Sep 232015
 

Yup, I’m way behind.  But it’s not too late!  Let’s expand a quote!

 

So, when I suggested that text-to-speech software might be a good thing to try, , the author of Just Blank Pages replied that she really enjoyed the actual physical sensations that come from writing.  And I can absolutely see how that would be an empowering, uplifting experience.  She must not be left-handed.  I have had a lifetime of smudge marks that counter the notion that the act itself can be a pleasurable thing.  😉

Still, the deeper that she makes is that one must find what works to motivate oneself to write.  Taking pleasure in a particular ritual or act goes a long way towards overcoming thing like writer’s block.  (I’m still working on that one.)

Yup, I gotta get me one of them speech-to-text programs one of these days.

 

 

Sep 102015
 

Okay, day 4 of this here challenge lies right in the ol’ wheelhouse, yessiree!

It all started about a year-and-a-half ago.  I got a ride from a coworker to a local garage to get my car picked up for some repairs needed for it to pass inspection.  It was on the way in that I saw this:

So perfect.

I love “Coming to America” as the next person raised in the 80s, but not as much as this guy.  And I’m willing to bet that it was a guy.  Honestly, I can’t see any woman putting that on her plate.  I could be wrong, but somehow I doubt it.

Shortly afterwards, I started this blog.  It was then that it suggested by the good folks at WordPress.com that a recurring feature is a good way to attract followers and build a “brand” for one’s blog.  All of this had merit, but, more than that, it meant that I would get to make snide, bitchy remarks about people’s vanity plates.  And oh Lord in Heaven has the Harrisburg area been obliging!  I’ve posted almost 150 of these pictures – three per post with very few exceptions – and I still keep coming across more.  A friend of mine recently pointed out the obvious in that we’re so close to the DMV that is makes it exceptionally easy for people to get these things (Harrisburg is Pennsylvania’s state capital).  Still, it’s remarkable in a way how strong everyone’s desire is to stand out.  I’m sure some clever soul could produce some riff on this being part of the Society of the Spectacle.  All I can really do is chuckle.  And, as snotty-nosed as I can get, I realize that I’ve got my little vanities as well.  But still, what else am I gonna with my time?  I’m too old to go out blowing cash on decadent pursuits every night.  I’ve neither the constitution nor the wallet for that.  No, instead I’m just sitting in the balcony, pointing and laughing for fun and entertainment.

Hardly a novel approach, I admit.

Hardly a novel approach, I admit.

And really, when you come across gems like these, how can you resist?

 

Some seem to want to hitch their wagon to a strong identity:

DKNYC

When Branding Goes Very, Very Wrong.

Some plates (unintentionally) cultivate an air of mystery:

 

Either this person owns a Brown Newfoundland dog or is proud of being born in Newfoundland. Considering the jokes that other Canadians make at the expense of "Newfies", I'm guessing the latter. Still, one never knows.

Either this person owns a Brown Newfoundland dog or is proud of being born in Newfoundland. Considering the jokes that other Canadians make at the expense of “Newfies”, I’m guessing the former. Still, one never knows.

 

 

And still others seem to beg your indulgence:

Ok, fine, I'll hear you out. But this had better be damned good - I'm on a clock, you know.

Ok, fine, I’ll hear you out. But this had better be damned good – I’m on a clock, you know.

Yup, Harrisburg and its surrounding area has vanity.  Lots and lots of vanity.  So, if you’re looking to score a few points with a quick anthropological or sociological study or just looking to kill time with a cheap, easy, and wholly legal hobby, it’s the place to be! Toodles, all!

Sep 092015
 

Evening all.  Today’s assignment is take a single word from a list and write something around it.  I chose the word “Home.”  It’s meaning has started to change for me.

