musings, rants

Repost: Hate my blog? Bite me.

Here’s a repost that was originally written on November 2, 2018. I’m reposting it because I still think it’s relevant, and because I have a stomachache. I’m waiting for my stomach to settle before I write fresh content. The featured photo is actually my very first passport photo, taken when I was two years old. It cause quite a stir when I finally canceled the passport in my 20s and picked up the canceled passport as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Today’s post is inspired by a blog post I just read entitled “Why I Hate Bloggers“.  It was posted on June 8, 2009 by Lisa Barone.  I don’t actually read a lot of blogs myself because, like Barone, I don’t really find most of them that interesting.  But, because I am myself a blogger, I am aware that a lot of people hate what I do.  I can’t say I really blame them for that, although I maintain that no one is forcing anyone to read a blog post.  If blogs aren’t your cup of tea, find something else to read.  Seems pretty simple to me.

Although Barone’s title is provocative, I could sort of identify with what she writes in her post.  She writes of a New York Times news article about people who were once fervent bloggers and eventually abandoned them due to lack of interest.  A lot of people put their stuff out there and expect to get a lot of comments and interaction.  When it doesn’t happen, they get discouraged and quit writing.  Sometimes people get busy in their offline lives and the blog falls by the wayside.

Other people find their blogs becoming too successful and it unnerves them when someone recognizes them in public.  I have been recognized in our local community, thanks to my travel blog.  Although everyone around here has been really nice, at least in person, some people can be total assholes, especially on the Internet.  When drama erupts, you learn that writing stuff for the masses has a significant downside.  (edited to add– since we moved to Wiesbaden, I’ve made an effort to stay out of the local social media and now mostly let people find my stuff. I no longer get recognized where we live now, and I prefer it that way.)

Barone writes that blogs fail because most bloggers are “boring”.  She resents bloggers who are boring because they give her “profession” a bad name.  She maintains that most bloggers write the equivalent of “their Christmas letter to Aunt Millie”, which not even Millie wants to read.  So, for that reason, Lisa Barone (at least in 2009), says she “hates” bloggers, even though she apparently is (or was) one herself.

According to the New York Times piece I linked, a lot of bloggers apparently thought they’d someday end up famous.  We’ve all heard the legends of people like Heather B. Armstrong, who writes Dooce.  I first read about Dooce on Recovery from Mormonism, otherwise known as RfM.  Armstrong is an ex Mormon who grew up in Bartlett, Tennessee, interesting to me because that’s where some of my husband’s family members live.  I don’t regularly read Heather Armstrong’s blog, although I can understand why some people do.  She’s wickedly funny and profane.  Dooce became a very popular blog and Armstrong was evidently able to make money from her writing.  Advertisers began to notice and she started selling shit on her blog, which generated more money.

I must not be like a lot of other bloggers.  Although I mostly like it when people read my blog, especially when they enjoy what I write, I have never had any visions of it someday turning into a book deal.  I have a friend who knows me offline and reads this blog who thinks I should write a book.  He’s often nagged me to write one, and has even told me he’d market it for me.  But I feel like a book should be about something of substance.  Also, I don’t like dealing with most other editors.  I know they’re a necessary evil, but sometimes editors don’t quite capture the gist of what I’m trying to communicate.  As long as I don’t have to write to survive, I’d rather not deal with them.

In spite of accusations to the contrary, this blog is not just about my husband’s ex wife.  It has a pretty broad focus.  How could I turn it into a book?  And why would I want to?  What if I wrote a book and it failed?  Or… what if I wrote a book and it became really successful, and then I had to deal with people like “Wondering Why” all the time, criticizing me for writing about subjects they think are “inappropriate”?  I do wonder who made those people the judge of what’s considered “appropriate” subject matter for a personal blog or a book.  Seems like “appropriate” is a subjective term. (edited to add– “Wondering Why” left me a very negative and critical comment about how “inappropriate” she thought it was that I blogged about my husband’s ex wife. I vented about her a couple of times and, if you look, you can find those reposts in this blog.)

Blogging, to me, is kind of like keeping an open diary.  Exciting things don’t happen every day, but writing is something I do almost daily to keep my mind active and kill time.  I’ll read something in the news and decide I have an opinion about it, but I don’t want to post my opinions on social media.  It’s mainly because when you post on social media, you invite people who want to debate.  A little of that is fine, but some people are really tenacious and don’t know when to stop arguing.  Or they get into fights with other people and it turns into a flame war, which quickly becomes annoying.

