Scarlett Take Me Away!

Work has been stressful the last couple of days — dealing with contract stuff and cost overruns. I woke up this morning thinking about it, which is always a bad sign. I ran the tape loop of fretting as I got ready for the gym, as I lifted weights and at the grocery store. Even at 6:30 in the morning in a small town, I had to wait in line for a moment, where the magazines caught my eye, as they’re meant to do.

Scarlett Johansson beamed at me, all sultry eyes and milky skin. Kate Hudson sparkled with a saucy wink. For an instant I longed to be them. I thought, how wonderful to have Scarlett’s life, with her beauty and those gorgeous clothes.

Yes, yes — I know. Silly.

In my defense, the emotion washed away quickly. I know perfectly well that the conference calls today won’t be anything I can’t get through. And there are much worse things in life than suffering a little stress for the money I earn, that allows me to lead a very pleasant life. I know, also, that Scarlett’s life is also full of stress and meetings and working out at the gym. She might not have to stop at the grocery store on the way home, but that’s about it. And Kate Hudson has done several things that I suspect makes her emotional life not all that rewarding.

The thing is, I didn’t really long in that moment be THEM, to live their lives. What I wanted was to be those pictures. I wanted to feel what the glossy women seemed to feel. Which is what they’re selling after all.

At least I didn’t buy it.

Muse-Baiting

That’s what Kev calls it. I noted it down in my list of ideas to write about just like that, so now I forget the specific context. But his meaning is clear: instead of angelically waiting for the muse to descend and inspire — perhaps via a delightful bit of meditation or self-flagellating fasting — you set out bait, to lure it in. In this scenario the muse is a grizzly bear and the bait something suitably rank, perhaps a rotting old emotional wound or a pungent idea best not aired in polite company. It works to extend the analogy. Grizzly bears are magnificent animals, glorious and terrifying. You’d like to get close enough to see one, but drawing that near can leave you ravaged or dead.

I like this idea of the muse. More of an avenging angel or tricky demon, than the sprightly Olivia Newton-John roller girl. The artist who calls in the muse should be on her guard, ready for the swipe to the gut she didn’t see coming. The artist who baits the muse… well, be careful what you wish for.

Here Fishy

Weekends are for spammers, have you noticed? Especially three-day weekends. I received easily three times as many spam messages overnight on Friday night and Sunday night as I normally do.

I’m picturing these people, coming home from their jobs and hunkering down over the computer. A dark room lit by only a single desk lamp. Or possibly only the blue glow of the computer screen. On and on they send, lining up appeals for financial exchanges, offers of penis-enhancement products and enticing work-at-home opportunities — presumably like the one they have. Apparently many of them go out on Saturday night, instead of working.

Or is this related to prison schedules? More computer time allowed, an extra perk for the weekend. Maybe all the spam (spams?) arrive overnight because of all the Africans, Europeans and Asians working while I’m sleeping to advise me of their gold mines, my lost inheritance, my lottery win.

I wonder if they communicate with one another, a community of spammers. I’ll notice that one will come up with something new that manages to snag my attention. What? A photo of me doing something stupid? Not that this is beyond the realm of possibility, but… and as the thought completes, I realize the scam and delete. Then for weeks afterwards I’m deluged with stupid photo subject lines, many that gradually evolve to add new elements. But it’s too late, I recognize the breed now, no matter how it’s redecorated. Perhaps they spam one another. There’s my late-night spammer, home from his job. He sees the email. A photo of him doing something stupid? He clicks. Oh! he grunts. So clever. I should do this, too.

Or maybe it’s just a pull-down list from Spammer Central: select from package delivery, dear friend, private and confidential. All pre-formatted, just add random email addresses.

No matter: it’s still the guy on the corner with the raincoat full of watches. The flapping flyer on the telephone pole urging you to work from home sealing envelopes. The eternal hope that, no matter how familiar and tattered the bait, some fish may bite.

Bon Voyage

My mother is in Egypt now. At least, I believe she is. She was to arrive there while I was sleeping around 3:30 this morning. I’m trying to picture here there, but I’ve never been to Egypt and I have only vague ideas of what Cairo looks like, which seem to be largely drawn from Indiana Jones-type adventures — I’ve got narrow streets, vendors with huge baskets, flapping awnings, dust and rogue camels. She doesn’t fit on those streets in my mind. Instead I keep picturing her in a billowy white cotton outfit (though I know perfectly well she owns nothing of the kind and that no Western adventurer has worn that kind of thing since the British first began to unearth the tombs) under a blazing desert sun, backed by the sphinx and maybe a pyramid or two. No matter how I override with a more logical guess that she’s probably catching up on sleep in a darkened hotel room, when I think of her, my mind supplies the sphinx/pyramid/billowing cotton outfit picture.

