WEEKLY WRITING CHALLENGE: A PIECE OF ADVICE TO CHANGE A LIFE

I had been married about a year. It was probably the thousandth recital of my tale of woe. How I had been beaten, abused, molested, bullied from my earliest memories until my jailbreak at age 17.

That day, my husband looked at me and said: “You’ve told me this before. Often. I hear you. It was bad. Your father belongs in jail. But you don’t live there anymore.It’s time to move on. Let it go. Stop dwelling in the past. Go forward without all that crap hanging all over you.”

the doctor is in

There were a lot of things I could have answered. I might have gotten angry with him for discounting my pain. I could have pointed out he himself might want to consider taking his own advice. But I didn’t say that. I could have told him it isn’t so easy to let go of the past, to dump the baggage. But I didn’t say that, either.

What I said was: “You’re right. I’ll try to do that.”

I did try and eventually, succeeded. I won’t say I never looked back. I looked back plenty. But I never went back into those bad old memories and dwelt there. I never again let those memories dominate me. Getting completely free of that awful stuff took many long years. Half a lifetime and then some. While I worked it out, I didn’t let it control me. It was a piece of advice I needed to hear and heed.

I give others the same advice. Some take it, most don’t. In the end, no matter how horrible your childhood, no matter how traumatic your life has been, unless you want the people who hurt you, molested you, mistreated you, abused you to rule your life, your only choice is to let go and move on.

There is no other way. When you are deep in the morass of painful memories, full of rage and pain at those who hurt you, the suffering you are enduring isn’t hurting them at all. You are hurting only yourself. Haven’t you been hurt enough? Why grant the bad guys power over you? Why would you want to do that?

No one needs to tell me it’s easier said than done. I know that. It wasn’t easy, but I got it done. So can you.

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DAILY PROMPT: SEVEN WORDS, SEVEN MYSTERIES

sevenWords

Seven words to make us understand one another when millions have not been sufficient? Here are seven words of mystery and power.

IT DOESN’T ADD UP …

I always say I’m the queen of typos, but lately, I’ve been noticing the problem isn’t typos. Entire words and pieces of words go missing while extraneous words and word fragments that should vanish hang around. Word bombs lurking in my text.

I’ve always had a problem with numbers. I was bad at math but since I have a high IQ, the assumption was I didn’t try hard enough. I can’t remember how many report cards I got saying I wasn’t making an effort. Underachiever is a label that has haunted me.

To a degree it was true. I didn’t have to try particularly hard at some stuff. I read very well. I was a natural researcher and historian. I always talked a blue streak. I wrote stories. I was 10 when I learned touch typing. I type quickly, but the number of mistakes I make can equal the number of words on the page. Inaccurate doesn’t begin to describe it.

I did well things that came naturally. Everything else didn’t come at all. It didn’t matter how hard I tried. Physics was meaningless. Trig was random numbers. If I could remember what I was supposed to do with numbers, the odds were no better than 50-50 I’d come up with the right answer. We did not have calculators, but even if we had, it wouldn’t have guaranteed I’d get the right answer. I also can’t key numbers with any accuracy.

Today, when I commented on a friend’s blog, in a fewer than 10-word sentence, I omitted one word and mis-wrote another. I thought the missing word, but failed to type it. Missing in action. By the time I saw the problems, it was too late to correct them. I’ve been doing that a lot and I finally started searching to see if there was a name for the problem, other than creeping senility.

Dyscalculia. A learning disability with which both my son and granddaughter have been diagnosed.

How did I miss this? How come I never connected the missing dots? I have had all these symptoms for my entire life. It never crossed my mind, or anyone else’s, that there might be an actual problem. Lately it’s gotten worse and I attributed it to getting older and more forgetful. But age tends to exaggerate symptoms of this type. It’s both comforting and frustrating to realize I’ve spent my life successfully functioning despite the problem. As have millions of people because the world doesn’t adjust to your problems. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got because … well … what choice do you have?

When I was growing up, kids with dyslexia and/or dyscalculia were assumed to be stupid, lazy or both, I’ve been called many things, but never stupid. So I was told loudly and often I was lazy. Eventually I came to believe it. It never occurred to anyone that maybe I really couldn’t make sense of numbers. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They didn’t like me. Sometimes, it felt personal.

