Yahoo!! I Get to Sit in Traffic Now ….

My day job often requires me to tackle complex problem-solving. As an introvert, I do that best if left alone.  With uninterrupted time and peaceful surroundings , I can usually wrap my head around issues and come up with solutions.

My last several bosses have understood that. I don’t telecommute regularly. But if I go to my boss and request a work-at-home day now and then, I usually get it. I know these work-at-home days are a privelege, not a right. I also know I get them because I’ve proven that they help me yield results.

My situation is common these days. Almost everyone I know in jobs that primarily require using a computer have semi-flexible work arrangements.  Yet the buzz all over the  newsfeeds recently is about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer taking telecommuting off the company perk list.

I’m struggling to wrap my head around how a forward-thinking, technology-oriented operation can do this in the name of progress.  To me, it is a giant step backwards.

According to various news articles, the CEO claims being onsite is necessary to promote teamwork and brainstorming.

The need for “face time” in creative and collaborative work relationships is a valid argument. But from what I’ve read, Yahoo’s CEO isn’t just taking away full-time telework options. All telecommuting arrangements are off the table, including hybrids where employees work one or two days a week at home and come to the office the rest of the time.

As much as I love work-at-home days, I wouldn’t want to be completely physically removed from my colleagues. Some of our best innovations come out of being together. But we certainly don’t need to be side-by-side 40 hours a week for that to happen.

I believe the “hybrid telecommute” model is the best of both worlds. These arrangements provide both face-to-face interaction and the flexibility and focus-time that telecommuting offers. Employees get gas savings, less time spent sitting in traffic, and better work-life balance. Managers get employees who are less stressed and therefore more innovative and productive.

When I know I have a work-at-home day scheduled, I’m much more present and interactive when I am in the office. I’m open and involved in meetings and brainstorming sessions and welcome drop-by co-worker conversations, because I know I’ve got solitary focus time scheduled later. It isn’t just my life that it better balanced. It is my work, too.

Some speculate that what Yahoo’s CEO is really doing is cleaning house. She’s hoping those who use telecommuting as a pathway to slackerdom will hit the road.

Isn’t that managing to the lowest common denominator? For every slacker who thinks “telecommute” means watching Jerry Springer and taking naps, there are five more who go above and beyond because they CAN telecommute. On my telecommute days, the time I normally spend prettifying myself and traveling gets tacked on to the hours I actually work. I often lose track of time and work over, because I’m comfortable and not anticipating a crappy commute.

Any employee worth having thinks along similar lines. And a slacker will find ways to slack whether they’re in their living room or their cubicle. I expect managers to recognize and reward independent, productive employees, not yank perks out from under us because someone else sucks.

I feel for Yahoo employees who are impacted by this. I imagine many of them will soon be facing hellish commutes. Proximity to the office wasn’t something they considered when they were offered a job with a telecommuting option. That just isn’t fair.

I’m obviously a staunch supporter of telecommuting. But to my surprise, I found an article by one executive vice president who agrees with Mayer’s decision that made a lot of sense to me.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/debbie-madden/marissa-mayer-yahoo_b_2776852.html

In my current position, my telecommute days are gold to me because they are my primary key to work-life-balance and the time I need to reflect, think, and learn for my job as well as for myself. If I worked for an organization that honored those needs in other ways like the ones outlined in this article (flexible schedules, 40 hours of professional development leave per quarter that does not come out of your vacation) I’d be much less of a rabid dog if my telecommuting days were threatened.

What do you think? Is Yahoo’s CEO making the right move? Do you think telecommuting helps or hurts productivity and office culture?

A few articles for those interested in more on this:

http://lifeinc.today.com/_news/2013/02/25/17087086-one-perk-gone-yahoo-says-no-to-telecommuting?lite

http://www.indystar.com/article/20130225/LIFE/302250054/Is-telecommuting-slackers

http://www.daynews.com/business/2013/02/no-more-telecommuting-for-yahoo-employees-come-june-2013-14525

http://www.cpapracticeadvisor.com/news/10884695/yahoo-ceo-ends-remote-workers-telecommuters-really

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The Sims 3: A Great Escape

003I am writer, hear me roar! I am a disciple of discipline who has no time for mindless distractions.

