THE PURLOINED LETTER
 
   
 
renice.com web

 

Saturday, March 27, 2004


You [VERB] Like a Girl 


Tuesday, while lying on hot moist pads at my physical therapy clinic, I leafed through a fluffy women's magazine. (Funny how you might typically call fluffy things "girlie" yet a "girlie magazine" means something completely different.) A short article in the paltry health section caught my attention: apparently some study found that women are less trusting when our progesterone levels are cyclically elevated – suggesting that we are most paranoid when we are most liable to conceive.

From an evolutionary standpoint that seems good for the species, but it doesn't seem like it could possibly be good for long-term relationships. Certainly it hasn't been conducive to maintaining my relationships for long hauls.

Today a NY Times article about author Anne Carson ended with, "... Ms. Carson lives by herself most of the time, but says she does not mind loneliness: 'Loneliness is not an important form of suffering.... It's undeniable, but it's just not significant.'"

I decided to add Carson (4 years my senior) to my overwhelming reading list when I read the excerpt from her book Glass, Irony and God: "Everything I know about love and its necessities / I learned in that one moment / when I found myself / thrusting my little burning red backside like a baboon / at a man who no longer cherished me."

Carson and I are of the first generation (and still counting) failed by the promises of the sexual revolution, I think. I recently went out with a man who told me that he preferred dating "older women" (the twit was actually a few months older than I – it was our final date, by the way). They were, he said, more "realistic" – by which he meant that we thrust our burning backsides while no longer hoping affection to be coincident.

I suppose that's a little less evil than lying about esteem in exchange for a little burning backside. I suspect that the last man who took that tack with me would have thought twice had I been blogging publicly then. So! There's another chit in my mental side-by-side comparison of the pro's and con's of online journaling.

 

Monday, March 22, 2004


Hey Jude 


Last night, inspired by Iffy's and Travis's descriptions of the enviable meals they cook for themselves (separately, as in they aren't gay... I swear... really), I decided to make a gourmet lactose- and gluten-free pizza. (Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it? But I'm convinced it's possible.) Unfortunately the health food store, where I get goat-milk cheddar cheese that actually melts and Muir Glen pizza sauce, was closed. So I went to Schnucks and improvised – a habit my cooking is rather infamous for. (I thought when I had a kid that there would be at least one other person on earth who liked my cooking, at least for a few years. Wrong.) As usual, I went through the store reading labels to avoid unsafe ingredients.

At the last minute, I went back to the international section of the store and picked up a prayer candle that had caught my eye earlier. I thought it would make an appropriate addition – along with the olive tapenade, rice crunch crackers, sun dried tomatoes, fresh spinach, and red zinfandel – to the meal I was preparing.

I had to read the label to make sure it was for the saint I thought it was. I suppose it looked like I was checking ingredients again:
Prayer to St. Jude
Most holy apostle, St. Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, patron of hopeless cases, of things almost despaired of, pray for me. I am so helpless and alone. Make use, I implore you, of that particular privilege given to you to bring visible and speedy help where help is almost despaired of. I promise to be ever mindful of this great favor, to always honor you as my special and powerful patron. Amen. (Make your petition.)
I especially appreciated the form-like instructions on the label, "Make your petition," as in, "Insert text here", as well as the negotiation-like aspect: "Dude, if you do this for me, I'll do this for you." And I guess he did help me out because, although I hadn't realized how hopeless my efforts were until the bottom of the dough became as one with the pizza stone, I was able to salvage the upper crust and the toppings. Otherwise, I most certainly would have plunged further into despair last night.

[Next: Hormone cylces and the evolutionary role of despair and paranoia, and why blogging is an antidote to evil.]

 

Sunday, March 21, 2004


Big Brother Now 


I last said that blogging about blogging was boring me – and that there are a lot of reasons to blog. But, there may be a really good reason not to blog.

Over 16 (!) years ago, my friend Joe, then the head of the department I was working in, taught me how to use email. He said, "Never email anything you wouldn't post on your office door." It's a great rule to follow, and I should more often.

A little more than eight years later, I published a personal website. Writing about my life without offending my friends and family was an interesting exercise. For the most part, those writings have stood up over the years. (However, I did hide a personal timeline of sorts a couple of years ago when – being a woman of a certain age – I started trying to lie about my age, much to the chagrin of the daughter I'd planned for 4 years.)

