My Least-Favorite Thing About Being an Author

I received an email message from a college student doing a report on being an author. Well-known author that I am, this student wanted to ask me some questions presumably to aid their investigation. The student had four questions:

  1. What is your favorite thing about being an author?
  2. What inspires you to write?
  3. How do you stay organized on your story?
  4. Was your start pay enough to keep you sustained?

The first question interested me more than all the others because of its implication: to have a favorite thing about being an author, you had be an author. I’ve never thought of myself as an author. I am writer.

If you’re a driver, you drive. If you’re a plumber, you plumb. If you’re a loser, you lose things. If you’re a writer, you write. That’s what I do. I write. “Author” is terrible as a verb. I’ve got Hank Fowler on my side. According to my Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage,

[The term “author”] is widely reviled by usage commentators, in part because of the general antipathy to “verbing”; it is forbidden in the AP Stylebook, while the Telegraph style guide says “the American habit of using it as a verb is to be studiously avoided.”

To me, an author is someone who signs books in bookstores. A writer is the person who writes the books. An author attends publishers’ cocktail parties in New York. A writer worries whether or not the apostrophe in “publishers’” comes before or after the s. An author reads fan mail. A writer writes the replies.

My favorite part about being a writer is writing. I like writing. I like turning an idea into something that someone wants to read. I like the process of writing. I enjoy sitting down at the computer, and tapping on the keys. I prefer the mechanical keyboard in my office over the keyboard on this laptop. There is something satisfying about finishing a story, or an article, or blog post. But I like writing it more. Writing is where the action is.

My least-favorite thing about being an author is getting email messages from college students asking me to do their assignments for them.

John Glenn and My Favorite Martians

John Glenn died on Thursday at the age of 95. There is an old pilot adage that says, “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.” John Glenn made that adage look silly. He flew 59 combat missions in World War II, and another 90 combat missions in Korea. He was a test pilot, and eventually became America’s third astronaut—and the first to stay in orbit—aboard Friendship 7. Then, as a 77-year-old U. S. Senator, he returned to space aboard the space shuttle Discovery. If that isn’t bold, I don’t know what is.

It is sad to see Glenn’s passing, but at the same time, he lived a very long, full life. Although I haven’t seen it reported, Glenn was the last of the Original 7 astronauts. They have all passed on now. It is remarkable to think that the space program is so old that the young men who first took to space are now all dead. Given how dangerous space travel is, it is equally remarkable that all but one died of causes unrelated to space travel.

Glenn’s death got me thinking about astronauts, and which of them are among my favorites. It might seem strange to have a list of favorite astronauts, but we have favorite baseball players, actors, comedians, writers, so why not astronauts.  Here is my list of favorite astronauts in descending order… just like a countdown to launch.

9. Scott Carpenter. The only Mercury astronaut I ever met in person. I attended a lunch at the Kennedy Space Center in the summer of 2001, and Carpenter gave a talk to those of us at the lunch. I got his autograph.

8. John Glenn. As a boy, my opinion of Glenn was based largely on the movie The Right Stuff. But I listened eagerly to the launch of Discovery in 1998, and was delighted that Glenn got a chance to go back into space. I wrote to congratulate him afterward, and sometime later, I even received a reply.

7. Eileen Collins. She was the first female commander of a space shuttle. I thought that was so cool.

6. Deke Slayton. They say that patience is a virtue. No one showed more patience about getting into space than Deke Slayton. He was one of the Original 7, but was grounded for medical reasons until he was cleared to fly in the mid-1970s on the Apollo-Soyuz mission.

5. John Young. No one else flew Gemini, Apollo, and the space shuttle. Oh, and Young walked on the moon. And he was the first space shuttle commander. Not a bad resume for an astronaut.

4. Neil Armstrong. The astronaut’s astronaut. His death hit me hard. He was the only astronaut who I assumed was immortal, simply based on his reputation and achievements.

3. Alan Shepard. America’s first astronaut. And commander of Apollo 14. Shepard not only walked on the moon, he played golf there.

2. Al Bean. The fourth man to set foot on the moon, and part of my favorite all-time astronaut crew, the crew of Apollo 12. Also, an amazing painter of lunar landscapes.

1. Pete Conrad. No two people seemed to have more fun on another world than Al Bean and Pete Conrad.

Liftoff! And Godspeed, John Glenn.

