Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Random Title

Mis-reading a sentence at lunch today, I came across a phrase that made my brain think, "The Chance of War" and I thought, ooh, neat, using chance in both its senses would make a cool title for an interesting story.

But I'm not going to, which is a shame, because I have such trouble coming up with titles for the things I *do* write.

So it's free for anyone who likes it. Have fun!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"You can do ANYTHING you set your mind to."

25 years ago now, having left my marriage and come home to Virginia, I found myself in a job with one of the best managers I've ever known, a woman I'll call C. C managed a keen balance between getting the ratty jobs done but finding each employee's talents, and playing to them. So it was that, as a secretary, I ended up assisting the guy who was writing a book. And the IT guy. Writing our newsletter. And, by the end, taking care of orphan clients (we were an insurance and financial services agency).

It was just at the moment I was about to be sent to Minnesota in February for securities training that I left that gig. But I never did forget that manager, and C stands out to this day as one of the smartest people I've ever worked with. And I've worked with some great, wise people.

All this time later, I have found a position where I get to do my own balancing - still a secretary, but one with decades more experience on the resume, and in a company/with a team where I have been able, almost singlehanded, to define my job. I get to play to my own strengths now.

Not long ago, I was thinking again about how I ended up being a secretary. Yeah, it was the early and mid-80s that formed me, and yeah I was VERY much an underachiever during my early career (though, looking at that job I mentioned above - maybe not so lacking in gumption as I have told myself for so long now) ... but nothing was stopping me from pursuing some more specific or lucrative or creative ambition.

But, the thing is: my parents always told me, "You can do anything you set your mind to."

Here is the problem: they never gave me specifics. Mom might occasionally talk about things *she* would wish to do, or found prestigious.

But neither my mom nor my dad ever did as C did: took up the thread of what I loved, or was good at (which were not entirely the same thing), and revealed to me the particular things my talents or my abilities could lead to. Nope, not even my dad. And he was a professor - a student advisor. His very life and career were dedicated to pushing people toward success.

Or ... maybe just to knowledge. To understanding those concepts he himself taught, or to harnessing those from other disciplines, which his students were studying. Synthesizing these to the tools to reach their specific goals.

My dad was encouraging to a fault - but the fault was, he just opened the doors wide. He provided no guide but "anything" - and that was too much. Overwhelming, or under.

I have always known that what I do is "less" in the eyes of other people. I basically fell into it to make a living. Doing what I do was not a dream, wasn't something I *sought*. I have made it mine, and I'm not complaining nor regretting. But it, in the barest and least freighted, but clearest sense of the phrase, "is what it is."



I could do anything I set my mind to. Sure. But in high school, I already knew I was directionless.

And MOST OF US ARE as teenagers. And that is okay.

But then majoring in Theater (or, insufferably, Theatre/Dance, as we insisted upon spelling it and splitting it at my alma mater) never was going to get me famous and wealthy and yield a successful movie star at the end of college.

(To which I now say: Thank MAUD.)

But it wasn't getting me anywhere else, either. Working on the crew was pizza money and fun, not a career trajectory. Our department wasn't good enough to provide one of those, frankly.

And I could type.

So I fell into my first jobs, my early talents - whatever they might have been - sublimated to make a living, and over the years I've done well, or just done *enough*, and scrabbled and fought my way to giving a damn ... and here we are.



I am proud of my work, and I love what I do. But don't ever think that this was my fantasy. Or even my calling. It was barely my *aptitude*, even, for a while there.





This morning, musing to a friend at work that my hair was looking particularly teased-and-tapered in an 80s sort of way, I pulled up Beauty and the Beat on my phone, and revisited that time before directionlessness became ... well, to borrow one of the Go-Go's song titles, Automatic.

The Go-Go's, I think, may seem a bit bugglegum and maybe even gimmicky these days. But that first album, steeped in 1981 and its New Wave-ness, was not a feather-light pop concoction. There is a menace in the chords. This album is bouncy, but it's bouncing on bruises, and it's propulsive. (Automatic is very dark and affecting. It *still* hits me in a very deep place, perhaps the more for life's experience rather than less.)

And this album is inextricably linked to the one person, before C, who ever pointed me at anything specific.

It was my brother.

I can't remember how it came up, and how it ever seemed "real" at all - and, the fact is, the moment of this memory may not have lasted more than a few days. But my brother, for some reason, excitedly encouraged me to get a band together, like the Go-Go's. To cover them, for Stunt Talent Night. He pointed to Kathy Valentine, and said I could do what she did.

