Another Shameless Plug

Do you have an iPhone?

Do you have toddlers?

If you answered yes to both of those questions, go take a look at my sister’s new app, Mix Match Draw!

Mix Match Draw

Actually, even if you only answered yes to the first question, you should check it out, it is strangely addicting…

Confessions of a Consumed Mind

I love it when this happens.  I am working on some ‘thing’ and it takes over my whole mind.  Nothing else matters, not food, not sleep.  There is only the THING.  And it is a good thing, a worthy thing.  It is one of those things that when I finish it, people will say, “wow” and comment on how much time it must have taken to finish it and how they wish they could do the same.

I have said those things myself, you know.  Thinking that some one is half-crazy / half-genius for the dedication they give to their own THING.

I know you want to know what the thing is, but I am not going to tell you.  Studies have shown that your brain gets the same sort of sense of accomplishment from talking about an idea as it does from executing the idea.
So as soon as you talk about it, much of the reward is gone.  Gone is the motivation to finish.

I’ll tell you all about it when I’m done.  Should be about three weeks from now…

(No, it has nothing to do with writing.) On a side note –  I’ve completely ditched the idea of ever writing a novel.  The idea of the traditional novel doesn’t really fit into our culture anymore.  I’m going to write a blog post about this someday – got the draft started…  oh no… I’ve just ruined now, haven’t I?  I’ve talked about it, now I’ll never do it.

Well, either way, it will have to wait…  gotta go work on the THING!

My Unrequited Love of Collaboration

That is not the Clone we are looking for [Boin...
That is not the Clone we are looking for (Photo credit: Kalexanderson)
Ah, Collaboration – The dream team working together towards a common goal.  Minds meld and a beautiful ‘something’ is created. A ‘thing’ that is better than anything the collaborators could have achieved on their own.

The reality is that the word ‘together’ is a lie. As is the word ‘common.’ And the ‘goal’ is never quite defined to anyone’s satisfaction.

I crave collaboration, but I can’t find anyone to collaborate with me. I want someone with my exact priorities. Someone I can respect and admire.  Someone to believe in me and encourage me.  Someone who is willing to work hard on things I think are worth working hard on.   Maybe I need a clone. A clone that is less lazy. A clone that will do the parts I don’t want to do. Or the parts that I think I suck at.  So not a clone – an equal-opposite.  A mirror image.

When my boyfriend and I were still ‘just friends’ we wrote the first three chapters of a novel together.  That book will never be finished.  Turns out we are not good collaborators.  I am constantly disappointed by that fact.

I want to blame him. If only he would take it as seriously as I do.  If only he had the same passion / enthusiasm / dedication as I do.  If only he would be more like me.  Again, the clone thing.

Does collaboration ever actually work? When we worked on those chapters, there was strong desire to please each other.  We were in love but unable to express those feelings, so we wrote love letters to each other in the form of chapters of a book.  One time, after we’d exchanged a few emails about the ‘disaster’ that starts the story, he stayed up all night and wrote a 7000 word prologue. I found it in my email the next morning and cried in relief at finally finding a true collaborator.  But it was all a lie.

He we are, years later, living together and still in love, but no collaboration is happening.  I write and he reads what I write, but the love is now expressed in affectionate caresses. He doesn’t need to write thousands of words to tell me he loves me, he just has to cross the room and kiss me.

The common goal, as it turned out, was not writing a book together.  The common goal was to get into each others pants.  Once we achieved that goal , the book became unnecessary.

The book is still a goal.  It just isn’t common.  It is still important to me.  I want to finish it.  I want him to want to finish it. (He isn’t interested and I’m too lazy to do all the work needed to encourage him to do his part while doing my own.)

Collaboration requires a well-defined goal, and an equal desire to accomplish that goal.  Is that possible? Can two people really have the same goal and maintain the same level of enthusiasm for all the time needed to achieve said goal?  Isn’t history littered with the detritus of failed collaboration? (Lennon/McCartney, Jobs/Wozniak,  Jefferson/Adams)  Together these collaborators made beautiful things, but eventually they split. If only they had worked together just a little bit longer…

What happened?  People change. Priorities shift. Interests wax and wane. People get into other people’s pants.

