Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Very Good Doctor

One day in 1985, in my eighth grade honors English class, Mrs. Tomita finally had enough of my constant chatter with Sarah Schacker and decided that we must be separated and punished. Sarah was made to sit at a table by herself in a corner by the water faucet and the pencil sharpener, a high traffic area if ever there was one and so Sarah still had plenty of opportunities to socialize.

On the other hand, I was reassigned to a table for four that, until my arrival, had a glaringly, gaping empty chair. This was the nerd table. The geek table. The table of three heretofore unlucky pubescent boys who not too many years later would all make millions of dollars in the Silicon Valley dot com boom of the mid-90s. One of them even showed up at our ten-year high school reunion with some eastern European beauty queen who undoubtedly had agreed to a long-winded pre-nup.

But on this day in Mrs. Tomita’s class, they were still thickly-bespectacled, greasy-haired, spotty-faced boys who didn’t know how to answer questions in class without sounding like a team of insolent George Wills and didn’t know how to talk to girls at all.

Now, I was no Barbie-haired mean girl. I had crooked teeth. I was really good at math. And they only let me on the cheerleading squad because I was strong enough to lift the other girls and be in the bottom row of the pyramid. On the other hand, I did have a nice complexion, a bubbly personality and a couple of pairs of Guess jeans that almost made me look like I had a figure. So, when I took my place in that conspicuously vacant fourth chair and said, “Hi,” all three boys quickly turned to look at something fascinating on the outside of the window.

But since I refuse to ever be at a loss for words, and on that day I refused to give in to Mrs. Tomita’s assumption that by placing me at this table that I would automatically stop talking during class, I was not going to give up. I was determined to engage them in conversation. So, I decided to start over, and not with something as vague as “Hi.” I mean, who at that age can use “Hi” as a conversation starter anyway? Two 13 year olds can spend seven full minutes while passing between classes just saying “Hi” in increasingly shy and uncomfortable ways. No, I decided I would blow their awkwardly intelligent minds with an opening gambit that they could never imagine would ever come out of a girl’s mouth. I said, “So, did you see Doctor Who last night?”

I wasn’t trying to insult them or tease them in anyway. I was just trying to find common ground. Because I had actually seen Doctor Who the night before… and the night before that… and the night before that. In fact, I had seen Doctor Who most Monday through Friday nights in the half-hour before my family ate dinner for a few years at that point. It started because my older brother usually dictated use of the remote control at that time of day. But then I ended up honestly enjoying it. First, I was amused by K-9, the loyal talking robot dog. Then, I started to like Sarah Jane Smith, the Doctor’s proto-feminist companion.

But it was Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor, who made the whole thing so much fun. He was giddy and capricious. He made time travel exciting, as opposed to dangerous. Certainly there were dangers: such as Daleks, etc. But as it’s so often been noted, those 1970s and 80s special effects were obvious, if not down right silly. It was the character studies, the philosophical dilemmas, the imagined science and the serial story-telling that kept me and my brother and other kids enthralled by sci-fi and fantasy coming back night after night. Well, all of that and, of course, Tom Baker’s ridiculous scarf. And then there was the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, who seemed charming, most likely because he’d previously been a veterinarian on All Creatures Great and Small. But then I grew tired of Doctor Who when Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor, started to play him as arrogantly egotistical, as opposed to good-naturedly self-assured.

After that memorable day in eighth grade, I could hardly get my nerdy English class table-mates to stop talking about Doctor Who. More than anything, I think they were amazed to have something they could talk to a girl about. While I didn’t really want to talk to them outside of class and I certainly didn’t want them asking me to go a dance or anything, the experience was certainly enlightening.

As I moved into high school and later college, I realized that I had an advantage over a lot of other girls. Not only did shy, geeky guys (the type that eventually became my main interest and romantic desire) have something they could talk to me about, but I had something I could talk to them about. And it wasn’t just Doctor Who. I also knew every episode of Star Trek. I’d read most of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And I could also have a reasonable conversation about comic books thanks to my brother. I both read his comic books and spent time browsing comic book stores in the days when only he had a driver’s license and I was at his mercy. And while I never told him this at the time, I loved going to the comic book stores because I was almost always the only girl there. I would catch guys looking at me, and although they were never brave enough to actually flirt, it was infinitely more attention then I ever got from any guys at school.