Because I was good with words and concepts, I wrote very well. I didn’t spell very well, but I learned to look things up and if I wasn’t sure how to spell a word, I used a different word. I rewrote whole pages to avoid having to use a word I couldn’t spell. Sometimes, I still do. I don’t trust the spell checker to know what I meant.

Lately, I find my finger typing words that start with the same letter as the word I meant to write, but which are otherwise entirely different. When eventually I see the error, I’m totally baffled how my brain can be thinking one thing and my fingers typing something entirely different

A short post … like this one … can take me hours to proofread and when I’m done, there will still be wrong words, missing words, missing pieces of words, words in the wrong order or wrong form (e.g. gerund instead of past tense). I just don’t see the errors.

If you have a child in school who is doing poorly but is bright and should be doing better, before you assume that he or she needs only to work harder, take a look at dyscalculia and dyslexia websites. They have diagnostic tools for all ages and stages. Not every child or adult has every symptom, nor are all symptoms present at all times. Intermittent memory loss is common. You may know how to solve an equation today, but not recall how to do it tomorrow. Gone from your memory without a trace.

Check out: The Dyscalculia Forum and Dycalculia.org. Meanwhile, here’s some basic stuff to help you decide if you want to search further.

From The Dyscalculia Forum:

The Basic Facts

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in mathematics. Dyscalculia is a word you use to describe when people have significant problems with numbers – but still have a normal or above normal IQ. It seems that no dyscalculic has problems with math alone, but also struggle with problems being able to learn to tell time, left/right orientation, rules in games and much more. See the list of symptoms. Also, there are more types of dyscalculia, and all types demand specific learning methods aimed at the specific problem.

How Common Is Dyscalculia?

According to UK studies done by Gross-Tsur, Manor and Shalev in 1996, 6.5% are dyscalculic. According to studies done by Lewis, Hitch and Walker in 1994, 1.3% are dyscalculic while 2.3% are dyscalculic AND dyslexic – that means that according to this study 3.6% of the World’s population are dyscalculic.

That gives a total of between 3.6 and 6.5% of the World’s population. And again: That means, according to these two studies, that between 216.000.000 (two hundred and sixteen million) and 390.000.000 (three hundred and ninety million) people are dyscalculic – if we say that there are 600.000.000.000 (six billion) people in the world. No international study has been done on how common it is.

Symptoms In Brief 

Normal or accelerated language acquisition: verbal, reading, writing. Poetic ability. Good visual memory for the printed word. Good in areas of science until higher math is required and creative arts.

Mistaken recollection of names. Poor name/face retrieval. Substitute names beginning with same letter.

Difficulty with the abstract concepts of time and direction. Inability to recall schedules, and sequences of past or future events. Unable to keep track of time. May be chronically late.
Inconsistent results in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Poor mental math ability. Poor with money and credit. Cannot do financial planning or budgeting.

When writing, reading and recalling numbers, these common mistakes are made: number additions, substitutions, transpositions, omissions, and reversals.

Inability to grasp/remember math concepts, rules, formulas, sequence, basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. Poor long-term concept mastery. May be able to do math one day, but draw a blank the next..

May be unable to comprehend or “picture” mechanical processes. Lack “big picture/ whole picture” thinking.
Poor memory for the “layout” of things. Gets lost or disoriented easily. May have a poor sense of direction, lose things often, and seem absent-minded.

May have difficulty grasping concepts of formal music education. Difficulty sight-reading music, learning fingering to play an instrument, etc.

May have poor athletic coördination, difficulty keeping up with rapidly changing physical directions as in aerobic, dance, and exercise classes. Difficulty remembering dance step sequences.

Difficulty keeping score or remembering how to keep score in games, like bowling, etc. Often loses track of whose turn it is during games. Limited strategic ability.

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FOR THE PROMPTLESS – LAPSUS LINGUAE AND BIG MISTER MALAPROP

Once upon a time when me and the whole world were a good deal younger, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house, visit, and make gallons of cabbage soup. He must have thought there were a lot more of us than there were because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a full size standing deep freezer in the basement and a huge fridge in the kitchen. He and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

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Bob (or whatever his name was) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

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We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”

We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.

