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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Jealous of Jessica (but not her power suits)

Have you ever been jealous of fiction?

Murder She Wrote is an old family favorite in my household. It’s an odd mix of inside joke and serious pastime. I like Jessica, she seems fun, but I’d never be friends with her. People always die in weird ways when they hang out and I’m not really on board with that. I want to go quickly and painlessly, not with an ice pick and broken umbrella. Plus, you have to wear terrible shoulder pads and say things like “You’re a worm, Frederick! You’re a complete louse!” in an overly dramatic eighties voice. I’ve never called anyone a louse in my life, although I wouldn’t mind bringing the term back on occasion.

Anyway, I’m going somewhere with this, trust me. I know it’s absurd, but I realized the other day as we strolled down memory lane with a Sunday evening of Murder She Wrote, that I actually get a twinge every time something happens in a movie, TV show or book. A legitimate twinge, a sinking feeling that makes the entertainment suddenly less entertaining. It’s crazy, but I finally figured it out – I’m jealous! Yes, there it is. I’m jealous of Jessica Fletcher and her deadlines.

Scratch that, I’m jealous of every fictional creature who has deadlines. Do you have any idea how badly I want deadlines? My agent and/or editor would never be hounding me for the next chapter. I wouldn’t be glancing at my phone and rolling my eyes toward my sophisticated friends at their wine and cheese party. “It’s just my editor,” she says. Just your editor?? I want an editor!! I’d do anything for an editor! My editor wouldn’t know what to do with all my chapters!

I’m the Queen of Conscientiousness, the Supreme Empress of Deadlines. I make deadlines like other people breathe, for things I don’t even have to do. I have a deadline right now to finish editing my new fantasy novel that no one will ever read. It’s what I do. I’m a Type A personality with an artist’s soul. Figure that one out.

And I’m insanely jealous of people who have deadlines to do the things I do in addition to my real deadlines. It would be a dream come true to meet deadlines for my passion instead of reorganizing the linen closet.

So stop complaining, Jessica! Stop complaining you fictional characters with your lucky breaks and fancy NYC lofts on an editor’s assistant salary. I will take your deadlines! I will take your deadlines and double them, because that’s what I do. I double things. And then I meet them. And then I won’t hate you anymore and we can go to that posh cafĂ© and chuckle about stuff.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dear Dr. Fortune Cookie: Feature Introduction

There’s a void in our lives. We’ve all been there, and up until now there was no one to fill it quickly and directly. At least, no one whose brain is as out there and eclectic as mine. But, alas, I am here to tell you I’ve heard the call. I have decided to take on the burden, be the answer to your confusion, the voice of reason at the end of your meal.

That’s why it’s time to introduce my new blog feature:

Dear Dr. Fortune Cookie

That’s right. From this point forward you no longer have to stare in utter bewilderment at that little slip of paper birthed from a stale orange cookie. See, I have a direct line to the fortune cookie gods and it’s my duty to humanity to share my gift. I may not be an expert on music, or art, or sports, or politics, or social theory, or any of the many other topics I like to discuss, but I am an expert in this.

That’s right. I will transform that seemingly jumbled mess of letters into the life-changing message it’s supposed to represent. You needed an interpreter and I am your champion.

From this point forward, I am:

Dr. Fortune Cookie.

You may submit all requests for interpretations through the comment sections on my blogs or contact me through Facebook. But it absolutely must be an actual fortune from an actual cookie.

For now, let the games begin with the first interpretation.

Dear Dr. Cookie,

I recently had takeout with my friends and the night was ruined by my baffling fortune. At first I was offended, then just confused. Please help!

“Handsome is as handsome dose.”

Thanks so much,

Decidedly Not Handsome

Dear Not Handsome,

Don’t you know that beauty is relative and best represented by an internal condition, not an external one? It is, but that’s not what your cookie is trying to tell you. Sorry. It still thinks you’re ugly. (Kidding!) Ok, so it’s much deeper than that.

At first glance I’m sure you, like my readers, thought “dose” must be a typo for the word “does.” While “does” certainly gives the sentence an actual grammatical structure, the fortune gods are clearly far above the need for comprehendible sentence construction. They meant EXACTLY what they said. They always do.

“Handsome is as handsome dose.”

See, is our society superficial? Yes. Do we reward external beauty? Yes. Beautiful people have the edge in every category imaginable except the casting of ugly people in film and TV. And even then, directors are usually happier just to make a beautiful person ugly.
Oh, my friend, there’s class warfare going on, and it’s not the rich versus the poor battle you hear about in the media. I’m talking about the pretty versus the ugly. You know what I mean. Just the fact that complete strangers say things like “what’s SHE doing with HIM?” tells you all you need to know about the level of our value on physical appearance.

