Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Flu who?

Photo credit: zeathiel (stock.xchng)

When it comes to worldviews, I am on Team Science.

I believe that vaccines are one of the most important tools we have in reducing the impact of disease. I would have a good laugh at the hysterics of the anti-vaccine crowd, if only the consequences of their denial weren’t so serious.

If I had young children, I would definitely take them to be vaccinated.


I haven’t had a flu shot yet.

I have never had a flu shot.

Why don’t I get the flu shot?

Even though every expert says I should?

Even though it’s not difficult or expensive to do so?

Even though this is the worst flu season in years?

I have thought about it, and I’ve concluded that I am still not 100% convinced that I need it.

Disclosure: I have not had the flu since high school. I don’t often hang out in crowds, I back away from people who sneeze and cough, and I am extra-careful about washing after I sneeze and cough – but of course, dumb luck plays a role, too.

Not too long ago, these were the only people who needed flu shots:

• Elderly people
• Pregnant women
• People with chronic disease
• Health care workers
• Children between 6 months and 18 years
• Anyone who spends considerable time with people in the above groups

In 2010, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) made it simpler: Everyone over 6 months is recommended to get a flu shot. And today, if you don’t get a flu shot, you’re a selfish so-and-so who is a menace to society, because you may spread the flu even if you don’t feel sick yourself (an argument I’ve never heard before this year).

But still, I hesitate to go and get my flu shot.

I am not afraid of chemicals in the flu shot (chemical exposure is a part of life). I am not afraid of getting the flu from the flu shot (which technically doesn’t happen; some people may feel ill because of the flu antibodies rising up to fight the dead flu virus in the shot). I am not (that) afraid of needles; I get a blood screening every year as part of my annual checkup, and there is a nasal flu vaccine available.

I am concerned about having to repeat the shot next year, and the year after that, and so on and so on and so on. Unlike childhood vaccinations – which take place once or at most twice in a lifetime – the flu vaccine changes every year. I am not sure I want to be vaccinated with a new formula every year for the rest of my life. What if something goes wrong with one of these yearly vaccines?

Or maybe being screamed at is the opposite of motivation for me.

My childhood is past. I will never be pregnant or work in health care. Until I reach a certain age, or if I should find myself living with children or old or sick people – or if a compelling reason besides media hype should appear before my eyes– I will wait to get vaccinated for flu.

And wash my hands and watch out for sneezers.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Remember when the Internet ate your balls?

Ah, the mid-1990s.

Remember grunge, lousy sitcoms (except Seinfeld) and websites that looked like this? Remember testing how many miles information could ride on the new superhighway?

Remember using it to make endless jokes about eating balls?

Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Ah, yes, “Ate My Balls” sites. It started with Mr. T, and then grew like mold atop spaghetti under a carelessly closed Tupperware lid. At the peak of AMB madness, Yahoo counted more than 230 sites about tasting the testicles, nibbling the nads, and chowing down the cojones. A whole bunch of people were connecting with their inner Beavis and Butt-head back then.

(Remember: Comedy is not pretty. Comedy is not nice. Comedy is not politically correct. Comedy is not about showing our best side.)

Photo credit: xddorox (Flickr)

Who was eating all of those balls? Those whom you might expect (Homer Simpson, Boss Hogg, Mike Tyson) and those you wouldn’t (Santa Claus? The Family Circle? Rush – the band Rush???) Internet funsters had Mother Teresa praying for your balls, Bill Gates buying your balls, and the Borg assimilating your balls. Even the Titanic was eating balls (how, I had no idea).

(An aside: why no "Ate My Ovaries" pages? Why is eating balls funny and eating ovaries not? What’s wrong with expanding the so-scary-it’s-hilarious idea to both sexes?

Say it with me: “Mr. T Ate My Ovaries.” Oh, that’s why.)

Photo credit: Big Box of Art

Even the Meandering Mouse was into eating balls – ummm, writing about eating balls. I sat down at the old Gateway computer in 1997 and wrote pages and pages of limericks, mostly about hungry mouths and balls coming together. Unfortunately (for you, maybe not for me), most of them are now trapped in a 3.5” floppy. I wrote limericks about radio hosts John and Ken, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks (before they dropped the “Mighty”), and Biggie Smalls (probably because his name rhymed with “balls” – I’m just guessing).

These are the only two limericks that I recall completely:

This meal is delicious to chew
For black, white, Christian, and Jew.
What is this meal
With such widespread appeal?
It’s an old-fashioned ball barbecue!


It’s written all over the walls.
It’s heard throughout the halls.
What is this phrase
That’s become the new craze?
It’s “Mr. T ate my balls!”

Huh huh huh huh huh. Heh heh heh heh mmm heh.

Alas, AMB pages went the way of Geocities and dial-up. It’s a shame, because the number of celebrities who could use the humility only ball-eating can bring has made a hockey-stick-shaped increase.

Some critics called AMB pages “useless.” This is how I answer:

Any image that makes you bust your nut – I mean gut – laughing is anything but useless!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Memoir or masochism?

A few days ago, a Gawker story about narcissism vs. journalism led me to this New York Times Opinionator essay from writing teacher Susan Shapiro. Shapiro is famous (infamous?) for assigning her students, as their first piece, three pages confessing their most humiliating secrets.

If I were interested in taking a writing class, and found out that an assignment like this would be part of it, I would lose interest in that class right away.

If I were actually in a class, and the teacher sprung this assignment on us, I would make something up. I’m not joking.

