10 01 2013

Holy shit, I gots me some readers.

Two days ago I got this nifty email from Cherie Lucas stating that my Keep on keepin’ on post was Freshly Pressed, and I could add a banner and, um, some other stuff to spread the news.

Cool, I thought. And did nothing.

Wednesday afternoon I noted my followers had ticked up from 42 to 43, and thought, Hey, cool. I was going to write a post, then remembered a meeting at work today for which I had not prepared, and a former colleague was being sent off with some pints at a local bar, and. . . I think you know where this anecdote is going.

Anyway. After clicking through my various regular-read blogs, [Pause: Another holy shit—Supertramp on WNYC? What?! Oh, okay, just an historical snippet. Panic averted.] I thought I’d follow up on my presidents-are-assholes post with a consideration of ruthlessness and sons-of-bitches. A nice little piece, with some tasty bits from Machiavelli tossed in, a little Bueno de Mesquita and Riker, maybe some Schmitt, and appreciations for Cardinal Richelieu and Thomas Cromwell.

I think I would have been pleased with the post.

But no, I open my blog and, whoosh, 79 followers. Seventy-nine! If I could remember enough math, I could give you the percentage increase! Eight-four percent—is that right? Or maybe 88% if I start at 42 rather than 43 followers? Could be right. . . .


I’m rarely happy about anything, but I am genuinely happy that enough of you thought enough of that last post that you decided, Eh, I could follow this.

Okay, so maybe seventy-nine isn’t that big of a deal to many folks—especially those folks with three-, four-, five-or-more-digit followers—but I ain’t nobody, so I figure that if you’re reading this, it’s because you like or are provoked enough by what I write to (sorry about this. . .) keep on, keepin’ on.

That’s nice. That’s very nice.

A coupla’ things:

1. I swear, as you may have gathered. A lot. Ever since my high school English teacher tried to nudge me out of my potty-mouthed ways by stating that swearing was Not creative, I have mostly failed in my efforts to find more creative ways to express my ire/dismay/delight/boredom. (My current favorite swear? Fucking hell!)

2. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter. No Facebook because, no. And no Twitter because, as I explained to C., I can be insanely competitive in argument, so much so that that notorious xkcd comic prompts a sigh of recognition from me (yes, I have been that person). C. thought that the short format of Twitter might work against my triumphalist tendencies, but really, consuming those little 140-character nuggets would be like tossing back so many bite-sized Snickers. No, better to abstain completely.

3. I am also insanely reactive, which, predictably, enrages me. Okay, that’s overstating it: It used to enrage me, and now I’m mostly able to take a breath, take a walk, whatever, and clear my head before actually responding to whatever it was that set me off. This is why blogging beats tweeting: I’m less likely to pop off in long form. (Tho’, for the record, I do pop off in long form; cf. Category: Rant.)

4. I like comments! So comment! I’ll respond! And argue! I love to argue! (And despite what I said, above, I’m not always or even mostly insanely competitive. So bring it!)

5. I’m shit at promoting myself*, but will happily promote others, so if you have something you want to shout about, g’head and shout about it.

(*Not because I lack an ego—whoo boy, you oughtta getta load of the size of that thing!—but, because, huh, I don’t know, I’m just no good at it. Maybe it’s due to the size of my superego. . . .)

6. I do click on your names and gravatars to see who you are and if you have a blog, I’ll read it (although I don’t always comment—hypocrite, I know). Again, since I’m not on Facebook I can’t scrawl on your wall, but since you’ve taken the time to stop by my joint, it seems only neighborly that I swing by yours. I’ve gotten to know a coupla’ folks online and even hosted one cyber-friend (hi GeekHiker!) on part of his NYC leg of his trip around the US.

And if you don’t have a blog and don’t particularly want anything from me but the occasionally-worthwhile post, that’s great. This might sound odd coming from someone who’s sending words about her life out into the ether, but I do like my privacy, too.

