HOMEMAKER by M. Scott Douglass

Silly Scott

Before I committed to opening a publishing company and doing this full time, I’d done a variety of things to pay the bills—aside from the 22 years I spent as a dental technician. My first jobs were lawn care and dog sitting. Before I had a driver’s license I hustled peanuts, popcorn, coca cola, and hot dogs in the upper deck of Three Rivers Stadium. For two and a half years I worked in a hardware store where I learned there are usually a thousand different names for the same part. I’ve done construction and demolition, worked retail and security, even done some less than savory jobs like breeding rats for the Pathology Department at the University of Pittsburgh. I’ve produced with my hands as well as my head.

So, imagine my surprise when I was reviewing the paperwork for refinancing our house. Aside from the fact that they used three different versions of my name, they had my occupation listed as homemaker.

I have nothing against the hardworking homemakers of the world and while I realize there is a certain amount of uncertainty involved in the publishing field these days, listing me as a homemaker just didn’t seem quite accurate.

But that’s only part of the story.

We started this process back in May with the bank where my wife works. Because she works there, we were being very careful not to step on any toes. In fact, I sat in on the initial phone call and from that point on, let my wife handle it because she is more patient and has a more pleasant demeanor and this was the company where she works after all.

Through June we went back and forth. The paperwork I offered them in May (which they said they wouldn’t need) was requested one   document   at   a   time over the course of three weeks. It was agonizing and the team that handled it was incompetent. There is no other way to put it.

We were finally scheduled to close on Monday, August 5. They brought the paperwork right to the house, but what they brought was the exact package that we had rejected and asked them to restructure the last week of June. They had ignored everything we said. And so, they were forced to deal with the less patient member of our household:  me.

I’m an ultimatum kind of guy. You’ll get it right, or I’ll take my business elsewhere. I won’t go into the details of my exchange with the office, but the paperwork they had spent 10 weeks screwing up was rewritten and signed by Friday, August 9, but here’s the catch: They still had two different versions of my name on the document only this time they used one I’d never used—ever. It’s something they apparently made up. BUT—on the good side—where it appeared, it was listed as an AKA.

It really rankled me to have to sign my name this way and I do wonder if there was a person with this name and if he has done things that might now cause me grief, but we were anxious to get this over with and, given my experience with their vast abilities to screw things up, I had no faith that they would get it right if we kicked it back to them anyway. So we signed. The deed is done.

But then there’s that matter of occupation. I asked the contact person about it. I told her I realized that being a paperback book publisher may not ever put me on the Fortune 500 and asked how I’d become a homemaker. She said they were not using my income because self-employment makes for more complicated paperwork. So—in short—I am a homemaker on the paperwork for my new home loan because my job does not make a significant enough contribution to the household income to be considered.

Homemakers of America should be up in arms over that statement, but me…  I learned back in my hardware days:  There are a thousand different names for every part. I see they’re still inventing new ones every day.

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HANDY WORK by M. Scott Douglass

I’ve said on more than one occasion that America’s economic problem revolves around the fact that we don’t make anything here anymore. We’ve spent an entire generation shipping production overseas and importing laborers to do the work that we don’t want to do while at the same time teaching our children to believe that manual labor is beneath them, that working with your hands is what you resort to when you’re not smart enough to get a real job.

This came back to bite us recently when the economy tanked because the folks with money were making it through the stock market and the stock market tends to reward companies that cut their costs while increasing their profit. Since that is the model and labor is cheaper overseas, most of our production jobs (and the income that accompanies them) disappeared. When you have manual labor people out of work, you have a whole segment of society with limited income to spend. That stagnates the economy. And here we are.

The interesting thing is: when retirement comes around, what are we expected to do with our time? We could golf every day—if we could afford it—and that will take up a few hours. There’s always reading. Exercising, if we are still able. Volunteer work is a worthy use of time. All of these and more are physical activities. If we choose to knit, paint, build knick-knacks, garden—these all come under the heading of manual labor—the same things we are teaching our children are not skills of value when they are growing up, become our fallback position once the earning period of our lives expires.

And when you talk to people who have taken up a new activity, a new hobby, you find how gratifying the work is. The joy derived from doing something.

