Tag Archives: Writing

Christmas 2023 Whalefall

Christmas 2023 Whalefall

Hiking Sole Sisters Spring Lake Christmas 2023

Hiked Spring Lake with the Sole Sisters, see me in the Santa Hat above. Afterwards, when the main hike was over, I led four of the ladies to see the warm sulfur spring that feeds Spring Lake.

Came home and finished Whalefall by Daniel Kraus, a very fast read because it was so absorbing. I hated Finnegan’s Wake because it was word salad, but as the main character, Jay, dissolves into nitrogen narcosis inside the diving whale, the jumbled words make sense. Whether he survives, how he survives is the “McGuffin” that drives the book. On the framework of the McGuffin that keeps us turning the pages, author Daniel Kraus hangs the story of a teen boy bedeviled by his attentive but abusive father and his loving but powerless mother and two older sisters. Jay is flashing back to when he was 15 and the pressure from his father became unbearable in the aftermath of the loss of the boat after poor-maintenance caused two paying passengers to fall overboard. The father’s descent, and his mistreatment of Jay, drive the boy to risky behavior that leads to his becoming entangled in a giant squid which is the prey of a large sperm whale hunting in the Monterey Canyon. As you can see from the Google Earth image below, Monastery Beach features ditches that slide into the depths. My PADI Open Water diving certification took place in the water off Monastery Beach. I had to enter the surf (backwards) in full wetsuit and tank gear, swim out past the surf line, sit on the bottom with my regulator in my mouth, take off my mask and my air tank and put them back on, underwater with my eyes closed. I passed and went on to dive the Great Barrier Reef off Australia.

Monterey Canyon and Monastery Beach

I went back to the area to dive several times including Monterey Bay itself, and have paddled the nearby Elkhorn Slough. The writing really captures the thrill and fear of diving and being on the water on that part of the coast. The marine biology in the book was a treat making it a trifecta of science-fiction, skillful writing and engrossing information. A delicious Christmas overall.

Shonda Rhimes “Yes”

Shonda Rhimes “Yes”

Shonda Rhimes was a guest on Andrew Ross Sorkin’s annual DealBook Summit and I was intrigued by her intelligence so I read her 2015 book “Year of Yes” when she forced herself out of her writing shell by accepting speaking and social invitations, learning to stand up for what she really wanted, and how to gracefully accept a compliment.

I knew about “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” and “Scandal” all being in production at the same time but Andrew Ross Sorkin pointed out that she had shed 150 pounds. Knowing, as I do, that the five food groups for writers are caffeine, sugar, nicotine, alcohol and fat, I wanted to learn more. I loved how she captured the nuttiness of TV production but the first three-fourths of the book has almost no self-disclosure. The photos start on page 233 and the good stuff follows.

She was the youngest of six to academic parents with a very strong marriage. Her older siblings are insightful and supportive and Delorse muttered, one Thanksgiving, “You never say yes to anything.” Shonda chewed on that as she realized that, as successful as she was, she wasn’t really happy. It’s nearly at the end of the book when we learn that she was engaged to a wonderful man that she didn’t want to marry and that’s when her weight started to really go up. By saying “yes” to telling the truth, she broke off the engagement and broke her pattern of suppressing her feelings with food.

Over the course of the year she discovered that healthy, kind people find each other and that some of her friends did not like how she was changing and growing. She realized they were not really on her side and she had to let them go. She explained, brilliantly, why it is SUCH a problem when people interrupt a writer who is in flow with dialog and story.

Five Miles

She describes “five miles filled with chocolate cakes, good wine, books I want to read, emails that have to be answered” and she has to get past this five miles every times she sits down to her computer to write. In the beginning it takes a day, or an hour, but it never takes less than 20 minutes to get past the five miles of distractions and get back into the flow. Even if the interruption is a well-intended, “would you like some coffee or water?” breaks the flow and she has start running again to get past the five miles.

You Needed Permission

At the end, Shonda explains to big sister Delorse how much the muttered phrase “you never say yes to anything” changed her life — saved her life. Delorse shrugged.

You did all the work, but it’s like you needed permission. I’m your big sister. I gave you permission and I’m extremely proud of you. You were joyless. All you ever did was sleep. Now you have completely transformed. You’re alive. Some people never do that. You are this happy because you said yes to not getting married.

Shonda explains that having it “all” is no guarantee of happiness, especially if what you want doesn’t conform. We spend our lives punishing ourselves for not living up to some standard we think applies across the board to all of us. The book is a plea to recognize that happiness comes from living as you need to, as you want to.

Pathological Overconsumption of Food was Cured by Telling the Truth

Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry

Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry
Lesson in Chemistry - a novel

“Know what you need to do, dig in really hard, and do not expect it to be easy.”