It’s a funny thing, being out of touch. Normally I wouldn’t have yet talked to her, early on a Sunday morning. In many ways, she’s no more distant from me now than she was in Tucson yesterday. And yet, there she is, out in a desert I’ve never seen, my mind shrouding her in an outfit she never wears. I find myself missing her.

When she called from JFK before boarding the flight to Cairo, I asked, “so, do you have any plans for communication at all — or is this goodbye for three weeks?” She paused, conferred with Dave, my stepfather, and replied with surprise that no, they hadn’t thought of it. The surprise is because Dave, also a former Air Force guy, and so level-headed with it, usually thinks of everything. (I’m saying also, as in along with Sullenberger, our new hero.) They speculated about Internet cafes, phone cards that could be purchased, that the Egyptian hotels might have Internet themselves now. They said they’d figure something out. I said not to worry about it.

Just a few days ago, my mom was lamenting her hard drive crash that prevented her from being on Instant Messenger. She had to call me on the phone to make contact, which seemed onerous. We laughed, wondering what we did before we had email or the Internet at all. When our phones were tied to the wall at home.

Our lack of contact now is only an illusion. For the right price, I could call her. She’ll find Internet access, most likely. And yet, in my heart, she’s as distant as a Victorian Egyptologist, white parasol in hand, admiring the Great Sphinx under the sun.

We Have Splashdown

The news has been chock-full of the recent plane crash at LaGuardia. (In a recent writing discussion, one person chided an author for misusing the idiom as “chalk-full.” Another poster responded that, since no normal person uses the phrase “chock-full,” that it didn’t matter how it was spelled. I, of course, couldn’t resist.) This plane crash has captured everyone’s attention, not just because airplane disasters always do, but because no one died. Amusingly, I notice that the article I linked to here refers to the incident now as a “splashdown.”

By now you have the details: taking off from LaGuardia, the US Air jet sucked birds into two engines. The birds were big enough to cause immediate, devastating damage, knocking the spinning turbines off enough that one engine burst into flames. The pilot, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, reported the double bird strike, requested permission to return to LaGuardia, then said “unable,” and asked permission to land at a New Jersey suburban airport, again came back with “unable.” He then told the passengers to brace themselves because the plane was going down, and he landed the plane in the river. Hence the “splashdown.”

What’s remarkable here to me, is that Sullenberger kept his head so well that he not only navigated a spectacular landing, but he kept communicating the whole time.

Those of you who know me know that I have a consuming interest in plane crashes. In many ways the plane crash is both a seminal incident in my life and an ongoing metaphor for me. Sullenberger trained first as an Air Force Academy pilot, like my father. And where many cockpit recordings from plane crashes yield only frantic babbling, this one shows a pilot so well trained that he continued to let everyone know what was going on, even as he dropped an Airbus loaded with people into the Hudson River.

They’re calling him a hero, and that’s probably appropriate. The kind of hero who coolly walks through the plane twice to ensure all the passengers were off. The kind who smiles and nods graciously when people thank him for their lives.

But I think what really captures us here is that this is different than the usual metaphor. If a plane crash symbolizes how everything can go abruptly wrong, snipping threads in an instant of impact, then this is the reverse. The threads that weren’t snipped; how it almost happened, but didn’t. How someone who keeps his head can avert disaster. That a disaster can be magically converted to a splashdown.

Verbal compost

So, there’s this deal going on called “verbal gardening.” (The site will congratulate you for stumbling upon it — clearly there’s no thought that someone might be directed to it.) As a linguistic experiment, the creators have created “verbal seeds,” which are new word meanings or phrases they believe they’ve developed from whole cloth. I’m doubtful they can lay claim to starting “urban myth,” since I recall using that phrase in high school and, if you read yesterday’s post, you’ll realize how long ago that was. Of course, these are Brits, so maybe they haven’t figured out the Americans had urban legends back when they still had old wives tales. They’re also cagey about when they started seeding, which is key to any etymological discussion.

And yes, I realize I’m now complicit by using their phrases here. Alas.

