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Category: News

Of Polar Bears, Publishing, and Darwin

I’m killing off polar bears, and I’m torn up about it.

Being an author poses certain ethical dilemmas to one who doesn’t want to bear (excuse the pun) the blame for the demise of anything, let alone a cute little polar bear. The only thing I want to be responsible for losing in this world is a good 20 pounds! But because of my profession, my ecological footprint ranks up there in foot size with Sasquatch, thanks to the myriad trees that have died on my behalf.

 The mere act of wanting to be a published author to begin with made me culpable. Writers regularly submit ream upon ream of paper manuscripts when soliciting agents and editors. Much of this paper never even gets read, let alone used. In my rejection heyday, my returned manuscripts collected like huge mounds of dirty laundry, all useless, unwanted paper.

Once I landed a book deal, the paper waste diminished, with edits conducted electronically. Finally I wasn’t accountable for the end of civilization. But then my book debuted. This book I’d waited forever to hold in my hands. Three hundred pages worth of dead trees. Times however many tens of thousands of books were printed.

Okay, I’m environmentally-minded. But hey, this was my book! I was willing to sacrifice a little for the cause: me. I mean, I wanted to sell as many books as humanly possible. The industry’s funny like that: if you don’t sell tons of books, they’ll never publish you again. So part of me was rooting for more dead trees, and by extension, dead polar bears.

And then I realized an interesting thing. Readers, inevitably, are recyclers. They read a book they love, they pass it on to their friends. And it turns out that my book gets passed around. A lot. A quick Google of my book title will pull up blog after blog of readers who have enjoyed it enough to pass it on.

I’m thrilled that people love the book enough to share. It’s quite an honor. But herein lies the dilemma. The more my book is shared, the less my book is bought. The less my book is bought, the less likely I am to sell another book. The less books I sell, the more dead my career is. So instead of dead polar bears, I am dealing with the more immediate problem of a dead profession. I need people to buy my book, polar bears be damned!

I wish I saw a solution to the problem. Amazon’s electronic reader, the Kindle, might approximate something headed in that direction. But as a reader, I can’t afford to spend that sort of money (at least until I sell more books!), plus I like the feel of a book in my hands and it’ll take some getting used to giving that up.

In the meantime, I really love that readers are recycling my books rather than throwing them in the trash, which would be indicative of a lousy book. But a little part of me can’t help but wish each time I hear how someone passed it on to her mom or her sister or her best friend that maybe someone would go buy it a little more.


Sorry, polar bears. Survival of the fittest.



 I’m recycling a piece I wrote a few years ago. The sentiment still holds ;-)

 My 12-year old daughter has become the object of lust. Grown women are clamoring for her; I’m starting to get a little edgy about it. You see, my daughter is now officially of babysitting age, and moms in my neighborhood are trying to sink their claws into her early and often and it’s making me feel quite proprietary.

I can still taste the babysitter lust I developed when my children were little. Finding a good sitter was akin to finding the secret to longevity. Once I got hold of one, there was no way to wrench the secret from my lips. To find an energetic, clever, creative, helpful, intelligent, and responsible girl to help tend to your brood so that you could get needed respite from the demands of mommydom was crucial. But tell me, how many kids out there actually fulfill the terms of those qualifications? Believe me, not many.

At one point we were so desperate for sitters we went to the local Catholic Church to cherry pick from their teen youth group. We figured good Catholic girls (as opposed to priests) would make ideal sitters. One of the girls we landed from that attempt was Patti. Tall, sweet, kind, very involved with her church. Even traveled all the way to the big Pope-a-thon when Pope John Paul held a youth powwow in Colorado. We were impressed, even though she did say, “Wow, cool, dude” a bit much.

She was nice to our kids, she rinsed the dishes after they ate. Had the kids to bed on time. No disasters, no broken bones on her watch, nothing. And then she showed up one night for a babysitting job reeking of pot. And I don’t mean the kind you plant seeds in. Rather, the kind that comes with seeds.