I began to understand those girls that seemed to know so much about football. Whereas before I thought they were feigning interest and just learning things to help them flirt with jocks, I started to recognize that they really did like football, which informed their romantic interest in athletic boys or vice versa; plus it gave them something to talk about.

Because despite what some boys may believe, it’s just as hard for us girls to talk to you as it is for you to talk to us. And having any type of advantage in my teen years was encouraging, especially for a girl like me who never had a date, let alone a boyfriend, until college. It was handy that I was often the prettiest girl around who liked Doctor Who and Star Trek and anything similar that was usually geeky male domain.

I actually took a self-imposed break from Dr. Who during the reign of the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, which then became a forced break when production was ceased on the BBC television series in 1989. But then, in 2005, the show came back, with a brand new kind of Doctor. Christopher Eccleston, as the Ninth Doctor, had a shaved head and a black leather jacket and was sarcastic and moody, but still brilliant and brave. While, in the U.K., Doctor Who is still widely considered a popular show for youth, Eccleston’s Doctor was the right kind of Doctor for the adult in me.

But just like most men I’ve even grown attached to, as quickly as the Ninth Doctor had entered my life, he was gone again. It just didn’t seem fair that there was just one season of Eccleston. But like all other Doctors, and because the BBC doesn’t like to let a good brand die, the Tenth Doctor was announced: David Tennant. While this may not have meant much to most American sci-fi fans, I could hardly contain myself. David Tennant is the one of the few actors I’ve ever truly swooned over. Some might say it was from his memorable portrayal of Casanova in 2005. But I actually was smitten, nee besotted, by his Detective Inspector Carlisle in the strange, murder mystery musical Viva Blackpool in 2004.

So, while I was still mourning Eccleston a little bit, I was ecstatic to learn that Tennant was going to be the new regeneration of Doctor Who in 2006. But little did I know that he was going to play the best version of Doctor Who ever.

Besides Tennant’s innate sex appeal, including for the geek-lover in me the fact that he’s the only Doctor to have ever worn glasses, what’s so truly special about the Tenth Doctor is that Tennant plays the role with both memory and mortality. He is clever and brave and cheeky and serious, but also modern and self-aware. His companions – both Rose and Martha – couldn’t help but fall in love with him and I completely understand why. He is even more the Doctor of my dreams than any other, including Eccleston, could ever be.

One of the common complaints about television characters is that they don’t learn from their mistakes, i.e. they don’t have any memory. This is especially true in situation comedies, daytime and primetime soap operas and even characters like Wily E. Coyote. But the Tenth Doctor, like many modern television science fiction characters has nearly complete recall of his over 900 years of life and adventures. Sometimes that memory is a detriment as it gives him more sorrow and humanity than some previous incarnations. But that also makes it even more delightful when he exuberantly takes on adventures, runs full speed down corridors and cheekily takes on his aggressors. A being with this much life experience could very easily be bored and weary of his ever-lasting life, but Tennant plays it with gusto.

I believe that much of this sense of memory comes from the fact that Tennant is the first actor to play the Doctor who admits that he was an enormous fan of the show growing up. He came to the role with all of the knowledge of the Doctor’s past adventures. So, whether the script directly references those experiences or not, it’s clear that they are a part of him. It only makes sense that, from one regeneration to the next, the Doctor is still the same being and should have the same memories, but the role had never exactly been played that way before.

The Tenth Doctor is also the second regeneration of the characters since his home planet was destroyed. Through most of the episodes with Eccelston and Tennant, the Doctor believes that he is the only Time Lord left in all the known universes. So, even with the assumed continued ability to regenerate, the Tenth Doctor has a sense of his own mortality. All Doctors have had a sense of their own transience and importance in the galaxies and lives they touch. But when the Tenth Doctor faces his enemies and puts himself directly in harm’s way, he does so with the weight of mortality, the significance of his existence and the memories of all of the other Time Lords who now cease to exist.
This is especially apparent in the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter” when there is a possibility that the Doctor has (through unusual circumstances) a daughter and that perhaps he wouldn’t be the last Time Lord after all.

Tonight on BBC America, marks the beginning of the end for David Tennant and the Tenth Doctor. There are only a few more adventures left to air before this Doctor will regenerate and become the Eleventh Doctor, a young actor named Matt Smith who takes over the role in 2010.

