shalanna: (non-cook)
"Stop! Look! Listen! But we're not at a train bridge (trestle). It's a TROLL bridge!"

Trolls . . . often called Wishniks . . . not to be confused with Rat Finks . . . are fun! They have fuzzy hair sprouting from the tops of their flat heads! They're always smiling! They have really big ears and are sometimes called "Wingnut." (They hate that.) You hardly ever see them wearing drop earrings, because most drop earrings are longer than trolls are tall.

Some trolls live in the forest. Or in old-timey woodcarvings or engravings.

My trolls came from old dime stores. TG&Y, Woolworths, Ben Franklin, and the late and much-lamented (but dirty old 1951 linoleum and walls store) Sun Rexall Drugs.

They have a Troll House in the woods under our big oak tree.

They enjoy it.

They have friends over often. Tinky bakes Troll House cookies in the hollow tree.

It's cozy inside, like a hobbit-hole.

Some say most trolls are Druids or Pagans, but at least one of mine believes in Santa!

What? We weren't supposed to write about Trolls? But I thought. . . .

Oh . . . looking at that topic definition again, it's about when you're "going somewhere knowing that you will be stirring things up/causing trouble in someone else's personal space--IOW, trolls."

Well, I always end up doing THAT, even when I don't intend to.

But this week's topic sentence is given as: "Who's that Trip Trapping Over My LJ?"
It's a reference to the fable about “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” and the troll who lives under the bridge and that “trip-trap trip-trap!” sound effect that you're supposed to make while reading it aloud.

Still, the topic was really intended to be Internet trolls.

Oh . . . you mean those mean old people who try to bait you and mess up the online discussions all the time?

In the immortal words of Emily Littella:

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[Poll #981840]
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If you enjoyed this entry, you can vote for me here, ***NOW!*** [edit] *grin* I actually made the top 25, and so that's kind of surprising/fun. The fellow Sartorias knows dropped out this week so he could work on his Real Work, which is what I should *probably* do, but I'm having too much fun getting people to read the entries. With the poll to rank them, it's even a two-way street. Fun!

Still, I *am* finishing the mystery that I'm going to send off at the beginning of July. Anyone want to see the opening chapter or so posted? It's a cozy starring Ari French. It'll be a prequel to the other book that I've already sent around without success. I suspect this will work well, leading into the second book (which was written first.) But I always get all optimistic like this and it turns out to jinx me, so I'm not being optimistic. No. Just pretending. Nothing to see here, jinxes!
shalanna: (Default)

"These are NOT my shoes," announced Blinky. She toed the heels of the muddy blue Grasshoppers until they fell off her feet. "See that blister? These are definitely not mine."

"Well, don't look at me. I can't wear nothin' except these backless slides." Pinky sank back on the garden bench, pulling off her muddy gloves and tossing them into the birdbath. (I quickly retrieved them and hung them over the side of a nearby bucket. My birds deserved better than to have to wade in her potting soil with Perlite and WonderGro.)

[Yes, once again Mama's "Stitch-and-Bitch" Gin Rummy Occasional Players were meeting at MY house. Today we were in my garden on the stone patio. Blinky took a seat at the umbrella table, Stinky and Pinky sharing the porch swing--the metal 1950s kind with its own base that goes back and forth, so no worries about them pulling out the eyehooks overhead, since there are none--and Nod hopping into our hammock in the shade.)

"I'd know if I got on the wrong shoes right away. I got custom foot-doctor insoles. Cost a small fortune." Stinky moved to pull off her steel-toed boots, but Mama quickly stopped her. Probably recalling the last time Stinky took off her shoes in public. (Patients with lung disorders suffered immediate attacks. The general area had to be evacuated. Homeland Security was notified.)

"How could you get the wrong shoes on?" Mama inquired, reasonably enough, I thought.

"Took 'em off when you were sprayin' that hose at 'Full Power' instead of 'Gentle Mist' setting. Whole side yard is a loblolly of mud now. Wanted to keep from ruinin' another pair of good shoes. I washed my feet in that there wadin' pond." Blinky gestured towards my Pomeranian's little sunflower-shaped wading pool, which we'd used earlier to cool him off. "Get that at Dollar General?"

"Yeah, last year. Isn't it a shame that Wal-Mart bought 'em and is closin' 'em down?" Mama sighed.

"You're kidding!" Stinky's cigarette fell out of her mouth.

Blinky whammed her fist on the table. The umbrella shuddered. "Nope. That woman, richest in the world, she ain't happy bein' one of the biggest stores. Has to be the ONLY one. I hate that. Why'n't they leave some of the business for somebody else? They got enough."

Pinky, finished examining her blood-red oxfords, raised a finger. "It's not Wal-Mart buyin' them. It's those people bought Safeway."

"No, it's not. I read it in the Morning Snooze."

To head off an endless "Yes, it is,"/"NO, it ain't" match, I said, "I hope that isn't true at all. I love Dollar General."

"Well, the manager of the big new one over on Coit--you know, where Colberts used to be--told me they'd been bought and he was losing his good insurance. So take that as you will."

"Damn!" Stinky shook her head. "They ruin everything good."

"Can't blame the guy for selling. Probably got a lot of money and now he can retire."

"I wish I was in HIS shoes," Blinky said. "I'd fix things right up."

"No, you wouldn't. You'd be true to your original mission of creating a national Dime Store. Now that Woolworth's, T G & Y, and the other greats are no more." Mama looked out over the meadow wistfully. The pond splashed at her elbow, and she took the last seat on the old metal chair off of Auntie's 1950s front porch. Nearly all of its original green enamel finish was missing, but we still used it. "One of these days I'm going to paint this," she added, rubbing her thumb along the curve of its arm.

"I just can't understand why somebody would give up the store, though. It was doing so good."

My Pomeranian frolicked over to me and jumped into my lap, exhausted from barking back at the squirrels. A strip of blue canvas dangled from the corner of his mouth, and I suspected I knew who had found Blinky's actual shoes. I thought better of saying so and blathered forth in illustrative literature instead. "In 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' Atticus explains to Scout that 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'"

Blinky sent me a withering look. "In somebody's skin? That's just creepy."

"But it isn't literal. It's about gaining a new perspective. We are all prisoners of our own points of view. To escape that for a few minutes and really experience life as it might be for someone on the Other Side of whatever divides us . . . it's a gift from the Universe."

"I'd rather win the lottery, if the Universe is inclined to gift me."

I sighed. But I'm stubborn. "Remember the old song, 'Walk a Mile In My Shoes'? Think of it that way."

Nod woke up long enough to murmur, "Walk A Mile In My Shoes"--recorded by Joe South and The Believers, written by Joe South, peaked at # 12 in 1970." She's kind of a walking jukebox like that about popular music of that era.

Stinky frowned. "Wasn't there a similar song eventually done by Elvis?"

"Whatever." Pinky waved it aside. "Before you pass judgment on me, first walk a mile in my moccasins." She was getting it.

"I hate moccasins. They're like having your feet in cantaloupes--that raw suede." Stinky shuddered. "That's creepy, too."

Pinky stuck out her tongue. "That's not the point. To walk a mile in my shoes means learn to have empathy, not just sympathy, for others. I want to feel what they feel. Not just parrot, 'I feel sorry for them. That situation must be terrible.' All while I'm a-sittin' in the catbird seat."

My Pom perked up and started looking for the cat/bird. I scratched behind his ears.

Blinky considered. "Well . . . maybe it's not ALL terrible to be on the Other Side. There must be merit even in being a Republican, or God wouldn't have created them."

Stinky scowled. "God didn't create Republicans." She glowered.

Nod popped awake again. "What--the Devil can create stuff?"

"No! That's not what I meant. I meant, somebody else made up being a Republican. You can be one because God gave us free will, but He sure didn't intend anybody to really Become one."

"Must be some good ones out there," Blinky mused. "I liked President Reagan. And Abraham Lincoln, there's you another one."

"That was my POINT . . . that if you were in their position, you might act exactly that way."

"'Cause I wouldn't know any better." Stinky stubbed out her cigarette in my strawberry pot. I made a note to cruise around getting those things out as soon as they left.

Blinky inclined her head, as if to allow that this could be one of the explanations. "Or you sincerely believe in what they're saying."