7. Still, if yer ever in the vicinity of Brooklyn and up for a pint, drop me an email. As I noted in an earlier post, I’m trying to move my default from No to Yes—I’m trying to move myself—so any excuse to get out of the apartment and out into the world. . . .

So, hey (two words, along with “anyway”, that I overuse), welcome.

You should be dancing, yeah

30 01 2012

Okay, that title has nothing to do with this post, but I’m listening to a WNYC program’s discussion of the Bee Gees, and they played this song, so, y’know, why not.


Classes begin tomorrow, and while I’ve taught all of these courses before and my syllabi are set, I’m always a bit nervous before the curtain rises. Last semester my bioethics course kicked ass and my American government course sucked ass, so I’m hoping to maintain the performance of the former while raising that of the latter.

I’m also teaching a course I haven’t taught for a couple of years, and I’ve rejiggered it somewhat from my last pass. It’s an intro to political theory course (more or less), and the last time out the students never truly engaged the material. I don’t know if it was them or me, but I do know I was rather listless by the end. This time around, I cut back a wee on the reading and reconfigured the written work; we’ll see if it works.

<<Oh, shit, I haven’t yet updated my course website. Dammit. Maybe tomorrow morning.>>

Is this all a way of excuse-making in advance for not posting as much as I should? Why, why would you even think such a thing?

Actually, the busier I am, the more likely I am to write, so who know: maybe I’ll be a bloggin’-machine this semester.


I need to get some real writing done, too. The Unexpected Neighbor is already e-pubbed (link at right), but I stopped in the midst of editing Home Away Home. I really should get back to it, not least because it’s a better manuscript than Neighbor, but also because once I finish that, I’ll have no excuses for not working on my next project. If only I could settle on that next project.

Anyway, here are bits from Home, the first, in honor of the previous post:

Kurt had taken Jamie for a ‘walk-and-talk’ before his son left for Daytona. ‘I know we talked about this before, and I know you’ve been living away from home for awhile now, but I don’t want you to get in any trouble in Florida.’
Jamie tugged on his ponytail, trying to keep a smile off his face.
Kurt noticed. ‘I know, you think this is funny, and your old man is way behind, but James, seriously, a person does things on vacation that, that he wouldn’t do at home.’
‘Dad!’ Jamie looked at his father. ‘What do you think I’m going to do?’
Kurt took a deep breath. ‘Well, Rachel is going to Florida, too, isn’t she?’
Jamie laughed. ‘Jeez, dad. She’s staying in another hotel from us guys.’
‘She’s been staying on another floor from you in the dorm, but that hasn’t stopped you, has it?’ Kurt kicked aside a melting chunk of ice.
Jamie said nothing.
‘Look, Jamie, I know you’re not a stupid kid, and I assume you and Rachel have been. . . smart about. . . your relationship.’ Kurt shuffled around more ice pebbles. ‘But Florida, the beach, the booze, everything—your common sense can fly right out the window.’
Jamie scratched his still-unshaven face. ‘Dad, don’t worry. I can handle it.’
‘And no drugs. All right? No drugs.’ Kurt continued as if he hadn’t heard Jamie. ‘You don’t know what kids can do on those things.’
Jamie paused behind a large ice chunk, retreated a few steps, then ran and kicked it down the path. ‘I’m in college, dad, all right? None of this stuff is new.’ He tapped his boot free of slush. ‘Besides, you’ve met Rachel, right? She’s not exactly Janis Joplin.’
Kurt stopped. ‘Janis Joplin? Kids still listen to her?’
‘They listen to all that sixties crap.’ Jamie walked ahead of his dad. ‘Well, Rachel loves Janis, so I can’t call her crap, but, you know.’
Kurt double-stepped to catch up to Jamie. ‘She’s not, she’s not like Janis, is she?’
‘Dad! I just told you. Jeez.’ Jamie looked at Kurt, shaking his head. ‘She’s a chem major, for crying out loud. That’s super hard.’
Kurt nodded. They ambled along the gravel path in silence. ‘Have you picked a major?’
‘I was thinking math, but, I don’t know.’ Jamie hitched up his back pack. ‘I don’t think so. I got time. Maybe sociology. Journalism.’ He looked sideways at his dad. ‘Those aren’t very hard majors, are they? I mean, compared to chemistry. Or philosophy.’
Jamie was now staring ahead, his cheeks reddening. Kurt rested his hand on Jamie’s nearest shoulder, and leaned into his son. ‘Do what makes you happy, James, and do it well. That’s what matters.’ He moved his hand under Jamie’s ponytail. ‘The rest will take care of itself.’

