Tag Archives: ranty

See You at the Polls

If you don’t vote, you’re giving away your power.

 

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Vote for your favorite or vote against your least favorite.

Go in educated about the issues or go with your gut.

Carefully consider what you’re doing or decide at the last minute.

Do it as cheerful exercise of your citizenship or do it as an unhappy obligation.

But whatever you do,

VOTE.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and near-future thrillers under the pen name M.H. Mead. She can’t wait to vote on November 8.

The Encouragement Manifesto

You. Yes, you. You’re doing just fine.

Have you seen this quote? It shows up around social media a lot.

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It’s supposed to be funny…I think? I don’t find it so. O’Connor goes on to say that many a bestseller would have been prevented by a good teacher. Because how dare some people think they can write? In O’Connor’s world, not even a college degree is enough to prevent bad writing.

I find this attitude infuriating. I know there are more bad writers than good ones. I also know that some people think they are good writers when they are not. Or more accurately, they aren’t good writers yet.

That’s what bothers me most about the idea of “stifling writers.” It feeds into the myth of innate talent, as if pro writers never had to learn their craft but were born knowing how to write flawless first drafts.

Some people think the way to help new writers is to cut them down—otherwise known as “telling them the truth.” But writing well is hard work and the publishing process is soul-sucking. Why add to that misery?

I teach a class. I help new writers. When I read their sample pages, I tell them they are doing just fine. I tell them to to keep writing. Because you know what? That is the truth. The most important thing a beginning writer can do is write more. It’s the only way to get better.

I’m not patronizing or condescending. I give solid advice in addition to praise. I recommend books that can help with specific problems. And when it comes to publishing questions, I tell it like it is, with no sugar-coating.

But I don’t spend a lot of time trying to fix someone’s manuscript. Leaving my own fingerprints all over someone else’s pages won’t help them. It will only make them believe they can’t do it themselves. But what will help them is knowing that someone sees their potential, thinks they are on the right track, and is rooting for them.

That’s what other writers did for me. And that’s what I will always, always do for other writers.

And there’s no way anyone can stifle that.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels and she is wildly enthusiastic about brand-new writers. 

Everyone loves Whole30. Except me.

I ate squeaky clean for thirty days. I’m never doing it again.

IMG_2809I first heard of Whole30 on the internet. It seems like everyone loves this eating plan, with people posting before and after pictures and Instagramming their meat-and-veggie lunches. Whole30 isn’t a diet. It’s more like pushing the “reset” button on your eating habits. By cutting out sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol, beans, soy and peanuts for a month, you’re supposed to change your relationship to food, and eat more mindfully ever after.

The testimonials sound too good to be true. By eating like this for just thirty days, people report effortless weight loss, clear skin, sound sleep, boundless energy, and an end to all food cravings, forever. Some people say that Whole30 cured their high blood pressure, asthma, or diabetes. Who wouldn’t want to be in on that? I filled my grocery cart with delicious, whole foods and for thirty days, ate nothing but meat, eggs and vegetables, with a small amount of fruits and tree nuts for a treat.

For people who eat a lot of restaurant meals or packaged food, Whole30 is a huge lifestyle change. But I was already cooking my own meals from scratch. I was already eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. I never ate fast food or instant ramen or sweet cereal. My big indulgences were granola bars and dark chocolate. Still, I thought that surely cutting out cheese, oatmeal, popcorn and wine, not to mention noodles and bread would give me some of those miracle benefits the internet was raving about. Everyone who does Whole30 says “It changed my life.”

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Let me tell you what Whole30 did for me.

Nothing.

My skin looks the same. My energy levels didn’t improve. I didn’t lose a single pound. And if anything, my insomnia got worse.

And I missed out on so much.

I’m not talking about sandwiches or stupid store-bought cookies, because who cares about those? I’m talking about meaningful treats that people put real effort into. My friend opened an ice cream store, which was his dream come true. I attended the celebration without tasting a single one of his homemade creations. I went to a birthday party and didn’t eat any of the cake. I told my writer’s group that I wouldn’t bring muffins this week.

