Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Next Blog Zone

Call me the eternal optimist, but I thought I'd click on blogger's "next blog" button and find something entertaining and once again all I could find were an endless series of blogs that hadn't been updated since 2010. And most of them began with either an apology for not posting for awhile or a resolution that they were going to commit to posting at least once a week. What added insult to injury to all of this was that some of the dead blogs had hundreds of followers. I have 27 and I've been posting for ten years consistently.

The only up-to-date blog I found seemed to be an ongoing essay on archetypes that held me riveted for at least a paragraph.

This is a perfect example of why the Web needs a good purge. If you give up on your blogging, at least have the decency to pick up after yourself and delete your failure.

Maybe they should require a license before you are allowed to start a blog. First no one under 30 should be allowed to have one.  Anyone under 30 should simply be handed a My Little Pony Diary and sent on their merry way to write in it. Anyone over 30 should then have to take a test to get a license to blog. Questions could include:

1) Can you translate this sentence:
f u cn knw h2 read dis thN u cnt B trusted 2rite a blog. u nd 2B abL 2rite n en.
(If the person can translate it, then they aren't qualified to write a blog because they spend too much time texting and are contributing to the demise of the English language.)
2) Do you plan to use your blog for showcasing your poetry?
(If the answer is yes, than the person would be denied a blog because I really don't like poetry, especially amateur poetry)
3) Do you plan to use your blog to document the day to day life of you, your family, your pets, your plants or your hobbies or your shopping or eating habits?
(If the answer is yes, than the person definitely wouldn't be allowed to blog for obvious reasons).
4) Have you ever included a end of year newsletter in any card you have sent out during the holidays?
(If the answer is yes, a blog license is denied)
5) Do you plan to blog about any religious topic or a cult you are involved in? (If the answer is yes, the applicant is told to go to hell.)
6) Will you use your blog to get back at someone or some thing you believe has wronged you in some way at some time in your pitiful life?
(Say no, or go. Blogging ain't for hating. It's for a reasonable amount of appreciating.)
7) Do you plan to use your blog to sell something?
(See question 4.)
8) Can you actually commit to posting on your blog at least once a month without apologizing about not posting, committing to writing in your blog regularly or reposting some inspirational quote you found on Facebook?
(If the answer is yes, than you get your blog license).
I think this would weed out the riffraff from the blogging world and make the "Next Blog" button a bit more fruitful.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Death of a friend

In August, it would have been 17 years since I adopted my cat Bailey. I first met her in a small pet shop in a strip mall in Shoreline. The local PAWs occasionally would put kittens in the store for adoption. She was this tiny spec of a kitten. They had named her Beta. I changed it to Bailey because she actually seemed to be more of a dark chocolate color than black and reminded me of Bailey's Irish Creme.

I had an older cat at the time named Cuervo. He was an orange tabby who I'd also adopted from PAWs. He took to Bailey quickly and they played together.

Bailey slept upstairs with me in the early years. She had this incredibly loud purr for such a tiny little thing. And she liked to sleep up near my face. In a half asleep state I accidently brushed her away from my face one night and her claws gripped onto my arm to prevent her from falling out of the bed. I woke scratched and bloody.

Cuervo died within a few years of me bringing Bailey home. He died of kidney failure after I found him bleeding out of the nose outside my house. I rushed him to the vet and he died overnight. I buried him in the backyard of my Shoreline house.

Bailey became the lady of the house. She never grew very big. She was always as light as a feather. I would sweep her up and hold her in one hand, then cradle her in my arms like a baby. She always had this serious expression on her face.

She was a hunter. She would bring in mice, moles and one time even a snake. She also defended her territory. One time I watched out the patio door as she chased a large cat through the yard and leaped up to swat his butt as he vaulted over the fence.

She was an outdoor cat for much or her early life. She used a cat door and came and went as she pleased. At night she would sit with me in my easy chair as I watched television. She was my companion for many years as I lived alone.

When I married and combined households, Bailey had to deal with two other cats that never did like her. When we moved Bailey became an indoor cat and spent much of her time shut away in our upstairs bedroom to keep her from being attacked by the other two cats.

The same was true when we moved yet again to our current house.

I am ashamed to say that I stopped giving Bailey much attention after we had children. I fed her and cleaned her litter box, but my focus was on our children.  The cats became more of a irritation than the babies they had been to both my wife and I.