And the second bit:

Summers in Madison alternated between the glorious and the brutal. There were days Maggie would borrow Laura’s bike and tool along Lakeshore path, cooled by the shade and the breeze from Lake Mendota, and other days when a dip in Lake Wingra felt like taking a warm bath. ‘I get cooler going under and standing up than staying in,’ Maggie said to Laura.
‘I know,’ Laura responded. ‘I’m in the water and I’m sweating. This is ridiculous.’
On those nights they’d set up cots on the back porch for sleep, the humidity making them careless if the neighbors saw them in their underwear. ‘I’d go naked if I thought it’d make a difference,’ Laura declared.
Maggie only smiled. ‘We used to sleep in the basement.’ She handed a beer to Laura, and flipped the tab of her can. ‘It was nice, though. Not like the dungeon here.’
Laura turned the can away from her as she opened it. ‘No shit. I don’t even like going down there in the day.’ She put her mouth over the fulminating beer. ‘Too bad we can’t turn it into a pool.’
‘That’d be nice,’ Maggie agreed. ‘Sleep on air mattresses.’
‘Pfft, those things leak.’ Laura pushed her cot against the wall then slouched against the boards. Her dyed black hair was piled on top of her head, and she held the cold can against her pale neck. ‘So you’d sleep in the basement, huh? You usually don’t talk about your life before here.’
Maggie was wedged in the opposite corner, her beer on the railing next to her. ‘Yeah, well.’
‘So what’s the deal?’
Maggie peered through the stiles at the backyard trees. ‘I don’t, uh, I don’t really have much contact with anyone.’
Maggie pulled her beer back to her belly, setting it on the exposed skin between her cut-off t-shirt and underwear. ‘Not really. It’s just, I left, you know, after graduation. Needed time to myself.’ She brushed the condensation into her belly button.
Laura looked over to her. ‘Does your family know you’re here?’
‘Not really. I mean, maybe they figured it out.’ Maggie yawned. ‘I was born here, and I wanted to come to school here, so maybe they know.’
‘But you haven’t called them or anything?’ Laura was staring at Maggie.
Maggie avoided her gaze. ‘Nope.’
‘Wow. You just left?’
Laura took a long drink, then let out a long belch. ‘Wake up, everybody!’ she laughed. Then she frowned. ‘I don’t know if I could do that. My dad and I fight all the time—you’ve heard me, on the phone—but, jeez, not talking to him? And it would kill my mom.’ Laura’s family lived about nearby, just on the other side of Sun Prairie; she was the second of three children. ‘Do you have brothers or sisters?’
Maggie continued to squeegee the water off the can. ‘Yeah.’
‘And they don’t know where you are, either?’
Maggie shrugged. ‘Well, my older brother, you know, he was at school last year, and he’s never around, so I bet he doesn’t really notice. And my younger brother and sister, they’re really young.’
‘So nobody knows you’re here?’ Laura was now sitting cross-legged on her cot, looking directly at Maggie.
Maggie sipped her beer. ‘Not really. I called my friend Colleen the other day—which reminds me, I gotta write down the number—but I didn’t tell her I was here.’ She peered up at Laura. ‘It’s just easier that way, you know?’
Laura was shaking her head. ‘I don’t know, Mags. I think they must be going a little crazy.’ She peered down into her can. ‘What if they think you’re dead or something?’
Maggie waved her off. ‘Oh, I left them a note. Told them I was leaving, I was fine. Had money saved, the whole thing.’ She paused, drinking her beer. ‘Just wanted to be on my own for awhile.’
‘I don’t know.’ Laura squinted at her. ‘That’s pretty rough.’
Maggie raised her eyebrows. ‘They’re fine. We weren’t getting along. They’re probably relieved I’m out of their hair.’
‘I don’t know,’ Laura repeated. ‘I think maybe you’re making a mistake.’ She swirled her beer. ‘But hey, it’s your life.’ She took a drink, and grimaced. ‘Shit. Even the beer can’t stay cold.’
Maggie raised her can and laughed. ‘Just gotta drink it faster.’ She chugged the rest of it down, paused, then burped. ‘Then you can taste it, twice.’
‘Gross.’ But Laura finished off her beer as well. She stood up, and held out her hand for Maggie’s can. ‘Want another?’
Maggie shook her head. ‘Nah. It just makes me sweat.’
Laura stood at the door. ‘You ever going to go back?’
‘I don’t know.’ Maggie turned and looked up at Laura. ‘Maybe. I don’t know.’
Laura held up her hands. ‘Like I said, it’s your life.’