I’ve written in this blog before about buying tools for woodworking, about building shelves and doors for the man cave I have in the back yard—now being dubbed The Cycle Shack. I could spend hours out there fussing with tools, trueing bicycle wheels, repairing something that didn’t work or making something new from scratch. I get so much enjoyment out of visualizing a concept and bringing it to light, that much of my spare time activity has shifted from writing poetry to working with wood. This is the same kind of enjoyment I get when I design a book, then print it, then bind and trim it.

Working with my hands is not a new concept for me. I have construction and demolition in my resume and wood carving has been an art form of choice since my grandfather first taught me to whittle when I was eight-years-old. Regardless of the quality of the work, the act of doing, of making something, provides an outlet I don’t get anywhere else.

The problem is: We don’t value these skills and activities enough in America. We make jokes about things like basket weaving or knitting, but have you ever tried either? It takes manual dexterity, skill, practice, an eye for design. And yet, we often reserve the latter part of our lives for these activities and view people who take them up at an early as not doing something financially worthy or productive with their time. To those who feel this way, I have a question: Whose value system is off-kilter, the person who invests his or her time in the joy of making or the person who looks at the end product and tries to find a way to get it made for less?

INTERNSHIPS Guest post by Jennifer Santiago, Summer Intern at Main Street Rag

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Interning can be a memorable experience. Many may find it terrifying when no number of applications gains response, no matter how many resumes you sent out. Being accepted by The Main Street Rag would end up being not only a great relief, but also an incredible learning experience, as it was for me. I’m sure that all future interns will find it the same. After nearly 170 hours of work, I’m happy for the opportunity to give advice to future interns, even as I know that everyone’s situation would be different. Hopefully, you can still benefit some of my learning.

1) One important thing to remember when interning is time management. It is important to develop these skills before beginning, use them, and continue to develop them while working. Make sure that absolutely every second is used toward quick progress.

2) Remember that those around are doing you a favor and contributing to your education. Be grateful and try not to burden or cost the business.

3) While you will struggle at some points, that is an unfortunate and vital element of learning new things and testing limits, make sure to do well wherever you can. You won’t be perfect, but you can still make a good impression.

4) Seek new experiences every day. Your time as an intern is limited, so you won’t get to learn everything there is to know, but you should still try to learn the greatest amount possible by taking on a variety of tasks instead of sticking with what you’ve learned or are comfortable with.

5) Observe anything around you and try to learn things that aren’t specifically taught to you by being aware, making connections, and finding examples.

6) Check your work and double check that you are on the right track. At school, you can easily recover from a bad grade, but mistakes as an intern can potentially cost people money.

7) I’d also like to pass on some of the advice that I was given and followed that I feel were important to my experience in looking for internships, preparing for being an intern, and in the actual internship: Be professional. Dress appropriately. Always be on time and don’t try to slack off or leave early. Do some research to learn about your rights and the laws of an internship, since there are many people who aren’t giving real internships but are simply looking to take advantage in ways that are both unethical and against the law. And finally, have fun.

In these past few weeks, I have found my skills tested and strengthened, but I’ve also been fortunate to have a supervisor patient enough to teach me each of the various skills and help me with the many problems that I don’t have the skills to move beyond. This experience will hopefully help me greatly with all of my future jobs, wherever they may be. I hope the same for anyone else with an internship and I wish everyone that next interns at the Main Street Rag all the best.

WHY I WATCH WHAT STUDENTS ARE READING By Karen Weyant

ChapWearingHeels

I teach at a small community college in Western New York, and I have been known to walk across campus to an unsuspecting student whose face is buried in a book, and say “What are you reading?”

I wish I could say I do this because I want students to read.  But I have to confess that’s not the real reason I stalk student readers.

When I see a student read, it brings me back to my days as a young reader.

I grew up in a tiny town in rural Pennsylvania. Then, of course, we didn’t have Amazon.com or Kindles.  Forget any big bookstores.  My little town didn’t even have a used book store.  So, what was a reader to do?

I didn’t have a lot of choices.  The local library couldn’t keep up with me, and when I had worked my way through the children’s room (which contained young adult books, as well), I went back and re-read my favorites, including the novels by Judy Blume.  My mother would search out Thrift stores and yard sales where she once found the bargain of a complete Nancy Drew set for $25.  On days I was desperate, I would walk up to G.C. Murphy’s to purchase cheap Teen Harlequins.