At least that’s what I’d have people believe when I put my best foot forward in this blog. The truth is, I crave mindless distractions like a boozer drooling on a frosty cooler of Budweiser. One of my current favorite escapes is The Sims 3.

EA’s first inceptions of The Sims games came out when I was in my 20s. In those early games, you couldn’t control your Sims away from their homes. At home, they wouldn’t do anything on their own. If you weren’t paying enough attention to their needs to notice their “bathroom” bar going up, they pissed their pants.

Today, the game-play and graphics are much more realistic. Back in the old school days, Sims were either thin or had little pooches that looked like beer guts. Today, they come in the same range of shapes and sizes as real people. If you want, you can make a Sim whose booty need its own zip code. Personalities and relationships are much more complex, and they’ll usually pee on their own. Your Sims can visit other Sims and run all over town while under your control. You can even govern how they act at work.

I hadn’t played the Sims in years. The truth is, even though the early games were rudimentary, they sucked me in like a steamy cowpie does a fly. I spent way too much time yelling at little computer people for peeing their pants or trying to get them not to throw hissy fits if their wife hugged a neighbor.  Eventually, the novelty wore off and my games sat unused. When my computer went kaput, I didn’t bother to upload the Sims on its replacement.

This fall, I started fondly remembering how much I used to enjoy The Sims. As a bribe, I promised myself I could check out the Sims 3 when I finished writing my book. When the game arrived, I was in for a surprise. While I’ve been busy becoming a writer, the Sims have been growing up too.

Even with all the advancements, it amazes me how this silly little game is such a fun stress relief tool for me. What is it about making sure these little computer people go to work, earn money, pay their bills, advance in their careers, get enough exercise, eat, and maintain healthy relationships that helps me unwind? I mean, isn’t that the same damn shit that stresses me out in real life?

Hmmm … maybe that’s the whole point.

1. In real life, the higher you advance in your career, the more hours you have to put in. For Sims, things are just the opposite. For example, one of my Sim chicks is a news anchor. She works four days a week from 8am-noon. Only by playing the Sims will my broke ass ever experience a 16 hour workweek that pays all the bills.

2. Sims get paid every day that they work, and they get paid damn well once you move them up the ladder. For example, my anchor girl makes 7oo-and-something dollars an hour. So after her 4-hour shift, a little bubble pops up that says “News Anchor Chickie brought home 2,800-plus today!”

If that ever happened to me in real life, I’d pee my pants so fast that you’d think I was an old-school Sim.

3. Forget all this daily workout crap. A Sim can avoid exercise forever, then do jumping jacks in front of her TV for a little while and suddenly be so fit and strong that local gyms are calling her up to participate in athletic contests.

4. My writer Sim can peck away at her keyboard for one day, and have a finished book. She gets a little cranky, but she can do it. She has currently written 10 books to my one. And the bitch is already collecting royalties.

5. Pregnancy is a 3-day deal in Sim-land. If real-life pregnancy had only required that short of a caffeine hiatus, I might have considered reproducing.

6. Sims who accomplish things that make them happy get “lifetime reward points.” You can cash in these points to buy your Sims “helpers” that will improve their lives. For example, one of my flirty Sims got a bad reputation as a cheatin’ hoseweasel. Cashing in her points for the “clean slate” helper erased her bad rap and now everyone wants to date her again. Let’s face it, we all have friends who could use that kind of help in real life!

Yep, Sims have gotten smarter and more entertaining over the years. But the bottom line for me is that there is nowhere else I can have a mini-me who makes gobs of money working 12 hours a week, writes best-sellers in a day, and every now and then goes “oh damn, I’m getting fat. Let me go run on the treadmill for 2 hours to fix that.”

Oh, and in real life, I’ll probably never be able to afford a maid, either.

Posted in humor, Slices O' Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Dumpster Diving

At work the other day, I saw a heartbreaking bit of bathroom-stall graffiti.

