Monday, August 31, 2009

Here It Is

Count on Edith Wharton to have a handle on it better than I.

From The Letters:
As she listened, her private pang was merged in the intolerable sense of his
unhappiness. Nothing he had said explained or excused his conduct to her; but he had suffered, he had been lonely, had been humiliated, and she suddenly felt, with a fierce maternal rage, that there was no conceivable justification for any scheme of things in which such facts were possible. She could not have said why: she simply knew that it hurt too much to see him hurt.

Yep. That's got it.

I know life isn't fair. But my sense of "it's not fair" still informs my solicitation for the wellbeing of those around me. It's difficult for me to sense justification in anyone's pain, even the pain (as most of it tends to be) people choose for themselves.

I fight it.

It's not fair.

Selfish Generosity

I have gained, in the past five years, an undeserved reputation for generosity and patience. Like most people, I'm a fairly selfish runt with genuine interest in other people's welfare, but the first interest is in myself. I learned the finer points of *behaving* as if I'm not a complete bag of greed first from my mom and then from my best friend (to whom I am undyingly and truly grateful) - but it's all behavior, habituated and applied over years, and not really altruistic.

As I've grown older, the nature of my selfishness has changed - I no longer care about presents, nor (shockingly) even getting all sorts of attention - but it's basically unchanged in magnitude and priority. It's been an easy matter to turn down the drama queen-ism I suffered in my twenties, and I've learned how to focus outward. But by and large, I don't mind talking about myself any more than anyone else does; and it takes real love for me to worry much about other people's blabber. An increasing streak of valing my privacy has gone a long way to toning down the greater part of my attention-grabbing ways, and I'm sure that is all to the best as far as everyone is concerned.

Strange, though, this idea people have cultivated about me regarding generosity.

To a certain point, I've always had a capacity for helping other people. Since I was fourteen years old, I've been "Dear Abby" to my friends - and, possibly even more usefully, possessed of a great ability to distract people from their problems. I almost never know what to say regarding my friends' losses, or fears - but I have long cultivated the accidentally-discovered habit of, at least for a little while, removing their focus from the worst things at hand. With certain people, I'm even able to deliver that most inappropriate of gifts, for the unhappy, escape by laughter.

I'm inordinately pleased with myself for having this facility. My ability and desire to ease the frustrations of those around me is very real; the urge to it is incredibly compelling. When a friend recently called me for substantial practical advice, on a huge choice she and her husband were facing, I went against my own desires and usual wisdom to feel her out, to understand the situation, and to make a recommendation which takes them away from me by a factor of a couple thousand miles. I'm sorry to say goodbye to people I do love; but so flattered that I was asked for a viewpoint at all. And excited for the prospects they have waiting. I have a need to see those I care about always better off, and this is not generosity.

If I had my way in the one aspect of my supposed kindness to others, let it be said that the bottom-line payback would be for myself first, as truly as I feel it would benefit anybody else.

I am DRIVEN by others' welfare, but to mistake this for goodness misses the many many points on which the benefit of those I love becomes my own asset.

The person who best understands the mercenary nature of my selfishness also, oddly enough, has been the person who most reveled in it - has enjoyed both indulging my essentially greedy natur, and indulging IN it. The purchase of a pair of shoes, with the right person, can become a little thrill of shared fun - the fullest sense of unnecessary "indulgence", consumerism, profligacy.

A dirty little secret about the various kinds of love we have in this world is the extent to which giving someone else pleasure really just feeds our own. The triumph it can be to find JUST the right gift for my mom, not an easy woman to buy things for, is really strong. The excitement of what it's like to make my brother laugh is prideful as much as it could be amusing. The fun of "play", just because something you do makes a niece squeal and want to play again.

Those I love aren't incidental to my pleasure in life, but they feed it inextricably, and anything they get out of whatever possible action I may take for their happiness is nothing compared to the reason that drives me at all.