Their “verbal superseed” — they don’t give a definition that I see, but I’m inferring that by adding “super,” they mean to convey it’s their favorite or most powerful — is “TK Day.” This is the day that you are 10,000 days old. You’re meant to celebrate it as more meaningful than arbitrary governmental birthdays that allow you rights such as driving a car, drinking, voting, going to war. And renting a car, in which you can presumably do all of these things. For those of you whipping out your calculators, your 10,000th day occurs sometime when you’re 27.

See? We knew it was silly.

Today, I am 15,488 days old. (If you want an easy way to figure this out, go to Excel, type in today’s date in one cell and your birthday in another. Go to Format>Cells and select “number” from the general tab. Subtract your birthday from today’s date and there you have it.) So I missed both my 10,000th and 15,000th day anniversaries. At 20,000 days, I’ll be nearly 55.

It’s sounding grimmer all the time — I can’t see this catching on like wildfire with anyone but a silly twenty-something.

They also push for returning the venerable “hello” when answering the phone to “are you there?” Apparently they haven’t realized that the cell phone sea change has already changed this to the universally used “where are you?”

Speaking of which, “sea change” is a bit of Shakespeare’s verbal seeding. It’s wrong of me to trivialize his phrase, especially to describe a society that largely believes “wherefore art thou Romeo?” means “where are you Romeo?” not “why are you Romeo?” Of course, with the sea change (sorry), Juliet could be staged on her balcony, with her cell.

“Where are you, Romeo? What? Can you hear me now?”

And. But. Or.

Conjunction Junction, what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses. Yes — all of my cohorts out there are singing along now. Those of us who were children together in the 70s learned our initial grammar, multiplication tables and basics of government from Schoolhouse Rock. (Due to the miracle of the internet, all the videos are now available online, for your nostalgic pleasure.) Setting the rules to catchy music was a terrific method to introduce the concepts to children.

And in school, our teachers simplified the rules for us as we learned to parse correct sentences. Never start a sentence with a conjunction they said. (Oh look, and here I already broke it.) Starting sentences with conjunctions tends to lead to sentence fragments, just as starting the day with a bottle of wine can pretty much trash the rest of the day. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with drinking a bottle of wine in the morning. Wine is a lovely thing, drinking it can be wonderful and depending on what you were planning to do with the rest of the day, drinking a bottle of wine in the morning can be just fine. Say, for lolling on the beach. Not so much for working.

I remember when I found out that is wasn’t really a “rule” that you can’t start a sentence with a conjunction. It’s like not being able to ride the roller coaster when you’re little. Once you get mature enough, you can wrangle the grammar all you like. I felt such a sense of freedom. No longer was I confined by 3rd composition principles. The world of wordsmithing opened up, vast and full of possibility.

It reminds me of my favorite religious studies professor in college, Professor Hadas, who described himself as a non-practicing Orthodox Jew. (A fine joke, for those who don’t know.) Professor Hadas said that most people have a kindergartner’s understanding of their religion. Meaning that, most of us retain the stories we’re told as children — Jesus on the cross, Mary & Joseph in the stable, Mohammed and the mountain, Esther, the destruction of the temple, etc. — and don’t ever break out of that child’s mindset to really explore the adult spiritual concepts.

A contest judge recently marked me down– WAY down — for starting sentences with conjunctions. And for using sentence fragments. In fact, she recommended I go take a course in grammar. It was beyond her world to see that the rules can be broken. That for art, for example, to create a certain cadence, the rules should be broken. Many so-called rules of writing are like this. Don’t use ellipses. Don’t use adverbs. In fact, in the otherwise wonderful Georgia Review article on my essay collection, the reviewer’s only complaint was that I used adverbs. Every one has their pet peeves, but the point is, these “rules” are really guidelines; markers to guide your way to better writing. Ellipses are okay. Adverbs are okay. Deliberate sentence fragments are okay, too. Just don’t overuse them. Just like you shouldn’t overuse the word egregious. A little goes a long way.

Now, where’s the wine?

Better To Reign in Hell

So, I couldn’t get on my blogger account this morning. I went to my login page and it wanted me to re-enter all of my information and I didn’t remember which of my plethora of passwords I was using for it. So I did the “forgot my password” routine, received the email, had to enter the warped letters for security, received the next email, link took me to a page to enter my new password. But nothing happened. Spin spin spin.

I tried it again. Nothing. Went back to blogger page, tried a few potential passwords. Nope. Tried my “forgot my password” routine again. Spin spin spin. Only this time the page won’t load at all – I can’t try to enter new passwords because the spaces won’t even come up.

