Archive for the 'Personal' Category

My (not so) Great American Novel

December 2, 2009

If anyone out there is still listening, I apologize for my eight-month absence, but I’ve finally given birth (prematurely, I might add) to my first novel thanks to nanowrimo, a dandy little exercise in pain, humiliation, self-motivation and the limitations of caffeine.
Bottom line, it meant tapping out about 1,700+ words a day during the entire month of November, which is complicated by the fact that it is my second-busiest month of the year at work and full of other friendly distractions, like Thanksgiving. I spent almost the entire month about 2,000 words behind (you can track your progress on the site), but, thanks to some marathon sessions over the long weekend, I managed to finish a day early and several words over the 50,000-word goal (instead of a day late and a dollar short, as is my wont).
I admit I hesitated at signing up, at committing to having a short novel (and 50k is short) by the end of the month. I have rooms full of unfinished projects, piles of yarn and fabric and paper and books, with two abandoned master’s degrees lodged in there somewhere. The Spouse just rolls his eyes when I announce a new goal. But I really wanted to do this. I wanted this off my Life List. And I somehow managed to pull it off.
It is, of course, my roman à clef, my thinly veiled autobiography (well, maybe 30 percent of it anyway), which Maud Newton (who is attempting a similar feat in her own first novel) in a well-timed blogpost suggests that we all have to get out of our systems before we can do any REAL writing. As a measure of what constitutes real writing, Maud leaves it to her hero, Mark Twain: “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”
Wanna read it? Well, you can’t. This baby is UGLY. It isn’t even close to being done. There’s even a bunch of stuff that I’ve got to get rid of, little stories and anecdotes that pleased me at the time but don’t do anything to move the plot forward. In fact, the more autobiographical parts are the least interesting. I was at my best during November when I sat down and just let the characters loose, when I was able to get out of my own way, as Jane puts it. For a few glorious moments, it actually got to be a little Zen.
I hope to have a full draft by the end of December, and then I’ll start the real rewrite, including a bunch of research, fact-checking and some field trips.
I’ll definitely do it again. Next November, I’ll issue a call for y’all to join me.

In case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to…

December 1, 2009

A foolish expectation of privacy?

May 1, 2009

imagesMsmeta here, poking her head above ground to see if it’s spring yet — oh, wait. That already happened. Way back in February. Which is about how long since I’ve posted regularly. Okay (she said, rubbing the grit out of her eyes), here goes:

I have a plethora of lame excuses for not spilling my guts not posting regularly, most having to do with work, Facebook, work, record snowfalls, work, family issues, blah blah blah. But if you tied me down and put bamboo shoots under my fingernails (or even offered me a Coke with crushed ice, I’m SO easy) I would have to confess that I’ve developed a strange little niggling feeling between my shoulder blades, an uneasiness, a reluctance that I can best express by saying that I’ve been feeling, well, overexposed, vulnerable, too “out there.”

I’ve talked about my penchant for anonoblogging in a previous post, and recently had an interesting, almost uncomfortable response. The reader said it took him only 10 minutes to discover my real identity by following the various breadcrumbs I’ve left throughout cyberspace. So much for hiding in plain sight. (Don’t bother trying to find me. I’m not that interesting. Really.) I think I somehow knew I was discoverable, but it tweaked me a bit nonetheless.

Which is probably why Nell Boeschenstein’s encounter with the limits (or lack thereof) of Internet privacy was so interesting to me. In today’s issue of The Rumpus, an unusual little literary way station on the Web, she tracks how her very personal contribution to a Web site found its way into a very public art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, which crossed some definite boundaries for her. Like her, the people who posted to that site:

…were looking for something, and their words and their faces and their desires and their loneliness were being put on display on the wall of a major museum without their permission or knowledge. On the one hand, this was found art; on the other hand, was it? On the one hand, these people had put this information onto the Internet themselves and had no legal expectation to privacy; on the other hand, the piece seemed to take advantage of naïve people who didn’t understand what little ownership they have over the information about themselves available on the Internet. On the one hand, information is taken from the Internet all the time and reprinted in different contexts; on the other hand, faces and emotions and private lives on a museum wall take appropriation to a whole new level. The [original] project seemed kind to the idea of loneliness, yet it seemed to disregard the actual people to whom that loneliness belonged.

Ouch. And she only found out about it because she happened to walk into MOMA and trip over the exhibit. (Her account is a bit long but worth reading.)

