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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How to handle mean, baseless "reviews" -- Guest post

Last night the Twitterverse exploded around Kathleen Hale’s essay in The Guardian, Am I being catfished? An author confronts her number-one online critic. I’d read it a few days ago, thought it had a great ho-lee-shit quality about it, and scheduled a tweet for later in the week.

Little did I know.

If you haven’t seen it yet, a Goodreads user writing under the handle “Blythe” wrote a review of Hale’s book. Hale thought “Blythe” got it factually wrong, and took issue with the tone. “Blythe” harassed Hale via social media and did everything she could to bring down Hale’s ratings, including commenting on positive reviews of the book to say that reviewer had it wrong.

The We Hate Hale camp’s position is summed up nicely here.

And here’s a post on Bustle with a more nuanced view.

“Book bloggers,” which appears to mean anyone who has a blog and writes about books, or puts comments on other sites that write about books, are shocked—shocked!—that trashing people’s work on the internet as meanly as possible may well be free speech but is not in fact free from consequences.

The pearl-clutchers now terrified to post their opinions are laboring under the impression they are reviewers.

They’re not.

They’re hecklers.

This is not to say all comments must be positive. Or represent an in-depth engagement with the text leading to a thoughtful assessment of the positives and negatives and where within its particular canon the book should be placed (that would be a “review”). But little gems like

Fuck this.

are the moral equivalent of the guy yelling “you suck!” at a comedian. “Fuck this” doesn’t add anything to the dialogue. It’s not even a statement of opinion. It’s a deliberate, nasty jab intended to hurt the author personally and financially. And for those still heady with the power to depress sales and writers, it’s not as retribution-free as it looked.

As writers, we’re counseled not to engage with reviews. At all. Ever. And for thoughtful reviews—or even statements of opinion such as “Bad writing and it was a waste of time to read it”—that’s still the best policy. A genuine review by a qualified reviewer can, after the initial pain subsides, be tremendously helpful (it’s usually the first time we’ve heard from someone not already in our corner).

But for the assholes yelling “Fuck this”? Don’t engage as the writer with a reviewer. Squash them like a comic with a heckler.

 STEP ONE: The heckler must be loud enough to be heard by everyone else. 

If you can’t hear them clearly, nobody else can either, and putting down that heckler makes you look mean. For writers, this means don’t seek it out. If you can’t “hear” it, chances are most people outside that immediate community can’t either.

But if it’s coming across your social media, and other people have first identified it as mean, so it’s not just your tender sensibilities? Get on that shit.

STEP TWO: Only engage if you can win.

You’re not in this to be reasonable. You don’t want an apology, an acknowledgement, a recognition or to present your own case. You want to crush. Make them look like an idiot spewing meaningless vitriol.

Fuck this.

Mom, please stop using the Internet.

Craft your response like poetry. Cynical, funny, poetry. You know full well you’re poking an asshole with a stick, and isn’t that funny, gang, when we’re all in it together? The same jackasses who “Oooooooo” with the heckler will laugh at them—even louder, because you one-upped the guy who thought he was smart. The audience doesn’t actually give a shit about who’s “right,” and they aren’t smart enough to tell the difference anyway. (Individual audience members are plenty smart, but the pack is only as smart as the dumbest and most-easily-offended member.) They will side with whoever is the most entertaining, so be that person.

STEP THREE: Be prepared for even more fallout.

They might have more words in them. They might be smarter, or more obsessive than you. They might look you up online and trash you everywhere else they can.

Then again, you might get an essay out of it.

Yes, some parts of the Internet are elegant, intellectual salons. But most mass-review sites are little more than fanboys squeeing and high-school mean girls using authors as cannon-fodder. Every now and then someone says something worth hearing, if only by accident, but why wade through the pettiness to find it? Get a friend to scan for pull-quotes. Then go buy somebody else’s one-star book.