But still today and for a little while longer, as played by David Tennant, Doctor Who represents a modern man that I could fall for. Was I ever destined to fall in love with somebody like Tom Baker? Besides the fact that I am sometimes drawn to guys with naturally curly hair, no, that was never going to happen. In fact, up until Eccelston, I only thought of Doctor Who as entertainment and a way of meeting and talking to real men that I might be interested in. But with the Ninth… and then especially, the Tenth Doctor, I’m afraid that instead of just talking about Doctor Who with actual men, now I expect actual men to live up to new ideals set by the Tenth Doctor.

Could I ever meet this man? This sexy, brilliant, sarcastic, brave and enthusiastic man, with empathy for others, who learns from his past and lives in the moment because tomorrow may be too late? Will I know him when I meet him? He certainly wasn’t sitting at that table in eighth grade. But is he in a comic book store right now? Or sitting at his home somewhere waiting to watch Doctor Who tonight? Or maybe he’s flying in his Tartis and he’ll invite me to join him for time travel adventures?

Do you think that’s what my Grandmother meant when she suggested I meet a nice doctor and settle down?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Rules of Culture

In this month’s Vanity Fair, John Heilpern interviews San Francisco society matron Denise Hale for his column “Out to Lunch.” This isn’t one of those Dominic Dunne exposes of society gone wrong. Make no mistake; I love those. But this is just an agreeable one-page conversation with Mrs. Hale who comes across as a lovely, personable and terribly mannered woman.

What really captured my imagination in this otherwise pleasant, but forgettable article is this proclamation from Hale, a paragon of the upper class:

“If you know the rules you belong; if you don’t know them, you don’t.”

I read this last night, just hours before I was scheduled to appear alongside art critic Dave Hickey on the Nevada Public Radio live call-in talk show “State of Nevada.” I had been told that the scheduled topic was something about high and low culture in Las Vegas.

(On the other hand, Mr. Hickey was told that we would be discussing Michael Jackson and had prepared as such. A superb miscommunication if ever there was one, but, nonetheless, a story for another time.)

So, I had been considering this nonsense of high and low culture last night when I came across Heilpern’s interview with Hale in Vanity Fair. I say “nonsense” because it’s my academic opinion that those terms are useless and meaningless. Any culture – that is to say, any cultural product produced in a given society – is meaningful as it either pleases or displeases the intended audience. And anything that persons in a society choose to spend their time and money on is valuable as cultural product and worthy of cultural analysis so far as it reflects what said people relate to, desire and consume.

Maybe it goes without saying that my academic background is in the field of popular culture. But it doesn’t go without saying that, in my opinion, in this day and age of hyper-accessible media, there ceases to be anything other than popular culture.

The academic definition of elite culture – which is a term I much prefer to high culture – is culture that requires specific skill, knowledge and/or access in order to participate. But in the 21st century, we are hard pressed to name any cultural product that isn’t accessible to vast numbers of people. Therefore, almost all culture has become popular – that is, available, accessible and desirable to countless individuals.

This morning on the radio, I made the statement that the two largest popular culture events of this year were the inauguration of President Obama and the Michael Jackson memorial. At the memorial, popular music stars like Stevie Wonder and Mariah Carey performed. At the inauguration, we had Aretha Franklin and Yo-yo Ma performing on the same stage. Classical music used to be considered elite culture. But f you search for Yo-yo Ma on YouTube, you’ll get over 60,000 hits. Some of the videos have been viewed over a million times. That’s not elite. That’s accessible, available and popular. And he’s appeared on Sesame Street, so future generations will know who he is, too. The idea that in this generation and forever after Yo-yo Ma will be considered a figure of popular culture is outstanding. We’re no longer expected to have special training to appreciate classical music nor the money to attend a symphony performance.

This brings me back to what Hale said in her interview: “If you know the rules you belong; if you don’t know them, you don’t.”

In her conversation, Hale was referring to the opportunity to belong to elite society. And, certainly, in a historic context elite society was just that. It was only accessible to those who knew the rules: the passwords and tricks of etiquette and the money to participate.

But today with programs like The Real Housewives of New York and NYC Prep on Bravo, that inside information is available to anyone with basic cable or the internet. The Countess Luann de Lesseps, of The Real Housewives, has repeatedly regaled television audiences on the rules of etiquette and has even published a very affordable book on the topic. And on NYC Prep, one of the featured teenage girls complained that she can’t go to her favorite restaurant anymore because it was mentioned on Gossip Girl and now everyone knows about it. If a fictional program like Gossip Girl is getting those kinds of insider details correct and spreading them around, then certainly the previously exclusive information on reality programs is even more accurate and instructive in the ways of the rich.

