Friday, June 29, 2007

Artists, Take Up Your Brushes, Your Pens, and Your Chickenwire (or Whatever You Use to Make Art)

I happened across Dana Gioia's commencement address to Stanford University's graduating class of 2007 courtesy of A1GirlRevolution. It's pretty stirring stuff if you are of a creative bent. And it should be pretty stirring stuff even if you aren't.

I've always been drawn to art (ha!). As a kid, I was all about the visual arts -- drawing, painting, photography, etc. The letters, well, they've always been there as well. But I was a pretty shy kid, and with visual arts, the rest of my class saw and complimented me on my wunderkind-ish abilities. With writing, I would have had to foist my scribblings upon them so that they could recognize my genius. And, well, I wasn't that bold. I am now, though (wink).

Where was I? Oh, right. When the opportunity arose in my ninth grade social studies class to write a research paper on a current event, I chose to write about Jesse Helms' zealotry in limiting the NEA's freedom to grant...well, grants. This was in the time of Robert Mapplethorpe and various other artists that Congress deemed too racy to subsidize. To be honest, I don't know that I'd fork over $500,000 for one of Mapplethorpe's photographs, but here's what my fourteen-year-old self and my thirty-one year-old self believe: his right to create it was incontrovertible, and it's up to the NEA, not Congress, to determine who should and shouldn't receive artistic grants.

And the reason I have this opinion? Because art was exciting, and controversial, and was making people think. At the time, there was a LOT of conversation about first amendment rights to express one's self through art. The debate took center stage on many a news broadcast, and many a news magazine.

And what do we debate today?

Whether or not Paris Hilton was treated fairly when she was tossed in the clink for violating the terms of her DUI probation. Britney Spears' parenting skills. Is Nicole Richie sporting a baby bump or does she have a distended belly since she's malnourished? Lindsay Lohan's substance abuse problems. Is Angelina Jolie a savior of disadvantaged children or does she have some kind of weird hording complex?

So, here's the thing. I don't think I was more engaged with the current events when I was fourteen. At my house, we received US News & World Report and US Weekly, and I read both of them cover to cover. What's weird, though, is that I know much, much more about celebrities now than I do about, say, the United Nations. But I'm reading the same amount of news, and I'm watching more of it courtesy of 24 hour news television. So what gives?

Clearly, celebrity news isn't a recent cultural phenomenon. The society pages were the precursors to the tabloids. The hoi polloi have often lived vicariously through the elite, so it's natural that we'd want all the bulletins about them. But celebrity journalism...well, it's supplanting actual news. It's not relegated to a column, or a page, or a section, or a publication. It's inextricably entwined with all news.

Dana Gioia's point is that artists could possibly generate enough of a buzz to make us stop the madness and talk about current events in a productive way. It's not like art is the answer to the world's ills, but if Guernica could still cause a bit of a scandal in 2003, well, wouldn't something from the 21st century generate some pretty interesting conversation?

Even if we don't use art to highlight tragic conflict and force the movers and shakers in world politics to have a chat about resolving them, we should still be more aware of art and literature. I'll leave you with this: Robert Frost was the US Poet Laureate from 1958-1959. Name one of the thirty-three poets who held the position after him. One. You can check your answers here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

You Ripped Off That Post? Really?

Every once in awhile, a blogger furiously posts about one of his pieces being plagiarized. That sucks when it happens. Of course, no one loves my stuff enough to rip it off, so I'm just intuiting that it sucks. So, one of the blog collectives that I visit regularly highlighted the plight of someone to whom this had happened. Within her post about the blog pirate, she linked to her original piece so we could all know what it was that was so very valuable.

Eeargh. It was a self-hating thingamajig about the myriad things that stink about being a woman. The things that earn the writer's ire are as follows:
  • Being stared at;
  • Having to always look pretty/cute;
  • Other women;
  • High heels, pantyhose/stockings, bras, jeans, bikinis/bathing suits, nail polish, etc.
She concludes with a paragraph about the advantages to being a woman, which include such treasures as, "Getting our way by flashing a smile or showing some cleavage," and "growing a child inside our bodies."

