Saturday, December 19, 2009
Not on the Christmas shopping, dummy. On my performance art piece!
As you know, I’m tremendously interested in contemporary art, and especially conceptual art pieces. The concept behind my current work-in-progress is this: procrastination is an art form, and the less one does, the more conceptual and high-falutin’ one’s own life becomes. So if I do nothing at all for Christmas, my non-participation in the cultural and commercial Christmas as it’s observed in the Western world will make an artistic statement about everything having to do with holiday rituals, the ephemeral nature of material objects in 21st century society, and the importance of cultural heritage.
Wait. I finished that Museum Studies dissertation, so why am I still spouting academic claptrap?
No, my non-participation in things of Christmas spirit will simply prove that I am an incredibly slack housewife, who can’t be bothered to put up a tree. Yet.
Unfortunately, Mr D is totally unaware of my very important artistic endeavors. He arrived home from Paris at 3:25 am yesterday morning, after suffering through a 12-hour flight delay caused by Parisian snow. He then woke me from my delicious slumber with his thoughtless blundering about in the dark. Sigh. What can one do? And since then, today, he’s made every mistake in the book. Brought up the tree from the basement, which he’s now puzzling over. Put on Christmas music. Ornament boxes are appearing right and left. He’s trying to scotch my great art plan, and aggravatingly, there’s not even any Scotch involved.
Because frankly, this current artwork of mine cannot be successfully realized if I do not in some way equal the exquisitely poignant Christmas 1996 performance described here. [click here to read] The drama! The passion! The lack of initiative! The selfish slothfulness! The uncaring poor parenting disguised as exhaustion!
Oh heck. I’m afraid the die is cast. I’ll be putting up the Christmas tree this afternoon. Thanks for volunteering to help. Oh, you didn’t? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Typical.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Well, very exciting week here at the ol' blog. We've established the following:
- We don't wipe our butts with torn up newspapers over here in Glen Ellyn, unlike those frat boys down in Peoria who do.
- We don't sit on our hands when we pee in furrin' terlets.
- Instead, we squat to do our business, or we don't do anything at all. (Definitely the most lady-like choice)
- Anything else? We don't break mirrors in ladies' bathrooms, we definitely don't touch the genitalia on Greek statues, and we don't post obscene photos to our Flickr accounts. Not ever.
So apparently, it's okay to fly halfway round the world to look at Greek vases in situ, or in the flesh, as it were, but if you want to photograph what you saw and share it with all your friends back home, you can just forget it. Because God forbid anyone should see this kind of ancient pornography unless they can pay round-trip airfare to do so. This is why art historians have such a bad reputation. They have all this great stuff lying around, but they selfishly want to keep it all to themselves.
Oddly, all the rest of the "naked men photos" from that batch I uploaded slid through. Or slipped in. Or something. Perhaps because their penises were in the small to normal range? I don't know. It's a good thing Flickr can't read my mind, because then they'd know the extent of my depravity, and my true and lusty intentions in regards to every single one of those photos. I've half a mind to post a nekkid man in every single post on this here blog. That'd show 'em. It's all art, ain't it?
* Oddly, the original photo now seems to be available again. A pity it's so out of focus.
But after the third or fourth viewing, I was like...
Have you EVER seen such a disgusting place to live?
It's no wonder he's living at home again with us. Food's better, and in this house we don't wipe our butts with torn up newspapers. Especially not The Wall Street Journal. Fer cryin' out loud!
So glad we kept all that Playmobil stuff! Yay, Tarquin Junior! I'm going to have him do 50 more of these so I can give them away as Christmas presents. They're no work at all for me, and they don't even have to be wrapped!
Monday, December 7, 2009
"What's up with that? Can't the South Dakota highway department afford real glass?" I asked. It was already obvious that they couldn't afford a real proofreader, because the largest toilet stall was labeled "handicaped only."
Stifling giggles, Martha said, "Well, probably people break the glass ones."
"Wait. You mean women? Breaking mirrors?" I was slack-jawed at the thought. Women breaking mirrors in rest-stop bathrooms in the middle of nowhere? How was that possible?
"Well, it could be anyone, really. I mean, guys could come in here in the middle of the night, and have a fight and the mirrors could get broken."
"Wait." My mind was reeling. First women breaking mirrors, vandalizing public property, perhaps even on purpose. Then, men in the ladies room. My God! What was the world coming to? And why had I never considered any of these exciting options for sh** to do in my spare time? Too much time reading Baudelaire and Ionesco for French V, obviously, and not enough time spent dreaming up acts of anarchic violence. Clearly, my bourgeois ordinariness was holding me back.
I hadn't thought about vandalism for years, until my recent trip to Greece. Because apparently, female museum-goers in Greece are just as rowdy and destructive as those South Dakotans.
At the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, you can gaze on the Mask of Agamemnon...
and the golden treasures of Mycenae.
You can look at Etruscan pottery...
or you can contemplate statuary.
But, after all that, if you need to use the ladies, consider yourself forewarned. This is what you'll find if you go to use the loo at the museum.
The women have torn off all the toilet seats, apparently. Fits of rage over poorly interpreted exhibitions? Blind anger over lack of bargains in the museum shop? Apoplectic fits at the sight of inattentive security personnel?
We will never know. But if you prefer to sit rather than squat, I suggest you use the toilet at your hotel before you go out touring. Because there's not a goddamn toilet seat to be found anywhere in Athens. Hope your quadriceps and hamstrings and glutes are fit, girls. You'll be needing 'em.
Friday, December 4, 2009
But for me, the main reason to study art history was and continues to be a completely pure aesthetic motivation.
For aren't we all admirers of the exquisite male physique?
Of course we are.
But as we learned from my last post, some people are sensitive about having their picture taken.
Great biceps. Sexy slouch.
But as soon as he opens his mouth.... Not so appealing after all. All fantasy evaporates. Shame, really.
It is precisely for this reason that museums were invented. Because at museums, we can contemplate the sublime, in the form of the male figure, and even take photographs of naked men. No clothes on! Whoopee! Even better, these naked men don't talk back. In fact, they can't talk at all. Refreshing, isn't it?
So, yes. Naked men. You've got your old fashioned-y stone guys.
Your more new-fangled-y bronze ones. Although the beard leaves me cold. A bit unkempt-looking. He needs a trimmer for Christmas.
You've got what appears to be an ancient cup holder? Or is it a TV stand? Hard to tell. Maybe that's why I only got a "pass" on my dissertation, eh?
And then there's that decorative plate that will have all your guests chatting at your next Christmas cocktail party. Notice how huge I had to make the sticker. Those Greeks! Always exaggerating.
But my favorite thing, as it were, was halfway up the Acropolis, in a small sculpture garden. It's called a stele. I know. Boring, yeah?