I’m not giving anything away in these excerpts: You figure out very quickly that someone—Maggie—who was long gone has now been found, and then are sent back for the story leading up to that point; the narrative catches up to the first page by the middle of the book, and goes from there.

A friend who read the earlier draft wasn’t convinced that someone would just leave home and never look back, but oh, haven’t there been times when you wanted to keep going, just (to steal a line from Neighbor) to see how far you could go?

That’s not my name

26 03 2011

Ima gonna start another blog. I think.

Yes, I already have two others—one for teaching and one for freelancing—but I’d like to set one up for my writing, one which is tied to my name. Although I’m still waffling on what to do with my writing, it probably wouldn’t kill me to have some kind of publicity page; print or electronic, writers gotta hustle.

I could use this blog, but I like the semi-anonymity of this joint. It’s not as if I’ve gone to great lengths to protect my identity*—I’ve eased waaaay up on that—but I don’t necessarily want this blog to be the first thing that pops up if someone runs a search on my name. I don’t think my students are all that interested in me and I doubt that any of my family members run searches on me, but I prefer the discretion afforded by pseudonymity, nonetheless.

So, the issue is: What to call the new blog? My given name is already taken, and first-initial-last-name has been reserved (I don’t think by me). I use a shortened version of my name for one of my e-mail addresses, so that’s a possibility.

Or I could go with something completely different. Oh, my name would be somewhere on the blog, but maybe I’d call it something completely different. One of my good poems is titled “Catching witches”; I considered that as a name.

I don’t know. The url can’t be too complicated, and should probably be SEO-friendly. And, what the hell, the title of the blog can be anything: I could register under shortened-version and call it something else.

Huh. I probably shouldn’t be thinking of this after 1:30 in the morning, and certainly not while I’m still hip-deep in this freelancing project. But, well, some shit’s happening with CUNY (namely, budget cuts) so I gotta get movin’ on other plans. I don’t really expect to make money slinging my own words, but, you know, if the stories are already cooked, why not serve ’em? I write to be read, after all.

Still: it’s after 1:30 in the morning.

I welcome your suggestions, whatever the time you read this.

*And chances are I would link the two blogs. Again, just that bit of distance between me and this moniker is all I want.

Talkin’ ’bout my generation

9 12 2010

My blog-friend Mo at the Daily Snark has nabbed something which has been bothering, and eluding, me for a while:

I wonder if my focus is too broad. Or not broad enough. I’ve actually thought about abandoning this blog and maybe starting over. At one point I thought about starting a blog about dogs. I’ve even considered ditching blogging altogether. Which, truth be told, I don’t really want to do. . . . It’s been frustrating because I feel like I have to force myself into a niche but I don’t want this space to feel forced or contrived. I don’t want to make up a niche or a topic. I don’t want to be like some of the bloggers who are so entrenched in their niche that they can’t break free from it even though we know and they know they should have a long time ago. I like the freedom to write about anything and everything.