You were nervous when you saw that the other job candidate was gorgeous, weren’t you? Good! You should have been, because not only did he beat you out for it, he’s now making twice as much as the ugly chick who’s been there forever.

It sucks, it really does Not Handsome, and I’m sorry you got the short end of the stick.

But guess what, I have good news for once. The fortune cookie gods have heard your agony. They’ve watched us poison our world with this superficial fluff for long enough! They’ve chosen you, yes YOU, to be their messenger.

“Handsome is as handsome dose.”

It’s very simple, my dear. So simple I’m not surprised you missed it and I hope you can take this truth with you as you embark on your mission through life with the one advantage you have over beautiful people. The gods didn’t make a typo, they are blessing you with an important fact that will change your perspective: Beautiful people are popular and social. Therefore, they are more prone to illness.

Sleep well, my friend.


Dr. Fortune Cookie

Friday, March 23, 2012

American Idol: Top 9 Evaluations

Lately, we’ve been pretty serious here at the blog, so let’s liven things up a bit by talking about a subject we Americans care about infinitely more than free speech and ideological exchange: American Idol.

As a self-proclaimed pop culture critic, it’s only right that I comment on our most American of American institutions – mediocre singers vying to be named prom Queen on national television. (Come on, we all know singing ability is the least important criterion for winning American Idol.)

So as neither a music expert nor pop culture expert, I now give you my non-expert opinion of the Top 9 American Idol contestants of this season.

In no particular order, except reverse alphabetical:

Elise Testone:
Personally, her musical style doesn’t appeal to me, but there’s no doubt this woman can sing. With the current popularity of gritty female vocalists, she’s got an actual shot in the music industry today. She’s a legitimate talent and I wish her the best at finding success after she gets kicked off Idol because she’s not a cute boy or country singer. There’s no way in you-know-what that she’ll win this competition.

Jessica Sanchez:
She’s cute. She’s stylish. She can sing ok. It’s just not my thing. I’m not sure exactly what the producers are trying to do with this girl, because there’s not much room in the music world for a teenage ballad singer. You either have to be a precocious 9-year-old or a 40+ comeback artist to appeal to the audience that wants an album of over-sung ballads.

Phillip Phillips:
Our first real contender here. He’s a boy and he’s adorable which means he could go all the way. And I’m actually ok with that. He seems like the most authentic of the contestants, as though he’d be just as happy plucking away in a circle of ten-year-old cousins at a family reunion. Believe it or not, southern soul is my second favorite musical genre behind alternative rock, and there’s actually a hint of it in his performances.

Although, for some reason it always surprises me that he wears shoes. I don’t know why. He just seems like the type of person who doesn’t wear shoes a lot.

Joshua Ledet:
He can sing. Seems like a super nice guy. He likes crawfish. I don’t think I would, what with their long tentacles and prickly legs. I also don’t know what I’d do with an album of gospel-style pop songs.

Skyler Laine:
She doesn’t even try to be pop country. She’s just country country. You already know how I feel about country, so I’m sure you know how I feel about her performances. But then, the rest of Idol nation strongly disagrees with me and they actually vote, so she’ll probably win or come close. She also wears the biggest earrings I’ve ever seen. I can’t decide if they help or hurt her balance.

Heejun Han:
And now we get to the most controversial of the contestants. There’s a lot of speculation out there about Mr. Han. Is he legitimate, but quirky? Or is he trying to make a mockery of the show. Personally, I don’t care. This show lost its legitimacy long ago. The selection process and voting have nothing to do with raw talent.

I actually find his antics hilarious. His pre-interviews and rehearsal clips are the only ones I consistently don’t fast forward through. (For the record, I can watch a 2-hour episode of Idol in 10 minutes.) He gives life to this tired show. Would I buy his album? Heck no. Would I invite him to every party and BBQ I could? Hope you like grilled steak, Heejun.

Colton Dixon:
Now, I know what you’re thinking. He’s probably my number one pick, my champion. You couldn’t believe I didn’t start with him. After all, he’s already been crowned this season’s Alternative Rock god. And to you I say, you didn’t listen to my alternative rock suggestions, did you. The only thing about this guy that’s alternative rock is his skinny jeans.

I knew we had a problem when he explained last week that he was going to do “Broken Hearts” like the hard rock song that it was. Oh.

Now, to be fair, by Idol standards the presence of an electric guitar automatically grants a song “hard rock” status. But by my standards, that makes it the same pop/rock-lite performance Idol gives us every year from the many other Idol faux rockers. Fitting that he was thrilled to “hook up” with that hard rocker we all know as Chris Daughtry.