Do we have any expectation of privacy out here? Did I sign my rights away when I logged onto WordPress that first time? My posts are never particularly salacious or scatalogical, but could I provoke some unwanted interest just by being here?

I know I’m going to think twice before I contribute to anyone else’s site from now on.

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My random 25 list, or “Keep moving. Nothing to see here.”

February 10, 2009

To accommodate the requests from my many annoying dear friends, I am posting my 25 random things list with a little help from the NYTimes.

1. Say that you hate things like this, and are doing it only to get the (oh, so many) friends clamoring for your list off your back.
Oh, I DO!

2. Describe “embarrassing” high school incident that makes you look cool.
I remember high school as a three-year social nightmare. I actually asked Doug Smoot to Preference because Vickie Cate (his girlfriend and later wife) wanted to go with someone else but didn’t want him to stay home and so she bullied me into asking him. Is that pathetic? He was such a nice guy.

3. Confess to crush on a) third-grade teacher b) obscure indie actor or actress c) your significant other, especially if he or she is on Facebook.
While I think Chris Cooper is HOT, I think The Spouse is HOTTER.

4. Identify real, but minor, flaw.
I snore. (Ask anyone who has roomed with me lately.) The Spouse wears ear plugs.

5. Identify major flaw by suggesting how it may also be major virtue.
The older I get, the less I can dissemble. I can’t fake liking or even tolerating someone or something I don’t. I skip a lot of events where I might have to “be nice.”

6. Cite mean nickname you were given as a child.
Can’t remember any. Being me was bad enough.

7. Follow with offhand mention of receipt of high professional honor or athletic or artistic achievement.
Excuse me for a moment while I fix my hair, which I can see in the reflection of my framed CASE INTERNATIONAL CIRCLE OF EXCELLENCE GOLD AWARD.

8. Describe meeting a celebrity and how it a) disillusioned or b) thrilled you or c) if it’s a really good celebrity just the name will do.
I had my picture taken with Harry Smith of ABC-NEWS. He’s tall. Oh, and I did a recording gig with Sting. He wore black leather pants. It was okay.

9. Mention small adversity, like long commute or annoying neighbor, and the unexpected, preferably funny, way you overcome it.
I’m not pretty, so I became pretty smart. And pretty funny.

10. Cite an actual random thing that comes to mind while writing this list.
I love raw oysters.

11. “Admit” that you always identified with weird ancillary character on popular TV show in 7th grade, as if you didn’t know that everyone in retrospect agrees that was the best character.
I don’t remember much TV from 7th grade, except for afternoons with “The Mickey Mouse Club” and “American Bandstand.” I did grow up wanting to be Laura Ingalls Wilder from the “Little House” books.

12. Expose something genuine and poignant about yourself, such as untimely death of close relative or rare genetic condition.
I have a mesenteric venous thrombosis with accompanying portal hypertension and esophageal varices. Cool, eh? (You’ll NEVER get it, so don’t worry.) It nearly killed me, and may yet.

13. Express heartfelt thanks to friends or family for helping you through #12, or just for being there, or whatever.
The Spouse sat by my bed at the hospital every day, with only his computer for entertainment. The Goons were both water-skiing at Lake Powell. Figures.

14. Conclude sentimental portion of list by citing the scene in movie X that always makes you cry. Could also be a lyric, or a memory, so long as it involves crying.
That moment at the end of “Carousel” when Billy says, “I love you, Julie. I’ve always loved you” to the strains of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Break out the Kleenex.*

15. Something about drugs.
Don’t do them, unless they’re prescribed (said the pharmacist’s daughter).

16. Tell a story of how you stood up to authority. Dwelling on descriptive details can help it not seem like you are making yourself out to be a hero even though you are.
I don’t generally stand up to authority, but then, I don’t always recognize authority. I just burble along, usually under the radar.

17. Recount a dramatic moment, like having your heart broken or getting arrested, but withhold details, forcing readers to ask for them in your “comments’’ section. In case you didn’t know, comments equate to status on Facebook even more than number of friends.
I was singing a solo on TV and forgot the words, so I repeated the previous verse. In Spanish, no less.

18. Make one up.
I was caught smuggling hashish and spent 12 years in a Turkish prison where I was recruited by Al Qaida.

19. Say “one of these is completely made up.”
Guess which one.

20. If you have kids, a) cite weird names you wanted for them and how your more rational, if less creative, spouse rescued them from a lifetime of torture.
Mother didn’t like “Lincoln,” so for awhile she kept calling him “Tony.” We ignored her. She gave up. Oh, and Jefferson was supposed to be Jeffrey, but we got carried away.