Allison K Williams is a freelance writer and editor based in Dubai. Her previous work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Brevity and the New York Times. She blogs at and edits at


Monday, October 20, 2014

Yoga Phrases for the Competitive Mind

I'm basically the worst match for yoga in the history of ill-fitting romances. I'm not one to just "let go of what I'm holding". I need that shit. Also, I'm not satisfied to just be present in my body. That body has things to do, and I still haven't quite reconciled that fact with me allowing it to lay still for fifteen minutes "softening." When I "follow my breath" I follow it to the ground. It took me two months to figure out the instructor meant follow it into your body, not follow it after it leaves your nose. In class, I compose frenetic to-do lists, figuring out how to best compose my day after this basically groundless excuse to stretch for an hour while listening to Gregorian chants.

You could say I'm an anxious sort of person. Which is why I started doing yoga. So…well done?

I'm not quite ready to "receive the effects of the postures" and I thought maybe I'm not the only one who hears something other than what is said during this hour of "being present."

With that in mind, here's a short run down of how yoga terminology translates to in the competitive, scattered mind, and how one might react to such phrases:

There is no achievement, there is no goal.

Achievement right now would be doing a correct pigeon, thank you very much. Actually, that's the goal, too. There is achievement and goal, right here! Why are you lying to me?

Discover who you are without struggle.

Without struggle I am...nothing. Well, that's depressing. Let’s quickly move along, shall we?

Find your edge.

Actually, I'm interested in finding your edge, instructor. That's why I'm here. To be as good at this as you are.

Be curious about where you can go.

Can I jump right over my edge? That's where I'd like to go, please. This edge is kind of in my way.

Doing the posture will not make you a better friend or neighbor.

Good thing I'm not here to be a better friend or neighbor. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm trying to force my knee to the floor with my mind, and you're interrupting The Force, here, lady.

The worst that could happen is that you fall.

That will never ever happen. Like neve--WHOA! Well, shit. That was embarrassing.

Think about crawling your fingers back.

Crawl your damn fingers back. Now.

You might even hold onto your foot with your hand.

You will hold onto your foot with your hand if it kills you. God, I hate my edge. HAND. GO TO FOOT. HAND. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GO. TO. FOOT. I COMMAND YOU.

If you are struggling, let it go.


Suffering is not required.

Thank God it's still optional, then. Because until I am my most beautiful tree, you can bet your ass I'm going to suffer.

Breath, relax, think, feel and allow.

So…I have a grocery list to compile right now, if we're just going to stand here for a sec.

Let your body move any way it's asking.

Is it my fault my body always asks to cross its arms, slouch and look at the instructor impatiently? I think not. I'm just doing what she said.

Soften the space between your eyes.

What? There is a skull there, dudes.

Without lifting your head, lift your ears.

What in the hell even?

This is a beautiful place to practice.

Translation: You totally suck at yoga. Don't hurt yourself, big guy.

Let go of what you are holding.

Um, no? That is a really scary prospect, and if you don't mind, I'll just cling to it, lest it get away from me and then ambush me later.

Be in the present moment.

But, like, the present moment is kind of boring, though. I'm pretty boring, to be honest. Can we be somewhere else? I hear zen is pretty rad. Let's go there.

Consider deepening the twist.

Deepen that motherfucking twist, right now.

Let your hands come to wherever they rest.

Touch. The. Floor. Without. Bending. Your. Knees.

Honor your edge.

Translation: Hahahahaha, I see you failing this pose. Give up now before you humiliate yourself.

One side might want something different than the other.

Translation: Man, you really suck on the left side, huh? I guess that side just wants to lie down. Maybe eat a bonbon.

Nothing to do, nowhere to be but in this moment.

God, why am I such a privileged piece of shit? All the other people have things to do and places to be. TRY HARDER. AT EVERYTHING.

Of course, I am fully aware that you are not supposed to think these things, but I don’t care.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a book to write, a marathon to run, two children to raise, dinner to cook, school to go to, manuscripts to edit--omg. Where's the coffee?


Sunday, October 19, 2014

When Kids Can't Connect the Dots

One of my children has the unfortunate habit of screaming like a banshee when something has offended her, or her sister has teased her, or anything has angered or annoyed her in any way. The other one has the unfortunate habit of trying out different forms of insult humor, then throwing a tantrum when no one finds it funny. Then trying to pretend it never happened and opening up new conversation as if she hadn't just skewered her opponent, then crying about it again when her conversation partner isn't ready to move on yet.