I don’t know what it is about him, but something rubs me the wrong way. If there were a slope of authenticity he’d be at the opposite point of wherever Phillip Phillips fell on that scale. That’s actually not a bad thing in terms of the music industry and is probably why Mr. Dixon will end up a huge star and Phillip will go back to playing town picnics. Colton seems very self-aware with a practiced fake humility that could take him all the way to the top whether he wins this competition or not. Here’s a guy who’s been told he’s amazing all his life and believes it.

See, I understand him so well because he’s a younger, male version of me. It’s creepy, really. We both have the indie piano rock thing going, including the dark emo make-up and streaky hair color. We even have the same clear, slightly too pretty voice to authentically do the music we’re trying to do, right down to the same Sinead-break at key moments. The clip of his original song last week could have come from my own songbook of melodic over-the-top angst.

So, ok, maybe that’s why I don’t like him. I’m just jealous and mad that we’re not collaborating in our own faux rock indie piano band. (Call me, Colton!)

Hollie Cavanagh:
See “Jessica Sanchez.”

Deandre Brackensick:
He seems like a sweet kid, and since I’m sure he reads my blog, I don’t want to be too critical. So let’s just leave it that. Sweet, sweet kid.

So there you have it. This season’s Idol Cheat Sheet. Why do I have the feeling I ticked people off a whole lot more with this post than with last week’s?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Primer in Ideological Discourse Part II: Time to Make Enemies

Bring your picket signs and rocks. It’s time to make enemies. But I have to. I’d be a hypocrite not to put some real world applications to my theoretical mumblings.

Last month I released the Primer in Ideological Discourse. In it I gave hints and examples on how people can discuss ideas intelligently and respectfully, thus becoming a more informed and understanding society. That’s all nice and fuzzy in theory, but there’s a complicated problem today that pretty much trashes everything I said. It rears its ugly head more and more, even though we like to pretend it doesn’t exist:

We’re no longer allowed to have strong stances.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, if you agree with the popular side, there’s no issue. You can feel free to climb on your soapbox and preach to every cocktail party and grocery checkout line you please. But beware, those with a strong, well-informed opinion that’s not embraced by the masses. You are submitting yourself to crucifixion.

Now, please stop now and read my take on what it means to have an opinion. Until you’ve read my primer in ideological discourse, you can’t put these thoughts in the proper perspective. If you’ve read it, you know I call for respect, listening more than speaking, and delaying the formation of an opinion until you can support it well. I railed against name-calling and unacknowledged ignorance. This post in no way supports those who call for bigotry, hatred, or violence. You’d think that would go without saying, but you all know it doesn’t. And that’s my point.

 I’m going to be blunt:

The pendulum has swung too far. In our effort to accept all ideas we have criminalized those who stand firm. Particularly, those who stand firm against the tidal wave of popular opinion.

This is a huge problem, and it’s one we don’t like to admit and are terrified to talk about. We’ve essentially eliminated the right of free speech. We punish those who project unpopular views. We’re so used to the gray, we’ve forgotten black and white exist. We’ve been conditioned to fear them. Let’s dissect this for a moment.

If you don’t believe me, think of a controversial topic. Anything, I don’t care what it is.  I’ll give you a spot on my blog to argue in favor of the unpopular side (as long as you follow all my rules for respectful ideological discourse). The catch is, you have to sign your full name, no anonymity.

Write 400 words against abortion. Explain why homosexual couples shouldn’t have the same rights as heterosexual couples. Maybe our teachers actually have a pretty good gig compared to the rest of the workforce. Tell me why unions have too much power.

Any takers?

I’m not even stating my opinions on the topics listed above, but I guarantee you just cringed when you read those sentences. We’re not used to it. Just for suggesting there are two sides to those topics is going to get me in trouble, even if I don’t admit which side I’m on. Is that the “enlightened” society we want? A place where the minority is afraid to speak, regardless of the topic? Maybe the majority is “right” today (maybe not), what about tomorrow? What about 50 years ago?

In my opinion, we got it so wrong with racial segregation and sexism. Thank goodness the minority was willing to speak up and be collectively attacked for their stance.

We’re different now, more enlightened and accepting as a society, right? Please. If anything, we’re worse, because now we’ve parked on self-righteous pedestals of political correctness. We pat ourselves on the back because we’ve whitewashed our brains to the point where we’re all just blank poster boards of ideas. We’re so afraid of offending anyone that we don’t stand for anything, muttering through superficial conversations and elevating meaningless topics just because they’re safe. What is it they say about religion and politics?

