For more about Allison and her books visit her website at For now, please relax and brace yourself for the occasionally coherent ramblings of Allison's mind.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Product Review: Best Product Ever

My last product review was none too flattering if you don’t recall (completely useless outdoor fireplace). To prove that I’m not just an ornery consumer, it’s time for the positive.

I have no idea what this thing is called. I don’t know where you can get it. When I search on “toothpaste squeezer” a lot of pictures similar to the thing I have come up, so let’s call it that. Toothpaste Squeezer. If you have one of these cheap little plastic contraptions, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, your life is much more difficult than it needs to be.

You know that agonizing two week period toward the end of the life of your toothpaste tube? When you can see those bubbles of toothpaste taunting you from the corners of the container but know they’ve won. There’s no way you’re going to get them.  Your fingers bleed as you squeeze and push for five minutes to maybe squeeze out one more half speck that could only cover six teeth if you’re a light brusher. You know what I’m talking about.

You roll up the end to force it out. You slide the flattened tube along the edge of your sink. You do anything you can to get that very last drop. If you’re as obsessive as I am you imagine how satisfying it would be to slice open that pesky little prison of a tube and scrape out every last particle. But you don’t, because that would be insane, and you’re not insane. But you would, maybe, if no one would see the damning evidence in your bathroom trash can and there wasn’t a 90% chance you’d end up slicing your own finger open in the process. Never mind, you wouldn’t. Maybe.

Anyway, this little plastic toothpaste squeezer cuts that two week period down to a day or two. It’s awesome. Basically you slide the flattened edge of the tube between two plastic bars and apply heavy downward pressure on one of them. The ingenious little tool pushes the remaining toothpaste up to the opening making it easily accessible. It’s like gaining a free trial size tube of toothpaste out of the deal. (And maybe, just MAYBE justifies your fantasy about getting inside that annoying little tube to scrape out the rest. There was a lot still in there!)

With a toothpaste squeezer you don’t have to worry about any more wasted toothpaste or the fingertip numbing process of squeezing out those last drops for weeks on end.

It would also make a great stocking stuffer. Your relatives will probably think you’re strange, definitely cheap, possibly insane, but trust me, that’s just a temporary reaction. Once they use it they’ll love you and thank you for changing their lives.

Toothpaste squeezer. Just trust me on this.

Friday, July 22, 2011

If Novels Were Music: Meet the Real Allison

I spend a lot of time talking about other people’s art. I spend a lot of time critiquing pop culture, theories, and popular opinion. It’s easy to discuss the external world. Zero risk. Never ending source of topics.

Like most of us, I have a more trouble sharing the internal. It’s dangerous. Often messy.

Also like most people, talking about myself is complicated by my many sides. There’s the sweet, quiet introvert you’ll meet as a casual acquaintance. You’d guess this shy smile would write inspirational short stories about puppies and gardening. (I don’t like either. Seriously, do you know anyone who doesn’t like puppies? I’m messed up.)

A few more meetings and you’d begin to encounter the wryly humorous conversationalist. She’d keep you laughing, but thinking a bit. Ok, so Allison doesn’t write about puppies after all. Probably a good chick lit book with a twist. How much she hates shopping. Why she’s one of only four women who has no use for shoes. Tales of her one and only mani/pedi. You’d get zero useful advice, but you’d be laughing until the tears fell.

But start a conversation on religion, politics, current events, or philosophy and things would change quickly.

There’s another side only the closest know. She’s pensive. Introspective. An old soul. A dark soul really, but deeply compassionate. She gets so lost in her head she doesn’t sleep much. She can’t accept anything at face value. She rarely sees black and white. She’s not afraid to confront the dark side of the mind even if she still believes humanity has the capacity for immense good. And she’s the one who writes.

I often get asked about my writing. I have trouble discussing it because most people who know me don’t really know me. How can they connect with the writing if they have a completely different view of the writer?

It’s actually easier to talk to strangers, people who aren’t expecting the puppy epic or bad relationship advice. I don’t have to fear their shock and awe should they decide to dive in. They can glimpse my soul since they haven’t been swayed by the barrier protecting it and adapting it to the protocol of daily life.

