Friday, November 13, 2009

Women Authors Snubbed

There are two kinds of people in the world: men and women. 

Apparently Publishers Weekly has not figured that out, as evidenced by the fact that they did not include a single female author in their 2009 top 10 list of best books. This irritated me. Read about it on my latest Chicago Moms Blog post. Then visit, to see what a lot of other women writers have to say about this glaring omission. Comments welcome here. And we'll revisit that whole men/women as two kinds of people thing again soon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Let's Hear It for Women Writers — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.
I try not to get my knickers in a knot when I hear younger women say that feminism is irrelevant in their lives. Memories are short, especially young, American memories, and many of these post-feminist young women may not have encountered (or recognized) blatant sexism, but it's still there. I know it is because women still only earn about $.77 for every dollar a man earns.

But I'm a writer, and I can't turn a blind eye to the fact that the recently released Publishers Weekly list of the Best Books of 2009 did not include a single female author. Not one. In fact, all but one of the authors on the list was a white male — not that there's anything wrong with being a white male author. I'm all for them. I'm all for any author achieving any form of success in a publishing industry that is struggling mightily to survive.

So, why is it such a big deal, that a top 10 list doesn't include any female writers? It's a big deal because it shows that women are still not held in the same regard as men who do the same job. PW claims that they "ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz," but what makes these guys "the best"? Any top 10 list is fraught with subjectivity, so not including a single female author on such a list is making a statement — to the world, to writers and readers, and especially to our daughters — that women writers just aren't good enough. In an interesting article about women, literature and feminist theory today published in Eurozine in June (months before the PW list came out), author Toril Moi states: "To make women second rate citizens in the world of literature is to say that the female experience of the world carries less value than the male." To me, that is exactly what the PW list represents — the idea that a woman's voice, a woman's story, a woman's experience is less valuable than a man's. I'm not the only one who was flabbergasted by the omission of women on PW's list. In fact, Women in Letters and Literary Arts (WILLA) started their own list on of great books published by women in 2009. I, personally, would like to recommend four books published this year by terrific women writers: Haven by Beverly Patt, This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman, Invisible Sisters by Jessica Handler; S is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet by Esther Hershenhorn.

Read them. Then read one of your favorite female authors. Share these writers with your mothers and sisters and daughters; share them with your fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Then, maybe, you can read some of the books on PW's to 10 list.I leave you with this thought from Margaret Mead, a great woman writer:"If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place."This is an original Chicago Mom's Blog Post. When Susan Bearman isn't worried that she has offended the editors of Publishers Weekly and will never make one of their top 10 lists, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pet People, and Proud of It

"Animals are such agreeable friends – 
they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." 
George Eliot (novelist, 1818-1890)

There are two kinds of people in the world: pet people and not-so-much pet people.

True confession (the irony* will become apparent shortly): throughout my childhood and into early adulthood, my idea of owning a pet was to visit a zoo twice a year. I liked animals just fine. You know, over there. Or in nature. Or as pets in someone else's house.

Growing up, we had the requisite number of family pets. Our first was a parakeet named Trini (for Trini Lopez, who my parents saw in a show while visiting Las Vegas). We got our Trini as a consolation prize, because back then it was considered inappropriate to take children to Las Vegas (or, for that matter, even bring them back a souvenir from Las Vegas). Then there was a black guinea pig named Silky and, finally, an almost-cocker-spaniel named Mitzi. My brother loved that dog, but I was ambivalent at best and highly irritated during my angsty teenage years, when I only wore black and she only shed blond.

Perhaps the trouble started when I was the lucky kid in third grade who got to take the guppies home from school. (Warning: the following anecdote contains graphic references that may bother sensitive readers.) I kept the fishbowl on a little stand by my bedroom window and, sometime in late fall or early winter, the water in the bowl got too cold, formed a thin layer of ice and, tragically, killed the guppies. I sobbed to my mother, who told me to take them into the bathroom and that we would perform the traditional fish funeral after the ice thawed.

Imagine my joy when, about 20 minutes later, I went into the bathroom to see the little fishies swimming happily around their bowl. I ran down to tell my mom about the miracle, but by the time we made it back up to the bathroom, the fish (in the bowl that had been sitting on the radiator) had again, and permanently this time, met their match. I had first frozen and then boiled them to death, all in the same day — tragic for the fish and traumatic for me.

I lived a simple, pet-free life for many years after leaving home, so will someone please explain to me how I ended up as the owner of a dog (Hazel), a cat (Pirate), two hermit crabs (Maize and Blue) and … wait for it … a pet store? "*Ironic, isn't it?" says my oldest son. It's true; my husband and I are owners of The Animal Store in Lincolnwood, IL. I'm still not quite sure how it happened, and friends who know me well mock incessantly. 

Still, pets are our family business, so I needed to step up. My role is limited to producing the store's blog, designing forms and signs, and other such writerly endeavors, while my husband, Kenn, does the actual hard work of owning a pet store (thank you, DH). People are often dismissive about owning a small business, but let me tell you, there is nothing small about it. The Animal Store has tens of thousands of SKUs (stock keeping units) and, think about it, a good portion of our inventory is alive. That means we don't close up shop for a weekend or a vacation. Those animals need to be fed and cared for every day.