Still at our current house, Bailey never seemed to change. It wasn't until I did the calculation that I realized how old she was getting. She slowed down and slept most of the time, but she still was able to jump up on the bed and run from the other cats as need be.

In the past few months I noticed that her hair was getting matted as if she wasn't grooming any more. I just attributed it to old age. Then I noticed her eating less and less and drinking more and more water. She lost energy and no longer seemed to be able to make it up on the bed.

We took her to the vet thinking it was old age. The blood and urine tests indicated kidney failure.

She was pitifully weak for the last few days while we waited for the results of the lab tests. I sat with her and stroked her matted fur, murmuring apologies.

And on Friday evening, I held her for the last time as the vet euthanized her.  It was the first time I have ever had to have a pet put to sleep and I am wracked with guilt and remorse.  I am ashamed of the emotional neglect I am guilty of.  And the ultimate pain was holding her while her life slipped away, telling myself it was to free her of the pain.

One of the hardest parts of this has been trying to explain death to my children. My daughter particular has taken it hard and has been telling me how much she misses Bailey and asks where she has gone now that she has died. I have no good answer. Not being a religious person, I don't have a strong believe in an afterlife. I'd like to think that she is in a better place. But I fight with the rationalization that humans have created the belief in an afterlife soon after they were faced with the reality that everything dies. Belief in an afterlife helps stave off the sobering reality that we all end.

I did tell my daughter what I told Bailey in her final moments, that she would always be in my heart. And perhaps that is where the better place lies.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Immortal posts

All of the blog experts say that you need to post on a fairly regular basis to boost your blog traffic. I have not found this to be particularly true. My blog traffic stays pretty consistent at 80 to 100 page views a day whether I post or not. This is largely due to people surfing for random things and landing on some of my archive posts from 2006. Or it is due to whatever Internet trick spammers are using that directs people to my blog from Russian and Turkish Web pages.

The beauty of this is that I get the false feeling of security that about a 100 people a day read my blog regardless of whether I post or not. Shoot since I've posted well over a 1000 posts in the almost ten years I've been blogging, I could die today and I'd still be getting hits on my blog for decades to come.

For some reason it reminds me of the speed of light (which I learned in 4th grade was 186,000 miles per second). Why does the possibility of my blog posts reaching people years after I'm dead remind me of the speed of light, you ask? Because the light we see from stars at night has had to travel so far (even at 186,000 miles per second) that we don't see it until years after it left its source. We are in fact seeing many stars now that died long ago. But their light is just reaching us.

A stretch, I admit, but fascinating never the less (at least to me). So as long as Google doesn't go belly up and dump all of their servers, my posts could very well drift through the Internet forever. So my blog, in a sense, makes me immortal.

This is kind of scary when you think of the volumes of crap floating around in cyberspace that in essence will never go away. I mean, it's not all quality material like I produce. I wonder if at some point the expanding universe of data on the Web will explode or implode like a reverse big bang theory. What will happen to all of the videos of cats on trampolines and foodie posts about Denny's Baja Moons Over My Hammy? Could they mutate into something worse than Facebook or, gasp, Twitter?

Maybe it's time that someone figured out a way to give it all a big flush and send all of the crap on the Web to a treatment center somewhere in the cloud. Then we can all start from scratch. I call this theory, Blog Rasa.

A man has to dream.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reading me my writes

No, it's not a typo. "Reading me my writes" is one of the few play on words that I Googled that someone else already hadn't used. The other one was "the last will and writes," but it seemed a bit to morbid to joke about (though "last writes" is the name of a funeral home software package). I tried "writing a wrong," and "two writes don't make a wrong," but many have used them before.

I couldn't use "mineral writes," either because that is the name of the quarterly newsletter of a company that sells calcium carbonate as a feed supplement (nice to know they have a sense of humor about it.  And "writes of passage" has been used ad nauseam. So has "bill of writes."  "Write handed" has been used. "Write thing to do" is taken as is "pagan writes." Don't even bother with "write stuff" and "write on" (which incidentally was the title I came up with for my 9th grade creative writing book back in 1972).  Even "upwrite," "outright," "write now"  and "write here" have been used. And god help us all, so has "divine write" and "do the write thing."

I thought I'd beat the system with "creative righting" but sure enough someone has used it. And they've used "cursive righting," but I'm not sure they know they were being clever. Same with "righting a letter" (which used on purpose would be a great name for an editing company).

