The Blog Tour pulls into TOIM’s station!

Hi there! And welcome to Tons of Imaginary Money’s non-imaginary stop on this totally real and amazing blog tour!

So many thanks to my lovely and talented friend and fellow traveler, the one and only Elizabeth Greenwood, for tapping me in. Read her latest piece on PI Steven Rambam in Esquire and GET EXCITED for her amazing nonfiction book on the subject of death fraud, Playing Dead: the Art and Folly of Pseudocide, forthcoming from Simon & Schuster. I can personally guarantee that the book is incredible, having had the pleasure of reading various chapters in draft form.

Liz is exactly who I want to be when I grow up: intrepid, sophisticated, hilarious, bubbly, and brilliant. She is proof positive that blondes have more fun!

While waiting to blossom into a more Liz-like person, I spend my days trafficking in mostly harmless gossip, weeping over car commercials, and hijacking the conversation at summer BBQs (oh, did you want to talk about movies? that’s too bad, cause I’ve been reading about sexual assault on college campuses!).

Next week you’ll hear from the uber-creative Chase Hamilton, deep thinker, jack of all trades, and organizer of a new literary contest. Check out his bio below!

Chase Hamilton is an amateur science fiction writer. Chase’s newest venture is not so much a blog but a new take on writing contests-slash-online magazines. The idea for the contest is rooted in a short story that has yet to be completed as the writer decided to work on the contest in real life. The contest will rely on crowd-sourced voting to determine the winner. Chase’s site is thepencilcup.com.

And check out my answers to the Blog Tour mini-questionnaire below, which is designed to introduce you to Raina Lipsitz (the worse half of TOIM’s editorial team).

1) On what am I currently working?
I write a twice-a-month column on women’s rights for Al Jazeera America. I’m also a staff writer at Catalyst, a nonprofit that seeks to expand opportunities for women in business. The most interesting thing I do for Catalyst is write speeches for our CEO, who addresses organizations around the world.

I also co-edit this very blog, Tons of Imaginary Money, with my college roommate, Anne Blackfield. Anne is a lawyer with an M.Div who runs Interagency Affairs at the Maryland Department of Disabilities and is one of the smartest, funniest, most all-around awesome people I’ve ever met. The blog was her idea. We’ve both written for it and we’ve also published other lady writers we like (plus a post or two from Anne’s husband, Jake). The original concept was to tell (and get other people to tell) short stories about our/their lives.

I’d love to write a book someday, but I’m waiting for the right idea to come along. And right now I really enjoy writing this column for Al Jazeera.

2) How does your work differ from others’ works in the same genre?

What I like to call my feminist rants for Al Jazeera are often angrier and more polemical than other, more cautious forms of feminist writing. The AJ column is a great outlet for my rage and indignation about the state of the world, especially since I can’t rant at all in my day job.

I have a bit of a contrarian streak and an extremely low tolerance for piousness and political correctness. I like to think I’m deeply committed to social justice and not at all to protecting sacred cows. But I think most people on the left see themselves that way and I’m probably giving myself way too much credit.

The writers I really admire who work in the same genre include Katha Pollitt and Rebecca Traister, both of whom write thoughtfully about sex, gender, and politics and pepper their essays with carefully crafted windows into their personal lives. Their personal touch lends depth and power to their political arguments. They’re both also very funny, even, or maybe especially, when their subject is serious.

In no way am I comparing myself to him, but I am also a huge admirer of James Baldwin, who was able to turn his passion and rage into something focused and forceful and true that changed the world for the better.

I try to be personal, informative, and entertaining in my column, but I don’t succeed as often as I’d like. Wit, rhythm, and tone are as important to me as facts and ideas.

3) Why do you write what you do?

I grew up reading Katha Pollitt’s column in The Nation and could not imagine a more interesting or fulfilling way to spend my time. I love being creative and coming up with new ideas and compelling ways to express them. And I love writing but my talents don’t lie in fiction. I’ve always cared about politics, ideas, and activism and right now I get to express my activism through my writing, which for me is a double privilege and really thrilling (though of course I’d like to do it on an even grander scale). Ego is a huge motivator as well: I love writing for an audience that’s (slightly) larger than my family and friends; I love seeing my name in print; I love being a participant, in my own minor, limited way, in the larger discussions of our time.

The personal writing I do for places like Nerve is more of a form of therapy—my way of working out feelings about an ex and seeking solace, support, and a sense of community from other women (and some men). That doesn’t always work so well—mostly when you’re a woman writing about sex, you just get labeled an attention-seeking whore with Daddy issues—but it can be comforting to hear from readers who’ve had similar experiences. Writing is certainly a form of attention-seeking, at least if you’re doing it with the intent to publish, but I don’t think it’s always unhealthy to crave attention. Most writers start out as lonely little nerds and feel deeply alienated at some (or multiple) point(s) in their lives.