But the worst was when I had a spat with a family member and after we made up, he went out of his way to bring me my favorite dessert and I didn’t eat it. He was nice about it and said he admired my dedication to my goal, but I could tell he was hurt. I should have said “screw Whole30” and eaten every last bite, because no eating plan is worth harming a relationship with a loved one.

Whole30 wasn’t all bad. I learned a some new recipes. I made a couple of new Instagram friends. I learned that my diet was already quite healthy. The reason I didn’t receive huge benefits is because I didn’t make huge changes.

It took eating super clean for thirty to days to learn that while my normal diet isn’t perfect, it is good enough. Now that I know that, I never, never, never have to do Whole30 ever again.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She lets her characters eat whatever they want.

Taking Chances

Women make minute-by-minute calculations about their own safety all day every day. And sometimes we get it wrong.

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I was waiting to cross the street. Waiting through two light cycles. The crosswalk signal changed from “stop” to “walk” for the second time, and still I hesitated. Because like all women, I’m constantly scanning my surroundings, and I could see what was waiting for me on the other side.

I don’t know if he was dangerous or not. It was hard to tell, and I didn’t want to risk finding out. All I know is the guy standing on the other side of the street scared me. He was underweight, unwashed, wearing lounge pants and a t-shirt and a camouflage necktie as a headband. He was yelling incoherently at the top of his lungs. He stood on the balls of his feet, his entire upper body leaning forward in an aggressive way that said he was going to take a swing at the next person who got too close.

This was in broad daylight, about 11:30 in the morning on a Thursday, downtown Ann Arbor on the corner of Main and Ann, across from the courthouse. There were other people around, but not enough people. Nobody else seemed to be going my way.

I couldn’t cross on the other side of the street. Sidewalk repairs. Street closed. I’d either have to walk a two-block circle or take my chances with yelling guy.

I was about to take the detour when I saw him. A man of about thirty, in a dress shirt and pants, walking in my same direction down Main Street. He wasn’t huge, but he was big enough. More importantly, he looked confident. He sized up the situation and maneuvered himself to stand on the other side of me, so that he’d be between me and yelling guy when we passed him. We crossed the street together.

“Thanks,” I said when we’d put half a block between us and yelling guy. “I really didn’t want to walk past him by myself.”

“No problem,” he said. He held out his hand. “My name is Christopher.”

“I’m Alex.” I shook his hand. “Thanks again, Christopher. Have a great day.” I kept walking.

Christopher kept pace. “Are you single?” he asked. “Can we be friends?”

I stopped walking. My jaw dropped. “Are you serious right now?”

“What?” he asked. “We can’t be friends?”

“Don’t be that guy,” I half-whispered. “Please, don’t be that guy.”

“Yeah, all right.” He smiled as he sauntered off. “Have a nice day…Alex.” He added that special little lilt at the end, the one that says, “I know something about you.”

I had at least ten years on Christopher. Maybe fifteen. My hair is going gray. I was wearing what I describe as “mom shoes.”

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None of that mattered. Christopher had walked me across the street. He had bought my attention.

I should have taken my chances with yelling guy.

And that’s what I hate most about this whole thing. Of the two men, Christopher looked like the safer bet. Women make these moment-by-moment calculations all day every day, and sometimes we get it wrong.

It was a small encounter, more annoying than dangerous, but it might not have been. What happens when a man like Christopher walks a woman to her car, in the dark? What happens when he insists on being more than friends?

I told this story to some girlfriends and they sympathized with me. They understood it because they’d all been through some version of this. But my guy friends all said, “Oh no! What a tool. I would never do that.” And I believe them. They wouldn’t.

But guys, here’s what you have to understand. For every one of you, there is at least one Christopher out there.

And he’s ruining it for the rest of you.

#YesAllWomen

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and science fiction thrillers under the pen name MH Mead. Her characters often walk alone, even in unsafe places.

[Image: Google maps]

Ten Ways Being an Adult is Super Awesome

Don’t believe the coffee cups, t-shirts, and internet memes.

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“I can’t adult today” is one of the internet’s favorite sayings.

And I honestly don’t get it.

I’ve wanted to be a grown-up since I was five years old. That’s when I realized adults don’t have a bedtime and can say “no thank you” to green beans. Now that I’m actually grown up, it’s even better than I thought it would be and I don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t love it, too.

