks him into the hotel, noticing that he was obviously someone’s pet. But he lacks a collar, so she gives him a name, and starts trying to figure out how to get him into her life.

Nel discovers that one of the best ways to meet Italians is to have a dog… and just after she’s bought him a bespoke collar and is getting used to the idea of having him, when she hears the frantic shots of a man. Somehow, he’s spotted her with his employer’s lost dog, Leo… and just like Dorothy and Toto in The Wizard of Oz, Nel and Giacomo (as she calls him at first) are spirited into a mysterious palazzo owned by an elderly Venetian woman named Lucy. And Lucy is so grateful to Nel for rescuing her dog that she invites her to stay. It’s a decision that inevitably leads Nel away from her life as a rock star’s wife and into the exhilarating energy of living her own life. Nel finds herself in an exciting project that marries art, history, and architecture in an enchanting city, where life is different and interesting. Nel gives up waiting around in boring hotel rooms and finds new life, engaging with vibrant new friends and finding love.

My thoughts

I’m of a mixed mind about A Stopover in Venice. First off, I will state that although there is a disclaimer at the end of this book, assuring readers that this book is entirely a work of a fiction dreamed up by Kathryn Walker, it’s pretty obvious that she was heavily influenced by her life with James Taylor. If you know anything about James Taylor’s history, you will easily see the similarities, with some changes made.

For instance, Walker gives her “rock star” character a somewhat exotic name, but writes that he goes by “Antony”, never Tony. I can’t imagine anyone calling James Taylor “Jim”, although I did read that he was known as “Jamie” when he was a lad. Instead of making him a guitar player with dark hair and blue eyes, she makes him a piano player with brown eyes and blond hair. Instead of having a father who is a famous doctor, as James did, Antony’s father is a famous civil rights lawyer. And instead of having an ex wife who is a singer-songwriter like James’s first ex, Carly Simon, Antony’s ex is named “Natalie” and is an eccentric actress. They have one child– a daughter named Liddie– instead of the two children James and Carly had together.

But then, as the story progresses, it’s clear that Kathryn Walker’s writing was informed by real life. She mentions how “Natalie” is always calling Antony, claiming that he neglects their daughter, adding a snarky aside that really, it’s Natalie who is feeling neglected. Carly Simon has stated that she’s not allowed to have James Taylor’s phone number, nor will he come anywhere near the property they bought together in the 1970s, where Carly still lives, even though their son Ben also has a house nearby. It’s my guess that Carly probably did cause some drama, as the first ex wife.

Kathryn Walker also famously had a long relationship with Douglas Kenney, a brilliant comedy writer and co-founder of National Lampoon. Kenney was an up and coming star when he tragically and suddenly died in a freak accident in Hawaii. This incident is also vaguely referred to in A Stopover in Venice, as Nel mentions a former lover named Nils who seemed to be a much better match for her. As Kenney also did, Nils died suddenly, before he and Nel could make their relationship official. Nel mentions how she was never able to give Antony a child, as Natalie had. Likewise, Kathryn Walker and James Taylor never had children in real life.

The grief of Kenney’s death and Taylor’s split from Simon, along with the fact that they knew some of the same people, like John Belushi, seemed to bring Walker and Taylor together. Under normal circumstances, they probably wouldn’t have ever married, but they found each other at a time when both were in some trouble. Likewise, it sounds like Nel and Antony found each other in a similar way. Coincidentally enough, IMDB tells me that tomorrow would have been Walker’s and Taylor’s 37th wedding anniversary, had they not split up in 1995.

Frequently in this book, Walker makes Antony out to be a self-centered narcissist. Nel is a wine loving, intellectual, curious, romantic woman who wants to go out and enjoy the fruits of her husband’s successes, preferably with him. But Antony is obsessed with his craft. He loves to tour. I think if we remember James Taylor’s 1981 album, Dad Loves His Work (not one of my favorite JT albums), a thinly veiled message to Carly Simon, who had famously issued an ultimatum that James needed to settle down and be more present in his family’s life, we can see that Kathryn Walker probably felt similarly neglected by James. In fact, through her novel, I get the idea that Kathryn Walker might have felt a strange mixture of being needed and ignored. She was needed because she was in his inner circle and trusted, yet I get the sense that any warm body could have done what she was doing. Antony didn’t want to be alone, but he didn’t want to be with someone he couldn’t trust. But being a “warm body” is not enough to make a successful marriage, and through Nel, we get the sense that it was a thankless task.