All three may be part of my identity, but pensive Allison is at the core. The other two share a lot of space on this blog, but it’s time to introduce the deeper base of who I am as well. I can’t exactly post a novel, so at the risk of eliminating any credibility to ever discuss music again, I offer a song. I can’t think of a better way to summarize the tone, content, and style of my writing than by sharing my music which comes from the exact same place. If you want a four minute glimpse into my books, this poorly recorded practice session in the basement of a friend’s house is it.

" Laughing Stock" at (bottom of the post)

On Justin Bieber, On Celebrity: My Ranting Non-Rant

Look, I have nothing against Justin Bieber (am I even spelling that right?). I know my previous post paints a more damning picture of my stance. Really though, he seems harmless enough, innocuous certainly. I don’t care if people buy all his albums and go to his concerts. I’m not even going to judge them for spending seven hours in line at the mall. The tents, ok, yeah. I’m judging that, but ultimately it’s their time, their money, their prerogative. I have my hobbies too. I write novels for fun. Most people think that’s an infinitely bigger waste of time. I won’t argue. Of course, having said all that, I also can’t recite a single line from one of his songs, save the “bay-bay, bay-bay, ohhhhhh” line my four-year-old son taught me.

My problem isn’t Bieber and his music that doesn’t appeal to my tastes (more of an alternative rock girl, myself). It’s Bieber as a symbol, at the very least, a symptom of a much bigger issue that plagues our society: celebrity obsession. People get physically injured trying to see him. Not to justify riots or violence, but at least make it over revolution for massive injustice. And no, little Amber butting in front to get the last ticket doesn’t count.

Regular slobs like us get married, have children, get divorced, spend money we shouldn’t, buy houses, get re-married, have more children, have children with people we shouldn’t, color our hair, wear terrible outfits. We even attend things. So why do we fund entire industries to broadcast when famous people do it? What have they really done to earn our worship?

I’ve seen two headlines from reputable news sources over the last three days encouraging me to click on a link to learn the sex of a baby born to a famous person. Famous people have babies. Who knew? But it’s there because we click. And then we fill the comment section below with our unsolicited opinions of mis-information that eventually escalates out of control until we attack each other over some completely unrelated subject. Because why, exactly? Are David and Victoria Beckham ravenously devouring our posts to get parenting advice from HipHop743? I’m sure they’re bummed CaliGirl^ doesn’t like they name they chose and thinks it “sucks.”

I love movies. I love music.  I love television. I love sports. I just don’t like watching my peers devalue their own stories by bowing before the throne of people who haven’t earned their admiration. Half of us could be just as beautiful if we had the crew and money and time to devote to the effort. Half of us could prove just as talented, given the chance. We all have unique stories, and just because less people know the details, doesn’t make them less deserving of our time and attention.

Real heroes give. They serve. They don’t ask for the honor. They don’t make a fortune from it.

We can enjoy talent without worshipping the talented. For the love of all things sane, no more stampedes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

World on the Brink as Justin Bieber Goes Silent

PHILADELPHIA – In a move that has rocked the music industry and devastated the population of nations around the world, Justin Bieber has not offered a single tweet in well over two hours.
“It’s shocking, it really is. I feel lost. Like the moon, stars, and sun are all crashing down at once,” says Miranda Hansen, mother of Analee Hansen. “It’s so strange. I took my daughter to a concert just a week ago and everything was fine. Now it’s chaos. My daughter is beside her self.”
“I can’t eat! I can’t sleep! It’s like, seriously, the worst thing that ever could have happened. Ever! What’s he doing now? I don’t know! What if he’s eating a steak and I don’t know it. Oh my god, what if he cut his hair? Oh my god! I don’t know what he’s doing right now!” says Analee Hansen. Her friend Amy agrees and added that he may have been kidnapped or possibly lost his phone.
When asked how this silence would affect the past, present, and future of pop culture, Dr. Jackson Reegan of Marbury University expressed concern about the recent events. “I have no doubt historians will look back and unequivocally declare that this is a turning point in world history. Not only are the implications for the music industry unprecedented, media outlets may never recover from this.”
Laura Terser, a former journalist and current consultant, supports Dr. Reegan’s claims. “There’s no doubt that media outlets will have to lay off employees, possibly even close departments, if this silence continues. People need to know what he’s doing this weekend, which movie he saw, what he wore. They need to know how craay-zaay he felt when he dropped his hat on the way down the aisle. Without this basic information, the journalistic and media industries can’t possibly survive. People just don’t need to know anything else.”
Tyler Keller was less concerned when asked how the silence of Justin Bieber has affected his life. “Justin who? Is that the dude that looks like a girl and sings like a girl but girls like anyway?” Keller admits that he is not a connoisseur of pop culture, nor does he fit the ten-year-old girl demographic. Keller also adds that if he ever encountered that dude he would so not even care.
Authorities around the world have pooled resources to investigate the possible causes behind the lack of tweets. Current theories range from he forgot, to claims that Bieber is protesting the digital age that is leading to a new type of class separation between the social media educated and those left behind. “I’m not worried. Justin’s just showing his love for those of us who don’t use that tweeter thing. That’s why I love him. He’s so sensitive and deep!” says Madison Walker of Washington Elementary School.
Analee Hansen and Amy disagree. “My friends and I, like, don’t even know what to do anymore. We used to talk about Justin. Now what are we supposed to do? I guess we could talk about his old tweets, but it’s not the same. This is crazy. I never thought something like this would happen to me.”