The blogging platform is better for me, because I can organize my thoughts into text.  I may or may not get any comments on what I post, but I’m able to put it down in a format rather than keep it in my head.  Sometimes my posts are like a letter to “Aunt Millie”, but sometimes they’re thought provoking and even helpful.  I have a few posts that are “evergreen” and continue to attract hits even years after I wrote them.  I get satisfaction out of seeing those posts succeed.  My travel blog, in particular, has quite a few posts within it that make me proud and are legitimately useful.  This blog, by contrast, is more where I dump my spew, some of which is “toxic”.  Some people come away with the idea that I’m nuts.  That’s nothing new.  Many people offline think I’m nuts, too.

I enjoy the process of writing and editing.  It’s like a puzzle.  I like to write a paragraph and find ways to edit it creatively.  I might find words or phrases I can omit, or come up with synonyms to words that might fit better or offer a different shade of meaning.  It’s almost like creating art.  I’m not necessarily a very disciplined person in most areas, but when it comes to writing, I can be disciplined.  I cut out unnecessary words and remind myself that readers appreciate brevity.

When I find readers who like what I do, it’s a bonus.  I’ve “met” some nice people through my blog.  I’ve also run into some real assholes.  The assholes tend to be people who read one or two posts and leave me scathing comments about how I’m a “bigot” or “crazy”.  I’ve even had someone accuse me of being a racist because I once used the word “savage” to describe uncivilized behavior.  My response was to post Dictionary.com’s definition of “savage”.  There’s a difference between calling someone “a savage” and using the word savage to describe certain behaviors.

I fully admit that a lot of people dislike blogs and some people assume bloggers are “vapid”, “whiny”, and “self-absorbed”. I can’t necessarily disagree with that characterization. Nevertheless, I’m one of the five percent of bloggers who continues to update regularly and has done so for over eleven years. Why? Because it’s something to do, and something that brings me satisfaction. I like to write stories and don’t have anyone to share them with, other than Bill. Bill works hard all day, so there’s limited time to share these things in my head with him. He’s heard most of the stories before, anyway. And… even my “crazy” posts about Ex are somewhat constructive if they keep me from mailing her Fecalgrams.

To find Barone’s post about why she hates bloggers, I Googled “People hate my blog”.  I found a lot of blog posts about things people hate about bloggers.  I understand why people “hate” blogs and bloggers, but what can I say?  Meh… hate me and my blog if you want to.  You’d probably feel the same way about me if I didn’t blog.  What you think of me is none of my business, anyway.  This is my way to make a mark on the world.  Maybe it’s more like a shitstain, but it’s all I’ve got for now.  I’m going to embrace the stench.

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memories, musings

Repost: Ghosts of writings past… and so-called fake news

I am reposting this article from January 24, 2017 as I reflect on some changes that may be coming about soon. Ever since I moved this blog from Blogger, my “income” from writing, such as it was, has dried up. I don’t mind so much, since I never wrote for the money, anyway. It’s just something I’ve always been compelled to do. But, you know, no good deed goes unpunished. I just think this is an interesting look back, so I am sharing it again, as/is.

For about eleven years, I wrote articles for a variety of online publishers.  I was like a lot of people, making a few extra bucks writing about what I know or about subjects that captured my interest.  I sold a number of articles and, for awhile, writing served as a steady source of pocket money.  Then all the content mills dried up.  Now I only write on my own blogs and make whatever Google pays me every few months after I earn over $100 in ad revenue.

Every once in awhile, I find old articles I’ve written on the Internet.  They are always credited to “contributor”.  It’s weird, too, because they always have a copyright sign next to them, even though I’m the one who wrote them.  Some of the articles that turn up include my own stories.  I’ll give you an example of what I mean. 

Many years ago, I remember reading an article about a celebrity who engaged in a practice commonly referred to as “chew and spit”.  I want to say it was Glen Campbell, but I can’t be certain, since I’m pretty sure I read the article in the 80s.  Anyway, I absolutely do remember that in the article, “chew and spit” was referred to as oral expulsion syndrome (OES).  Both terms refer to the practice of chewing up food and spitting it out rather than swallowing it.  
In the 80s, I was fascinated by the idea of chewing and spitting food.  In those days, I flirted a bit with eating disorders myself and was always looking for tricks to shed pounds while indulging.  Eventually, I mostly grew out of my obsession and completely forgot about OES, having never tried it myself.  

Then, maybe six or seven years ago, I was a featured health and wellness writer on a Web site.  I had to write three articles a week and was trying to come up with an original topic.  That obscure memory of OES suddenly popped into my head.  I scoured the Internet for articles about it and came up with only a few very obscure references.  Jackpot!

