"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, January 24, 2011

This could be a disaster

Tomorrow I have jury duty. There, I've said it.

It will be my first call back to jury duty since about 1995. I remember because my son, Marcus was in a pre-school near my house and every day I spent my lunch hour rushing from my job at Raytheon in Fullerton, back to Placentia to pick him up and take him to his babysitter's house in La Mirada. Fullerton to Placentia is 7 miles. Placentia to La Mirada is about 12. La Mirada to Fullerton is 5.

I'm exhausted just reading that.

So maybe I wasn't in the best frame of mind when they called me to the jury box and started asking all those questions that sound so mundane when you're watching the At-Home Game on Court TV, but suddenly make your hair stand on end and your blood run cold when you're in front of the judge in the bright, harsh lighting of a real courtroom.

At the time, they wouldn't tell us the exact crime, but they were asking questions like, "Have you ever had any contact with gangs", "Do you think someone is responsible for his actions when he is under the influence of drugs or alcohol", and the trifecta, "Have you ever been a witness to or otherwise involved with a drive-by shooting?"

If you can't do the math here, please don't ever open a checking account. You'll never get it balanced.

This was my first potential trial. I was, and remain, a civic-minded person who wants to do her share to uphold this country's justice system. That being said:

1. I didn't want my first trial to be a gangland murder. Couldn't I start with a bar fight? Drunk driving? Anything smaller?

2. The defendant was in the courtroom. He was a young white guy, mostly unwashed and oily, wearing a very bad polyester suit. All I kept thinking was, "He looks guilty and DEAR GOD HE'S LOOKING AT US LOOK AWAY LOOK AWAY."

I was not going to make a good juror, yet the defense kept asking me questions that seemed designed to keep me. Perhaps they thought I'd be a soft touch. I tried all the usual. I told them I was an engineer. They usually don't like engineers because of our no-exceptions, black-and-white view of the universe.

Didn't work.

I told them about my son's school-to-daycare predicament. The judge said he'd allow two hours for lunch in order to accommodate me.

What a nice guy.

Then the defense attorney asked me the worst question ever: "Do you think you'd be capable of rendering a fair, unbiased judgment on this case?"

I wanted to set her straight. "Absolutely not. I think he's guilty and I haven't even heard the evidence."

Okay, even I know better than to do this in the courtroom. So all I could say was, "I don't know. I've never done this before."

"Well could you try?"

"I don't know. If I try and don't succeed, then it was all pretty useless."

This little statement led to a round between me and the judge about trying and doing and all of that Zenmaster Yoda stuff that the judge apparently hated. After about ten minutes, he told me, "You're excused." Only he said it as if I was excused With Prejudice and Don't Ever Darken My Door Again.

And that was the last time I was ever called, until this year.

So I promise to be good, but I don't know what I'll do if I get called on another gangsta trial. I'm hoping that no one will want me if they know I write murder mysteries or humor columns, but who knows?

If I get in trouble with the next judge, will you visit me in the slammer?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nuthin but good news

First, the good news: I'm currently getting my new book formatted for the Kindle. So, for all of you Kindle fans (of which I am a member), sit tight and you can have your copy of What Would Erma Do? AT AN UNBELIEVABLY LOW PRICE. Okay, I'm not sure about how unbelievable, but it will be a smidgeon of what you'd pay for some author-with-a-big-name-publisher's newest book.

Second, the also-good news: If you like paperbacks, would you like a free copy of WWED? Just head over to Goodreads and ENTER TO WIN!

***BREAKING NEWS*** When I first posted this, I forgot to say that the giveaway begins January 21st and ends February 21st. Why? Because February 21st is my birthday, and it is also Erma's birthday. How karmic is that? So visit Goodreads on Friday, January 21, and go for the win!

No purchase necessary, void in the states of Denial, Consternation, and Irritability. See below for details:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

What Would Erma Do?: Confessions of a First Time Humor Columnist... by Gayle Carline

What Would Erma Do?

by Gayle Carline

Giveaway ends February 21, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Just asking.

I have a tale to tell, but first, a disclaimer:

Although this little story involves my son and his music, it is not meant as any particular form of praise for his abilities. I am no judge of my son's talent. I love him fiercely and anything he does is golden, nay, platinum, in my eyes. This is only a story of will, not skill.

When my son was a high school freshman, he auditioned for the smallest, most elite singing group in the music department. He didn't get in, but he was accepted for the larger, still good, chamber choir. This made him happy; however, he went to the music teacher that year and said, "My goal is to be in the smaller group. What do I need to improve in order to achieve that?"