If you had asked me five years ago where home was I would have said “Pittsburgh” or “western Pennsylvania.”  Now, I’m not so sure.  Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to go back to Pittsburgh to get together with my college buddies and had a lovely time visiting relatives up in Mercer County.  Even better, I got to bond a little with my niece and nephew on Labor Day.  It was a lovely time, and I felt the bittersweet tug of remorse that one does when leaving a place where one is loved.  And yet…

And yet I found myself eager to get back to settle back into my routine here in Harrisburg.  At first I thought this was just going to be another stop in my life; a place with a job that would lead to another place with a better job.  That hasn’t turned out to be the case.  Instead, I found myself battling some personal demons (a story for another time), buying a house, and building a small but steady circle of friends and acquaintances.  I used to scorn this town.  Now I kinda miss it and the people here when I’m away.  Maybe I’m starting to make my peace with things.  Maybe I’m just getting old.  Maybe both.  No matter how you slice it, though, it’s a funny old world.

The ol' hometown

It’s home now.

 

Sep 082015
 

Ok, here we go, day 2 of this assignments wants us to make a list.  Fair enough.  Here’s a (subjective) list about what I’ve learned about depression:

  • Depression Lies – As Grant Morrison once said, we are not our emotions.  We may feel like crap at any moment, but we all need to take that feeling with a grain of salt.  That’s because depression lies.
  • You’re not alone – It’s a cliché’ but it’s also true.  There are more people than you think that wrestle with this illness.  If you doubt this, find a support group in your area and go to a meeting.  You’ll be surprised at the cross-section of people you meet.
  • Routines Help – Getting into a routine protects one from the tendency towards inertia that depression creates.  Having a regular schedule forces you to get up do something when you’d rather just sit there.  And when you just sit there, you start to think.  And then you begin to think the worst as often as not.  Structured activities and a timetable help to fight this.
  • Self-Care is not Self-Indulgence – There are times when you will want just sit back and relax and treat yourself.  Go right ahead and do it.  Being good to yourself is beneficial, even if that means breaking your routine a bit.  However…
  • Self-Care includes Self-Discipline – There are many times when you won’t want to do anything.  You won’t want to do routine tasks like cleaning your bathroom sink or exercising.  This is a trap.  You’ve got to do your best to push through that and do what needs to be done.
  • It’s not all or nothing – You’ll make mistakes along the way.  Sometimes you’ll fall behind in keeping up with a routine, sometimes you won’t cut yourself some slack when you need to, and sometimes you’ll believe the lies Depression is telling you.  This doesn’t mean you’ve failed.  It just means that you slipped a little.  The key is to realize that you’re not perfect and to forgive yourself and keep working.  This is because…
  • Battling Depression is a process, not a goal – There will be good days and there will be bad days, but what matters the most is to stick with what’s working for you regardless of how high or low you are at that particular moment.  I liken it to running – there are days when I feel as if I am gliding effortlessly and then there are days when I feel like I’m carrying a 50 pound weight behind me.  It’s like that with Depression: You shouldn’t decide to quit because you think you don’t need to work at it anymore or because you’ll feel like it’s just not working.  Either way, you have to keep trying.

And that is a list of what I think I’ve learned about depression.  Feel free to tell me what you think about it, however.  I could always you some good advice and/or insights.

 

Yup, I've been there.

Yup, I’ve been there.

Sep 072015
 

And so once again I take up the WordPress Writing 101 challenge.  Day 1 prompts us to tell the world “I write because…”  And so, with that, I am here to tell you.

I write because I always talk and think a lot.  I’m prolix and flighty but do manage to come up with the occasional bon mot or interesting thought.  I decided that I may as well get some of these down on paper screen.

I write because it’s good practice.  My job usually requires that I write, but in a very limited and basic fashion.  Most of my emails are two paragraphs long at most.  Most of my other writing is barely that but more basic copy editing of cut and pasted text from other instruction guides or manuals or memos.  I need to keep to keep this skill from atrophying.

I write because I need to keep my mind sharp.  My job is very detail-oriented, but in a narrow way.  If I’m to keep myself agile I need to put some of this ADHD mental energy that I carry with me to good use.  It’s like exercise for my brain.

I write because I like to make fun of people with vanity plates.

