Tag Archives: writing

Oil can for the my rusty brain

A short while ago, I wrote a post about feeling my life was lacking in intellectual stimulation.

My formal education ended long ago with a Bachelor’s degree, and while I remain a reader as well as intellectually curious, I could see that in recent times, I was looking more for entertainment than education. I don’t think that was entirely wrong – there are times in my life that I just don’t have it in me for whatever reason, to keep challenging myself. Times when just basically taking care of myself – and dealing with problems du jour or problems l’année – is enough.

I had slowly moved away from self-education. I no longer knew what I knew and what I didn’t. I was aware that math and science were pretty much gone, but overall I had no measuring stick. Was I losing my edge?

I started with taking two online IQ tests. The results of each were very similar – and let’s say I was happy with the number. My wits were still about me. I was going to take a third test to seal the deal, but never quite got to it. Perhaps my gray matter was taxed from all the exertion.

As a book and movie buff, I’m a regular at the library, but I now had a specific mission, and that was to ramp up the difficulty/challenge level of the material.

One of the places I began was a huge SAT book, complete with practice tests. I focused on the tests only – no ” brushing up” or “studying” for me – beginning with the language related tests, which are divided into two areas: Critical Reading and Writing. My scores were fine; Writing was good and Critical Reading was very good. Here’s my “cold test” answer sheet.

I wasn’t going to even bother with the math, but ultimately tried the math test too, and it was laughable. It’s not that I never did well in math – I did B-student okay – it’s that I quickly saw that the math SAT test was almost entirely based on knowing formulas, and those, save one, are now lost to me. Whereas the math on IQ tests, I realized, is more about reasoning and recognizing patterns – that I can do.

Despite being a lifelong reader, I can’t read as I once did. I’m restless, physically active, and often in motion. When I sit down to read, I’m often distracted; something on the page will start me to thinking, and soon I’m either lost in thought (no longer reading) or hopping up to to go do something. Because of this, I opted to focus more heavily on educational DVDs, choosing topics I knew something about or was genuinely intrigued by. There weren’t going to be no forcing myself into watching The Complete History of Calculus or Nuclear Fission and You (No, these titles don’t exist, at least I don’t think so).

Here’s where I began:P_20150215_151900

I got lucky; there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. I didn’t get around to the LSAT review before it had to be returned (and it’s not like I’m headed to law school; I was just curious what’s on the test), but otherwise I watched them. Some were better than others and I count titles I’d watch again.

I can only gush about the multi-part nine-hour America the Story of Us. The series, had it been on TV when I was a kid, struck me as the sort we’d gather around the TV set to watch. It’s beautiful-looking to start with – what they can do now with film and animation just blows me away. If history had been taught more like this in my time, I might have actually cared. The film relies heavily on riveting reenactments, and highlights historical tidbits I never knew. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the film since my credentials are slim but since it was produced by the History Channel, I generally trusted that they knew their stuff.

Throughout the film, there’s an emphasis on what WE did and how clever and forward-thinking WE were, but I knew they weren’t talking about me. I felt a little guilty sitting in my comfortable chair watching those people take on the British, or lay those ridiculous miles of train tracks linking East to West, or producing goods out the wazoo during WWII, or bringing water to CA through building the seemingly impossible California aqueduct. And all the people who died doing these things, not to mention so much loss of life in so many other ways – loss which would make things better not for those people, but for others to follow. Watching the film, I was struck by how much was accomplished in growing this country in such a short time. It’s boggling.

By the time the film moved to the waves of immigration, it was well along, and it was then, when they specifically mentioned and showed Northern Italians as among those arriving at Ellis Island, that I got emotional. My people had arrived; only now, in however tiny a way, could I feel part of the story.

The film packs a lot in, and can’t cover it all, but my criticism is that it’s too self-praising at the cost of passing over serious problems. The current state of crime, drugs, and race are left out. The issues immigrants and nonwhites face in this supposedly equal and class-less society are short-shrifted. Nonetheless, this is a film I’d watch again.