So I started writing my article, aided by the fact that I’d recently read Dolly Parton’s 1994 book My Life and Other Unfinished Business after a trip to a thrift shop.  That was during a time when Bill and I were broke and I was getting a lot of reading material at used book stores.  I’m sure at the time I read Dolly Parton’s book, it was long off the best seller list and most people’s radar.  But then, I was also writing book reviews on a site where I could even make money if I reviewed old books, as long as the review drew readers.

In her 1994 memoirs, Dolly had included a passage about dieting.  One of the techniques Dolly suggested was the practice of chewing and spitting, though she didn’t refer to it as such.  So I wrote my very anecdotal piece and quoted direct passages from Dolly’s book in which she recommended chewing and spitting.  I found information as to why this technique might be more harmful than she let on.  I added links from reputable health related Web sites.  Voila!  A new resource was born to be used and abused by the masses! Below is a passage from the article I wrote for Associated Content about ten years ago. My original text from that article is in bold.

Those of us who have been around awhile know that Dolly Parton used to be significantly heavier than she is today. Indeed, in the 1980 film 9 to 5, she was downright plump. But several years after she made that film, she lost a dramatic amount of weight and now sports a thin body to go with her famously large bosom. Parton doesn’t share too much specific information about how she lost the weight, other than a passage she writes on page 255 of her autobiography:

One other hint I’d like to pass on has to do with chewing. Our taste buds are only in our mouths, after all, and we don’t really taste the food when we swallow it. You can get a lot of the satisfaction from the taste of things you love by just chew, chew, chew, chew, Chattanooga chew-chewing and then not swallowing. “Wait a minute,” you’re thinking. “If I don’t swallow, won’t I have to spit the food out?” You’re right. “That’s disgusting,” you say. That may be, but what’s more disgusting? Spitting out food or being a lardass?

As Dolly Parton puts it, “If you’re going to lose weight, you’re going to have to eat less food” (254). According to her book, Parton believes that heavy people are heavy because they eat a lot and, while she agrees that exercise is important, Parton seems to think that the real trick to weight loss is to not eat much. But even as she encourages eating sparingly, she admits that eating is pleasurable.

After she passes along her tip about chewing up food and spitting it out, she adds:

I’m not suggesting for a moment that you spit up food. That’s very dangerous, but it doesn’t hurt to spit it out. I know for a fact that many stars and models chew and spit. The first time somebody told me that, I was so shocked I dropped a whole Styrofoam cup of chewed doughnuts.

I’m pretty sure I sold that article to the publisher for a paltry sum.  Then, a few years later, the publisher went under.  But that article and others I’ve written are still out there, attributed to “contributor”.  What’s even funnier is that I’ve found that article referenced in other places, or hacked up by people who are claiming it as their own.  In fairness to the person whose article I just linked, I suppose it’s possible that she also read Dolly Parton’s book and decided to write about chewing and spitting, too.  It just seems eerily reminiscent of what I had written several years before.  Besides that, Dolly’s book was twenty years old by the time this person wrote about OES.  

I guess it doesn’t bother me to much to know that a lot of my work is out there and I’m no longer credited.  I think I’m more amused than anything else, especially since that article I wrote about OES was hatched from a very old memory and obscure details.  This is not to say that what I wrote wasn’t factual.  I did do as much research as I could for the original article.  I would not have published it if all the information I had found were anecdotes or blog entries about chewing and spitting.  It’s just that my article wasn’t exactly peer reviewed or vetted by experts.  And now I see that information is being disseminated by others.  Maybe I’m partially to blame for “fake news”.

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musings

The joy of writing…

Another week done, one more to go. A week from now, Bill will be home and I won’t have to eat my own cooking anymore. 😉 I’m actually a pretty good cook. I just don’t enjoy cooking for myself and eating leftovers for days. I used to be a lot better at cooking for one. In fact, I used to enjoy cooking, even if it was just for myself. I was even paid to cook at one point in my life. Nowadays, I can’t be bothered. Of course, I miss Bill, too. I live a pretty solitary life these days. I don’t mind being alone, but being totally alone gets really old after a week. We’re now starting week three, and I am definitely over it. Good thing I have my dogs to talk to and give me a reason to get out of the house.

I never got around to posting new content yesterday. I meant to, but I just couldn’t think of anything earth shattering to write about. Writing takes energy, and sometimes I simply need a day or two to regroup. Sure enough, I got inspiration last night. Something happened that reminded me of why I bother to keep writing these posts.