All of it is just so...ugh. Really? This is progress? Do women today really honestly believe that it is a requirement to look pretty? And wear high heels? And what kind of women are you friends, with, anyway? And the advantages listed are more misogynistic than the disadvantages. I'm not sure that I want to get my way by flashing a smile.

The thing that bugs me is that there isn't even a hint of irony in this post, or a glimmer of understanding that the author has some control in these situations. It's not like you're going to be fined if you don't wear makeup. You don't have to hang out with women who are going to talk smack about you. And you really don't have to be weirded out by guys staring. My guess is that if you're flashing some cleavage to get what you want, then perhaps you're inviting a guy's unblinking gaze?

Actually, the thing that REALLY bugs me here is that someone else thought the post was so awesome that she slapped it on her MySpace page without giving credit to the original author. Does no one understand that we do not need to conform to societal expectations of women? I feel like there was a bunch of cybersister high-fiving going on, without anyone questioning the author's contribution to her own disadvantages.

It's moments like these when I feel like a harridan of Dorothy Zbornak proportions.

P.S.: I'm not linking to the post 'cause I'm not really wanting a debate on this. And I'm a coward.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Benedict XVI Must REALLY Not Like the Way Italians Drive

I just saw that the Vatican has issued the Ten Commandments for drivers. This is not the first time that Pope Benedict XVI (or his staff, as the case may be) has had a hand in issuing warnings about road rage. No surprise, really, considering many citizens of his adopted country choose to ride around on what Eddie Izzard called an "f***ing hairdryer."

Hubby will not like knowing that overtaking is a sin. He'll have racked up a score of sins to report the next time he finds himself in the old confessional. Heck, he'll have racked up a score of sins by the time he arrives home from his afternoon commute.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Return of Opie and Anthony. Sigh.

No slight to Opie and Anthony, but I really dig Ron & Fez and was stoked that they were on the XM's Virus 24/7 during O & A's suspension. With O & A's return, Ron & Fez are relegated to three hours of live broadcast and three hours of replay per day. The remaining eighteen hours -- five live, and thirteen replay -- are all Opie and Anthony. I could listen to Ron & Fez debate top ten lists all day long, and in fact, I did during most of the last month. Maybe Ron & Fez could just get one more replay in there? Or do something like the Fastest Hour when they were on WJFK in DC? Please, XM? Please?

This Is All Wrong

I may not know many things... Wait. Actually, I do know many things. And one of them is that this song...

does not exist. It's from a fan's MySpace page. Can't be a dedicated fan if s/he doesn't know the song is called "Enjoy the Silence." Perhaps it's a clever way around piracy laws? Oh, except the other two songs on the fan's page are correctly titled. Do you feel the waves of anger that my fourteen-year-old self is sending across space and time to this poseur?

A Thirty-Something Milestone

Every week, I receive e-bulletins about my children which discuss milestones that each of them may be reaching (if they haven't already). There are all kinds of careful caveats to prevent ubër competitive parents from freaking out that Johnny isn't clapping yet or that Susie isn't participating in creative enough play, but it's been a pretty handy guide for me. More than once, I have wished that there was something like this for me and my thirty-something com padres. What to Expect: the Thirties. Or maybe, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Being in Your Thirties. I would totally buy that in a heartbeat.

This month's chapter -- 31 years, 11 months -- would go a little something like this:

You may start getting e-mails, phone calls, or other forms of correspondence from former high school and college friends and acquaintances. In some instances, they are looking for a Big Chill experience. In others, they are just starting to revisit what they've done with their twenties, and for many people, that means reconnecting with people who meant a great deal or shared intense experiences during that decade. In still others, they are revealing that they have been diagnosed with a serious health condition, and would love it if you could sponsor them in a fundraiser for research for a cure for that health condition.

Yep, I received one of the latter e-mails yesterday. I jumped into an Olympic-sized pool of empathy for the guy. He was always so much fun, very easygoing, and for him to have Multiple Sclerosis is just crazy. I'm glad he contacted me, even if it was via mass e-mail, and even if it was to ask me to pony up some sponsorship coin for a bike ride fundraiser. I'll be happy to do it. I just wish that I'd kept in enough touch to know this before he got to the stage where he was mass-emailing about it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Perhaps These Directions Are for Aquaman?