"If they sincerely believe all of that rot, then bosh. They need to walk a mile in THESE." Stinky offered her feet up. Her surplus-store Army boots teetered. Everyone covered their noses. "Quit that. I'm not gonna take 'em off."

"It's not that politicians actually believe all that stuff they say," said Blinky. "I think some of 'em just hate Hillary Clinton so much that they'll vote opposite of anything she says."

"Well, maybe if they saw ol' Hilly through my eyes, they'd see her differently, shallow Hal." Stinky fired up a new Tareyton.

"Everything's a matter of perspective. Frames of reference. . . ." I trailed off because I knew better than to get into Einsteinian relativity. "As I told someone the other day, I like to see someone's paradigm shift and then hear them go 'Ah!' as they suddenly step into those other moccasins. Some people have never realized they COULD go into another POV like that and understand it. After the first time, they figure out how to do it for themselves. Sometimes. Sometimes they don't."

Mama was studying her feet, having slipped them out of my jeweled slides (she didn't ask before borrowing them, and now they'd be all stretched out of shape.) "I have duck feet. They're splayed out and EE wide. I wish I could wear those high heels, but I never could." My shoes teetered on the edge of the pond. The koi eased halfway out of the water to sniff them in case they were food. "My feet are fat like my daughter's."

"Your feet are fine. So are mine." I snatched my shoes away before they could fall into the pond. "I enjoy walking in my own shoes, down my own path. I believe that the universe is unfolding as it should. Difficult as that might make my path seem. It's still my path, and that's my destiny."

Blinky slammed the pack of cards down on the umbrella table. "Oh, shut up and deal."

[Poll #978112]

(If you enjoyed this entry, you can VOTE FOR ME HERE.)
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"I'm descended from a very long line my mother once foolishly listened to."--Phyllis Diller

"It's like magic. When you live by yourself, all your annoying habits are gone."--Merrill Markoe

"After you've dated someone, it should be legal to stamp them with what's wrong with them so the next person doesn't have to start from scratch."--Rita Rudner
shalanna: (Calvin in Denial)
You may have read my LJ Idol Competition entry about The Great Spelling Bee Flap . . . if you'd like to help me stay in that competition, feel free to vote for me on ballot #2. (That link will open in a new window so you won't lose your place in your friendslist.) It's also fine if you don't do polls and memes and thus won't do it. Thanks for all your support!
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Yesterday was a difficult day on all fronts; my mother has had a lot of pain in her back and legs and a worsening of her breathing problem, and asks you to pray or send positive energy. She's in full sulk mode at me, which happens when I stand up for myself in any way instead of letting her run things. I took her to three places to try to get her something to eat that she could stand, but nothing suited her, and I made the mistake of saying that I could never please her. *sigh*

Hubby didn't help me at all by coming home in a "ranting" mood (because of something or another at work that eventually turned out in his favor, as demonstrated by an e-mail he got around 11 PM) and following me back here to the computer room to rave on about how my mother needs one of those insurance policies . . . you can probably guess the kind . . . and he really showed that he has changed a lot in the last few years (says he hates this house and its floor plan, that if he hurts someone's feelings or makes a mistake he doesn't care and doesn't second-guess himself as to whether he has been fair, that he doesn't expect me to ever have any kind of success, that he resents working and he doesn't feel he should have to do ANYthing around the house even if it's his home too and I can't get up in the attic to change the A/C filter, and so forth.) He's had a lot of anger and resentment since his parents died, and withdraws into his WoW and other online games to shoot things, which is bad but is not something I can change for him.

Got three rejections from agents who'd seemed interested at first.

I did get a nice Boston fern when I stopped by the Home Depot to replace that toilet seat that cracked, but this did not make up for anything.

I tried to write the chase through the desert for Ari Book 2, but decided to make Dennis write it for me, because I am no good at action scenes. So at least there's still one person on this side of the Veil whom I can take advantage of--and of course there's my dog, who was really sad all day knowing that I was taking a beating on all fronts and kept giving my mother sad worried looks because he didn't understand why she was sulking and angry. Poor little dog--if only he could talk, he would straighten us all out. He understands people-speak perfectly well, but doesn't have the vocal equipment to talk back.

Wasn't yesterday the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing? And I don't even want to talk about Virginia Tech's tragedy on Monday, because it could have been prevented, IMHO, and it's just too depressing to think about any more; we watched that coverage all day Monday and Tuesday, and by Tuesday PM we simply could not take any more and turned it to the classic movies station. I also escaped by writing the chili cookoff scene for Ari Book 2. Ari's going to get an opportunity to (as [ profile] dennismhavens so kindly puts it) "get laid," and I think she's going to make the mistake of taking it. That should screw her up even MORE. Why should SHE be happy? *grin*

P. S.
(1) Authors are required to make their characters suffer, so this is kosher passing-it-along behavior on my part.
(2) There will still be no explicit sex scene in the book. So it goes.
shalanna: (hacker card)
(After reading the early entries for this round, I figured we needed a little humor.)

This post is a flash fiction for The Real LiveJournal Idol, round something-or-another. Not to be taken seriously. Do not expose to open ridicule. Close cover before striking.

My Metamorphosis
(with apologies to Franz Kafka)

The other morning, I awoke from a restless sleep bookended by unsettling dreams to discover that I had turned into an iPod.

A Fifth Generation 30 GB, shiny silver, personalized video iPod engraved on the back with "Klaatu barada nikto, Gort," loaded with music and fully charged, but still.

At first I lay motionless under the heavy covers, the sunlight through the window blinds glinting off my huge screen--through which I had the power of vision as well as hearing--and speculated on who might've slipped the hallucinogens into my pizza last night. I knew I shouldn't have ordered the Ultimate Supreme Deep-Dish--it masked the psychedelic taste of mind-bending drugs too well.

A podcast of "Weird Al" Yankovic singing "Don't Download This Song," with video of Al bouncing wildly around the stage, flickered helplessly on my color screen.

"What the frell?" I said aloud. Only it came out as a song.

There happened to be a song in my catalog with precisely that title, by the Texas HeckRaisers, and it was as though I had moused over and selected it. It began blaring from both speakers.

Speakers? I appeared to be plugged into the clock radio on the nightstand by a Y-cord.

"This is bullshit. . . ." I attempted to say, but ran straight into an ERROR that knocked me out for a moment. ***ACCESS VIOLATION*** My 2.5-inch (diagonal) color LCD screen went dark, but after a moment of sheer panic at the thought of the abyss, it lightened.

Apparently, I was rebooting.

As Kafka writes in "The Trial," “Waking up is the riskiest moment of the day.” We tend to take it for granted that what we were the night before, we will be the next morning. *bzzzt* Fooled ya!

But anyhow, this was like some kind of nightmare. Daymare. I hadn't dropped any tabs of LSD or smoked pot or taken mushrooms . . . well, I did have mushrooms on my pizza the previous night, but they weren't THAT kind of 'shrooms.

No, I had to be in some kind of waking dream.

Perhaps it was some kind of Phildickian alternative reality. Things were not as they seemed. I was having a schizophrenic break/interlude.

"Crazy," I muttered.

Naturally, the strains of Patsy Cline's rendition of Willie Nelson's genius song came through the speakers. I couldn't help but sing along, as I *was* the music.

Now how in the hell was I supposed to get to work and teach middle school math to my classroom of shiftless slackers?

Bobby Darin's song "Multiplication" began playing as I stewed and turned the problem over in my mind. Or was it actually in my random access memory . . . my available virtual memory . . . whatever.

I couldn't be fully awake. This was one of those waking dreams like the ones in which you're paralyzed or move in slow motion through the quicksand as the jackals gain on you.

I decided to go back to sleep, and then when I woke up, maybe I'd wake up for real. But I can't fall asleep unless I'm on my left side. I couldn't get myself to stay "on edge." No matter how hard I threw myself onto my side, I always flopped right back down onto my back. Chrome is really slippery.

It was chilling to realize that I could've just as well toppled over on my face--on my screen--and maybe even onto the hardwood floor. Then I really would've been in trouble. And I'm so easily scratched.

"Help!" I cried.

The Beatles' "Help!" began to play. Rather loudly, but I needed more volume in order to attract someone.

The dog started to bark from the foot of the bed. Apparently I no longer emitted that comforting mammalian smell. And I was noisy. My click wheel hurt. Don't get me started on that itchy center button. I couldn't bear my ports one more minute.