I spent most of yesterday watching old movies. One of the movies I watched was a 1990 classic called Misery. I remember seeing that film when it was new. I was then a freshman English major at Longwood College. My friend and fellow English major Chris and I dreamt of being writers in those days. I had gone to Longwood thinking I’d get qualified to become a teacher, just to have something to fall back on in case the dream didn’t come true for me. Chris had gone in intending to be a plain old English major. Back then, Longwood didn’t offer as many majors or concentrations as it does today. If I were a student there now, I probably would not have majored in English. I probably would have majored in creative writing or maybe even music… but I digress.

What ultimately happened is that Chris ended up becoming qualified to teach. Conversely, I decided to forego trying to become qualified to teach. I realized that I didn’t really enjoy literature classes that much and didn’t want to have to teach English for a living. I mean, I did like some of the books I read, but what I really wanted to do was create. I figured there are enough mediocre teachers out there who went into the field because it seemed like the obvious thing for an English major to do. I have nothing against English majors who want to teach. I just realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. And, having taught English for two years in Armenia, I think I made the right decision.

Anyway, as I was watching Misery last night, I remembered all the time my friend and I spent in the computer lab at Longwood, composing our short stories and reading them to friends. We had so much fun, and those times brought us a lot of joy, if only because some of our stories were hilarious. Then I noticed something that, in the several times I’d seen Misery in the past, I had not noticed. Anytime you write something, you run the risk of pissing people off and becoming “enslaved” by worrying about public perception. Misery is an extreme and fictitious version of that phenomenon, but common bloggers like me experience it too.

The protagonist, Paul Sheldon, is a novelist who feels like he’s in a rut, writing the same wildly popular series about a character named Misery. Misery is making him miserable. He’s bored, and wants to branch into a new direction– find the joy of writing again. So he decides to kill Misery off and write another book with a different protagonist. But, before publishing his last Misery centric novel, he takes off in his Mustang during a snowstorm and has a car accident. He’s “rescued” by a psychopathic nurse named Annie Wilkes, who is a super fan of his Misery novels. She’s a great nurse, but she’s also batshit crazy. She torments Paul, forcing him to burn his manuscript because she doesn’t like it. Then, in a cringeworthy scene, she breaks his ankles with a sledgehammer when Paul tries to escape the hell she’s put him in. Paul is basically forced to write what Annie Wilkes wants him to write. He’s not free to write as he likes, and that is a special kind of hell for a writer. Maybe it’s even worse than having one’s ankles smashed by a sledgehammer.

While I was watching Misery, which I downloaded for a very reasonable $4.99 on iTunes, I noticed I got an email from WordPress. Someone had sent me a message through my contact form. The vast majority of people who write to me using the contact form are spammers, but I do sometimes get legitimate communications that way. And this one happened to be from the author of a piece I had read in The New York Times. I recently blogged about the piece, and the author was writing to thank me.

I felt compelled to write about Adam Barrows’ essay about falling in love with his wife, Darla, who had an eating disorder. I found his story fascinating, and I was dismayed by all of the negative comments he got from people who had focused on what I thought was the wrong part of the story. Commenter after commenter wrote about what a bad person they believed Adam Barrows was, because he evidently hadn’t encouraged Darla to seek treatment for her eating disorder. Many people were engaging in outright character assassination. I doubted that most of them had spent more than a minute thinking about what it would have taken to get Darla into treatment and the difficult position Adam was in, especially given that he was a young man at the time with his own psychological baggage to handle. It occurred to me that some of them also would have also criticized him for trying to force treatment on his wife.

As a fellow writer, I have a lot of empathy for Adam. Over the years, I’ve written about very personal subjects, some of which were controversial. Sometimes, it’s gotten me into trouble. I also don’t have a super thick skin. It’s thicker than it used to be, but I could definitely stand to develop more calluses. 😉 I commend Adam for submitting his story to The New York Times. That took a lot of guts.

I’ve noticed that, as our culture has become evermore enslaved to devices and computerized communications, people have become markedly less civilized. It’s very easy to sit behind a computer screen and judge other people. We’ve all done it. Maybe because I came along during an era when we weren’t always online, I don’t feel comfortable casually popping off sweeping judgments about people who reveal personal things about themselves.

It made me uncomfortable that so many people were calling Adam Barrows a narcissist, especially since they are total strangers and were basing their psychological assessments on a single essay he wrote for a major newspaper. I have had dealings with actual narcissists. The ones I’ve known would not have been capable of writing an essay like the one Adam wrote. Narcissists are notoriously shallow people, and they aren’t capable of much introspection or any empathy. Adam might have been guilty of being an enabler, and he admits that freely. But I didn’t think he was a narcissist, and last night’s thoughtful email exchange proved to me that’s he’s not one.