But when you check out the close-up, just below.... Talk about artistic economy of expression! The artist has deconstructed the male figure and reduced it to its single important feature, and voilà,
nothing more need be said.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Well. You've been waiting to hear about my lovely holiday with Mr D in Athens, Greece, I know it. But it wouldn't be a story from me without that necessary frisson of danger, that oh shit, we're screwed here feeling. Because I can't just "go out to lunch in Athens," can I?
No, not really, and not ever. You know it.
Mr D and I took in the Parthenon,
and the agora, and the amphitheatre,
and the whatsis and the whatnot,
with a couple of museums thrown in there for good measure. As usual, with Mr D running ops at 110%, all the resultant climbing and scaling of steep Greek acropolises meant that by 2 in the aft we were bushed and ready to have lunch and a long sit-down, with a glass or three of wine. At the very least I can assert that my glutes were well worked out. We don't need any bloody fitness room at a hotel, ever.
Cut to a quiet pedestrian shopping avenue, where we sat down under shady umbrellas for ages while the waiters decided whether or not to bring us menus. As we waited, we watched the street scene. Here was a drama of Sisyphean proportions (how Greek!) unfolding before us.
A curb repairer was trying to restore some concrete at two in the afternoon. Cars whizzed by, honking, pedestrians dodged past him or over him, his supply truck obstructed traffic, yet he gamely toiled on.
A few minutes after he completed his work, a motorcycle ran directly over the finished repair. And he stolidly began all over again, re-repairing the botched job.
As I photo-ed this lonely concrete layer, (along with a rather handsome bunch of Greek men apparently hooking up for some later action),
there was a sudden commotion. A group of 5 or 6 black guys, all carrying huge sacks, came careening, bounding, leaping over the paver, running past our restaurant's tables.
They stopped a little way past, up the pedestrian avenue. I quietly took a couple of photos, and then returned to studying my menu, which had finally arrived.
Then we had the motorcyclist running over the wet concrete, ruining it.
Another photo or two.
At that precise moment, there was a frantic outburst of yelling, and as I casually glanced up from my camera's viewfinder, I realised that the gang was shouting, pointing, and all coming straight for me.
The guy on the far left was suddenly in my face, screaming, "Why, why? Why take pictures? Why?"
Aghast, I started to shut down, just like three years ago.
"Look," I laughed. "Look, here, I'm just taking pictures. It's nothing. Here, want to see?" and I showed him the photo on the camera's tiny screen. "Look, nothing! See?"
"Why? Why take pictures? WHY?" His face was inches from mine. I could only see his lips moving right in front of my eyes. His eyes were fierce and my world was slowing down.
"WHY? WHY? WHY?" He spat the words at me.
A screek of metal as Mr D pushed back his chair and started to stand up from his seat. "Hey! Hey! Hey! We're only tourists! She's just taking pictures. Leave us alone."
I glanced over at him and silently willed him to calm down or shut up. Be quiet, Mr D! Don't make it worse.
"It's fine," I said. "Fine. Here, look!" I laughed easily, carelessly, again. And I thought to myself, "what the bloody hell am I doing, holding my camera out here for him to grab, or hit me with, or... bloody what? Am I able to erase a photo if he demands it, under this kind of pressure? Jesus save me, this is going an entirely wrong direction."
I have no idea what all the other café diners were doing or thinking. No one moved a muscle.
And then suddenly, nothing happened, and the leader finally pulled back away from my face, glared at me for another impossibly long moment, and then all of them loped away into the crowd.
Sigh.... Just when you think you're over it.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
IX. Hiawatha and the Pearl-FeatherOn the shores of Gitche Gumee,
Of the shining Mishiwaka,
Stood Nokomis, the old woman,
Pointing with her finger westward,
O'er the water pointing westward,
To the purple clouds of sunset.
Fiercely the red sun descending
Burned his way along the heavens,
Sorry, yes, MLS? What is it? Could you please not interrupt? Just please wait until I've finished reading the poem.
Set the sky on fire behind him,What on earth is your problem, MrLondonStreet? Just because you went to Oxford doesn't mean you know everything. Oh really? You do? Well, show me then.
As war-parties, when retreating,
Burn the prairies on their war-trail;
And the moon, the Night-sun, eastward,...
Oh. Ahem, I see. A typo in the poem. Hmm, I hate to admit it, but you're right. Well, class, I guess MrLondonStreet* has shown us that it's important to double-check our sources, even those on the internet. It's not Mishiwaka that Longfellow was writing about, it's Big-Sea-Water. Whatever and wherever that is.
Yet, of Mishiwaka, I do know. Or rather, I do and I don't. Honestly, I take that back. I have no idea. Yet strangely, I have concocted a small story about you, my dear long-time follower from Mishiwaka....
Mishiwaka. It's a small town in Indiana. A town near Warsaw, Indiana. Who knew? Who knew there was a Warsaw, Indiana? I'd guess it's a place where emigrating Poles resettled themselves years ago.
What's it like now, Warsaw and Mishiwaka, Indiana? You know, I google-mapped you. Not YOU, per se. But your town, Mishiwaka. I think you found me because you googled "Warsaw" and strangely, my blog came up. I was still living in Warsaw, Poland at the time and I wrote in English on my blog... so you clicked on me. Then you subscribed, and God bless you, you still read what I write. But I'm sooooo curious. Who are you?
I'm consumed with curiosity! Are my guesses right?
* with sincere apologies to my excellent and intelligent friend MrLondonStreet, who is another constant reader, a great encourager, and an outstanding blog-pal. And actually, if you want to know the truth, he probably does know it all.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Or you can tell it another way.
One way, the central character shows herself to be a pest, a nudge, an 11 year old girl who can't see false advertising for what it is, a girl who forces her family to walk far longer than they'd planned, to see a sight not worth seeing.
Another way, it's an 11 year old girl who gets her family to accompany her on a long and adventurous walk in cold quiet pine forests along the shores of a chilly northern lake. Needles crunch underfoot and fragrant soft beds of pine sink slightly under each footfall, the still air refreshes, the path winds forward and the cave awaits, as yet undiscovered.
Ah yes, Suzy's Cave.
I've always had a thorn in my heart over this one.
We went on holiday to Lake Superior for a week. We stayed at a lodge, with its deer racks over the fireplaces, hot oatmeal with butter and maple syrup for breakfast, and the whole long day stretching ahead of us each morning -- only the dark and limitless pine forests out beyond, waiting to be explored. My family didn't believe in Caribbean holidays, with hot sun and coconut sunblock and raffia hats. No, not at all. We went for the more austere kind of trip. The kind where you dipped your toe in the crystal clear lake water, the water that was so deep and so green and so transparent and so fucking cold, that you said to yourself: "Heck, I'll maybe swim... tomorrow." And tomorrow it was, every single day.