Those three chapters haunt me.  They are good. Really good.  Better than anything thing I have written on my own. Those three chapters keep my dream of collaboration alive, despite all this proof of its inherent instability.

Someday I’ll find it, the perfect collaboration.  I just hope that next time there wont be any pants involved and it will last longer than three chapters.  (Um…Is that really the best way to say that?)

An open letter to a lost friend

To celebrate your anniversary, you posted a picture from your wedding on your Facebook page.  It is one of those perfect pictures, where everyone in it looks beautiful and the moment it captures is a moment worth capturing.  A moment that holds a million memories.

I remember the moment. I remember the song. I remember the dance.

I am in that picture. On the far right side. You could have easily edited me out.

We met when you were nineteen and I was twenty. We were instant best friends. For the next couple years we were inseparable. We liked the same music and books, TV shows and movies. The local pub was our second home and our circle of friends were the best people in the world.

And then…

You met your future husband.
You stopped going to the pub, because he didn’t drink.
You started eating the foods he ate, you started liking the music he liked.
His hobbies became yours.
You changed.

I started a new job, and gained new friends.
I started reading new books and thinking new thoughts.
I changed.

At a party, I said something to you that I will regret forever.

You moved away with him.

And then…

Two years later, inexplicably, you forgave me. You asked me to be a bridesmaid. I said yes.

In the picture, you and I are joined by two of our friends from those happy days. The song is “I Think I Love You” by the Monkees, and the dance is the routine we made up for it back in ’93 at the height of our Karaoke year.  We knew the song and the dance so well that even though it had been a while, it all came back to us like we’d danced it the day before.

I look closely at my face in the picture, looking for the signs of what I was thinking. It has been seventeen years since that well captured moment, but I will never forget those thoughts.

I was thinking about the horrible thing I said to you, at that party, the last time we did our dance to that song.

I was thinking about how I made you cry.

I was thinking about how the music for our song started as if timed with my terrible phrase, and how I pulled you onto the dance floor anyway and how you danced through your tears, and even managed to smile, but I knew that things would never be the same between us.

And they never were.

You moved back for a little while after your wedding, then moved away again.  I never really got to know you as a wife and mother, and now…  Now more things than a few nasty words separate us.

That captured moment contains the thoughts of another.  Inside that happy moment is a sad one. The words are meaningless, but the meaning behind them is clear. I thought it was his fault. He came along and suddenly my best friend was gone.  I missed you so much.  I lashed out at you with all my feelings of pain and loss and hit you where I knew it would hurt you the most: I insulted him.

But you forgave me.

I pull back my focus from my own face and look at the whole picture. We are beautiful. We are happy.

Maybe when you look at that picture, you only remember the joys we shared.  The fun we had together.  Because, I can see now, all of that is captured there too.

You could have cut me out of the picture, but you didn’t.

Another inexplicable forgiveness.  For that, and for all the moments this picture captured, the happy ones and the sad, I thank you.

Join ’em

(Photo credit: Vitor Sá – Virgu)

The Culture Snob

I tried to read a book called, “The Cult of the Amateur” by Andrew Keen, because I thought it would explain how we can recognize the Good Stuff in a world where Everyone can display Everything.  But I should have paid more attention to the subtitle: “How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values.”  He is talking about me, and you and about everything I love about blogging – he says we are destroying HIGH ART.  I couldn’t get past the first chapter before I deleted it from my Kindle.  He didn’t answer my question, he just whined and moaned about how we are all drowning in a sea of vacuous crap. But the Great Artists are out there still, and they are creating Great Art. Instead of fighting against the surge, invent the method we need to bring the Good Stuff to the top.

