Thursday, March 12, 2020

At last, I'm Amazon-Free

The whole world is starting to cancel because of covid-19, and my schedule has been impacted like everyone else's. So you know what I took it upon myself to do today? Upload my last two books onto Smashwords. Why? So I can finally announce that I am DONE with Amazon.

The clincher was when a very earnest person from a non-profit fighting hunger apologized for creating a wish list for her organization that was published on Amazon. This person was only trying to make it easier for people to be able to donate shoes and other clothing to the destitute and food-insecure clients she served - one of the worthiest causes I can think of - and yet she was apologizing for being associated with a company infamous for mistreating their workers and (credibly) accused of antitrust practices.

I mean, really, how could I still justify having my books there? I couldn't, so I didn't. Several weeks ago I removed everything I had for sale there, and I had already set my Amazon Prime membership to expire. And it's funny, because now that I've liberated myself, I can more openly say, "Ugh, I hate Amazon," when someone suggests buying gift cards there or making some other purchase. "Evil" and "hatred" are the immediate replies I've heard - clearly, I'm not alone.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Putting Amazon where it belongs 

Someone is going to say that I'm full of sour grapes, and if I'd sold more successfully there, I wouldn't have wanted to leave. It's true, I was never willing to spend the increasing amounts of money that were needed to game Amazon's algorithm, because that's what it became after a while. But I can honestly say that I am glad I wasn't someone who cashed in early on the Amazon wave and then became increasingly, desperately dependent on Amazon's whims. I know people who went from being able to pay their mortgages with their book sales to needing to borrow thirty bucks before their next check came in - and that happened relatively quickly in the evolution of Amazon. But isn't that what Get Rich Quick usually ends up looking like?

I've compared the e-book wave to the mind-body fitness bubble from a decade or so before. One of the characteristics of the latter is that, if you look closely enough, you'll see that a lot of those organizations make money off of teachers in the form of trainings; there are some yoga and Pilates instructors who can pull in enough through private lessons to make a good living, but those people are far outnumbered by the people who are running from studio to studio to scrape together enough money to supplement their other gigs. Similarly, there are some superstar Amazon indies who are still making a lot of money, but the vast majority are trying to generate attention, not even sales, and are finding that they need to pay, not for teacher training, but Amazon ads if they want any traction.

(For the love of all that is good, please don't say this is why we need email lists. No, no, no. That was great advice five years ago, but since then the internet has been pretty much ruined by the constant calls for people to sign up for newsletters, and in thanks have been aggressively spammed at least once a week. If you don't have something to say once a month that's worthy of being heard - and "My life is so fascinating and/or relevant, so buy my book!" doesn't qualify - just don't.)

I feel so much better. I've had this sticky, unclean feeling for about three years, and while removing my reviews (admittedly in a fit of pique) made me feel better, I knew it wasn't enough. While I do believe that we should have the right to hold conflicting ideas about the same thing, if I'm going to be about something, I need to act accordingly. And so, finally, I have.

Deb in the City

P.S. Apologies to everyone who left me a review on Amazon that has now been deleted. I thank you again; believe me, I appreciated it more than you can know.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Support your local businesses during the Coronavirus crisis

As soon as I heard that there was an outbreak of an infectious disease in China, I knew it was only a matter of time before people would start looking at Chinese Americans like they were all carriers. I also suspected that it would be bad for some businesses, particularly those in Boston's Chinatown. I heard a story on the radio last week that confirmed my suspicions, and with that in mind I brought one of my fifteen year olds to Chinatown last Tuesday to show our support.

Even with my deep cynicism, I was shocked.

This is one of the busiest grocery stores in Chinatown, and usually I'm stepping out of everyone's way, regardless of the day of the week. As you can see, I could have danced through the produce aisles and no one would have said anything.
This is Hei La Moon, a well-known restaurant in Chinatown. This angle makes it look emptier than it was; in reality, there was one table of customers. However, there were still more waitstaff.
We also went to get boba tea - my son loves it - and then lunch at a restaurant called Pho Pasteur. For some reason, being a Vietnamese establishment didn't matter; as was the case in the boba shop and the above restaurant, there were still more waitstaff than customers.

