30 October 2003

"I'm not sure... about automobiles....
With all their speed forward they may be a
step backward in civilization - that is, in
spiritual civilization.  It may be that they
will not add to the beauty of the world, nor
to the life of men's souls.  I am not sure. 
But automobiles have come, and they bring a
greater change in our life than most of us
suspect.  They are here, and almost all
outward things are going to be different
because of what they bring.  They are going
to alter war, and they are going to alter peace."
   - Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons

I have been driving the road that rings our great metropolis daily for more years than I care to think about. Actually, it's not just a road -- it's a super-highway, with sometimes three, sometimes four, lanes of high-speed traffic, into which and out of which merge motorcycles, cars, buses, and tractor-trailer trucks carrying all sorts of materials, some hazardous, some not. Over the years, I have played the daily game of dodgems known to all as "the commute."

I have seen fellow commuters behind the wheels of their vehicles applying makeup (what is it, guys? Bronzers, moisturizers, lip balm, what?), combing their hair, dressing, undressing, reading (maps, newspapers, GPS devices, business reports, books), using cell phones (talking, dialing, menuing -- don't get me started on this), eating, smoking, drinking, singing, and otherwise entertaining themselves.

These people do anything to keep their minds off the only task that matters, which is this: driving in a safe, responsible, attentive manner on the crowded freeway. They're a blight, and they endanger lives.
Yours, mine, and their own.

Excuse me. I need to increase the payout for my accidental death insurance.


20 October 2003

It isn't so astonishing, the number of things that I can
remember, as the number of things I can remember that 
aren't so.
   - Mark Twain, a Biography

Try as I might, I can't keep facts straight from place to place, year to year, person to person. Not that I'm a natural-born liar, although as a writer, I do have family members, friends, and even enemies who are willing to attest to exactly that, it's just that there are too damned many things going on at any one time, for me to be able to hold it in memory, and retrieve it upon command (usually my beloved's).

By the time I am focused well enough to store one thing properly, sixteen others (or more) have come sailing under the bridge, and are long gone downstream before I can even make the most cursory glance in their direction. What results is a jumble -- a mismatch of this event with that person or place, resulting in some outcome that I firmly fix in my memory as 100% accurate.

The outcomes of such mismatches can be alternately hilarious, or hair-raising. Family wars erupt when I recall my parents' instructions to me for living ("No, no, RB, nobody said 'leave home.' We said, 'You need to get your own life,' and you ran off like your tail was on fire." My friends cringe as I re-tell their own stories to them, blithely attributing the worst and most intimate details to "somebody I know." I hardly ever remember them as the sources. I am certain this is why there are so many people reluctant to confide in me -- who knows what peculiar spin will be imparted, or in whose direction the story will be aimed?

And don't even get me started on passwords. It took me five tries before I finally gave up, and asked the blogging company to resend me not only my password, but also my username. I can't seem to carry more than three of each in my personal storage device (read, my brain) at any give point in time. I also can't guarantee that the most recent one in will be one of the three I remember.

If this is what "senior moments" are all about, let the seniors keep them. I've got enough to worry about, without forgetting everything I ever knew (or thought I knew).

Excuse me. What was I just talking about?


20 July 2003

Why grab possessions like thieves, or divide them like
socialists when you can ignore them like wise men?
  - Natalie Clifford Barney, socialite and heiress

Last night, there was a Levenger catalog, a pre-approved credit card, and a J. Jill’s catalog waiting on the kitchen table for me when I got home. I briefly scanned the catalogs, but the credit card invitation went straight into the trash. I don’t even bother to open them up. The envelopes could be filled with large denomination currency, and it wouldn’t matter to me. They’re the equivalent of the unwanted, unsolicited emails and telephone calls, begging me to buy this, that, and the other. I have no desire for them.

It just amazes me, too, how advertisers have the nerve to use the word ‘only’ next to double- and triple-digit numbers. For only $29.99 per month (this is $384.88 per year, by the way), I can have a cell phone to ensure my constant connection to the world, and increasingly jangled nerves. For only 49.00 (taxes and setup not included) per month (a considerable $588.00 yearly bargain), I can have broadband access to the Internet, right in my own house. For only $99.59, I can have a monogrammed leather wrapper for my journals. For only $699.00, I can relax in an ergonomically-designed, wire-mesh contraption that masquerades as a chair. All these ‘only’ costs can add up, and put me beneath a burden I have no desire to bear.

