Human Rights and the Writer

Blog Action Day
It’s been a busy week for me already, so I’m taking some time out to reflect on a topic that affects us all: human rights. Whether we acknowledge the history that has allowed us the power to vote, associate, or stay healthy and work, and notwithstanding the comprehensive statement any participant nation in the UN has signed on to with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, too many forget that these rights exist for ALL, and have been gained at many times at terrible cost. For my story-writing self, this is rich fodder; for my friends who are still in limbo on whether their marriages will be recognized… or for women who seek equality under the law… or for victims of human trafficking who are stuck in slavery… the reality is that we have a long way to go before even the basics outlined in that document become universal in the way they were intended.

As my friend, critiquer, and fellow blogger Sabrina Garie points out in her post on the topic, our ability to expose these contradictions in our stories can help individual readers wrestle with those same issues. I suspect we all hope that our entertainment efforts plant a few seeds of consciousness in our audience so they’re not as automatically unconscious about how they treat their fellow beings. As another friend and blogger, Kasia James, points out, by listening to and understanding each others’ stories, we gain empathy and true compassion. In my experience, it’s when we truly internalize those characteristics that we not only gain tolerance, but also the strength to join the fight for those who still need our help in attaining what some few already have.

My experiences growing up around the globe have shown me that by and large, individuals are not that different. We’re all looking for satisfaction in our lives, work, and relationships. Differences of opinion and belief for the most part boil down to varying approaches to handle the same core issues: What is the meaning of our existence and how do we align ourselves in such a way as to maximize our capacity to fulfill our goals. As an Anne McCaffrey reader and Star Trek fan, internalizing the utopian view of a meritocracy where regardless of skill, basic needs are always met, has had a profound impact on my own sense of justice and equality. It is my hope that someday, some nuggets from my own stories push others in the same way.

Many bloggers are participating in today’s Blog Action Day; I encourage you to read what they have to say–and especially to visit Sabrina and Kasia.

Caveat Emptor: Worthless Sealy Warranty – Mattress Review

Sealy Posturepedic Mattress

Exhibit A for the definition of Buyer Beware

I’m not a great complainer. I tend to view the world through rose-colored glasses. So when I run up against head-scratchingly bad decisions, I generally opt to raise the conversation at the next higher point of decisionmaking. Typically, another perspective resolves the issue and either helps me understand what the problem is in my viewpoint, or changes the previous decision.

This set of guidelines has served me well in my life, and has been validated in both of the first two MBA classes I’ve taken.

In particular, when you market your product as solving customer issues (in my case, that a latex-core mattress will reduce my allergy symptoms, and mine and my husband’s back problems, that had resulted from our old mattress’ springs failing), you build up a certain level of enthusiasm and good will. When your sales people assure your customers that this is a 20-year mattress, with a 10-year warranty to stand behind its quality and worth as an investment, and that despite the fact that you will sweat more because of the nature of the latex mattress, using a standard mattress pad will protect your investment sufficiently, then please, let these words be your company’s truth. After all, this is a not-insignificant investment that should only come around once every 15 to 20 years.

We loved our mattress for 5 years. We took normal and recommended care of it. And we sweated a lot. Because of this, there are sweat stains on the mattress. Because we took seriously the “do not expose to liquid” injunction, and the “it’s fine so long as you use a mattress pad” explanation, we shrugged about the stains.

Apparently, those are now the reason Sealy does NOT stand behind its warranty.

I’ve just spent the better part of two weeks going round in circles first with the store (who sent out an inspector with complicated measuring devices and confirmed that the foam had collapsed 1.5″ on one side and 2″ on the other–far outside their warranty’s parameters) and then the Sealy home office.

Their final word:

For the reasons listed in the email above and outlined in your warranty it’s never pleasant to disappoint our consumers, however we must inform you based on the limited warranty your mattress can not be replaced. We feel the decision of your retailer, The Boston Store, was the correct decision based on the information provided.

The reason I went through the second round of information trading was because there WAS NO LIQUID SATURATION. It was sweat-stained as part of normal wear and tear, after careful protection with both high-quality mattress pads and sheets.

So I’m posting this warning to any potential Sealy customers: The company is in the business of producing a product that will seem great for a short while. Just long enough to make sure you’ve sweated enough to ensure that their warranty is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

Meantime, we’re back to having back issues. Does anyone have a recommendation for a better mattress?

Tribute: Teachers Who Formed Me

Bernis von zur Muehlen

Photo by Stephanie Knapp/The Connection

Today I filled out the final forms and submitted the last paperwork to make it official: I start school again next week for the first time in almost 20 years. I’ll be pursuing an MBA in marketing and project management, fields that reflect my career path–but I never thought I’d be the one to add that appellation to my name and resume.

