Saturday, March 24, 2018

Review: Cleaning the Kingdom: Insider Tales of Keeping Walt's Dream Spotless

Cleaning the Kingdom: Insider Tales of Keeping Walt's Dream Spotless Cleaning the Kingdom: Insider Tales of Keeping Walt's Dream Spotless by Ken Pellman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'll admit, I'm predisposed to loving all things Disney, being born into a family of Disney fans, as I was. And it's true, I'm predisposed to loving all things related to keeping things clean, having OCD and mysophobia*, as I do. Still I think this book is fascinating to nearly anyone who is at all curious about theme parks in general, Disneyland, what it's like to be a Disney Cast Member, or wondered how the parks maintain that exterior shine of glitter and pixie dust when you just know people are puking after riding teacups, and that many of those thousands of little kids brought in every day are still pretty darn inept at using the potty.

Enter the Janis! Not Janis, like the Muppet, but Jani-short-for-janitorial. Plural. They see all, they know all, and a lot of that is recorded in this book. I resisted opening it up to the chapter containing all their grossest stories to read them first, but when I finally got to that roller coaster ride full of "oh my god"s and a few moments that might make you need to put down the book and go wash your hands, I found myself wishing it was longer. This book is just fun. The authors do a great job of bringing you into their experiences in a way that makes you feel like you belong, like you're right there behind them trying to keep up as your broom and pan (metal, if you're lucky) knock against your knees. It's your first day doing what they do, and you're feeling lucky to get to do it.

The book definitely could have used an editor, or at least a proofreader. If you can overlook the editing errors and typos, the writing is very good and the content is fascinating. I loved this book, it's one of the best books I have read all year (365 days, not just January), and I hope that they will get together with some cast members from Walt Disney World to produce a follow up. If they do, I'd be honored to be the one to proofread it, pro bono, just to get to be the first to read it.

*That's germs, not mice. I love mice! Very clean mice.

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Friday, March 23, 2018


In the shower yesterday I had the serendipitous luck to hear this story about a couple of authors coming to the area who have had obsessive-compulsive disorder slither its way into their work, much as it has into mine. If you get a chance, please visit this link to the story. I'll definitely be checking out their books.

One topic they touched upon briefly that made me "hell yes"-out-loud was how common it is for people to say, "Oh I'm so OCD about" X or Y. This is something that makes me cringe on a regular basis, and not just because of the grammatical problems it creates. I don't want to be hypersensitive about it, but on the other hand it trivializes something that is anything but trivial for the people who live with it. So please, unless you honestly mean that your brain torments you with fears that prey on everything you care about most, and that X or Y are legitimate clinical tics that compel you to publically repeat often-humiliating behaviors that you wish you could stop doing like you wish you could keep breathing, please don't say you're "OCD" about it. #OCDIsNotAnAdjective

Anyway, I've been meaning to post some more sample poems to my site for a while, so I'm taking this as a nudge to share one on this topic today. First published by Open Minds Quarterly of Sudbury, Ontario, I hope you like it.

High Functioning

Mr. Hughes, or may I call you Howard?
I’m sure we know each other well enough, living
in the same disturbance as we do, albeit
at opposite ends of the century.  Me, obsessive, you
compulsive, and also the other way round.

We’re grifters, you and I
flashing a series of parlor tricks, one furtive tic
and then another. Artists of escape, slipping
out of handshakes, turns of doorknobs, disappearing
into the safe small sterility of hotel rooms
and other dark, yet shiny places. Even there our most delicious
cravings are coated in terror that drops
into our laps in the quiet late at night like a flat, ovoid
cockroach losing its grip as it crosses the ceiling. Infected?
Syphilitic movie starlets? MRSA creeping hot and silent
into the divot of another scab irresistibly gouged
by frantic fingers desperately digging for the clean, fresh
untainted flesh beneath the platelet crust of our own mortality?