This isn’t the first time someone has sent me a note of appreciation. It’s always a thrill when someone lets me know I’ve written something helpful or encouraging, or even when someone thinks I’ve written something funny. Those kinds of communications are what keep me going, even if I don’t get them all the time. I don’t do this for money. I do it because life has led me to a place where I can be a writer. It’s something I feel like I have to do.

I’ve also gotten occasional nastygrams from people. For instance, a couple of years ago, I got a message from a woman who had lived in our previous house before us. She was upset about some of the things I had written about our living situation in our former house and basically insinuated that I’m a “bad person” for the things I wrote– which were really just my opinions and perspectives, along with some justified venting about the situation. She also mocked me for thinking of myself as a writer and for calling myself “creative”. She felt the need to defend her “friends”, not considering that I have the right to share my perspectives. No one was forcing her to stalk me, either. If what I wrote was that offensive or upsetting, she could have simply scrolled by, rather than trying to shut me up.

I couldn’t help but notice that she’d been reading my stuff for over four years, even though she’d apparently only been doing it to monitor and gossip about me with the ex landlady and her daughter. I suspect that despite her haughty, shaming comment to me, she wasn’t as “high-minded” and noble as she pretended to be. My guess is that she was upset that I’d figured out that she’s a liar and was worried that I wasn’t going to tolerate the abuse anymore. I don’t know if she experienced the same things Bill and I experienced. She’s clearly a different type of person than we are, and she claims she’s friends with our former landlady. What stuck out to me, though, was that she wasn’t willing to let me write freely.

She probably doesn’t know or care that what she did was very damaging and hypocritical. But that’s alright… because I survived, and again, she did consistently read for over four years. That tells me my writing must not have sucked that much. It clearly made a difference to her, and was obviously interesting– enough to compel her to send me a message, trying to censor me. It was a negative communication, but it wasn’t based on the quality of my writing. She was trying to shame and silence me. She wasn’t strong enough to leave me alone and simply let me have my say on my space.

Writing is an incredibly courageous thing to do. Making your voice heard is brave, because you never know how you’ll be perceived. I don’t know what Adam thought the reaction would be to his piece. Did he think it would be well-received in our super “woke” society? Or did he know that people would blame him for not trying to “save” his wife? Did he realize that many people would not understand or empathize with his situation? Was he prepared for the fallout? I wonder if he felt driven to tell his story. I’ve often felt like I had to tell my stories, even when they don’t go off well. I’ve taken some lumps over the years. I still write because that’s what I do– for better or worse. Some people don’t understand it or me, and they don’t appreciate what I do. I don’t write for them. I mostly do it for myself, but I also do it for those who are searching for something– information, validation, entertainment, insight… or whatever else that causes people to search Google.

In my original post about Adam and Darla, I related the reactions I got from people after I blogged about how my husband’s ex wife reminded me of Jessica McCord, a woman I saw profiled on Snapped. That post was up for months before anyone reacted to it. But when it was discovered, I got many negative comments from total strangers who had no understanding of our situation. It wasn’t the first time that had happened, but it was probably the first time I got really pissed off about it. I wrote a follow up post which was much better received. I even got a comment from a man who had known Alan and Terra Bates, Jessica McCord’s victims. He got it, and validated what I was trying to convey, which was really gratifying. He generously took a moment to try to understand my perspective and realize why I came to the conclusions I did.

We’re all in this world together. There are real people behind the computer screens. Most people who know me offline, don’t think I’m a horrible person. I didn’t get the impression that Adam is a horrible person. I don’t completely understand his situation because we don’t know each other. I appreciated his bravery in sharing his story. He and his wife are still happy together, and apparently, they’re both healthy. Ultimately, his story is a happy one. I simply wanted to point that out to those who were so focused on his wife’s mental illness and the way Adam handled it that they missed that their story isn’t a tragedy. Ultimately, what I think matters most is that they love each other and have made their marriage work. What other people think of how he handled things means a lot less in the grand scheme of things. They’ve obviously done something right. They’ve been together for decades.

Adam’s email made my day… I love hearing from people. Even the negative comments give me inspiration and material for the next post. I get joy from writing and learning new things. Maybe some people don’t understand it and think I’m wasting my time. Maybe some people think I should go out and get a “real” job. Maybe some people judge me for what I write and how I spend my time. I’m reminded, once again, that we’re all in the world living our lives from our own perspectives. Not everybody sees what I see, just as I can’t see what others see. So sharing that perspective is useful, especially for those who will try to understand and appreciate it. That’s why I keep doing this. And I want to thank everyone who takes a few minutes to try to comprehend my angles.