Hubby strolled in. "What's the trouble, boy?" he asked the dog. Puppy isn't even a pointer, but he pointed right at me. Hubby looked at the bed, then did a double-take.

He scratched his head. "Where is your mama, dog, and what is this huge overgrown iPod doing here?"

"It's me!" The song "It's Pat" came on, from that old SNL feature about the androgynous actress. Well, close enough.

"I don't know a Pat," he mumbled in confusion.

I never realized that "Weird Al" had recorded a song titled "Why Does This Always Happen to Me?" until I started playing it.

He looked at me, then at the dog. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

A rap song, titled "@$#!@@&%^$" with several lightning bolts implied, blasted from the speakers. I found a directory with still photos and displayed a recent shot of me raising both fists in the air and baring my teeth.

"What?" He stared at the image. "You've gotta be kidding."

"No Kidding, Vern, It's For Real" by Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys came through the clock radio.

"Okay, let me think. Calm down. Take a chill pill." He reached over and selected "Sailing" by Christopher Cross from my playlist. It was really off-putting for someone else to be handling my controls without even asking. "There, now. Don't you feel better?"

While I was searching for songs with the lyric "NO NO NO NO NO," he unplugged the speakers. "Now it's quiet," he remarked to the dog. "Now I can think."

I found my "Video Playlists" menu and started scrolling through. I settled on a protest march from the 1960s, for lack of a more specific image to show. Although it was silent, he got the message. He plugged my cable back into the radio just as I segued into Engelbert Humperdinck's classic, "Please Release Me."

"So you've turned into an iPod." He shook his head. "I told you not to spend so much time playing with electronics. What do you want me to do about it?"

I played "Save Me" by Queen off their Greatest Hits album.

"Well, I don't know how."

Janis Joplin's "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" came on without my even trying.

"Let's figure out why this might have happened. Maybe it's what you were worrying about. What were you supposed to do today?"

I showed a still photo of the school and played a few bars of "Hot for Teacher." It was the best I could do.

"How are you going to teach? Do you have appropriate podcasts?"

I couldn't very well do it, unless I could find appropriate podcasts. And how was I supposed to locomote?

"I don't know why this happened, but try to enjoy the experience. It's all fodder for the writer's mill, as Hossie always said. Maybe at midnight, you'll turn back."
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It has been a few days now, and we don't try to guess when or whether I'll turn back. He carries me around and listens to music and podcasts, and I get to see where he goes during the day. It's interesting, in a passive sort of way.

I suppose this is all part of the great Learning Experience of life.

And it could be worse. I certainly wouldn't want to be a white video iPod playing Green Day, unless it were March 17th. And I could've been loaded with all hip-hop . . . or with all the podcast episodes of "Prairie Home Companion." Talk about a nightmare!

But why would this happen? I suppose it's all a metaphor for society's treatment of those who are different. Or it's about the loneliness of being isolated. About alienation and the fear of failure of a life's mission. Maybe just the absurdity of existence in general.

But frankly, it's difficult to say who has experienced more of a metamorphosis. Other people now reach for me . . . they like me. They talk about what a great invention I am. It's pretty different from when I was a people.

Still, hubby takes me for granted even MORE now. If I get dropped--there goes the disk--so I've noticed he's a little more careful. But it's pretty stifling inside his jacket pocket.

It has been a few hours now since he took the jacket off, in fact, and I think he has forgotten I'm in here. I feel strange. Light-headed. Uh-oh; I'm totally discharged--my screen is fading. Plug me into a USB port, dummy!

I'm trying to shout, but my output isn't connected to anything.

Fading . . . hello? Is there anybody out there?

The music spirals into the Grateful Dead's "'Til the Morning Comes," and the song and I spiral on down endlessly in a parade of colorful teddy bears, forever and ever, amen.
shalanna: (CalvinB-n-W)
For The Real LJ Idol: "I Can't Believe I Did That!"

I can't believe I . . . actually allowed my seventy-something mother to have her Stitch-N-B*tch Coffeeklatsch afternoon over here at my house the other day.

Well, yes, I can: she lives with us, and normally this group meets every week or so, but they haven't met for almost a month because one or the other of them has been sick or out of town. Anyhow, I thought, it'll make 'em happy, and they're nice, harmless little old ladies . . . what's the worst that could happen?

(Never ASK that. The Universe hears. It obliges by showing you.)

No one would expect a group of 70-ish-year-old ladies to bring CHILDREN to the Stitch-n-B*tch coffeecake party. Yet Mama's little group of weirdos pride themselves on being nonconformists.

Pinky brought her granddaughter. An adorable tot of around three or four. Long blonde hair with ribbons in it, big round blue eyes, enchanting smile. And Of the Devil. Her plan, starting when she entered my house, was to get her grubby paws on my ceramic unicorn collection and tenderly shatter each one in turn, swallowing the horns (that gives her more Unicorn Power.) I distracted her with a stuffed Easter bunny out of my centerpiece and turned the kitchen TV to cartoons as I got the "ladies" settled, but knew I was in for a couple of hours of watchful watching.

Somebody'd brought a cake with pink frosting. Mama had made one of her inimitable Lemon Pound Bundt cakes. Cookies with unidentified lumps (which turned out to be candies) were arrayed on plates. I pulled some frozen Thin Mints out of the freezer and let 'em thaw. With coffee and diet cola, that made a feast for those with teeth (most of these ladies have at least SOME teeth. *GRIN*) I chewed grimly on a MediFast Chocolate Mint Meal Bar as they clinked away with forks on my good dessert plates (Mama got them out while I wasn't looking.)

Pinky had brought a Sudoku magazine and the latest TV Guide collection of crossword puzzles. She pulled a crossword out of her purse and announced that she was needing help. (These magazines don't have the solutions in the backs; they're in NEXT month's issue, which is a sneaky clever crafty solution for the publisher, I think.) As everyone dug into cake and coffee, she held up the page. "This clue is crazy. 'In ancient Greece, she turned into a spider.' Seven letters."

"What the hell kind of damn clue is that?" asked the ever-saintly Blinky. "Got any letters yet?"


"The Greek goddess Athene turned the mortal Arachne into a spider as punishment for weaving more beautifully than the gods," I said, ever the show-off know-it-all.

"Spell that." She counted it off against her boxes, then filled it in. "Fits."

"Smartypants," mumbled Blinky, winking at me and pulling out her ever-present knitting. It looked as if she were halfway through a garden gnome--a soft one out of multicolored yarn, not a sturdy outdoor one out of concrete, although if anyone could do the latter, it would be Blinky. The gnome's hat waved at me as she got her needles in position.

"That gives me several other words, in fact. Thanks." Pinky scribbled across and down, then looked up. "I always wondered--they're constantly using Greek gods in these damn puzzles. Were all those Greek gods real?"

"Hell yes," said Stinky, sneering, in a don't you know-nothing voice. "They exist all right. Ever' last one of them. 'Course what they are is, they're fallen angels. Demons. Going to Hell if you have anything to do with them," she said, as if that settled it.

"Really?" Blinky dropped a stitch.

"Certainly," agreed Nod, nodding. "The Romans believed in them after the Greeks. Think how many pagans that was."

What *that* had to do with it . . . unless Noddy was an existentialist or believed that the more people who worshiped an entity, the more power that gave the entity . . . made it more real, like a Velveteen Rabbit or the American Idol contestant who gets the most votes . . . but she doesn't think in that kind of depth. Unless she hides it exceedingly well.

I checked on the Little Monster, who was engrossed in trying to pull out the stuffed bunny's facial features. I retrieved it before the poor thing needed Lasik or an implant and substituted a set of soft blocks that I keep in the wet bar for such emergencies. She started stacking them as tall as she could, then gleefully kicking them over and shrieking with laughter. The cartoons were still playing something that she glanced over at regularly, so I figured we were OK. I expected to hear something about a cookie soon, but so far so good. She occasionally eyed the dog, but he was safely ensconced in Mama's lap.

Conversation turned to Stinky's ex-son-in-law, who had deserted her daughter. "High and dry," she said. "Bast*rd left her and those kids high and dry. Already has some other woman who's let him move in on her. Probably not paying her a cent either, but he tells Che-Che he's broke." She stated her opinion of his parentage and character in a few succinct cusswords. Everyone made noises of commiseration.