We hold the world together with cellophane tape
and a ton of excuses. It’s a nonstop sideshow
trick, pulling a never ending rope, hand over hand,
even as the fibers fray apart. Knotting faster than the human eye
can see. The imperfect spaces terrify me, the same as you. The truth
we hide beneath forcibly-slowed breaths is that
we can never be sure. Are we hallucinating or are they blind?
It’s still unanswered, Hughsy, and we’re both held
captive by that question, in the same dark cell.
Our fears crossing hand over hand through time.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Cats, Remember", a poem in honor of the Women's March on Washington

Cats, Remember isn't a poem I wrote for the occasion. The issue of women's rights isn't something that was invented for today either, it's just an occasion that calls for a reminder that we won't be property, we won't be subjegated, and that we won't be ignored.

This is a poem about cats, but it's important to remember something that's been observed in the fight against animal abuse: cats, in particular, tend to be "practice victims" of abuse, torture, and killings for people who go on to victimize women. There are speculations as to why the cat, male or female, is the species so often chosen in this case. Some believe it's the cat's independence and refusal to be fully tamed.

Special thanks to the Gertrude Poetry Journal, where this poem first appeared, the Gertrude Poetry Award, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and The Blind Man's Rainbow where it subsequently appeared.

Cats, Remember

Remember the drowning,
young rough edged hands and drawstring bags,
the burn of  summer evening sunlight on burlap, thrashing
elbows and knees of eight siblings and a mother, growling,
angrier than a hiss.

Remember the stomach drop plunge into
cold still water and the frantic swish
of claw cutting faces, ears, paws,
and the cool feeling of blood
drawing away.

Remember the first to go down
sudden stillness, an involuntary twitch.
Remember when it was the one above you,
her weight like a fist, pushing pushing.

Pushing weight without movement, just the bearing
down, the still heart and heavy ribs above you like the collapse
of a tired house under the dark green weight of kudzu vine.
Just one kitten lump and then another, smaller,
more compact. There is no sound, only the silent dis-
solve of another lifetime disposed.

Remember this, when they feed you.
Remember this, when the collar clicks on,
when they stroke your kitten ears and pretend
to love your slick satin coat and
the white iron bones beneath.

Remember this, when it is time
for warm baths or revolution.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Really? 50?

I love Goodreads. I love knowing what my friends are reading. I love writing reviews and reading them. I love having a place to put my "want to read" list and if they would make it easy to print in a handy-dandy compact form so I wouldn't get book amnesia the minute I walk into Ed McKay, it would be positively indispensable. No, I'm not getting free books or kickbacks. Heck, they haven't even published one of my poems in their monthly newsletter. Which reminds me==reading the monthly newsletter poem, chosen via slush pile by a guest judge, is another of my favorite things. Goodreads is just something I'm really nerdy about.
My cat eats books faster than I can read them.

What I don't like is the way their annual reading pledge that encourages obsessive people like me to think, "Sure I can read fifty books in 365 days. Who can't?" Yeah, Veronica. Were you thinking of devoting this year to re-reading the Frog and Toad are Friends series, perhaps going for the long haul with the Superfudge books after that? Get cerebral with the Sweet Valley High series? Nothing against any of those books, all of which I adore, I just didn't account for the fact that most books I read are...wordier. So...the main thing I've learned so far is that I am unrealistically ambitious and a far slower reader than I thought. It's even worse when I really like a book. I start getting lengthily distracted every other page, picturing scenes in my head, arguing with myself regarding whether or not I think the protagonist would really do whatever he just did, and/or looking up words in the O.E.D. Not even obscure words, but words that make me wonder if I am absolutely certain I know every nuance of, and words I've only read, not encountered verbally and therefore find myself killing the next fifteen minutes trying to decipher the dictionary's pronunciation key so I don't sound like a dork the next time I try to casually use the word in conversation. Biopic. Is it Bye'-Ah-Pick or Bye-Oh'-Pic?