Reviewing my old college transcripts and looking through my files at High School awards last night, in preparation for that step, was a trippy enough experience that I woke in a muck sweat this morning at 5AM from a nightmare about a hulking brute of a man who was intent on torturing and raping the female character of the dream. I don’t think that’s a preview of experiences to come, but it does point to the profound impact school can have on a person.

In my case, it’s also brought to mind my favorite and most impactful teacher: Bernis von zur Muehlen. She was the first person to eviscerate my early poetic attempts; she was the one who selected me to be the editor of my school’s literary arts magazine; she accepted me as her teacher’s aide; and she was the one who said something on the order of: “I’m so jealous you’re an NFJ-type; you have all the propensities of the best novelists”. It was a startling thing for me to consider–not the least because I so looked up to her for having her photography hanging at the Corcoran, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. I had loved words and writing from an early age, but I never thought I could string together enough of them to produce an entire book. Poetry was more my style and inclination. And that, I knew, would need a back-up plan, given the dearth of space dedicated to that literary form. Yet, my senior year, I won fourth place in a state-wide poetry contest. It was the first time I won an award like that–and got paid for words I had made up.

Now that I’ve published two novels–and gotten my first royalty check–that echo to the past has been replaying in my mind. Vonz had it right, but I didn’t have faith in myself to accomplish what she expected until 25 years later. It’s a testament to her impact that I even considered the possibility, the first time I heard about NaNoWriMo.

And it’s a testament to some of the other great English teachers I had (Mrs. Kirby and Mrs. Bakke) that I learned the fundamentals of English well enough to have tested out of that core graduation requirement in college. They also instilled the love of literature deeply enough that I majored in two other languages to ensure I continued to be exposed to great literature. I’m hopeful this new course of study will prove enriching along those lines, but my new teachers will have some big shoes to fill.

Plot Bunnies and Story Prompts

Plot BunniesI received my edited manuscript this morning in the wee hours. I have a lot of work to do. As my editor said: “You’ve fallen into some bad habits…” Ominous words for an impending deadline.

The good news is, she likes the plot, the characters, and the ending, so the rest is just editing my laziness (otherwise known as speed-writing at the tail end of NaNoWriMo last year, trying to cram the remainder of the story into the short deadline). So, naturally, I’ve been thinking about all the other stories I could be writing. Because anything could be more fun than the hard work of revising my own logorrhea. (And, what better excuse to share a picture of some baby bunnies we rescued from our back yard a few years back…)

Kidding aside, I figured I’d share some of the plot bunnies that occurred to me today (or recently), while I was procrastinating facing both blogging and editing duties:

  • A conflict of tastebuds: A new romance, soured by the need for different definitions of home cooking
  • Hidden magic: Two long-time friends, one of whom develops magical abilities she has to hide
  • An assistant, trapped by a magical house after her boss dies and a high-tech mausoleum springs into being
  • A young woman who must learn to control “her” elements, or be consumed by them
  • A 16th-century monk looks up from prayer and discovers he’s in a 20th-century airport terminal
  • Not to mention the decent start I have on book 2 of the Red Slaves series…

And, if those aren’t your cup of tea (I’ve written a few hundred words on four out of those five plot thoughts), there are actually plot generators online:

If you feel like voting on my next non-Red Slaves story idea, let me know in the comments, otherwise… I’m off to slay the editing demon this week.

Another Award? Napping Blogger Award

This one came to me via Sara, and her Leggy’s Many Sides blog.

Napping Blogger Award(Who can resist a doggie-smoosh-face like that one??)

The rules for the Napping Blogger Award are easy:
  1. Link back to the ones who gave you the award.
  2. Tell us what you do to take time for YOU! That might be a hobby, a musical break, a favorite movie or show, sitting outside enjoying nature, or even taking a nap!
  3. Nominate five other bloggers – especially folks you think deserve a break from their routine.

For me, reading is my me-time. I start getting twitchy if I don’t get a chance to retreat into some fictional space on a regular basis. Ironically, now that I’ve started writing (and especially, started giving myself firm deadlines!), the amount of time I have to read has declined dramatically. I feel like I have to sneak a book late at night. Oh, wait… that’s not really a change.


And, for the five bloggers who need a bit of a break and will enjoy the kissable doggie porn of this badge, here they are:

  1. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – OK, I know that’s a group, but they produce too much for me to keep up with, so they obviously need a bit of a break. 😉
  2. Julia Barrett– she just got her cast off, so she still needs the rest.
  3. Emmie Mears – another daily blogger; she has a Husky too, and I know how exhausting they can be! (And she’s doing Camp Nano… more successfully than I. O_o)
  4. Elizabeth Spann Craig – who took her breather pre-emptively. 😉
  5. The Passive Guy – so much useful, interesting information – I’m on overload… He must be too. 😉

Thanks, again, Sara! See you on Twitter. 🙂

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