Boy was I bummed. We’d had fun plans to meet friends for dinner; I hadn’t been out, kid-free, in ages. I assured myself that I was imagining things. After all, how could our goody-two-shoes Pope-visiting youth-group-attending babysitter be anything but on the up and up? But then my husband came downstairs from getting dressed and walked over to me asking, “What’s with the reefer smell in here?” This from same person whose sense of smell is so bad he’d probably not notice a rotting cadaver at his feet if he had to rely solely upon his olfactory system. Well, that was the end of Patti the Pothead. We showed her the door and stayed home that night.

Our next great sitter was Amanda. Cute as a button, senior in high school. Older, responsible. She’d be a great keeper of my kids on occasion, I reasoned.

She came one day to watch the kids so that I could run errands in peace. When I returned home I chatted a bit with her as she helped me unload my groceries. Turned out her dad was a Fed. FBI. Hated by the right wing militia movement for his perceived involvement in the Ruby Ridge showdown. Amanda and her siblings were actually under an FBI watch, I learned, as they’d had death threats made against them. That would the same Amanda with whom my childrens’ lives were entrusted. In my house with all the big windows so that psychopaths who wanted to kill her could take good aim. I couldn’t get rid of her fast enough that afternoon. And later that night at dinner, our kids told us that she’d had a few male friends visit that afternoon and made the kids sit alone in their bedrooms. Yikes. And she seemed so nice!

One sitter my kids adored was Eliza. She was so young she played with the kids as if their peer. At nine years of age, I guess one would expect that. But she was an ideal little mother’s helper who played with the kids while I cleaned the house and such. And then I found out one day that Eliza’s drug-addicted 18-year old stepbrother had a court order against him and was forbidden from going with 100 feet of Eliza or her family. Well, I was none too comforted with that bit of bad news, and couldn’t see risking my kids’ welfare with her after that.

Another sitter we hired only once was the sister of my son’s friend. We figured she was a sure-thing. Till we came home and found out she’d hit my son, just as she would have hit her brother if he’d made her mad.

Then there was Maura. A fourth-string referral I found when desperately dialing for sitters one day in the hopes of going out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. I’d called someone who gave me the name of the most wanted sitter in the neighborhood. When I called her number, her mom, tired of fielding sitter calls, gave me the number of another sitter. Her mom gave me the number of another sitter, whose mom gave me the number of Maura. You’d think I would have wondered why she was still available when every other sitter had been scooped up.

Nevertheless, Maura seemed pretty nice. We came home after dinner to a clean house. The kids were safely tucked in bed. But as my eyes adjusted to the dimmed lights in the house I noticed something. My house wasn’t just clean. It was immaculate. Eerily so. Even the dog bowl had been scrubbed clean of that slimy dog-saliva build-up that most dog bowls get. Wow, I thought. She sure is a clean thing. Lucky me: sitter and maid all wrapped into one.

As my husband drove her home, I came across the note. Now, taken at face value, it was just a sweet note. But something about it was a bit stalker-ish to me. It read something to the affect of “Dear Jenny, I hope you had the best birthday dinner ever. You are the nicest person in the world, and I love your kids and your dog, and your family, and your house. I would love to babysit for you all of the time. Please call me ANYTIME and I’ll be sure to come whenever you need me. EVER.”

Well, that was right around the time that movie “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” was playing in theaters, and psycho-babysitters were a scary concept to me. Suffice it to say, we said “sayonara” to Maura.

I won’t bore you with the details of the lovely sitter who we subsequently found out was on several anti-psychotic drugs.

We eventually settled on a few sitters who were golden.  Dream teens who played with our kids, read them stories, fixed them snacks and cleaned up after their meals. Picked up the toys when the kids had gone to bed. Essentially done more than I would have had I been home with the kids myself.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have disclosed their names to anyone unless my life depended on it. They were my hard-fought find, and I was damned if I would allow another mom access to my perfect sitter.

So now I sit, with an energetic, clever, creative, helpful, intelligent, and responsible (if I may be so humble) daughter. And I understand the desperation in the voices of these moms calling at all hours to track her down. Willing to fudge the truth about their little darlings, claiming they’re sweet and cooperative when in truth they’re wild banshees willing to put my daughter in a pot of boiling oil if the spirit moves them.