Violet in action: une gourmande de mots

mOf course, now that I wrote down my fifty book overreach, and better yet, wrote it someplace public, I have to make a concerted effort to accomplish that goal. I honestly doubt I can make it, but it nonetheless has me reading four books at once to try. You can read my previous reviews on Goodreads, and I'll be posting some of them here. Make your own account and friend or follow me on Goodreads, so you too can submit poems to the open call for the coveted monthly newsletter spot and plot an overreaching reading goal for yourself and scramble madly about for the rest of 2017, wondering if travel pamphlets and lost pet flyers can count as books.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Riff Zine's Inaugural Issue

Riff Zine is a new literary magazine with a different theme for every issue. The first? Shakespeare. The fifth? It's the page my poem is on. Check it out!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Veronica Goes On and On About Animals. Topic: How to Walk a Dog

I want to address a problem I see all the time. It's such a common problem, you've most likely seen it, too. If not in real life than definitely in the Sunday comics. Marmaduke's creator has made a living off of this training error. Blondie drags this one out on a slow idea day, too. Even Charlie Brown catches air behind his half-canine, half-human-in-a-dog-suit. 

"How to walk a dog" sounds so simple, but actually, what I'm talking about is even simpler. It's actually, "how to use a leash". For a piece of rope with a loop on one end and a C-clamp on the other, there's an amazing amount of operator error happening. It drives me crazy to see someone struggling not to be pulled off their feet by their dog, clomping along the street with both hands on the leash handle in a waterskiier hold. They usually begin in the single-handed stunt skiier position, only to realize they aren't quite ready for trick moves. Then there's the dog who's less a runner, more a lunger who with one fast leap yanks the leash free of the hand that thought it could restrain a 70lb dog with four fingers. This really scares me because it's often a car or motorcycle that inspires the dog's chase instinct and a dog running loose like that could lose his life, cause an auto accident, or keep running til he can't find his way home. Yes, if you have a little, politely walking dog, you can probably handle holding the leash in one hand, but even a well-trained or diminutive dog can surprise you. Plus, it's so easy to use a leash correctly. 

Don't hold the leash like a drawer handle. With only your curled fingers hanging on, a sudden lunge could cause you to lose your grip very easily.  Put the loop on your wrist, then hold the place where the loop meets the leash in your hand--adjusting so the loop rests on your wrist snugly. We're just beginning, but already you have a grip you are far less likely to lose control of.

The loop hold. (Please excuse the dog bed and cat scratcher. :))

Most dogs are playful, have some weight to them (compounded by speed when they get a running start on a lunge), are prone to chase, or may be nervous about sounds/cars/other dogs and may bolt, so you need more control so you don't get knocked over or lose the leash. Start with the loop as mentioned above, on one side of your body, then take your other hand and hold the leash at a comfortable length on the opposite side of your body...usually about 2-3 ft down the leash.  Some people like to tie a knot in the leash at the spot they find most comfortable. It helps you remember that spot and gives you something to hold onto (or hold just above) for comfort and to keep the leash from sliding through your hand and rubbing against your palm. As far as which hand you choose for the loop and which you hold the knot in is really up to you. I prefer to walk so my dog is on the inside of the curb or sidewalk that is furthest from the street and traffic, just for safety. Holding onto this second point on the leash gives you significantly more balance and control. This is especially important if you are walking through a crowd, passing someone (or someone and their dog) on the sidewalk, or if you're walking through a tight trail with poison ivy on the edges and snakes possibly sunning themselves on the rocks just off the path. Keeping your dog away from the underbrush helps prevent ticks from hopping on, too. Of course, that doesn't mean you should take all the fun out of walking. A dog needs to sniff and explore, but you can both relax and enjoy the walk more when you feel more secure about your ability to keep him safe while you're having a good time together.
Your opposite hand. Well, mine anyway.

This part may sound a little odd, but it helps. Before you start walking, root your feet to the ground. Think of yourself as an immovable force with both feet planted firmly with each step. Starting off with this in mind seems to help you take stable, confident steps. I'm not saying you have to march around your neigborhood like Kaiser Wilhelm. Just don't tiptoe around, either. 