4) How does your writing process work?

Next question! But seriously: it’s hard to adhere to a strict writing schedule with a full-time day job (sadly for me, I’m not Toni Morrison). When I care enough about a particular piece I’m reasonably good at planting myself in front of my laptop for 12-18 hours and switching back and forth between my work for Catalyst and my work on my column. I do at least a little work on most evenings and weekends. I’m not as disciplined as I could or should be and I need lots of social time and also some time just to read and/or mess around on the Internet. The key for me is to find a topic or idea that really excites me. You can’t just wait around for inspiration to strike, but I also don’t believe in writing X number of words per day at X time no matter what. Sometimes when you feel like you don’t have anything new or interesting to say, or you can’t figure out a new or interesting way to say it, it’s better to go meet a friend for a drink.

The 30-Year-Old Spinster

By Raina Lipsitz

A friend recently showed me a photo she’d taken of a poster in a bus station: “Dear 30-year-old Amy,” it said, “It’s time to look into freezing your eggs. Love, 42-year-old Amy.” I laughed and rolled my eyes, but at the same time I felt a tiny clutch of fear: would my 42-year-old self forgive 30-year-old me for laughing at the poster’s message?

My younger brother and his fiancee went to Buffalo last weekend for his fiancee’s bridal shower. When they came back, they were full of news about various relatives. “Jimmy wants to know if you’re engaged yet,” said my brother. “Well, I’m not,” I said, smiling. “You’re gonna love this,” my brother continued. “He says you’re getting up there. He says you’ve only got a couple of years left.”

Jimmy is a cousin of mine who knocked up his girlfriend at age 25. He wasn’t ready for fatherhood, but he accepted his new role with the grim fatalism of young Catholics everywhere. For Jimmy and other relatives of mine, this is the natural order of things: meet young, make a mistake, and spend the rest of your life pretending it wasn’t a mistake. This has worked out fine for some of them. It doesn’t seem to be working out so well for Jimmy.

Still, unplanned fatherhood strikes him as far less tragic than the accidental childlessness he thinks I’m headed for. Once upon a time—and even today, in some parts of the world—unmarried women were seen as “old maids” at the age of 23. These days, at least in some parts of America, you’re allowed not to panic until you hit 28. I’m in a better position than many to resist this cultural narrative: I’m educated and I live in New York, where “growing up” is defined not by parenthood but by whether or not you’ve appeared in a national magazine or purchased an apartment. And I’m lucky to know a number of happy, successful unmarried and/or childless women who are in no way tragic or pitiable. But I’d be lying if I said posters like the one my friend showed me and comments like Jimmy’s don’t bother me.

Most women I know (myself included) feel like failures in some respect: we fail to exercise enough, eat healthily, get promoted, earn more money, get a date, get a ring, get pregnant. But wouldn’t it be better to question why we want these things than to berate ourselves for failing to “achieve” them? “What are you saying? That I should get married to someone right away in case he’s about to die?” Meg Ryan’s character asks a friend in “When Harry Met Sally.” The friend’s answer? “At least you could say you were married.”

Maybe I’ve just seen too many (self-aware, accomplished) women my age (and younger) driven batty by this kind of pressure. I’ve listened to smart women make self-denigrating comments about not finding a husband which accept the premise that they are worthless without one. And it has made me want to opt out of this whole conversation. Because if you give ‘em an inch, the patriarchy and its handmaidens will take a mile: to admit to feeling lonely, on occasion, let alone to yearn openly for a partner and a houseful of kids, is to risk becoming a poster girl for anti-feminist forces, an object lesson, a cautionary tale: “This, ladies, is what happens when you spend your twenties reading Sisterhood is Powerful and ranting about misogyny.” You wind up a 30-year-old spinster.

Many people still see wanting kids as “natural” and not wanting them (or not having them) as freakish and sad. I don’t. When I was younger, I dreamed of having a conventional life, but living it in an unconventional way: I’d have a husband but I wouldn’t take his name; I’d have a baby but I wouldn’t let motherhood define me. I’d have my cake and eat it, too. I believe that’s still possible. I also believe that if I don’t get married or have babies—or if I don’t do it “on time,” i.e., by the time I’m 32, since I’ve already missed the socially enforced deadline of 30—I’ll still have a good life.