The History Professor

“Kids these days have no attention span,”  he says to me over his third Yuengling while slumped in a lounger at a memorial day party.  I try to argue, without insulting him, that maybe he shouldn’t be so damn boring. Kids have never had an attention span.  But back when we were the students, we had to fake it. The punishment for not paying attention would ‘go on our permanent record.’  And when our parents were kids, the punishment was a swift and painful slap of the ruler on the knuckles, or worse.  Kids these days aren’t afraid of you, so you can’t be lazy anymore.  You gotta work, hard, to keep them interested.   Even the most distracted kid will focus for a long time on something fascinating.  You are a brilliant man, make history Fascinating!

The Luddite Mother

“My son used to enjoy building with legos and now all he wants to do is play minecraft.  So I took his computer away.”  What an idiotic thing to do.  Instead of taking away the thing you don’t understand, because it is unfamiliar and not what you did for fun as a kid, learn to play the game.  You will be amazed at the brain stimulation you get yourself, and it will be something you can do with your kid – seriously good bonding time with someone who is going to start hating you very, very soon if you continue to take away the things he loves.

There is wisdom in the old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Change is inevitable.  Fight against it all you want, but all you will do is make yourself irrelevant, and the world will simply delete you to make room for something new.

Be Prepared

I Want a Do Over

The auditorium is vast, absurdly over-sized for the two dozen occupants, yet filled to the rafters with the uncomfortable silence emanating from the stage.  I stand there alone, staring down at the plastic sheet on the overhead projector, wondering what the hell I thought I was going to say?  I’ve got nothing.

Overhead Projector

Despite the way my eyes have dilated in the glare of the projector bulb, I can still see my boss out in the audience, hunched down in his seat, a hand covering his face.  He looks like he’s crying.

This is not a nightmare.  This really happened to me, almost two decades ago now, and I still haven’t forgiven myself.

It wasn’t stage fright. (I actually like being the center of attention.) It was a total lack of preparation.

Be Prepared (Boy Scout Motto)

“Be prepared for what?” someone once asked Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting,
“Why, for any old thing.” said Baden-Powell.

I know, I know…  Everyone hates the Boy Scouts these days, but still – you have to admit that quote is funny (I copied it verbatim from their website.)  But it goes on to say, “Be prepared for life – to live happily and without regret, knowing that you have done your best.”  You can’t find fault with that, can you?

In the list my life’s regrets, (have I mentioned this list before?) messing up that presentation is about halfway down.  I didn’t do my best, I hardly even tried.  I read a bit about the topic, I made some slides, and that was it.  I trusted too much in my ability to ‘wing it.’  (Wing it: to improvise; to do something extemporaneously (without preparation.))

All of my life, all throughout school and all of my jobs, I’ve managed to muddle through by just showing up and trusting that I would think fast, and just figure out what to do and how to do it when I got there.

Think Fast

I didn’t finish the book, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, (It ended up getting too technical, (ie boring.)) but I understand the premise: we believe ‘fast thinking’ (instinct, gut) is good and trustworthy, but inevitably it leads us astray. And more importantly, it’s just lazy.

“A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical
exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the
same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course
of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of
skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.”
― Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

And that is my problem.  I don’t do now (prepare) anything I can put off till later. I rationalize my laziness by saying I am being efficient.  By preparing, I would end up spending a lot more time on a task that could be completed (perhaps not as well, but probably good enough) in a tenth of the time.

Be Prepared (The Lion King)

So prepare for the coup of the century
Be prepared for the murkiest scam
Meticulous planning
Tenacity spanning
Decades of denial
Is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed
Respected, saluted
And seen for the wonder I am

But what if…  What if I had prepared for that presentation?  What if I had actually studied for the tests I barely passed?  What if I had done the research and found the quotes and thought long and hard about the topic of a term paper? What if instead of just submitting the second or third draft, I actually work on a story until it is perfect?

The memories of failure haunt me to this day. There are no do overs. But I could start fresh…

I could be prepared, for every old thing, to do the best I can, and to be seen for the wonder that I know I am…

Maybe I’ll start tomorrow.


