Archive for the 'The Web' Category

Jane Austen and (eek!) modern moral instruction

December 4, 2009

The WSJ has a wonderful article by James Collins on Jane Austen, which contends that “to write brilliant novels was not Jane Austen’s foremost goal: What was most important to her was to provide moral instruction.”

E-gad! Moral instruction? I thought she was all about romance! How perfectly embarrassing to the modern reader who, according to Collins, “sort of blips over the moralizing sections and tells himself that they don’t really count. It is possible to ignore this aspect of her work, just as it is possible to discuss a religious painting with hardly any reference to the artist’s religious intent. But this seems absurd: Ignoring a writer’s central concern is a strange way to attempt to appreciate and understand her.”

Certainly, the morality of some of her characters is their most maddening — and endearing — aspect. I want to throttle Anne Eliot in “Persuasion” as she loyally listens to that dreadful Lady Russell’s disparagements of the lowly Captain Wentworth while the couple burns with love and longing. I find that Elinor’s tightly held “Sense” in denying herself the company of the already-promised Edward compared to Marianne’s reckless “Sensibility” over the faithless Willoughby makes Elinor look all buttoned up and frustrated — the classical spinster, like her creator.

But, as Collins says, Anne and Elinor can best be understood in the context of their — and their author’s — time, which enforced heavy constraints on women. Men like Wickham and Willoughby could be complete cads and still have a place in society, but their female victims couldn’t. Can’t argue with that.

As for life in the 21st century, I admit that, after a day on the Internet checking in on major media outlets (which is actually part of my job), I crawl home into my book nook and find in Austen and her world a happy retreat. Social-climbing couples crash White House galas, serial adultery has become the rule among the glitterati, snark is the hot new form of discourse, continuing corruption on an almost laughable scale plagues business and government, and tales of encroaching poverty and personal collapse rival anything Dickens ever wrote. ‘Twas ever thus, I know, but elements of modern society seem hell-bent on finding new acts of escalating outrageousness, mostly for purposes of self-promotion. (Don’t get me started on Adam Lambert…)

Collins, in the WSJ article, seems to agree:

Perhaps Austen’s strictness is very old-fashioned, but anyone can find merit in the concepts of honor, duty, and obedience. Those strings have gone so slack that there’s nothing wrong in their being tightened by a sympathetic reading of this aspect of Austen; they will loosen again soon enough.

I would argue that it is this very morality that has kept readers across the centuries so deeply attached to Austen’s works — along with her sharply drawn characters, who are so often defined by their morality, or lack of it.

My surest proof of that would be the Bennet sisters, whose personal responses to the moral challenges of their time form an almost-perfect scale, from the meek, long-suffering Jane on down to the reckless libertine Lydia, with the savvy Elizabeth in the middle. We resonate to all those tones. The extremes are equally irritating, and we look for some sort of resolution. In short, we want to be Elizabeth — at least I do, unless I could be Darcy, with his 50,000 a year that gives him the leisure and the means to set everything right.

So which is it? Moral instruction, or great characters and romance? Can you separate them? Does it even matter? I just know I’m going to keep on reading — and savoring — Jane Austen.

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New site alert: Doublex.com

May 12, 2009

Salon Slate, one of my long-time favorite Web conglomerates, is beta-testing a new site, doublex.com, for us double exes. (No, not dress size. Us women. Any url with a capital X in it is probably a porn site, eh?) It has a rather thought-provoking, not entirely positive essay on Elizabeth Edwards’ public humiliation and her reaction to it, as well as another essay on why the snarky Jezebel.com is bad for women. Worth looking at.

Thanks for the correction, Jane. I can’t keep up with myself sometimes.

Twitter tutorial

May 6, 2009

The NYTimes has a great Twitter tutorial today. I learned — and implemented — several features from it. Despite all the doom-and-gloomers, I don’t think Twitter is going away any time soon. It’s too convenient and accommodates our rapidly diminishing attention spans. If you can’t say it in 140 characters or less, nobody’s listening!

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.

About Blogging: Is anybody listening? Does it matter?