Memory of the Camps, a PBS film, initially begun but never finished by, surprisingly, Alfred Hitchcock, showed what are likely the most hideous, heinous footage I’ve ever see of the concentration camps. The footage was taken immediately after liberation. It’s shocking, even if you think you’ve seen all this before. I watched because I think it’s important and the discomfort – although that seems too weak a word – it causes me seems small a price. The thing is, this just wasn’t all that long ago, historically speaking. We can’t call it “ancient history” or say “that will never happen again.” Especially when we’ve already got a movement saying it never happened.

I could go on about the various DVDs, but I should probably curb myself for purposes of this post. Let me leave you with the next round I checked out, and the current one:

I have to say, lastly, two things. One is that I’m feeling a lot sharper, I’m thinking about things. And the second is I’ve noticed WWII comes up frequently, or at least regularly, in my selections; it’s like I keep coming at it from different directions. I think I’ve underestimated its role or place in modern culture/history. I really didn’t know a whole lot about it but I’m paying more attention now that it’s been turning up on the radar. I’m not about to become ANY kind of war buff, but it’s good to fill in blanks in my knowledge.

You know what? This has been kind of exciting for me. It’s good to be back in learning gear.


Signs that your neighbors may be a problem

Back in the day, I used to send out writing to magazines, trying to get pieces published. Mostly it was prose, either essays or humor, but at least once I tried to do something with funny little drawings I made. I even got an encouraging letter from MAD© Magazine, along the lines of “send us more stuff to look at,” which of course I did. If I recall correctly, they weren’t interested in the art so much as the ideas (it’s fuzzy to me now but I think their artists would have done the actual drawing if they’d been interested – which they, ultimately, sadly, were not). At any rate, I sent them a few things, and I think this was one. I still think it’s funny.



October 9, 2014

My blog is 6 months old. I want to thank those who’ve read it, who’ve commented, who’ve “liked,” who’ve followed, and who’ve anonymously added to my “stats” by stopping by, bloggers and not. Without you, without evidence there are people “out there,” I can’t imagine that I’d have maintained the interest to keep at it. I know myself; I’d have gotten frustrated/discouraged (more than the occasional why-am-I-doing-this mucky moment).

It really is a symbiotic relationship, something I didn’t quite comprehend before starting. What would be the point in writing a blog if no one read it? (Modern conundrum: If you wrote a blog and no one read it, would it still be a blog?) Before starting, I had a vague idea I’d have readers and they’d probably be strangers, but I didn’t have a clue where they’d come from. The not-knowing what would happen was the most nerve-inducing aspect. To jump-start the blog and commit to it, I even published several posts before telling anyone of its existence. That actually helped!

It wasn’t all that long ago in fact, that I read most blogs don’t make it past 3 months. That certainly got my attention (and I’m glad I didn’t know that before starting). Still, I know I have more in me. This blog is a fabulous outlet and I’ve developed a real affection for it. I love having a place to put what I have to say, to write. In this endeavor, I know I’m doing what I should be doing, what I am meant to be doing. Thanks for coming along. Let’s keep having some fun.

You too can have a blog! (well, maybe)

Before I started this blog I was kind of intimidated. Blogs and websites seemed mysterious. What did they look like behind the scenes?? Could a regular person understand? I didn’t really know anyone to ask. I also don’t think of myself as very tech savvy and I heard a bunch of words associated with them that meant zippo to me. Who wants to learn THAT? Booorring!

I feel, in the months since I’ve been here, like I’ve gone behind the curtain. Ohhhh. So this is what they look like. Let me show you around a little.