***Allison M Simon is a freelance pop culture commentator who is annoyed her four-year-old son came home from preschool singing a Justin Bieber song. You try to shelter them, but no.  The world says no.

Friday, July 8, 2011

America, "The Talented"

We call ourselves the “land of the free,” “home of the brave.” We have a collective belief in the American Dream, creating our own destiny, freedom of choice (argue amongst yourselves the extent to which those notions are still accurate). But are we also America, “The Talented”?

At the least we’re America, “home of the talent shows.” Which brings us to my other guilty pleasure in addition to dancing movies.

I don’t know why we’re so addicted to talent shows, but I know I am. In a world of such violence and darkness there’s something cathartic about watching people excel (or make complete fools of themselves trying.) But don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a deep, serious post. We’ve had enough of those lately. This is about talent shows.

American Idol

I’ll start here because love it or hate it, you have to admit it’s the emperor of the talent shows. My personal opinion is that it’s lost its luster. Of course, that could also be my bleeding brain weighing in as it still recovers from a season dedicated to Nashville.

Sorry, I know I’m in the minority, but country music and I don’t get along. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve never heard a country song, even the crossover pop stuff, that hasn’t made me cringe. Every time a friend or family member assures me “this is different. You’ll like this.” It’s not, and I don’t.

But it’s not just the country thing. The past few seasons have been mediocre, to be kind. The last season I was even still watching by the end was the Kris Allen/Adam Lambert faceoff. And really, does anyone still care about either of them?

Don’t get me wrong. I liked Kris Allen. I remember defending him ardently against the Lambert supporters in my circles. I even got annoyed when Dia from The Voice was lavished with praise for her “gutsy, unprecedented, wholly original” take on “Heartless.”

You see, Kris Allen already had the crown for a gutsy, unprecedented, and wholly original take on “Heartless.” I’ll never forget the moment where amidst all the glitz, glamour, lights, smoke, and backup gospel choirs of the American Idol finale, Kris Allen stepped on stage embracing his underdog status, just he and his guitar. No band. No special lights. Certainly no cheesy smoke or choirs. And proceeded to blow us away with a completely acoustic, game-changing rendition of “Heartless.” That’s my “Heartless” memory. Sorry Dia. I’ve even heard The Fray’s version which inspired all these remixes, and Allen’s was better by a mile.

But back to Idol. Idol is a brand now. An overproduced, overhyped advertising gem that’s completely lost its appeal as an honest search for untapped talent. It’s now its own joke, albeit a revenue-generating monster of one. I still watch, but I can’t say I even enjoy it anymore. This past season gave me a headache.

I was ready for a change, which brings us to:

America’s Got Talent

It’s silly. Sometimes lame. Critics like to bash it, but my DVR records it religiously. I love this show. I think I like the audition rounds more than the finals rounds. I love the anticipation that each act could be something incredible or something ridiculous.

It's great that the weird looking guy with a jester’s hat and purple underwear could turn out to be an unbelievable singer. Or a horrendous dancer. Or he could juggle encyclopedias while eating glass. He could stack dinner plates. Maybe he’ll introduce his tap dancing dog. Heck, he could turn out to be a woman on a trapeze.

In all the other talent shows the audition phase means you will see a good dancer or a bad dancer. An excellent singer or a poor one. In AGT you could see anything, things you would never even think to do or believe was possible. And yet, people do it and do it well.