I realize it is impossible to express any of this without sounding insufferably self-sainted. It's a frustrating thing. Honesty with myself (and selected others) is too important for this to be as muddy as it inevitably ends up being expressed.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Bulleted List About Me

  • I was among the freshman class of babies born at St. Mary's hospital when they first got a baby department
  • Eubie Blake and I have the same birthday ... he had it first, though
  • I can pop my shoulders out of the sockets, it's a great party game with the kids, donthchaknow
  • At age ten, I was Rabbit #2 in the world premiere musical production, "Fifty Cubits"
  • I've lived in Richmond, VA; Oak Ridge, TN; Springfield, OH ... and Richmond all over again
  • BUT ... I have traveled to Kansas; Colorado; Israel; Athens, Greece; Hawai'i (twice); and NYC
  • I was in the first freshman class at Mills E. Godwin HS, who had a full slate of upperclassmen ahead of us
  • In 1985, I participated in the first Governor's Summer School for the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Due to a special dispensation from, and the hilarous desire to make it a "race" with, my mom, I first gave blood at age 17 at a school blood drive (I bled faster, and won)
  • At nineteen, I was invited by playwright Milan Stitt to apply to the Yale School of Drama ... he saw me in a scene from The Runner Stumbles; this scene also contained the one and only stage kiss I've ever had to perform (my leading man was a guy our professor was trying to bring out of his shell and who'd only taken the class as a requirement ... it was pretty bad)
  • As dramatized as part one of the bullet point above may appear, please understand that including this is an indulgence and was NOT itself actually a dramatic moment; I just like that I can say this
  • From June 1994 to May 1998, I increased my annual income from $12,500 to $30,000
  • Since 1992, my blood donations have been almost exclusively for platelets/plasma; I have a blood platelet count two to three times higher than most people
  • At a concert during the Serious Moonlight tour, I caught the towel of David Bowie (with a friend); my mom WASHED it the next morning (silly mama) ... I still have my half of the towel to this day
  • My grandfather and my father between them lived in three separate centuries
  • I have a great uncle (grandfather's KID brother) who came within a month of accomplishing the three-century feat singlehanded
  • I can change the oil, brakes, rotors, and oil sending unit in a car (and the belts on a vacuum)
  • I can carry as many as three little girls (at least one has to be a toddler) hanging from my hair
  • I'm allergic to penicillin and fake-tanning
  • In 1994/5 I assisted the staff attorney with my employer with transcription and editing of his book on estate planning (which was never published)
  • A friend of mine wrote and directed the independent romantic comedy "Beyond Expectations" and I got to be an extra, along with our fifth grade teacher, who had a minor career-in-retirement as a movie extra in quite a few productions
  • I'm a First Chapter member of James River Writers, and in four years have come close to completing my first book, a historical novel set in Late Antiquity/the early "Dark" Ages

Games People Play

I try to think about it objectively, and I think that my family don't really fit the popular conception of geeks or nerds. My mom, I have some suspicion, was a bit of a Popular Girl; my dad was a scientist, but perhaps far too good looking to be a nerd – and anyway, he conducted his youth during the Eisenhower years; surely, there is some relativism which prevents certain labels for certain socializations ...

Even if we're not quintessential Poindexters – I gravitate to the dork crowd, preferring gamers and propeller-heads over Popular Kids, or alternative/subcultural crowds, sports lovers, or whatever-category-have-you. I do hang with all of these, particularly the Ally Sheedy outliers and (when I was younger) certain elements of a somewhat delinquent population. But I'm a geek groupie at heart, always have been.

The possibly odd thing about this is that I'm not really much a part of any specific geek subgenre. I’m spread too thin, contain too many different elements, to fit fully into any of the usual buckets. My abilities and understanding of technology are limited to my requirements for it, and those are restrictively minimal to most people's mind (this itself may be a topic for a post). I'm not a gamer. I’m not a scholar nor a comic lover/reader/artist. I like a lot of geeky stuff a little, but none of it to the exclusion of the rest, and never enough to truly count myself a part of any tribal geek affiliation. My one most seriousl nerdliness is limited to a deep love of Star Trek - but I've never even gone to a Con. (Which is just sad.) Most telling of all, when people learn I’m a Trek nerd they are generally surprised to *some* degree, no matter the context in which I encounter the discussion. Fortunately, I have enough dork-sheen to fit IN with the bona fides. But like most intensive things in life, I have always been on the sidelines enjoying the real game.