So once again it becomes evident that there is no such thing as a original idea, just variations on a theme. And it illustrates to me the dangers of trying to be smugly clever. Word play is a dangerous game to dabble with and shouldn't be engaged in by "half-writes" (ha, ha, ha, ha...)

Though I stake my claim as the first person to use "reading me my writes" on purpose and not because I'm too ignorant to know the difference between "rights" and "writes." And I'll keep "last will and writes" for my final blog when I'm on my death bed. It's my write (been used).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

No longer after me lucky charms

I watched Disney's new film Maleficent one and a half times this weekend. The half being that the projector broke down half way through watching it the first time and I had to bring my family back the next day to find out how it ended. Spoiler alert: It had a happy ending, but as in Disney's last few films, it had nothing to do with a prince sweeping in to save the day.

I applaud Disney for finally creating strong female characters who don't need no stinking man to sweep them off their feet and rescue them.  I especially applaud this since I have a daughter and I want her to go to college and have a successful career before getting distracted by any prince (hopefully sometime after I've kicked the bucket).

Though I am a bit concerned about the lack of any good role models for boys in the Disney films. All of the men in Maleficent (with the exception of the crow that Maleficent turns into a man so I don't think he counts) were pretty much portrayed as violent, greedy, selfish liars who treat women poorly. Even Prince Charming is portrayed as a wimp and a lousy kisser (so lousy in fact that his kiss can't awaken Sleeping Beauty and he is berated by some fairies for his lack of technique...I think there is definitely some therapy in his future).

It always seemed a bit creepy anyway that a Prince would stumble on a presumably dead girl (in both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty) and proceed to kiss them. I think this is against the law in most states (except maybe Arkansas and Kentucky).

But I digress.

The closest thing I ever came to being a Prince was playing the Pauper in a sixth grade production of Prince and the Pauper. Ironically the part of the Prince was played by a girl in my class named Gail Six.

I always resented the fact that Disney Princes were consistently classically handsome, athletic and rich. They would slay dragons and kiss dead Princesses who would wake up and ride off with them to castles to live happily ever after. I was never handsome, athletic nor rich. I did, however, get good grades. But none of the Princesses in Disney ever asked the Princes what their GPA was. In fact, the only Prince I recall that read books was the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. He was ugly albeit and snappy dresser, but turned into a classically handsome, athletic and rich Prince once he and Belle kissed.

I don't think I ever wanted to be a prince anyway. Even Prince didn't want to be Prince anymore as was evidenced when he changed his name to a symbol. It's very stressful to be expected to ride in on a white horse and rescue damsels in distress. In reality, damsels in distress don't want you to "rescue" them anyway. They just want you to listen to them and not try to fix everything. This is a hard lesson to learn. Because I, like many men, grew up hardwired to try and fix problems, usually with duct tape.

I suppose the moral of this blog post is that when you wish upon a star, doesn't matter who you are, you still have to deal with the reality of life. People can't rescue you. You have to create your own happiness.

Oh, and don't kiss dead people thinking they'll wake up. That's just wrong on so many levels.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Connections: the Eight-Foot Bride

I was binge watching TED videos again the other night and watched one talk by musician Amanda Palmer called, "The Art of Asking." Palmer was  the lead singer, pianist, and lyricist/composer of the duo The Dresden Dolls.  She later launched her solo career after dumping her record label and using Kickstarter to crowd fund one of her music projects.

That's what Palmer's TED talk was about: artists becoming comfortable with freely sharing their art and asking for help instead of selling it. And what helped Palmer develop her own art of asking was five years as a street busker known as the 8-foot Bride. She used to painter her face white, don an elegant antique wedding gown and stand on a crate in city squares. When a passerby dropped money in her bucket or hat, she would make eye contact and offer them a flower in return.

It was those years of making contact with strangers that Palmer says helped her develop her rapport with her audiences as a musician.

Although I found Palmer's TED talk fascinating, it was her story of being the 8-foot Bride that caught my attention. When she flashed a photo of herself dressed as the bride, my mouth fell open. Fifteen years ago, I spent a week in New Orleans to celebrate my 41st birthday. I was alone and at a point in my life (middle aged) where I wondered what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I spent days just wandering around the Quarter listening to street musicians and people watching.

And while passing through Jackson Square I spotted this amazing street performer dressed in a vintage wedding gown standing as still as a statue. I put money in her bucket and she came alive, made eye contact and handed me a flower.