I acquiesce that not everyone who watches Bravo has the money to behave like these fictional characters or reality personalities. But Hale didn’t say “if you have the money, you belong.” She said, “if you know the rules.” And the rules are available to us all. In this world of the internet and digitized information, the rules, are no longer secret. Actually, Vanity Fair itself is one of the best sources of this kind of information about elite culture and those people who grace the society pages.

And so is Bravo. Besides informing the public about rich people, Bravo has also opened the doors to information about the things they love, like gourmet food and couture fashion. Top Chef and Project Runway expose the general public to the language of foodies and the tastes of fashion mavens. Chefs and fashion designers that were previously only known by those who could afford to dine in their restaurants and wear their clothes are now in our living rooms explaining their techniques and teaching us the elite language of their craft.

Certainly, just watching these programs will not automatically imbue anyone with the skill to cook food or design clothes. But it gives us the opportunity to observe masters and to discuss these topics intelligently without being rich by design or accident of birth. Decades ago, Julia Child brought the art of French cooking into American homes. But now Top Chef and the Food Network have brought us all varieties of gourmet cooking and James Beard award winning chefs.

Honestly, how many Americans had heard of the James Beard Foundation before Top Chef? And how many Americans knew about New York Fashion Week before Project Runway? But now, I am sure that there are millions of people who would feel comfortable sitting down over champagne cocktails with the likes of Denise Hale and discussing foie gros and couture. Because we know the rules and, therefore, we belong.

To read the interview with Denise Hale in Vanity Fair, go to:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Maybe the "e" stands for "extraneous"? or "expensive"?

Over the Fourth of July, offered a free communication weekend. I had tried eHarmony in the past and not had any success, but free is a very good price so I figured I didn’t have anything to lose except a few hours of my time.

I went and logged into my long since abandoned account. It took me a few tries to guess the password, but I finally got in. The account was so old that it was full of “matches” dating back several years. Actually, the last time I think I had logged in was on a previous “free weekend” maybe a couple of years ago. So, the first thing I had to do was delete the old matches, or “close communication” as they call it, so that there would be room for new ones.

Some of the old matches had already been closed by the guy involved because I hadn’t been “responsive” – and I don’t blame them. That’s absolutely true. You can’t be more unresponsive then not logging in at all.

Some of the matches I closed were with men who were no longer even on eHarmony. Their profiles had been completely deleted. So, there I didn’t feel any guilt about deleting them out of my inbox either.

But over 30 matches were just sitting there, untouched, never opened by him or me. What does that say about all of this business? Who are all of these men who may have been ideally matched to me on over 300 points of compatibility (or whatever the commercials say)? Who are they and why do they bother to sign up for the website if they’re not going to participate and try to meet someone? Although, to be fair, anyone could ask the same question about me.

My central reason for giving up on eHarmony is that, in my opinion, they don’t bother to actually pay attention to what I’m looking for in a man. The “matches” are generally nonsense. I’m usually ready to “close communication” with someone before the communication has ever started based solely on something that’s revealed in their initial description of themselves.

For example, I’ve specifically noted how tall I am and that I want to meet somebody taller than me. Yet I’m repeatedly matched with people like Dale a 5’8” CPA, who is probably a nice enough guy. But in my experience, guys lie about how tall they are. And if he says he’s 5’8”, he’s probably more like 5’7” and that’s going to put him over an inch shorter than me in flats. And maybe this makes me a hight-est, but if eHarmony can claim to find perfect matches for people, then shouldn’t they at least be able to match me with somebody at least 5’10” or hopefully taller?

Other matches I received over the Fourth of July weekend were just as easily dismissed, such as somebody named Marcel. I wondered if he was the monkey-haired “Top Chef” contestant (who does live in Las Vegas) or just the monkey from “Friends”? Anyway, he listed “Ayn Rand” as one of the major influences on his life so I had to delete him right away.

I was alerted to most of the matches eHarmony came up with by a series of emails with pithy subject lines.

Email 1 encouraged me to “Meet Paul and find out about his favorite activities.”
But Paul had “closed communication” with me before I even had a chance to see his profile. He was probably short and knew I was going to delete him anyway.