I write because…well, I don’t always.  In fact, the reason I’m taking this course over again is that I need to get back in the habit of doing it more often.  I must confess to being a gross hypocrite in this respect.  All the reasons I’ve given are valid and true, but I get lazy, or get uptight, or get writer’s block.  I need to write in order to push through these barriers.  Even if it’s crap, it will be better than not writing anything.

And that is that.  Day 1 is down.  Let’s see how I do for the rest of this exercise.  Good luck everyone!

Jun 232014
 

 Writing 101’s 16th assignment challenges us to imagine what it would be like to work in place where one would manage lost or forgotten items.  Here goes.

“What is that?” I asked.

“A loaf of bread.  What do you think it is?” my coworker Jordy (short for Jordan, a name he hated) shot back.

“I know what it is, but what’s it doing here?”

Jordy shrugged, “We’re the University of Pittsburgh’s Lost and Found Office.  We’re where lost things go.”

“Yeah, but a duck?  Isn’t that something that the city’s Animal Control unit should be handling?  The University Police, at least?”

“It’s like I said, we’re where lost things go.  And he is a lost thing.”  Jordy’s powers of logic were astounding.  “Besides, he seems like a friendly enough guy.  And his quacking is oddly soothing, don’t you think?”

“I…, well, yeah he is entertaining, and I don’t mind the quacking.  And we have had worse things dropped off here.” (Don’t get me started about the blow up dolls.  Just don’t).  “I guess we can hang onto him until his owners come back to free him or when it’s time for him to fly south or something.  He won’t be around for long.”

“Good, it’s settled then!  I’ll go scrounge up some bread for him.  Try to think of a name for him while I’m out searching.”  And with that, Jordy made his way down the hall of our basement office as he began his quest.  I turned around to get a good look at this mysterious mallard and started reeling off names “Scrooge?  Daffy?  Oregon?”  This was gonna take a while.

Three years later, Huey (yeah, we know,  we know) Jordy and I still work at Pitt’s Lost and Found Office.  Well, Huey doesn’t work.  But he is good company, and the ladies love him.  As work families go, we’re doing pretty well.  Here’s to the next three.

Jun 112014
 

Today’s Writing 101 challenges us to write about our observation of a public place without adverbs.  Let me see what I can do.

I went to the Midtown Scholar, a bookstore and coffee shop, after work.  Sometimes I browse the stacks to see if there’s anything of interest to me.  But most of the time I sit at the bar, drink coffee, and chat with the other regular customers and the baristas.  It’s my ritual and I go there almost every day; I enjoy the coffee and the company.

Today, I got dressed for 5K race and went over to grab some caffeine before it took place.  I had time and ritual is ritual and obeying its rhythms brings comfort.  It was quiet.  There were few customers and then one of the two baristas went on break to talk with a girl I assume is his girl-friend.  I sipped my coffee, bantered with the remaining barista, and watched the other customers come and go.  I ordered two refills, and then left to go to my race.

In short, there was nothing new, except for this one thing.  As I turned to glance out the store window and onto the street, I noticed a basket filled with books that were to be refiled.  And out of the tens of thousands of books the store contained, I saw this one:

ADVERBS - The Novel

I think this means:

  1. I have circumvented the rules of this assignment without breaking them, so, yay me!
  2. This has created a paradox that now allows this post to exist in a Schrödinger’s Cat quantum state.  This post now occupies all possible points at all possible times.  It’s a miracle that could lead to omniscience.
  3. I have created a paradox that has torn a small hole in the space-time continuum.  We are now doomed, and it’s my fault, so, boo me!

I’ll let you, the readers, decide.

 

Jun 102014
 

Today’s Writing 101 asks us to compare and contrast.  The title is literally “Give and Take” and so, I have decided to take the author’s cue.

Last Sunday a thin man of foreign comportment approached me and asked for me help.  It turns out that he had locked his keys in his car while it was running and was looking to get some in getting back into his car.  Luckily I belonged to AAA (the American Automobile Association).  I called, and in about half an hour a gentlemen showed up and opened his car.  Problem solved, good deed done, and all was right with the world.