This gave Stinky a second wind. "I told her not to marry that jack*ss. His fingernails always have little crescents of sh*t underneath them, and he never washes his hair. I can't believe any woman would have anything to do with him, unless she was some kind of skank."

"Unless she were a skank," corrected Pinky, ever the proper grammarian.

"Is she?" asked Blinky, reaching for another slice of pound cake. "Or are she?"

"What's a skank?" piped up Sweetness, a gleam in her eye that said "Mama will hear all about this as soon as I get home." "Is it like a skunk?"

"Yes," said Blinky, "except the colors are reversed--the stripe is yellow. And the whiskers go the wrong way."

They all laughed uncontrollably, except for the kid.

"Can I see one?" She ran over to my bookshelf and started pulling encyclopedias down. I hurried over to distract her with more cartoons, but the program she'd been interested in was over. Nothing was on but "Two Stupid Dogs," which she said she hated. "I want a skank!" She stomped her little pink sandals on my pathetic white-ish carpeting. "I want to see a skank!"

"You'll be going home to your mother later this afternoon, dear," said her grandmother, implying that this would be a perfect venue for skank-viewing. She reached into her purse and produced one of those handheld games. The tot landed on it, tore it out of her granny's claw, and began pounding buttons. The device sang, whistled, and flashed lights at her soothingly. They bonded as the grown-up talk turned to Dubya and the Television and Film Annual Dinner thingie that I blogged about yesterday.

Blinky had been impressed. "I never heared that man say nothin' funny before--I mean, except where he says something funny without meanin' to. Like when he says Noo-Ku-Lur wrong."

"He talked about that Nancy Pelosi and then implied his mama was cranky. I bet Bar-bar was none too pleased with that."

"But Big George probably laughed."

They looked at Nod, who had apparently dozed off momentarily. Her eyes flew open, seemingly feeling the weight of all their gazes, and she nodded. "Well, that was funny." She dug in her purse for her pink pills, and I slipped her a can of Jolt Cola.

"After that, though. Them two idiots and the skits they did --and the dance . . . that was somethin'," said Blinky, neglecting to specify exactly WHAT kind of something.

"I didn't get it," said Stinky.

"Get what?" Sweetness wanted to know, on the alert for any possible gifts.

"Nothing, dear," said Nod absently. "Play your game."

Seemingly noticing the goodie table for the first time, the child climbed on my mother's lap. (My dog scurried to safety under the sofa.) "I want a cookie," she said sweetly.

"We'll have to ask Nana, dear," said my mother the diplomat.

"I'm afraid not, baby. You know you're allergic to wheat and you can't have sugar." Nana Pinky dug in her purse and produced a squashed box of yellow raisins. The child eyed them suspiciously, but accepted the box when it became apparent that no one was going to offer her any cake. Assuming from this example that fruit sugar was exempt, I found a juice box in the fridge. The kid enjoyed playing with the straw. Those grape juice stains are hell to get out of the carpet.

They finally got around to dealing some cards and playing what may have been five-handed canasta. Supposedly they don't play for money, but I could swear I saw greenbacks passed from hand to hand between deals. The Child had settled in front of the TV again and was sneaking raisins to my dog, who accepted them just to be nice and then they fell out of his mouth unchewed. He had accumulated quite a sticky stack. I'm lucky he is such a picky eater. I snatched him up and cleaned the floor just in time for the grand finale of the last hand of cards.

"Gotcha!" yelled Blinky, gloating over a stack of cards. "I told you, whoever gets the red threes wins." She leaped up and rushed out to jump on her Harley, roaring away.

"See you next time," said Pinky, collecting her mini-me and following Stinky and Nod out the front door.

"At your house?" I called hopefully after her, but she was already climbing behind the wheel of her 1967 Impala. The land yacht backed unsteadily down the street and headed off on a side path, carrying the crowd away.

I turned to Mama. "Find out which one is going to host it next time. I'm going to borrow some children and come with you!"

(If you enjoyed this entry, you can VOTE FOR ME HERE.)
shalanna: (FatLadySings)
LJ Idol Entry: "The Hard Truths That I Have Learned, During My Time On Livejournal, About Myself and How I Interact With People"


Ah, yes. The Writer navel-gazing about how her words come across to others. Aren't you tired of that schtick here on this journal yet? ("Aren't you dead yet?"--Bette Midler's character in "Outrageous Fortune" to Shelley Long's character)

But this is the assigned topic, and it's interesting, so you're stuck (or press PAGE DOWN to read the next journal.)

What Have We Learned after nearly four years of standing on this soapbox preaching, musing, lecturing, or just shouting out loud in every direction?

We already know that some topics are best avoided for the most part, such as politics, which religion is the One True Way, and whether "chili" that has beans in it can still be called chili. (Not in Texas, it can't. But I digress.) However, the larger picture shows us that far smaller details can get us into hot water with our readers. And we do NOT want to be boiled by the readership. They look like they'd enjoy a tough, fatty, stringy old broad boiled up for dessert, and so we want to keep them happy.

I have found that I must be careful with humor and with my tendency to generalize from the specific. People read too much into whatever you say and take it too literally *if* you happen to hit upon one of their pet topics, hot buttons, or favorite subjects (especially if it's something they're sort of an expert on--sometimes they will miss the sardonic tone completely and post a long response to set the record straight as to whether Chaucer wore knickers or bloomers.)

It tends to piss people off--generalizing. But it is a valuable and useful tool. We used to generalize all the time in school, and it's part of the scientific method. There's deduction and induction . . . both leading to generalizations that often are useful for classifying and categorizing, but which drive some people crazy because they're often stated as Rules of Thumb (and the bad ones stick out like a sore thumb.)

The occasional generalization is useful. Some aren't. Some are just plain wrong. Most of them apply "some of the time" or illuminate some other aspect of whatever-it-is. For example, if I say, "Shakespeare's plays always have something in every few scenes for the groundlings," I get it from every direction. "Groundlings are people too!" "In scene such-and-such, there's nothing for the groundlings." "Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare!" And so forth. I mean, you can't win, any more than when you ask, "Do I look fat in this?"* so why not laugh?

* [You don't want them to LIE to you and then have you parade all over town in that outfit looking like you are wearing grandma's muumuu, but on the other hand you don't really want to hear that when you walk in those jeans your butt looks like two pit bulls rasslin' in a pillowcase, do you? So the person who is asked the question, "Do I look fat in Grandma's muumuu?" is always screwed, no matter what answer (s)he gives. The best route is to begin choking, turn purple, and pass out on the floor. By the time the paramedics arrive and carry you to safety, you will have distracted the questioner sufficiently that you won't have to answer, even if she's so fat that she has to iron her jeans on the driveway.]

People have their own issues and bring them to the table, so when they read your writing, they sometimes read stuff into it. It seems that a small number of people always want to play "NIGYSOB." That's an old Transactional Analysis game out of _Games People Play_ by Eric Berne. The initials stand for, "Now I've Got You, You SOB." It's all about some detail that you made an error on, and now you're going to get it with both barrels, you ignorant slob who is trying to spread misinformation! Or some people just love "Let's You and Him Fight." They'll write to person A to tell him or her all about your latest entry that simply SMEARS him or his work, and person A comes blazing over and fires the torpedoes and explains how he/she is Hopelessly Offended, because Helpful Type poisoned the well, and when A reads what you wrote, it'll be SO APPARENT that you were absolutely libeling him or out to get him. (And it could be that you only mentioned him in passing.) Others prefer the game of "Uproar," which in general gets fulfilled any time they start any kind of uproar. Thus LJ Drama in full flower.

You also have to be careful about little insider jokes or things that might sound insulting or bigoted if the humor doesn't come across. Some people hate indicators such as *grin* and smileys; they say these are fourth-wall-breakers and shouldn't be needed. They believe you should be Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry and just be able to signal that it's humor through your tone, but you can't always please 'em all. After all, a huge contingent of middle school stoners still believe that Jonathan Swift seriously advocated eating Irish babies in "A Modest Proposal."

You just never know what's going to light somebody's fire.

When people assumed that I was a bad person because of some generalization that I mused about or tossed off, it used to cause Major Drama and copious weeping and wailing on this side of the screen. But eventually I figured out . . . I'm not perfect. As much as I strive for clarity, I'm going to be misunderstood or misinterpreted sometimes. I'm not always going to be able to get across the proper tone or signal that I'm trying to pull a Dave Barry. Now and then, I'll end up clarifying or apologizing. It's just the cost of doing business by text (or any other way, for that matter, except that when we're not face-to-face, there's no worry about belching or farting out of turn, now, is there?)

