Monday, March 25, 2013

Reality and TV

My brother recently wrote a blog that mentioned the pleasures of yelling at television characters when we have our own ideas about what they should be doing. This morning I was scanning my online news sources when I came upon a photo of a senior citizen featured in an article. My first thought was: You need to whiten your teeth.
“Get a hairdo!” I might yell at some poor soul on TV, or “Honey, pluck your eyebrows!” “Haven’t you ever heard of brown spot remover?” And who among us can’t spot a bad wig, especially on a man?  
The long, wide reach of the media does not leave many of us out.
I’m finding that I’ve been slowly and subtly—perhaps subliminally--conditioned to expect white, perfect teeth and flawless skin, beautiful hair and an attractive physique on anyone in the public eye. Some part of me is surprised and turned off when these folks don’t “take care of themselves.”
At the same time, there are TV channels I will not watch, a whole swath of them featuring (my term) “fake women” chosen for reality shows that highlight their bitchiness and balloon-like lips. Plastic surgery can enhance us or make monsters of us.
I find it disturbing to see young people who have never experienced a wrinkle hawking anti-aging products, for example the beautiful girl in the Juvederm ads. How old is she, twenty? Could that trend have anything to do with reality shows that highlight bridezillas barely out of their teens plumping up their faces for their perfect day? It's all part of the media message.
The next step, after blithely informing the men and women on TV that they need Botox or a Lifestyle Lift, is looking at oneself. Ah.
With a second book about to be published and a co-author who would love for us to be interviewed on TV, I keep wondering if I should be taking my own advice. I suppose a few layers of Luminess sprayed on before the cameras roll would give me that airbrushed look, but what about taking advantage of the products and procedures that are now as common as face powder?  
I have friends who routinely take Botox injections, have their makeup tattooed on, get chemical peels, and always look like they should be in the movies. I often think it’s too late for me, that if all those procedures had been pushed at everyone with a pulse twenty years ago, I might have started.
What about the money, the endless appointments, the risk? Marie Osmond looks lovely these days, but she does not look like Marie Osmond. Does it matter? What if things didn’t turn out so well? What if I underwent some procedure and the doctor overdid it? Can you ever go backwards? Do any of these enhanced people ever want to return to their former selves?
The world has become so competitive. I’m not sure what I’ll do about beauty enhancements, but I keep thinking about it, weighing the questions, especially this one: If I had, if I did, who would I be right now?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

U Scan It

In a few hours, this section of Ohio is due for a snowstorm that’s been moving east across the plains for a couple of days. Five to eight inches’ accumulation is what was showing earlier today. Never mind that it’s the last full week of March; as others have pointed out, the groundhog lied, or made a mistake, or perhaps was just rattled after a trip through a U-Scan-It station at the grocery store.
Yes, U Scan It, my name for the evil plot hatched by grocers, or their parent companies, or Satan, to have us by-pass the staffed checkout counters and scan our items ourselves. Oh, yippee, let me. I already pump my own gas and serve myself at cheap restaurants.
I hate the self-scanners with a passion. However, when one shops at 8:30 a.m. at my local store, clerks aren’t an option--unless you get into trouble with the scanners.
The storm is expected to affect us for two or three days. I could not imagine life without coffee, ice cream, chips, peanut butter, or certain paper products, so out I went. The beauty of shopping in the early morning is the absence of other customers. I had the aisles to myself, and they were well stocked; no one was stampeding to grab the last carton of pop or pound of hamburger.
The hazard of shopping early in the morning…well, I’ve already told you: no checkout people. The U Scan Its loomed ahead of me as the only choice, so I picked one. Of course, it started talking right away. “Welcome, valued customer!” That, I wouldn’t mind so much if the thing would then shut up.
The patient, condescending female voice instructed me as though I were a befuddled sixty-seven-year-old woman who couldn’t keep up. Oh. Never mind.
“Place the item in the bag. Scan your next item and place the item in the bag. Scan your next item and place the item in the bag. Scan…”
After the first three or four items, while I fantasized about putting my fist through the glass, a clerk with a hand scanner appeared beside my cart and began grabbing up my groceries. The self-scanners must have silent alarms, like banks. “You might have trouble with such a big order at this station,” she said. “You should have gone to that large station over there.” Too late now, girlie.  
“Place the item in the bag and scan your next item.”
“Give me a minute,” I growled to the machine, and then I remembered the clerk. “I’m not talking to you,” I explained. “I’m talking to her.”
Sure enough, I ran out of space in the bagging area and the clerk had to move my groceries for me, as the U Scan It, being a vile instrument of the Devil, had gone wild when I put a full bag on the floor. Now the clerk was alternately scolding me and calling me Honey, like I was dim-witted.
I was glad to get home. Was the U Scan It experience worth it? Well, I have food and Kleenex and sweetener for the hard pioneer days ahead. So, yes. And I did not see a groundhog.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Selling Mr. Joe

Now comes the selling part of Mr. Joe: Tales from a Haunted Life. The writing is finished, early copies and e-books are appearing, and we have begun our publicity campaign. Fortunately, Joe and I have a publicist who knows her way around the business of spreading the word, but that doesn’t let us off the hook.
I could say that publicity is the building of awareness, but it’s all selling, whatever name you give it. I am bad at selling. I dislike it. Sure, I like SELLING BOOKS—the more, the merrier--but not the act of selling books. Many other writers will tell you the same thing: We like to write. We aren’t meant to be extroverts. We feel awkward pushing our products.
I’ve probably told you my theory on the division of people. Some people are better on paper, and others are better in person. Writers generally fit into the first category and publicists in the second.
And you know that authors must participate in publicity campaigns. Sometimes that participation is painless, as it was yesterday when I entered Mr. Joe in a contest and applied to have it featured in a local book festival. All I had to do was assemble and package the books, applications, information sheets, and a check for the contest entry. I did have to leave the house to take the items to the Post Office, but all in all it was easy. It required organizational skills and a bit of writing for the book festival committee, which wanted a brief synopsis. That was fun.
Selling can also mean approaching others in person, introducing oneself, and proceeding to talk up the product. Fortunately, I have a co-author who looks forward to this phase. Joe will gladly assume the heavy lifting when we are out and about, promoting Mr. Joe; after all, he IS Mr. Joe.
I am relieved at this changing of the guard. I was the sole author on my first book. My brother was a loyal supporter, often traveling with me and sitting in the audience, but I was doing the personal book promotion alone. This time we’ll be together, sharing the publicity phase as we did the writing phase. Soon we’ll be doing the part Joe thinks is the most fun. 
For Christmas I bought Joe a sweatshirt that says, “ASK ME ABOUT MY BOOK.” He’s been wearing it all winter, and a variety of folks from grocery store clerks to strangers have asked. He likes that. I would have worn the sweatshirt inside out, because I don’t have the same skill set as Joe. It’s not a criticism, just more about my theory on the division of people.

Mr. Joe is a combination of our greatest talents. It’s a perfect balance. We worked together on the book, and we’ll work together on the publicity; that’s teamwork. But take it from someone who’s better on paper: It will be Joe’s time to shine.