Contrast that with me having to ask for help.  It was the beginning of 2006.  I had finished graduate school a year before and was having trouble looking for work.  I was working retail part-time and trying to hold on.  I was 35 and just getting by.  I also needed a new car thanks to a wreck that totaled my old one.  I asked for a loan from a local bank and was turned down.  My mother, God rest her soul, offered to co-sign for a loan.  I wasn’t in a position to refuse.  I got the loan and the car, but it was a deeply shameful moment for me.  Yes, I was in a tough spot economically, and yes, she was my mother, and that’s what mothers and other family members do for one another.  But I felt like I had lost face.  Receiving help was humiliating to me.

In short, the belief that has been ingrained to me, the contrast, is this:  If I give help, I am virtuous; If I take help I weak and morally deficient.  I speak only for myself here.  The gentleman who locked his keys in his car, for example, was in a dire situation.  His need for help was born of circumstance.

None of this is to say that pure altruism doesn’t exist.  It does, but it’s also exceedingly rare.  Even the fabled Golden Rule, which appeared consistently in every major world religion or philosophy, isn’t purely altruistic.  On the contrary, the exhortation to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is based on reciprocity.  It’s telling you to treat others generously because that’s the best way to ensure that you are treated generously.  Ethical and moral rules can often be difficult to follow in reality, but this rule is based on very practical assumption.

Still, there’s a power dynamic at work in many offers and acceptances that we don’t like to talk about.  Giving implies you can afford to be generous.  And again, this implies a degree of affluence and affluence implies being moral.  Needing and/or asking for help implies need, and need implies weakness.  And the weak can be exploited.  Asking for help makes us vulnerable.  We are beholden to someone else.  This doesn’t have to sinister, of course.  The patron-client relationship many prominent Roman families had with the follower was of great mutual benefits to the parties involved, but it did limit one’s options, and that can feel more than a bit claustrophobic.  It hampers our ability to act on our instinct to pull up stakes and move elsewhere, sometimes literally, to flee, when we believe it be in our best interests.  And none of this even touches how this dynamic ties into issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class et al.

Again, I’m not saying that giving help is never done out of a pure desire to aid another.  And it’s certainly not the case that receiving help is proof that someone is lacking in character or moral fiber.  But, to deny that giving and receiving help exists in a vacuum is to be dangerously naive.  Often times this giving and taking is bound up and continues to bind us to old traditions and established social order.  It’s worth it to go back and reexamine why you did or did not help another and why you did or did not accept help yourself.  The reasons may have more to do with old social habits than they do with actual need.  It’s a question worth asking.

 

Jun 092014
 

Day six of Writing 101 asks who’s the most interesting person we’ve met in the past year.  I’m sad to say that after wracking my brain for a few hours on and off that I don’t have anyone I can point to.  This must be one of the perils of middle age.

So, instead, I leave you all with this, the intro the Batman t.v. series from the sixties:

Jun 052014
 

So, Writing 101 bids us to write about loss.  I could get into some heavy stuff, but I prefer to keep it light tonight.  So, let me tell yinz about a mix tape that went *poof* just as it was taking shape.

It was the spring of 1991, and there weren’t no interwebs.  No sir, if you wanted to mix and match songs, you hadda go out and record ’em off of another cassette or CD.  You hadda work for it!  It took not only time and effort to record each song but it was often a challenge to search for and physically gather the music you wanted to record also.  It could take weeks.  As a result, it often became a challenge to build one that stood out.  Sure, you could just blandly copy a favorite release from a friend to save a few bucks or just slap together a few random favorites of yours, but that wasn’t very satisfying in the long run.  No, if you wanted something that would satisfy you and impress your friends and (hoped for) loved ones, you had to stretch your creative muscles and put a lot of thought and effort into it.