21. and/or b) relate story that appears to expose your inept parenting while in fact highlighting their precocious brilliance. If you don’t have kids, relate a cute anecdote from your early life to show everyone that you’re still a kid at heart.
My sons were shamefully easy to discipline. I merely had to suggest to Jeff that I would separate him from his beloved friends and he would turn into JELLO, and you just had to look at Lincoln cross-eyed and he’d burst into tears. No sweat. The only thing I had to put up with from them was the occasional LIP. Thanks, guys.

22. If you have a pet, you have one item only through which to convey its superlative nature. If you don’t have a pet, talk about how much you yearn for an obscure breed of cat/dog/reptile or, alternatively, how much you hate animals and the people who love them.
We had Mo, a Sheltie, for nearly 15 years. He wasn’t very bright, but he was sweet. And loyal. And hairy. He died seven years ago. The Spouse is still in mourning, so negotiating for another one is on hold.

23. Something about parents.
I wish they’d been straight with me. We had too many secrets.

24. Name skill that you are proud of by recounting unexpected way you acquired it.
At age 40+, I finally learned how to downhill ski, thanks to Liz. We started out doing cross-country, and it escalated from there. I can even parallel turn!

25. Close with the unusual: a) recount a genuinely traumatic event you witnessed or b) name an exotic location that is your favorite place on earth or c) cite a dubious world record that you performed.
My favorite city in the world is Florence, Italy.

26. This is important: Do not add “bonus” items.
I’m not!

Can I go out and play now? (I always say that, but this time it’s TRUE.)

*True funny story: My friend Walt was asked to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at a funeral. When the time came, the bishop stood up and solemnly intoned, “And now, Walt Boyton will sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Again.'”

(And Walt had to stand up and sing! With a straight face!)

Please! So shut up already!

February 10, 2009

E-gad. If I didn’t have enough to worry about, I’m being besieged by requests for my 25 random things list. Don’t you people have jobs/children/spouses/lives?!?

So, to shut everyone up, I’m actually going to try this on my Facebook site: 25 Random Tips for the Busy Facebook User. I’ll share the best ones here. (From the NYTimes, of course.)

Real fashion. Real people. Real lives.

January 28, 2009

Lately, at a certain point in the afternoon, when I’ve got the pigs slopped, the hay baled, the chickens plucked and the chores done, I take a few minutes and review the latest postings to wardrobe remix, a little Flickr site that I stumbled upon a few months ago.

WR is dedicated to all those of us who daily crawl out of bed, limp to our mirrors and scratch our heads in frustration. It is how real women of all ages and sizes use whatever is in their closets, cupboards and drawers to express themselves. (I think it was Isaac Mizrahi who said that fashion is, after all, a form of entertainment.) It has few rules — age 16+, total body shots, including shoes, the poster needs to say where the individual pieces come from, no collages or multiple shots — so the fashion combinations are at times crazy bizarre unique. And yet I’ve found this site to be more interesting and inspiring than any fashion magazine I’ve ever read.

It’s real people wearing real clothes, and many of their favorites are from thrift stores, discount outlets and relatives’ closets. Asian girls revel in their odd (to me, anyway) combinations of prints, Australian women incur deep seasonal jealousy by wearing sundresses and flip flops, European women demonstrate the best in Euro-style, collegiate fashionistas contort themselves in fashion-model stances — and they are surrounded by punk rockers, hippie chicks, thrift-store junkies and middle-aged fashion veterans.

There’s a teacher in Australia whose students must surely wait by the door everyday to see what wild and wonderful combination of colors, prints and jewelry she’ll be sporting. A punk chick seems to change her Day-Glo hair color weekly, with aplomb. A farm wife in Iowa wears thrift-store treasures that make her life look anything but ordinary. A woman in the Midwest with a terrific knack for layering has a link to her blog, where she meditates on fashion and its place in history, psychology and popular culture.

These are just women living their lives. Most are pretty, but not model-beautiful, and their wardrobes wouldn’t make it on the pages of InStyle or Vogue. Yet to me they are so compelling, so REAL.

Along with the fashion parade is a glimpse into the homes of these clothes horses. Hopefully I’m not being too voyeuristic, but I’m actually somehow comforted by the normalcy of most of their living arrangements, with their couches, floor coverings, knick-knacks, spouses/housemates and pets. The living quarters seen in the margins of their photos are sometimes cluttered with evidence of their lives, REAL lives. Their spaces don’t look like TV or magazine sets, but are areas where real people live real, interesting and sometimes messy existences.