It didn't change my life - or, at least, it didn't set me on a path. But my brother was the only family member who ever looked at anything in me, and pointed to anything at all. He didn't say "You can do anything you set your mind to."

He said, "You could do THAT."


I was too shy. I didn't know any musicians. Time ticked on, the moment passed, I never did it. Years later, I still entertained the odd fantasy of being a drummer - or, later still, a lead singer. But instead I watched Beloved Ex do it, and was still too shy. And never thought to connect to the many musicians we did know then, to try to become one of them. Well, never thought of it seriously. Never had the confidence to try.

And I had a job. And hadn't, perhaps, divested myself of the vague idea I might become wealthy and famous by sitting around waiting, hopefully being 80s-foxy enough for the world just to arrange its attention and money around me. Or maybe being a writer. Or just getting by, day to day.

There were a lot of years of getting by, long periods of time lived day to day.

And, not in the least ironically at all, it was my brother, again, who pointed me at something, years later. Aged 35, he asked me to go to a writers' conference ... and we all know how that has gone. Still the world has not arranged itself around my ridiculous success. But at least I consider myself something more than a 'nartist now.


I don't wish things had gone some other way. My life is an awfully good one to live, and the means to a living never has been the most important thing to me. The idea of an alternative life in which it *was* more important is no source of regret for me; perhaps in that life, my soul would not have been the one I have here and now, and my soul means everything to me.

No, I don't wish things had gone differently at all.

Just: looking at my parents. Thinking of the way C managed the people she worked with. I'm actually just surprised it *didn't* go differently. And curiously grateful I failed to have certain dreams ... ? What I did have was people like C, and others, and enough privilege to say I've made my way successfully, even if not prestigiously.


And I'm doubly grateful for that big brother, too. Turns out - he's actually even more special than I understood. Back in those years when I idolized him so, and didn't even know why.

Friday, February 23, 2018

She is BEAT

This was something I wrote a good while ago, but is resonating with something I've seen a few times recently ...

The human desire for self-decoration isn't always a product of the Horrible Beauty Industry duping us poor, stupid women into thinking we're not pretty enough. It goes back as far as humanity itself, and I happen to be one of those humans (it ain't just women) who like "dressing up" and I also like to vary what that means in unexpected ways. This is FUN for me.
The underlying presumption of the whole "you don't need makeup" makes my choices about the viewer - generally about a male viewer, who thinks he can do me a favor by relieving me of my efforts to please. Playing with makeup and costume pleases ME.

The something I have seen recently is a makeup ad, one I am not going to link because I'm not a shill, featuring a beautiful young woman made up in different ways, for several occasions. There is a narrative track, presumed to be her voice, talking about how she makes her makeup support her identities. It's a wonderful departure from closeups of pneumatic lips, giggling models, the oft-evoked aspirationalism of cosmetic marketing - not by forgoing aspirations, but by framing them in an individual's identity. She has curled hair, straight hair, dramatic eyes, or a lighter touch with her brushes - and her final message is, cosmetics are my TOOLS.

She is not subject to them, they are subject to her. She uses makeup to paint the picture she sees, of herself, to evoke moods, to draw her idea of beauty.

This is a model, of course. She's not in need of remediation. But the message of an ad always hopes viewers will identify with the star of the ad - and, in this one, we're asked to identify with a person, and to see that her tools are good ones. The line to "aspire to be This Beautiful" - to fixed body image or features or hair, to ideals themselves - is no longer direct. It's there; you can't market cosmetics without the promise of Beauty. But the arrow at the end of the line now points to a more flexible form of beauty, AND to the fact that we're in charge of anything a mascara or a lip gloss or a ceramic flat-iron may have to offer. We're the ones who DO the beauty, in the end.

This ad struck me the first time I saw it, and it's struck me the same way again. So, clearly, it works. Someone in some ad agency or marketing realized that we can make *money* exploiting themes that seem less exploitive.

And, you know what? I am good with that. I don't recall what company the ads are for, and it most likely won't bring me to their products in itself, but I *do* applaud, even if quietly, in this simple little backwater on Teh Intarwebs, the acknowledgement that, y'know, not all beauty products speak to the inherent ugliness of our creatureliness of humanity, which we must cover up or correct for.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bitten

It's a day like many others, but not "any other." Productive, with excuses. I am ploughing through the work on my desk, but skipping this afternoon's "run" in our fitness room. Slitting envelopes, copying legal down to letter for scanning, uploads. Multi-tasking, but all one task - just different steps in the order, converging, week on week invading each other's time. Click-click.

Boom.

It swims up from nowhere, unbidden. Not necessarily unwanted. But unwonted. Unexpected. Half gorgeous, and half cruel.