This is what privilege of the kind I’m lucky to have (including money, education, health care, and citizenship in a democracy) guarantees us: more choices, and more freedom. Sometimes it’s lonely or scary or sad, but mostly it’s wonderful. Even privileged people don’t control as much about our lives as many of us wish we could. But despite what those whose self-esteem depends on keeping women riddled with angst and self-doubt want us to believe, life does not have to dead-end in domestic drudgery or lonely spinsterhood. It’s an infinitely changeable choose-your-own-adventure story. And as long as you’re kind to other people and committed to a cause or belief system that does no harm and might even change the world for the better, there’s no such thing as running out of time.

One Woman’s Notes from a Panel on “How to Write a Book Proposal”

by Raina Lipsitz

INSIDER TIPS to keep in mind:

  1. Make sure your voice comes through.
  2. The three topics that ALWAYS sell are: Lincoln, doctors, and dogs.
  3. Be sure to mention anyone you know in the writing/publishing world. (Reach out to Jhumpa Lahiri!!! Only met once at a cocktail party, but she liked your scarf.)
  4. Never close with the phrase, “I look forward to hearing from you.” Ask a question instead.
  5. There is no exact science to writing a successful book proposal.

DRAFT PROPOSAL

Remembering Lincoln: One Woman’s Journey Across America with Her Doctor Husband and Canine Best Friend

Introduction

Mine is the story of one plucky young-ish woman, Mitzi Feldman (me!), her adorable dog, Tootsie Roll, and her handsome doctor husband, Dr. Frank Antone. Together, Mitzi, Dr. Frank, and Tootsie Roll travel around the country visiting Lincoln memorials and pondering the rich legacy of our nation’s greatest president.

Overview

Why am I the best person to write this necessary and compelling story? Simple: I am in reality married to a Dr. Frank Antone (full disclosure: I may have to overstate his handsomeness for the purposes of this book). Also, I have a dog named Tootsie Roll, who is adorable. Does our little family really have a passion for Abraham Lincoln? Not yet, but for the right kind of book deal, we could!

About the Author

Mitzi Feldman is the author of seven cook books for dogs and the people who love them, including but not limited to: Fit for a Dog: Preparing a Meal Worthy of Man and Beast and Good Dogs Deserve Dessert. She maintains a very popular blog, “The Canine Caterer,” which receives over 3,421 unique visitors per month. Ms. Feldman is an avid reader of John Grisham novels, and she once met Jhumpa Lahiri at a cocktail party at her friend Magda’s apartment on the upper west side.

Outline/Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Dr. Frank and I book a flight to Buffalo (after discovering it takes eight hours to get there by train from New York City—who knew??). We hear there’s a gorgeous statue of Lincoln, America’s most admired president, in a local park there. In visiting the statue, we learn a great deal about life, love, ourselves, our marriage, etc. Tootsie Roll frolics adorably in the background.

Chapter 2

Our family visits a statue of Lincoln in Muncie, Indiana. Tootsie Roll makes friends with another little dog at the local dog run (photos available upon request).

Chapter 6

The mid-point of the book. Dr. Frank, Tootsie Roll, and I are South Dakota-bound. Mount Rushmore!!! The very name is majestic. It’s here in our nation’s heart that Dr. Frank and I hope to achieve a sense of inner peace while learning even more about life, love, the greatest country on Earth, and everyone’s favorite president.

Chapter 12

Dr. Frank and I visit another Lincoln memorial, this time in Chicago. At this point, we are learning more about the Civil War than we are about our marriage, because Dr. Frank and I will probably have stopped speaking to each other by then (we don’t travel together well). By the book’s end, I’ll be asking myself some tough questions about my marriage: is being married to a doctor all it’s cracked up to be? Could I have done better than Dr. Frank? What ever became of that nice Sam Roberts, and why didn’t I go out with him a third time? With Tootsie Roll by my side, I will bravely face an uncertain future.

Publicity/Marketing

I am fully prepared to do all of my own publicity. As a highly acclaimed blogger, I already have a built-in platform from which to promote this project. My blog reaches thousands of people per month, and, because this book will be a hybrid (part memoir, part travelogue, part self-help/relationship advice/pet training book) my project has a potential audience of millions (from Lincoln aficionados to dog lovers to women ages 19-59 who fantasize about being married to doctors).

Comparable Titles

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln; Doctor’s Orders: A Medical Romance; Part Wild: One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs.

Think Eat, Pray, Love meets Assassination Vacation meets Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus meets Boo: The Life of the World’s Cutest Dog.

Sample Materials

I haven’t included any sample chapters in their entirety because a book like this will write itself!! All I need from you is an advance hefty enough to cover food, travel, and accommodations for two humans and one small dog for a period of 3-4 years.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Are you interested in receiving a fully written sample chapter? If so, please contact my agent, Dr. Frank Antone.