Then, a miracle happened. Waldenbooks opened only 45 minutes away, and suddenly, I had a whole bookstore full of BRAND NEW BOOKS.  Here, I was introduced to the Sunfire series, a collection that explored American history through fictionalized accounts of important events.  The stories all featured strong and beautiful women who were caught up in both history and love triangles.   I also found Twilight: Where Darkness Begins, a series of horror books that featured teenagers battling supernatural forces.  Then, there was my favorite: Chrystal Falls, a series that took place in a mill town in Pennsylvania.  The setting was hauntingly familiar to me, and I could relate to the way the fictional town of Chrystal Falls was split among class lines.  It was at Waldenbooks that I also fell in love with works of S.E. Hinton, Lois Duncan and Norma Fox Mazer and Robert Cormier – writers who portrayed the world of teenagers without passing judgment.

Today, Waldenbooks is gone, and most of the books I grew up with are out of print.  While Judy Blume is still popular, many of my students don’t know my other favorites.  Duncan seems to be only known for the horror movie, I Know What You Did Last Summer, that was based (very, very loosely and poorly) after her book.  And sadly enough, Mazer and Cormier have both died, with little acknowledgment in the publishing world.  (Although, Cormier’s book  The Chocolate Wars continues to be challenged in school districts across the nation.)

Now, I watch as my students read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Twilight by Stephanie Meyer or any number of zombie books or dystopian novels.  Stephen King is a favorite, as is J.R.R. Tolkien.  Many like Jodi Picoult. My colleagues bemoan the fact that today, students don’t read.  (And as a poet, I bemoan the fact that I can’t get people to read poetry).  Other people argue that students don’t read what they should be reading.  This is where I have to confess that I didn’t really read what I should be reading (at least my Academia standards) until I got to college.

But, I was always a reader.  And I’m always looking forward to what my students will be reading next.   I believe we have readers now and we will have readers, although they may be reading ebooks and not physical pages, and they will be entering realms that are a bit different (but yet, somewhat familiar): worlds where zombies have taken over society, dystopian lands full of clones or robots, or apocalyptic  places where manmade technology has run amok.

 

Karen Weyant is the author of Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt which won the 2011 Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest available through the MSR Online Bookstore.

A Hermit in Social Media Land, By M. Scott Douglass

I have friends. I go to breakfast or lunch with them sometimes. Visit with them—at our home or theirs. I talk with them on the phone and exchange cards and emails. So, I’ve always found the concept of Friending on Facebook or other social media a little amusing. Social media is about networking and making contacts. You can call your contacts friends if you like, but let’s face it, most of the folks we meet and exchange messages with through social media are acquaintances at best. In most cases they are marks: business cards we pick up at a conference to solicit later to sell them something.

Sorry if that tidbit of truth is off-putting or crass to some, but it is what it is. If you are out there in cyberspace posting the things you like, pictures of your family, places you’ve gone, in short, throwing your life online for all to see, what you are really doing is filling out a survey for solicitors and telling what items you may be a potential buyer of.

Google, Yahoo, Bing—all search engines—make money by selling where you’ve been to someone so they, too, can solicit their services or products to you. Go to an online store to buy something specialized like car parts and see how the flavor of the pop-ups you see when you go to that search engine changes.

I’m not trying to denigrate the internet or social media. I think the internet is the greatest invention in the history of civilization and social media is the best and least expensive way to network with like-minded people, but I also think that we must be mindful of how they work. Everyone from marketers to psychologists have been consulted along the way to figure out how to tap this resource of information they have about me and all of us to generate commerce. That’s what makes the internet work and the world go ‘round.

Being a private kind of guy, there are certain things about me I’d like to keep to myself. Given the transparency of how the internet works, I’ve always limited my exposure to social media, but as a business person, I recognize the importance of it. So, I pay someone to be my company rep on Facebook and Twitter. Sorry, but there are only so many hours in a day and frankly, I’d rather be windsurfing on two wheels than sitting for hours in front of a computer or handheld device. I do enough of that already as a graphic designer.