Of course, I’m not talking about people who have depression or anxiety. Sometimes those issues can deplete someone’s daily store of energy before they even get out of bed. And I get that. I do. Self-care is important. In fact, self-care is part of being an adult. You get to do that now.

And you get to do so much more. Here are ten great reasons being all grown up is the best thing ever.

10. You’re in charge of you. You can choose your own bedtime, what to wear, how to color your hair, and your own music in the car. You can eat your dessert without finishing your vegetables and you will never, ever be grounded, no matter how sassy you are.

9. Coffee. Wine. Sex. Swearing. Would you really want to trade in these adult pleasures for fewer responsibilities and a daily nap?

8. You can choose your own friends. Heck, you can choose your own family if you want.

7. No one asks you what you want to be when you grow up, because they can clearly see you already are. You get to have your own identity. You’re not just “so and so’s child,” you’re you.

6. Knowing how to do things feels really, really good. Grown-ups can drive a car, cook a meal, program the DVR, vote, and write in cursive. Or at least do some of these things. And these things are awesome.

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5. Paychecks > allowance.

4. Your parents get smarter every year.

3. You can watch all the scary movies you want. And read books with sex scenes in them. And see TV shows with lots of blood and maybe naked butts.

2. You don’t have to sing with your classmates, exercise with a group, deal with mean girls, or fill out a bubble form with a #2 pencil ever again. If you want to learn something, you get a book and learn it at your own pace. :::Wipes away a tear of joy:::

1. You can have children if you wish, and spend time with them feeling like a kid all over again.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the afternoon building a blanket fort and then I’m going to sit inside it eating graham crackers while reading books. Because I’m an adult, which means I get to spend my free time any way I want.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. Her books are not for children.

Six Reasons to Embrace the Singular They

Sometimes “they” is just one person.

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Language is always changing, and proper grammar is nothing more than consensus. What is considered incorrect today will probably be tomorrow’s norm—and just as vigorously defended and argued about.

Consider the pronoun “thou,” which used to be the second person singular. By about 1700, it was gone, as everyone was using “you” for both singular and plural. The same thing is happening with they.

While English teachers and the grammar police freak out, the rest of us are happily using they to mean just one person. Here are six reasons that’s okay.

1. The singular they has been used for a long, long time. Since the middle ages, in fact. Chaucer used the singular they. Shakespeare used the singular they. Austen used the singular they. If they can do it, you can do it.

2. In the singular third person, English does not have a gender-neutral pronoun. “He or she” is not all-inclusive. Some people are neither he nor she. Besides, you’re not talking about an either/or situation. You’re not choosing from many possibilities, you’re talking about a single person. Some academics use “one” here, and I suppose one could do that, if one doesn’t mind sounding like a pretentious ninny.

3. Everyone is already doing it, including you. Don’t believe me? How would you finish this sentence? “If someone wins the lottery…” I bet you started the next clause with “they should…” You’ve also said something like this: “Someone left their cell phone behind. I hope they come back for it.” We do this all the time, especially when words like someone, everybody and anyone are involved.

4. Authorities say it’s correct. The singular they was chosen by the American Dialect Society as their 2015 word of the year. Bill Walsh, the Washington Post editor in charge of the style guide also says the singular they “is the only sensible solution.” The Chicago Manual of Style, The Guardian, The Merriam-Webster dictionary and many other publications also say the singular they is correct.

5. The pronoun does not have to agree with the number of its noun. Although “they” is most often plural, it does not have to be. Consider the following sentence: If our team plays well in the semi-finals, chances are they will play well in the finals, too. We see that the noun “team” is singular, by the use of the verb “plays.” But in the second clause, we use the word “they” to refer to the singular “team.” Or how about this sentence? My family stops by often and they always forget to bring beer. “Family” is singular, yet referred to as “they.”

6. “He” isn’t gender-neutral. Do you insist that “he,” “him,” and “his” includes men and women and non-binary people? Then you won’t mind a sentence like this: I can’t remember: was it your brother or your sister who had his graduation party last week? Or how about this one? Each student should wear his nicest suit or his prettiest dress to the dance. Those sentences are crying out for a singular they. Even worse, when the masculine form of a word is considered the generic, the feminine form usually takes on sexual or derogatory tones. Consider “master” and “mistress,” or “bachelor” and “spinster.”