So not much swimming on that holiday. Instead, we spent time reading the local ghost stories and pioneer tales, the ones where husband and wife get snowed in late October, and in April only the wife shows up at the boat launch -- her clothes ragged, her hair uncombed and gray. She, gaunt and frail, and a healing axed gash on her forearm. But no husband. No, no husband.
Yeah, that was the kind of mysterious fun our family went for. Creepy. Quiet. Introspective, I suppose.
One morning, perhaps four or five mornings in, we decided to go hiking. And when I say "we decided" I mean something entirely different. I mean, I badgered them, endlessly, constantly, continually to go see Suzy's Cave. It was only 3 or 4, or perhaps 5 miles. Whatever it said on the signpost. It was on the lodge's map. A notable venue. And not so far.
And when we got there? I'd imagined a huge, vast cavern. We'd walk in, our voices muffled at first. Then, our voices would suddenly begin to echo and bounce, and the sounds in the place would stop us in our tracks. As we then delved further into the depths of the cave, the walls would stretch away, and we'd shine our flashlights ahead and see... sparkling rock crystals, and slagtites dripping from the high arches of the roof above, with still pools of ageless water standing before us, and transluscent watered rocks surrounding us.
I had a plan. A long hike to a transcendant place, where we'd all be transfixed, stilled, and utterly flummoxed by nature's incredible, wordless wonder.
So we started out. We were not hikers. We walked. We walked. We walked. It was endless. We came to a signpost: "Suzy's Cave 4.5 miles." We walked on, the path twisting, turning. Up, down. On and on. My mother, "Jesus, Suzy's Cave had better be good!" The path continued. Up a seemingly sheer rock cliff. Grabbing onto scrub pines to pull ourselves up. On a new, higher elevation. Sweat, scratchy clothes. No one had brought water. "Suzy's Cave 2.8 miles."
Holy Lord, how far was this cave, anyway? Every signpost seemed to make it both nearer and farther. Nearer, because the distance was decreasing, but farther, because where the hell was this damned cave, anyway?"
"Suzy's Cave 2.1 miles." My heart was sinking, breaking. My sister was tired, my father was steaming forward, but my mother was bitching. "Where the hell is this thing anyway? What a great idea! I wonder what kind of idiot did the mileage on this map? Goddamn!" And then, "I hope you're happy, Ellen! I can't wait to see this damned cave!"
There's nothing really like trudging the last 2.1 miles with your mother's resentment at your back. It makes it all quite out-of-body, really.
You're hoping that this damned cave will shut her up forever, that its beauty will silence her, that she will be speechless with wonder, and that all this hot travail will be rewarded.
"Suzy's Cave .3 miles"
And then finally, here you are. A clearing, with pines all around, flat bare ground exposed in cold pale sunshine.
"Suzy's Cave," with a feeble arrow pointing toward... a narrow rift in the rock.
Everyone looks dubious.
We creep into the narrow cleft in the rock face. We walk forward perhaps 6 or 8 feet, without flashlights, into... nothing.
That's the cave.
That's what we've walked 5.1 miles to see. A big dark indentation in a rock face.
"Well! I'm so glad I got here!" My mom's sarcasm pierces me through.
My father and sister look at me, willing me not to respond. And I don't.
This has been "a story" for our family, for all these years. All you have to say is, "Suzy's Cave," and the old feelings come flooding back. Hot scratchy clothes. Tired legs. No reward at the end of the trek. Not one good thing. Not one. Just shame and uselessness.
I was talking with my sister this evening, and she said, "You know, this could have been framed in an entirely different way. Not as a story where you made us walk for nothing. Not that you were a pest and a nudge and a brat. No, it could have been a story about a girl who wanted an adventure, who got her family to take a long walk in a pristine wilderness, a girl who wanted to explore, who persevered, who reached a goal. A girl who wanted to take a long walk, out in the soft and deep pine forests in northern Michigan, to see what was around the next bend in the path."
I'm going to hold onto that idea.
Monday, November 9, 2009
But mileage, my friends, is something I do know something about, seeing as how I logged in about a trillion airmiles over the last couple of weeks. I feel more at home in an airport than anywhere else these days. That in-transit feeling is so delicious, and the coffee shops and bookstores are so convenient and tantalizing. Not to mention the wine bars and the tasting of single-malt whiskeys in duty-free. And the trying on of perfumes. I usually smell like a French whore by the time I get to the boarding gate.
Mr D and I had planned an exciting synchronized swimming of the air, where he flew round the world westward, via Bangkok, Hong Kong, Malmö and Copenhagen, and I flew eastward through... well, a lot of places actually... and we met in Athens. How romantic!
And yet. My flights were done via frequent flyer miles, friends, so you know what THAT means.
Yep. More legs on this trip than on a centipede.
O'Hare to Toronto to London Heathrow.
London Gatwick to Split, Croatia.
[Water ferry to Supetar, Croatia.]
[Fast catamaran back, from Milna to Split.]
Split to Zagreb to Frankfurt to Leipzig by air.
Leipzig to Dusseldorf to Frankfurt to Athens.
Athens to Istanbul to O'Hare. It's kind of in a straight line, right?
Of course it was all very romantic after we'd slept off all the jet lag and had loads of ouzo and baklava (not at the same time, natch!) We saw the Parthenon and the squid and fish market and the oracle of Delphi and the mask of Agamemnon and you know, all those Greek things. I'll tell you about that another time.
Because you don't want to hear about that, do you? No, you want to hear about my brief stay in a TURKISH prison! Because what would travel with me be, without some frisson of excitement for you? So you can shiver and quake in your boots, and think, "Thank God it wasn't me! Thank my lucky stars it was expateek instead!"
So. I even have pictures.
If you're in the airport in Istanbul, after you have some baklava and try all the flavors of Turkish delight in the Olde Bazaar, you should take a little walk past Burberry, Chopard, Longchamps, Boss and Fendi. Go past the duty-free, testing perfume samples as you wander through, and making sure that you spray each perfume on a different part of your wrists or the backs of your hands. Concentrate deeply to remember which perfume you sprayed where, and stare intently at the bottle of the one you like the most. You will remember the name of this perfume for maybe 2 minutes. Maybe less.
Go through the food court, and take the escalator up. Turn left, and walk through the upstairs cafe, toward the far back left corner of the room. Up three steps, and voilà, you are in the very last smoking lounge remaining in a European airport!
The Turkish government just recently outlawed smoking in many public places, and of course, Turkish restauranteurs, with their hookahs and fiendishly enthusiastic smoking Turkish clientele, were up in arms. Apparently, sales of outdoor patio heaters and cafe umbrellas are now through the roof. And yet, strangely, the government have kindly provided Turkish airport visitors the option of smoking al fresco on airport property. It's like a trip back in time!