And then we hear it. Someone dares to cut through the hum of weather reports and sports scores. They bravely pierce the gray cloud with their white or black lightening strike. And all hell breaks loose.

We swoop down from our pedestals. Our fangs drip with saliva as we circle our prey and rip it to shreds like the school of piranhas we’ve become. We fill his comment section with bile. We call for her resignation and label her in ways that are infinitely worse than anything she ever said. We cry foul. We toss all our self-righteous stones and embrace the spectacular hysteria that lines the pockets of our favorite media outlets. That’s the society we’ve become.

I have tremendous respect for those who are willing to speak up, on both sides. I tend to give their opinions tremendous weight in my own evaluation of the subject. It’s easy to spout off surface opinions everyone will love. You have to have a thick skin and a ton of supporting evidence to go the other way. I don’t always agree with them. In fact, a lot of the time I don’t, but I want to listen to them. I’d rather talk to the guy at the party who admits he’s in favor of the governor everyone else pickets. I want to read the thoughts of the woman who voted against the bill that everyone else pasted on their bumper.

We’re hypocrites. We are. There’s no way around it. In our efforts to accept everyone’s beliefs in everything, we’ve become a society that’s afraid to believe in anything.

And we gleefully destroy those who do.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Oh, Daylight Savings! Wherefore Art Thou Sting?

You would think an alarm clock that doesn’t accurately tell time would be a useless device. I thought so too at first, but that was just the jaded cynic in me. I’m enlightened now. A changed woman. An optimist, even.

Three years ago I asked for one gift: my own alarm clock. At that time, I shared one with my husband and it was a disaster. It should have worked in theory, but we never seemed to get the hang of dual alarms. Either I’d turn his off when I woke up first or he’d turn mine off when he set his the night before. Either way, what was supposed to wake two people up at two different times woke no one up ever.

I got my wish. Wrapped awkwardly in cheap Christmas paper was my own little radio alarm with a small footprint. Digital red numbers and AM/FM tuning capabilities made it the dream clock for someone who loves transparent technology. (I prefer things to do what they’re supposed to do. All my phone can do is call people. All my coffee maker does is make coffee. My car only drives. And attracts mice for some reason. Don’t ask.)

Anyway, all was well. I could never quite get it tuned exactly to a radio station so most mornings I woke to a mix of hard rock and staticky stock tips. Nevertheless, that first morning my sweet little alarm jumped to life and sent me out into the world happy and on time. The following morning, the same. The following morning I was early. Then I was earlier. Then I was really early. After two weeks, I was way too early. That’s when I realized my clock was only almost perfect. It may have had a lot to offer a girl, it just wasn’t so great at telling time.

So it couldn’t tell time. There are bigger crimes. It was still thin, sleek, and offered a hint of music amidst its static rumblings. I wasn’t going to abandon it to the appliance graveyard just because it had one small shortcoming. I was going to nurture it, maybe rehabilitate it with my patience and love. Three years later it still sits proudly on my nightstand, not telling time with the grace of a pro.

On the surface having a clock that doesn’t tell time may seem like a liability. Imagine looking at a clock and having no clue if what you see is accurate. In fact, you know it’s probably not, but you don’t know how far off it is. What’s the point then, you ask? I will tell you. The point is, ever since my broken clock became my sidekick, I’ve never been better with time management.

When you don’t know what time it really is, you always have to be ready. There are days I’ve “overslept” and jumped out of bed in a panic. I got ready for work in record time and raced down to the kitchen, only to learn I was ten minutes early. That wouldn’t have happened with a functional clock. When clocks actually work, if you oversleep you’re late. Other people panic. I have hope.

When my forgiving clock goes off, I get up. I have to. There’s no snoozing or rolling over for a few more minutes. That’s not an option when your clock doesn’t work. You don’t know how many minutes you have until the real time approaches. Is she four minutes fast today? Twenty minutes? Twelve minutes? You don’t know. So you get up and move.

I should clarify that she only gains time, she doesn’t lose it, so I don’t have to worry about it being later than she says. And honestly, what’s more perfect than that? A clock that can only make you early, not late. Right now it’s 10 PM. Except I know it’s not. Yet, my brain is still getting ready for sleep mode even though I probably have another 10-20 minutes before I actually have to think about bed. A real clock wouldn’t give you that grace period. A real clock would be chiding me and nagging me to shut down my laptop and turn off the TV. Not mine. She’s polite and merciful.