And games would be the topic du post. As a nerdophile, I a nice selection of gamer guys (for some reason I don’t know but one woman enthusiast I can think of off the top of my head). One of the people I know has a blog dedicated to lots of geek-universe stuff, particularly focusing on games. The writing here is good, and brings me "in" just enough that I feel like I can get at least a bit of insight into this kind of person, whom I find so interesting – but, so oddly (and also interestingly, to me), whom I fail to share so many interests *with*.

I was talking with a propeller-head buddy of mine at work, discussing the gamer perspective I seem to be so attracted to, but which is genuinely alien to me. The thing that really struck me is, most gamers I know make it a priority, a real enthusiasm. Work buddy responds, to a comment about the blogger having a library and platform array for his games I can’t even comprehend, "Sounds like a kid at heart." The thing is, what holds my attention about this is the fact that, though we're talking about *games* … "play" is a word with a meaning unlike what the word as used in the context of childhood. Play, to a gamer, is a technical term! It refers to the graphical, physical, style/difficulty experience of a given release, or system, or even the makers of a line of games. Play, in gaming, is about the tactile and mental experience of a release’s music, the tricks of mastering it, the look and feel. Play is an aspect, but it almost doesn’t seem to be the point, quite so much as the progression and completion of levels.

In my exposure to gamers, the word "fun" doesn't actually come up all that often. Of course, I’m outside the “world” here, and my *point* is I’m missing the obvious. Of course too, YMMV (as the kids say) as to Wii games and more mainstream, accessible-to-non-gamers fun – but that’s the point; I’m talking about the specific universe of “gamers” – those people for whom a certain set of genres and expectations create a world apart from those releases pitched

Of course, too – I am not so dumb I don’t understand that fun is presupposed in games. Obviously. And to explain what is fun in one's personal experience probably bypasses the point, to some degree. I could never explain what I get out of the research for a historical novel, but the charge is very real, and I am blessed to have found the outlet. Even so, to the point of gaming and fun … the omission is odd to me. The *apparent* lack of fun, to an outsider (please read this as acknowledging the *existence* of fun, O Ye Insiders) apparently bypasses the "kid at heart" aspect of this particular hobby in another direction. And it's such an interesting direction.

The power of focus gamers have is what sets it apart to us non-initiates. The fulfillment goes well beyond “beating” your game individually, but almost inherently relies on reportage, sharing, discussion, and critique. A game isn’t fully played until EXPERTISE … is not merely gained, but *displayed*. If the game is vanquished in the forest, and nobody’s there to hear or see – then the game had less purpose. The fun derived goes from the hours of actual play, and is deepened and improved in reliving what you learned from the game, in imparting it, in dissecting its pros and cons, in the community experience. In KNOWLEDGE.

With gamers and artists and those who participate in any-given-activity as much for the other people doing the same as for the thing itself, there's a premium on knowing-more-than-the-next-person, scooping competition. Enthusiasms and hobbies of all sorts exist as prestige competitions, and prestige lies in immersive knowledge. Human beings find prestige-play impossibly compelling: the triumph of knowing something other people don't is hard to match.

English majors do this with language snobbery. Artists do it with insufferable pomposity about thematics, materials, and method. We all want to be IN, we all want to be imparters of news and knowledge. We all want to be first to know something. In gaming, this competition is actually built in; programmers construct tricks and secrets, and to play a video game, for some, goes well beyond shooting the right target. The electronic real estate, on Teh Intarwebs, dedicated to fora and discussion of who-knows-what-about-which are passionate, not rarely vitriolic, deeply analytical … and definitely reflective of a *community* dynamic. Elder Gamers have a certain kind of position and voice, newbies – as with any community – are given guidance, discipline, remediation. Relationships exist.

This morning on NPR, I heard a story about the current fear-mongering on healthcare reform. The reason fear is such an effective tool is, it is a survival mechanism. We preserve ourselves by vigilance. For a full CENTURY, this has played out in repeated attempts to block healthcare reform, and been a wildly successful tool.

The opposite of fear, modern humanity has come to believe: knowledge.

If I know more than the other guy, I'm less vulnerable than he is.