And see how appealing it is?
Very prison-like, yes? Reminded me a bit too much of the Woking jail, in terms of confined spaces. Yet I must admit that the Woking jail's air was much cleaner, a clear benefit resulting from the United Kingdom's forward-thinking health concerns for incarcerated criminals like myself.
I just thought you'd want to know, in case you have some time to kill next time you're in Istanbul. Not that anybody smokes anymore. For pete's sake. What kind of girl do you think I am?
Thursday, October 8, 2009
He finished unpacking, and flopped down on the bed next to me. We discussed our individual successes/failures with our healthful diets, and Mr D noted that if my weight kept going up, and his kept going down, eventually we'd weigh the same. Gadfry! About the same as thirty-four years ago, when we first met: he was fresh off a 6-month starvation tour on a Pacific atoll, and I'd been busy eating all the ice cream on offer in the Wellesley College kitchens. Hmmm.
Mr D = Miss H. Again.
I made a little frowny face, and then Mr D said:
Fatty and Skinny
went to bed
Fatty rolled over
and Skinny was dead.
After I stopped giggling, I hit him over the head with a pillow.
Monday, October 5, 2009
I thought of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with Mr London Street, who said of a blogger he usually reads, "but she's fallen in love now, and her posts are all kittens and moonbeams and who can read that sh** day after day? It's all so damned dull." He moaned with frustration, just a little bit. Because having a regular columnist go wonky is just ever so frustrating, really. One's usual reading diet is ... altered.
And woe, there is me. Or I. Woe is it all. For I have not much to say at the moment, because I've fallen in love again with my husband, and my lovely life, and the world and its people, and I can't find fault with any of it. How feckin' dull is that?
Two and a half years ago, in the winter, I lived for a short few months in a mansion in Sunninghill. Fourteen rooms, a huge place, vacant. The owners needed someone to make it look "lived in." For £500 a month, it was mine. I volunteered. It was me and the Aga. That was it. The only two warmish entities in the house, with the Aga putting out significantly more heat than I did, my skin and bones just barely alive. I was heartsick, alone, bereft, and definitely a mess. I had ditched my husband, finding him all stubborn and boring and hateful, and I had decided to go it alone.
Why was I there? Why was I suffering, sleeping in an empty fourteen-room house, radiators turned down to "1" to save heat, sleeping on a mat in an empty bedroom, crying myself to sleep each night. Why?
What was I doing?
Ignoring my children, certainly. Having nightmares about guns and Africans. Avoiding bill paying, college tuitions, dentist appointments. Dreaming and remembering, horrified, the sound of the snap, snap, snapping of our electric security fence in Jo'burg. Evading phone calls from my estranged husband. Hearing all over again the screams of the woman next door as she was attacked, seeing again the SAPS team, scrambling over our walls with their automatic weapons, trying to secure the area.
Unable to read a book, there in Sunninghill. No knitting, no hobbies. No television, no computer, no internet. Just me, in the dark. Crying. Drinking. Sleeping.
What the hell was that all about?
I cried myself to sleep every night, and in the morning I woke up to a dusting of snow across the garden, and windows frosted half-high with starry patterns. The sun crept over my sill, glowing pale and illuminating the room with a wan light that signified nothing more than another wretched day of ... nothing. Work. Talk. Teaching. Nothing.
It was awful. And yet I didn't throw myself off a bridge, or do anything too dire. Because I was just too, too tired. It was really another me, then. Not me. Someone else.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
No, I mean remembering something that happened years and years and years ago, that has truly not crossed your mind since. Something that you’ve only remembered now, just this very day, this exact moment, in fact, because you were reading something entirely unusual for you -- perhaps Chekov’s short stories in a small bound volume -- or Isaac Babel’s description of studying at home with his grandmother in Odessa -- and you let your eyes wander away from your book for a moment, as you remember your own grandmother and her house, and the dark wood furniture in her living room, the cart with her African violets standing at the dining room window, the claret-colored and scratchy bouclé brocade of the single settee with its heavy silken twisted fringe, and the patterned carpet on the stairs that went up.
And upstairs, the room where you’d had to nap in the afternoon as a really young child, with books ranged everywhere, on every surface and every shelf. The patterned wallpaper, its endless repetitious dots soothing you, and the slanting few rays of sunshine sneaking between window sill and the roof of the next house over. A calm somnolence overtaking you after you’d read in quick succession several issues of Fate magazine, with its séances and banshees and visitors from the dark beyond. The sheer curtains hanging dead still in the heat of the late summer afternoon.
It’s a strange and wrenching feeling. Deep inside, you remember, and you feel. Your gut twists. My God! That couch! I remember it! My grandfather, sitting downstairs in his chair, wearing his glasses after cataract surgery, like black binoculars over his eyes, and all so he could watch Laurence Welk on Saturday evenings at six. “Is that a colored gal singing?,” as Aretha, or Dionne Warwick, or someone belted something out on TV. “Yes, Grandpa, it is,“ I answered, already knowing enough to be embarrassed at age 10. Clearly, the glasses weren’t a complete success.
Yet, how weirdly unsettling. You haven’t thought about this since the very day it happened, maybe 41 years ago or so. What the hell?
It’s reading that does it. You get started on one track, reading the stories of this brilliant and eccentric Russian Jew, Isaac Babel, whose life was brutally cut short in 1940, his work only translated quite recently. It’s as if a lovely window has briefly opened into the past, and you’re transported through it, remembering your own history, nothing like that of people in Odessa, but unique and odd and beautiful to you all the same.
And then, that sudden self-awareness: is it possible that I’m remembering this, for the first time, 41 years after it happened? Where’s that memory been all these years? And is it possible, is it really possible, that I’ve been alive and doing things every single damn day since? Forty-one years of doing stuff, every day and every minute, since this moment I’m remembering for the very first time right now?
What is the stuff of life? What are we? Where have the years gone?
And how in the hell can time just go and go and go? My life is just careening past me.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
So I was off touring Buckingham Palace and later eating Japanese fare in Piccadilly, and soon after that, examining volume 18 of the complete human genome at the Wellcome Centre for the Medical Sciences, and then, still later, browsing through easel bins of aboriginal art in a gallery near Fitzroy Square. Getting up close, too close in the museum guards’ minds, to portraits at the National Portrait Gallery. Lying on the grass in the park by the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, watching the clouds scud by overhead, with all of London below, the Thames winding across the cityscape. All of this, experienced in real life, rather than seen on the 7 inch by 10 inch screen of my netbook. Having traded incipient carpal tunnel syndrome for seriously aching feet, I longed for a nice sit down and a chat. Thus I sent out a few invites to London bloggers I “know,” hoping for an in-person experience or two, once Mr D had left town.