For reasons too long and tedious to go into here, I needed to know the distance between two teeny towns in northern Maryland. So, I hied myself on over to Google Maps and entered my start and end points. Imagine my surprise when Google returned a map that showed the starting point in the United Kingdom. Whoops -- I forgot to specify Maryland. That'll learn me. Of course, I had to know how Google recommended getting across the Pond. When I spotted it, I laughed out loud. Scroll down to Step #29 to see the source of my giggles.

Swim? Really? Not fly, or sail? And the time estimate -- 29 days to cover 3,462 miles -- requires a swimmer to chug along at about 5 miles per hour. The fastest swim time on record is just a little faster than 5 miles per hour, but that was only in the 50 meter freestyle. A human couldn't possibly sustain that speed crossing the Atlantic, ipso facto, Aquaman is the only fella who could use these directions. So, Arthur Curry, should you want to know how to get from Abingdon, England, to Pylesville, Maryland, I've got the directions saved in my Favorites.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bustin' Through Writer's Block

Any tips on how to punch through a sincere case of writer's block? I'm more stuffed up than my nephew after rolling around in some dog dander. And the blockage is on all fronts, baby. Chick-litty work-in-progress, blog, e-mail -- my keyboard might as well be a thirty-foot high Cold War masterwork of concrete and rebar. Can't get around it to do the work.

What's up with that? The WIP, well, that one's easy to explain. I'm at the tail end of it -- reworked the final scene and everything -- and all I really need to do is take an hour to read it, then hit the revision process. That's when I can take it like it's a wrinkled sheet and snap it flat to fold it up into a neat little package. Where to find that time to read and edit and rewrite and re-read and edit and rewrite, though? My goal is to have query letters out by my birthday. If I have a deadline, I can usually find inspiration to climb over or tunnel under my own personal Dark Tower of Fruitlessness. Usually.

E-mail's another story. With that one, I put a little too much pressure on myself to scribe something witty, or intellectual, or both. Usually both. Inevitably, I send something out that was written in a state of delirium with many, many errors. Not spelling errors, because I take advantage of spell check, as all writers using modern media should. My errors tend to be of the I-used-the-wrong-word or I-straight-up-forgot-to-include-a-preposition kind of errors. Just the type of goof that makes people smile and think, "Wow, she must have been really delirious when she wrote this." I hope. Oh, Lord, I hope people think that and don't think that I have some kind of learning disability that prevents me from noticing when I skip prepositions.

Writer's block on a blog, though...yikes. LtW is an online journal for me, 'kay? And when I find that I don't have anything to write about, well, I start to think that maybe I'm not engaged enough with the world around me. Shouldn't I be fired up about the news? Well, I am, but other people provide better analysis than I. So go read them, I think. Regardless, my niche is commentary on pop-culture for the under-forty set, but the stuff that's been going on there is pretty boring too. I know, I know, rehab and jail are pretty juicy topics. Yeah, for a Lifetime movie.

And the stuff that's going on for me personally, is sweet. Not a lot of conflict happening at the homestead, and conflict is the root of comedy and drama, yes? I s'pose I could talk about how the Boy is an exhibitionist and streaks around the house after a bath, but that's about as far as the story goes.

Blah. I'll figure it out. We've got a few events this weekend that usually provide some fodder for Ye Olde Blog. A dance recital and Father's Day -- let's see what happens, shall we?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Religion Rule

Know what gets under my skin? If someone asks, "What religion are you?" and the askee responds, "Well, I was raised blah-de-blah."

This happens on the radio all the time. Don't get me wrong -- I fully acknowledge that it's tough to answer an obnoxious question with grace, so the askee is at a disadvantage. I mean, someone only asks this question so that they can get into the mindset, theoretically, of the askee. Well, I've got news for ya: there's not a lot of ipso facto in the world of Catholicism. Many a Catholic deviates from Church doctrine on the finer points of birth control, charity, attendance, etc. Some would call this buffet-style religion (you only put what you want on your plate and leave the rest), which it may very well be, but that's a whole 'nother blog post.

So, we've established that I'm annoyed by the question in the first place. Then, though, my annoyance is exponentially increased when the askee deflects the question by providing only the religious affiliation of his youth. Just say, "I don't really practice anything," or, "I'm not comfortable answering that," or "I'm agnostic," or "I'm an atheist." It's okay to be these things, so don't hide behind former religious affiliations. And if you converted, state your current religious affiliation. Why's that so hard?