“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”

We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to be polite, no matter what, to grown-ups. We did not call adults by their first name. I think my teeth would have cracked if I had tried or my tongue would have stuck to the roof of my mouth.

DemocracySM

“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.

I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — that’s a pretty long walk, all the way to the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with real enthusiasm because Nathan’s really does have the best hot dogs, “And I love those beef fries. I got five, two for her — with no mustard — and the other three for me because I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his large belly, “And I started walking back. I could see where to go because of the umbrella’s stripes. I could see it all the way from the boardwalk.”

Nod, nod, nod.Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather suddenly was changing … some clouds were coming in from the ocean. It was getting a windy — a bit — and this was happening all of a sudden while I had gone to get the dogs. Funny how the weather changes so fast along the water, you know? So now, I’m almost there. Up comes  a big puff of wind and that umbrella pulls right up out of the sand and flies at me and whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my whole head was going to come off.

I dropped all the food and fell right over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Completely compost!”

Be careful of flying umbrellas at the beach. They will turn you into compost. That’s not good, especially when your hands are full of hotdogs.

GOT A KINDLE? MEGA BARGAINS FROM AMAZON TODAY!

Need something to read? Like mysteries? How about the classics? These are some of the amazing values you can get free or for very short money from Amazon.These are currently available. You can’t beat the prices, so if you’re a reader, there’s no downside except possibly that some of these books are huge.

Even if you don’t own a Kindle, the Kindle app is available for PC, Mac and a variety of mobile phones and tablets. Truly a win-win. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots more.

Delphi Complete Works of Mark Twain (Illustrated) [Kindle Edition] Samuel Clemens … $.99

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (37 plays, 160 sonnets and 5 Poetry Books With Active Table of Contents) [Kindle Edition] … $.99

Alice in Wonderland: The Complete Collection (Illustrated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Illustrated Through the Looking Glass, plus Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and The Hunting of the Snark) [Kindle Edition] … $.99 (My all time favorites!)

Oz: The Complete Collection (All 14 Oz Books, with Illustrated Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Exclusive Bonus Features) [Kindle Edition] … $.99 (Note: I would have given a body part for this when I was a kid.)

The Detective Megapack [Kindle Edition] Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, much more … $.99

The Classic Mystery Collection (100+ books and stories) [Kindle Edition] Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Anna Katharine Green, Sax Rohmer, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Honore de Balzac and more … $2.99

Agatha Christie Collection (Illustrated): The Secret Adversary AND The Mysterious Affair [Kindle Edition] $.99

The Dashiell Hammett Megapack [Kindle Edition] … $.99

“All You Zombies-” [Kindle Edition] Robert Heinlein (Possibly the best time travel short story ever written) … $1.25

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes [Kindle Edition] Sir Arthur Conan Doyle … $0.00

THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES and THE COMPLETE TALES OF TERROR AND MYSTERY (All Sherlock Holmes Stories and All 12 Tales of Mystery in a Single Volume!) …  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | The Complete Works Collection) … $.99

H.G. Wells Collection, Over 50 Works: The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, Time Machine, Island of Dr. Moreau, Little Wars, World Set Free, Tales of Space and Time, When the Sleeper Wakes & MORE! [Kindle Edition] … $.99 ( I don’t know how many pages this is, but it’s a huge file, so I’m better a thousand or more pages.)

Charles Dickens Collection 55 Works: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Christmas Carol, Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, Bleak House, MORE! [Annotated] [Kindle Edition] This is 15 novels and all the short fiction … an entire library … $2.99

Jane Austen Collection: 18 Works, Pride and Prejudice, Love and Friendship, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Lady Susan & more! [Kindle Edition] … $.99

The Complete Little Women Series: Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men, Jo’s Boys (4 books in one) [Kindle Edition] (807 pages) Louisa May Alcott … $.99

The Bronte Sisters – The Complete Novels (Annotated) + Extras [Kindle Edition] by Emily Bronte, Anne Bronte, Charlotte Bronte (894 pages) … $.99

Jules Verne Collection, 33 Works: A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, The Mysterious Island, PLUS MORE! [Kindle Edition] (8876 pages — apparently not a misprint). … $.99 (You may never need another book!)