The first? Belgian Waffling. Knowing, via her blog, that she’s terribly shy and awfully busy, I felt a bit stalkerish as I initiated contact. “Care to get together?” We arranged to meet for coffee at St. Pancras, just before her Eurostar train back to Brussels. As I trundled along through Tube tunnels, I wondered if I’d recognise her, or if she’d even show. I mean really, why bother?
And then there she was, raising an eyebrow. A slight wave of the hand. Glancing up from under her thick dark fringe. “It’s you, isn’t it?“ Sitting at a table at Pain Quotidian with her bags and suitcases arrayed around her. All in black, very elegant looking, and much more slight than I’d imagined. Who are these slim young things, anyway? She’s charming and witty in person, and she makes a very pretty pout when expressing dismay or embarrassment or alarm. Plenty of that to be had, to be sure. We covered a multitude of topics, assiduously avoiding fraught things like marital discord (presumably hers) and existential angst (always mine) and kept to the ordinary spheres of work, children, and writing blogs. After all, though we know “of” each other, we don’t know each other. It’s such a funny feeling, to be aware of so much of another person’s inner life, as expressed in written posts. Yet face to face, it’s awkward to broach those tender subjects. Not on, really.
She is very funny and sweet, and whilst laughing and enjoying the moment, I also felt sure that I was but one in a long string of old, dull, blank faces just like the ones she encounters all day long in her corridor of ennui. I so often feel like an extra in everyone else’s busy life, always at the edge of the scene, the shiny foil reflecting the star’s unique qualities. Too much superficial living and moving from place to place, never in one spot long enough to be the protagonist in any of life’s dramas. Sigh. That being said, when I create my own dramas, it’s not a particularly good thing, so perhaps standing at the periphery is better. Jury’s still out on that one.
She soon buzzed off for her train to Belgium, and I rejoined the lovely Mr D, armed only with a curiously inept and non-descript description of the blog meet.
“How was it? Okay?” he asked.
“Mmmm. Yeah, it was… it was fine. Nice, I guess. She‘s lovely. So fashionable. Clever. Very entertaining.”
He gave me a sharp glance. “You seem a bit distracted.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I just feel kind of odd. I’m not sure it was the right thing to do. Now I feel funny. I don‘t know if I like meeting people in real life. I feel kind of …weird.”
He rolled his eyes and laughed. “Oh, for God’s sake. You need some lunch. Come on, put your shoes back on and let’s get out of here. I‘m in the mood for Thai.”
A few nights later, it was a quaff with the lovely Pochyemu, of ItsMostlyAboutMe. We met at The Stag in Ascot. Miss T and I came bombing up to the tables outside the pub, thinking we were late. I almost didn’t recognise the luscious Danielle, hunched as she was over her mobile phone, Twittering. Which is entirely my fault, the tweeting, but we’ll get into that in a moment.
She looked up and simply beamed with delight. “Sit out here with me. I’m having an illicit fag. It‘s a fantastic night!” Her earrings sparkled, her lavender pashmina accentuated the roses in her cheeks, and her cloud of hair gave her the look of a modern-day pre-Raphaelite maiden. She’s quite the beauty, that girl is. We restrained ourselves, having only a pint each -- though I was so busy talking I didn’t notice that Miss T drained all of her Stella and most of mine. Good thing, in fact, as I was driving and didn‘t want a repeat of my night in Woking gaol, circa October ‘05. Danielle and I mutually reveled in the fact that I hadn’t actually slain Pochyemu at our last bloggy meet-up in February. Nor had I left her unconscious in a snow drift in Windsor Great Park, to be nibbled at by foxes as she tweeted her last. No, she left our winter evening unharmed, free to go on to finish her dissertation late in the spring. Free to write a paper that received the very highest mark in her class. Thank God I spared her, because the world needs an expert on the Baltic states’ security issues and Estonian national identity. Much more useful than what I’ve been faffing about with, but we can’t all be so prescient, can we?
I took her to task for abandoning blogging in favor of the 140-character pleasures of Twitter, and though she tried to look chastened, she didn’t make a very convincing job of it. She’s unrepentant, I think, and there’s only me to blame. Because I suggested on that fateful night seven months ago that she sign up for Twitter, so she could tweet from my car boot as I “abducted” her. She obliged at that very moment, logging on over pasta and salad, and the rest is history, albeit in 140-character installments. She did promise to make a stab at blogging more often, and I looked daggers at her, which I hope will terrify her into compliance.
All in all, a stupendous evening. We meet again in October, we hope.
Finally, the extremely interesting, entirely different than I was expecting, Mr London Street. What was I expecting? Frankly, I’m not sure. But I had dinner with an staggeringly witty guy who was -- shall I say it? -- even more opinionated than I could have imagined from his blog. Honestly, I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I kept being shocked and startled, uttering the dumbest things I’ve ever said. I might have been blonde for an evening.
“Goodness, you’re so much taller than I expected!”
“Gosh, you’re so much more three-dimensional than I imagined!”
“Gee, you’re very thin … compared to how you describe yourself in your posts.”
Then he mentioned Ricky Gervais (who‘s also from Reading, as it happens), and I was suddenly fixed upon the idea that he looks a bit like Gervais. Not to mention that he’s blindingly funny. I ended up toward the end of dinner alternately giggling and parroting on about God only knows what. This is how Americans get such a bad rap. Simply can’t keep up in conversation. Or maybe we really are just all a bit stupid, as every third Brit is so happy to tell you. Bastards.
So Mr London Street and I traded compliments back and forth, and ate delicious tarte tatin which set my diet back by a couple of years at least. Whatever he’s doing to lose weight and lower cholesterol seems to be working a treat for him, so if it’s tarte tatin, I say “Bring it on, baby.” And a most gentlemanly guy, making sure I got the last train of the evening out of the Reading station. Left to my own devices, I’d have wandered off toward Slough, most likely. What a ditz I am.
One more point for now. Interestingly, MrLondonStreet wasn’t shy about letting me know what really sets him off, in terms of faux pas in the blogosphere, and if you promise not to let him know I told you, here are the three biggies: txt spk, ALL CAPS, and too many exclamation marks!!!!! I mean, who knew??? So if you want to get a mention on his THE WEEK THAT BLOGGED, be sure that you don’t overuse the punctuation!!!
Srsly!! HE HATES IT!!
Otherwise? I’m still ruminating over the significance of meeting virtual personalities in person. Perhaps because I’ve kept in touch with so many real friends via the internet -- moving from the physical to the virtual realm -- I find that reversing the process feels a bit strange. How do you transition from flat, silent screen to living, breathing, (perhaps even pulsating, in MrLondonStreet’s case) flesh and blood?
I’m not really sure about it yet. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I tell you this, dear Reader, because I wouldn't want you to suffer under the illusion that Mr D is perfect. No, far from it. He has his human flaws, just like the rest of us. You might even agree with me if I enumerate just one or two.