The whole point of my posting about this is … This is an area of human experience where I have an impenetrable difference in perspective. That I have this with the very people I find most interesting is the captivating part. I haven’t got a competitive nor coordinated bone in my body. It would be impossible for me to have any less understanding nor interest in video games; they rank, for me, with football for sheer opacity of boredom. There isn’t a foothold I can use to get in; for that matter, there isn’t the largest staircase I would bother to ascend in order to do so.

I have an affinity for relationships to people with interests absolutely unlike mine. Gamers, depressives, loud New Yorkers, hypochondriacs, republicans. I conduct relationships with people who have kids for goodness’ sake (kidding, y’all). It’s not that I’m open-minded, it’s that something attracts me. The deepest relationships in my life are always complicated solely, but almost invariably, by the absolute disparity in expectations.

What is strange is that the strengths in those relationships, also invariably … comes from those values that *form* these variant perspectives. I can see how someone with some experiences like mine, with morality and values I share, can even still arrive at radically different conclusions. My disagreements with the people who mean most to me aren’t the symptom, to me, of our troubles. They are a signifier of our creativity, our intensity, our dynamism, our individuality. My brother and I, my mother and I, my friends, the men I have loved (and lost or not) – we all know those things we share, but we are bound just as much by those things we know we do not.

I think this is what keeps me just on the outside of in-crowds … which, parenthetically, always seem to accept me, even if not as “one of their own”. This is a thing, about myself, I treasure more deeply than anything anyone outside my head and heart might see as my advantages.

I contain multitudes. I am grateful, proud, and joyous.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

That About Sums It Up

Wil Wheaton, who starred as an adolescent in Star Trek's Next Generation series, has grown up into one of those rare celebrities I actually think must be interesting in person.

When I saw Star Trek, it was more like J.J. Abrams said, "Listen, this thing that you love? I get it, man -- you love it, and it still exists, and I'm not messing with it. This is my take on it, so if you want to come with me and see what I do with it, welcome aboard, and if you don't, that's totally cool, it's not a big deal."

I think this sums up both the movie, and the general surprise/positive response to it, including its beyond-the-nerding-crowd appeal.

Employment Headline

It's a funny thing, I have connections to all the cities at the top of this list (well, in the case of Achorage, a connection in that state), but mostly the connections have to do with people who've suffered badly at the hands of employment opportunities in these towns. It is a joy to me that most of these people I have loved are reasonably well now - with the exception of my Beloved Ex, over whose head an axe may or may not be hanging even as we speak. But ironies like this tend to make me a little sad.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Zonker Cousteau

Yeah, so I'm no better with posting titles than I am with any other kind. This one is the result of a Doonesbury comic I read in high school in which Zonker pops his head out of the kiddie pool in the backyard at the D'bury commune (I ... think ...) and cheerily quips, "C'est moi! Zonker Cousteau!"

I figured a "c'est moi" post must somehow be in order.

Plus with the vanity. So.


Okay, I'm a forty-one year old woman in Richmond, Virginia, and I'm a secretary for a local utility and a novelist for (currently) significantly less pay. For many years, over a decade or so, I worked in the financial services industry, and my last employer moved from this town to another for a plum of an arranged marriage with a little family firm in Missouri (ahem). Since they made the arrangements, this was a happy thing for Former Employer. They've since had arrangements made on them, which has been frustrating I hear - but I left financial services at just such a time as to make my concerns more an intellectual than a deeply personal issue.

I have nothing but respect, and a certain selected affection, for Former Employer and some of the people there, but count myself fortunate beyond all bounds to be part of another company now. I was blessed beyond all reason in my position, and the people I work with - and, even more recently, with a move to another building, with a physical location for my job which is essentially a park on the riverside. It is beautiful. Counting Canadian goose bums in the water, and bunnies by the path to the parking garage, has probably contributed more greatly to a 2009 thus far spent in more contentment than I have a right to than any amount of Zoloft or anything else could.

Contentment with wildlife has been a guiding force in a very good year. Which is something I'm grateful for, as this year started in a way which wouldn't have occasioned any expectation of positivity for it.

Yet again, I am grateful.


