Monday, June 2, 2014

Wake up and smell the outrage


Today, June 2, 2014, I woke up and did what I usually do in the morning – jump to my smartphone to smell the outrage.

First Slate:

“I Could Have Been Elliot Rodger” (if you have the stomach to read that creature’s entire manifesto – I don’t – you will understand that he is nowhere near Everyman, or even Everymisogynist, but way out there in cuckooclockland)

“U.S. Measles Infections at 20-Year High” (thanks, pseudoscience)

“Tennis Star Thinks Women Don’t Belong on the Pro Tour” (one man’s OPINION)

Then Salon – Salon, which was named after intellectual social gatherings but is now, in fact, the left-wing Breitbart:

“8 worst right-wing moments of the week – Bill O’Reilly is so smug that it hurts” (and FYI, water is wet)

“Monsanto vs. the monarchs: the fight to save the world’s most stunning butterfly migration”

“How to save the creative class: universal healthcare and no guns, basically”

Now, let’s pay a visit to Jezebel:

“Woman Threatens to Shoot Everyone Dead Over Stale Cinnabon”

 “Adam Corolla Says that Rich People are ‘Better than Poor People’”

“Justin Bieber is So Sorry About Horrible Racist Joke: ‘I Was a Kid’”(this has to be the first and last time I mention that guy in here)

And her big brother, Gawker:

“CEOs Make 331 Times as Much as Their Workers Last Year”

“$10 Million Apartment Probably Has Nice View”

“You Need to Stop Reading This and Get a Life”

The last one is a headline that should have been there. Really.

I need a new morning habit.

What does the information superhighway do for us, really? It was supposed to connect us to the wonders of the entire world – and at its best, it still does. If you are aware.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia
But most of the time it’s like one of those popcorn makers with the big yellow dome. Readers are the kernels, and under the dome they get hot and angry – so hot and angry that they explode and turn themselves inside out.

Here is one recent example which is especially irritating: NPR – yes, NPR, a place that I normally trust for news told with care, put a story about a “racist” ice cream truck song on one of its blogs. That’s right – the ice cream truck in your neighborhood might be delivering racism along with Drumsticks and Popsicles:

Or maybe not:

For his creation, Browne simply used the well-known melody of the early 19th-century song "Turkey in the Straw," which dates back to the even older and traditional British song "The (Old) Rose Tree." The tune was brought to America's colonies by Scots-Irish immigrants who settled along the Appalachian Trail and added lyrics that mirrored their new lifestyle.

So, a melody which became popular in America in the early 19th century was based on an even older English tune. In the year 1916, one Harry C. Browne added lyrics which were exceptionally racist (I’m not even going to type the song title here).

Think about that for a moment. That was ninety-eight years ago – long before the children who flock to ice cream trucks today were born. Before their parents were born. Before even their grandparents were born.

History – and the public, except for a handful of esoteric musicologists – quickly forgot Browne’s gross lyrics. Now – ninety-eight years later, that’s two years short of a century – this NPR writer drags it out of the dumpster of time.

To what end? To make Americans – specifically, white people – feel guilty about something that they had nothing to do with, namely ninety-eight-year-old lyrics that ninety-nine-point-nine of us would find extremely offensive? (Please do NOT tell me that America “isn’t talking about race enough” – one look at any famous news site proves otherwise. We talk and talk, but what exactly is all that talk doing?)

Or...to get thousands of people to click on the article, get good and angry, and leave a pointed comment? And share it on Facebook and Twitter, which brings even more people to the article...and so on, and so on, and so on?

How do we stop this cycle?

How can I?

Yesterday, I re-read Alexandra Stoddard’s Living a Beautiful Life, and I found the wisdom I needed:

Quiet and calm before the rush of a new day gives you time to reflect on your dreams and visualize the opportunities that lie ahead.
Friends of mine who have the strongest morning rituals are writers who need to tap into the ideas and images developed while they were asleep. Bob O’Brien, a senior editor at Reader’s Digest and author of eight books, advised me not to read the New York Times first thing in the morning. The first hours should be spent being creative.

That makes so much sense, it’s scary.

I need to know the important things that go on in the world.

I don’t need to read all this outrage. All this bullshit. All this meaninglessness.

Seriously, my time deserves better. Everyone’s time deserves better.

I usually recharge my phone in the bedroom. What if I did it in the living room instead, so I couldn’t reach my phone right away? (Or grab it when I suddenly wake up in the middle of the night?)

What would I do with myself in the morning instead?

Or, for that matter, throughout the day, because I often check in to the outrage trough sites?


Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cutting the crap, one show at a time



Lately, I made a pledge to myself not to read, write, listen to, or have anything to do with crap. I realized that I’ve spent too many mouse-hours on the ingestion of crap, and it’s time to stop because...well, I was going to say because I’m too old for that, but the truth is that age has nothing to do with crap tolerance, and you are never, ever, too young to cut the crap.


One of the ways I have begun to honor my pledge is to avoid getting sucked up in Internet drama, such as the production of long steaming webpages of crappy protest over a rape that never actually happened, i.e., was scripted, on one of those television programs that every one of you is supposed to care a great deal about, never mind that the rape (an incestuous rape at that) is a small sin compared to the numerous gruesome murders shown in graphic detail on this same program, including the stabbing death of a pregnant woman and a man suffocating under a coating of liquid gold (no, not Velveeta), as well as torture and castration and mutilation, none of which have brought on as many crap-pages of OMFG that is the worst scene EVER and how DARE the public not be as outraged about it as we are!!!

Which brings me to the crappy attitude that sexual crimes are so much worse, exponentially worse, than other serious crimes, to the point that too many people think that rape is a worse fate than murder, which is not true, not true at all, and that attitude is far from helpful to people who have actually experienced rape because they are expected, nay, have a duty to be traumatized for life, and if they’re not, well then they weren’t really raped, amirite?