I know they’re not all amateurs, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying watching people do amazing things. There’s a reason both finalists from last year's show are doing well. They were both incredible. There’s a reason no finalist from the last few years of Idol is doing well. I don’t even remember who won two years ago. Actually, I don’t even know who won in the season that ended a few weeks ago. That could be because I gave up on it well before the finale.

Last season AGT had a finalist group called Fighting Gravity. I still remember their audition. They actually got my husband to watch a TV show with me. (We have very divergent tastes in entertainment and rarely watch anything together). But he was hooked on Fighting Gravity, a group of engineering students who created amazing illusions with light and their own muscles. Innovation is exciting.

So am I just bored with singing shows? Is it only the variety of talent that appeals to me? No.

The Voice

It’s a singing show. And it’s awesome.

I was very impressed with this show. The talent was actually talented. The “Mentor/Judges” were engaging and added to the experience. In fact, my only criticism is that it wasn’t long enough. I would have liked to see a few more weeks of these great singers. Where Idol seems to over saturate us with episodes and lame theme weeks, The Voice seemed to rush to a conclusion.

Maybe it's because it's a new show and they weren’t sure if they could milk it for every ounce of advertising dollars crammed into a 50 episode season. Now they know people liked it. And watched. Next season will be longer most likely. I will be looking back at this post and cringing as I wade through the 4-hour weekly programming with 3 hours of commercials. Oh well, that’s what the DVR is for.

Still, any of The Voice finalists would have blown the Idol winners out of the water.

Now, to be fair, The Voice makes no attempt to disguise itself as a big break for unknown, small-town nobodies. That’s Idol’s shtick (even though none of us are naïve enough to think that’s true anymore.) The Voice is very open about the experience, and even previous record deals, of many of its contestants. That doesn’t bother me at all. These people aren’t on my radio and they should be which is what matters. Why shouldn’t someone no one’s heard of but released some song way back in the day have a second chance? I self-published a novel no one’s read. That doesn’t mean I should never have a chance at a publishing deal and becoming a big name writer. Maybe one day I’ll break even on a book.

The Voice is definitely going to be my pick for next season.

I guess that’s plenty on talent competitions. I haven’t even touched the many others out there, but the summary of them all is that I like watching people do things well. (Which is another reason I prefer The Voice over the others. None of those awkward delusional rants from untalented individuals more gifted at salty language.)

Next post: cooking competitions.

Friday, July 1, 2011

June Movie Review: Best and Worst

First of all, as you’re beginning to see, I don’t watch movies when the come out. The last movie I saw in a theater was Star Wars: Episode III. I like going to the theater. I don’t even mind the insane ticket prices. It’s just, a trip to the theater never seems to work out. I’ve been trying to go for about six years now. Since obviously that hasn’t happened, I rely on movie channels for my fix. (My favorite channel is IFC, if you haven’t guessed by now.)

Anyway, this month’s Best and Worst featured two films that were most definitely NOT on IFC.

Best Movie I Saw in the Month of June: Inception (2010)

I know. I’m the last person on the planet who hadn’t seen it. I wanted to, but a six year streak isn’t broken easily. Not even by Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Oops, sorry. I said his name. Now this review can’t be about Inception anymore.

My apologies, Inception fans, but I can’t mention Joseph Gordon-Levitt without going off on a lengthy aside. He deserves it.

Right now there are two actors who may get me to the theater to break my streak and Gordon-Levitt is one of them. In my post on Robert Pattinson I referenced a special status that an actor or actress gets in my book where I will see any movie, in any genre, with any plot, just because that person is in it. In case you haven't read it, Pattinson is not one of those. Gordon-Levitt is.

Having said that, don’t let Inception fool you. He didn’t have a whole lot to do in this film and his character was disappointingly flat. Still, that wasn’t his fault, and although he hasn’t jolted to top-billing A-list status like his co-star DiCaprio, I wouldn’t doubt that has more to do with his pattern of choosing dark, edgy films rather than the celebrity-inducing Hollywood blockbusters that put actors on the map. That’s not a criticism, that’s part of the reason I like him.

If you’re thinking “wait, isn’t that the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun,” then I’d invite you to watch Manic (2001), The Lookout (2007), Brick (2005), and even (500) Days of Summer (2009) and Uncertainty (2009). (Warning: Uncertainty was only a so-so film, although he was good in it as always).