Personally, I don’t think James Taylor is a narcissist, in the sense that I don’t think he has a personality disorder, or anything like that. I think he has some narcissistic traits, as many famous rock star (and politician) types do. He’s also an addict, who was raised by an addict, in a very demanding and visible job. He’s a product of divorce, raised by a mother who wasn’t happy in her marriage, or where her husband’s work had taken her. Trudy Taylor famously hated living in North Carolina, where Isaac Taylor was from, and where he was dean of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s medical school (which bears his name). If you listen to James Taylor’s audio book, Break Shot: My First 21 Years, you can hear him talk about his parents’ relationship, and how his father could be very cutting and kind of mean. And he took off on long trips, leaving his wife and children behind, in a place his wife hated. Isaac Taylor spent a long time working in Antarctica and came home with a very serious drinking problem. It’s no secret that James and his siblings have all struggled with mental health and addiction issues, too. His oldest brother, Alex, died on James’s 48th birthday in 1993, having had a heart attack after drinking a fifth of vodka by himself. All of these events would have a significant effect on a person– maybe stunt them emotionally or enhance existing character flaws.

I think, in many ways, James Taylor has been through a lot of shit. In spite of his immense gifts as a musician, when it comes down to it, he’s someone who has been through some tragic losses, and suffered from mental health and addiction issues. So even though he’s a very talented and successful star, he could never be the man Kathryn Walker obviously needed… and the character, Antony, could not be who Nel needed. They were simply incompatible, and they needed to divorce, just as James and Kathryn eventually did. I think they’re both better off for having done that. Even if James Taylor had had the most stable, loving, and normal home life ever, I don’t think he and Kathryn Walker would have been a love match. They don’t seem to have much in common, other than knowing some of the same people, being a bit codependent, and having been through personal crises at about the same time.

I believe Walker also makes a thinly veiled mention of James’s third wife, Caroline “Kim” Smedvig, who now goes by Kim Taylor. In the book, she’s referred to as Nicola, a PR professional who speaks several languages and had worked with classical musicians. Kim Taylor worked for the Boston Pops for years, and was previously married to Rolf Thorstein Smedvig, a classical musician. James and Kim met in 1993, and started dating after he and Kathryn became estranged. They married in 2001, are parents to twin sons, Henry and Rufus, and seem very happy together. As the book was ending, Walker’s character, Nicola, is picking up “Liddie”, and meeting Antony in France, a country he loves. She never outright says it, but it’s kind of implied that Antony and Nicola are having an affair. I don’t know if that’s how it happened in real life, especially since “Liddie” (Sally Taylor) would have been an adult in 1993 (although Ben Taylor was still a teenager), but that’s how it seems in Walker’s fictionalized account.

Allergic to quotation marks?

For some reason, Kathryn Walker doesn’t use quotation marks in her dialogues. I don’t know why. Most of the time, it wasn’t difficult for me to ascertain who was saying what, but there were a couple of times when it was a bit confusing to figure out the conversations between characters. I think some other readers found this little quirk annoying.

The rest of the story?

Believe it or not, this book mostly isn’t just about Kathryn Walker’s relationship with James Taylor. I’d say that part only makes up about a quarter of the book. The bulk of the novel is about Nel’s adventure in Venice, staying in a former convent turned palazzo, owned by a lonely, wealthy, elderly signora where she helps a British Italian man uncover a mysterious fresco.

However, I think a lot of people, like me, picked up this book because we were interested in her relationship with JT. And I do think she delivers, albeit in a way that probably keeps her as safe as possible from litigation. It does help to know something about James Taylor and his family if you want to get the nuances. On the other hand, some people will read A Stopover in Venice for other reasons. One person wrote that she’d read it because she and Walker had both graduated from Wells College, and she was curious. I seem to recall that particular reviewer hadn’t liked the book.

I think Kathryn Walker writes well, and I appreciated some of the vivid imagery she creates with her prose. The plot itself is kind of engaging, especially if you’ve ever been to Venice, which I have on two occasions. I actually found myself looking up the Gritti Palace Hotel to see if Bill and I could afford to go there, too. It would be quite expensive to do that, but hell, we don’t have kids in college or a mortgage. The story is kind of implausible, though… one has to suspend disbelief as to how Nel finds herself making friends so quickly with native Venetians, all because she rescued a dog from a pack of hellion kids in a strange city. Many people will find that aspect of the book easy to ignore and will enjoy it, anyway. Others, like me, will be nagged by questions as to how all of this came together in such a fantastic and ridiculous way, even if I was very intrigued by her fictionalized insights about life as the wife of a rock star. I happen to know, having actually befriended the wife of a major rock star musician myself, that the lifestyle isn’t without its challenges.