Oh sure, I hear you skeptics out there. Why not get a functional clock and just set it ten minutes ahead? Ha! Setting your clock ahead doesn’t help anyone because there’s no mystery. You know the secret trick. You’ll just compensate the other way. If you’re like my husband, you’ll overcompensate the other way. No, this only works with my baby. It only works if you have no idea how far ahead it is, if at all. There’s no math when she sings at 6AM. It’s up and in the shower. It’s like playing the lottery every morning. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I win big. Sometimes I barely break even.

But I never lose. No, she won’t let me lose.

I was a cynic. I thought I had a useless paperweight. A dust collector. A piece of junk wasting most of the precious real estate beside my bed. Instead, I had a priceless weapon against the relentless morning routine. I had my answer to a lengthy commute and intimidating closet of clothes that never seem to fit the same from day to day.

I have my perfect clock and now I say this:

Take that daylight savings! I used to fear you. Now I laugh at you. Others may set their clocks ahead this weekend. They will dread their loss of sleep and being forced to adjust to a new schedule. But I, yes I, have been conditioned for years now to adjust to new schedules. Every day is daylight savings for me. Yes, I laugh at you. My clock and I will dance into Sunday the same way we’ve danced into every day for the past three years: with a bit of hard rock and a chorus of staticky stock tips.

It’s now 10:23. Except it’s not.  


Friday, March 2, 2012

How Many Lawyers Does It Take To Exist?

When did life get so complex? Sure, it’s always been hard, and arguments can be made that, on average, humanity has an easier survival now than at any point in history. But have we eased our existence at the expense of simplicity?

It’s been a while since my last post for many reasons. (Although silence hasn’t discouraged my vast readership of spammers. That’s right Sexy Theresa, I’m talking to you. You go, girl!) The biggest culprit has been our family’s recent house sale and move.

Nothing highlights the insanity of our postmodern world like trying to pick up and relocate. If it doesn’t exist already, I am officially patenting the concept of “Moving Coordinator.” That’s right, for a respectable fee, I will coordinate every aspect of your relocation: research and organize the moving company, process your change of addresses, notify friends and colleagues, cancel accounts, schedule final readings, find new doctors, dentists, and daycares and transfer corresponding files to said doctors, dentists, and daycares. I’ll be your one-stop guide through the red-tape and bureaucracy that put the prospect of moving on par with alien abductions, flesh-eating zombies, and registering a child for school.

It’s frightening that we’ve reached a point in our society where you need a permit to leave and another to arrive. I could be wrong, but I doubt that’s what our founding fathers intended when they drafted the Constitution.

“Hey, George. That thing about freedom of speech and religion - good right? What about the twelve forms required to move your crap to your parents’ house?”

And forget selling a house.

I went to closing on Wednesday not with a folder, not with a brief case, not even with a backpack. No, I went with a burlap sack. Yep, there’s me scooting around the business suits and cherry conference table with my crusty black sack filled with papers. And the scariest part? I needed half of them.

Anyone who’s been to a house closing can relate. Typically, you start out with an awkward smile that quickly transforms into a dazed grin. As your eyes glaze over and you nod absently at each legal-sized paper shoved toward you, you realize our society has lost its collective mind. If, for some reason, you’re superhuman and can stay alert through the whole process, it gets even worse then you realize what you’re signing. My favorite are the documents that essentially confirm you signed other documents. Then you sign ones to confirm the buyer signed some. Forms to confirm forms. That’s freedom, people!

And you’re reward? You get to try to move.

My moving folder is three inches thick. That’s not my mortgage folder. That’s not my house sale folder. That’s not even my home inspection report remediation file. Nope, nothing except moving issues.

As if the process isn’t complex enough, it all costs money too. I tried budgeting for this thing, but I probably would have had an easier time sorting through NASA’s fiscal data. Don’t worry, this won’t be a rant about the complexity of the tax structure. We’ll save that for another entry, but moving permit fees? Really? I need to pay to leave one area and pay again to enter another? That’s almost as bad as the per capita tax. I still can’t figure out how the government has the right to charge me for existing. I didn’t choose to be here. Charge my parents. That’s on them.  

And never make the mistake of inspecting your HUD sheet at a house closing. Forget it being a hard pill to swallow. That freakin’ pill will lodge itself in your throat until you choke and collapse right on top of those fancy tea cups. You may get ill when you see you have to pay $35 so the bank can fax a two page document to the title company. Did you know you’re charged to clear your mortgage from the title and then charged another fee to super-duper double check that your mortgage was cleared from the title? Even our realtor seemed baffled by that one.

Whatever. The point is, it’s a good thing our society has also invented Super Walmarts and online shopping. We need the other 22 hours of the day to fill out forms and make sense of our phone bills.