People are going to bring their own baggage. They have their own "hot buttons" or sensitive words/topics, and if you happen to step on that sore toe, you will get the blast. It doesn't mean you offended all the world, but just that you picked the magic word and Groucho's duck zipped down from the ceiling.

Some people are going to read into what you say whatever they want to hear . . . or if they're playing NIGYSOB, they'll say, "Gotcha!" So you have to proofread with an eye towards that. The occasional troll who deliberately pretends to misunderstand so they can go on the attack with their agenda will come along--or somebody will just hit a word that is their hot button and go crazy.

This isn't just happening to ME; it's endemic. Look what happened to Garrison Keillor--ol' Dan Savage savaged him because he didn't "get" the gentle winking tongue-in-cheek type of humor being used in the passages that he chose to go crazy over. Again, I think this was a case of pushing the fellow's hot buttons. It wasn't Keillor really saying any of those insults.

This kind of knee-jerk reaction may be fun to watch, but isn't fun for the recipient; after posting one of these, you usually realize that you've overreacted, but then you think that the venting was good and that you DID make many good points, so you don't go back and delete it. However, it just shows you don't share the same sense of humor as the person who understood the piece to be satirical or funny. The comment threads are usually pretty evenly divided for and against you.

(I don't want to be a Keillor apologist . . . I think sometimes his show is positively lame, and he featured a woman who COULD NOT SING on St. Paddy's Day, doing a medley of three "songs usually reserved for Irish tenors." She then made the reason for this obvious, and PLEASE LADY TURN DOWN THE VIBRATO/TREMOLO. However, I didn't think that piece said what the offended fellow thought it did.)

"What we have here is a failure to communicate."--_Cool Hand Luke_, Strother Martin's character

You'd think that we'd all stay away from LiveJournal and other forums because of these minor glitches.

But on the other tentacle, I get so many points of view. My friends list points to MANY fiction writers, memoirists, et alia, but also to people of diverse religions--in diverse locations where there are different holidays and vacation areas. I belong to a few communities that specialize in particular topics: recipes for crock pot cooking, long hair care and nurturing, fat girls who love fashion, cranky editors, copy editors, and belly dancing. There are people who'll teach you about horses, some who are scientists, and many who review interesting books and films. It's a lot of fun to read bits and jots from here and there. . . and illuminating.

Besides, where else would I find a soapbox to stand up on? It's fun. I always learn something from reading various journals. We're learning every day how to improve our communication skills. It's win-win.

And I always do learn something about myself. They say that's one of the benefits of journaling--self-awareness and realization. So we must be doing *something* right.

Carry on!
shalanna: (Flowerstripe puppy)
If any of you do that sort of thing--I mean, take polls and vote on stuff and so forth--you might like to go over and vote for me here so I can stay in the LJ Idol contest. I have seven votes, and that might be enough, but there are fifty people in the competition, and they're going to drop the one with the fewest votes. No problem if you don't mess with that kind of stuff. Some weeks it'll be limited to allow only participants to vote. This week, I think it's any LJ user.

I'm seeing more people from LJ Idol reading here, though, and that's good. Friending frenzy!
shalanna: (eve)
[NOTE: What IS "LJ Idol," you ask? It's a competition here on LiveJournal, similar to the "American Idol" game, intended to find the star of LiveJournal essay writing. There's a community devoted to it. Every week we are given a topic, we each write an essay, and then everybody votes. You can go vote for me in this week's poll, too, if you feel like it. But if you don't, that's fine, too. I hope you enjoy the essays, anyhow.]

This week's topic comes from [ profile] imafarmgirl:
What one thing do you wish all children knew or were being taught?


No, wait a minute. Let me explain.

Aw, man, ONE thing . . . if you know me, you know how tough it is for me to sort out the NUMBER ONE THING from a group of related items. I love the semicolon because it plays balance-beam and allows ideas to be linked, even when they're in separate sentences. How can I choose one thing so straightforwardly, especially without giving a definition?

I've been debating--actually, dithering--as to whether I wanted to say "etiquette," "awareness of self and others," or "the traditional school/life similes and narratives."

It's easiest to address school narratives first. In the Olden Days of Yore, when I was in school, there were "narratives" (as Neil Postman calls them) that structured schooling, that gave it a larger purpose.

Nowadays, those narratives have apparently/obviously changed. For one thing, we no longer subscribe to the "America is a melting pot" model. Now multiculturalism has taken it over, to the extent where we have people saying that teachers MUST teach in Spanish and that we have a double standard for credit card acquisition between those who ARE citizens of the USA and those who are not. To quote Kermit the Frog, "Sheesh!" Stuff like that has seriously eroded our image of America as one country, united in a new culture that is co-created. Now, instead of all being in the same arena cheering the USA on, we're a dormitory of divided groups holding up protest signs and pointing fingers in anger. No wonder everyone who runs for office says he's a "uniter," but really ends up being an enabler for whichever group is best at lobbying and getting media attention.

Way back when, we had a consensus Middlebrow Culture. Most Americans agreed that certain parables/lifescripts were worthy of being believed in and passed on to the next generation, and this path was followed in public school, private school, church, Scouts, and so forth. These narratives gave guidance and inspiration to the learners, and lent a common purpose to schooling/Scouting/et alia (other than "keep these kids out of our hair and off the streets for eight hours a day.") The narratives were aimed at instilling the values of "family honor, restraint, social responsibility, humilty and empathy for the outcast," according to the late Professor Postman. They included the multiple narratives of democracy and the Founding Fathers' fight to get it for us (as well as the WWI/WWII "making the world safe for democracy" sacrifices of previous generations), of "the great melting-pot-story" (how our ancestors came here from the Old Country and learned English and adapted to the new common culture instead of insisting on being a separate group and continuing to make others speak THEIR language), and "the Protestant-ethic-story" (working as hard as you can is virtuous and brings contentment, will make you happy, earn your keep, etc.)--and, in most cases, the "what would Jesus do/living the moral life/adhering to Judeo-Christian traditional values" rules.

In the late twentieth century, Postman laments, education has suffered greatly. "Engineering of learning" or an emphasis on developing better teaching methods has diverted attention away from the metaphysical issues with which many of us feel educators should be more concerned (in addition to actually getting students to retain what's useful out of the stuff they're being taught).

"Economic utility, Consumership, Technology as God instead of Tool, and Multiculturalism" are the terms coined by Postman to describe the new gods, the "gods that fail". Economic utility tells students, "If you will pay attention in school, and do your homework, and score well on tests, and behave yourself, you will be rewarded with a well-paying job at the end." What kind of motivation is that for an eight-year-old? What kind of sense does that make for someone who is going to be an artist, a missionary, or what-have-you that may not be the best-paying job? Consumership tells them that "whoever finishes with the most toys wins." The false god of Technology "tricks" people into believing that all people have equal access to information, and that technology will equalize learning opportunities for the rich and the poor. Finally, there is the god of Multiculturalism, otherwise known as the god of Tribalism or Separatism. Postman cautions us not to confuse the notion of cultural pluralism with that of multiculturalism. The former "celebrates the struggles and achievements of nonwhite people as part of the story of humankind." The narrative of Multiculturalism, on the other hand, tells another story entirely, one of separatism and anger because of the inequalities of the past. It demands a level playing field, but the way it goes about this--insisting that a meritocracy is not the way to go, that "merit" cannot be quantized, and that there have to be "get out of jail free" chips issued to make up for the unjust things of the past--doesn't really accomplish its ends. It leads to more alienation and a lack of national unity/spirit of cooperation.

I think Postman and his colleagues have a point. I know that my cohorts and I were taught the Puritan work ethic--although since that was in the hippie 1970s, it didn't completely "take"--and the melting pot stuff, and it worked fairly well in explaining to us what was great about the USA. Now what students hear is that the USA is wrong, hated around the world, is divided on important social issues, and that both political parties are not serving people's needs. There isn't any hope. America's glory days and best days seem to be in her past, not in her future. It's a really depressing situation. And this vibe is passed along to students. If they are told that all they have to look forward to is years of struggle working for someone else in exchange for filthy lucre . . . and they are not told that knowing stuff is fun, that education does NOT mean "getting this right on the exam" but is a lifelong process of accumulating your knowledge base and experience and skill set so that you'll eventually have wisdom . . . no wonder they act up in school and see it as a playground.