Overall

I’m definitely not sorry I read A Stopover in Venice. Maybe, thanks to this book, Bill and I will venture there again in 2023, ten years after our last visit. We have more money now, so we can stay somewhere besides the Hilton for a night (although they gave us an AMAZING upgraded room that rents for 520 euros a night– see here for my blog photos). My first time in Venice, I stayed in a convent hostel that locked visitors out all day, so the Hilton was an improvement. I did find Walker’s writing inspiring enough that I would plan a trip because of it, although I doubt I’ll find an elderly signora with a palazzo with which I can bond over dogs and old frescoes.

On the other hand, I’m glad I’m finished with the book. I really do prefer non-fiction. And I’m glad that my curiosity is finally satisfied. If you like novels, and are curious about actresses who used to be married to rock stars and became novelists, A Stopover in Venice might be a good read for you, too.

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controversies, modern problems, music, sex

Repost: Getting a little sick of hearing about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”…”

Here’s a post I wrote on December 14, 2018. I’m reposting it as/is, because it goes with my fresh content posted today. And yes, I would probably pause if Bill Cosby sang this… but it wasn’t written with guys like Cosby in mind. Why should a classic song be banned because of a few “rapey” bad apples? Why don’t we ban rapey creeps like Bill Cosby and Donald Trump, instead? The song is innocent.

Last year, I wrote a post on my music blog about the controversy surrounding the holiday classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.  I remember a few murmurs last year about the “rapey” lyrics of the song, which was written by Frank Loesser and originally intended as a “parlor act” for himself and his ex wife, Lynn.  Someone wrote a very informative Facebook post about the history of the song, and its original intent.  I decided to write about it on my blog.

This year, it seems “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, which was never meant to be a holiday song, is more controversial than ever.  Radio stations across the United States have been pulling it from their playlists in the wake of the #metoo movement.  The song, which was written in 1944 as a “call and response” between a man and a woman, was never intended to be a date rape anthem.  In the 1940s, it was improper for unmarried couples to spend the night together.  In order to look respectable, a woman had to protest an invitation to stay the night, even if she wanted to stay.  And the man who was inviting her had to appear to be concerned about her welfare.  Otherwise, her reputation might be negatively affected.

Unfortunately, people have a tendency to see and hear things through modern lenses.  In 2018, lyrics like “Say, what’s in this drink?”, especially in the wake of Bill Cosby’s drink drugging scandal, seem inappropriate and tasteless.  But in 1944, no one gave a thought to a man spiking a woman’s beverage.  It was more a comment about the potential of a drink going to one’s head.

Although I’m definitely not a fan of “rapey” comments or song lyrics, I do think it’s ridiculous that people are clutching their pearls over an old song like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.  Of all the things a person could get outraged about– like, the fact that our president brags about grabbing women by the pussy– a classic parlor song that was never meant to be inappropriate seems like a poor choice to me.  “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has never been a favorite song of mine– especially when James Taylor sang it with Natalie Cole– but I don’t necessarily dislike it because of its lyrics.  It’s just that there are other holiday staples I like better.

The larger issue, to me, is that I believe there is a place for “the inappropriate”.  I don’t like to see books, songs, movies, or artwork banned.  I remember in the 80s, there were conservative Christian groups lobbying to ban classic books like Slaughterhouse Five and The Catcher in the Rye.  I remember some people were outraged that students were reading books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird.  In those days, it seemed more like banning books was more of a conservative idea, to keep students from reading things deemed indecent or immoral. 

Now, it seems like the liberal left wants to do the same thing with certain classic songs, like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.  Maybe some people would say it’s different because Loesser’s classic seems to promote “date rape”.  I don’t see a difference at all, though.  Even if the lyrics were “rapey”, which they really aren’t, the song is still a classic.  It should be heard and examined by people.  You don’t have to agree with the content.  Just don’t presume to make that decision for other people.

I just read an interesting New York Times piece about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” which, once again, explains the song’s original intent.  I’m glad to read that many folks aren’t taking this song banning business lying down… although I have read some surprisingly vitriolic arguments with people over this issue.  People like controversy, and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is enjoying new popularity as a download, even as radio stations are striking it from their holiday playlists.  Good.  Frank Loesser wasn’t intending to promote date rape or anything else untoward.  His song was intended to be a lighthearted, flirtatious, fun look at a couple in an era when respectable unmarried folks didn’t spend the night.  I think people should consider the context before they start demanding bans.  And then, after they do that, perhaps they should read a classic banned book.  The opportunity to learn will present itself accordingly.

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