I looked through the catalogs. Ugly clothes in one, shapeless and full of pre-set wrinkles, at exorbitant prices. For whom are these clothes designed? Who actually enjoys walking about looking like a rumpled bed? And why do all the bone-thin models have collagen-enhanced lips, the which never seem to part in smiles? I can’t blame them, though — nobody could be happy or comfortable in those potato sack-style garments. Trousers, too short at the ankle, drooping in the ass, over-cinching the waist. Shirts, requiring professional laundering and ironing. Who actually likes spending as much as it costs to buy a shirt, to clean it? The shoes, chunky, clunky, and only reasonable on long, skinny, bunion-free feet. Who are these women in the catalog, and what are these clothes all about?

A better question might be, why do advertisers think I want to look at them? Into the trash they went. That left me with the Levenger’s catalog. You know the one. “Serious Tools for Serious Readers.”

Yeah, right.

I was confronted with every imaginable temptation, from paper clips that can’t hold more than two pieces together at a time and function better as desktop finger fidgets, to glass-fronted law library book shelves in maple, teak, and cherry wood. These latter I can have for only $1,000.00 per five linear feet. You read that right. Each foot of book shelf space sans books costs $200.00. I don’t know that I could afford books, after buying the shelves. The pens, too, are grossly overpriced for what they are. Oddly, there are few books in the catalog. I guess the serious readers come pre-loaded with material, like me.

There were a number of blank books, journals with lined pages, note pads, loose sheets, pre-punched stock, and binders, though, for aspiring writers and compulsive note takers, all at hair-graying and eyebrow-raising prices. I have enough journals to last for at least three years, even at my current clip of filling them. That’s surplus, by Fromm’s definition, and dragon’s hoard, by mine.

The Levenger company wants me to believe that my accoutrements define me, that the implements I use themselves somehow impart intelligence, breeding, class, and good taste to the world. They also want me to believe that the more I spend for an item, the more onlookers will admire me for it. Even though it’s rare to find kitsch — all the items actually are the things they appear to be. Globes do not disguise wet bars or telephones, footstools do not masquerade as turtles or kneeling gnomes, and pens do not resemble feathered birds or gliding snakes — in the catalog, I wonder why the Levenger company thinks “serious readers” are the best target for their wares?

Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a very serious reader, but all the gadgets in the world won’t speak to that attribute in me. I’m also a serious writer, whose needs are more than adequately met by the tools I already possess. So far, what I need most is time to write, an active imagination, and an agent to help me sell my work. Everything else falls under the category of what I desire.

Into the trash went the Levenger’s catalog, too.

Excuse me. I have to fill a box with unused, wrinkly clothes, and books from which I no longer learn anything. Maybe the Salvation Army can redirect them to a skinny girl with big lips who also happens to be a serious reader.


22 May 2003

Who's on first?
   - Lou Abbott

It's difficult for me to believe that so many months have passed since my last entry in this blog.

I tell myself, "Today, I'm going to write," and then somehow, today becomes tomorrow, and tomorrow becomes next week, and ... well, you know how this goes, right?

The difference is, whether I write today or tomorrow is actually a point of pain for me, while I am certain there aren't three people in the world who depend on this site for anything other than mild, occasional diversion from whatever daily ill is afflicting them. When I don't write, I don't feel quite finished, or even quite human.

What's got me so distracted from the daily deed? My day job -- a long-term, exclusive contract for some badly needed technical writing at a local software company. I awaken every morning, go through the exercise of my brain dump (also known as "morning pages"), and then gird myself for the 50-minute or more commute to the office. At the office, I sit to my task, and for seven or eight hours daily, every day, grind out active-voiced, technically accurate, informative prose about how to use the company's product. At the end of that stretch, I climb into my car, and make the return trip home.

By the time I arrive home, my beloved wants my attention, for any number of reasons (supper, bills, conversation, entertainment, cuddling), which doesn't leave me much time for anything else. When confronted with the thought of actually sitting at the PC to write again, I find myself resistant. This is something new, and very unusual, for me. As a result, I've been reading, rather than writing. Let somebody else put the words on the page for me.

I'll be attending a writing conference in mid-June. I'm hoping it breaks the log-jam that is my resistance to the very thing that defines me -- my love of writing. Stay tuned.

Excuse me, I want to read a few pages before I fall asleep.