Truly, the selection is huge, the prices are more than reasonable. If you’re short on money, long on loving literature, you’re going to love this! And there’s so much more. I kid you not. SO much more.

FORTHEPROMPTLESS: I WANT IT ALL!

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I am so confused!

Futo maki? Tempura? I could have the sushi dinner … although the mango chicken is looking pretty scrumptious right now. What are you having?

Stupid me, why am I asking? You’re having the sashimi deluxe. That’s what you always have. Not that’s not a criticism. It’s an observation. Why are you laughing? Well I’m glad you find me amusing. It hasn’t been half an hour … has it? Really? Well, it’s a very large menu. Yes, I know I’ve seen it many times before. That doesn’t help.

I do too have a sense of humor. It’s just I like almost everything on the menu. I want it all. I think I’m drooling.

Sushi in Dunham

Maybe I should have a dinner. I could get a bit of everything. Well, not everything, but a bunch of things. Except I can’t eat that much … it would be a waste.

Of course. Thank you for reminding me. Anything I don’t eat, you will take care of for me. What a nice husband you are! I can always count on you.

So what would you like me to order? If you’re going to eat it, it might as well be something you enjoy. Shrimp? Yeah, I could do that. They make a wicked tempura. Shrimp and veggies or just shrimp? What do you think? I could get futo maki as an appetizer. I would share it with you, right? So nothing would get wasted …

Stop laughing at me. I’m going to spill my tea.

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Daily Prompt: Bookworms in a Bookish Home

Photographers, artists, poets: show us BOOKS. And here are books. Audio books. Hardcover books. Paperbacks. Kindles. Books for everyone in a home full of books.

Tzu Hsi – The Last Empress and the Rape of China

Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China, by Pearl Buck

456 pages - Open Road Media (On Kindle – May 21, 2013)

This is the story of Tzu Hsi, a woman who rose from obscurity to rule first as regent to her son, the boy emperor, then ultimately as the last Empress of China from 1861 to 1908. Her death heralded the end of the old China. The empire collapsed only three years after her death, in 1911.

First chosen as one of many concubines to the young emperor – no more than a child himself – she manipulates herself into position as his favorite, cultivates his favor until he depends on her completely. Still in love with her childhood sweetheart, a single night of love produces a son, the next emperor.

Intelligent, highly (self) educated Tzu Hsi makes herself essential to her debauched, physically weakened, opium-addicted husband. His early death leaves her regent to her son. She is forced to preside over the destruction of Chinese culture. Her fight against white imperialism is hopeless. As the representative of the last Dynasty, she tries to find her way while the China she has known is assaulted by wave after wave of western imperialist pirates under the guise of missionaries, traders, and ambassadors.

Once the rape of China begins, she is powerless to stop it. Even the rare victory is no more than a holding action. Despite all evidence, she cannot believe China can lose to these invaders and she never loses her unyielding belief in the superiority of Chinese culture … the ultimate irony given the unyielding belief of the Western powers of their superiority. The unstoppable force meets the immoveable object and the result is – as might be expected – tragic.

In a way, she was more right than she knew. The old China collapsed but from its ashes, the new China has gained more power than the old ever had.

A Western Portrait of China's Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi

There are a number of ways to read this book. It’s a brilliant, detailed picture of a vanished civilization … beautiful and to modern minds, bizarre. And, it’s the story of Tzu Hsi, her life, her deeply flawed, complex personality. Her bad decisions based on the logic of a world already gone to which the rules no longer applied.

You can also read Imperial Woman as a much larger story, how the western nations took the oldest culture on earth and destroyed it so we could plunder it for opium.

How we destroyed thousands of years of art and cultural treasures so each country from the west — who had no right to any of China — treated the Chinese people as if they were the barbarians because they did not want to become just like us.

The European powers with the help of the United States transformed China into a monster. Then we have the gall to complain we don’t like the way it turned out. China would never have become what it is today or taken the path it did without the brutality and devastation wrought by European imperialism. And of course, look what opium and all that has followed in its wake has done to improve our society? Karma is a nasty bitch.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Pearl Buck

Written in 1956, the story is probably more relevant today, 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent to the transformation of Communist China into the world’s biggest, baddest economic superpower. On many levels, for a lot of different reasons, it serves us right. We destroyed China. Now, in its own way, China is destroying us. One good turn deserves another.