I work on the college campus that spit me out with a bachelor’s degree almost 20 years ago. On the way back from a meeting, I cut through a building I hadn’t been in for awhile. Years ago, this building housed the weekly student-run newspaper that called me its editor-in-chief. I had to pee, so I stopped in a restroom I’d used a hundred times before on breaks from 2 a.m. editing or story-writing stints.

On the bathroom wall, someone had written “Your Hopes and Dreams” with an arrow pointing down to the garbage can. I found myself longing for the days when graffiti was two names with a big fat heart between them. Like most people, I have up days and down days. But I never get so down that I believe hopes and dreams are destined for the trash can.

I think what got to me is that some 18-22 year-old student using the same toilet I frequented in my own inspiration-filled junior year was already jaded enough to write that.

For me, that dingy building with its puke-green and burnt-orange carpet (which has since  been upgraded to a lovely industrial grey-blue) was a place where hopes and dreams were born, not tossed in the trash. At that time in my life, I believed anything was possible. I was going to take on the world with a keyboard, and I was going to spank the bitch’s ass.

I didn’t know I’d spend the next two decades making ends meet by tying them together with a very frayed rope. I didn’t know how burnt out I’d get on professional attire and meetings and the kind of jobs your mind can’t turn off just because the clock says 5 pm.  I never dreamed Monday mornings would sometimes make me eat Tums for breakfast. Back then, “going to work” meant writing for and running a paper I loved. “Working in my office” looked like this:The Good Old Days

Back then, my friends and I believed we were “girl wonders” who could be whatever we wanted. Long before Facebook spawned the “duck-faced teenage girl” epidemic, we were showing off just how ready we were to rule the world.sherpam

Back then I just lived, and experienced things, and believed wholeheartedly in a bright and shiny future. I thought if I busted my ass I would reel in the dream.

As I stared at the bathroom-stall graffiti, I realized just how long it has been since I was that girl. More than 20 years have passed.

Holy freaking shit.

The girl I was then would have called the graffiti artist a pessimistic asshole. But the 42 year-old woman who was just trying to sneak in a quick pee between meetings? She doesn’t like to admit it, but in her worst moments, she gets why someone would feel that way.

A part of my 40-something self wants to grab the smart-ass girl I was by the shoulders and say “Look, fool. The girl who wrote that has a point. See me? I’m YOU. You don’t know it yet, but you’re about to toss your dreams right in that garbage bin to spend the next twenty years doing safe, secure, ‘responsible adult’ stuff. You are about to put your creativity in a cage to spend your life paying a mortgage on a house you aren’t in much because you’re always at work.”

I wanted to beg her to take more risks. I wanted to tell her it would be OK not to know where her next meal was coming from for a few years after college if that was what it took to make a go at being what she really wanted to be. I wanted to tell her choosing the safe road and busting her ass on it wasn’t even going to earn her the financial security she was trading in her dreams for – she’d still end up living paycheck to paycheck.

But you can’t go back. You can only keep moving forward. If the graffiti artist who thinks hopes and dreams land in the garbage heap is a college student, I really feel for her. If you believe that when you’re just getting started, how do you feel after 20 years of scratching and clawing and bad decisions?

Maybe she’s not a student. Maybe she’s a tired near middle-ager like me, fed up with another day of data entry or cleaning bathrooms.

Whoever she was, my 20-year-old self would have some advice for her.

She would roll her eyes and say “suck it up, bitch. So your hopes and dreams got thrown in the trash. Sounds to me like its time to go dumpster diving.”

Since I can’t go back in time and change the choices she’ll make, I might as well listen to her now. It was her belief that we had all the time in the world that got us here, so I might as well make her partly responsible for fixing it.

That’s what I’ve been trying to do since I started writing again. I’ve been digging through the garbage I let get piled on top of my hopes and dreams. I’ve been wiping off the slop and trying to believe in my dreams again, even though they’re stained and wrinkled now.