Both things happened yesterday, and, at different times, in different situations, I explained to them that sometimes saying sorry is the best way to move forward. If the one's screams have offended all within hearing distance, and she wants to then play, perhaps a simple, "I'm sorry I lost my temper right then," would help pave the way to playtime. If the other snuck in a jab, then wanted to recover because she's embarrassed it wasn't funny, but was instead hurtful, an "I'm sorry I said that about you. I was just trying to be funny, but that was wrong," would probably move everyone along much faster.

But my kids think of apologies as punishment. It brings about a responsibility they don't feel toward their actions until it is uttered. And they don't like that. They don't yet see how apologizing is a necessary, and NICE part of life. That boulders can be moved with sincere apologies, and that those types of apologies make us better people, stronger people, happier people. That an apology is not just to assuage the offended but to offer greater insight to our characters.

Right now, apologies are still "gross". Whatever that means.

Anyway, last night, right before bed, I was able to get a legitimate and heartfelt apology out of the screamer. I felt proud and happy that she seemed to understand what I meant.

Until 7:30 this morning when she called me from my warm bed.

"Mama, I'm sorry I cried and screamed on our special date."

That "date" was a month ago and that "date" was not something to apologize for. In that instance, the screamer was legitimately distressed out of her mind because she was separating from her twin for the first time. At the time, I did everything in my power to comfort and distract her, and we eventually (after hours) had a good separate day.

What kills me about this is that instead of connecting an apology to the annoyance of or mistreatment of someone else, she connected it to her feelings.

I told her that wasn't something she ever needed to apologize for. That her crying in that instance was understandable and right and that she has a right to her very real feeling.

My heart broke though.

Apologize for the time you tantrumed when I didn't give you chocolate, or made you put on your seatbelt or brush your teeth or go to school on time.

Don't apologize for the one time you felt scared and helpless and alone.

...We have some work to do.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Attachment Parenting and Halloween -- Guest Post

Halloween is coming, and sure to come along for the ride are the likes of tantrums over costumes, sugar buzzes and upset tummies, fear over scary decorations or stranger's houses, and general chaos. For parents of the "crunchy" or "Attachment Parenting" persuasions, Halloween can lead to some additional considerations as we gently try to help our children navigate the holiday without losing our ever-loving, granola-eating, co-sleeping minds.

With Attachment Parenting International's 8 Principles in mind, here are some tips, tricks, and treats for an AP-Friendly Halloween Experience!

Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting

Okay, so obviously you've already gestated and birthed your little goblin, but we can capture the spirit of this principle by preparing appropriately for the Halloween festivities. Talk to your children about the plans for trick-or-treating, try on costumes ahead of time, and give consideration to the weather in your area. For example, we live in Wisconsin, so any costume that can't fit over a full snow-suit is just poor planning. Find out the hours for trick-or-treating in your area, and walk the route you plan to take before Halloween. Have flashlights for when it gets dark, tissues for when little noses start to run, and bags or buckets to collect the candy in. Generally speaking, plan ahead and involve your children in your preparations so everyone is on the same page.

Feed with Love and Respect

There is no one way that "Attached" parents feed their children, so this will look different for different families. If you try to eat mostly organic, you're likely to be disappointed in the piles of candy that come home with you. If you're vegetarian, you'll be on the look out for candy containing gelatin. If you've got a child with a peanut allergy, the supply of Snickers won't just be a let-down, it will be danger. Consider ahead of time how to approach your family's food considerations. Decide how many pieces per day you'll allow. Plan for a "candy exchange" wherein your child trades in their candy for healthier or safer treats you've pre-purchased. Set an example for your neighborhood by offering healthy/organic/vegetarian/allergen-free/insert food descriptor of choice treats. Ensure that breast fed infants are regularly offered a chance to nurse and pay attention to hunger cues that can get missed in the excitement.

Respond with Sensitivity

There is a good chance that before Halloween is through, something is going to scare or upset your child. Affirm their fears and feelings, and be there to comfort them with a soothing voice and empathetic words. Pay attention to your children, watching for cues that they may be becoming over-stimulated, and take a break if needed. Watch the path ahead for scary or startling objects or costumes, and either point them out to your child before you approach or avoid them if possible. Oh, and don't do that super mean thing where you pretend you ate all your child's candy and video tape their reaction. Just don't.