Yes: I want both focus and freedom.

When I started this blog, I had the idea of addressing philosophical and political matters in an accessible manner—intellectual journalism rather than academic scholarship, if you will. But I couldn’t keep my own self out of this blog, and the skew has turned much more personal than political.

I’m not terribly comfortable with that mix; however, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that I’m not terribly comfortable with that mix. I don’t think life is just one thing, and if I want, in my own uncertain way to ask about the meanings of life, well, things are going to be a bit of a mess.

And, as I commented to Mo, perhaps we should reject the niche in favor of the anti-niche:

We’re in the same generation—post-boomer, Gen-X—what I used to call the Un-Generation because, unlike the boomers, there seemed to be so little to tie us all together.

So why not go with that? This is who we’ve (uncollectively collectively) have always been. We could call it the ‘dishabille’ style. . . .

We’re thrown together (in oh so many ways), so it makes its own kind of sense that our blogs—our thoughts, our writings—would reflect that.

Besides, ‘dishabille’ sounds so much more dashing than ‘slacker’.

The thrill is gone

11 06 2010

I’d have been a helluva blogger at twenty.

I tried to take in everything at that age—every last news thing, that is—and I had an opinion about everything, which I was (surprise!) not shy about expressing.

It helped that I had a weekly column with The Daily Cardinal, so I could share my views about, oh, everything, with the world.

Hot schnocolate. Platoon and ‘being there’. Sex ed. Feminism. Class.

I once started started a column with ‘Enough fucking around.’ (It was about the hostages held in Iran. I was wrong.)

Then there was the column I published about [the lack of] tolerance on the Madison campus—the day of an interview with campus officials for a scholarship. (I was asked about the column; I got the scholarship.)

I loved being in the newsroom, that sense of something always going on; I remember standing over the AP machine watching news unspool on the long roll of paper, and thinking, ‘Man, how many other people know this right now?’ And we got to tell them.

Opinions to burn, baby, I had ’em.

Still do; never lost ’em. In fact, at one lunch with a guest to a bioethics center, I introduced myself by stating ‘I have lunch and opinions.’

But I am tired. The news felt new, back then; now, it’s more of the same. There’s a kind of wisdom in that, I guess, or at least knowledge, of the sort that can only be gained with time and experience, but the frisson is missing.

That’s okay. Just as I no longer need to get roaring drunk to have a good time, and rather enjoy pulling the ‘old, old lady’ card on my students, I don’t need bubbles in my brain at the mere sight of updated headlines.

But, oh, what I could have, would have, written, back in the day, how I would have been energized rather than enervated by the constant flow of information, and how I would not have even thought to have paused before adding my own bits to that flow.

It would have been fun. I like this gig, now, this greater reflection and slow pace, but, still.

It would have been fun.

(h/t EmilyLHauser)

I must be moving on

1 02 2010

State of the union. Sarah Palin. Bipartisanship. Obama. GOP. Moderates. Health care reform. Financial reform. Don’t ask don’t tell. . . .zzzzz

Okay, no, not really. I care about all of that stuff—tho’ not, obviously, all in the same way.

But I don’t want to write about it.

No good reason not to, really. I’ve got that ol’ political science degree, a long history with American politics, and Oh! leftism to burn! Plus, I never really shut up.

Laziness? Perhaps.

Or perhaps there is one good reason not to: Someone else is already on it.

Now, in conversation, I’m more than willing to go over this stuff, rehash what others have said, reconsider my own thoughts, find out what the other person is thinking—it’s quite enjoyable, in fact. But what makes it enjoyable is the give-and-take, the mutual mulling-over, and our willingness to let ourselves dig in or get distracted down some other conversational path; what makes it enjoyable, in other words, is the other person.

But chewing over an already-well-chewed nugget of political wisdom: eh.

It’s not that all of my thoughts are original (if only. . !), or that an issue which has set off a kabillion other people won’t also set me off. But the main reason I write is to find something out. When writing fiction, I write to find out what happens. When writing nonfiction or when blogging, I write/blog to find out what I think.