I'm Not a Playa Hayta

But seriously, I'm totally disappointed that Britney Spears isn't rocking her short 'do. (I know, I'm about a month late to the table on this one. The office is a little busy.) When she shaved her head back in February, the world was agog, thinking that she'd hit the jaggedy rock bottom of substance abuse or emotional distress, or both. Me? I had much respect for the girl. I thought she was playing the role of a modern-day Lady Godiva: a pop tart laying herself bare, so to speak, so that the masses could gasp a collective gasp and realize how silly we all are.

Would have made and interesting social commentary, eh?

But Mizz Spears has not appeared in public with her nubbly head. Nope. She must own a habedashery these days, because you can't pass a magazine rack without peeping her kaleidoscope of hats, scarves, wigs, and most recently, hair extensions. My opinion and four bucks will buy you a Frappacino, but I'm totally disappointed that she's not rockin' the Mia-Farrow-circa-Rosemary's-Baby style. If she went that direction, the buzz cut would be perceived as a rebellious statement against image, against fashion, against tabloid newspapers. It would have been her opportunity to show that she controls who she is, and that she doesn't have to rely on all the fluff and candy floss of stylists, hair, makeup and the media to paint her a specific way.

Instead, she covers it up. And by doing so, she acknowledges that it was a big ol' "Oops." Not a deliberate choice, but a mistake. She's only twenty-five, though, so maybe that'll change in time.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sweet Jeebus

A good argument for being Catholic, eh? To see the rest of the months, go here. I'm just thrilled that I know what I'm getting my mother-in-law for her birthday.

Monday, June 04, 2007

So THAT'S Where Bras Come From

I hit traffic driving into D.C. on Saturday night. Natch. The five-mile-an-hour slouch afforded me the opportunity to drink up the highway vista. The litter on 95 South was phenomenal: a bra, one of those push-up jobbies by the look of it, was dangling from a low-lying branch, slowly twisting in the summer breeze drifting by. Wow, did this stoke the fire of my imagination.

How did it get there? Did someone pack her suitcase really, really poorly and fling it on the back of a pick-up truck, and then the bra sprang free when the truck hit a pothole? Or did the owner toss it out of the truck in frustration? Or passion? Or both? Will it manage to hang onto that tree until a be-jumpsuited felon snatches it down? I mean, you see shoes and cups and cans and boxes on the side of the highway every day. But a bra? That was a first.

UPDATE: While Googling for an appropriate image for this post, I came across this site, dedicated to trees that bear apparel. Maybe that's what's happening on 95? Eh, probably not.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Sallie Mae Is Almost Off My Back

This weekend, Hubby and I will celebrate the 10th anniversary of having been graduated by Georgetown University (syntax is all for you, Matter-Eater Lad). Truth be told, we're not doing anything fantabulous to commemorate all the pomp and circumstance of our respective Bachelor's degrees. Just a brunch in the District with former classmates with whom we speak regularly, without the aid of university-sponsored alumni events. There will be nary a blue and gray balloon in sight.

Ultimately, I'm left wondering why I'm not taking this opportunity to pause and reflect on what's transpired in the past 10 years: marriage, children, death, debt, new jobs, lay-offs, taxes, education, bombs, houses, and discerning the best fix-it folks in town. I guess it's 'cause I'm not unique in going through these things. What am I going to say about them that hasn't been said? And who's got the time? I've got meatloaf to mix, a conversation to have with a friend who's stressing about some personal issues, and a couple of kids to shove in the tub before bed time. You would be AMAZED at how sweaty an almost-three-year-old gets when he's just kicking a ball around the house. The Boy may, in fact, have a glandular problem. Add having that checked out to the list of things to do in the next millenia.

But I don't feel like I'm living an unexamined life. Not at all. This blog probably helps. And having a spouse who helps me unpack emotional baggage is pretty handy too. Of course, it helps that I am a tower of good sense and emotional health. And ego.

Pfah. I guess I'm feeling like Debi from Grosse Pointe Blank:

"Everybody's coming back to take stock of their lives. You know what I say? Leave your livestock alone."