Losing Things

Kelly often misplaces things. Specifically, her car keys, or phone. A few times a week, she won’t be able to find her phone, and she’ll ask me to call her phone so that we can listen for the ring. This doesn’t help much when the phone is in the car, but for some reason, the car is always the last place we check.

For Christmas last year, I got Kelly a pack of Tile devices. You can attach these to things and then sync with your phone to help you find them. If you lose your phone, you can squeeze the Tile on your keys and it will signal your phone to ring. The problem is that I somehow managed to connect Kelly’s Tile to my phone and vice versa. It leads to a lot of confusion. I think the Tile has only helped up find Kelly’s keys once or twice.

I am less prone to losing things, so long as my routine isn’t broken. I walk in the house, and the first thing I do is hang my keys on the key rack. I hang my sunglasses there, too. But on those days when circumstance forces me into the house, and, say, immediately upstairs, my keys will end up on my office desk, where I forget about them. I’m reminded that I’ve forgotten at 5:50 the following morning when I go wearily to the key rack to get my keys and find them missing. Usually, I remember that I’ve placed them on my desk, but it messes up my morning routine, and I don’t get off to a good start.

There is one thing, however, that I have a talent for losing: the twist ties that go on the loaf of bread. I twist off the tie when I make a sandwich (using two slices of bread) for my lunch. I set it down on the countertop, and it immediately disintegrates. At least, that’s how it seems to me. I look around for it, but I can never find. The bread goes tieless for the remainder of its life. The same thing happens the next time.

I’ve set a knife on the counter, and placed the twist tie beside the knife so that I have a point of reference to search from when I am finished. But the twist tie is still gone. Where do these twist ties go? I have yet to find a secret stash of twist ties in some dark corner of the house.

What do you call someone who constantly loses things? The dictionary instructs that for a person or thing having a particular quality or form, you add a -er to the noun. That would make me a loser, but I don’t like the sound of that.

I’m at a loss for a better description.

Vacation Anticipation

Our vacation starts one week from today. I have been anticipating it for months now, and I sometimes worry that is the best part of the vacation. When a vacation exists only in the future, it is free from the bounds of reality. Everything that I imagine is carefree, and relaxing. In reality, that isn’t usually the case.

We try to get about three weeks in December if we can. Three weeks is a long time, but is goes by surprisingly fast. Why is it that vacations seem to go by faster than any other time? Is it the old saw “time flies when you’re having fun” in action? Three weeks is long enough for me to forget what day of the week it is, and any vacation on which I can forget the day of the week is a successful one for me.

Each year, as I daydream about our upcoming winter vacation, I tell myself that this time, I am not going to think about how much time remains in the vacation. I will only think about what I am doing on that day, and not worry about tomorrow. Each year, however, I glumly note the passing of the halfway mark (Christmas Eve). After that, I can’t help remind myself that there are “only seven days left.”

One thing I am good at is not worrying about what is happening back at the office. I go on vacation in part to get away from the stress and strain of the day job. I might peek at email a few times, but I generally try to avoid it.

I read somewhere that one way of maintaining a lower stress level is to always plan more than one vacation ahead. We have done this for years, but right now, we have a kind of embarras de riche of upcoming vacations. We begin our winter vacation in a week. In the spring, we are planning to return to Florida again for spring break. Mid-summer, we are planning a big family gathering in New England. And we are already beginning to talk about our next winter vacation.

I think this works. Knowing that we have another vacation coming up in a few months gives us something to look forward to, something to daydream about when the stresses of work and the day start to get to us.

But one step at a time. I’ve got to get through one more week. I keep looking for little tricks and gimmicks to skip through the week and make it go by faster. The weekend is only two days away. Once the weekend is over, it is only three more work days before vacation. But really, I should slow down and enjoy the vacation anticipation. A vacation is  never so perfect as it is in your mind before you leave the house. Still, this time, next Thursday, we’ll be on our way. Our vacation will have started.

Vacation anticipation is delightful, but a little sad, too. Just four weeks from today, and I’ll be back in the office.

 

Serving Sizes are Silly

I’ve been paying close attention to the serving sizes listed on food packaging. This started because I stepped on the scale and found that I had reached my peak weight. I was skinny until I turned 40. Since then, my weight has been steadily creeping upward. When the scale read 184 pounds, I decided enough was enough. I started working out again. Kelly pointed out that better nutrition would help more, and she is almost always right about these things. So I’ve been paying attention to serving sizes.