The Cover Letter

letter D
A Cover Letter, get it? (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)

It starts like this:
To whom it may concern.  (Except nobody uses the word ‘Whom’ anymore. Either you use it wrong and you sound like an idiot, or you use it correctly and everyone who reads the sentence spends a minute saying it out loud to themselves wondering if it is correct.  Better to avoid it all together.)

Instead, it starts like this:

To the person reading this letter,  Please, don’t stop reading until you get to the end.  And I’m going to warn you now, the end is a long way off.

First, I need to explain to you what sort of Book this is.  Which I can not do.  Instead, I will show you why I can’t explain what sort of Book this is.

The Book will start with a bit of fiction:

Is This An Emergency?”   (Just read it – it is only 678 words.  Should take you about two and a half minutes.)

See, that is most definitely fiction, right?  That would never happen in real life. In reality the ‘good mother’ would have called 911, maybe waited for the police to show up and then she would have made sure to never go to that park with her kids EVER AGAIN.  Then she might have told a friend about the disgusting mess she saw in the ‘bad mother’s’ house and that friend might have told me the story.  Then I might have written it down with a different ending to make myself (and hopefully you) feel something.

You might be thinking that this book is ‘fiction,’ or specifically, ‘short story anthology.’  And it is, except not all of it is really fiction.

Because the next section of the book has this to say:

Stubborn Ignorance” (Longer than the last one, but you’ve made it this far…)

Which is not fiction.  Mostly.  I didn’t have a tape recorder with me.  And she isn’t really the ‘friend of a friend,’  unless that mutual friend is actually my not-quite-ex-husband with whom she is now living.  (see, you are saying that word out loud right now, testing.)

You might say, well, Jill, you just can’t include those two bits together in the same book.  A book needs a theme, a plot, something to carry it from beginning to end.  Oh, really? Are there rules for this sort of thing?  Is that how authors get read these days, by following the rules?

Alright, if you insist, here’s a theme for you:

Empathy.  Or rather, a lack of empathy.  It is missing, fading away, disappearing.  We need to get it back.

The ‘good mother’ in the fictional story, (And by the way, the story I told of it being partly real?  That was fiction too.) she resists the urge to distance herself from another human being.  She gets involved in someone else’s problem.  And you cried a little, didn’t you, when she did that.  Because it is the best side of us, and you recognize that, and you want it.  You crave it.  But we don’t act like that in real life.  We are afraid of being sucked in too far.  Her empathy is what makes the story fictional.

The ignorant woman in the suicide story has no empathy for suicidal people, and she is proud of that lack.  She will not allow herself to feel trapped inside sadness, because she is afraid to feel.  (In real life she smokes a lot of pot, which is just another way to avoid feeling too much.) She is not alone.  I see more and more people doing all they can to distance themselves from their own, but especially other people’s, emotions. Her lack of empathy, her fear of feeling another’s pain, is what makes the story non-fictional.

And in The Book I will expound upon this theme, and point out that it is the very screen you are reading these words upon that is creating this distance between us.  You cannot see my face and I can not see yours.  Therefore, you do not exist.  Therefore, I don’t have to acknowledge your feelings because they are not real to me.  And even when we meet, I know it will only last a minute or two, with more screens between us. And soon I will retreat into my nest, my cubbyhole, my comfy nook. And you will disappear into memory.

The Book will be all of that and more. But having a theme doesn’t help to explain what sort of Book this is. It does not explain which shelf (virtual, of course) to put The Book on.  This will be a problem with no easy solution.

The Book is me writing, and then me writing about my writing.  It is all so meta. Modern, cool, unique.  Just like me.  And it never ends or runs out.  I will always just keep writing and then write about my writing.  It is what I do.  What I have always done, and what I will do, forever.  No, not forever, not really.  I will die, after all. And so will you.

Do you want more while we last?  Good.  Just give me money.  I figured out I need only $66.67 a day to feed myself, keep the elements at bay, keep this computer running, and pay the government enough to keep the infrastructure that we all take for granted going.  I will leave it up to you to figure out how much to charge so that I get the $66.67, after your profit, of course.  I believe in profit.

Thank you for reading this far.

(By the way, The Cover Letter IS The Book.)