As I checked out this book, the librarian said, “Did you wait a long time? People are waiting a long time for ‘Lessons in Chemistry’” so I read it promptly. It took only three days to go the 385 page distance because the book was so thrilling and satisfying. I have reconsidered my recent vow to avoid novels: this one was a delight. For months I have been chewing on Terry Real’s observation: we live in a society that is patriarchal, narcissistic and addicted. Elizabeth, the chemist, is working in the early 1960s, back when I was making plans to become a biologist. The author, Bonnie Garmus, draws a clear picture of the efforts made by men in academia and the in business of science to oppress, repress and dismiss women. Talented women. Hard-working women.

Garmus said, “the book isn’t anti-men, it’s anti-sexism.”

I love how the book came into being. According to Sadie Stein in her New York Times interview of author Bonnie Garmus, a career copywriter who experiences some “garden variety misogyny” one day at work and takes her anger out on the page.

“I felt like I was writing my own role model, and so she came easily… [the chemist understood that] You can really do what you need to do. You just have to dig in really hard and not expect it to be very easy.”

I learned a lot about rowing, and both the author and the chemist relieve stress by working out on an “erg” a rowing machine. Bonnie Garmus had endured nearly 100 rejections of prior projects during her career as a copywriter, so if you just considered “Lessons in Chemistry,” it might look like an overnight success story: she took her anger out on the page, caught the eye of an agent who offered representation on the strength of three chapters. The book goes to auction; bidding wars ensue; the novel comes out and surpasses expectations.

I am glad that this book is striking a nerve with readers because it shines a light on 1960s behaviors that were so corrosive. By placing the novel in the recent past, it tells the truth about the oppression, mocking and belittling in the hard sciences that continues today in technology companies but is more skillfully denied (gaslighted). At the same time, the book was hilarious and I laughed out loud a lot. Reading this book was like putting healing ointment on a skinned knee.

I have been thinking a lot about the “American Dream” and its abhorrence of failure. Bonnie Garmus makes it very clear that in science, as in life, failure is an important part of the growth process and is to be grasped ferociously and wrestled to the ground. I was gratified to learn:

One high-school teacher, says Garmus, is making her students read “Lessons in Chemistry” for a class on the American dream.

Book: Our Missing Hearts

Book: Our Missing Hearts

Rarely do I see a book review by Stephen King in the New York Times. I never stopped to think that he even reads books, let alone reviews them for the NYTimes! Wow, this guy can write! And here’s a book he loved, written by a woman, Celeste Ng, about a dystopian near-future.

I am currently taking a class on the “Science in Science Fiction” and Stephen King refers to many of the classics.

Noah Gardner, known as Bird, is a 12 year-old Chinese American living with his father in Cambridge, Mass. His mother is a fugitive, on the run because she wrote a supposedly subversive poem titled “All Our Missing Hearts.” America is living under PACT — the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act — which became law during a confused and economically disastrous period known as the Crisis.

Noah’s father is a librarian and the books are being recycled into toilet paper. There is a lot about books and words, as well government scapegoating of minorities, in this case Asians. This review is so much fun to read, I decided read “Our Missing Hearts“!

I hated it. It took a long time to read and the ending violated Anet Dunne Rule #1: Don’t Get Caught. I made a vow not to waste my time on fiction again. I learned nothing. Grrr. But the Stephen King book review was good!

Book: A Gentleman in Moscow

Book: A Gentleman in Moscow

The Metropol Hotel in Moscow (above), scene of Amor Towles “A Gentleman In Moscow” which was recommended by two members of the OLLI Art Club. The gentleman in the title spends most of his life there under house arrest by the Soviets. At more than 460 pages, it took me a month to read but now I understand how it got on the NYTimes reader-generated list of 25 Best Books.

I wrote to my art club friend, saying “I just finished “Book Two” of the books-within-the-book and I see an interesting pattern. “The Bishop,” the waiter who didn’t know much about wine but pompously gave bad advice anyway, just got the central committee to remove all the labels from the wine bottles in the cellar. The Count remembers a time he tried to … I don’t know — motivate? — the Bishop to do better, but apparently the Bishop took offense and spent years plotting his revenge against the Count for making him feel bad.

And the Hussar, who gobbled up all the roast beef and drank too much wine, then gambled with the Count, lost big, and fled from the table to “return his dinner to the field from which it came” spent years plotting his revenge for the Count publicly tearing up the Hussar’s marker. He wooed the Count’s sister, and on her birthday ravaged her maid. He might have ravaged the sister but the Count was there to visit. The Count shot the Hussar but failed to kill him. Apparently the Hussar had taken offense and spent years plotting his revenge for the Count making him feel bad.

Is the writer saying something about the grandiosity of the nobility trying to pass itself off as virtue and the resentment of the proletariat? Is he trying to say something about how to defend oneself from a narcissist? The Count was dignified and civil, but did he treat the Bishop and the Hussar with respect? I wonder what the author is implying. Any thoughts? Is this resolved in Book Three?

My friend replied with this link to a talk Amor Towles gave at the Pequot Library. After watching the author speak about what was going on in Russia at the time the Gentleman was there, I realize how brilliant Amor Towles is. The talk provided no spoilers for those who had not yet read the book, and filled in so much for the people who enjoyed the thick book.