I’ve decided that serving sizes are patently ridiculous. Does anyone actually follow these recommendation? If so, how? Half the time the serving sizes are listed in fractions of a cup, or in tablespoons. Sometimes a serving size is listed in ounces. Do you measure these out each time you prepare your food?

I like a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. So I looked at the serving size for bread. It turns out, for the bread we buy, the serving size is one slice. Forget that a sandwich usually consists of two slices of bread.

Serving size of bread

The serving size for peanut butter is two tablespoons, which works well with one slice of bread, since two tablespoons wouldn’t cover two slices. The serving size for jelly is half an ounce. Why is the serving size for peanut butter measure in tablespoons, and the serving size for jelly measured in ounces? If I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich based on these serving sizes, I’d have a slice of bread with a thin skim of peanut butter covered by half an ounce of jelly—whatever that is. I wouldn’t be able to put it in a sandwich bag without making a mess.

Who determines the serving size? Does each manufacturer have a nutritionist who carefully evaluates the ingredients in the product and comes up with the serving size? You would think that bigger serving sizes would be in the interest of the manufacturer; they would sell more products that way. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. I checked the pantry for serving sizes of thing that were in there. Here is some of what I found:

  • Honey Nut Cheerios: 3/4 cup. How are you supposed to measure this? Do you eyeball it in a cup? Or do you fill a half cup and quarter cup and dump them into the bowl? That’s too much effort for me.
  • Nilla Wafers: 8 wafers. Will I go to nutrition jail if I accidentally count out 9?
  • Red Roasted Pepper soup: 1 cup
  • Penne pasta: 2 oz., or about 1/6th of a box. Neither of these measurements are helpful.
  • One tomato: unknown. There is no serving size information that I could find on the tomato in my refrigerator.
One tomato
What is the serving size of a tomato?

It seems to me that the best way to make serving sizes work is to make them convenient. Package the food in serving sizes, this way, I don’t have to take the time to measure it out myself. And for goodness sake, make the serving sizes rational. No one I know eats a sandwich with just one piece of bread.

Too Many Awards

It is award season somewhere. I was reminded that the Nebula Awards are open for nominations. Writers are encouraged to post a list of their award-eligible works so that others know what they can be nominated for. I prefer not to do this.

I was the Nebula Award Commissioner for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America several years ago, and the experience turned me off to awards. To be fair, I was lukewarm to awards to begin with. What turned me off was the overt campaigning that took place—and the effect that the campaigning had on the results. Campaigning happens, of course, and there is no rule that I am aware of that dissuades this practice, but it isn’t something that sits well with me.

My own take—and I apply this standard only to myself—is that if my writing isn’t good enough to gain the attention of readers without my having to remind them of it during award season, then my work isn’t worth a nomination. I need to write a better, more memorable story next time.

I’ve received two awards in my life. One was an “Outstanding Achievement” award from the Granada Hills Chamber of Commerce. I was in sixth grade. I’m not sure for what specific achievement I’d been outstanding, and I am even less certain how the Granada Hills Chamber of Commerce found about it. The award confused me more than it pleased me.

Eighteen years later, in 2002, I was a recipient of my company’s “President’s Award.” It is among the highest awards offered by the company, and I was absolutely stunned when I found out. I was also very pleased. It seems to me, however, that too many awards would go to my head, and it is probably a good thing that I’ve only received two so far.

Many awards seem like popularity contests to me. They remind me of baseball’s All-Star Game. In baseball there are methodologically sound ways of constructing two opposing teams of the best players using performance statistics. However, the word “Star” in “All-Star” implies popularity, not performance.

Unlike baseball, there are no objective measurements of “best” for art. “Best” is in the eye of the beholder. When people don’t agree that award winners are the best, they go create their own subjective awards, which leads to the proliferation of awards we have today.

Awards should be hard to get. When I see people campaigning for an award, whether it is a Nebula, the baseball All-Stars, or the Oscars, I’m reminded of a child begging his parents for a toy he really wants. If the parents give in just because the child wants the toy, it cheapen the toy somehow. If, on the other hand, the child works hard, and earns the toy, it is the best thing ever.

I wish more awards were like that.

Map Reading is a Dying Art

In a little over a week we’ll start our annual drive down to Florida for the holidays. This will be our fifth year driving to Florida, and I look forward to it every year. Around this time, I pull out a roadmap and study it to familiarize myself with the places we will pass through or around. For the last two years, I have used my Essential Geography of the United States of America map for this purpose.