You can stubbornly plow on, using he or one when the word you really want is the singular they. Eventually you’ll get tired of people rolling their eyes at you and you’ll remember that grammar rules are descriptive, not prescriptive.

In the meantime, don’t you dare tell anyone who is using they as a third-person singular pronoun that they are wrong. Because they are not.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She loves the way language is always changing.

 

A Room of One’s Own?

A room of one’s own is good, but what a writer truly needs is uninterrupted time to create.

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Virginia Woolf wrote that to be a successful writer, a woman must have an independent income and a room of her own. As a young writer, I understood the income part, but the room of one’s own seemed puzzling and a little out of date. As a middle-class American, I’d always had a room of my own. Growing up, my bedroom was as small as some closets, but it was all mine, and nobody ever prevented me from going there. (In fact, I was sent there on a regular basis.) In addition to a bed and a dresser, I had a little desk and a bookshelf: everything an aspiring writer needed.

Many adult writers not only have rooms of their own, but entire apartments, even entire houses. So what is the big deal about having a room of one’s own?

Now that I’m older, with a family and a schedule and constant interruptions, I have new appreciation for having a room of one’s own. Now I understand it wasn’t the physical room Woolf was referring to, but what the room represented. Having a space to call your own and arrange any way you want is good, but what’s more important is having a quiet place and the uninterrupted time to actually have two thoughts in a row.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called it “flow,” that magical state of working at creative capacity when the rest of the world falls away and the artist is truly one with the work. It’s not something that can be turned on and turned off. Research has shown that it takes ten to twenty minutes of work to achieve this happy status, and every interruption resets the start time.

I have children. They need things. When they were little, they needed many, many things. But even as near-adults, they need answers to questions and help finding lost keys. Don’t get me wrong. My family and my writing are the two biggest blessings in my life and I wouldn’t trade being a stay-at-home writer for anything in the world. But it’s hard to get into flow when the stream of your thoughts is getting splashed into every few minutes. There are days that it’s better to write elsewhere.

Some people look down their noses at writers in coffee shops. “How pretentious,” they say, “showing off by writing in public.” They wonder why anyone would try to write in such a crowded place, where the espresso machine is hissing at top volume and the music is loud and everyone is talking. Obviously, those writers aren’t producing anything except hot air for their own inflated egos, right? John Scalzi even wrote an entire book on the subject, telling new writers that they weren’t fooling anyone by writing in coffee shops.

However, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Scalzi. It’s not about trying to fool anyone. It’s about trying to write a whole paragraph without hearing, “Have you seen my sneakers?” or “Can you get toothpaste next time you’re out?” Going to the coffee shop or the library or the study lounge gives writers what having a room at home does not give them. It gives them uninterrupted time to work.

More importantly, it gives them the right to claim that time. Perhaps multi-published writers whose words pay for the family’s groceries have no problem telling everyone in the household to shut up and leave them alone. But no writer I know has that same luxury, especially no one who is a parent. Sometimes, we have to go where nobody knows us, even if it’s noisy and the tables are small and the chairs are uncomfortable and there aren’t enough outlets.

We need to seek out that room of our own, even if that room isn’t ours at all.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She writes wherever and whenever she can, including in her own room. 

 

No More Guilty Pleasures

Let’s abolish this phrase once and for all.

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I always cringe when I hear the phrase guilty pleasure. I hate it most when it’s in a review of popular entertainment. Cultural critics apply it to catchy pop songs, big action movies, and engrossing books. As if the critics—whose job it is to tell us what’s entertaining—can’t admit they actually like something. Or can only admit it if they also claim to be above it.

But it’s not just critics. I hear this phrase everywhere. People use “guilty pleasure” as a shield, putting things down before others do it for them. I hear it a lot from fans of manga or romance novels or YA novels. Like they know they’re supposed to be reading Proust or Faulkner, but they just couldn’t help themselves.

But here’s what really bothers me. The phrase “guilty pleasure” is always, always applied to entertainment that appeals to the emotion rather than the intellect. It’s as if we’re afraid to have an emotional experience unless we kind of hate ourselves for doing so.