I came back home shaken, and my son and I agreed that Chinatown was now a ghost town. So imagine my relief when I received an email from Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu inviting me to dim sum at China Pearl this past Saturday for ten dollars at the door. My husband, son, and I jumped at the chance. (We also contributed a little extra, because I knew they would eat much more than that.) Here's what that looked like.

This is what it should look like.
I wanted to violate only so many people's privacy, so there's only this one picture, but the place was packed, so much so that I started worrying that we should leave so other people wouldn't have to wait for a seat in the cold lobby.

I was heartened to hear Councilor Wu describe the event as part of an effort to support local businesses while combating racism and misinformation. My favorite place to buy housewares is in Chinatown, but I am always wary of admitting that. "Buy Local" conjures up images of buying artisanal, handcrafted products made in a local workshop, but it also includes buying imported products from a locally owned business. And yes, some of those businesses are owned and operated by recent immigrants, and they need your dollars as much as any other local business.

When we walked back to the car after dim sum, I noticed that at least one newish business was shuttered. New businesses in Boston, especially restaurants, have a tough road in store for them, but they don't usually fold in that area in under a year. It pains me to think about what losing that business cost the people who were planning on running it.

Before I go, let me say that people are absolutely right that they should be taking precautions with their health, because there is a very real, very frightening public health problem now: the flu, which thus far has killed at least 14,000 people in the United States. Please follow whatever advice your medical provider has offered. And in case you're wondering, as of this writing, only fifteen cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19, to be exact) have been confirmed in the US.

Deb in the City

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Declaration of Independence

I had drafted something last Friday after a brutal interaction with someone. I ended the post with a countdown until I was going to be free of the obligations that were making me miserable.

Well, what a difference a day, or at most a weekend, can make. By Saturday night I had removed myself from one, and by Monday morning I had extricated myself out from another. Those two were the biggest stressors, and everything else aside from that has a deliverable and/or deadline that feels much more doable. So, even though I am not entirely free of obligation, I feel lighter on my feet and happy. Not just "much happier" but happy.

People who were unkind to me and got me to the point where I made this decision shouldn't be proud of themselves, but ultimately, this is about me, not them. I have been suffering for years under toxic stress, and it wasn't until March of last year that I realized I wasn't crazy for thinking so. (I also suffered from it as a child, but distance in time and circumstance meant I didn't have to argue with myself about that.) The health problems associated with toxic stress are well-documented, but one thing that isn't emphasized enough is that we don't make good decisions. We don't walk away from jerks because they're not as bad as monsters, and the smallest bit of praise ("hey, I see that you worked your ass off for weeks/months so something could work really well for a couple of hours" or "look at you, being a competent human being") feels incredibly rewarding when you're around people who make you feel like you're not a human being, period, so you'll keep going back for more (unpaid) work if it means that you'll eventually be rewarded with feel-good praise. And should you have a moment of clarity, one in which you can't deny that you're miserable and dread not just your next meeting but the hours of the day itself because it means there's some work you need to be getting to, but whatever it is you do, it's never going to be enough, you'll suppress any thought of taking care of yourself first because that's what selfish quitters do and you've been spending your whole life picking up after them and god, if there's one thing you can avoid, it's being one of them (FYI, they're the ones that eventually start to look like monsters). So you suck it up until you can't breathe any more, but that's okay, you're used to not being able to catch a deep breath.

Really, that says it all

I started to come out from under the stressors in April of last year, but it was a lot, and deep, and thorough. Which is all to say that in May I still wasn't making good decisions, and I wasn't even making good decisions in September. And maybe I should step back here and admit that I'm a bit of an optimist as well, and I believe in potential. (If that sounds maladaptive, you have a point, but know that looking at the future is sometimes the only way to get through the present.) So it's only as I'm genuinely beginning to feel better that I realized I wanted to feel much better, even happy. That combination highlighted for me how trapped I felt.