Sometimes for the college-age women, it’s a single room or even a communal bathroom that forms the background, while other models stand on wooden floors in front of doors, interesting art or overflowing bookcases. (I’d love to be able to read some of the titles.) Some of them even have messy, overgrown yards — I can relate! One of my favorite backdrops belongs to an chick who poses in front of her flat, standing on a doormat that reads “Next Time Bring a Warrant.” (Needless to say, her sense of style has ATTITUDE.)

If you look at the site, you might initially think I’m nuts. (“She actually went out of the house looking like THAT?”) But scroll through a few photos and you’ll likely find someone whose personal flair and style sense make her look like someone you’d like to know. (“Her” is probably incorrect, as there are a few brave males who post as well.)

Maybe I watch too much TV and read too many magazines. Perhaps I’ve overdosed on air-brushed perfection. Apparently I have finally realized that, for example, Oprah’s guests (and the Queen of TV herself) have been primped and corseted and fussed over within an inch of their very lives before they set foot on her set, and that they bear little resemblance to whatever it is that crawls out of their individual beds in the morning. Whatever the cause, I find that I have a deep unrelenting hunger for whatever is really REAL, and wardrobe remix seems to help satisfy some of that craving.

Boomer is NOT a four-letter word

January 26, 2009

imagesAccording to Michael Winerip in the NYTimes, those of us born between 1946 and 1964 should be walking around with paper bags over our heads. I mean, I can hardly bring myself to use the “B” word, because, according to the Times,  “the term has become synonymous with greedy, spoiled, divorced, remarried mega-shopper.”

Since the 1960s, when many of us were teenagers, Madison Avenue along with the news media have been polling, interviewing, analyzing, poking and sniffing us, and that continues to this moment, even as nearly 10,000 boomers turn 60 every day…

And why should it not be so, since we’re such a bulge in the American demographical python? What could be more American that catering to the largest segment of the population? Entire industries and personal fortunes have been made by accurately predicting what I and my cohorts would do next. And now that those industries are shrinking and those personal portfolios are disappearing, it’s OUR fault?

“Boomer” has gotten such a bum rap that even our new president, who is a clear-cut boomer demographically (the boom years ran through 1964), has sought to link himself to a younger generation with a postboomer mentality, one that types with its thumbs to communicate and is not tainted by the cultural wars of the 1960s.

I had an uncomfortable sense during the campaign that, although I can thumb text pretty well and have an arsenal of technogadgets, I really wasn’t who BHO was wooing. Now I know. Winerip points out that, while “his biggest boost from the youngest voters — 66 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds supported Mr. Obama, according to national exit polls —… when it came time for him to pick a Cabinet, 10 of his 14 designees so far have been boomers and three are older.” HA! (At least we’re good for something…)

I might have taken all this fingerpointing seriously ten years ago, when I was more of a sponge for all the blame in the world, but no more, so BACK OFF. I have behaved responsibly. I pay taxes. I contribute to my local community. I vote. My sons are educated, contributing members of society. (“Congratulations,” I told each of them when they turned 18. “You can now be tried as an adult, and I am not responsible for your debts. Don’t forget it.”)

We live in a house that is appropriate to our income, and we pay our mortgage and our other bills on time. We keep our yard cleaned up. We recycle. We donate to the Salvation Army, the United Way, our church, the local food bank and our area thrift stores. I tell my neighbors if their kids are misbehaving, and expected them to do the same. We help(ed) take care of our aging parents. I have never knowingly cheated someone to make a buck. The dog got his shots, and he and his poop stayed in our yard. We have an offsetting thermostat in the hourse. We live in a state that enforces vehicle emissions standards, and our cars pass. No animals — or humans — were harmed in the making of this blogpost.

Instead of crying and wringing our liver-spotted, veiny, arthritic hands over our vanishing retirement portfolios, The Spouse and I are going on and glad to be going to work. We’ll figure it out, and we aren’t expecting anyone to come in and rescue us with any sort of bailout that will be have to be paid by a generation yet unborn.

I could go on, but I won’t. And I also won’t take the blame for our current woes. As Winerip points out, we are certainly not more or less selfish than other generations — how can we be “helicopter parents” and “the sandwich generation,” trying to meet the needs of both our offspring and our progenitors, and still be labeled self-absorbed? Do we need to be reminded how narcissistic Generation X and Y can be, thanks to all our well-meaning parental ministrations? We tried to empower them, and yet many of them became entitled. And now they’re leading the way in pointing the finger (read that any way you like) at us. We can’t win for losing, as my father used to say.