For example, there's his "engineer's mind." Kind of like that "Zen mind" thing that everyone's always banging on about, but much more irritating. An engineer's mind likes to think that it's logical, reasonable, orderly. In this, it's confused. It tries to quantify the unquantifiable, and goes on to make you think that you're the one being difficult.
Imagine, if you will, choosing a house (12 or 13 times, because you keep getting moved by The Company). One half of the married duo looks at 7 or 11 houses, and picks one -- with a back-up plan for a second if the first choice falls through. Naturally, first choice is 1) the most expensive option and 2) furthest location possible from the workplace. But it's close to the school, and has a nice kitchen, and it's really pretty.
The second half of the blissfully wedded pair looks at the same set of houses, and hates choice #1 (too expensive) and abhors choice #2 (brutal commute). But instead of just saying, "Oh, let's look around more, wait a few months, rent something for a while and see what comes up...," he says, "I know! I'll make a chart and we can analyse the problem!"
The chart's drawn up, and houses are given scores of 1-5 for categories such as 1) commute, 2) price, 3) proximity to good golf course, 4) number of rooms, 5) quality of electrical wiring, 6) size of garage, and 7) age of roof . Strangely enough, choice #6, a medium-sized ugly house with a massive garage, circuit-breaker box of recent vintage, within 3 miles of work and 4.5 miles of golf course, wins! Who could have predicted that???
And it's all followed up by that explanation, that parsing of the chart (can charts be parsed?). "But look, my dear, it's all logical, and the best score, as you can plainly see here, is for this one, this house #6. Shall we make an offer on it then?" *sigh*
On the other hand, I can't complain too much. He loves to travel and won't rest until he's seen every sight to be seen in a given location. Since arriving in London on Sunday morning, we've toured Buckingham Palace, the Royal Mews, and the Queen's Gallery. We've gone through the Cabinet War Rooms, eaten lunch at Inn the Park in St. James' Park, ridden the London Eye, and wandered through the Burlington Arcade drooling over sapphires and cufflinks and lovely leather goods. All the things we neglected to do while we lived here for three years. We're better tourists than residents, apparently. We even took in my favorite annual exhibition, the BP Portrait Award show at the National Portrait Gallery. And all this in just three days.
And with that, I'm off to Grant & Cutler for some o' them furrin books. Maybe a Liewe Heksie picture book? Or an instructional text on Elementary Chichewa, for my next trip to Malawi?
Ta ta for now, m'dears! More faults to come, later, as they come to mind.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I was primping in the back, the last minute fluffing up of a terribly ill-advised perm. The pianist was playing, transitioning into the music that was to be my entrance, when suddenly Max, the minister, bustled through the double doors and said, “Just hang on a few minutes. Go back, go back! We’ll have this all sorted out in a second or two.” My heart sank. Was this going to be cinematic-style tragedy? The bride left sobbing, groomless, in the narthex of the church as the husband-to-be skittered off through a side door and ran away for parts unknown? I retreated to the bride’s room, and now worried, stared at myself in the mirror and wondered, “Was it the perm, after all?” And then I felt sorry for myself for a few minutes, as I imagined the sorrow and the embarrassment I’d feel soon enough, as a jilted bride in this day and age, for God’s sake.
Because who even was getting married in 1979? No one, that’s who. Everyone at Wellesley was going off to be a trainee at Citibank or Morgan Stanley, or continuing on to grad school at the London School of Economics, or learning the ropes as an intern at Sotheby’s or Christie's, or doing some other highly important thing. Getting married was the idiot’s move.
“What are you doing after college?” began a conversation in Tower Court’s dining hall.
“Oh, I’m getting married. In September,” I answered.
“Ummmm. Yeah. But what are you going to do?”
Oops. No good follow-up answer for that question. Indeed, what was I going to do? Vacuum? Dust? Work at minimum wage out there in the wilds of Oregon, as a married person? Any answers were worryingly vague.
And now, on the very wedding day, even this lame plan of mine looked to be scotched. Because suddenly it appeared I wasn’t going to have the chance to walk down the aisle at all. Oh, woe!
The music began again, and someone popped a head in and said, “Okay, it’s time!”
My Dad walked me down the aisle, and there was Mr D waiting for me. Pleasant surprise! We were married on that hot September afternoon thirty years ago, fumbling with rings and getting our words wrong, and soon after, we were out into the church garden for pictures and into the reception hall for a light dinner buffet.
“What was that all about?” I asked my sister later.
“What?” said Martha.
“The hold-up? At the beginning. The reason we didn’t begin at 4:30?”
“Oh thaaaaaat. Well, there were lots of bats flying around in the eaves,” said Martha.
My dad laughed, “Yes, and Harlan said, 'Oh, you know my brother Lee – he couldn’t afford white doves, so they made do with bats instead. I’m pretty sure it’s good luck though.'”
And yeah, it probably has been good luck. We’re still married, and happily so. I feel incredibly lucky, especially after almost pitching it all in a couple of different times. I must say, it’s mostly down to him, to my dear husband. He said when we married, “I don’t believe in divorce.”
There’s something to be said for that kind of dogged persistence and single-mindedness. It’s partly what’s necessary, to keep a partnership going, because there’s always going to be one person who’s a little less in love, a little more cranky, quite a lot more angry, a helluva lot more tired. The roles and the moods shift back and forth – sometimes one person’s sick of the whole thing, sometimes the other one has had quite enough for today, thank you very much. Yet the certainty that it’s permanent means that you get up the next morning thinking about compromise, and adapting a little bit all over again.
And of course we remember that we did get married for love, and not because we had to, or because we had no better ideas for what to do that Saturday afternoon. We’ve sailed through the good parts, and slogged through some really grim bits, but underneath it all there’s been the surety that it was a plan for the long-term: the very very very long-term. Until death do us part.
Happy 30th Anniversary to us! Hurrah, hurrah, and hip hip hooray!
Thursday, August 27, 2009
I've just returned to the US after living abroad for seven years, and I am appalled by the sight of so many people -- so many people -- talking on mobile phones while driving. Every other person, it seems, has their cell phone pasted to the ear, yakking it up. I mean really, what the hell is so important that you can't wait 1 minute and pull over to talk?
You always know the ones who are talking. They're weaving a little, looking in the mirror and picking at their teeth while yammering away. Taking all turns at 3.5 mph because they're steering and holding the phone and probably turning the radio down all at the same time. Unable to change lanes in a sensible way because they're actually visualising a spreadsheet in their heads while talking to some colleague about "those changes in column 7? -- it needs to be re-totaled with the new variables included!" Or talking to a best friend about what color to paint the hallway. Or blabbing about something else, equally mission-critical and totally life-changing.