Whatever her age, I hope the graffiti artist does the same someday. My fortysomething self has advice for her too, and she’d phrase it a little less harshly than Supergirl College Me. I’d tell her it does get harder as you go, but never impossible. I’d tell her that sometimes dreams go dormant because life is a lot of work and we get sidetracked. But they don’t become trash, unless we let them.

Posted in Personal Development Mumbo-Jumbo Stuff, Slices O' Life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Grandmom Goes “Grey”

One of the best and worst things that happened to me in 2012 was that I broke my Kindle.

I am both a voracious reader and a broke paycheck-to-paycheck schmuck. It isn’t hard to understand why I’d put the death of my beloved E-reader on the “worst” list. But best? Let me explain.

I have a borderline psychotic fear of debt. I hate the idea of owing money it will take me forever to pay back. So although I have credit cards, I only pull them out in true emergencies. As sad as it made me to see my little porthole into the world of new authors sit broken and lonely, I couldn’t call my new Kindle-less state an emergency. Instead, I started feeding my need to read by going to the library.

Here’s where the “best” part comes in.  I prefer my e-reader because there’s simply more options to choose from than what sits on the shelves of the little local library near my home. Going there brings back happy memories of Saturday afternoons with my butt plopped somewhere in the children’s section, picking out a Laura Ingalls Wilder book while Mom hunted down her next Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Even so, if given a choice, I’d have a new Kindle sitting on my coffee table.

But on my first visit to the library, I noticed a single shelf dedicated to large print books, and I almost did a happy dance.  My grandmother is at a place in her life where she has trouble filling long and lonely days. Her mobility is limited, and most of her friends live far away or are in poor health themselves. We’re always trying to come up with things for her to do other than watch TV. For a while, my sister and niece got her hooked on Angry Birds. She used to be a major crafter, quilting and making terrariums. She went through a “puffy sequined sweatshirt” phase that had us all cringing a little at Christmas. My sister recently tried picking her up some craft materials, but she said she could no longer see well enough to do them.

I suggested reading, and got the same response. Truthfully, the only things I’d ever seen my grandmother read were magazines and clothing catalogs. Still, I gave it a shot, and my suggestion was shot down just like all the others we’d thrown at her.

Me and Grandmom, 1970-something

Me and Grandmom, 1970-something

But that day in the library, I felt a spark of hope. Regular books probably were too hard on her eyes. But these big print suckers? Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

I told her about the big print books and asked her if she’d give them a try. She said she would, in that “I’m just humoring you” kind of way. I asked her what kind of books she thought she’d like.

She said “Love stories. But without a lot of sex in them.”

I gulped as I left her house and headed for the library. Love stories without a lot of sex in them? Was there such a thing?

I’m not much of a romance reader myself. But I have friends who are, and we sometimes spend summer days off lounging together at the pool. I’ll be sitting there with my next creeperific ghost story or bit of raunchy sophomoric humor or serial killer extravaganza, and I’ll glance over at my friends’ bodice-ripper and ask about it.

“Girl porn,” she’ll reply with a grin.

So I felt a little lost as I scoured the big print shelf in search of G (for Grandma) rated love stories. After a bit of browsing, I stumbled on an Amish romance.

Amish romance? That had to be pretty tame, right? I took it home to her, and she loved it. So I began grabbing a few more every time I went. Frankly, I was amazed that there were so many Amish romances to choose from. I became familiar with writers like Sarah Price and Barbara Cameron, and learned about a whole new realm in fiction.

That was months ago, and Grandmom has since branched out quite a bit. She’s delved into mysteries and dramas. She’s discovered she really likes Jodi Piccoult. She’s even given Stephen King a try. Sometimes, she plows through her books long before I get through mine.

Even so, I was completely unprepared for what happened the other day.  On a Saturday afternoon, I had lunch with my grandmother and then gathered up our books. The library is a short walk from her house, and in a park, so these trips are also a great chance for a little outdoor exercise. I had stuffed our to-be-returned books in my bag and was heading for the door when she called out to me.

“Yeah, Mommom?” I asked, my hand on the doorknob.