Gordon-Levitt has been in countless other movies. Some I’ve seen, others I haven’t, but of the ones I have, there’s always a depth to his characters that I’m not sure is a function of the script. It’s a special quality that I think James McAvoy (my other favorite actor) brings to his roles. I would have loved to see Gordon-Levitt in Remember Me instead of Pattinson. Sorry, Rob.

Anyway, so I know all this has nothing to do with Inception, but any time I can put in a plug for the underrated, I will. Moving on to Inception.

Did Inception make any sense? Heck no. Did that matter? Not in the least.

What I loved most about Inception was the fact that I accepted almost all of it while I was watching it. It was one of those films where you nod and say “ok, yeah” throughout. and it’s not until three hours later when you’re lying in bed that it occurs to you the movie made no sense. That’s a good movie. It does its job. If you’re still thinking about it a few days later, it really did its job.

Unless it’s because you’re thinking about what you’re going to say for your blog because it was so terrible.

Which brings us to:

The Worst Movie I Saw in the Month of June: Twilight: Eclipse

It probably doesn’t come as a big surprise that I haven’t read the books. In fact, I think I may have mentioned that in a previous post. I’m not afraid to admit that I thought the first movie in the series was good. I thought the second was OK, but I’ll be perfectly happy not to see it again.

This one, wow. It took me two sittings to get through it.

I was dumbfounded.

How could a movie about gorgeous vampires, shirtless werewolves, and red-eyed Dakota Fanning be boring? Lame, maybe. Cliched, expected. But BORING??

It was two hours of watching people (and beings) mumble about doing things. Maybe if they actually stopped mumbling for a moment and DID something... Oh that’s right, there was the big battle scene. I was long gone by then and really didn’t care at that point.

I don’t mind movies where people just talk about doing things. Some of the best ones I’ve seen involve people just talking about doing things. The catch is, the characters have to be fascinating. That acting has to be phenomenal. What they’re talking about doing has to be compelling.

Twilight failed on all three accounts.

Problem #2: Edward.

In the first film he was enigmatic and untouchable. It was easy to comprehend his appeal. I’m not sure if it was on purpose, but in this film, he was portrayed as a clingy sap. I would have been kissing Jacob too – even if his best scenes were the ones where he just had to stand around without a shirt and not act.

Problem #3: Jasper.

It’s pretty sad that I was more interested in his back-story than the entire rest of the film. Not the conversion part, that was as clichéd as they come, but what’s with the armies and battles and training and scars? Now that would have been interesting. I know, the books probably explain it all. I don’t really care that much.

Problem #4: Bella.

She’s just annoying. She was annoying in the first film. Very annoying in the second. And pretty much back to just annoying again in this one. I don’t know if it’s Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of Bella or that’s how the character’s written. I’m going to give Stewart the benefit of the doubt and assume Bella’s supposed to be that way. But, really, imagine what the series could have been if Bella were remotely interesting or engaging. Audrey Tautou as Bella. Now that I’d see.

Problem #5: Bella’s Dad.

Really, dad? You haven’t figured all this out yet? You haven’t snatched up your daughter and taken her far far away from all the vampires and werewolves and battles and vampire lords and evil vampire armies? You’re dumb.

Problem #6: Bella’s Friends.

Ditto. They sparkle, people. They have creepy yellow eyes. They’re basically the same age as their adoptive parents. I know, they try to avoid sunlight so no one sees them sparkle.

Problem #7: They Sparkle.

Sorry, I still can’t get over that. Why the heck do they have to sparkle? Who wants their mysterious, alluring knight to sparkle? I must have a different fantasy than tween girls because I prefer my heartthrobs without lipstick and sparkles.

I’m thinking this is a good enough list to get my point across.

To summarize:

If you haven’t seen Inception yet, do it. Now. Go!

If you haven’t seen Twilight: Eclipse yet, go for it. Just make sure you have laundry to fold, or coupons to cut, or Angry Birds on your phone for the first hour and a half while they mutter about doing stuff that you don’t care about. You can put it aside briefly for the one scene where they actually do it, and realize, yeah, you really didn’t care. By the way, Jake’s best scene where he has to act is the last one. So you could really just fast forward to that if your laundry doesn’t take as long as you thought.