Email 2 cheered me on to “Meet William and see if you find a spark.”
But I knew there would be no spark when I saw that William had written that he loves working out and physical fitness and going to the gym about five times in just his basic introduction. In addition, William lives part-time in San Bernadino which does not sound appealing. Plus, he wrote: “I LOVE ALTERNATIVE MUSIC!” in all capital letters. You know, just so he made sure nobody missed that all important part of his personality.

Email 3 announced “Meet Joe: he could be what you’ve been looking for.”
However, Joe is only 5’9” and loves U2. Nope. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

Email 4 read “Meet Bret and discover what you have in common.”
Well, Bret and I did have a couple of things in common. We both love roller coasters and amusement parks. On the other hand, Bret loves NASCAR and believes “in treating a woman the way she should be treated,” which, as a feminist, I know is code for “I’m a jerk who doesn’t like women to own their own houses or have had more sexual partners than me.” So, it was clear we were never going to ride a roller coaster together.

Email 5 simply said “Find out more about your new match” without specifying a name.
This could have meant either Ken or Andrew who I was matched with on the site but had not received specific emails about. It didn’t matter since they were both headed for the “closed” file. You see, Ken said that the “Five People you Meet in Heaven” was “a great, inspirational book.” So, he clearly has no sense of irony. And Andrew wrote: “I love Broadway show tunes. Ha ha. J/K.” And anyone who jokes that way about Broadway show tunes has got to be a homophobic asshole.

Email 6 told me that I had received a “photo share nudge” from somebody named “Stephen” but I couldn’t locate where to respond to it on the website. I also couldn’t find anyone named “Stephen” anywhere in my inbox.

Email 7 had the most self-complimentary tone to it. “Meet Scott: We’ve matched you on the important areas of life.”
Besides the fact that EHarmony was using an awkward prepositional phrase in this subject line, it turned out to be the closest to a successful match that its algorithms of compatibility had made. I actually chose the “start communication” option for Scott because the only questionable thing in his initial profile is that the book he claimed to have read most recently was “The Prince” by Machiavelli.

But then, just as quickly as the free weekend had begun, it ended. But the day afterwards, I received an email that said “Scott has requested communication from you.” Dutifully, I logged into EHarmony and answered Scott’s questions. I then clicked to submit my answers and was taken to a sales page telling me that I could not communicate with Scott – or anyone else for that matter – unless I coughed up my credit card number.

So, then I had to wonder to myself: was Scott worth the $59.95 it would cost for 30 days of eHarmony? Was a man who had recently read Machiavelli worth $59.95? Or is the question really: is any man worth $59.95? And is that really any way to begin a relationship? Wouldn’t I always be calculating if I had gotten $59.95 out of it? An iced tea here, a lunch there, perhaps a cocktail or a shared bottle of wine? At what point would I stop assessing the value of our interaction. And, of course, this is all assuming that I’d ever meet anyone through eHarmony, be it Scott or somebody else, who I wanted to meet in person at all.

No, I decided, I could never spend $59.95 to continue communication with Scott or anyone else for that matter.

Besides, he was probably lying about his height anyway.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Girls' Night Out

Recently, I was invited to attend something called “Girls’ Night Out.” It was one local hotel/casino’s attempt to boost public relations by bringing local female writers into the property so that we might be enticed to write about it. They gave us a complimentary night on the town – or night at the hotel, more accurately. The package included a room for the night, wine and heavy hors d'oeuvres at their steak house, a private behind the scenes tour of the property, a private session with their flair bartenders and VIP tickets to a concert including a meet and great with the artists.

I’m not going to publicly denounce the property for this event. I think it was a pretty good idea and they let me bring a friend and we had a good time. There are definitely worse ways to spend a Saturday night. And believe me I know. I’ve experienced some pretty terrible Saturday nights in my life.

But what I did find interesting was that they felt the need to make the event gender. Here are a few of the particularly annoying stereotypes I encountered.

Stereotype #1: Women drink Chardonnay
When we arrived for our wine and hors d’oeuvres reception at the steak house, they had about 30 glasses of wine pre-poured for us. Now I could go into how I feel about pre-poured wine in the first place (Excuse me! I’d like to see the bottle!), but it’s even worse when 20 of those thirty glasses were chardonnay. Honestly, if you’re going to pour white wine, couldn’t it be a sauvignon blanc or a pinot gris or something? The assumption that women like cheap chardonnay is ridiculous.