About eight years later, I'm now publishing stories about my life and my milieu in the frenetic blogosphere where speed and frequency are expected if not required for viability. (Apparently, the same pressures are even compromising our hallowed journalism – certainly distressing in a society that is hobbled without informed participation.)

Our communications media is getting faster, while we keep forgetting lessons from the past. MIT PhD candidate Fernanda Viégas surveyed bloggers on their Expectations of Privacy and Accountability. She says:
"...results reveal a certain naiveté in how most bloggers think about persistence and how it operates in networked environments such as the net, where information is constantly cached. As blogs become more pervasive and their audiences grow, the ever-persistent nature of entries and the direct link to defamation and liability are likely to become even more of a burning issue."
The issue isn't really new – throughout history, writers (and politicians) of every ilk have felt the repercussions of their statements. As it should be.

To apply lessons of earlier forms of communications, we need to remember that statements online, whether in email, on a website, or in a blog, are also subject to scrutiny – we need to think of the internet as a giant recording device, no longer an inscrutable ether or a well so deep we never hear the plink of a tossed pebble. I am now envisioning whatever I say broadcast much as Major Burns' cooings that Major O'Houlihan had hot lips were cruelly broadcast across their community.

Big Brother is us.

 

Saturday, March 20, 2004


The Trouble with Public Rants 


OK, I am now publicly going to do 2 things that I have already admitted publicly that I don't like: 1) apologize, and 2) do so with qualifications (see my entry on ichthyapologies).

I hereby apologize to Frank Catalano for calling him an egomaniac and an ass (see my entry in which I strongly react to some of Frank's comments on blogging).

(Now for the qualification.) But, I still don't agree with Frank's assessment of the medium. In fact, I think his recent defenses of "Blog No More" only serve to clarify how off he is. (I may go on to argue my position some other time, but right now blogging about blogging is boring the hell out of me, so suffice it to say that I think people who believe the main reason to maintain personal websites and blogs is to generate income simply don't get it.)

This interlude in my blogging life reminds me of a couple of things:
  1. Wil Wheaton wrote about how stung he was by the Alternet article title, "Wil Wheaton is a Dick". The title was a play on something Wheaton had actually said about himself in his Orkut profile, and was therefore, I think, funny. In other words, I think Wheaton was overreacting a bit. Although my calling Frank an egomaniac was not an ironic reference to something Frank had said about himself, it was a hyperbolic* dismissal of anyone who could possibly believe that "you can reach millions of people on the web by doing a blog" (quoted from his interview on Seattle-based WebTalk Radio). In other words, I think Catalano was overreacting a bit.


  2. I am also reminded of when I was managing the Central Illinois NOW chapter's website some 7-8 years ago. Our site was up before NOW's national site was, so we made a convenient target for Angry Young Men around the country. They wrote me – since the site's web manager mailto link was redirected to me – to vent about every slight perpetrated on them by every woman in their miserable lives (but of course we feminists must be responsible for every woman who's ever decided that the man she's dating is a lout). I always replied in as rational and sympathetic a tone as I could, which invariably generated surprised reactions that a real person was on the receiving end of their rants. The thing is, I have to admit that when Frank commented on my blog, I understood how those angry young men could have been surprised – I didn't expect a real person to respond to my rant. In other words, I might have been a bit harsh.
As a footnote to this episode in my blogging life, I would like to say that I think it's too bad Frank doesn't get it – his personal blog RandomBytes is amusing and reveals a person I think I would actually enjoy. And maybe that's the best you can expect from a personal-journal-made-public.

* The Columbia Guide to Standard American English cautions against the use of hyperbole and I will try to heed the warning in the future.


 

Thursday, March 18, 2004


Chatchka Junk-tion 


Ever since I was the Chatchka Empress* at Wolfram Research, I'm always on the lookout for the perfect giveaway. David Weinberger writes from SXSW (I also used to work with SXSW prez Roland Swenson at the defunct Moment Productions recording label, speaking of less than x degrees of separation) that Friendster's chatchka is a condom – how perfect is that?!