That Fourth of July

by Anna  Bell

…And then there was that Fourth of July when my eye hemorrhaged.

I woke up that morning and the whole lower portion of my left eye saw red. My eye looked normal on the outside, but something had clearly gone awry on the inside. I watched the waters of my private Red Sea rise as I tried to explain the problem to the ophthalmology resident stuck answering calls over the holiday weekend. He determined, clinically, that I was crazy, because the charts from my last visit clearly said my left eye was stable. By the end of the day, the vision in my left eye went from “seeing stuff” (not the technical term) to “some light/dark perception” (actual technical term).

But I wasn’t left with a solid red wall of nothing; I was left with an endless horizon of red clouds. You know when you’re on an airplane at sunset and pass through clouds and all the infrequent fliers go “Ooh, look, how pretty”? That’s what I saw all the time through my “bad” eye. The color was so rich and intense, it muted sound as well as shape and movement. It was so calm, so beautiful. Those first few days, I would close my right eye, the one straining to hold down the ocular fort, and turn my left eye towards the sky so the overlapping edges of the clouds dazzled gold in the sunlight.

Who cares that the clouds, those were really red blood cells leaking from a ruptured vessel. Who cares that the gilded edges, that was pus and plasma. Tiffany couldn’t do church windows this holy.

The blood oxidized over time into matte purple, no longer gorgeous, but still a veil I could pull over the outside world with a flick of my eyelid. I’d be languishing at work meetings or riding the city bus and just by shutting my “good” eye, the one confirming my connection to this drudgery, I could disappear. On the other hand, walking around half real, half ethereal – you end up with a permanent headache, and there isn’t a doorframe you don’t shoulder-check or a curb you don’t trip on.

This biological Iron Curtain worked both ways: I couldn’t see out, and the doctors couldn’t see in. Maybe, they said, the errant blood cells would eventually settle to the bottom of my eye, and the tidal processes of your body will wash them away. Or maybe, they said, the blood was masking other damage and that eye will never see again. If things don’t clear soon, we’ll wade in scalpel-first and start swinging, see if there’s anything to salvage.

… And then there was the day, good eye closed, bad eye open, when I moved my hand and I saw it move. Sure, it was like looking through a camera under 20 feet of muddy water, but still, it was a sign of life. And that was it. The beginning of my liberation, or maybe the end. Depends on the day.

The Ethics of Turning People Into Characters

by Shulamith Firestone

I recently published a humor piece about the experience of being many times a bridesmaid. I turned 30 several months ago, and my younger brother and his fiancee are getting married this summer. Theirs is the fifth wedding I’ve been invited to in the last year and the third at which I will be a bridesmaid. I thought my piece was funny, relatable, and self-mocking. My brother’s fiancee, believing that I meant to imply that she is a demanding bride (she isn’t), was offended.

I apologized. While I didn’t believe I was wrong to write it, I was sorry for hurting her feelings. Last summer, I angered an old friend under similar circumstances. I wrote a piece about race in my hometown and showed it to my friend, who was offended by the paragraphs about her. I don’t think it was so much what I’d written as it was that I’d written about her at all. People don’t enjoy being transformed into subjects without their knowledge or consent; even people who agree to be written about often end up resenting, if not despising, those who write about them.

“Everything is copy,” the late Nora Ephron’s mother once told her. When Ephron’s marriage to Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein unraveled (Bernstein had an affair with a mutual friend while she was pregnant with their second child), Ephron converted the story into an autobiographical novel, Heartburn (which later became a hit movie). The writer Lorrie Moore once published a story, “People Like That Are The Only People Here,” in which a mother has a sick child. “Take notes,” says the “Husband” character. “We are going to need the money” (Moore’s own child was ill in real life). The story’s last line is, “There are the notes. Now where is the money?”

Given the choice, no woman would request a cheating husband or a sick child. Given the choice, I would have picked meeting my future husband at 23 and being happily married by now over being a bridesmaid in three weddings involving people my age or younger (although lately I’ve been grateful that I didn’t marry the boyfriend I had at 23). For writers whose lives haven’t played out exactly the way we’d hoped they would, what better use for grief and confusion than turning them into art (or at least a funny story)?

Self-expression is risky. Not everyone will understand or identify with what you’re trying to express, let alone admire you for trying to express it. You’ll upset friends and family. No matter what you say or how you disguise them or how kind you think you’re being, they’ll resent being turned into characters. Perhaps I would, too, though I suspect that the same egomaniacal impulse which makes me yearn to be recognized for my writing would also make me enjoy being the subject of someone else’s. I try not to write to wound; nor am I interested in muzzling myself to avoid causing pain.