WordPress – the only blogging platform I’ve seen – is fairly user-friendly. I am going to guess that over time it and other similar sites, have become more so, which is fortunate for the likes of non-techie people. Behind-the-scenes is not as pretty, or colorful as I might like but it’s not bad. The posts themselves are written in a word processing form, with options to do things like insert links or italicize, assign to a category, etc. Thankfully, drafts can be saved and/or revised. There’s even a “Preview” button! Yay!

The main area in WordPress, the command central if you will, is called the Dashboard. I love that, the word itself. This may sound peculiar, but I have good associations with dashboards. It probably goes back to childhood and the mysterious lights and numbers and buttons that captivated a child (but couldn’t be touched). I also have good memories of sitting in a car talking – let’s go with talking for these purposes – listening to the radio and staring transfixed at the dash. I’ve always found them visually appealing. Sadly, the “dashboard” in WordPress looks nothing like the dashboard on a car [insert sad face].

There are also notifications for whenever someone likes or comments on a post, a list of followers, links to blogs followed, and blog stats. WordPress is decidedly fond of numbers. There’s a business-like feel to most of it, although a few auto-comments from WordPress are goofy and stand out in contrast to the overall vibe. They make me think someone in the 16 to 22 year old range is writing them. If I could, I’d be giving them a withering look in response.

I have no direct interaction with “management” if you will; WordPress doesn’t send me any personal messages. That said, they write articles geared to bloggers with advice or information. Also, they do change things around from time to time, without notice. That’s a little weird. If you preferred the “old way”, tough. For example, when I first started, I could post large photos, but that’s gone away, at least from my blog “theme” (the layout the reader sees that a blogger chooses).

To blog, it helps to have a knack for ferreting out information and solving problems. I generally like a challenge so it suits me. Without that inclination, someone would probably grow frustrated and/or bored with the mechanics of blogging. Luckily, there are forums available to ask questions, and they’re archived. I’ve never needed to ask a current question; when something comes up I Google it and invariably find an old answer.

While I’ve chosen a free blog (with ads I have no say-so over), there are paid options to upgrade, get dot-com added to your site name, or just to add fancier stuff, colors and so forth, to your blog. A blogger is not pressured to cough up cash, so much as reminded it’s a possibility.

The whole kit and kaboodle is definitely a learn-as-you-blog endeavor. For the first two months I wrote this blog I thought a small headshot of me was displayed on it. Come to find out, only I could see it. In the early months, I’d find something, a way to accomplish a task, and later not be able to find it again. The right hand side of my blog, that you, the reader, can see, with its lists of categories, recent posts, and tiny calendar, are all things I selected to put there (from a list of options). They are called widgets, who knows why. I can make ’em disappear too!

I have my limits. I don’t really need or want to become a WordPress savant. I’m here to write above all else. The mechanics are secondary. In the end, the prose is what matters.

Old writing: keep or toss?

I’m thinking about how much I’ve written on this blog in its fairly short life. When else have I written like this? The other comparable time I suppose was in college when I wrote stacks of papers for classes. I recall very distinctly thinking the two keys to academic success were the ability to memorize – oh baby could I memorize! – and the ability to write.

My game plan was to get good grades in order to get scholarships and grants – no loans – so that I ultimately graduated from a state college with no debt, which now sounds bizarre even to me. I had no job lined up and floundered about doing half-assed part-time jobs wellllll below my abilities, having nothing to do with my nice Liberal Arts Bachelor’s, for some subsequent time, so it’s a good thing I had no debt. [Insert ironic face.]

Because I’d put so much work into producing them, what with all the research, editing, and re-writing, I hung onto those papers long after graduation. I started to whittle away the pile gradually. It is hard to let go of anything you’ve put a lot of effort into, no matter what it is (you can quote me on that). But it’s not like a publisher was going to be clamoring to publish them, or anybody else was likely to take an interest. Hell, even I wasn’t so gung-ho to go through them. Yet I did, tossing most in the end. Did I save one or two? I think so, but the overwhelming bulk hit the recycle bin.