Don’t watch crap, don’t have crappy attitudes.

Is that really so hard?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Has it really been fifty years?

Was it really fifty years ago today that one of the most electric moments in cultural history occurred?



It amazes me that the screaming, bouncing girls in the audience then are either close to or at Social Security age. (It's also something I don't want to think about.)

Back to the Beatles. All four of their Ed Sullivan Show appearances are available on this DVD, which deserves a place in your video library.

I'm sorry I couldn't find more footage to share on my blog. But when you watch the whole video, take a look at the faces of the Beatles. Take a look at the faces of their fans. So much joy. So much hope.

I cannot in truth say that life was better in 1964 than it is today. Back then, we were so ignorant about issues that we're just learning to understand now. Something was in the air in 1964, and that was hope. A belief that humanity was moving in the right direction - and the will to work to make that happen.

Many of us, alas, have lost both the belief and the will.

That cannot stand.

Something else rode side-by-side with hope in the 1960s...that something was called creative courage.

Popular rock musicians and singers and songwriters and producers had greater freedom to be artists, to evolve, to change styles. To listen to the mandate of their creativity, not the fickle winds of what might sell most. And that music got played on commercial radio.

Today, the risk-takers live in the indie world - where you may not find them unless you listen to public or Internet radio. Pop music - the kind you hear on today's commercial radio - is too dull. It's doesn't touch the heart or echo off the bone. It doesn't tell your story. It's like a commercially grown tomato - pretty, shiny, and as nourishing as a plastic toy from a vending machine.

The Beatles will never get "old," or "tired," because theirs is the music of joy and hope, and we need that always. Listen to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" today...and then hold the hand of something (or someone!) good.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Should I go to grad school?



The UC Irvine campus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Continuing the thought in the previous post, one of the things I could do with my life now is earn a master’s degree.

As of 2012, 30.94% of Americans 25 and over have achieved at least a bachelor’s degree. That means I am still in a privileged minority – but I still feel shame that I’m not one of the 8.05% that has earned a master’s degree or above.


Why?


I think a master’s degree is something I should have. It would help me become more employable. And it is a tangible achievement. It’s like a mountain...I want to climb it because I want to be able to say I did.

If I were to earn a master’s degree, though, it would need to be in a subject that a. I genuinely care about and thus would have motivation, and b. is realistic for me given my background. That subject would be creative writing.

It would be good for me personally to have an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in creative writing.

Except...

Unlike a teaching credential or a medical school degree, I don’t need that piece of paper to write. Many successful authors do not have that MFA, and some don’t even have a bachelor’s degree. Why wait two years to earn that degree when I can start writing now?

Plus...

It will cost thousands of dollars. Over $60,000, if I attend the well-regarded program at UC Irvine. That is money we don’t have right now.

Going to grad school would mean going into debt. Again.

I have been in five-figure debt. It is not a pleasant place to be. At all. It takes over nearly everything in your life, eating you alive with worry and fear and shame. Debt gets in the way of life.

Needless to say, I really like the feeling of being totally debt-free. Perhaps more than having a master’s degree.

Perhaps it is better to just write a book, and bring in $60,000 (or more), than go $60,000 in the red before the book is even finished.

Right?


Friday, January 10, 2014

Here comes the new year, same as the old year (?)


New years, according to the popular media, are supposed to bring new beginnings. January is the month for us to overhaul our mindsets and finally do what we have to do to get to where we want to go.

In order to do that, though, we have to know where we want to go in the first place.

I don’t.

Still.

I’m starting out 2014 the same way I ended 2013 – lost, unfocused, not sure of exactly where the hell I am going.

To be honest, I’ve felt this way for several years now.

I don’t know what I want to be yet – decades after most other people my age have not only answered that question, but are living it.

(Please don’t suggest that I volunteer. I haven’t changed my mind about that.)

I do know what I don’t want: a full-time job in an office building.

I want to earn money, of course, enough money to take care of my needs and a few special wants. But I have been working outside the 9-to-5 routine for so long that returning to it would make me feel like an ex-prisoner being dragged back to jail.

I have not looked for or applied for a full-time office job for quite some time now. Only freelance, temp, or part-time.

Strictly speaking, I don’t need a full-time office job right now. Money is tight for Two Dogs and me, but for now we’re hanging on. (Our neighbor pays us to help him out with laundry, doctor’s appointments, etc., and that is a boon to us.)

But I do feel guilty.

I feel guilty about not looking, and I feel guilty about not wanting something that most adults take as a given of responsibility. I think I’m a lazy bum sometimes (even though in fact I almost never “laze around” during the day). I ask myself, am I doing right by myself by not earning as much as I can before I get old? Am I doing right by my spouse by not bringing in more of the bacon? (My freelance income for 2013 was about $2100. For the whole year.)

What is wrong with me?

Possibly nothing, in fact.

It may be that as I become more definite in what I don’t want, what I do want will become clearer.

I guess what I really want is to make a living doing something that I enjoy (most of the time), that I feel is important, and that will have impact beyond myself. I like to see myself with my laptop in the coffeehouse or library, sometimes doing things for others, sometimes in Word writing the fiction which is breaking out of me. That is a happy Meandering Mouse.

Maybe we shouldn’t think of January as now-or-never for goals. Maybe we should see that it is an ongoing process, subject to change of mind. It could be that in June I’ll discover an office job that I’ll jump to apply for.

I will keep in mind this quote from psychiatrist M. Scott Peck:

Life is complex. Each one of us must make his own path through life. There are no self-help manuals, no formulas, no easy answers. The right road for one is the wrong road for another…The journey of life is not brightly lit, and it has no road signs. It is a rocky path through the wilderness.