Incidentally, nineteen years ago today, Bill put an engagement ring on my finger. We were “engaged” a couple months before he put a ring on it, but it became real when he officially asked me to marry him. I wish he was here today to share some bubbly with me, and not just because I haven’t had any wine since he left two weeks ago. I miss him so much. Glad he’ll be back in a few days. When it comes down to it, I wouldn’t be able to write this blog if not for him.

Happy engagement anniversary.

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rants

“I think it helps us not to know each other…”

Tl:dr– Please don’t try to read my mind. It isn’t nice, and probably isn’t as interesting a read as you assume it is.

Back in 1993, James Taylor came out with his wonderful Live album, which was recorded during his 1992 East Coast tour. I was in college at the time, and a devoted JT fan, so of course I bought it as soon as I could. Over the past 27 years, I have gotten many hours of enjoyment from that album. I’ve seen James Taylor play live several times. One thing I’ve always noticed about him is that he truly loves to perform, even if he’s probably a more introverted soul when he’s not on the stage. Of course, I don’t know him personally, so I really don’t know how he is off stage. The truth is, even though I’m familiar with almost everything he’s done, we don’t know each other at all. I’m just a fan of his work, like many thousands of other people around the world are. I may feel like his biggest fan, but I’m probably not. There are most likely a whole lot of people who love his music even more than I do.

James made a quick-witted quip on his Live album, when an enthusiastic female audience member shouted out, “Love you!” to him after he sang “Something In The Way She Moves”.

You can hear Taylor’s quip at about 3:30.

His response was a deadpan, “Good.” Then he added, “I think it helps us not to know each other.”

I’m no “James Taylor” by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I make any assumptions that someone is going to declare their “love” for me at a concert, on a video, or in the comment section of a blog post. If someone ever did do that, it would probably really freak me out. I’m not comfortable with people who express that kind of extreme emotion toward me unless they are someone I know personally. And even then, it kind of freaks me out. I’m sure James Taylor has gotten used to those kinds of extreme declarations of love or disgust, though. Lots of people have told him they love him or hate him. That’s what happens when you put yourself out there. People tend to love it or hate it, and many of them have no compunction about telling you what they think.

Taylor’s wry response to his adoring fan on the Live album comes to mind this morning as I reflect on some of the feedback I occasionally get on my writing. Sometimes, I think people who are exposed to other people’s writing, music, art, or whatever else get the idea that they actually know the person who is presenting it. Sometimes they forget that an artist– for lack of a better word– is often a total stranger to them. They wind up projecting things on the person who presents their creative pursuits to the world. They make assumptions about what the artist is thinking or feeling at the time they created their piece.

This phenomenon was one quarrel I had with being an English major. As an English major, I was required to read different works of literature and write an analysis. I don’t think that was necessarily a bad exercise in that it taught me to look beyond the obvious. However, it always bothered me that I was supposed to look for things like symbols and hidden meanings as I tried to analyze a piece of writing, even though I could never really know what the writer was thinking or feeling when he or she wrote it. I got reasonably good at writing analyses of other people’s writing. I had to in order to earn the degree in English. But I was never particularly comfortable with it.

In fact, my discomfort with analyzing other people’s writing was kind of vindicated a few years ago, when I stumbled across an article written about the American author, Flannery O’Connor. The piece was about how, back in 1961, an English lit professor and his students were having trouble analyzing a short story O’Connor had written called “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”. The professor’s interpretation of the story was evidently pretty far off the mark of what O’Connor was trying to convey. He wrote this about O’Connor’s story:

We have debated at length several possible interpretations, none of which fully satisfies us. In general we believe that the appearance of the Misfit is not ‘real’ in the same sense that the incidents of the first half of the story are real. Bailey, we believe, imagines the appearance of the Misfit, whose activities have been called to his attention on the night before the trip and again during the stopover at the roadside restaurant. Bailey, we further believe, identifies himself with the Misfit and so plays two roles in the imaginary last half of the story. But we cannot, after great effort, determine the point at which reality fades into illusion or reverie. Does the accident literally occur, or is it part of Bailey’s dream? Please believe me when I say we are not seeking an easy way out of our difficulty. We admire your story and have examined it with great care, but we are not convinced that we are missing something important which you intended us to grasp. We will all be very grateful if you comment on the interpretation which I have outlined above and if you will give us further comments about your intention in writing ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find.’