January 8, 2009

Merlot Mom, a fine site I have followed since I started hanging out here, is back after a noticeable hiatus, and admits that she wasn’t just too busy to blog:

…I also left to pull myself out of the debilitating internal competition I was having with Sitemeter, Feedburner and Statcounter, not to mention you other bloggers out there (you know who you are) who get dozens or hundreds of comments for every post no matter how large or how small). To be honest, that is just hard to take.

Indeed, it is, girl. Once I was introduced to stats checkers (thanks to some of YOU), I found myself blogging more and enjoying it less, and actually came to the point where I was more concerned with my stats that with what I was blogging about. And, if that’s what becomes important to you, it’s discouraging.

As I said to ByJane in an earlier conversation, it sometimes seems like the only way to get a following out here is to engage in a lot of breast-baring exhibitionism, sprinkled liberally with snarky comments and a dollop of dirty-laundry airing. I hate to disappoint anyone, but my life isn’t that dramatic and I HATE SNARK. (Which, of course, means I have no future in cable news.)

But then, the better angels of my nature crawl back onto my shoulder (I keep knocking them off) and gently remind me that I didn’t really embark on all of this a year ago to be read. I started this to become part of an interesting, compelling and dynamic phenomenon, and to try to find out exactly what I thought about it. And I don’t need Sitemeter to tell me that, on those points, I’ve succeeded. The big bonus has been meeting so many interesting and articulate bloggers, some of whom have kindly stopped by long enough to comment and encourage me. Thanks.

So I guess I’ll keep nattering away. For now. You too, Merlot Mom.

RIP CSM: The incredible immediacy of online news

October 28, 2008

The Christian Science Monitor has just become the first national newspaper to throw in the towel, er, newsprint and switch from a daily print publication to a continously updated online edition beginning April 2009:

The changes at the Monitor will include enhancing the content on CSMonitor.com, starting weekly print and daily e-mail editions, and discontinuing the current daily print format… This new, multiplatform strategy for the Monitor will “secure and enlarge the Monitor’s role in its second century,” said Mary Trammell, editor in chief of The Christian Science Publishing Society and a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors.

Continuing the spin, their board chairman insists that, while the Monitor’s print circulation, which is primarily delivered by U.S. mail, has trended downward for nearly 40 years, “looking forward, the Monitor’s Web readership clearly shows promise.” But the story admitted that a “‘modest reduction’ in the Monitor’s 95-person editorial staff is likely, once the transition to the new product line-up is completed.” (Blah, blah, blah. Whatever. It still means people will lose their jobs…)

This news comes right on the heels of The Salt Lake Tribune’s admission that it is bleeding readership (instead of just having a bleeding-heart readership — Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

I’m not sure what I think of this on-going development. While I am a former small-town newspaper journalist (the smell of ink and paper in a print shop is still pretty evocative for me), I admit that I rarely pick one up anymore. I spend the first hour at work looking over all the local news Websites (job-related, believe me), but the office still has a print subscription to the Wall Street Journal, so I do spend a little time looking through it. But I find, more and more, I prefer the immediacy of the Web versions. I’d rather scan headlines on a small screen than on a large page. And with my new iPhone, I find I can tolerate ever-smaller screens.

Two of the key issues here, of course, are the decreased costs and the incredible immediacy of the Web. Why pay for a print subscription when the milk’s free? Thanks to 9/11, I have three news sources sending me news updates daily, and the Web sites are always evolving. No stale news here. News reporters now have to face the blank screen of terror 24-7.

Once again, we midlifers are sandwiched in all these developments. Mother, in all her 92 years, never even turned on a computer, and I would be surprised if The Goons my sons ever read anything on paper, even books, more’s the pity. (I was NOT a Good Mom. I didn’t read to them often enough. They wouldn’t sit still!) And they are so accustomed to communicating with their friends/colleagues/ teachers/employers/EVERYBODY online or by text message that words on paper aren’t a part of their experience in the way they are part of mine.

Mark my very words, I’m looking forward to the day when we have clip-ons to our glasses (or some such device) that, with the nod of the head, will instantly and holographic-ly attach us to the Web, or whatever it evolves into. Or (shudder) we’ll have something embedded in our heads!

I’m almost ready (she said, nodding).

Why I look for and read all your posts

September 17, 2008

“When a friend speaks to me, whatever he says is interesting.”
— Jean Renoir (quoted in the New York Times, Sept. 28, 1969). Via.