Memory of two words, out of your mouth.

I miss you so much it makes me gasp. Missing you an old habit. Missing you a way of life. It doesn't define me, it doesn't maim me.

oh, but. oh but

smaller and smaller, too smallevenfortheshiftkey. Shrinking.

Constricted.



Two words, and I am all but weeping. Slitting envelopes. Copying paper. Near the end of the day, but not near enough. Constricted.







I miss you.

That's three. Your two were more profound.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Collection

Dunking doughnuts outside the 54th floor, Louis and Mrs. Armstrong at the Sphinx, a woman neck-deep in grapes, Malyshka the Russian Space Dog of Sputnik II ... oh and so indescribably MUCH more. Photos from The Atlantic's amazing archive.

In fuzzy-history-we-think-we-know: did you realize that the Equal Rights Amendment passed forty-six years ago, almost to the month? But it has never been ratified. Yes, ladies - and women too - there is still a deficit of two states' ayes to enforce what even CONGRESS was able to say yes to, way on back in 1972. More than a quarter of states in the theoretically United States still don't care to accept the amendment, two generations on. I am not proud to note my home state remains a holdout.

Tom Williams has a good post, reviewing New Grub Street by George Gissing. As interesting as the work looks, one of Tom's points is meta - that the work contains the flaws it rails against. He also points out that the complaints of the fictional author in New Grub Street are still with us today. To take this one more layer of meta, this morning before I saw his post, I happened to get up and turn on The Loves of Edgar Allen Poe as my background to waking up and getting ready. I was fascinated by its repeated commentary on a writer's raw deal in publishing, out of the Poe character's mouth, and got curious about the world of publishing circa, say 1941 or 1942 (the movie came out in 1942). Little is to be found about Brian Foy, who wrote the screenplay, in a cursory search, but he seems to have started life as a child entertainer before becoming a writer - easy to imagine he was exploited in more than one way in his given professions. I leave the link to Tom's post with only the observation that there is either hope or despair in knowing that it's never been easy in publishing.

Tom has another post of interest - short, beautiful, and poignant - about the Palace of Peace, the elite, and rumors of war. Sigh.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Hiya

For the dwindling few who read this blog - and I'm not actually sure about any readers at all, save one (hi, Cute Shoes!) - it is perhaps apparent I haven't had much to say here, or even just link here, in the past couple of months. There actually are some Draft posts I thought were in the works, but which are ageing and getting no attention. And there is one post on my mind, but which I have not sat down to write. The key words to remind me what I want to say haven't faded from mind (a good sign), but that's not progress.

Yep, family has had my attention. When someone spends close to eight years dying on you, it can come to absorb the focus off and on. Crises even arise; and yet, bizarrely, nothing seems to happen. If this seems a contradictory statement, please understand that you are blessed; for those who understand, my prayers will be with you.

Work, too, got hairy there for some months. At this point, that's neither excuse for not writing (which is fine, as I have been - at least, some) nor not cropping up here, so I'm not sure it signifies. It's just one of the usual excuses we see from writers online.

The house is fine, as far as that goes. And Penelope and Gossamer are SPLENDID, which goes very far indeed.

Weather has been a bummer. Far from six more weeks of winter, it seems to me what Punxsutawney Phil gifted us this year was just six more weeks of RAIN, or at the very least, grim weather indeed. This is not to say it's been cold. Far from it, we've had alternating temps from the 70s to the 40s for weeks, which is almost worse than extended cold, because (a) people have sinuses, thank you, and (b) it's not a pleasanter day when the rain goes from "dank" to "muggy" in twelve hours, sinks back, and then swells again, over and over. One hardly knows what to wear out the door. But, more than anything, the unrelenting DRAB of it all is wearing.

I candidly admit, recent years of drought - given the privilege of an unstinting clean water supply - seemed to me, if nothing else, *prettier* than this by comparison. Okay, maybe unrelentingly heated, particularly a few years back when 100+ got to be too frequent in summertime. Sure, I wished we had rain then. But this isn't normal either, it's not the natural seasonal barter present in the Piedmont/just-shy-of-Tidewater region.

There comes a time in every season, when they behave normally (my memory is long), when you look at your rows or hangers or what-have-you of sweaters and stylish, warm coats and things, and think, "Ahh, yes, it will be good when springtime comes" and you remember the way it feels not to have to lug out a load of outerwear just to walk outside. Or when you are hot and sweaty, look at the endless sleeveless tops and things, and think how cozy a turtleneck will be, some starry evening soon while you contemplate holidays.