Now, one route was to build one based on a theme of some sort.  It could be, say, a mix tape filled only with songs that featured the saxaphone in them (something you don’t hear a lot of these days – R.I.P. Clarence!) or maybe your best-of alternative breakup songs.  Or, you could go for eclecticism.  The tape I was building that spring was headed that way.

It started with a trip to Washington D.C. with a friend (He would later become a roommate and in the process a bitter enemy.  But that’s another story.) I had made at WPTS, Pitt’s radio station.  I was working as a news reader and he was the news director.  We hit it off, and so I hopped a ride down to D.C. with him one weekend in late March on a road trip.  On the way down and back, he played a most excellently varied tape of his own.  It had everything from “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” to a couple of comedy bits to “Master of the House” from Les Miserables.  I was suitably impressed – and inspired.  And so, I got to work.  I shamelessly borrowed his tape to copy “Istanbul” and “Master” but then followed my muse.  I manged to find N.W.A.’s “100 Miles and Running” and included it.  Best of all, I managed to get one of my fellow radio station news readers (and also future roommate – also part of that other story) to copy the theme to Late Night With David Letterman.  I’m talking the original version that played to the opening of his NBC show, back when he was mean, bitchy, and awesomely hilarious in his own gonzo way.  That theme.  Oh yeah.  He had to go in a record it from the old, blocky 8-track type radio cart tapes onto cassette.  That was the icing on the cake.  I was on a roll now, I was putting together something special, it was lightning in a bottle.

Or so it might have been.  Joe asked to borrow the tape just before the end of spring semester in late April of ’91.  I agreed.  And that was the end of that.  I never saw it again.  I should have taken it as dark omen of that guy’s ways, too, but again, that’s another story, and I was young and naive.  Still, that loss hurt.  Sure, I would go on to make more mix tapes in the years to come, but it was never quite the same.  I never had the drive to craft something truly special.  My muse had left me by then.  I still mourn the loss of that tape, and now, in this era of digital music, it’s too late.  Putting together a song list isn’t the same.  What takes 5 minutes now could have taken, as I alluded, 5 weeks back then.  Farewell, oh fading ember of my youth.  You are gone, but never forgotten.

 

Jun 032014
 

And day two of Writing 101 presents a much easier challenge for lil’ ol’ me.  Specifically:

We’re all drawn to certain places. If you had the power to get somewhere — anywhere — where would you go right now? For your twist, focus on building a setting description.

So, where would I go right now?  I would go to Istanbul.  And no, I’m not gonna sing the They Might Be Giants cover of that song, tempting though it may be.

Building-wise, the first place I’d want to see is the place to see:  the Hagia Sophia!  Take a look at it – how could you not want to go see a place like this?:

Hmmmm, come to think of it, I need to start thinking about booking a vacation somewhere this fall.  I need a rest.

Jun 022014
 

A new month, a new assignment/challenge from the folks at The Daily Post.  Welcome to Writing 101.

Huzzah.

The idea for today’s assignment is to just take 20 minutes and write.  I wish I could.  But I’ll let you all in on a little secret:  I’m really, really tired.  Weary, even.  The worst part will be that I won’t be able to get to sleep in a few hours (it’s 10:17 p.m. EST right now).  Grumble grumble grumble, I know.  But still, this has been going on few a few days.  I’m starting to wonder if I’m not a little anemic right now.

A little context is in order here, I suppose.  I’ve never slept well.  I had night terrors as a young kid, and I’ve been a night owl for as long as I can remember.  I take Ativan (Lorazepam) to help me sleep most nights, and sometimes, oftentimes, it leaves me groggy.  Still, this is different.  Hmmmm, maybe I’m building up a resistance to the Ativan.  Maybe I’m dehydrated.  Or, maybe it’s something else.  I don’t know.  All I do know is that I’m a-draggin’.  So, take me Morpheus, and hold me tight when you do!  I need a good night’s rest!  Heck, I’ll even hook you up with some of that Tooth Fairy money I saved from when I was kid.  Well, ok, it’ll be my money, but who couldn’t use an extra $20?