“See if you see that ’50 Shades’ thing while you’re there. If you do, get me that one.”

It was only the fact that my bag’s strap was wound pretty firmly on my arm that kept the books from thumping to the floor. From Amish romance to Fifty Shades? From “love stories with no sex in them” to the book that spiked dildo sales off the charts? I haven’t read the series, but again, I have friends who have. Some say it was stupid. Some say it made them forcefully drag their spouses to the bedroom, and in a few cases the spouses have confirmed that with great big grins.

“Mommom,” I sputtered. “You know those books have a LOT of sex, right?”

“I’ve heard. I wanna see what all the fuss is about.”

“I mean, LOTS of sex,” I floundered. “With like, pearl necklaces and stuff.”

She pondered this, but still seemed curious.

As it turns out, the library doesn’t carry a big print version of Fifty Shades.  Maybe we’ll order her the first one from Amazon and go from there if she likes it.

Grandmom has come a long way from reading nothing but catalogs, and all because I broke my Kindle.

Posted in Books, Family, humor, Reading, Slices O' Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

An Anti-Valentine

Me and 365-Days-A-Year Valentine

Me and 365-Days-A-Year Valentine

I am a super-sentimental girl who has been known to cry during dog food commercials. I believe in butterfly kisses and true love. I am thankful for my partner each and every day of the year.

But in spite of all that, Valentine’s Day has never really floated my boat. I’ve coasted through many of them in my forty-two years. I’ve been happily single for some, and not-so-happily alone for others. I’ve had V-Days where I’ve been smack dab in the middle of new love, and many more where I’ve been warm and fuzzy and content with my long-term love. The circumstances haven’t really changed how I feel about the day.

Maybe holidays that don’t involve getting off work just don’t do it for me. Maybe the commercialism that has been doused on the day has turned me off. Or maybe I just don’t do the V-Day version of “romance” because I’d rather curl up with my guy and watch football than go see a chick flick, or throw on my favorite jeans and boots and head to the pub than put on a little black dress and heels for a night of dining and dancing.

Whatever the reason, when I thought about what to write in honor V-Day, I just wasn’t feeling “my favorite romantic heroes” or “the best love stories of all time” or even “why I heart my boyfriend,” although I most certainly do.

So instead, I give you my top three Anti-Valentine Couples from some of my favorite television series.  Why not?  We’ve become an “every kiss begins with Kay” society. Although the pairs on my list are certainly puke-worthy, they make me less queasy than the commercials that remind men to send their lady love flowers at her office so that her colleagues can all sigh with envy and go home to sulk because their own partners are insensitive doucherockets.

Warning: If you are a fan of any of these series and are behind in your watching, this may spoil some surprises. I doubt it, but just in case, you’ve been warned.

#3 – Andrea and ‘The Governor,”The Walking Dead

When I read Walking Dead message boards, most references to Andrea seem to be begging the writers to give her a zombie-chomped death. She’s just not a popular character. But I’ve always been in her court.  I preferred her ballsiness and desire to be as self-reliant and badass as the men to  the whiny save-me-and-make-the-scary-dead-people-go-away nature of most of the other females on the show.

But when she started boinking “The Governor,” I had to reluctantly join Team Andrea Sucks. Since Michonne saved her ass repeatedly, I expected her to trust her friend’s intuition about The Gov being “off.” Instead, she let the fact that she hadn’t been laid since she jumped Shane’s bones on a zombie-shooting road trip get the best of her and remained in Woodbury. This clearly breaks the Post Apocolypse Girl-Code, which is “do not hook up with men your BFF suspects of being a head-hoarding psychopath.”

Because, ewwww. Guys who keep heads in jars just can’t be good in bed, can they?

#2 – Jaime and Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones.

This one needs no explanation for those who watch the show or read the books. But just in case, here goes:

1. Brother-Sister horizontal mambo is all kinds of wrong. So is pushing little boys who see you doing the deed out of towers to avoid getting caught.
2. Their bro-sis love spawned Joffrey. Enough said.