She gave him a list of things he needed to work on. He worked on them all year. He even took private voice lessons. In his sophomore year, he got into the smaller group.

By then, he knew he wanted a career in music, so he went back to his teacher. "What classes should I take if I want to major in music? What school would be a good fit for me? What else should I be doing?"

The music teacher gave him the information, and he followed her advice. He took music theory, he applied to strong music schools, and he auditioned for, and participated in, state choirs. Everything he did built his resume and helped him meet and network with both professors and professionals.

Today, he is a freshman at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music, at California State University, Long Beach. He's studying vocal performance, having a great time, and finding his classes fairly easy because he was prepared.

There was another student in my son's high school classes, a lovely girl with a nice voice. As a freshman, she also auditioned for the small group and didn't get in, but she got into chamber. She was happy and didn't ask for more. For three more years, she auditioned for the small group, got into chamber, and was happy. She didn't try out for any state choirs, didn't take any theory classes, and didn't ask the music teacher for any advice.

When it was time to choose a school and a major, she chose music. After all, she had a lovely voice. What could be so difficult about singing?

I saw her mom in the store and she asked how my son was doing in school.

"He loves it," I said. "He's having a really good time. How's your daughter?"

"She has so much work. All the theory and stuff is really hard, and she didn't get any kind of preparation from the high school teacher."

I could have told her that my son got lots of help, and that all she had to do was ask, but I didn't. I figured it was water under the bridge now, and there was no way to keep it from sounding neener-neener-smug.

There's a lesson in this story, no matter if you're a writer or a singer or anyone with a goal of success at anything: what are you willing to do for it? If you're a writer, what do you do with rejection slips? Do you shrug your shoulders and send a query to the next agent on the list? Or do you take another look at your manuscript? Have you taken classes, joined a writing group, or hired a free lance editor? Are you making it better?

Or do you just spin your wheels in the same spot and blame someone else for not spoon feeding you the information?

Just asking.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

If you're anywhere near a newspaper, or a TV news report or the Internet, you know what happened yesterday in Arizona. A man opened fire at a supermarket in Tucson, where a congresswoman was meeting with her constituents. Six dead, about a dozen injured, including the congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head.

Typing those words makes my fingers numb.

Being hunkered down in my home in southern California, I had never heard of Rep. Giffords before today. And now I may never forget her.

Apart from the details of the shooting, the shooter's possible motives and mental state, everyone is now lit up with talk about the "vitriolic political atmosphere" that has been growing on this country like mildew in my shower ever since we elected President Obama. Currently, I'm watching the array of fingers that are out and pointing, hoping that in time, some of the fingers might turn and face their owners.

I'm sure the gun shop who sold the gun will shrug and say, "He passed the tests. It's not our fault he used the gun to shoot a 9-year old girl."

The politicos who have used violent rhetoric to stir up their followers will say, "When I said we need to keep these people in our crosshairs, I never meant to hunt them down. I was just using the image to make a point."

Then everyone will agree that some people use guns safely and some people understand language correctly and no one can control these nutcases anyway, so why change things?

I'd like to suggest that we need to try. We need to step up to the plate, own our actions and our words and commit to making this country a safe place to be who you are and express yourself without fear of violence or reprisal. I'm saying this for all groups, all parties, everyone. It's time to get along.

So maybe it's time for people to say, "I'm sorry. Maybe I was misunderstood. Maybe we let someone slip through the cracks. Definitely, we should try harder." Perhaps the politicians who are using violent images in their speeches could offer us a couple of words that say, "I'm so sorry that this crazy person took my words literally. I'm going to change the way I say things from now on." And no, you can't stop unbalanced people from hanging around your group, but you can let them know they are not welcome if they bring a sword to the table; only olive branches are accepted. Stop feeding them the words that stoke their craziness.

It's a common fact that most people respond better to "I" statements than "you" statements. No one wants to hear, "You're wrong about x." Most people, in fact, will bristle and dig deeper in their side of the argument. But try saying, "That may be true, but I think this way about x." See how much better that is for everyone? You allow other people to have their beliefs while you express yours. The only thing you have to abandon is your desire to control someone else. Since we've already agreed that we have no control over crazy people, is it so hard to stop trying to control the rest of the population?

And perhaps gun purchases should also be dependent upon some proof of sanity. Just saying.

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