Like a plumber with leaky pipes, I managed to keep my kids petless for a good long time. "Mama, can we have a bunny?" "Sure, honey, and you can play with it every time we visit Daddy at the store." Eventually, however, the kids wised up and started asking their Dad.

In the 17 years that we've owned The Animal Store, I've learned a lot about pets and their people. Pet owners are fervently devoted to their animals. Some pet people are partial to a particular species or breed – there are ferret fans, bearded dragon devotees, and African Grey aficionados. Others are equal opportunity animal lovers, often owning a few (or many) different kinds of pets at one time.

Kenn frequently takes some of his animals to visit nursing care facilities or group homes. Studies have shown that caring for pets and even just visiting with them can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and prolong life. They can even help pay your mortgage (well, at least in our case they do, so we are especially fond of pet-loving people). 

I've even learned that aquariums can be an essential and beautiful part of your home decor, and are often an important element in the art of Feng Shui (placing an aquarium in the proper corner of your home can purportedly boost your prosperity). I know for a fact that putting a baby in front of an aquarium produces a bounty of peace — all four of my babies were mesmerized by our salt-water fish tank.

You will be happy to know that, thanks mostly to my husband and his knowledgeable staff, I have learned how to care properly for our pets at home (no more frozen/boiled guppies). I have come to appreciate the joys that pets can bring. And there is still nothing quite like a boy and his dog (bonus points if you can tell which is which in the picture at the top of this post).

Now for a little SSP (shameless self promotion). As a special thank you to all our customers, The Animal Store is hosting a blow-out sale this weekend — lots of fun for the entire family, including great raffles, tons of giveaways and free glitter tattoos (for people, not pets). Learn more here. If you're a pet person, you won't want to miss it; if you're a not-so-much pet person, come in and say hi to Kenn anyway, and get a free glitter tattoo. Not local? We can ship to you.

Tell us about your favorite pet or pet story by clicking here. And, in case you were wondering, my mom (a children's librarian) helped named The Animal Store after a wonderful poem by Rachel Fields:

The Animal Store

If I had a $100 to spend,
Or maybe a little more
I'd hurry as fast as my legs would go
Straight to the Animal Store.

I wouldn't say "How much for this or that?"
"What kind of dog is he?"
I'd buy as many as rolled an eye,
Or wagged a tail at me!

I'd take the hound with the drooping ears
That sits by himself alone;
Cockers and Cairns and wobbly pups
To be be my very own.

I might buy a parrot all red and green,
And the monkey I saw before,
If I had a hundred dollars to spend
Or maybe a little more.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rules of the Road — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

There's a storm on the horizon, a battle brewing between motorists and cyclists, and it promises to be ugly, if not deadly. I'm not sure when bicyclists went rogue, when it became a badge of honor to cut off (and flip off) any motorist in their path, but suddenly I feel under siege by these two-wheeled renegades.

Don't get me wrong, I like bike riding as much as the next woman. I was thrilled when my youngest finally joined the ranks of bike riders this summer. Personally, I was an early and avid rider and, even during my most aggressively anti-exercise phases, I have always enjoyed a spin on the old two wheeler.

But lo those many years ago, when first I learned to pedal, we were taught that bike riders had to follow the same rules of the road as did motorists. While those rules vary from state to state and community to community, we all know the basics: obey traffic signs and signals, ride in the same direction as traffic, yield for pedestrians, school buses and emergency vehicles, and generally follow the rules and etiquette of right of way.

Turns out, I'm right. According to Jesse White, the Illinois Secretary of State, bicyclists "must obey the traffic laws." It also turns out that apparently Jesse and I are the only two people in the state who have read the "Illinois Bicycle Rules of the Road" pamphlet.

I get that cyclists may have a certain moral authority, as their choice of transportation is healthier for them as individuals, as well as for the environment and, by extension, the rest of us. But here's the hard truth of the matter: when push comes to shove, car beats bike every time. While bike injury statistics are notoriously underreported, the sad fact is that both the motorist and the cyclist will end up as losers in a serious collision.

As a mom, I have young drivers and young bikers in my family, and the current state of aggression between bikers and drivers has me terrified. My daughter, who has had her license for nearly two years now, still hyperventilates when she sees an aggressive biker or, even worse, a pack of wild riders. We never know when these scofflaws are going to dart in and out of traffic, blow through a stop light or make a sudden, unsignaled turn. On any number of occasions, she has chosen to hang back, driving behind the cyclist(s) and under the speed limit, which can present its own set of dangers and complications.

I'm equally frightened for my young bikers, who are dealing with allegedly adult drivers often suffering from road rage or cell-phone distractions. Early in the school year, a child riding her bike to one of the middle schools in our town was struck by a motorist. Thankfully, she was not hurt, but I'm sure both she and the driver were seriously rattled. I don't let my kids ride their bikes to school, in part because their backpacks are too heavy to balance well on a bike, but also because I don't trust the motorists in our community.