They have no respect for their teachers because the entire approach is screwed up by now. Classrooms are impossible. People don't seem to know how to act in public any more, do they? I was at my niece's graduation last year, and it was like being at a Roman coliseum, people screaming for their favorite chariots. I was pretty taken aback that no one knew how to act.

This relates back to "awareness of self and others." Our society now seems to be teaching people how to be narcissistic and materialistic. Instead of "walk a mile in their moccasins," it's "shove them aside, because it's all about MEEEE." Look at the newest Oprah-driven craze, the book/DVD "The Secret." (I have just ranted about this abomination in this post.) In brief, this outfit tells people that they can be as materialistic and narcissistic as they like, and the Universe will still reward them with whatever they think about. As great-uncle Boo would've said, "Ma-LARKEY!"

Much of our consumerist society is based on increasing the corporations' and the advertising people's gain: "Buy this and you'll be happy." "Keep up and get ahead by getting this stuff!" "If you don't have this great car, you're nothing." "Why don't you have the clothes that these people have, you loser?" We've lost a basic touchstone, the awareness of our true selves and the proper way to behave towards others. Whether you subscribe to any organized religion or not, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" still serves us and society better than "do unto others before they do unto you." "He who has the gold makes the rules" does NOT have to be today's watchword. We're ALLOWING this to happen. Pretty soon, if something is not done to take America back, it'll be too late.

But anyway, let's return to etiquette. I'm not talkng about Emily Post and the white gloves and going to dancing school and setting the table with the best china. I'm talking about basic politeness, the way to handle debate, argumentation with friendliness, treating others as you would like to be treated . . . you know, all that stuff that's not like flaming on the 'net.

(The New York Times just ran an essay/op-ed on this: "Flame First, Think Later." And here's a piece about people feeling free to insult others because of assumed anonymity--drive-by hate-ins. Awk!)

People have abandoned the old social conventions and agreements. Now there is no censure for unwed mothers who choose to keep their children, and that's an improvement. But also now there is no censure for those who violate OTHER parts of the abandoned social conventions, such as being a "Devil Wears Prada" boss or being someone who undercuts others constantly, whenever possible, just because he or she can. The smaller niceties are important. Making every day happy, as though it were to be our last, is important. Let's do something about it, each of us, here, today.

Let's try to be nice today. Let's forgive someone who has slighted us. Reply with a soft answer, even if it doesn't seem to turneth away wrath; do it so that YOU will be a better person by rising above the petty disagreements. When you disagree, do it with friendliness and offer to agree to disagree and find a common ground. Smile at somebody who looks harried. Perform random acts of kindness and appreciate the senseless beauty all around. Love and smile at your enemies--it'll drive them CRAZY.

Remember those old books, _Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten_? Yeah, they became a cottage industry, but the FIRST one was good. "Play nice. We all share the same sandbox." _Jonathan Livingston Seagull_ had a good message, even if the package was a bit cheesy. (Be yourself, find your individuality, celebrate life, learn to soar, and don't sweat the small stuff . . . it's recycled at least once every few years.)

If everybody taught the children this . . . the world would be a better place.

Wait . . . you know what? The children already KNOW this. It's the grown-ups who need to relearn it. We need to stop taking this OUT of the children. How can we do that? I don't know.

All I know is that I'd like the world to be a better place. Again. Wouldn't you?
shalanna: (blog-girl)
(O URAQT n INVU? Not NetSpeak. From olden times. Okay, who else remembers "Yours Till Niagara Falls" from the Scholastic Book Club and signing autograph books with things like, "If you are old and out of shape, remember girdles are $12.98." "I auto smile/I auto laugh/I auto write/My autograph," over a sketch of a toy car. Okay, no one. Never mind.)

LJ Idol Week 6: Why Netspeak Is Either OK Or Making Us Post-Literate

The topic is so eloquent that I hesitate to post it alongside my humble skritchies, but here it is.

omg y do u tipe so funy???? lol netsp34k n lj: A Cross-Cultural Study of Internet-based Linguistics and Their Implications On This Social Networking Website

I messed around and didn't actually get around to writing that great humorous post about how in the future, archaeologists and historians will be puzzled by those inscriptions of "WTF" and "LOL" . . . and my big, bombastic post about how the world is going into the illiterate zone because everyone is going for invented spellings . . . but then I read all the entries that were already up, and realized y'all had beaten me to it, and done better besides! (The secret code of 2600-readers --that's GENIUS, [ profile] albee!)

So. My post will be about clarity.

It ain't nothin' new, soldier--I mean, slang isn't. (Graffiti and slogans are similar--Kilroy Was Here! Have A Nice Day! Make 7-UP Yours!) And dialect can be very useful. In fact, you wouldn't want your neurosurgeon referring to the sixth cranial nerve as "that squidgy whatchamacallit." Shop-talk tech-speak is necessary. Abbreviations have always been around.

My aunt worked in the telephone office for many years. She had a special writing tablet with a spiral on top that she used to make her Sooper Sekrit Notes that she didn't want her kids to be able to read. She used the same secret language at work. It wasn't Egyptian hieroglyphics or Scientology font, but just shorthand. Gregg shorthand. The squiggles spoke to her, but to no one else. They served the dual purpose of being faster to write when she was taking dictation and being a totally impenetrable fortress to those sneaking a look inside her five-year diary.

I make a distinction (though I probably shouldn't) between useful additions to the language from netspeak, such as the word "netspeak" and good acronyms, and the craptastic stuff. I like great inventions such as BTW (just another acronym like ASAP and SOB, after all--actually not even netspeak so much) and to some extent the more obnoxious OMG and LOL. AFAIK (as far as I know) and IMHO (in my humble opinion) have been around since FidoNet and CompuServe--WTF?--and are pretty widely understood. They wouldn't be useful in a formal business environment or in your scholarly paper, and not even in a newspaper or magazine article, but I think they're fine for e-mail and journaling, and in fact any kind of private correspondence.

I have a particular fondness for f/x, such as *headdesk* and *facepalm*. Don't you? *grinning, ducking, and running*

Yet now we address this "Leetspeak," or 133t5p34k. C'mon--get over this. When calculators first came out--from TI, and they cost around $70 for a pocket calculator!--we thought it was fun that we could spell "SHELLOIL" and "HELL" and so forth by putting in numbers and then handing the calculator to someone upside-down to read. Ha! Ha! Well, we were in seventh grade then, so there was some excuse. But there's not any reason to be silly like that. It's like a way of doing PigLatin or DoubleDutch. That just gets old. At-thay ust-jay ets-gay oldway. (**screeek make it stop**)

It seems to me that Leetspeak is a substitution cipher that doesn't always substitute. It's kind of silly, for all that. It's like dialect in novels--you can't even read Br'er Rabbit these days, not just because it's so politically incorrect to read those folktales, but because you can't sound out the eye dialect it's all written in. Leetypoo, well, I don't know if it's even shorthand so much. The "invented spelling" stuff is not new, either, but makes people look iggernant.

Combine this with the acronyms and smileys and you have textmessage-speak. That's all it really is.

If you have the translation key to the cipher, then you can interpret the jumble. But why should you have to? A writer's objective is to be clearly understood. Why should the reader have to work so hard?

Clarity! That's always the writer's goal. That's why we bother to hyphenate compound modifiers and that's why we use the serial comma. If there isn't any other way to say something, well, then you've got a good addition to the language, which is ever-changing. However, if you're just dumping something perfectly good because people feel a whim to screw it up, that's not so great.

People who don't have to backtrack (regress) and re-read in order to comprehend that last sentence are happier readers. I find that on the 'net, there are always those who will misinterpret what you write, sometimes deliberately (because they love to play "Uproar" and "Let's You and Him Fight," mostly), and that's easier to avoid if you are clear to begin with. There are always people who are trying to read something mean, wrong, or sinister into everything you type, too, and it's easier to avoid them if you stick with the clearest way to phrase whatever-it-is.

It's a helluva lot of work, too. I mean it. People oughtn't to even try writing unless they like to work and reword everything. Not fun. Work. (Yep, I know those were sentence fragments. I've only recently overcome the internal prohibition against them instilled by that little green sixth-grade workbook, "Keys to Good Grammar." It did so many good things for me that I can hardly begrudge it one screwup.)