Use Nurturing Touch 

Your touch will help your child feel safe and secure through Halloween festivities. Hold hands or carry your child while trick-or-treating or at events. Place a reassuring hand on their shoulder while they ring the neighbor's doorbell. For the ultimate in nurturing touch, go for a  babywearing costume!

Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally

This is probably a no-brainer, but limit candy consumption close to bed time to avoid hyperactivity and upset stomachs. Allow adequate time between trick-or-treating or parties and bed time to allow your child to wind down. A quiet, relaxing activity like completing a puzzle as a family can be a nice transition from the excitement of Halloween to the solace of sleep. Allow your child time to process any feelings of fright or insecurity while you prepare for bed time.

Provide Consistent and Loving Care

As much as possible, keep your routine consistent and predictable. Doing so can help  minimize tantrums triggered by unexpected disruptions or unexpected situations. Be physically present and emotionally responsive, and answer your child's questions about your Halloween activities in a loving and respectful manner.

Practice Positive Discipline

When the inevitable happens and misbehavior occurs, respond with gentle, positive discipline. Try to determine the needs leading to the behavior (Is your child hungry? Tired? Confused? Frightened?) and respond to those needs, rather than reacting to the behavior. If possible, involve your child in determining an appropriate solution to their perceived problem.

Strive for Balance in your Personal and Family Life

Congratulations! You've given your children a fun-filled and happy Halloween! Don't neglect your own needs and self-care in your quest to maintain your parenting philosophy through the challenges of Halloween. Achieve balance by hiring a sitter for some adults-only Halloween Fun, or raid their candy stash while they're in bed! (For some reason, every Butterfinger in the bag looks suspicious!)

Happy Halloween!


A full-time wife and mother and a part-time substance abuse counselor. In her spare time (ha!) she blogs at Fine and Fair, a blog written to and for her children about the ups and downs along the journey of raising them as responsible citizens of the world with the values of compassion toward all living things, environmental responsibility, conservation, and celebrating diversity in all of its forms. Joella is passionate about the principles of attachment parenting, breastfeeding, feminism, and vegetarianism. She enjoys gardening, hiking, cooking and baking, crafting, making music, and aims to discover joy and beauty in each new day.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ask a Cleaning Lady -- How to Tackle Scary Cleaning

Do you remember when you were a kid and your parental unit made you clean your room? That particular time your room was such a huge horrible aftermath that you couldn't even imagine how to start such a task? You probably said "but I don't know how!" and if your parental unit was a decent sort they would have said something to the effect of "just start small and go from there"

And even though that was good advice and you know what they meant *now* you didn't understand what they were talking about at the time? Because as I have often quoted Dr Seuss, "this mess is so big and so deep and so tall, there is no way we can clean it, no way at all" And you thought "when I'm big, I won't have to do this." Right?

And now you're big and you still have to do it.

There have been times (in my earlier, pre-medicated days) when I have had a cat-in-the-hat mess that I just sat down and cried. Because... mess. Eventually I would get up and start cleaning, something, anything, just to feel like I tried. Lots of people give up after a few of those "something anything" moments because they realize that even something, anything, isn't enough to make a dent worth pursuing, but I am one of those people who can’t stop once I get going. While I clean, I often find myself getting angry or resentful about the work I have to do. “How does this happen?” I wonder. When I was younger, pre-family, I thought I was going to make sure this sort of thing didn’t happen, yet, here I am...

It's one of those days when it all starts so innocently; the kids (or the spouse, or the enclave of friends) have a project they are working on while you're busy doing something Adult-y in another area. Then, when you check on things, you notice the mess but figure its no big deal, nothing you can't handle later on. Then something happens, something kind of awful, that makes the mess go from manageable to dreadful. But you know you can handle it, its just a mess after all, right? You go on doing your Adult-y things and figure you'll get to it later.