Book Review: Sapiens

Book Review: Sapiens

Sapiens AudiobookFeeling stressed really impairs my ability to read. I find it hard to stay focused so I have been listening to audiobooks. Sapiens now has available a “graphic history.” I read part one as an accompaniment to the audiobook, and part two has just been published. I enjoyed seeing the images of the now-extinct animals.

Sapiens takes us on a trip from the earliest appearance of humans on earth, up to the current day. The author makes the point that we evolved to be hunter-gatherers and our recent development of agriculture and technology seems to have overtaken our biological penchant for living and working in small groups. He ends the book with the question, “How do we want to be now? Who do we want to be?” I can see why back-of-the-book blurbs were written by the likes of Bill Gates and Barack Obama.

According to Wikipedia:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is a book by Yuval Noah Harari, first published in Hebrew in Israel in 2011 based on a series of lectures Harari taught at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and in English in 2014.


I Read Two Books

I Read Two Books

This is notable because my library use had plunged over the past three years. I read Michael Pollan’s “How To Change Your Mind” for a Gnosis discussion. I couldn’t believe he spun nearly 500 pages on how hard it was for him to get high. I learned very little, except that he started about forty years late and had medical issues about trying things without a cadre of doctors and licenses. Sigh.

I just finished Michelle Obama’s “Becoming.” Maybe she is charming and funny in person, but the book was a grind about how hard her life is. I am hoping it was deliberately written to the eight-grade level, the way the Early News is. How can a 40-year-old woman not know that the First Lady’s job is to plan state dinners, roughly once a month?

I’ll admit that growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, pretty much all the high schools girls knew this, regardless of race. And we all knew that the motorcade stops traffic, but not for long. I’m sure her post-9/11 security was way worse than it was during the Eisenhower and Kennedy years when I lived there. I realize now some of the qualities Barack saw in her were tenacity and stamina. Sometimes, being first lady is hard like coal mining is hard. The story of her first Inauguration Day, for example. The book ended with her sounding grateful to be getting out alive.

WordPress v. Squarespace for Blogging

WordPress v. Squarespace for Blogging

Here is a quick note I wrote to a friend to follow-up on the Facebook discussion about the best platform for her to start sharing her writing online.

1. Who owns your content?

2. Can you reclaim it if you decide to leave the platform?

WordPress is ideal for blogging, that’s what it was designed for.

Wordpress v. Squarespace
Squarespace is designed for “flat files” which are faster to load (important for Google ranking). Blog functions are available on Squarespace, but I believe its first function is fast, good-looking, easy-to-build static websites. If I were to start a new website today, I would use Squarespace if I did not need an Email service from the host.


Although Squarespace does not offer you a free plan, they do have a 14-day risk-free trial for you to thoroughly test out their website builder before you make your decision. … So the ongoing cost for Squarespace ranges from $144 per year (Personal plan) to $480 per year (Advanced plan).

WordPress is powerful, cumbersome, widely-used, and for that reason, the target of a gajillion hack attempts per day (I have a counter on one of my WordPress websites). My personal blog is on WordPress (self-hosted with hosting company A), and my business website is on WordPress (self-hosted on hosting company B). I built a business website for one of my advertising clients on WordPress.com, which is NOT self-hosted, and he pays them small annual fees.


Matt Mullenweg, co-founding developer of WordPress, launched a company called Automattic which provides “restricted” free blog hosting service at WordPress.com, and you can pay/upgrade to unlock features such as CSS modification etc. However, to get the full power of WordPress.org on WP.com service, you have to spend over $3250 per month for hosting.

It is not your imagination that this can get complicated. Two things:

1. WordPress.com is “free” blogging platform where Automattic takes care of all the updating, security, etc. This might be a good choice.

a. It is not really free for someone like you. You have to pay a small amount to keep ads off the site, and a small fee to have your domain name directed to the cloud-based site.

b. Be sure to own your domain name separately, under your own name, on your own account, that you can direct wherever you want. If you want to change platforms, you will have the ability to do so. I register my domains at Domains.Google.com

c. Using WordPress.com removes the website security issues. On the other hand, all your content is created in the cloud. You will have to make sure all your content is backed up to a place where you can find what you are looking for should something (unlikely) happen to your cloud-based website.

d. If you decide to try this, check out the website I built to support my students who took my SRJC Continuing Ed classes “Blogging for Business.”

2. Self-hosted WordPress.org (which is that I do) is not recommended because it is cumbersome, slow and old fashioned, but gives me more control over the appearance and ownership of the material. Plus, I can create Email accounts like anet@anetdunne.com

I do not know the Squarespace answers to the ownership quandary. Those websites are created in the cloud, and I think you would need a way to keep an archive copy of your writing. I don’t know what they offer in this regard.

I hope this helps. Please let me know what you decide to do.