I have two levels of rewrite. One is a line edit and polish, including the removal of all in-jokes and stolen one-liners, and one is a major rewrite in which I yell, "What the 3@$%# was I thinking?" This would be impossible if I had to translate mentally from "leetspeak." Only leets speak it.

What you want is to be not a LEET, but ALERT. This country needs more lerts!

("Ha" to what I said about removing stolen one-liners.)

But don't go all crazy over this. Let people look ignorant if they insist upon that. Rise above telling them to use proper syntax and spelling.

Any writing "rule," if taken to extremes, can have unfortunate results. When "Write clearly" becomes "Clarity above all," we sometimes end up with over-description and redundancy--the "I tell you three times" school of writing--as well as short, choppy sentences that are supposed to be clearer than complex sentences with many clauses, but which make things read like driving a car with no shocks over a clattery bridge. When "Use precise nouns and verbs" becomes "*ALWAYS* use specific nouns; *NEVER* use general terms or modifiers," you get unnecessary laundry-list sentences, as well as giving too much emotional weight to unimportant details, and of course having potential problems with the obscurity of that particular specific noun.

Now, go write on the chalkboard 100 times, "Eye dew knot rite awl rong liek doze pplz." Okay, okay, you can use the Lite-Brite if you'll be sure not to lick the bulbs first.
shalanna: (creepy_cats)
For The Real LJ Idol, Round Three:: Topic: "My Biggest Mistake and What I Hope I Have Learned From It"


What a horribly cliched and overwrought topic this can be. Did you know that tutorials about how to make a corporate newsletter successful often suggest that you start a regular guest column called "My Worst Mistake--and What I Learned From It," and ask for submissions from readers/clients? That makes them invested in your newsletter and gets them feeling part of your "team." Manipulation wins the square again.

But anyhow, we're not going to do a newsletter with these. I've read a few of y'all's entries, and may I say how depressing and upsetting some of the life experiences described were (although the entries themselves were great). I'm trying to be LESS self-revealing, so I'm not going to try to think of some awful fell-down-went-boom scenario from my past (though I could probably fill a book with them.) But I'm not really up to writing a funny response to the topic, either.*

* [Oops, I lied on both counts. See second half of post.]

A few points:

* Unless you believe in free will, you can't believe in mistakes

* Look at the word: sometimes all it may be is a mis-*take* on the situation. Other times it's a major malfunction.

* Perhaps nothing can really qualify as a mistake, seen from a distance; it was a separate path on which you have learned something valuable that you might otherwise have missed [Please, Lord, not another Learning Experience!]

* I wish I could say with Timmy Tyler, "No regrets, so no mistakes." But regrets I gots by the bucketful. However, which will it be: "forgive and forget," or "resent and remember"?

* Given enough time (so that the pain and humiliation recede and you have time to stand back up), you can usually see that what we perceive as mistakes turn out to be life lessons. All those so-called mistakes contribute to who we are. The only lasting mistake is to refuse to "learn" the lesson, and therefore we're doomed to continue making the same "mistake." The film "Groundhog Day" hammers this point home.

* The Butthole Surfers said it best: "It's better to regret something you HAVE done than to regret something you HAVEN'T done." I can live with the "dang, I wish I hadn't done that," a LOT better than the, "If only I HAD done that!"

* Learning something is ALWAYS good, even (and especially) when it hurts. At least that's what Sister Mary Discipline always said.

"I don't know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes--it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, 'Well, if I'd known better I'd have done better,' that's all. So you say to people who think you may have injured, 'I'm sorry,' and then you say to yourself, 'I'm sorry.' If we all hold onto the mistake, we can't see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can't see what we're capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one's own self. I think that young men and women are so caught by the way they see themselves. Now mind you, when a larger society sees them as unattractive, as threats, as too black or too white or too poor or too fat or too thick or too sexual or too asexual, that's rough. But you can overcome that. The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself. If we don't have that we never grow, we never learn, and sure as hell we should never teach."--Dr. Maya Angelou, past Poet Laureate of the United States

All right, all right, I'll toss you a tidbit about one of my past mistRakes. Some years ago when I was in my senior year of college, I got dumped by this guy I was crazy about and had been going with for about a year. The way I met him was, he was stalking my best friend/worshiping the ground upon which she walked. She saw him as a neat way to get her homework in Assembly Language class double-checked. She took me along as a "beard" when he had her meet him to go over an assignment, because otherwise he kept trying to scoot over close to her and so forth. Of course she didn't tell me this--she merely said, "I'm going to exchange homework with Sir BuckTeeth. Wanna come along?"

He started calling me for advice about how to interest her, and then used that as a pretext to start coming to my place to "talk" and actually do homework. He (seemingly) fell in love for the first time--I was the first girl he'd ever gone out with (I told you this guy was . . . um, un-pretty, though not disfigured or anything.) He said, "I love you," first.

We became an item. I fell really hard. For a while, so did he. But over the next year, I became more and more emotional and all nutty-like, and probably somewhat tough to deal with. I hated having to major in subjects I didn't have a passion for (whereas those were the passions of his life, and he was the star of every class.) My mother and I had Issues, and she was even nuttier then than she is now. I didn't lose that fifteen pounds that he kept trying to starve off of me. I sometimes threw fits when things didn't go right (such as he kept beating me at Go and chess). The doctors later told me that this era probably marked the beginning of my endocrine malfunction, so that had something to do with my turning into* an irrational crazy be-yotch. Anyway, it wasn't something I had conscious control over.

* [Shut up--I mean an even WORSE crazy be-yotch than my baseline personality. Trust me, this was PMS Woman Every Day.]

So eventually, he decided I just wasn't good enough, and he deserved better. He said so. (Being a borderline Aspie, he often said stuff like that.) I told him fine, just go out there and see if you can find someone better. Bad move on my part, because after a couple of false tries he ran across a girl who wanted to hook up with a guy who had a good income potential and who wore a size smaller than I did. Bingo!

So what was my mistake? Well, he used to break up with me regularly (every few weeks) and then come back (within a couple of days), and I always welcomed him back. (Wait, that's not the mistake I was talking about, though it's arguable that I'm focusing on the wrong segment of this worm.) So I kept hearing he was going out with her and they'd been seen together here or there, and I finally decided I would find out if this was a platonic thing or if he was Truly In Lurrrve. So I called her, asked if I could come by her place (she still lived with her parents) to talk, and then did so. I just wanted to ask if they were serious and I had lost him 4Ever.

Yeah, I know. I was only asking because all my friends thought he was a troll, and they said, "We can't believe he found someone else willing to go out with him." They certainly wouldn't have. But then they didn't admire his mind. And I was hung up on smart guys/geniuses because of having lost my dad so recently. But it did seem unlikely that she would take up with him. I stand by my statement.

Nobody else would be as stupid as I was then.

"Those who control their passions do so because their passions are weak enough to be controlled." - William Blake

So. She said they were so serious, and they were in love, and she felt like she'd known him forever, yadda yadda. Okay, I asked for that. Then I asked if she would do me the courtesy of not telling him about this . . . she said they kept no secrets from one another. Okay, I was their little running joke for who knows how long. But anyway, at least I knew for sure. I ended up leaving the church we all three attended (a church I loved and where I made a bigger contribution in terms of participation than he did, by the way) because I couldn't stand to think of the laughter that had to be going on behind my back, and I didn't want to have to see him escorting her around the place all kissy-kissy. Ugh.

So what did I learn . . . don't have anything to do with people, because they suck.

[EDIT: I made misjudgments similar to those made by riayn (taking a degree in subjects that OTHER PEOPLE want you to do, not in the subjects you're great at and that are your passion--although it was family pressure that caused me to do it) and nuhism (about letting things go when it's their time to go--actually, the story about the blouse is the SAME mistake I made about the guy above.) And wow, autumn-lyric chose the SAME quotation from Maya Angelou that I had pulled out of my vast "quotations" files--cosmic, but logical, because the sentiments apply so strongly to this topic.]

At least this chick lived nearby. No, I didn't wear a diaper and drive 900 miles like the crazy astronaut wench. I didn't even have my Mace on me. And for years, I sincerely did wish them well and hoped he had a good life. Only recently have I come around to the realization that he deserves to have an eternal earworm of the song he most hates in the world, and the itch to boot.