But here's what people don't tell you when you feel trapped: sometimes it takes just one step to start finding your way out of your prison. It started, not with the projects alluded to above, but a much smaller body, though nevertheless one I did a lot of work for a few months out of the year. After one project was completed, I heard (for the second year in a row) that there were complaints behind my back about how well the project went, never mind that there was effusive praise to my face. Maybe - it's always dangerous to believe gossip - but it was enough that I had no interest in working for that committee again. When that became official, I felt...fine. I wasn't overwhelmed by guilt, I wasn't worried that I was irreplaceable, I knew life was going to go on just fine without me. And then I was relieved that I wouldn't have to be with people who made me uneasy. That, combined with the nasty interaction above, made me start fantasizing about what it would be like to feel that way about everything.

And now here we are. I keep checking myself for dread and worries about doom, but instead I feel good. I feel like I have a bunch of things I'm looking forward to doing, not ones I need to do or else. I feel un-stressed. Might this also have something to do with the yoga practice I've been developing for myself, especially since it included a lot of twists this morning? And might it also have something to do with the green smoothies I've been drinking? Maybe and maybe, but believe me, even delicious things like twists and smoothies can feel like drudgery when that's all you see.

Another plus of my independence is that I get to blog more (in addition to things like writing and spending time with my family). So, woo hoo - I'll be back to this sooner than I usually am.

Until then,
Deb in the City

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

A spoonful of honey

My husband has been sick for the last few days. This follows a lingering cough I managed to shake last week, but overlaps with one of the kids having some kind of GI...thing. Such is winter in the Northeast, especially when everyone is pushing just a little bit (or more) past capacity.

As I was putting honey into my husband's tea yesterday morning, I was reminded of another child, suffering with another cough, but of a different. Back when my now-almost-twenty-six year old was an only child, she suffered from chronic congestion. The protocols seemed to have changed: I spent a lot of time being told that she could take hot, steamy showers to loosen up whatever was making her cough, and then she was finally given an inhaler and a nebulizer after a few trips to the ER. By the time her younger brothers were born ten years later, they just wrote a prescription for an inhaler as soon as they listened to some unclear lungs for the first time.

Back in the steamy shower days, when she was about three, my husband and I spent a lot of time in a neighboring town for certain errands. We liked being there, back then. It was smaller than where we lived, and had had for many years a thriving Jewish culture. Numerous Russian Jewish immigrants had settled in that area, and as we both have Ashkenazi ancestry, it was nice to be in that area among people that reminded us of our ancestors.

Much better than a spoonful of sugar

One of the places we went frequently, with little girl in tow, was a dry cleaners. It's not there anymore; it's either been replaced by a swankier dry cleaner, or an even swankier restaurant. Such are the ways of gentrification. But back then such a place still existed, and it was run by an elderly Russian Jewish couple. I remember now: I went there first to have my shoes adjusted. The man's English was hard to understand, but he was well-practiced in his craft, so when he handed me the shoes and the insert and gestured with his hands, I understood what he wanted me to do. He was kind, but he was busy. His wife, however, satisfied all the stereotypes of an elderly immigrant grandmother, and she thought my daughter was adorable (she was correct). I seem to remember some cuddling.

One day, they had another customer, perhaps a little younger than the two of them, but old enough to be my mother. She was one of those people who aren't given to smiling naturally. I tend to shy away from those people, especially when I have a small child in tow, and especially when that child is ill. I was aware, of course, that we should get her home sooner rather than later, and I was hurrying to make sure we could. I also had the sense that I was interrupting something, even if it was only a chance to share a conversation in their native language.

After my daughter's tenth burst of coughing, the other customer nodded at me. She spoke more softly, and more gently than I thought she would. "Give her hot water with honey," she said matter-of-factly, but with sympathy. "It will soothe her throat, but it will also bind up whatever is making her cough." That sounded...very reasonable. I smiled, as I do when I'm nervous, nodded, and thanked her.