What the hell is wrong with these people?
And they never think their driving is a problem. Like drunks who stagger out to their cars, stabbing keys multiple times at the door locks, they're "fine." "Oh, I'm a good driver! I really pay attention. I don't think my driving's altered at all." All that stuff about driving extra slow and delayed reaction times and poor assessment of risk? "Not me, buddy!"
I don't care if they're using hands-free technology or those dorky-looking bluetooth things or whatever. Studies have shown that you're many times more likely to have an accident when talking on the phone in the car. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
Using wireless communications devices while driving can be distracting and increase the risk of crash and injury. Therefore, NHTSA recommends that drivers not use these devices while driving, except in [an] emergency. This recommendation applies to both hand-held and hands-free devices.
A New York Times article gives background on this study, which is one of many over the last several years. Numerous countries and US states have banned or severely restricted cell phone usage based on accident studies. And texting while driving? Please. Or rather, please don't.
This video went viral over the internet during the last several days, and for a reason. While horrible and graphic, it also shows what disasters can occur when cell phones and driving mix.
You don't want to be these people. You really don't. Like drinking and driving, cell phone use while driving is irresponsible and just plain wrong. Just like alcohol or drugs, cell phone usage causes you to be significantly impaired if you use a mobile phone while behind the wheel.
Get it through your head: Just shut up and drive.
UPDATE: http://bit.ly/p2o1m check it out...
You've all been waiting with
After about 3 weeks of non-stop writing, researching, editing, reviewing, revising, and proofreading -- every spare moment spent thinking about "museum communities," "adult aesthetic education," "change management in arts organisations," and similarly riveting topics -- the thing is finally DONE! Sixty-nine pages, including bibliography and appendices, and my house is a mess! Poor Mr D. He's such a neatnik, and he just closed his eyes for the
So I sent the thing off, pdf style, on Tuesday at noon. It's to be hard-bound and submitted to the Museum Studies Department at the University of Leicester. Yay for me!
But before I sent it off, I had my saint of a sister proofread it for me. Even though she only has one kidney, her proofreading skills remain intact. Who knew how "discernible" was really spelled? Do commas go inside or outside of quotation marks? Do footnote numbers go before or after full stops? Are article titles in quotation marks or italicised? Are the volume and number of a periodical italicised too? Or not? Yawn. I know. This is why she's a saint and I'm a ... tired graduate student.
Then there's the whole British English/American English spelling thing, which seems like a lark until you are spelling it "flavour" and feeling all posh and hoity-toity, and then you find you have to spell things like "programme" and "organise" and "analyse" and it's not so much fun after all.
Consistency ≠ expateek
So anyhoo, we're done. And when I say "we," I mean me and my husband and my children and my parents and my sister and her partner and my friends here in town and all the people I badgered with phone calls for interviews and probably the postman/lady and the people who I owe money to but have forgotten to pay and maybe ComEd and the gas company now that I think of it and oh gosh.
Who else? Anybody else out there needing acknowledgement*? Because that's another word that is just feckin' difficult to spell!
* Don't even start. It's spelled both with and without an "e."**
**And I still think punctuation inside quotations marks looks silly.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Maybe everyone is sick of me. Maybe they forgot I even exist.
Maybe they aren't paying any attention and I'm disappearing into a black hole that is the internetz.......
Existential angst! It's all over! Kill me now!
But then, just now, when I was just talking to Aphrodite (the now 21-year-old vomit-carpet-bomber) she commented about her comments. I was all, "Hell, no one comments on my blog at all any more! Not even you!"
She assured me that she most definitely did, and I had a sneaking suspicion... Remember the other day when Mr. CHINESELANGUAGESPAMMER left comments all over my blog? Yeah, I turned on comment moderation. But neglected to put in a notifying email address, so all the comments were hung up out there in cyberspace, waiting for approval, without letting me know they were there. They might have waited FOREVER. Good Lord! And I would have continued feeling all huffy and you all would have been all insulted, and it would have been a blogging disaster!
Thanks for all the wonderful comments, guys. Now I'm off to read through them over and over again, until I have them all memorized and I've worked all my giggles out. xxx!
You think everything is cooking along just fine: laundry's drying on the line, dinner's simmering on the stovetop, radio's playing your favorite song, and then: BAM!
"Mom! MOM! Aphrodite just threw up all over the livingroom carpet! MOM! Come here quick!"
See what I mean? It's awful. So much for those dinner plans. You're scrubbing vomit out of ancient Berber wall-to-wall, all the while knowing that this is just the beginning. Stomach flu has a way of traveling like lightning through a family of 6.
So the suspense! The suspense could kill ya! Who's next? When and where? What kinds of containment policies do we enact, effective immediately? Throw-up buckets distributed throughout the house? Draconian hand-washing policies? Child isolation tactics? The mother's brain immediately shifts into overdrive, formulating and reformulating plans of action, all the while knowing that resistance is most probably futile, and that the next few days are going to be a living, breathing (or holding-one's-breath) Hell.
I've been noticing over the last few years that my tolerance for suspense has diminished dramatically. So dramatically, in fact, that I have no tolerance for suspense at all. None. Perhaps it dates back to the robbery in Johannesburg, but I think it started before that. Years of mini-traumas having to do with vomit on carpet, lost school-outing permission slips, and teenaged temper tantrums have rubbed my nerves down to their last raw end.
Detective stories? Fifty pages into it, and I'm reading the last chapter because I can't stand the suspense. Who the heck did it? I can't STAND this!
Movies? No way. We watched Valkyrie with Tom Cruise on pay-per-view the other night (I know, don't ask, I didn't choose it) and in spite of Cruise's calm demeanor throughout, I was squirming in my seat after 20 minutes and had to eventually leave the room. Could have been Tom Cruise's wooden acting too, but mainly it was the soundtrack that got to me.
Every. Single. Second. Ominous music. More ominous-er now. Even more ominous. And damn, he's just raising one eyebrow in a meeting with Nazi officers. What will happen when he raises both eyebrows? God, I feel sick with anxiety! Time to leave the room and
To prove what a wimp I am, I only need describe my behavior during Robert Downey Jr.'s The Ironman. I watched it with 23-year old Tarquin and his friend. Despite the deliciously calming effect of RDjr's chocolatey brown eyes, I was whimpering within 10 minutes. "Oh! No! Tarq! What's happening next? Are they going to be okay? Tarq!! TARQ!!! Ooooo, I can't stand it! Oh no! Don't go in there! No! No don't! Oh no, he went in! Oh, oooo! AAAAAH! Oh NO!!! What happened? Is he going to live? OMG!"
Tarquin was rolling his eyes, laughing. "This movie's PG-13, Ma! Calm down! Do you want me to tell you how it ends so you can relax?"