With my amazing reasoning abilities, I deduce that Something Is Wrong with Blogspot.

The logical thing to do is wait, come back later and see if they’ve sorted it out. After all, nothing on my end has changed since I logged on last night. But. I. Just. Can’t. Do. It.

I have to keep rechecking the pages, reclicking the links, to once again discover that nothing is working. Spin spin spin.

There’s an old saw that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, variously attributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin or whoever else seems a likely source of pithy remarks. (Wikiquote says it’s actually from Rita Mae Brown – but that doesn’t give the same caché.) It’s one of those bits of common wisdom that gets circulated and recirculated like a salient bit of gossip at a cocktail party. It arouses our interest because we recognize our own behavior in it. In fact, if you Google that exact phrase, you’ll get in the neighborhood of 17,000 hits.

The prospect of insanity worries us all. And somehow, the user/computer relationship exacerbates the fear. Perhaps because, often, on the computer if you keep doing the same thing over and over, you DO get different results. Perhaps this indicates that the universe is not a fundamentally rational place at all.

So, I broke my little spin spin spin cycle and opened Word to write this out. Akin to working on paper – heaven forfend – should the power go out.

At least I feel good about having a different result.

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was

I’ve been tracking my time the last few days. Renee Knowles got me going on it when she gave her Career Bootcamp workshop at CRW the other day. Her point was that, if you’re not getting everything done that you want to — like drafting that bestseller — then one approach is to track your time and see where it’s going.

Now, my schedule is pretty tight: I get up much earlier than I like; I go work out; I hit this blog (new activity); write for another hour and a half or two. Then I shower up, practice harp, work my day job. At night I have meetings sometimes or I hang with David, which I believe in as relationship investment time. So I think I have my time pretty well accounted for. But I thought it would be interesting to check.

I made a spreadsheet (it’s the Virgo in me — can’t resist a spreadsheet) with my day listed in 15 minute increments, from 5:30 am to 11 pm. When my mom asked Sunday evening what I’d done that day, I sent her my 15 minute blow by blow list. Every mother should have such a responsive daughter. After she asked why on earth I’d done this, she remarked, “right off, I’d say less computer time.”

No shocker there. Though I defended it as an unusually heavy computer day because I’d been at the workshop the day before and had lots of catch-up to do. But even tracking my work day yesterday, which admittedly involves being on the computer all day, a huge chunk of my day is spent on emailing, instant messaging and looking stuff up on the internet. No, not surfing so much as deliberately going from link to link, reading the daily stuff on my list.

Okay, so there’s networking which, just like relationship investment, takes time. No way around that. And even Renee, like many others before her, exhorts reading blogs if you’re trying to market work as a writer.

The upshot is: what’s dropping out is my reading time. Even though I’m in the middle of a fascinating book (Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs by Elissa Wall and Lisa Pulitzer) and had time scheduled to read it, that time decreased, wedged up against my looming bed time hour, and I spent more time on the computer. Working on stuff to market my work, so I can sell books to people who have less time to read them.

Huh.

Swiftly Flow the Days

Nineteen years ago yesterday, my high school sweetheart got married. No, not to me, though I was there. It seems like all of us were there – a million years ago and just yesterday. We came together from our post-high school mini-diaspora, convening on a cruise ship leaving Miami. Three of us delayed by snow in Denver — a blizzard much like today’s — barely made it. We were so relieved that we beelined for the bar on the top deck and hit the frou-frou drinks, wondering where everyone else was. Turns out everyone else was getting the safety demonstration. We three were forever after designated the unicorns, destined for extinction, should the boat go down.

Kevin and Linda were the first among our group to marry. The first to have a baby — who’s now a senior in high school herself, planning to launch out to the east coast come fall, ivy league schools willing.

Nothing about this is new. The world turns, times change. Turn around and you’re four, turn around and you’re grown. Sunrise, sunset, seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers. So many songs about it. The last from Fiddler on the Roof, which we staged in high school, Kev playing Tevye. Now Gwen Stefani sings “If I Were a Rich Girl,” in a ragga remix.

There are rumors of a reunion tour for us: a cruise next January to celebrate 20 years. Unless the ivy league schools come through with acceptances only and no scholarships. And who knows who would make it? Our diaspora is entrenched now, our lives have traveled so far down the diverging pathways that we haven’t communicated in years.

But, hey, the unicorns made it.

(Happy anniversary, Kev & Linda)