Wasn't that astro-nut deal something, though? (In case you haven't seen this story--and how did you NOT?--"CNN Breaking News: NASA reviews psych tests after love triangle scandal." A day late and $4 billion short.)
* * *

"General Turgidson, when you instituted the human reliability tests, you assured me there was no chance of such a thing happening!"

"Uh, Mr. President, I don't think it's fair to condemn an entire program because of a single slip-up."

--Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
* * *

Life is certainly like . . . an analogy.

I'd better win the damn lottery tonight. And I need chocolate.

Next time, pick a topic that doesn't enrage half of us and send the other half into the abyss to visit the Black Dog, all right? *gloom*
shalanna: (Default)
(Or someone who looks sufficently similar.)

Welcome, those who clicked on the link from the list of contestants on The Real LJ Idol!

Shalanna Collins is a novelist, pianist, and dilettante. She maintains this LJ in order to have someone to talk to. She is from the planet Mongo and has three heads, two of which constantly bicker with each other . . . no, no, this isn't working.

Let's do a short question-and-answer and try to rescue the intro.

*Q* How did you start to write? Did your interest grow out of your love of reading as a child?

*A* I started reading before I can even remember. I mean, I can't recall a time I couldn't read. I remember our family driving up the old highway between Houston and Dallas to visit both grandmothers, and I remember pointing at the billboards and saying, "Schlitz! Stuckey's!" I also remember having the entire collection of "Peanuts" paperbacks, which at that time were on the grocery store racks and cost sixty cents or so; my parents had bought some of them, and I stole them and colored the cartoons. There was one strip per page back then. (Speaking of Peanuts. Isn't Charles Schulz the perfect example of the consummate creative mind? When the strip ended, it ended him; he'd put all of himself into its creation, and when he tied it up, that was his time to leave this earth. Charlie Brown and Snoopy going up there to live on their own cloud, a doghouse-shaped cloud. I think God has a special love for those of us He makes into creators of worlds and people, because of course that is what He did when He created us. And of course God is a writer, and He can't get people to read His book, either. . . .)

I had a huge collection of Little Golden Books that were in Mama's attic until her house burned down in 1986. Before school started, I had (and had read) all the Bobbsey Twins books; the children's classics like Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Wind in the Willows, Little Women, The Five Little Peppers, Doctor Doolittle, the Oz books, and others you could get at the time (including fairy tales); and the Donna Parker series, which was my favorite because she was already a teenager and I could project myself into a time when I'd be grown-up enough to do things I could not yet do. I've always liked to feel prepared for what is probably going to happen next, and reading about others' experiences helps me envision what could happen and plan what to do. I guess many people read for vicarious experience, because that's one good way to learn, as well as for escapism. (Of course, I'm sure that the series books are so dated now that they'd be period pieces, but I actually learned lots about the locations those books were set in. For example, when Donna Parker went to Hollywood, I learned about Olvera Street's market and Pacific Ocean Park [now gone] and other landmarks of Los Angeles, not to mention all about the Indian ghod Ganesha, because she'd lost that figurine.)

You could also learn something from the Bobbsey Twins books, because they were always traveling somewhere and discovering something about the place they'd gone to and about what their father's associates did for a living. The Bobbsey series has now been re-edited, and I recently picked up a very disappointing "new" edition of the first three books in a store and started to cry. They had rewritten them in modern terms and taken out all the charm, very effectively. I realize they might have needed some "political correctness" editing, but this went too far. The first three series books were written near the turn of the century originally, and the ones I had were that version-- they showed children of my generation that wonderful life in America before the wars, before technology. It was a lifestyle grand (a word they removed from the books) and gay (another doomed word-- like "aid" and "aide" now. What DO they call teaching assistants and library or congressional helpers now? Pages?) They showed us a world that is now lost, the way old movies do. Sad to see them "improved" and ruined.

Anyway, when I was a child, it was rare for a family to have just one child. Since I was a "lonely only," I grew up as a little adult, participating in or at least sitting quietly (coloring or reading or putting together puzzles or playing) among the adults' kneecaps as they talked. My father was a professor before I was born and became one again later on, and so my parents had lots of intellectuals as friends. They would smoke and talk and listen to old records (often the Brother Dave Gardner or Bill Cosby comedy albums that I still have someplace) into the wee hours. I went to bed late, and often I could sneak back into the room in my pajamas to hear what was going on. So I was an odd chick for those days (the early to mid-1960s, to confess my ancientness.) Nowadays, I've noticed, *all* the kids are precocious and adultlike, or at least adolescent-like, very early, so they're all like I was. If only I'd had the computer and the Internet and the cable television and all this technology back then. . . . Wow.

Anyway, yes. (Does that answer your question . . . what was the question again?)

I just always knew that I would be a writer. Originally I thought I would start out as an actress, because I believed that the actors on TV and in plays were making up the dialogue themselves. Once that was straightened out for me (and if you don't realize it, writers create *everything* that you see on the screen or hear on the air . . . the performers generally aren't the writers, except in the case of songwriters, and sometimes not even then), I stopped worrying so much about getting on television and started observing people and how they talk and act so I could make the books and TV shows and movies happen myself. (I also defied conventional attractiveness measures, so it's a lucky thing that I didn't have my heart set on being a teenage sweetheart.)

The first book I wrote was a coloring book that I drew and colored in on tracing paper while I was in my father's office one day. I guess I was about three or four, just barely able to handle the pencil and crayons. (Nowadays, I think kids start earlier, but back then that was about as early as you started coloring.) Mother had it until her fire. I'd done quarter sheets of paper and then taped them together for a binding. I remember one was a ladybug ("BUG"), one was a car (based on my daddy's b&w Nash Metropolitan), one was a cat, one was a cloud ("SKY"), and of course one was a house, the basic kid house. That book has been lost to posterity.

The next serious effort I made towards writing a novel (that I recall) was when I was eight and had just discovered the Narnia books. This piece of juvenilia has also been lost, but it was a bunch of stories about a girl who could heal with her hands and (something or another.) Soon after this had been turned down by just about every teacher as "silly," my best friend and I discovered books like The Egypt Game and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and me, Elizabeth, and began writing witch-type stories. (It helped that her older sister was rehearsing a production of "Macbeth" at the time. More on this later.) When we entered fifth grade and "The Godfather" was all the rage, we tried writing a mob book. To give you an idea about that one, it had illustrations!

The woman who was our speech and drama teacher, visiting once a week, discovered us working on that during homeroom one day and picked it up, then tossed it back into my face in disgust. "Why are you wasting your time on that junk," said Ms. Moore, her nose wrinkled, "when you could be working on something useful, like a piece for the UIL contest?" The whole class stared at us, and Teresa, my friend, promptly ended her career as a collaborator/illustrator. I learned to hide my work from all prying eyes (for many years after that, in fact.) I did return to the fantasy milieu, though, realizing that the mob book was, in fact, derivative junk.

Looking back on this event, I suspect Ms. Moore wanted us to win some trophies at that UIL speech contest because it got her brownie points when her students won those trophies. However, how many people are still carrying around trophies they won in elementary school? If they are, they need serious psychological help. I'm still writing, and I believe *all* the time I've spent writing has helped me improve. So shame on you, Mary Ann Moore, you rude teacher. That was not the only rude thing she said to me about my writing during free periods, either. Nor was she the only bad teacher who said that sort of thing to people who were focused on events beyond their little principalities (classrooms) and that particular year. But that has all changed. I am pleased to report that nowadays, journaling is often assigned as part of a learning experience, rather than being a target of hassle. I know that writing about experiences can really help you understand those experiences, even if you never let anyone else read the writings.

I hid the writing from then on so people around me wouldn't hassle me, but I used to send the New Yorker every short story I wrote. This was from about the age of eleven or so. I really believed I'd eventually hit. I put my age on the cover letter every time (and I was borrowing Daddy's portable Royal typewriter to type them with--remember, this was 1970 or so.) I got some really nice personal rejections from them as a result. Some poor editorial assistant, bless him or her, wanted to encoureage the pathetic critter who kept sending epistolary tales about baby-sitting crises and boys passing notes in class. I thought I sounded just like Robert Benchley.

*A.* And you do! Well, that's all the bandwidth we have for today, folks. Catch you next time on our search for the next

LJ Idol!!
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