It's a bit of a side note, but a related problem I see happen too often. Please don't let kids hold the leash until they are are big enough to handle a dog without falling on their face or losing control. It's also essential that they can take direction and follow instructions reliably. Kids (even ones in the early double digits) tend to let go when the leash is pulled abruptly or causes discomfort to their hand. The dog goes running off often right into the street which risks both the dog's life and unimaginable guilt for the child should the dog get lost or injured. Show them how to hold the leash properly, as explained above. Practice at home or in an enclosed yard, where the dog will be less stimulated and won't be hurt if you find your child isn't ready to maintain leash control just yet. While working together on good walking skills, make sure your don't slip knot the leash around a child's wrist (it could cause injury) and always teach them that it takes two hands to walk a dog: one inside the loop, and one further down. It might be a good idea to get them their own 4-foot lead so the dog can't get a running start on a lunge.

That leads us (get it?) to the question of what kind of leash is best. As with everything, different trainers have different preferences, but I like a 6-foot woven cotton lead for comfort and security. The width you need depends on the size of your dog and which feels comfortable in your hand. Unless your dog is very small, a 1"-2" leash is a good choice. Chain leashes may look tough, but they aren't as strong as they appear. A good hard lunge can cause a link to bend or break completely, and they're not conducive to being held properly, since holding onto anything but the loop will result in the chain digging into your hand painfully, and could even cause injury. Nylon leashes are strong but not quite as comfortable to hold since they don't mold to the shape of your hand the way cotton does. They aren't a bad choice, though, and they do last. Some people like leather leashes, but leather is unappealing to many animal lovers, raises ecological concerns, and leather leashes are awfully appealing to chewers. In addition you may have trouble getting a knot to stay in one, should you choose to add that to your grip.

I suppose I can't end the discussion of proper leash use without mentioning Flexis and similar zip leashes a.k.a the bane of a trainer's existence. The problem is that you have very little control since they are super easy to pull out of your hand--imagine how many pounds of pressure can build up when your dog has a 15' head start! Also, your dog can't be pulled back quickly if something potentially dangerous appears, and it's easy to get tangled up with another dog's leash, which can turn into a very bad situation, very quickly. These leashes tend to get tangled beyond the point where you can simply drop the leash in the event of a fight and allow your dog to get away, and if you do drop the leash, that can cause its own problems, too. A friend of mine accidentally dropped the zip leash attached to his rescued greyhound who ran for miles, tearing her paw pads completely off in places. As far as she knew this loud clacking thing was chasing her and wouldn't stop. A less dramatic, but still painful problem with zip leads is the danger a fast moving string or tape can present if it comes in contact with skin while the dog is running to the end of the lead. I know a lot of people with scars from cuts and burns they received when the leash rubbed against their skin at great speed. Yowch. There are a few instances when these kind of leashes can be handy, but not for a walk.

So, those are the basics for walking your dog. There's plenty more you can learn to make walking easier and more fun, but this is probably the easiest lesson you can implement, with the biggest payoff. It won't make for funnier comics, but neither does Marmaduke, really. Blondie? Maybe you had to live back when binge eating, abusive bosses, and your best friend's alcoholism were hilarious. I'll spare Snoopy, but if he could fly a plane, surely he could master an off-lead recall. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bugs: The Insects and Me

So I’m in the shower when I pick up my scrubby brush revealing a creepy looking black bug. Suddenly exposed to the bright light of bathroom florescents, he loses his little mind and takes a suicide dive into the bathtub, disappearing down the drain while I am frantically searching for a bug cup.  I feel guilty for not moving faster and for maybe secretly not wanting to have to pick up this particularly unpleasant looking bug.