*1. Chatchka: a yiddish word appropriated by Guy Kawasaki for corporate freebies. (Note that some also transliterate the word as "tchotchke" or "tchatzhah".)
2. Empress: since the Fab 5 have worked their way into my heart, I'm never calling myself the queen of anything again.


 

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


Felicitous Flowers 


For her latest promotion, Jolie's dad and I (well, to be fair, 70/30 plus his idea) sent her a congratulatory bouquet today from LMD. Besides the fact that their work is just exquisite, it seemed especially appropriate to have them create the arrangement for her: she designed their website :-)

I love this photo that her boss took this afternoon – she had the same expression on her face when, at 3, she offered her dad and me her very special dirt-and-oak-leaf 'salad'.



It Doesn't Take Much... 


Small excitement: Yesterday I bought a used glass grinder for my fledgling forays into stained glass design. In a beginners' class, I completed a star suncatcher using colors that would work in my office. I'm not a huge fan of the color purple, but since it's the color that makes sense with the room's odd industrial carpet, I've offset the purple in the room by using reds and golds and, of course, black (always black!). (This is sort of a mix of analogous and complementary color schemes, but it doesn't follow the 'rules' enough to show up in the cute color picker app that Iffy found.)

I've started a 2nd project to go in a strange little window that looks into a coat closet from my house's front porch (what were they thinking?). The illogic of that window has always bothered me – I'll be happier with the entry once I install a colorful privacy glass panel, especially after I've set up a timer to light the window from the inside.

My first project now hangs in my office window.



 

Sunday, March 14, 2004


Dirty Little Secrets of Blogging?! 


Joe sent me a link to an article on blogging titled "Blog No More", which was originally posted by Frank Catalano in his blog Byte Me online. (Catalano uses his blog to market his consulting business.)

I don't get Catalano's point. Whose dirty secrets is he talking about? Must be his: 1) clearly he's an egomaniac who gets off by imagining more and more people reading his exalted words, and 2) he thinks that's why other people blog! When he says "They're mostly reading blogs of friends," can't he imagine that they're mostly writing blogs for friends too?!

I've read a lot of blogs and I'm sure that my motives for blogging are far more common among the 2-7% of us blogging, than are Catalano's motives for blogging.

Here, for Catalano, are 5 very clean little secrets about blogging:

  • Blogging beneficially changes my real-time interaction with the people who read my blog (especially those whose blogs I read).
  • Writing in a public forum, even with a TINY public, changes the way I write.
  • The level of logic required in public writings alters how I think in ways that writing in a 'flimsily locked diary' can't.
  • I really don't want a huge audience – geez, I freak out when a former boyfriend reads this shit! – and I'm sure as hell not going to spend time finding "the proper audience" for what I write.
  • And, excuse me you ass, but writing "without third-party validation" is very much writing. As a matter of fact, I would argue it is moreso: I know of too many published writers who are unhappy with what commercial third-parties have done to their writing.

If you want some real secrets about writing, Mr. Catalano, let's talk about the dysfunction of that third-party validation machine that you're so enthralled with – all the ways it is a sham, what miniscule percent of 'legitimately' published authors make any money at all, how the mechanism churns out redundant drivel aimed at a mass market. Sorry, but the commercial publishing business – your almighty third-party validation – is not unlike commercial recording labels. The truth is, the internet is changing the way we do business, and the way we write – thank you very much.

[Update: Official apology.]

 

Friday, March 12, 2004


Trigger 


Like most Americans who were deeply affected by the Trade Center Towers collapse, I've been slowly recovering from mourning. Like everyone in mourning, small things touch off memories that re-trigger grief. There are fewer and fewer triggers the further from tragedy time takes us.

This morning, in spite of all the sadness evoked by the NY Times story about the Madrid train bombings, only the photo of hundreds lining up at the Donación de Sangre bus brought back tears over September 11, 2001 – specifically the sickening realization that, of thousands of people caught in a giant building collapse, there was no one to give blood to.



 

Monday, March 08, 2004


Ichthy·a·pology* 


When my co-worker apologized for 2 years of her tortures, I only felt uneasy. I've never much liked apologies. I'd really rather see a change in behavior than hear an apology.

I recognize now that my adverse reaction to apologies ripples from my childhood. My mother's apologies have always had a hook hidden in them – like the writhing worm my little sister had to thread on my line when our father took us fishing.