Claiming they’ll be available all night while they’re out if there’s a problem, all the while leaving their cell phones securely nestled in the glove compartment of their cars, turned off. Promising they only need my child for a short while, yet not arriving home till hours after the 10:30 p.m. stipulation I’d placed on the babysitting deal. Or promising a “mother’s helper” job watching six kids for two hours, which actually was watching 14 kids for three hours. With no extra pay.

So now that I’m on the other side of the fence, my babysitter lust has turned to babysitter police. I’m out to protect my daughter from the vagaries of desperate moms, because now I realize that there are a lot of moms who will do practically anything to get hold of a good sitter. ©2004 Jenny Gardiner


Wham! Bam! Thank You Rat!

One time I heard a radio interview in which an author was promoting her book about sex. Sorry, I haven’t the slightest idea of the title of the book. But I did get a good laugh when she talked about a few studies in which researchers tested rats (or was it mice?) while they were getting it on.


This is the closest you'll get to a rat fornication picture here ;-)
Rat foreplay

Now first off, there is something particularly unseemly about being a voyeur to rat fornication. On so many levels. Not the least of which is because rodents having sex means even more rodents on the horizon. And those rodents will then repeat this wildly reproductive behavior, and so on, and so on. Having fended off my share of mouse infestations over the years, I believe that anything involving insidious rodent procreation should be vigorously avoided at all costs.

But also, there’s a very strong ick factor involved. Little teeny rats (or worse yet, bloated possum-sized black ones like from the movie Ben) doing it in a laboratory simply elicits a sense of repulsion in me. Especially when I learned that one of the tests the scientists performed involved the rats donning polyester pants—miniature rodent disco-wear—so that they could determine the effect of polyester on sperm count.


Believe it or not, I found this online!
Believe it or not, I found this online!


I wonder who drew the short straw to have to count the rat sperm? And probably worse yet, who had to ensure there was rat sperm to count? I know I’d have volunteered immediately to whip up a few hundred pair of the tiny pants on my sewing machine at home—far, far away from the lab—thus assiduously avoiding those other menial tasks, such as rat-wanking. Though I do love the idea of watching researchers with PhDs hoisting plaid polyester pants onto rat bodies, securing them with Jethro Bodine-like rope ties at the waist.

By the way, in case you were wondering, polyester did in fact decrease sperm count. So there you go, Tony Manero Rat. Disco must be dead for a reason.

But the test I especially enjoyed learning about involved the little buggers in the midst of mousely mating (in the heat of passion, if there is such thing as rodent ardor), only to have the scientists introduce a diversion.

You see, there the mice/rats/whatever were, in lock-and-load mode, when the researchers dropped in some yummy cheese to see what would happen. While the boy rats just kept on doing the nasty, the girl rats? Well, consider it the “filing-your-nails-while-in-the-missionary-position” tactic. Yes, they were far more girls interested in chomping cheese than getting some lovin’ from their man. They walked away in flagranto delicto in favor of in flagranto delicious! Talk about coitus interruptus! All for a little Velveeta. I don’t know about any other women out there, but I think I’d have held out for something a little more upscale. Say, a chocolate soufflé with crème anglaise sauce. 


girl rats shunning sex for cheese
girl rats shunning sex for cheese



Nevertheless, I think those researchers were onto something. And if it takes luring vulnerable girl rats away from their paramours to prove it, well, then, so be it.

Because I suspect we human females have something in common with our rodent cousins. And it’s not whiskers (as long as there’s waxing, tweezing and electrolysis at our disposal), nor twitching pink noses, and certainly not creepy snake-like tails. None of that. We don’t particularly crave cheese either. Except perhaps those women who eschew carbs and then what’s left to eat but cheese?

What we do share is this: females don’t want a wham-bam-thank-you-rat experience. They want to be wooed. Wined and dined, made to feel wanted, to feel as if they are the most important thing in the world to their man. Sure, any old creature can get it on. But copulation without representation is not the goal. Well, you know what I mean: sex without passion, without amore, without a modicum of emotion, or (dare I say) adoration, and certainly respect. I’d say most of us would settle for the cheese over that and tell that dirty rat “Good day, mate.” Most days, at any rate.

Any old rodent can have a quickie on the petrie dish (that would be the rat version of doing it on the kitchen table). But when it comes to the long haul, perhaps a lot of men can learn from this rat survey, and figure out how to appeal to the cheese-lover in their woman.