As I pour over the map, I always think the same thing: wouldn’t it be nice if this year, instead of depending upon the GPS, I brought along a good set of roadmaps, and made the drive using good old-fashioned pilotage? As soon as I think of it, I am swept up by the romance of the idea—but it never happens. The technology contained in our car and our phones makes it too easy to farm out the navigation to the computers.

The GPS in our car, today, makes navigation effortless. We don’t even have to push any buttons. We can speak to it. It not only gives us route information, and tells us when we need to change course, but it incorporates realtime traffic into the mix, will route us around delays, will give us updates on our estimated time of arrival. The GPS will even tell us where gas stations and restaurants are located and direct us to them. And, of course, if we get lost, or detour, the GPS will route us back on course.

Modern navigation systems in our cars have the advantage of freeing up a portion of our mind when we drive. Still, I miss the romance of road maps. I remember driving from New York to Maine for the first time, many years ago. My grandfather was going with me. I bought a map of New England from a gas station, and spent the evening carefully plotting our course. I calculated our travel time, factoring in stops, and came up with an estimated time of arrival. It took me more than an hour. But, it turned out, we arrived within 10 minutes of my estimate.

GPS limits your field of vision on the map. You can’t see beyond the edge of the screen, and so you might not know that there are interesting places to visit beyond those borders. What’s worse is the technology has dumbed down my knowledge of the area I live in. I don’t take spontaneous shortcuts the way I used to because I’m not familiar with the roads. I don’t study maps because the GPS handle that for me.

The thrill to pilotage is the achievement of using a map to get you to where you are going. But it is a lost art. And as cars get smarter, I imagine that piloting will become as lost an art as pilotage.

So Long, FitBit

On Sunday, I decided I no longer needed my FitBit. The decision has nothing to do with the quality of the product. I have been mostly happy with the three FitBit devices I’ve used since early 2012. My only complaint about the product is the weak bands that came with the FitBit Flex. It seemed I had to replace those bands more often than I should have over the course of the 3+ years I used the device.

I started using a FitBit not long after reading Stephen Wolfram’s essay on “The Personal Analytics of My Life” back on March 8, 2012. It is possible I went out and bought my first FitBit device that same day. I wrote about personal analytics a few days later. I was fascinated by what information and insights could be gained out of simple things like steps counts. That data has served me well.

I have two reasons for saying goodbye to my FitBit:

1. I have learned as much as I can from five years of step data. That isn’t to say that there aren’t insights I could gain by continued use, but they are diminishing returns in terms of usefulness and impact on my daily life. I know how much I walk in a day; I know how many flights of stairs I tend to climb; I have an idea of my resting heart rate. What more I could learn doesn’t seem as potentially useful as things I have already learned.

2. I no longer need the training wheels. I have changed my habits accordingly. I wasn’t much of a walker when I first got my FitBit. In the five years since, I have put close to 17 million steps—close to 8,000 miles. My habits have solidified. I walked every day, sometimes more than once a day. I no longer need a device to encourage my walking. Moreover, I no longer need the data the device provides to prove to myself that I am walking.

This insight was similar to the one that struck me when I finally ended my 825-consecutive-day writing streak. Over the course of those 825 days, I’d taught myself how to write every day, even when I didn’t feel like writing, even when the circumstances of the day acted against me. I no longer needed the streak to do the writing. I’d learned everything I needed to learn.

The thing I will miss is the silent alarm my FitBit provided. But it was nice to wake up this morning with the decision firmly in my mind, and take off my FitBit, knowing that it had served its purpose well.

Reprint Request Policy

I sometimes get requests to reprint a post that I have written on my blog. Here is my reprint request policy.

1. If you would like to reprint a post I have written, and are not prepared to pay for the reprint, the answer is no. While, I have done this a few times in the past, I no longer grant reprint requests “for exposure.”

2. If you would still like to reprint a post I have written, you can reach out to me at jamie [at] jamietoddrubin.com. Let me where you’d like to reprint the post, and we can work out a reasonable reprint rate. I am not looking to get rich selling reprints. But as a freelance writer, I expect to be paid for my writing.

Dreaming You Missed Your Final Exam

Not long ago, I had one of those dreams where I was back in college, and, having enrolled in a class, suddenly realized that the final exam day had arrived, and I’d failed to attend any of the lecture, or do any of the homework. You know the dream. It is, it seems, a very common one. I used to have this dream much more often in the years immediately after graduating from college. I never had the dream before, or during college.