My mother's apologies always float for just a minute before they sink in murkiness, leaving her unfortunate beneficiaries feeling a little muddy. The typical reaction to qualified praise is not dissimilar. "That's great, but..." – the first phrase buoys you up, while the conjunction yanks you under.

Some 3 months ago, my mother apologized for the uncontrolled rages she directed at me through a stinging leather belt when I was 7 and 8. She would say that she was too young then: 26 or 27. She told me that if she had it to do over, she would do it differently – that she's learned from the way I'd parented her granddaughter. Praise so unpolluted nearly took my breath away. I'd wanted to slide into it and let it carry me a while. Then, meaning to sting again, she snatched it back with, "But, you were a difficult child, Renice."

This last apology was like all her others, with one difference: I decided it was the last time I would bite.

* Better known as a 'fishy' apology? Or perhaps an apology with a hook?


 

Sunday, March 07, 2004


The Accidental Therapist* 


A woman who once worked for me hated the way I laughed. If I had liked her at all then, I might have had some sympathy for her – after all, in our tiny shared office, we were cooped up rather like factory-farmed hens. But I didn't like her: she was a trial, my own personal tribulation, a pestilence raging at biblical scales on a private stage. After 9- or 10-hour days working with her, I often went home to my family in tears asking, "What could I have done to her?" To her credit, after over 2 years of torturing me for reasons that had nothing to do with me, she apologized.

Long before her apology, I practiced a releasing technique of sorts without realizing that that's what I was doing. Every morning before I opened our office door, I stood for a second outside the maelstrom, took a deep breath, and imagined myself swathed in a protective force field of white light. I didn't know anything about the New Age mysticism surrounding "white light", or anything about this particular type of meditation technique. All I knew was that the little quieting ritual helped me keep my sanity until Dustan came along.

Dustan was a pre-med student employed in a clerical position by a nearby group. He occasionally stopped by our office to use our printer. Eventually he started chatting with me about printers and computers. His curiosity and excitement was a welcome contrast to the resistance I was meeting in my office. The woman I shared the office with never missed an opportunity to tell me how much she hated computers and that they were a passing fad in the graphic arts field – a sentiment shared at the time by a great majority in the graphics field, including the faculty in U of I's school of Art and Design.

The student interns I was getting from that school were so resistant to new technologies that they couldn't seem to grasp basic concepts such as how to retrieve their files from our file server each day they returned to work. Dustan happened to stop by the office the day I was frustrated to my breaking point. Without the typical portfolio review or interview, I offered him a job as a graphic designer, and, a bit dumbstruck, he accepted. Later he went on to become an Art Director in NYC at companies like Forbes and AOL. But the year he worked with me, his energy helped remind me of the reasons I'd first gone into graphic design.

* Apologies, Anne Tyler.


 

Thursday, March 04, 2004


Therapy in the Real World 


It's been a week and a half since the stress-release workshop in NYC. My friend Joe says he can tell a difference – that I seem "more engaged". My boss says I've been looking angry the last few days. A co-worker from another department told me I seemed too subdued at a meeting recently and asked if I were sick. And my daughter told me, "things will get better" while she and I sat down to watch the Oscars together (850 miles apart but attached by cell phones). Funny... I think they're each right.

At the end of the workshop, each participant chose a phone partner to practice the release techniques for 2 weeks. Even though I thought it was a good idea, I was a bit resistant. But the experience has been very pleasant. As diverse as the 21 participants were, my phone partner and I have a lot in common. For one thing, she's a communications and marketing manager for a non-profit. The first day we had lunch, she was ecstatic to learn that I'd seen one of her org's outreach efforts: The Meatrix. (My friend Chance had emailed the link to me. Chance renamed herself long after we'd first met, and, from all my friends in the '70s who'd renamed themselves, hers is the only one I can remember because it fits her so much better than her given name. Always makes me wonder if I could come up with something more appropriate for myself than Renice – maybe a name that would alter some of the responses from others that I find burdensome.)

My phone partner and I haven't used the method's technique patterns much during our calls, but we've still done a lot of releasing: sharing with someone who reciprocates is so much more therapeutic than one-sided sharing with a therapist.