What we have right now, though, is more despairing and less sparing. It's been a pitiless year for many - the storms a SUMMER ago in Puerto Rico still have not been dealt with, and here we are on the brink of another storm season. Knowing how much worse than merely "grim" the weather has been for so many, it's out of proportion for me to complain.

Still, the depression of weather becomes the low-pressure system in life itself. A winter's slog, family time stolen by illness, smaller celebrations dragged wanly through rainstorms, the hundred things not even bothered with under leaden skies. The constraint upon enthusiasm or enterprise.

Blogs fall by the wayside.

But I haven't forgotten this place is here, even if there IS nobody really reading these days. One assumes people have better things to do, too - goodness, I certainly hope so. I'm only even here myself, prattling a bit while some electronic business tediously feeds itself slowly to fruition while I wait for it.

Stay tuned for me to actually *have* anything to say. It'll be more poetic, and even contain actual substance.

Hoping all my readers, (Reider and otherwise) are well and coming through winter with loved ones, inspiration, and outlooks all intact.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Almost my birthday, and all I want is death

This post is a barely-edited version of an email I sent this morning. It's funny how trains of thought actually seem to create their own tracks and destinations.



Forwarded message to a best friend TEO...


"When bitching about a sweater gets REALLY dup and profiend.

Sometimes, being a writer is weird."


-----Original Message-----
Original email to Mr. X
Sent: Tue, Feb 6, 2018 8:06 am
Subject: Yep nope

The quest for the right wardrobe never seems to end. I bought a sweater maybe three months ago - it was definitely "recent" - but am deciding today, it has got to go. Which is especially irritating, as it's a GAP and I usually have good luck with GAP. (One red/black damask print v-neck has lasted me like six years now, it's woooooonnnderful.) But this simple blue rib knit: I'm not into that whole Marie Kondo thing, but this sweater is NOT GIVING ME JOY.

Which, ugh. This sweater made me use THAT phrase. This sweater sucks.

The thing is - it's really comfortable, it's the length I like, and the color is great on me. It is also pill--tastick (yes, with a K - like your name, it needs the consonantal emphasis), the "inseam" tag sticks out (and no, I don't cut out care tags because lord knows I'll louse up the laundry at some point), and the front hangs really weird at the bottom. Gah.

So, though I've worn this probably not even half a dozen times: I need to get rid of this thing.

Life is too short to wear unflattering (and prematurely RATTY) sweaters.

It's just a shame I happen to be wearing the thing NOW. On my fake-Friday, and family day. And with good jewelry, too! Blah.


Tonight is steak night at mom and Stepdad's. The filets from Christmas, which we didn't eat because everyone came down with the flu.

This'll be the way to spend some family celebration time with Step, but leave Wednesday free for me and mom. He's been in bed a couple days, and says he might not eat with us (he'll almost certainly eat with us, but how he'll be feeling today overall is up in the air). Sigh. Poor S. He just can't seem to die.

Bro and I were talking about him this weekend. He said it was something of a shame we came to love him after he lost his mind - I think there's a feeling akin to guilt, for Bro - but I feel like it's a blessing. We LOVE him. Neither of us felt like that was a possibility twelve years ago, and okay, it took dementia to loosen S up and give him this sense of humor we treasure. But he's loosened up. He is funny. We love him. That is enough of a blessing, and dementia is enough a part of life, I feel like it's worth just being grateful for the love and the blessing.

This is the power of a sense of humor, really. Laughter is so elementally *human*, I think, that the bonds it creates can't be trivialized. I mean: look at the way I talk about your face, broken up with laughter. It's in no way a small thing, the way that is beautiful to me.

It's in no way a small gift: S's immense grace in his sense of humor.

They always say there's no comedy without pain. I'd have to agree; that's fair. S's wit has come at such a price. Life itself, arguably. But his funny-ness has made all our lives just that much more wonderful. And just saying that squeezes my heart, and all but breaks it.

And as much as I am grateful for the incandescence of S's impishness and his smile, G-d I wish it could be taken from us all. I wish he could die. Because as long as we have his brilliance with us, HE has to endure such hideous, unbreakable pain. It is so unjust - and I know life is not fair. But nobody should ever suffer this. I would not even wish this on a Trump.

And even with all that, to feel *guilty* about loving his humor would be to waste it, and to negate the blessing it is. I just have to pray it is some amount of blessing for S. It looks like it is. It looks like, even if only a moment at a time, it takes him out of the pain. Even as selfish as it is: he takes *us* out of it. He invites us out of the reality he can't escape himself.

I've never seen grace quite like that. S is something so special.