In case you're wondering, the movie is described as "Rated PG-13, for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content." Maybe I need more suggestive content and less action and violence. I think this pretty much puts everything except G-rated movies off the table. Next pay-per-view? Pixar's Ratatouille or Wall-E.
Although having just read the plot summary for Ratatouille, I'm already concerned:
"Remy is a rat, constantly risking his life in an expensive French restaurant because of his love of good food..."
This might still end up being too much suspense for me. I think I'd be better off knitting.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Yeah, just so you know, we weren't that kind of homeschoolers.
What kind? Oh you know what kind I mean. The families with 15 children -- all the boys dressed in matching khakis and polos, all the girls in hand-sewn, modest frocks. The kind where the dad attends PromiseKeepers workshops on the weekends and the mom bakes pies for the church bake sale while supervising a home spelling bee and doing 4 loads of laundry, all at the same time. I suppose all those things might be good for some people, but none of it appealed to us.
No, we were a bit on the lackadaisical side. We wanted to make sure that there was room to enjoy life, make music, read, and spend time together as a family.
Also, we needed to make sure that eldest son had enough opportunities to dress up as Sherlock Holmes.
Because public school kids just aren't tolerant of sartorial quirks. Black t-shirt, nose rings and eyeliner? Sure. Homemade cape and detective chapeau? Not so much.
He did grow out of this phase after about a year. The library ladies and the grocery store clerks missed it when he finally transitioned toward a regular wardrobe. And we didn't have to worry about catching his cape edges in the minivan door either, which was a blessing.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Years of piano lessons = misspent youth.
Homeschooling for 8 years = plenty of time to fool around on the piano.
And I'll let you know when I learn to hold the videocam correctly.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
T'aint so. I'm working on a Master's Degree dissertation, and the words are coming slowly, so slowly. It's like watching a glacier melt. (Quicker now that we've got global warming, but still not particularly inspiring.) And I can't allow myself to do anything else until this blasted thing is finished. So there's not much movement over at my place. Next summer I plan to go outside once or twice. The Vitamin D loss here is worrying.
My slowness? It's something related to perfectionism. I want this thing to be perfect. And I'm terrified that it won't be. Funny, I once (ill-advisedly) wrote a paper for someone else. He was doing a degree in an osteopathic program, but he couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. He begged me, "C'mon, it'll just be a piss-up for you. You can do this sh** in your sleep." True. I wrote the paper for him in an afternoon, knowing nothing about osteopathy other than what I could find on Wikipedia and in a couple of anatomy books, and got two A's and a B on it. Hmmm. I might be a wonderful writer, but you definitely don't want to come see me with any of your medical problems. (You probably don't want to see him either, as I think he washed out.) But it was so easy to write that osteopathy paper, because I knew the tutor's opinion wasn't going to mean anything to me. There was no possibility that I might disappoint.
But now? I'm working on a project I love, about something I've been studying for 3 years, and have been interested in my whole life. And it's just soooooooo slowwwwwww.
I so much want to be finished with this dissertation. I want to drop it in the post and bid it adieu.
Readers: Anyone have any tips, tricks for fooling oneself into writing more, better, faster?
Sunday, July 26, 2009
I've only really been blogging for about a year (before that I communicated via mass-emailings), so blogging's all pretty new to me. I started my blog while living in Poland and, go ahead and laugh, but at the time I didn't realize that blogging is an industry. Foolishly, I thought it was a hobby. An avocation. Something like scrapbooking or baking or whatever. I simply never had the crucial afterthought: where there's scrapbooking or baking, Creative Memories® and Pampered Chef® can't be far behind.
So for me, the jury's still out on BlogHer 2009. I attended for the first time ever and my feelings are mixed. The amount of giveaway loot was mind-boggling. I've been to lots of trade shows in a number of industries, but this was beyond the beyond. It seemed to combine the worst aspects of America's rampant consumerism with every stereotype there is about womankind's overwhelming desire to shop. And it kind of made me feel sick. Believe me, I'm not perfect. I came home with booty (even after "recycling" a lot of it), but the attention given to swag spread an oily, glistening sheen of greed over the proceedings that made some participants appear grasping and shallow.
As to the additional focus on monetizing your blog, optimizing readership, gaining followers? Well, who doesn't want money, connections, fame, big numbers? It's human nature, for sure. And at a big blogging conference, you certainly want to address the issues that are concerns for attendees. BlogHer provided a venue with lots of seminar options, so bloggers could learn about what they wanted to learn about, and ignore what was irrelevant to them. My mantra is, if you don't like to look (or read, or whatever) then don't. If I don't want to hear about advertising or getting my Twitter follower numbers up over 1K, then nobody needs to make me listen. It's my choice. So I mixed it up: a few geeky sessions on SEO and Twitter basics and social networking, a session on the latest tech gadgets (video, cameras, netbooks), a fascinating session on travel blogging. The outstanding Friday afternoon keynote highlighted 20 blog posts, read by their authors, and was by turns funny, heartwrenching, tragic, and full of joy. The Saturday keynote featuring a panel discussion with Tina Brown (Daily Beast), Donna Byrd (The Root), and Ilene Chaiken (The "L" word) was thought-provoking and empowering.
Still, even though I just said that people should attend the sessions they choose, I was completely unprepared for the shamefully small turnout at Saturday afternoon's session, "Leadership: The BlogHer '09 International Activist BlogHer Scholarship Winners Share Their Work". Bloggers Annie Zaidi (Blank Noise, Known Turf), Cristina Quisbert (Indigenous Bolivia), Pilirani Semu-Banda (The Wip, Pilirani Semu-Banda), and Toyin Ajao (Gender and Me) participated in a panel with Anita Doberman Tedaldi (Ovolina), discussing their activist work and the role of blogging in social change.
The BlogHer organizers were apparently hoping for at least 100 participants for this presentation. There were only 30 in the room. Thirty people, out of 1,500, who were interested in the groundbreaking work of these social activist bloggers from Nigeria, Bolivia, Malawi, and India? That's it? Meanwhile, next door, "Women Writing in the Age of Britney" was packed to overflowing.
Nothing against pop culture and Britney -- it's not my thing, but hey, to each her own. But I'm disappointed and surprised that BlogHer didn't feature these four women, these scholarship winners, in one of the conference-wide keynote addresses. Their work is big. Their work is shocking. Their work is the new wave of news in a post-print world. BlogHer should have chosen to have them present to the conference-wide audience. After all, they paid to bring them all the way here, half-way around the world. Why didn't they think we'd all want to hear their voices?
And it would have been a good stiff tonic for many, after all the goody bags and loot and monetization and whatnot. Families in Malawi subsist on about $1/day. Isn't that something you want to know more about?
Related posts: The Mom Slant, Motherhood Uncensored