I grew up in a middle class suburb in the 1970s, in the former capital of the Confederacy. I'm not ashamed of my Southern heritage, but I'm not interested in becoming a navel-gazing novelist of the sort who expects to write The Next Great Southern Novel either. I waxed loudly sarcastic in younger years about going to "beautiful downtown White Flight high" (my school was named for a noted segregationist), and certainly cried beautiful tears at the election of President Obama. But I am the child of a good old-fashioned Southern Babdiss woman, and I am more than capable of respecting those politics and values unlike my own.

At 25, a very nice man consented to marry me, and I loused that up. It took four years, but our starter-marriage amounted to about two actual years of married life and a slow burnout on the way to divorce. He's a good man, and - years later - one of my best friends. Another thing I am grateful for.

My brother has a vastly more interesting job than I do, and has Been Places and Done Things. For a long time, I felt the judgment of others, that my own life had been pedestrian by compare; but I've grown into some appreciation of the place I occupy, and I apologize to noone. Life is safe, stable and kind. Et voila! I am content with it.

I have a fine house, a wonderful dog, a car to get me wherever I need to be. A job I am so happy to have. I have a performance review in about twenty minutes, too. Get that off my plate, and I will be even happier.

There's love in my life, but no man here to muck around with me in it. This is disappointing, but not the crashing blow many might think it to be. I'm not dead. Neither is he. And I, even more than my dog, am the living embodiment of "hope springs eternal."

Everyone is welcome to clam up regarding their opinions about that.

Life is GOOD, and I'm good AT it. I'm a regular marvel, frankly - and simply owning that realization isn't necessarily easy. Gratitude is perhaps my most motivating factor.


I have friends who amaze me constantly. Brave and beautiful. Delicate and pungently funny. Generous beyond even bearing it. Constant and comfortable. There are so many different kinds of people in my life. But I am no less than blessed, and joyous, in ANY of those who are so kind as to love me. If smart people - if such *good* people - think well of me, I am humbled; and hope only to live up to it.

The family around me, too - brilliant, indelible nieces. Salt and sugar and sweat and perfume, my closest relatives; people who don't understand, but who deeply love, one another. My mother, still so close by. My father watching over us all. My brother working hard on another coast too far away - but for all the right reasons, and doing no better than we could ever pray for him to be. Family members, too, who were made rather than born - my dearest friend, her brothers, her father, her little boys and husband.

People are the best reason to consider life a magnificent place to be.

People are the most fascinating thing in the world.


Okay, marginally better template here. At least my middle initial, capitalized, doesn't look like a capital I.

Oh, That's CAPITAL

Oh, how irritating for a grammar freak.

In my Blogger profile and elsewhere, my name and tags are correctly capitalized. I like this template, though pretty much all of them bore me. But this one apparently reconfigures at least some of the boilerplate here into all-lowercase.


An issue for another time.

Post One

So there's this blog, see - and I'm ambivalent about starting it right from the first post. I am a person who tends to be extremely iffy about putting my real name online, and reasonably convinced there's little I have to offer the World Wide Web.

I'm also old enough to use the phrase World Wide Web with only the smallest giggling at myself.

For a few years now, the idea of starting 'my own website' has occurred to me off and on, but I tend to default to "off" for the reasons listed above. I've thought about the authors I know with websites, and realized how very seldom I actually care about visiting those. I've thought about the blogs or LiveJournals I read, and have had to admit they're restricted 100% to those people I know personally. And there are only three.

I've thought about the reluctance I have for the idea of reuniting with people I haven't seen in years, because my real name is online now. I've thought about the philosophy that it's sad, in a way, there's no longer any such thing as a memory. When all people can maintain even just "e-" contact forever, nothing can ever become really properly the past.

I've thought about the people in my past who have landed there for a reason.

Though it isn't apparent here, to be sure, I have severe reservations about any form of writing dependent upon the first person singular pronoun.

So. Having a blog in my own name, in the first place, is beset by my own reservations, and the irritation I wish I could say I had with my own sense of vanity.

The problem, of course, is that I'm an extremely conceited woman.

So here we are.

Here's hoping I can come up with something to say which might actually be worth reading.