I’m not sorry. I don’t miss them. They served their purpose in their time. Old college papers helped get me a debt-free degree, which I’ll always have. I didn’t need the actual papers any more. The writing I’m doing now – here – is very different. It’s exactly the kind of writing I need, WANT, to be doing now.

Hired for a writing job (or so I thought)

Some years back, at a point when I was putting effort into getting paid work as a writer/editor/proofreader – and had a little success although nothing major – I answered an ad posted by the local university for a full-time contract job that featured writing, among other duties. I was excited. It sounded good. It was a while before I received a response to my submission, but I was interviewed and got the job.

Once on the job, I couldn’t help but notice I wasn’t doing any writing. Still, I tried to tell myself that occasionally reading documents written by people for whom English wasn’t a first language, must be what they meant by proofreading. Right? Right? How far we stretch sometimes to make situations conform to the ideas in our heads.

The work I was actually doing was generally monotonous and involved their database. The department head who hired me was fairly absentee and I was mostly dealing with another member of the staff. This person was initially helpful and knew I was smart; however I’d get my work done fast and come looking for more and I think that may have started to perturb him a bit, as his face and body language suggested less than thrill at the sight of me at his door. So why was I there? I eventually said something about writing, and the staffer “admitted” that this wasn’t that job. Turns out another department had posted the writing job ad and hired someone. THEN, the department I was apparently now in, lazily [editorial comment] asked for the stack of leftover resumes to find someone for an entirely different position in their department. They’d screwed me basically. Misrepresented the job. I don’t think they ever planned to tell me (let’s all say sucker). Now I understood at least why there’d been such a lag between when I applied and when I heard back.

Should I just have been happy to have a job? To have been the one they chose? A job that wasn’t working on an oil rig or cleaning streets? To a point, I can see that. But only to a point. I loathe being lied to, cannot stand it when situations are deliberately misrepresented. Do that to me, and you’ll never get my trust back. So what, right? Everyone is all busted up about that, yes? They’re crying rivers, surely [insert irony face]. Doesn’t matter though, because I know the person, job, or situation that loses my trust and subsequently the benefits of all that I can bring to the table, is missing out. Don’t think this is sour-grapes-“I’ll-show-all-you-stupidheads”-whining (even though they ARE stupidheads). There’s actually something to it. It’s been proven out numerous times by how many people and jobs still want to, and think they can, keep me around after they’ve screwed me over, and not in the pleasing way.

Nearing the end of the contract, there was squat for me to do, so I was given fake work and left alone in a big room to wile away the looonnnng hours. (My mantra? If I am going to sit around and do nothing, I want to do it from the comfort of home. Where my refrigerator lives.) I hate it so much, that the money, whatever it is, seems not anywhere near enough. In a case like this, where I’m not a permanent employee, I couldn’t pass time hanging out with co-workers, chatting or otherwise fooling around. I had to look busy. (Why bother? I hoped a) for a good reference and b) that I might find future writing work, which I learned existed, in the larger structure.)

I’ve learned over the years, the hard way, in permanent positions and not, that offices won’t necessarily let you go when there is nothing for you to do, because they need to justify how much funding they get from higher-ups. Nobody says, “Make the cuts on our division. We don’t need all these employees and you can chop our budget in half while you’re at it.” Some people don’t mind being the supposed beneficiaries of office politics like these. I do mind. I don’t want to be somewhere I’m not needed, minimally. That’s not going to be a joyful environment to work in, not for somebody who invests in whatever they do.

Remember what I said above jobs/people still wanting me after they play me sleazy? The head of the department, having heard or possibly seen good things about my work, remembered I existed long enough to offer me another, better-paying job following this one. It was the first time the department head had a conversation with me since I’d been there, and it was largely a time-consuming monologue, featuring more personal tales about them than job description, let alone anything about me or what I wanted. From as much as I could discern, the job would have been a miserable fit, still in that department, and still not a writing job. These people had played their hand. I did not take the job.