Ms. O’Connor, flabbergasted by the professor’s interpretation, wrote back to him. Here’s a quote from her response that kind of speaks to me as I write today’s post:

“The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.

As someone who likes to write and used to do a lot of fiction writing back in the day, I never felt all that comfortable with some nameless person reading my words and making assumptions about what I *really* meant.  How can a person really interpret a writer’s true meaning if they don’t know the writer?  Sure, you can learn about history.  You can even learn a writer’s life story. But unless you are inside the author’s head, you can’t really know how he or she meant their work to be “interpreted” or even if such interpretations would even be welcome.  And if the writer was writing many decades before a reviewer’s birth, I would think the lens would be even more skewed.

Sometimes this phenomenon even happens to nobodies like me. Yesterday, I wrote about an experience I had with my aunt’s brother a few years ago. When I wrote that post, I was mainly feeling kind of amused. But I guess amusement is not what came across in my writing, because someone left a comment that indicated they assumed I’m still “mad” about that incident three years later. The fact is, I’m really not “mad”. I wasn’t even that “mad” when it happened. I would say I was frustrated and annoyed, but not necessarily “mad”.

When I think of someone who’s mad, I picture a person who is irate and seething with rage. That’s not an accurate description of how I was feeling then, or now. How I was feeling in 2017 was a combination of irritated, disrespected, and exasperated. But once that incident was over, it was over, and I completely forgot about it until yesterday.

I wasn’t feeling any of those negative emotions in 2020, either, as I recounted the story about my aunt’s brother in yesterday’s post. What I felt yesterday was mostly levity, particularly when I found that picture of the yellow truck with the words “Fuckin’ Hick” on it. If I recall correctly, that picture was taken by a friend of mine who was annoyed that the truck driver had parked his truck in her neighborhood. She was worried about property values going down because of the profanity. I was thinking about Bill driving on the Authobahn, being annoyed by another driver who not only was driving her own car, but apparently wanted to drive Bill’s car, too. 😉

Yesterday, I didn’t feel like writing about COVID-19 or politics or any of the other issues of the day. Sometimes, I feel like writing about something that doesn’t have to do with current events. When I was writing yesterday’s post, I was thinking of people who might read it and get something useful from it– for instance, the part where I wrote that “at some point, it’s got to be okay to be who you are“. That was meant to be a supportive statement for those who have felt that others disapprove of them in some way, and it was more of the main idea I was going for, rather than venting about being disrespected. But obviously, some readers missed the point. Perhaps that is my fault for not being more clear. Yesterday’s post wasn’t necessarily supposed to be a funny story, but I didn’t really mean it as a vent, nor was it an indication of how I feel right now or a sign that I’m still fuming at my aunt’s brother. The fact is, I don’t even think about him very much these days.

I will freely admit that I often hold onto some emotions for longer than perhaps some people think I should. I definitely hold grudges when someone is egregiously shitty to me. I think it’s because I was forced to endure a lot of bad treatment when I was growing up and there was nothing I could do about it at the time. As an adult, I’ve been learning constructive ways of countering that kind of treatment. There are only so many times a person can turn the other cheek before they finally snap back.

I used to be a lot more aggressive when I “snapped back”, but lately I’ve been trying to be more assertive. Assertiveness is not an easy skill to master. If you’re aggressive, you might be able to bully someone into compliance with your wishes. Assertiveness is a better, more respectful, more mature communication skill, but you run the risk that the other person won’t appreciate the respect and will either not respond at all, or will respond with aggression. I had initially tried being assertive with my aunt’s brother by politely asking him not to be a language cop on my page. That didn’t work, so I resorted to what some would consider “aggression”. Dropping f-bombs to someone who clearly hates them is probably considered aggressive by some people. On the other hand, acting like a language cop on a middle aged woman’s Facebook page is disrespectful and patronizing, and yes, that can cause a person to get “mad”.

While a Buddhist would likely tell me I would have more peace if I just said “fuck it” and let it go, that’s just not the type of person I am. I am a deeply flawed human being, just like everyone else is (including James Taylor). But I think it’s important for most readers to realize that they don’t know me personally, and it’s not helpful to project your interpretations of how you think I’m feeling. If you’re really curious about how I feel, you can always ask me and I’ll probably tell you. But please don’t assume you know and assign specific emotions to me. I consider that disrespectful.