Stereotype #2: Women like posing for group pictures
Even before the rowdy shots of women plastered all over social networking sites, there was this idea that women like to get together and pose for pictures. They ask waiters to get shots of them when they’re in restaurants. They take pictures together in their outfits before they go out for a night on the town. Or do they? Do they really?

Actually, I know quite a number of women who hate to get their picture taken at all. So when the organizer of this event made all of the women gather together for a group shot, I said – loud enough for everyone to hear me – “is this really necessary?” I hung back and mumbled and groaned as everyone else was handing over their cameras – “Take one with mine!” “You just press that little button over there!” The idea of taking photos was so far from my mind that I hadn’t even brought a camera with me. In the end, I was coerced into joining the photo, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it one bit.

Stereotype #3: Women are always looking for new and ingenious ways to shave their legs
It was nice for the hotel to put together gift bags for us. They left them in our rooms and they were full of things that women supposedly enjoy, specifically, a lot of lotion. Which is also something that Buffalo Bill in the Silence of the Lambs liked a lot, but we don’t need to get into that.

One of the things in the gift bag was the “Smooth Away” hair removal system as seen on TV. And, honestly, I couldn’t give it away. Neither my friend nor I wanted anything to do with this scary thing. Really, the fact that inventors think that women are looking for more ways to rip hair out of their skin is ridiculous. Shaving (and sometimes waxing) works just fine. Thank you very much. I don’t need your so called “easy, safe and painless” thing. Because there is no way it could possibly be “easy, safe and painless.” And, by the way, making it pink isn’t fooling anybody.

Stereotype #4: Women don’t like to taste the liquor in their cocktails
At one point in the evening, we were forced to sit down at the property’s newest attraction: a flair bar. First of all, I think flair bartending in annoying. (You can even read a previous blog on the subject.) You don’t need to throw bottles around and light things on fire. Really, just pour me my drink.

Unfortunately, somebody at this flair bar was pouring drinks. Horrible drinks. The kind of drinks that people assume women like. This was called a “Raspberry Lemon Drop.” They were taking the often female ordered “Lemon Drop” martini and adding some raspberry liqueur to it. Maybe if they’d actually used Chambord it would have been kind of okay. But this drink just tasted like a glass of sugar. There was no hint of liquor in it at all. And all of the other women (sans my friend and I) were just sucking them down and cooing over how delicious they were. Yuck! I just sat there with mine in front of me, and some PR guy came over and harassed me (with a PR smile all the time) about why I wasn’t drinking it. Are you kidding me? If this had been a gathering of men they would have made real martinis or at least something with bourbon in it.

Now I like my free cocktails as much as anyone, but I refused to drink this. And I like free wine as much as anyone, but I don’t need to drink a pre-poured cheap Chardonnay. And I like a gift bag as much as anyone, but I’m not going to use your freaky hair removal system. And I don’t need to get my picture taken with a bunch of women I don’t know who do like enjoy all of these stereotypical things.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Bulwer-Lytton's Rutabaga Muffins

This year’s winner of my favorite writing contest, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, was just announced. If you’re not familiar with Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, he’s the writer who is credited with penning the infamous introductory phrase, “it was a dark and stormy night.” And the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest honors his memory by awarding a prize to the worst opening sentence of a piece of fiction. And just to clarify, these sentences are submitted humorously for the purpose of the contest; they are not from actual pieces of fiction.

Perhaps this is my favorite writing contest because it’s the only one I’ve ever won. Well, not the actual contest, but a junior version of it sponsored by the fabulous English teachers at my high school – namely Betsy James and Kris Morella. Because the contest was created (and to this day still) administered by English professors at San Jose State University (in my home town), local high school English teachers were encouraged to hold their own versions of the contest.

I don’t know that I remember the winning sentence exactly, but I’ll try to recreate it to the best of my recollection.

“’Heavens!’ cried Penelope McBaldergibbons as she realized she had burned the rutabaga muffins that she was planning on entering in the county bake-off, an annual event attended by all of the important luminaries of Nixon County where she lived and tried so desperately to earn everyone’s admiration but so rarely did as was apparent from the ruined baked goods.”

This was one of the few things I’ve ever won in my life and I’m actually terribly proud of it. But still I can’t help but be concerned that I earn money as a writer, yet the only writing contest I’ve ever won was for bad writing. But what good bad writing it was.