I really want our roadways to be safe for all comers — bikers, motorists and pedestrians. Simply painting a stripe down the right side of a street to create a bike lane does not solve every issue. We must all learn to be respectful, to share and, most importantly, to follow the rules of the road. End of lecture.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't nagging about travel safety, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store blog.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More Than Meets the Eye

"I was walking down the street wearing glasses
 when the prescription ran out."

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who wear corrective lenses and those who don't.

If you don't need glasses, count your blessings … for now. Presbyopia catches up to everyone. 

In our family of eight, five of us wear corrective lenses, which puts us right about in line with the national average (78% of American adults wear some kind of vision correction, but not all our family members are adults yet). This takes quite a financial toll, since we don't have any kind of vision insurance and the average cost for a pair of prescription lenses runs between $50 and $350 (depending on the prescription). 

On our first tropical vacation together, my husband and I were astounded to discover that we needed an entire suitcase just for our eye wear: two sets of contact lenses (plus all the requisite paraphernalia), two pairs of prescription glasses, two pairs of sunglasses, two pairs of prescription sunglasses and, because we were going scuba diving, two diving masks fitted with corrective lenses. Thankfully, this was in the days before airlines charged by the bag (and when we could still afford to take tropical vacations).

I didn't get glasses until I turned 21 and I was sure I was going blind, since my prescription changed dramatically every three or four months for several years. It turns out my eyes were just going through delayed adolescence. Generally speaking, people either get glasses before or during puberty, or not until aging starts to wear away the elasticity of the eye, resulting in the aforementioned presbyopia and the need for reading glasses — usually around age 40. 

I struggled with contacts for years, due in part to an astigmatism (an abnormally-shaped cornea) as well as exophthalmos (slightly bulging eyes often associated with Graves Disease, which  sounds much worse than it is). Now, lucky me, in addition to the vision correction I need for my inherited myopia (nearsightedness — thanks mom), I also need reading glasses.

I used to think those half-glasses were kind of cool, and would pull my regular glasses down to the end of my nose to see how I'd look. Not bad, even now. The problem is that it's one more thing to schelp and track. If I wear my contacts, which gives me the best peripheral vision, then I need to carry the dumb reading glasses with me, and that's new, so I often forget them. 

When I was a kid, my mom was so nearsighted that she couldn't even answer the phone without her glasses. "I can't hear you," she'd say, "let me put my glasses on." So, it was bit disconcerting a few years ago when she had lenses implanted after cataract surgery and started walking around without glasses for the first time in my life. I kept offering to find her glasses for her. But, alas, it didn't last. Her distance vision is fine, but she can't stand not being able to read, so she got bifocals that are clear on the top and reading strength on the bottom. I guess old habits are hard to break.

My oldest boy claims he will never wear contact lenses. The idea of sticking something in his eye all the time totally freaks him out. As preemie babies, my twins suffered retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a condition where the blood vessels of the eye develop abnormally and can, potentially, lead to blindness. Despite this ominous beginning, both cases of ROP resolved spontaneously. My son needs glasses as a result of his genetics (both his dad and I contributed to these bum genes), but my daughter won't need glasses until, well, she's my age now.

The first eyeglasses didn't make an appearance until the late 1200s in Italy. Even though corrective lenses are a mild pain and seriously expensive, I'm grateful to live in a day and age where people with less than 20/20 vision can live full, productive lives (as opposed to being eaten by predators that we can't see). 

I admire people who embrace their imperfect vision as a chance to make a fashion statement. I have several friends who collect prescription glasses as wardrobe accessories, matching the frame to the outfit or the mood. Of course, that's another way vision problems betray you — in photos, where your frames will forever date you in time. Why is it that no matter how cool your frames are when you buy them, five or ten years later they look completely ridiculous in the family photo album?

Despite being temporarily unsettled by my recent need for reading glasses, I came to terms with my less than perfect vision years ago. So, why this treatise, you ask? I'll tell you. Today was chilly, so I was taking a hot bath, as I am wont to do on cold days. I was, of course, reading in tub, which is what you do when you take a hot bath on a cold day, when all of a sudden one of my contact lenses popped out from behind my reading glasses and plinked into the water. This is not a good thing. It's not easy to locate a contact lens in a tub full of water with only one good eye. Was it floating? Did it sink to the bottom? Was it stuck on me or the side of the tub or the soap? 

I eventually found the damned thing and so I have some advice: if you are going to take a hot bath on a cold day and read your book with your contacts in and your reading glasses on, be sure to blink — often — so your eyes don't get too dry and your lens won't pop out.

Have you experienced an embarrassing lens loss, or have some other vision-related horror story to share? Just click here. Misery loves company.

By the way, don't take vision correction for granted. Donate your glasses with old prescriptions or dated frames, and share the gift of sight.

Finally, I'm pretty certain my latest Chicago Moms Blog post will stir up a little controversy with avid bike riders. Let me know what you think.

Photo credit: Rubber Duck in Glasses by SunShineLia-Stock via