Homemade gravy and hand-built furniture

Traveling. Today we are in Worcester Massachusetts, the town where my husband was born. We’re mostly visiting family but a confluence of scheduling has left us with one night on our own.

Buca“Italian food,” he insists. Worcester was settled in part by Italian immigrants and has long boasted restaurants that rival those in Chicago where we met. “Absolutely,” I agree. He’s heard of a new Italian restaurant located right on the banks of Worcester’s Lake Quinsigamond and we head over eagerly. What do we find? Buca di Beppo, a relatively good Italian chain restaurant that also has a place about five miles from where we live in Texas. We have to laugh. No way.

His phone is dumb and mine is smart but slow, but we have a laptop in the car so we go off in search of internet and a more interesting restaurant recommendation. As we drive, I think about my writing. That is not surprising, I do that a lot. Traditionally published novels are like chain restaurants, I think. Some are okay and some are great but they are seldom awful. You have a pretty good idea of what you are getting. Self-published novels are more like tiny mom-and-pop restaurants. Some are really bad and some are absolutely fantastic and there is no good way to tell the difference from a distance. Good or bad, the contents are always something of a surprise.

PaneraWe stumble on a Panera Bread, one of my favorite chain restaurants because of its wonderful tradition of providing free WiFi to travelers everywhere. While my husband is booting up I order us beverages and it occurs to me to try the human approach. I mean, why not? “Know any good local Italian restaurants around here?” I ask. She knows several, including one called Piccolo’s that is run by the parents of a friend. Perfect.

Minutes later we walk into tiny Piccolo’s on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester. The menu is hand typed, and the Pollo Maria Teresa that catches my eye is described with honesty as being a pasta dish served with chicken and “some lobster”.  I smile at the lack of polish. It’s like homemade gravy or hand-built furniture. One makes either with love and with all the skill that one can.

PiccoloEach one of my three self-published books has been created, edited and rewritten to the best of my ability at the time that I wrote them. Then, because I wanted the product to be better, each has been professionally edited with what I could afford. In my case that was a fine young editor named Joel Handley, who used his journalism degree, sharp mind and experience with one previous book to fix my dashes and semi-colons, address my frequently used words, clean up odd phrases and even make a few general plot and character suggestions. I have learned that Joel provides excellent copy-editing, some good line editing and even a bit of development editing along the way. However, he is no hardened expert from the world of publishing. At my request, he worked with a light touch. Therefore, my three books probably don’t have the polish provided by industry experts who, by the way, generally charge ten times as much. My books are like homemade gravy and hand-built furniture. They make no pretense to be otherwise, even though I hope that they can be enjoyed by those who also appreciate chain restaurants.

The Pollo Maria Teresa arrives and it is wonderful. I smile as I enjoy some of my “some lobster” and I think that it is good to take a chance.

How things change: veggie burgers

Visit violets vegan comics

Visit violets vegan comics

When I stopped eating meat the summer after my freshman year of college, I pretty much lived on cheese omelets and french toast.  In my defense I was working at a 24-hour breakfast place and those were the options. I now occasionally eat meat, but my husband does not, and I am happy for the far greater variety offered to him these days and for the healthier eating choices that we are both able to make in restaurants.

So, I was puzzled when I read about the Red Robin ad that touted their garden burger as something for when “your teenage daughter is going through a phase.” Yikes.Talk about insulting your customers. About ten per cent of all Americans are vegetarian, and many more choose to eat less meat. Why would you make fun of them? Of us?

Then I came across another blogger’s take on the whole idea of exclusionary humor. In a wonderful post called Just a Joke: Confessions of a “Humorless Vegan” she provides one of the best analyses I have ever read on how little jokes marginalize anyone who is different and how the threat of appearing humorless keeps them (whoever they may be) from objecting.

Her solution? Try to put yourself in the shoes of the person telling the unfortunate joke, and remember that they are likely not nearly as hateful as they seem to you at this moment. She even quotes Gandhi. I love this lady.

Empathy is certainly the central part of this blog, and my heart does go pitter patter when it shows up once again. Empathy is the solution. When I stopped eating meat after my freshman year in college, I hardly ever heard the word empathy used. Now, it is the answer to rude drivers, rude relatives, and rude advertisers.

Some things never change. As society evolves, we keep finding new folks to make fun of.

Some things do change. We work together better to find ways to take the sting out of the joke. Yay us.

For more on how things change with time, visit my z2 blog here for thoughts on human trafficking and Broadway musicals. Also visit my y1 blog here for thoughts on gay psychiatrists and my hoarding disorder.