I believe I did give my daughter hot honey water when we got home, but I'm not sure how much it helped. (Surely, it was no less effective than the hot steamy shower.) But that's not why we do everything, is it? Sometimes it's nice to be reminded of when someone wanted to help you, whatever help it was they could offer, and sometimes those are the easiest gestures to repeat.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Reality versus the Hype: the potpourri edition (Blog Hop)

"Reality versus hype" can go (at least) two different ways: here's something that people expect to be much better than it actually is, or here's something that isn't nearly as bad as we're told by the cool kids. (I'll let writers who aren't fighting a bit of a food coma come up with other variations.) Long-time readers and friends will not be surprised that I have a couple of things to say that fall into both categories.

First up: the promise of tech. Yes, yes, yes, I know, I've complained about this a few times here, but this time I'm not talking about the burgeoning addiction people have to their devices or the way the internet itself seems to stalk you. Those are still bad things, but I'm more concerned lately with something more basic: connectivity. My wireless router either needs to be readjusted or simply blanks out its connection at least four times per week. This is annoying not only when my sons are gaming, but also when I'm trying to do something a little more essential, like send emails. FYI, I live in Boston-proper, and a pretty nice part at that. I understand people in other parts of the country have it much worse. And while I don't have a smartphone anymore, I remember well how frustrated I would be by frequent slow connections. Until we get the kind of mobile connectivity that I might find in South Korea, I'm unimpressed by all of the promises people make about the wireless world.

If you can't count on this, nothing else matters

Second, since I'm here, I do have a new complaint about the trade offs of convenience, and yes, of course I'm talking about Google. Oh Google (I mean, Alphabet), thanks so much for the free email, calendar, groups, file sharing, video-viewing, hosting, and of course, search engine capabilities. That totally makes up for said stalking, the creepy context-ads in my email, and the prejudiced search results. (No, it doesn't.) But things finally went too far when I realized that my non-Gmail account wasn't getting almost any messages through to Gmail accounts after a period of two and a half weeks. You know what that forced me to do? Transition all of my email activity to Gmail. Who do you think that's more convenient for, me or Google?

One email to rule them all

For something completely different, I'm here to say that families eating from-scratch dinner together is, if not completely overrated, much less of a panacea for all social ills than we've been led to believe. When I make dinner for all six members of my family, if we sit together for more than ten minutes, it's a miracle. Make no mistake, I value those minutes, but it's paid for by more than forty minutes of food prep beforehand (there are only two people who can eat the same things, but they have wildly different preferences) and at least twenty minutes of clean up time. I like to cook because it's a creative outlet, it's less expensive than ordering out (or even getting prepared food from the supermarket), and creates less waste, but I do not judge other families, particularly those headed by single parents, for making that a lower priority. As such, I'm delighted that a book like Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won't Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It has been published, and I can't wait to read it.

Let's get real about the kitchen
Finally, I'm going to push back against the hype against Running Scared, the 1986 buddy cop film starring Billy Crystal and the late Gregory Hines. This is one of my favorite films, and I've been aghast at the bad rap it's gotten since, well, 1986. I'm not an action connoisseur (my new-found love of Korean films notwithstanding) and if the car chases don't work for most, I'm not going to argue the point. When I watch anything, I'm there for the chemistry, semi-witty banter, and a setup that makes sense but moves quickly. I get all of those things out of Running Scared, and it's probably mostly due to the chemistry between Crystal (I know, I know) and Hines, plus a joke about the New Math (my geek is showing, I know). The film suffers from the same kind of bs racism a lot of Eighties cop films do (Jesus, couldn't anyone find anything better for Jimmy Smits to do than be a scumbag drug dealer in the Eighties?), and I'm not going to say I don't cringe a little bit over that. And, yes, it's also ridiculous to think that the late Darlanne Fluegel would have ever married Crystal, but it's kind of fun to see her rescued by him. In short, no, it's not perfect, but it's still pretty good. (Take that, Rotten Tomatoes.)

The question isn't whether you want to see them in their long underwear, but rather how we got to this point

Thanks to Morgan, Jami, and Caroline for their posts in this hop, and please check out Kerrie's post tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Deb in the City

Monday, November 25, 2019

Reality Versus the Hype (Blog Hop)

Thank goodness for my gaggle of bloggers, who give me reasons to write blog posts. Morgan, Jami, Caroline, Kerrie, and I will be blogging this week about Reality versus Hype, which I'm sure everyone is going to take in their signature hilarious, insightful, and touching directions. Here's our schedule for the week; please take a look at all of them and share your thoughts about when the promise (or threat) didn't match the truth.