My life belongs to me. Not the public. Not some writing teacher who thinks this is the only way to sell work. I decide what to reveal and what not to. To coerce personal stories from someone else is, I believe, a form of rape.

Some things are none of your goddamn business.

There. I said it, and I am proud of it.

I just wish more people would do the same.

Once upon a time, the confessional memoir was rare – and it played an important role in bringing hidden issues out of the closet. Lillian Roth’s autobiography I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1954) shone a light on how alcoholism could knock even the most talented person down – but not out. And Christina Crawford’s Mommie Dearest (1978) was a horrifying trip through a battered childhood.

Fast forward to today, and memoirs about alcoholism, child abuse – and any other issue you can think of – are not rare at all. Whether they come in the form of a book or a blog, you can find thousands of variations of this tale: “My life sucked, but I overcame it.”

Unfortunately, repetition diminishes impact. How many times can you hear the same story before you can’t care anymore? (Also, telling a story is not the same as solving a problem.)

Now, I am by no means encouraging people with past or present issues in their lives to just shut up and not write about them at all. I am urging awareness of the difference between writing as therapy for you and writing as a good story for everyone else.

If you want to connect with a wide audience, you have to have more to your story than “My life sucked, but I overcame it.”

Consider transforming your story into a piece of fiction. That gives you more creative freedom.

Ask yourself if your story has an angle which doesn’t get much media play. Hundreds have written about being victims of sexual abuse, but Meredith Maran wrote about not being a victim of sexual abuse in her memoir, My Lie: A True Story of False Memory.

Always remember that humiliating personal stories are not the only ones which can pack a punch, no matter what Susan Shapiro says. Why not look outward? Don’t point your magnifying glass on your backside; point your spyglass out at the world.

Meandering Mouse is a personal blog, but that is not the same as a confessional blog. I write it to show interesting parts of the world to you, not to humiliate myself. I am proud of this mission, and see no need to change it.

I own my story. And you own yours, too.

Treat it well.

Monday, January 7, 2013

How the Meandering Mouse blog works

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

This month, the fourth anniversary of the Meandering Mouse blog will occur (specifically, January 20). It’s a good time to pull back the curtain and show you my guidelines for posting.

In 2009, the first year of the blog, I wrote 63 posts. The next year, 2010, I only wrote 32, and in one month (May) I didn't make a post at all. Those 32 posts were good work, but when you have a blog that you want people to look at, quantity as well as quality matters.

So in 2011, I started a quota – a minimum of four posts per month, totaling a minimum of 48 posts per year. It is, for me, a realistic and achievable goal, and it has worked well ever since. In 2011, I did 50 posts, and in 2012, 53.

If somehow I should only write three posts in a month, I need to write five posts the next month. If (oh, no) I write just two, I need to write six the next time. And so on. However, if I go over quota one month (five posts or more), it does not mean I get to write fewer posts the following month. Last month, December, I wrote seven posts – but I’m not going to write just one in January. The minimum is always four, no matter what.

If it gets down to crunch time at the end of the month, I’ll share a bloggers’ secret: A nice photo and a quote (by me or someone else) counts as a post.

In 2012, I also “recycled” some essays that I had written previously. All but one of them were new to the web, and the exception was a post I wrote for a LiveJournal account under a screen name. I will most likely do the same this year, but the well of older essays is dwindling. (I give you my word of honor that I will not try to pass off an old Meandering Mouse post as new.)

I have some great ideas in January, so I will have no problem meeting quota this month. I feel full of good writing energy at the moment. (Let’s hold on to that!)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013: Year of the Snake Mouse

On the last day of the year, I was driving around on errands while listening to, as I often do, The Karel Show. (I download podcasts, burn them on rewritable CDs so I can use them over again, and listen on my car’s CD player because I don’t have an iPod yet…though I can also listen to podcasts on my smartphone.) Karel was interviewing Beatrice Bruno, author of the book How To Get Over Yourself, Get Out of Your Own Way, and Get What YOU Want Out of Life!

The gist of the interview was that we say we want happiness – whether that means a romantic relationship, a fulfilling career, financial security, or all of the above plus more – but our actions don’t move us in that direction. For example, we don’t leave our homes so we can have the opportunity to meet the people who can help us with our goals. Karel and Ms. Bruno talked about a (often unconscious) fear of success – fear of the major changes, responsibilities, and yes, the problems which come along with it. “Failure is comfortable, success is uncomfortable,” said Ms. Bruno.

I have been away from the in-office workforce for three-and-a-half years now, working as a freelance writer and graphic designer. I am earning only a third of what I used to (which wasn’t much to begin with). Two Dogs has been enormously supportive during this time, but it’s up to me to tend to my business so that it grows the way I wish it to.

I remembered that 2013 is the Chinese (Lunar) Year of the Snake. I was also born in a Year of the Snake.

Now, I am no true believer in ass-trology from any culture. However, I see a motif which may be helpful.

What if, in 2013, I became a Snake Mouse – a mouse with the tough, hardy skin of a snake (to defend against taking rejection too personally) and a rattle (to sound off about what I can do)?

Snake Mouse. Now, that sounds like one cool character.

When it comes to talking, I have come to understand that:

1. I don’t like to talk unless I have a good reason to do so, and
2. I don’t like to approach people unless I have something to say to them.

My task for 2013 is to find the situations where I have good reason to talk (about my business) and to find the people to whom I have something to say (so I can help them with my business).

To do that, I have to move out of my own way.

Watch out, inertia. The Snake Mouse is waking up!