Anyway, as is my habit (ask Google), I’ve taken the long way around what I really want to say. Last week a story broke about our government monitoring phone calls and emails. There are so many things to say about this story, I doubt there’s enough space to cover it all, but let me try.

First, I thought everyone knew that phone calls and emails were subject to monitoring in the post-9/11 era. If you’re using these mediums to share things that might embarrass you (or get you arrested), perhaps these things are not meant to be shared this way (Mr. Weiner).

Second, between the crap some people are willing to put on social media and data mining by search engines, our whole concept of privacy is a perverse joke.

Third, am I the only one who feels inundated with other peoples’ lives at the grocery store, restaurants, even the Post Office? Rarely am I not privy to a personal conversation in an outdoor voice by someone I don’t know. And I suppose these folks are among those outraged by the fact that the government might be listening in. Given where they talk and how loud they talk, how could anyone NOT listen in. This is where I say, Thank God for texting.

And then there are the members of Congress who are offended by this story. Please!!! As if they didn’t know. As if they don’t read those bills they vote on. I’m offended that these yoyos live off the public dole in one of the most expensive and inefficient cities in the world with the express goal of doing nothing.

The bottom line is: If you’re really concerned about privacy and the government listening to your calls or reading your emails, you need to become a techno-hermit. That is: you need to throw away your cell phone and get off the internet altogether. Which is what I intend to do as soon as I’m done posting this blog.

Until the next time I post this blog.

Or read my emails.

Or text my son.

TWENTY HOURS IN A CAR WITH A STRANGE WOMAN By M. Scott Douglass

Scott driving

As we were driving home from the AWP in Boston, I suggested Beth write a blog entry about her experience. I don’t pay Beth much to be PR coordinator for Main Street Rag, so going to the AWP was a reward of sorts for her service. She was very excited about the conference and the trip in general, so I knew she had plenty of material. We posted her entry a few weeks ago.

Of course, any time people do things together there can be multiple versions of events. That’s not to say that my assessment of the panels is any different than Beth’s, but my focus for this trip was a bit different. Unlike her, I’d been to the AWP several times. I’ve done hundreds of book-related events like this. The AWP is the largest one I attend.

I usually go to these things with my wife or Jonathan Rice or alone, meet friends there and do things together—mostly after hours. Many things about this trip were unique.
For one thing, because I am usually the person people come to our table to see, I’m at the table most of the time. The only panel I’ve taken in was one I moderated in Denver a few years ago. So my assignment for this trip—as dictated by my wife—was to sit in on two panels.

As it turned out, I sat in on four panels. I also left all four halfway through; once because a panelist’s introduction was a 15-minute, 5-page monolog/apology that he read to the audience; twice because the information being offered was stuff I already knew (and it didn’t sound like they were going to break new ground); once because I’ve written many times on a similar subject and wanted to see what the editors of these larger presses had to say. For this last panel, their experiences echoed what I had predicted five years ago—so I felt I’d gained the information I came to hear.

No, for me it’s all about the road trip. In this instance, I was traveling with a person with whom I had never traveled before. That always makes for good fodder. I’ve known Beth for several years, but traveling with a person you know best through email is different—particular on a long drive like the one we shared from Raleigh to Boston and back. I’m not going to share details. I’ll save that for future poems like “The DJ of Fishkill” or an essay on How to Teach Photo Shop While Driving (Without Endangering Others). I think the latter has financial possibilities, but may be illegal in several states.

I will state the obvious: men and women travel differently. We pack different, drive different, our definition of navigator, ready to go even toll road are sometimes different as are our need for pit stops. Most of all, what we talk about is different. As I said to Beth, after more than 20 hours on the road together, I felt like one of the girls; like I could have been wearing a skirt.

But that’s why I like to travel: to experience new things. Although—confidentially—it wouldn’t have been my first experience in a skirt.

But that’s another story.

Confessions of an AWP Virgin

I’m the type of person who when asked if I want to go somewhere, answers, “When do we leave?” I love to travel and find all modes of getting somewhere exactly to my liking. I love boats, planes, trains, helicopters and cars. If it gets me there, I like it. So when Main Street Rag Editor, Scott Douglass, asked if I wanted to go to Boston for AWP, I jumped at the chance.