This isn’t always the case, of course: there are the rants, and there are times I simply want to record an impression or observation or line of argument. Yet unless I happen to have WordPress open at the moment of or shortly after the observation, or unless an impression was so striking or has so wormed its way into me, I’m unlikely to blog about it. And sometimes I simply want to sit with a thought, let it work its way through me.

As for political commentary, well, it’s rare that I notice something that someone else hasn’t already noticed. Obama runs steady? I think one or two people have already remarked on that. Palin is as good with truth as she is with syntax? Ditto. I might find each phenomenon worth commentary, but it doesn’t have to be my commentary.

(Now, the question in politics as to the role of truth, lies, and lies which believe themselves to be truths—now that’s worth some thought. . . .)

I’m not trying to be precious or present this position as a particularly principled one. This is more about temperament than integrity: I get bored by the repetition, and can only motivate myself with the prospect of discovery.

(This is not unrelated to why I left academia—but that’s another post.)

If it’s already been done, and done well, I pause, applaud—then move on.

Like a bird on a wire

28 02 2009

Tweet tweet, warble warble, titter twit. . .


Yeah, that’s one question I have about Twitter: Does it turn us into twits?

I get it: You can pass along bits of information quickly and efficiently to large numbers of people. This can be useful, as in letting underage party goers know that the cops are coming—and even politically useful, as in letting activists know that the cops are coming. So I’m not anti-Twitter.

But I am skeptical. I awoke to NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday and a conversation between Scott Simon, Daniel Schorr, and some guy named Adam (?). As I was still in the process of rousing myself, I missed some of it (I’ll go back and listen to whole thing tomorrow), but I did get to hear Schorr’s main reservation about Twittering, namely, editing. Editing matters, he noted, not just in cleaning up the language, but in attempting to get the story right. Ain’t much editing happening among the Twits.

Now, one kind of reasonable response to this is to say that while any one Twit may not edit, a kind of ‘mass editing’ can occur, to wit: multiple witnesses to or participants in a particular event may offer alternate versions of the event, either at the same time or after the original Tweet. Yes, there’s the telephone game problem (information is distorted as it’s passed along), but, again, multiple tweets could obviate any distortion. On balance, then, I think conscientious Twits can add to good information about an event.

My concern is somewhat different: What happens to thinking? Twittering sends out small packets of data all at once about a breaking event; where is the reflection about that event? Where is the context, the history, the stories beneath the story? One gets information; does one get understanding?

I’ve already written about the distinction I make between blogging and writing—that I consider blogging draft-ier and less careful than writing—and it seems that there’s another set of distinctions to be made. Twittering, in the main, seems even draftier than blogging, information  on-the-fly (or wing?). Again, this isn’t a problem as long as it doesn’t supplant other forms of communication.  Do Twits tweet and move on? In other words, what happens to the event after the event?

Some bloggers crow about the death of so-called dead-tree journalism, but it takes a hell of a lot of resources to be able to cover a story deeply and well. And as a blogger, I freely admit my parasitism on journalism: I need the much-maligned MSM to tell me about the world. But I don’t rely just on newspapers and radio; I regularly turn to magazines and books to drill into a story or phenomenon. Perhaps Twitter could be considered as the opening link to the already-existing chain of information. It’s a clue, a data bit, a passing word which leads to further exploration, to a news story, to multiple news stories, to books.

Do I carry the analogy further? From tweet to a few bars to a whole composition, repeatedly performed?

No, I didn’t think so.

Anyway. I don’t tweet, just as I don’t text. (Texting just seems a private form of twittering; given that I think that any use of Twitter is in the social information transfer, texting seems, mm, useless. I’ll save the justification for that judgement for later—or never.) A coupla’ months ago my friend S. gave me information on Twitter, and it all seemed so exhausting.

It still seems exhausting. But perhaps I’ll go back and look at the info again.

Reflection, leading to reconsideration. Look what Twitter hath wrought!