Happily Ever After is frequently not all it's cracked up to be

November 25, Morgan

November 26, Jami

November 27, Caroline

November 28, Deb

November 29, Kerrie

Thursday, April 18, 2019

My Real Life Alter Ego (Blog Hop)

Thanks so much to Caroline for starting our latest blog hop off yesterday. I loved the idea of doing something like this because it's a way for me to re-christen my blog as Deb In The City. Many moons ago (back in July of 2006, to be exact), I started another blog called Deb In The City where I talked about being a mom of many in an urban environment and trying to do it all on a budget. That was a different time, I am a different person, but I've missed writing about life and not just writing and pop-culture. (Sometimes I just don't want to watch Netflix. There, I said it.) I'm hoping this won't be mundane. but it's definitely going to be more personal.

So here's what you need to know about me when I'm not building new worlds and characters out of whole cloth:

  • I'm a homeschooler. I like to think I'm kind of hip and cool, but "homeschooling mom" sounds about as exciting as snaking out my tub. But, as I see it, it's my most important job, and especially now that my youngest are older (14? When/how did that happen?!), it's a lot more fun. Do they love reading The Iliad? Of course not. Are they digging the survey text on World History we're using? Nope. And do they constantly question the utility of algebra and trigonometry? Like it's their job. But it still brings me a huge amount of joy to sit on the couch with them, read out loud, and even listen to their snarky commentary. I'm trying to get them to a place where they won't need me to learn, but I'm dreading it as well.
We all have our zany comfort reading...

  • I'm a good cook.
    Like, a really good cook. When you're low on funds and have dietary restrictions (vegetarian, vegan, wheat-intolerance, and allergic reactions to soy and sesame) and you live with people with different food restrictions (nut- and shellfish-allergies), being able to cook is a necessity. (But baking's mostly for fun.) Like Caroline, I've also worked in a cafe and even had my own, under-the-table catering business for a little while (that's as edgy as I've gotten). 
This raw, vegan chocolate cake is one of the easier things I've made (Photo Credit: The Happy Raw Kitchen)

  • I'm a yogi.
    Back in the day, I taught mind-body fitness. There's a lot about the fitness industry, in all corners, that can be pretty toxic, and it took me a long time to be able to practice yoga without a lot of that bubbling up, but recently I rediscovered why I loved Raviana's Yoga so much. Their workouts make me feel like I'm reclaiming my body - not as far as how it appears, but what it can do. And boy, there's nothing like not meditating regularly for about a decade to make clear just how much you need it.
I promise, this is more fun than it looks

  • I'm a super volunteer.
    Some people sign up for things, show up, and think that's all they have to do. I'm one of the people that puts in work behind the scenes. (This is not, by the way, because I'm such a community-minded person, but more because community-minded leaders usually see me standing somewhere un-warily and make their move on me before I can run away.) I've been the chair of a School Site Council, the editor of a newsletter, a member of the planning team for a conference (actually, make that two), and an organizer for social justice at my synagogue. I make the trains run, but in my opinion, that's just Adulting 101. (Admittedly, my opinion may be tempered by the fact that nothing anyone else has asked me to do has been as difficult as creating a world from scratch, so there's that.)
  • I have given up my smart phone. That's a different kettle of fish than the other items, but worth mentioning because it's so out of the norm. It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, but finally worked up the courage to do. My smart phone had very quickly encouraged a sense of ennui in me that a lot of people can probably relate to. We carry computers Albert Einstein couldn't have conceived of, and most of use it to follow reality stars on Instagram and play Facebook games (yes, I too had a crippling Candy Crush addiction once; you can't get better if you don't face what you are). And don't get me started on the advertisers that stalk you all over the internet...The week I've been without my email constantly demanding my attention has been fantastic, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to be more present.
The smartest phone for me

That's me in a nutshell (er...sort of). Thanks so much for reading, and please check The O Life tomorrow to find out The Truth About Kerrie.