If you don’t know what a bug cup is, you’re probably like most people, who don’t think twice about dispatching an insect with anything that is handy, but being a Buddhist, and a vegan, I have cups for the purpose of escorting insects from my home. The trick is that you turn a cup upside down, capturing the bug in a makeshift bell jar. The next thing you need is a magazine subscription card, always found in great abundance in our home, which you gently slide between the cup and the surface it is resting on. Pick up the whole thing and take it outside at the first opportunity and release said insect with a figurative pat on the back and “good luck to you”. 

Things can go wrong though. Occasionally I’ll find a cup I forgot about, something that makes me feel absolutely terrible, having created an inescapable cell and sentenced the poor bug to death by solitary confinement. Oh. Shit. So, my efforts to be kind do sometimes lead to something far worse than death from above by sneaker. Sometimes while I’m running off for a subscription card my cat finds the fascinating new cat toy I have created. By the time I return, there's just an overturned cup, a couple of legs and maybe a wing. Sorry little guy. I didn't mean to set you up as a tiny Roman gladiator doomed to fight a 50 foot tall lion.

It’s hard being a giant in a world of tiny creatures. I would never do something like using pesticides on my yard. Bugs have to live somewhere and I respect that the outdoors belongs to them. I can live with the little cobwebs found in every window of my home. It earns goth points and the tiny spiders are pretty benign. But there are more complicated situations. Ants, for one. When he's been able to find them, Scott’s removed whole nests from the attic by using the shop vac. Sucks them up, dumps them outside, and the ants have a pretty wild alien abduction story for their friends, but what about the scout ants that start a little trail toward the cat food bowl, foretelling an onslaught to come? What about other bugs that can infest and destroy a home directly (like termites) or by laying waste to the pantry, or threaten you bodily by trasmitting disease? Am I creating a genocide when I ask Scott spray the basement for those gigantic scary waterbugs--a.k.a. “massive southern roaches”--to prevent an infestation? Do we proactively kill a few to avoid killing the many?  Do I begin walking with a broom before me, sweeping away any tiny creatures I may accidentally step on? Am I just making lame excuses to avoid things I find icky? Is there an answer at all? 
Then there are these. WTF? Despite the cleanliness of her home, my sister-in-law discovered this monster in her essential oil diffuser. Both repelled and fascinated, I looked up centipedes on Goodsearch (It’s not procrastinating, it’s raising money for charity, right?) Hundreds of photos and millions of legs greet me, and I get a feeling like the stomach drop on a roller coaster each time I dare myself to touch one on my screen. Reading further, I find out that their diet consists of various household insects including something known as a carpet beetle. While silently thanking Scott for having replaced all the carpets in our house with wood, I read about these tiny insects and their diet. Their name reflects their delight in nibbling on wool rugs, though they also love other animal parts like fur coats and taxidermy, and I breathe a little vegan sigh of relief. Then I remember that my sister-in-law's household is vegan, too. It hits me. They eat fur. I don’t have dead animals lying about, but there are plenty of live ones. Huh. I think I’ll be vacuuming a lot this week. I also read that they can also be enticed to infest grains when their population gets a little big for its carpet. I look at the photo again and my stomach turns.

One night when I was in high school, I was hit with that still-growing-body kind of hunger that it’s hard to relate to once your bones stop lengthening and your insides stop stretching. In the kitchen I find a box of cereal, pour myself a bowl and eat like I won’t see food again for years. On my way to put my bowl in the sink, I notice tiny dots surfacing in the milk. Looking closer, I see that they are tiny beetles. How many I ate, I can only imagine. And imagine. And imagine.

I’ll be ruminating on that (figuratively, thankfully, for both the insects and me) for a long time to come.

Want to know what kind of bug you've found indoors, outdoors, or that you just accidentally swallowed? You need one of my favorite sites on the whole dang internet: What's that Bug?

Only obliquely related, but so worth sharing, I subscribe to the Parasite of the Day blog (they don't actually post one every day, but who cares?), which I highly recommend. The most recent one is about lice who hitch rides tucked under the wings of flying insects. Enjoy!