I remember feeling the brief connection Palmer described in her TED talk. Then I snapped several photographs using my 35mm SLR camera (digital had yet to catch on). When I returned home and had the film processed, I discovered that the back of the camera had popped open briefly exposing some of the film. The shots of the 8-foot Bride had the film brackets burned into them. But rather than ruining the shots, it gave them this artistic feel that I really liked.

I ended up printing the image at the top of this post and framing it. It has been displayed in my home for years and is one of my favorite images. It has always reminded me of New Orleans and that point in my life. Years later, when I returned to New Orleans, I looked for the 8-foot Bride. But she had been replaced by other living statues.

I wondered for years who the person behind the white paint was. I romanticized that it had actually been a spirit who I had had an encounter with and captured on film. And then I saw Amanda Palmer's TED talk. Though I was a bit disappointed I hadn't encountered a ghost, I was fascinated that I had actually met Amanda Palmer.

I think my story is a testimony to that connection Palmer talks about in her TED video. I was so moved by my encounter with the 8-foot Bride 15-years ago, that I've displayed the photo in my home since. Her art became my art.

Amanda, I thank you for that. Your art touched me.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Happy Daze

How many times have you heard someone say (or heard yourself say), "I just want to be happy." And by wanting to be 'happy,' I am not referring to one of Snow White's seven dwarfs. Even the Declaration of Independence says life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are our god-given rights. But the key word here is 'pursuit.' Happiness isn't our god-given right. Chasing after it is.

As usual, this train of thought was prompted by a documentary I watched the other night on Netflix about happiness.  People from various places were interviewed about happiness. And sure enough being happy is universally accepted as priority for people no matter what country you stem for. Though what people need to be happy seems to vary greatly. Many of the young people they interviewed in the USA said that happiness was a priority, but they equated getting a good, high paying job with happiness.

A man who pulled a rickshaw in Calcutta was interviewed and he seemed extremely happy even though he lived in shack with walls of black plastic. He was, in fact, happier than most middle class Americans living in ramblers and driving 2.3 cars. There was also a surfer in his 60s living in Rio who only needed a good wave to make him happy. He was also happy nursing baby birds that fell out of trees near the beach shack he lived in.

The consensus of the psychologists interviewed in the documentary was that having a good social network (again, not Facebook) and engaging in things you enjoy doing were more likely to make you happy than acquiring things or laurels. But they did point out that neither a state of happiness nor a state of misery were necessarily sustainable for long periods of time. It's kind of like when the Seahawks won the Superbowl. Everyone here in Seattle was ecstatic for a few weeks. Then one day I was driving with my five year old son and he asked me, "What's with all the Seahawks stuff still up?" I replied, "They won the Superbowl!" He pondered that for a moment and said, "But that was weeks ago."

There have actually been studies done that have shown that in some cases having something tragic happen in your life could actually lead to happiness. Case in point was a story of a woman who had been a debutante and a beauty queen in her youth. She married a successful rancher and had children and was very popular in her community until one day her sister accidentally ran her over with a truck and dragged her several yards. She was horribly disfigured and endured many painful operations, but never regained the beauty she once had. Her husband divorced her. Sounds terrible, but the woman came out of it, met a man who loved her for her inner beauty, remarried and is living a much happier life. I'd say she was happy as a clam, but I don't want to open up that can of worms.

Psychologists also pointed out that, although material things and money don't necessarily lead to happiness, being happy can often lead to being more successful and well liked. This can in turn lead to making more money and acquiring more material things. There has to be a paradox there somewhere.

I think that happiness is a relative thing. I think most of us want to be happy, but we don't really recognize it when we are happy (but then is it really being happy if we don't know we are happy). Or our remembering self remembers something as a happier moment than it actually was and our experiencing self is frantically chasing the happiness butterfly as it flits around just out of our reach.

That happiness is an elusive thing is evident in the way we try to wish it for people (i.e. "Happy birthday"). Or we use it to show people just how unhappy they have made us (i.e. "Are you happy now, you made your mother cry.").

If happiness was truly a destination, all we would have to do is go to Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth, to find it. However, if you have been to Disneyland and plunked down your several hundred dollars for tickets, stood in line for hours just to find the ride has broken down, listened to happy children crying loudly because they were frightened by one of the Disney characters then you have to question whether theme parks really can dispense happiness.

I don't really know how to define happiness anymore than I was able to determine what my passion in life is or was. I don't think you make yourself or other people happy. Happy happens when you stop trying so hard and just let go.

Aren't you happy to know that?