Then the next thing you know, you're back in that room looking at what appears to be the effect of a series of demonic interventions and you can hear Billy and Sally chanting the Dr Seuss pronouncement "there is no way to clean it, no way at all."

Then, of course, something ELSE happens that you couldn't have possibly foreseen. Someone gets sick. Someone trips and spills a bowl of stew. Someone forgets the top isnt' screwed on their OJ when they start to shake it. Someone wants something from a high shelf not knowing there is the remnants of an older person's miniature painting foray on top of it all. Then you aren’t just looking at a mess that is cat-in-the-hat proportions, you’re looking at a breath-taking conglomerate of fearsome chaos.

You don’t even know where to start; the nasty disgusto mess that was thrown on top of everything? The disordered clutter that makes everything look messier than it probably is? The things you want to throw away? The things you want to save? The things that must be salvaged even though they are covered in I-don’t-want-to-know? The things that the other humans cherish and will rage if you get rid of?

There is a way to clean it all. The first order of business, however, is to make the very real firm choice to do it. Make a commitment to getting this done. Whether you resolve to tackle it throughout the night or you decide you need to call on reinforcements, the point is that YOU are in charge of making this happen and so you must put on your adult-y pants and start getting drill sargeant about it.

Once you know you are not going to procrastinate anymore - and for me that means imagining that someone is coming over to my place RIGHT NOW - you need to pick a priority and get started. Here is a list to help you figure it all out (feel free to adjust it to your liking).

1) Anything biological in origin gets dealt with first: blood, vomit, feces, garbage, dirty dishes, whatever - do it FIRST and do it to completion.

2) Take out the garbage. Do not do anything else until there are at least two garbage receptacles free.

3) All paper trash goes next. I call this kippel. It is all the paper that seems to accumulate on its own. Most of it is stuff you don’t care about and will never miss. A thing to keep in mind is: if there are layers of kippel, then the deeper in the pile you go, the less likely you’ll need, want or miss it. Therefore, the deeper into the layers you go, the more you should be automatically throwing stuff away without even looking.

4) As you are grabbing paper and throwing it away, you will come across little items you had forgotten about or didn’t even know existed - put them aside in a pile. if you have a bowl or basket, use that. try not to get distracted by the little things - you can squeal with delight over finding a long-lost tchotchke later, right now, just get it off the floor or table

5) DO NOT stop to clean something in depth that you happen across unless it is an object you can immediately use to clean more. Do not decide now is a good time to wipe down the counter when there are dishes all over it. Do not start organizing your books when you haven’t dusted the shelves. Do not scrub the dining table before it is completely devoid of objects on it. Just clear a space if needed and keep moving.

6) Move around the room in an orderly fashion, taking a trash can with you and any gathering items you might be using. I’ve seen people sit the gathering item in the middle of the room and just toss things into it but that isn’t such a great idea unless you have a perfect lay-up shot. You want to fill the gathering item, not create an identical mess on the other side of it.

7) Once you have one subsection clear, resist the urge to fill it up with things from other areas.

8) Making piles is a great way to organize as you clean but you must be very rigid about adhering to that system - do not get up in the middle of organizing and start putting things away from one pile - you are bound to find things that don’t belong in that pile AND you will be walking all over the place making yourself tired before you are halfway done. Just keep piling until there’s nothing left to pile. Then begin sub-piling. One pile per corner of each room (or one pile per room depending on how big your rooms are) any time a pile is big enough to fall over? Make sub-piles.

9) Have a special place for sentimental items. DO NOT LOOK AT THEM. just put them in the place they go until you are done. The sentimental pile is LAST. Always.

10) Enlist help as soon as possible. Have specific jobs for your help or else they will mysteriously disappear (the help, not the mess).

Cleaning a mess, no matter how scary, is a job and like all jobs, it can be tackled with efficiency and energy. Remain calm, take stock of where you are (every so often), stick to your plan of action and do not give up.

And afterwards, reward yourself. Wine. I hear wine is really great.

A middle-aged mom who cleans houses in order to pay for her education habit. She is currently single and available for dates or tributes. Chocolate, flowers or cruise runs are all happily accepted. While she writes our popular Ask a Cleaning Lady column, she writes about all topics with sensitive wit on


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