It seems amazing to me that the brain has evolved in such a way that lots and lots of people have very similar versions of this dream, and it got me thinking: what did people dream about a few generations back when going to college wasn’t as common as it is today? Then, too, not everyone goes to college today, either by choice or circumstance. Do these people have similar dreams? Did Abraham Lincoln have these types of dreams? Did Da Vinci?

Along the same lines, I occasionally have a dream where I find myself at the airport, taking a plane up for some reason or another. It has been a long time since I have flown, but I manage to get the plane up in the air and safely on its way, before realizing with sudden horror, that I neglected to contact air traffic control.

I sometimes dream of getting into an elevator, which then gets stuck, either very high up in a building, or somewhere deep in the basement.

Much more rare, is the dream I have where I’ve somehow managed to lose a tooth or two. Has this dream always plagued people? I’ll bet George Washington had this dream quite often.

Before airplanes and elevators existed, how did these dreams manifest themselves?

On the whole, I don’t recall my dreams as much as I used to. It seems to me that when I turned 40, my recall of dreams plummeted. There were long periods of time—months at a stretch—when I couldn’t recall a single dream. Recently, I’ve been going through a patch of very vivid dreams.

If I had the choice, I’d choose to sleep without remembering any of my dreams at all. Sleep, for me, is a time to recuperate from the day. I generally fall asleep quickly, and I’d prefer my sleep to be sound, and interrupted by movies playing in my head, especially ones that raise my anxiety level. I have enough anxiety during my waking hours. I don’t need it when I sleep.

Dreams may serve some biological purpose, like aiding in the transfer of short-term memory to long-term storage, but I think they cause more trouble than they are worse. My kids occasionally worry at bedtime that they will have a bad dream. “No you won’t,” I tell them, but I really don’t know that for sure, and I have no way of controlling their dreams, and assuring they won’t have bad ones.

Philip K. Dick asked if androids dreamed of electric sheep. Even that would be preferable to dreaming that you were complete unprepared for your final exam.

Things I Start But Never Finish

I attribute half of the stress I carry on my shoulders to things that I start but never finish. Knowing that I have lots of unfinished things weighs heavily on me. Being unable to finish something bothers me more than being unable to start something.

I thought I’d list some of the things I can never seem to finish here so that you know what I am talking about.

1. Growing a beard. A couple of time a years I get the idea to start growing a beard, only to give up around the two-week mark. Once, I made it three weeks. At three weeks, I stepped into the shower certain I had finally made it over the hump. When I stepped out of the shower, I was clean-shaven. Go figure.

2. Cleaning my desk. I start to clean my desk at least once a week. By “clean” I mean moving something from this side of the desk to that side. Or perhaps, getting rid of a few of the drink containers that have accumulated.  It seems like each time I come back to my desk, it is still cluttered. What’s that old saw: “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what’s the sign of an empty desk?”

3. Clever comments on Facebook and Twitter. I am the wittiest person on social media, and no one knows it. That’s because I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve started typing in a clever reply to something I saw on Facebook or Twitter, only to stop before clicking the “Post” button. Usually, whatever I’ve decided to write is extraordinarily clever, but I hear myself saying, “You don’t need to prove how clever you are,” and I delete it before posting it. You’re welcome.

4. Cujo by Stephen King. I am a Stephen King fan, as anyone who reads this blog regularly almost certainly knows. But the one book I’ve started, and never been able to finish is Cujo. I just can’t get into it. Once a year, I give it a try, and once a year, I give up after 80 pages or so.

5. Angry email messages. A few times a year I will write a scathing email message, and then not send it. It is supposed to make me feel better, but it rarely works. What was far more effective for me, back in the days before everyone had email, was to write an angry letter, fold the letter into an envelope, and stick a stamp on it. Then I’d shred the letter, envelope, stamp and all. Back then a stamp cost 34 cents. Best money I’ve ever spent on therapy.

6. Mid-season baseball games. When April rolls around, I get so excited about the upcoming baseball season I can barely contain myself. I squeeze in as many baseball games on television as time will permit. But then, there is a lull that lasts for about 100 games. Mid-season, I’ll put on a game that seems like it will be interesting, but I rarely make it past the 4th inning.

7. My Vacation in the Golden Age. I started writing my Vacation in the Golden Age posts in 2011, I think. I completed 40 issues, and then paused for more than four years. I couldn’t finish the 41st issue. I finally finished it, not to long ago, and tried to resume my Vacation. I started reading the 42nd issue—and I haven’t been able to finish that one either.