No, people. Just no.

Life is too short to worry about what your entertainment choices say about you as a person. And life is way too short to mock the things you love just because they bring you big laughs or big tears.

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You know what I love? I love Pippin the musical. I love Star Trek, Mad Max, and any movie that has Jackie Chan in it. I love the Bernie Rhodenbarr books by Lawrence Block and the Goblin books by Jim C. Hines. And I will watch anything on HGTV. My favorite are those home makeover shows where the people cry at the end. Sometimes I cry too.

All these things are awesome. These stories feed my mind and my heart. and I refuse to label them guilty pleasures. I don’t have to justify the feelings I have toward them—or the feelings I get from experiencing them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some friends coming over in a few minutes to watch Mad Max Fury Road. But first, I think I’ll queue up the Pippin soundtrack and dance around my house while singing “Corner of the Sky.”

And if my friends catch me doing it, I won’t be embarrassed.

I’ll invite them to sing along.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She hopes her readers never feel guilty about reading her books.

Stolen Time

Americans spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in line. Sometimes I think I’ve personally waited all of them.

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My life is not that challenging if the worst thing I do is stand in line. So why do I hate it so much?

It helps if the time spent waiting is proportional to what I’m waiting for. It has to be “worth it.” Thirty minute wait for a table at my favorite restaurant? No problem. Forty minutes for a roller coaster at a theme park? Sure. But make me wait behind two people at the drug store when all I need is a bottle of shampoo and I’m thinking OMG my life is so terrible lines are the literal worst.

It’s not because I’m an impatient person. I am very patient with my family and friends. Even strangers. I don’t mind when a pal is late for a coffee date or my sister doesn’t text back right away or someone zooms ahead of me in traffic.

Nor is it because we live in such a fast-paced world and we’re all impatient nowadays. Other studies have shown that the elderly are just as unforgiving of a long line as youngsters.

My big problem with lines is the theft.

I feel it most when I’m waiting to pay for something. When I have to wait in line, I’m paying twice: once in money and once in time. And the stores know it, too. They’re perfectly willing to hire a smaller staff, saving themselves a lot of money by costing each customer a sliver of time.

But time is a commodity and the older I get the more valuable my time is to me. Which is one of the reasons I’ve moved most of my shopping online. I use Amazon Prime because heck yes I’ll pay extra for two-day shipping and other perks. Come to think of it, I’ve never waited in line at Costco either—another pay-to-shop establishment.

It sounds ridiculous on the surface. Why pay to buy things? But that’s not what I’m paying for. I’m paying for extra staff to quickly ring up my purchases and get me on my way.

And I’m getting a bargain by no longer paying the hidden cost of stolen time.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She never makes her characters wait in line.

Killing Characters

Sometimes a story gets sacrificed to its medium.

When Taraji P. Henson left my favorite TV show, Person of Interest, the writers had to kill off her character. It was horrible. Not only was Detective Carter my favorite character, she was also the moral center of the show–one which the writers have yet to replace.

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This happens a lot in long-running shows. Characters have to be killed, or sent overseas, or divorced, even if it makes no sense for the plot. (I’m looking at you, Downton Abbey!)

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I’m not against killing characters in books, movies, and TV. It’s often necessary. But you get a different feel when the character’s death was baked into the story at the outset rather than tacked on later because Hollywood negotiations broke down.

Killing off a character simply because the actor quit always feels jarring. I’ve yet to see TV writers handle it well. They never seem to take the plot in a surprising new direction after the character is gone. It goes on as before, with one essential element missing. It’s not a plot twist. It’s a slap in the face of good storytelling.

It tarnishes the viewers’ enjoyment of the show because it’s a harsh reminder that it’s all make-believe. Suddenly, that story world we were absorbed in doesn’t seem so real after all.

All this is a the long way of saying I’m glad I’m a novelist. The reader’s imagination cooperates with me in creating these characters and they live exactly the lives they are supposed to. If someone dies in my novel, it will happen at exactly the right time, and they will be killed for logical story reasons, not at the whim of an actor chasing a bigger paycheck.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes novels under the pen name M.H. Mead. Sometimes people die in her books.