While I will do what I need to do and should do to help set things right, don’t for a minute think you can lay the blame at my feet and smugly walk away. After all, as Winerip points out, Bernie Madoff, who was born in 1938, is not our fault.

Stalking: Are you/have you?

January 13, 2009

images-11The Associated Press is reporting today that some 3.4 million Americans identified themselves as victims of stalking last year:

About half of the victims experienced at least one unwanted contact per week from a stalker, and 11 percent had been stalked for five or more years, according to the report by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics… The most commonly reported types of stalking were unwanted phone calls (66 percent), unsolicited letters or e-mail (31 percent), or having rumors spread about the victim (36 percent).

The article also details the cost of stalking, from lost time at work (to hide out or submit restraining orders), lost jobs, fear, relocation and a host of other problems.

I’ve had only a few minor brushes with this scary phenomenon, which has gotten a lot of press in recent years. There was a guy in one of my college classes who reacted surprisingly aggressively when I wouldn’t go out with him, calling me to talk about his sexual relationships with other women (rather graphicly, but I was too inexperienced and polite to know to hang up on the creep) and following me around for a few days until he dropped the class and disappeared, much to my relief. That FELT like stalking.

But someone, for the past year or so, has been leaving little innocuous holiday gifts on my doorstep, with a note that says “Love, Joy.” I have wracked my brain and I can’t come up with who it might be. The gifts are small and harmless, and I haven’t paid much attention to them or worried when they showed up. But the giver is clearly unwilling to identify him/herself. Is that stalking? Do fear and intimidation have to be involved?

According to the researchers in the AP story, stalking is “a course of conduct, directed at a specific person on at least two separate occasions, that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” But a recently single midlife friend of mine has, since her divorce, attracted several sad-sack, underachieving older men who call her regularly but for whom she has expressed no interest. She calls them, in a kindly way, her “stalkers.” She doesn’t fear them, although she admits that they can get annoying. (No surprise, her underachieving ex-husband also calls her regularly to lament his life, so maybe she needs to set up some firmer boundaries…)

The crime channels are full of programs about women who were terrified and in many cases killed by men who were stalking them, and law enforcement appeared in many cases ham-strung by weak or non-existent laws against that kind of threatening behavior. But does unwanted attention have to be that extreme or go that far to be considered stalking?

The article also made me wonder if I’ve been guilty of stalking as well. I clearly remember, also back in college, when the-only-boyfriend-I-was-EVER-going-have-in-my-entire-life broke up with me. I admittedly went a little mad, daily driving by his apartment, hiding outside his classes to see him when he came in and out, pestering mutual friends about what he was doing and who he was seeing. I never did the call-and-hang-up thing, praise Allah, but I remember being pretty obsessed over him for several months until the passion burned out and I got my pride back. (What was I thinking? He was a DOPE.) Was I on some level a stalker?

One lesson I’ve learned over my 50+ years is that we humanoids, male or female, are intensely social and emotional creatures, a fact which often leads to some pretty irrational behavior. (That image of my college-age self, waiting in my unheated car in freezing rain outside Former Boyfriend’s apartment, still makes me CRINGE.) Add those too-human traits to a mind that is already unhinged in some way, and you have a disaster ready to happen.

Does this all stir any memories? Is stalking part of the human experience, some sort of Darwinian throwback? Can we not help ourselves?

msmeta reveals herself, at last

January 13, 2009

me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now you too can become your very own Obamicon, thanks to the folks at paste magazine. (Via Gawker. YES, I REALLY DO LOOK AT THAT AWFUL SITE!  SO SUE ME!)

msmeta’s metaphysical hangover

January 5, 2009

women101207_468x4591Thanks to Paper Cuts at the NYTimes, I now have a name for my post-holiday angst, what Kingsley Amis called a “metaphysical hangover”:

…that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future [says Amis]… You have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a skunk you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is.

That “fear for the future” has been compounded in recent weeks for all of us, and after the frivolity of the past two weeks (I admit to five parties in one six-day stretch around New Year’s Day), it is time for that confounded piper to be paid.

So the Christmas lights are all down and packed away, the cupboard has been cleared of all Christmas goodies and the pantry stocked with NutriSystem and SlimFast, the poinsettias have withered away — and I am back at my desk, glad to have a job, but wishing that the paper narcissus bulbs would bloom already and give me a little burst of spring.

Cheerier posts will resume shortly. Promise.