Pretty Girl

by Shulamith Firestone

To quote Ani DiFranco, “I am not a pretty girl/that is not what I do.” Meaning not that I think I’m ugly, merely that I’m reluctant (if not entirely unwilling) to invest more time and money in personal maintenance than I think the average man does. I’m not dogmatic about body hair—I regularly shave my legs and underarms, and I wax my eyebrows semi-regularly (though I stopped doing that for a while after one of the women at a salon I went to said, “Just eyebrows? No mustache?”, gesturing emphatically at my upper lip).

I tend not to mess with my pubic hair. It always seemed like it was there for a reason. No man I’ve dated has ever complained (which isn’t to say that they all loved my natural state; I assume they were just appropriately grateful for the chance to see a woman naked). Frankly, I like that little cloud of hair—it makes me feel proud and a little subversive, like I’m cultivating my own private Afro.

Occasionally, though, I succumb to social pressure. Last Tuesday was one of those occasions. The beautician who helped me was a very young, pretty Asian woman with not-great English. The waxing room was in the basement, and, at 3pm on a Tuesday, it was silent as a tomb. We could hear each other breathing. The woman’s stomach gurgled so loudly, she giggled nervously and said, “I don’t know why that happen!” “Did you eat lunch today?” I asked. “Yes!” she said. “Did you eat enough food?” “I ate a lot!” After that we were quiet; I held my breath and grunted as she ripped the hair from my body. “Sorry!” she said. “It hurt, I know.”

We were almost done when she stopped, staring down at my exposed flesh. “How many kids you have?” she asked. “One or two?” At first I thought I’d misunderstood her; surely she’d meant something else? But she gestured again, and there was no mistaking the question. “Zero!” I blurted. “I have no children!” The woman was, of course, horrified. “I’m so, so sorry!” she said, backing away as if I might spring from the table and slap her. I was distraught—what was the point of Pilates if my body still looked as if it had birthed a child?—but then it dawned on me why she’d asked: I still have a faint scar about an inch below my navel, from surgery I had seven years ago. “OH!” I said, relieved, “Because of the scar? I had surgery! Years ago! NO BABY!”

By the time I realized she thought I’d been describing an abortion, I was finished with waxing for the year. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back.

How to Adopt a Cat

by Anna Bell

First, you have to swear you will never get a cat. You and your husband will spend months smugly enumerating all the ways in which your pet-free life is superior to the lives of your pet-owning friends. All that time and money spent on an animal. What a waste.

Then, one guest at some party will say off-handedly, “I can’t believe you don’t have a cat! This would be a great apartment for a cat.”

And that comment will inexplicably haunt you until you find yourself surfing the websites of local pet adoption agencies and taking inconvenient detours to pet stores in strip malls so you can gaze at overpriced runny-eyed inbred kitten-mill byproducts behind glass.

During this time, you will discover that even though you will never get a cat, you and your husband have oddly clear opinions about cats, as though you’ve been secretly planning your cat ownership for years, the way some people start planning their weddings in kindergarten. You—hypothetically– want an older cat. Your husband, if he were to get one, would want a big cat and definitely not a tabby.

And then one day you both will be out of work early, and you will decide to stop by the local SPCA. You will agree in the parking lot that you are just looking.

The SPCA won’t let you see the cats right away. There is a system. You have to take a test, which they call the “Felinality Test.” You know, like person-ality, but for felines. And there are rules. Tell them you want to get a cat just for “mousing,” and it’s over. Tell them you want to declaw your cat, and you’re dead.

You will take the test, and the woman will tell you that you have scored a “perfect orange.” This means nothing to you, and you will begin to wonder who you have to screw in this place to get to look at a goddam stray cat.

But finally they will usher you back to the cats, and the volunteer will solemnly take your felinality test and start locating the “orange” cats. She will ask you if you’re looking for something in particular. You say, “Old”; your husband will say, “Big.” The volunteer will be thrilled. Usually everyone wants a kitten; old, big cats they have.

They will show you a few candidates, all of which will melt your heart. You realize so-called “crazy cat ladies” are wildly misunderstood visionaries. But your husband will send the cats away like inadequate entrees. “Garcon,” he will practically snap. “Bring me another. Something bigger.”

Then the volunteer will look nervous and say, “I guess we could show you… him.” You will cajole the tiny, doll-like volunteer into wrestling from its cage a writhing gray and white mass nearly a third of her size. It’s The Cat – ten years old, twenty pounds big.

You will adopt him immediately.