I’m one of those people who doesn’t like it when people try to mind read, particularly when they are people I’ve never met. It makes me uncomfortable. Or, if you do want to assign an emotion to me, kindly keep it to yourself. Assuming that I’m “mad” about something when you don’t even know me is more likely to make me mad at you. But then, maybe you don’t care if I get mad. Most people don’t, which is why I ended up in that situation with my aunt’s brother in the first place. 😉

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complaints

Spies who love me…

A little mood music for this post…

Well… it seems that yesterday’s post about my disdain for the phrase, “please refrain”, was quite a doozy… It got lots of attention from some strange places. I’m also pretty sure that I’m responsible for teaching at least one German reader the word “minge”. Bravo to you for clicking the link and learning some slang!

It’s always interesting to see how people react to my posts, where my visitors come from, and what they click on. I have never made it a secret that I closely monitor who reads my stuff. I do this for a lot of reasons. The main one is that it helps me determine what is interesting to readers, which helps me come up with ideas for content worth writing. Based on yesterday’s post, I’ve discovered a few things.

Apparently, certain readers are especially interested when I “spill the tea” on me… They like it when I reveal things about myself. Some probably enjoy the irreverent nature of some of my writing. Some might genuinely wonder what makes me tick, and a handful may truly care about my opinions. A few folks like it when I write about women’s issues, true crime, and my disdain for Donald Trump. In fact, when people have asked me to write posts about specific topics, more often than not, it’s about true crime or women’s issues (in fact, I got one such request today). Most of the people who come back to read are here because they genuinely like the blog and want to read.

A couple of people are obviously just looking for dirt. I don’t assume that everyone who reads my stuff every day likes me. That was made quite clear to me about a year ago, although I knew it was going on well before then. I was just surprised by how boldly the offender came forward, how sure they were that they had the right to meddle in my business, and how certain that person was that their position was 100% correct (and it’s not). I was also amazed by their gall and hypocrisy, especially since I know they value their privacy, but they apparently have no respect for mine.

I think my book reviews are pretty cool, though I notice that I get less interest in those posts. Ditto to the rerun posts from my original blog. I won’t be adding all of them… just the ones that are “evergreen”. Quite a lot of my old content is no longer relevant– especially the stuff that was written before people started reading. I actually miss those days, when the vast majority of people who read my stuff were total strangers. That’s right… for the first few years of my blog’s existence, I didn’t promote it at all. It was simply a place to vent my thoughts. Now, to some people, I’ve turned into E.F. Hutton.

I’m flattered that people are interested in anything I write… although I know not everyone is reading innocently.

I’m glad to have real friends who read and appreciate my content, but I could do without the “looky lous”. I get that this is a public blog, so having “spies” and “stalkers” kind of comes with the territory. I have toyed with the idea of making my blogs private, but I see no reason why I should have to do that simply because of a few creepy people. There’s no need to punish myself and the people who don’t come here to fuck with me. It’s too bad that some people have no sense of decency or fairness, but I’m not surprised. Besides, life would be pretty boring if everyone liked me.

So now, I’m sitting here wondering if it’s worth my time, energy, and the personal angst to keep sharing this blog with the masses, especially since I know there are people out there who probably have this expression on their faces as they read…

Yeah… I see you lookin’… I see you hatin’….

Trust me. There are times when I wish I had turned out differently. I wish I didn’t feel compelled to write every day. I wish I had a knack for something more practical and less revelatory… maybe something that would make me some money. Writing can be lucrative. There was a time when I made $40 an hour writing from home– and that was years ago. I could probably make more today. If I had stuck with that career path, I could have had a very different lifestyle. On the other hand, there’s a reason technical writers earn so much. It’s not the most exciting writing to be doing, nor is it the most exciting reading for other people. But maybe if I hadn’t wound up married to a military man, I would have had a very different existence… and I would not be sitting where I am right now, pondering what I should do about the “eyes” who are obviously watching for drama and don’t have enough exciting things going on in their own lives.

I suspect the folks who have inspired this post feel that they know me better than they do, which I guess is natural enough, since there is a lot of content out there. However, I would like to remind them that we don’t actually know each other, and politely ask/warn them to stay out of my business (you’ll note that I didn’t write “please refrain”). If this seems like a cryptic request to you, then you’re not among those I’m addressing. I suspect the people who need to heed this request can self identify. I don’t think you’re going to find what you’re looking for in this blog anyway, so you might as well stop wasting your time.

My husband has an advanced degree in cybersecurity, so it’s been fun to share this journey with him. He’s offered me some insight into how this internet security stuff works. While I don’t have any desire to go back to school, I can see why people study cybersecurity. It’s a very intriguing field. Maybe it’s time I took a course or two myself.

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