There are those who would think me quite insane to even consider sitting in a car with Scott for one hour, never mind eighteen hundred miles to Boston and back, but I had a feeling it would not be a problem. After all, we both love to travel. I found him surprisingly easy to get along with and we had a fine time watching the scenery go by and chatting the hours away. I even got a Photoshop tutorial as we navigated through Pennsylvania.

With twelve thousand people attending the AWP conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs, in case you were wondering) I found the atmosphere rather overwhelming, but I enjoy meeting new people and talking about one of my favorite things, books. It’s particularly gratifying to talk about books with other people who love them as much as I do.

A steady stream of book lovers flowed by our table. Some wanted information on submissions, others were interested in our books. I was thrilled to meet editors and authors whose names I knew, but hadn’t met in person. Dennis Bormann and Gaynell Gavin came up from South Carolina and Steve Taylor and his son Matt came from Glendale, California. Editors from other presses came over to say hi too and I enjoyed meeting Betsy Teter of Hub City among others.

A tall woman with big pretty eyes came up to me at our table and asked rather breathlessly if I was Beth Browne, as if I was some sort of celebrity. She turned out to be the author of one of the novellas we selected last year and I had the immense pleasure of gushing over her book to her in person and nearly bringing us both to tears. Her book about two women crossing cultures form the U.S. to Morocco was such a moving story and so well told I could not put it down. Naturally, it made me cry at the end. I’m prone to that.

In between dashing off to panels and working the table, I endured the long bathroom lines by chatting with neighbors about our favorite books, favorite authors, what we do besides read and write. I even met a lady who came all the way to Boston from St. Thomas for AWP. And it snowed! Locals were apologizing for the appalling weather, but for those of us who have not seen snow in the past two years, a good six-incher was a rare treat. I enjoyed a walk after the storm and waded through ankle-deep slushy puddles to share fantastic Indian food with my dear friend, Carolina Wren Press editor Robin Miura. Totally worth the wet feet.

I’m so grateful to Scott and Main Street Rag for making it possible for me to go to AWP on my single parent/struggling writer budget. We drove through the night to get home and it took me days to recover, but it was worth it. I’m glad for the opportunity to get to know my comrades better, to build relationships with people who love books like I do. We’re all in this together and recognizing that is worth a lot. It’s even worth sitting in the car with Scott, even though he does hate to lose momentum on an on-ramp by braking. I never did have to grab the handrail in spite of his best efforts to make me do so. AWP was a great time, but I’m glad it’s only once a year.

Beth Browne
Associate Editor and Publicity Coordinator
Main Street Rag Publishing Company

Hello, My Name is Scott!

So, Beth, my Propaganda Minister, told me we need to do a blog. Eight months ago. Every week or so since we’ve touched base, discussed titles, authors, upcoming events, the blog. We chat about places we’ve traveled, politics, the state of the economy, the state of Main Street Rag’s business, the blog.

And here we are. I can now say I’m a blogging fool (along with 100 million others). So, what will make a Main Street Rag blog different? For one thing, nowhere else can you get any fresher information about what’s going on at Main Street Rag Publishing Company.

But wait, there’s more. We’re not just a publisher. We’re writers first. We’re people who work at what we do every day like anyone else. We like politics and getting our hands dirty. We don’t mind getting rowdy when the occasion calls for it.

Today I just thought I’d say, “Hello. My name is Scott. I run a publishing company. Sometimes I write. You can find me (or a reasonable facsimile) here every other week. Please stop by to say, Hey.”

I can hear the PM from here: Give them some Main Street Rag news!!!

If you insist.

First, the deadline for the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award (contest) is this coming Thursday. If you wanted to enter and haven’t yet, you’re cutting it close. Details can be found: http://www.mainstreetrag.com/PoBkCont.html

Second, MSR suffered a computer crash Monday, January 21 and I’m still picking up the pieces. We don’t appear to have lost anything, but we can’t access everything at this time. Unfortunately, one of the casualties was the mailing list for the MSR Monthly Newsletter. It won’t be functional for at least a few weeks. I will post the newsletter on the website with access from the home page, but I won’t be able to mail direct links to subscribers until the new computer is up and running.

That’s it for now. You can run off to read the other 100 million. Next time I’ll save up and spill a little cleverness into this bloggy thingy.

M. Scott Douglass
Main Street Rag