8. My to-do list. More often than not, I don’t get through everything that’s on my to-do list on a given day. This has become striking more apparent since I started using Todoist. I start each day with the intention of completing everything on the list, and end it with items staring back at me, unfinished. They get moved to the next day, and the cycle repeats itself.

9. Revisions to old stories. I’ve got half a dozen old stories for which I wrote a first draft, but never finished a second draft. I started the second draft, but I lost enthusiasm and set the story aside. I assume this means that the story is no-good, or that I am not yet skilled enough as a writer to handle it properly. Still, it irks me to have those unfinished drafts hanging around, reminding me that even with something I enjoy, I can’t always finish what I start.

I have a 10th example, but I don’t have time to finish this post right now. Kelly and the kids have just returned home, and it’s already past the Little Miss’s normal bath time. Lunches have to be made, and the evening chores need to be done. And there are still 3 items on my to-do list that I probably won’t have time to finish either. So example number ten will have to wait. I’ll finish this later.

The Ghosts of “White Christmas” Past

One of the things I most look forward to about Christmas is sitting down with Kelly in my in-laws large family room on Christmas Eve and watching White Christmas. If I had to pick a favorite movie, that would be it. I never tire of the movie, though I watch it sparingly, and usually only around Christmastime.

As much as I love watching the movie, I am struck by the knowledge that the people who seem so alive and vibrant on the screen are almost all dead today. The movie was released in 1954, making it 62 years old. Watching the movie, I can’t help but think of the passage of time. Last night, I decided to look up the 8 actors who had what I consider to be significant roles in the picture. Here is what I learned.

1. Bing Crosby, b. 1903, d. 1977. Bing is one of my favorite entertainers. I know more Bing Crosby songs by heart than I do from any other performer. I’ve sung those songs to all three of my kids in place of lullabies when they were babies. Bing lived another 23 years after White Christmas appeared. He died from a heart attack in Spain, after finishing a round of golf with friends.

2. Danny Kaye, b. 1911, d. 1987. Kaye’s comic gag (holding his injured arm when he wants Crosby to do something for him) has become a long-standing joke between me and one of my friends at work. In meetings, inevitably, one of us will hold our arms in pain when we are trying to convince the other to do something our way. Kaye lived another 33 years after White Christmas.

3. Rosemary Clooney, b. 1928, d. 2002. In the DVD version of White Christmas, Rosemary Clooney provides the commentary track. She had a long career after White Christmas, including a memorable guest appearance on E. R.. She lived another 48 years after the movie was released.

4. Vera-Ellen Westmeier Rohe, b. 1921, d.1981. Vera-Ellen, who played Clooney’s sister in White Christmas withdrew from public life in the early 1960s after losing a daughter to SIDS. She was 60-year-old when she died in 1981, 27 years after White Christmas was released.

5. Dean Jagger, b. 1903, d. 1991. I always found it amusing that, although Jagger played the old, retired General Waverly, he was actually a few months younger than Bing Crosby. His film career stretched from 1929 to 1987. He was well into his 80s when he died in 1991, 37 years after White Christmas was released.

6. Mary Wickes, b. 1910, d. 1995. Mary Wickes, the gossipy innkeeper, was another actress with a long career after White Christmas, including films like Postcards from the Edge, and Sister Act. She died in 1995, 41 years after White Christmas was released.

7. Johnny Grant, b. 1923, d. 2008. Grant, who played Ed Harrison in White Christmas seemed familiar to me. When I looked him up, I realized why. He was the honorary mayor of Hollywood. He was 84-year-old when he died, some 54 years after the release of White Christmas.

8. Anne Whitfield, b. 1938. Last, but not least, is Anne Whitfield, who played General Waverly’s granddaughter, Susan, in White Christmas. When I watch an old movie, I am particularly curious what the life of the children in the movie was like. How did they grow up? What happened to them? Well, I’m pleased to end this macabre parade on a happy note. Anne Whitfield is still alive as of this writing. Young Susan Waverly, who wasn’t more than 16 when the movie was released, is now 78 years old. She has the dubious honor of winning this little contest.

Maybe, by writing this piece, I’ve gotten it out of my system. I’m hopeful that when I sit down to watch the movie on Christmas Eve, I will no longer wonder if everyone I am seeing is still with us today. Instead, I’ll try to enjoy the picture. Bing Crosby would be 113 years old this year. Like they sing in the movie, “We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go…” I’d follow him back to Pine Tree, Vermont anytime.