The great thing about Jaime being a prisoner of war for most of Season 2 was that we were spared Lannister lovefests. Well, actually,  we weren’t, since Cersei started boinking her cousin. The bitch is just nasty.

#1 – Frank and Sheila, Shameless.

OK, Frank and Sheila aren’t even a couple anymore. But their whirlwind “romance” is forever etched in my brain, in the dark corner where nightmares live and monsters lurk under the bed. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of their love story:

– Frank gets tossed out of his house because he’s a selfish, pathetic drunk who steals mortgage money from his kids.
– He gets tired of sleeping in dumpsters so he woos Sheila, the shut-in next door, so that she’ll let him move in.
– In exchange for a roof over his head, he lets her stick phallic objects in places we can assume he’s never had anything stuck before.

Frank is a classic user who would (and has actually tried) to sell his own children for beer money. But don’t feel bad for the mentally disturbed, manipulated Sheila. She was OK with the arrangement as long as Frank let her bring her toys out.

While with Sheila, Frank had a fling with a woman he called Butterface (as in ‘everything’s hot but her face’), and his bipolar, bisexual wife, not to mention his one-nighter with Sheila’s daughter. No worries though. Sheila is fine now. She’s shacking up with her daughter’s husband and raising the baby they all thought might have been Frank’s (or Frank’s son’s), but who turned out to be Chinese.

Frank made out fine on their relationship, too, since the changes her toys inflicted on his nether-regions got him home from a drunken blackout in Mexico and opened him up to a whole new career.

So there you have it. My fictional Anti-Valentines. What fictional couple are your lesson in what love should never be? Or, if you prefer to play nice, who is the fictional couple who makes your heart melt?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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When A Writer Watches the Superbowl …

I’ve been a writer long enough to accept the weird brain-quirks that come with the territory. I have grown used to the constant chatter in my brain. When the well of weirdness runs dry, I actually get a little disconcerted. Being able to get through a workday without writerly thoughts disrupting my concentration feels … off.

Even so, my Writeritis going into overdrive during the Superbowl surprised me.

Although I’m a Steelers fan, I’ve really enjoyed watching the town of Baltimore come alive for the Ravens Superbowl run. We gathered for the game at the family pub, and my Superbowl surroundings looked like this:

Happy Hawley's

Happy Hawley’s

I was in the most festive place you could be outside of New Orleans. On top of that, I was completely immersed in the game. I love football, and this was the last NFL dance of the season.

At halftime, it seemed the Ravens were going to pull off an easy win. But I’ve seen the 49ers in comeback mode, so I was still nervous for the die-hard fans who surrounded me. When the second half started, Jacoby Jones ran a 108-yard kickoff return that stretched the Ravens’ lead even farther.

Then the lights went out. Not in our pub, of course. At the stadium.

As I waited with my anxious friends and family for the game to resume, I experienced a sense of deja vu. This scenario felt awful darn familiar.  Then I remembered. Last year, I sat at the pub watching my Steelers play a nail-biter against the 49ers  at Candlestick Park, and there was a blackout at the stadium.

In retrospect, I probably should have just enjoyed the downtime. When the power came back on, the Steelers got their butts kicked.
But what a coincidence – in all my years of football fandom I have only watched two games that were interrupted by a power failure, and the Niners played in both.

After what seemed an eternity to my anxious friends, the lights came back on and the Superbowl continued. But a light had flickered on in my brain, too.  As I watched the roller-coaster second half, a sliver of my mind was busy giving birth to a freak.

He’s a short, dumpy, bespectacled dude who resembles Seinfeld’s George Costanza. He’s a rabid fan of some to-be-determined sports team. He eats sardines out of the can. Although fortysomething, he lives with his divorced mother and spinster aunt. He’s never learned to do laundry. His mom still packs his lunch (bologna and cheese with the crusts cut off). He’s a skilled computer programmer. Never an athletic guy himself, he loves football but can’t identify with the players. So his hero-worship has zoomed in on the coach, a charismatic, hyper man who is both a great motivator and prone to losing his own shit now and then.

You know, kind of like Jim Harbaugh:

jimharbaugh

My little freak emulates his hero, but having a volatile, combative personality just doesn’t work as well for a middle-aged computer geek who lives with his momma as it does for a gifted coach. So he quits his job and starts following the team, trying desperately to get the coach’s attention by finding creative ways to disrupt games. Instead of winning his hero’s admiration, he only succeeds in irking the shit out of him.

I don’t know what if anything will become of my disturbed nerd and his fledgling storyline. Maybe he’s his own short story. Maybe he’s a sidebar in another future work of fiction.

But I love the tangents a writer’s brain goes off on sometimes. A character was born because  I had a sense of deja vu about the 49ers and power outages, and then Jim Harbaugh had his fourth-quarter meltdown over what he felt was a bad call. The two things came together to start knitting an off-kilter character and a story.

I’m used to my mind wandering down writerly side streets when I’m bored. But this is the first time I’ve had such an “a-ha!” writing episode when I was truly living in the moment rather than trying to distract myself from it.

What are some of your oddest or most memorable bursts of creative inspiration?

Posted in Creativity, Football, humor, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Book Review: Gone Girl

As both a reader and a writer, I’ve always had an unspoken cardinal rule. The major characters in a story don’t need to be perfect. They can, and maybe even should, be flawed, broken and quirky.

But somewhere along the way one of them has to be likeable.

Likeable doesn’t have to mean heroic, romantic or kind.  A likeable character doesn’t need to make me wish we could be BFFs. But they do have to be someone I wouldn’t cringe over having a beer with on a slow night at the pub.

Enter Nick and Amy, the dynamic duo of main characters in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. My local radio station’s morning show is fond of the term “douchenozzle.” If I had to pick one word to describe both Nick and Amy, I might steal that one. If Nick popped into my family pub, I’d smirk over his smug face and wonder how long  before someone tried to kick his butt. If Amy showed up all perfectly pretty and spoiled-little-rich-girl, I’d be making vomit gestures even before I realized she was also a psychobitch.

Nick and Amy, to put it nicely, are a toxic stew that could give you the Norwalk virus on sterioids.

Even so, Gone Girl is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It had me hooked from the get-go, and kept me up until the wee hours of the morning on a work night. Gillian Flynn took my rule about needing to likeable main character and burned it like garbage in a bonfire. She accomplished this with a riveting plot, a dark and honest sense of humor, and more bends and twists than a yoga class.

The basic storyline is that Amy disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary. Nick comes home to find signs of a violent struggle and a vanished wife. For most of the book, we see the search for Amy through Nick’s eyes, and we’re appalled at his jackass thoughts and behavior. We also get glimpses of Nick and Amy’s past and the gradual demise of their relationship through flashbacks to her journal.

Or do we?

The story itself is good and keeps you on your toes. What happened to Amy? What will be the next thing to unravel in Nick’s world? What new clue will make him seem like even more of a douchenozzle?

But what makes the book great is the damn-ya’ll-need-some-medication voices of Nick and Amy. They take you deep-sea diving into the murky depths of one hell of a screwed-up relationship. If your own partner’s biggest issue is the occasional dose of PMS or dirty socks on the bathroom floor, you’ll count your lucky stars. Amy and Nick make you laugh even as you squirm a little and swear to yourself that you’ve never felt quite like that. The monsters in this book aren’t under the bed. They are the ones telling the tale, and they are an exaggerated version of our worst selves when love goes bad.

The supporting cast in this tale also make it a great read. Nick’s twin sister Margo is a bright and funny light. The bumbling but sincere cops are well portrayed. Amy’s parents, a psychologist and children’s book writing duo, make you appreciate your own dysfunctional family. The ex-lovers and bimbonic college girl and collection of quirky friends and drifters who make appearances also lend their own spices to the psycho stew.

Gone Girl is a ballsy, funny, twisted and entertaining read. I wouldn’t want to hang out with Nick and Amy, but they sure made for a good tale.

For more on Gone Girl and her other works, visit Gillian Flynn’s web site. I’ll definitely be hunting down her other two books.

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