I read Imperial Woman not long after it first came out. I was in my early teens and it was just a story. I read it as an interesting, even fascinating story. But at the time, it meant no more than that.

Reading it now meant a lot more to me not only because of the changes in my perspective, knowledge and interest in China’s history … but because the world has so greatly changed.

Imperial Woman was written at the peak of the Communist witch hunts in the U.S. and the hottest part of the Cold War. The world in which we live today is entirely different. If you have a reasonable knowledge of history, a sense of destiny and fundamental belief in Karma, you will find Imperial Woman contains many layers of meaning. It’s elegantly written, not even slightly dated.

Imperial Woman was available (as of May 21, 2013) on Kindle. It’s also available on Audible.com and as a paperback. It’s probably available at your local library too. It’s a classic, doubly so today.

The meaning of everything

We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means. Why bad stuff happens. Whether or not a malevolent deity has it in for us. It’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. To accept the total randomness of events is rough.

Like you, I’ve put a good bit of thought into how come my life has fallen apart not once, but a several times. I know I’m not perfect, but come on! It’s not like I ripped off everyone’s retirement money or slaughtered thousands of people because I think they are ethnically inferior. Whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things.

I was pondering this stuff when I was a teenager, which is why I studied it in college and kept exploring it through the decades since. One day, I woke up and knew the truth. All was revealed.

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I Don’t Know Anything. Neither Do You.

Suddenly random happenstance is as meaningful as anything else. What a relief to realize I don’t need an explanation. Stuff happens. I spent years — decades — thinking in circles, but now I am perfectly content displaying my lack of knowledge for all the world to see (and admire).

Just like when I was 12. I’ve been considering founding a church. I could enlist a lot of followers. My church  would require no beliefs. It would need no contributions of time or money. It wouldn’t even require that you show up, unless you happened to feel like it. There would be no rules to follow, no standards to live up to. No angry deity to get pissed off if you behave badly. It would ideally suit the modern lifestyle, don’t you think?

Faith and Proof

Faith is not proof; it’s opinion in fancy clothing.

You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith believing in God or declaring yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no proof and for which you can never have proof. If believing in a loving God makes your world feel rational, that’s good. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the path to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re  making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

As for me, I don’t know; I stand firmly behind my refusal to take a stand.

Tempus Fugit is a frog.

Tempus Fugit is a frog.

Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so the next issue to tackle is how can you can cash in on your new understanding. What’s the point in knowing the meaning of life unless you can awe people with your brilliance? But no one is going to be dazzled unless you know the right words. Terminology is important.

Learn Big Words

Big words (4 or more syllables) if used in an appropriate setting, can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds indicating their admiration. This will help you get lucky. Employing big words enhances your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books.Have a blog like me. Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

Epistemology

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything. Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)

Phenomenology

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

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Become a Fount of Wisdom

You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.

There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself making it hard to dispute. Not to worry. The only one who is ever fully convinced by faith is the one who holds it. Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it. Having more believers doesn’t transform faith into fact. If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.

Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve clarified everything. If not, feel free to have your people call my people. We’ll talk.

Beware Exasperated Kidneys: Can You Spell-Check Disaster?

Some years back, there was an incident in the Boston Police Department‘s boot camp. In an attempt to be as tough as any Marine Corps drill instructor, the BPD instructor in charge of recruits forced a group of newbies to stay at hard exercise during one of the hottest days of the summer, without rest, food or water.

One of the recruits died when his kidneys failed. He had an undetected pre-existing condition. Dehydration proved fatal. This was a tragedy and a scandal.

The Boston Herald is one of the city’s two leading papers. The Globe is now owned by the New York Times and wants to be taken seriously. They have excellent writers and often the most thorough and unbiased coverage of important news. The Herald is a tabloid with a really great sports section. Intellectuality be damned, if you follow the teams, you read the Herald. Besides, the Globe is ridiculously expensive on Sundays.

So, back to the story. As it unfolded, the Herald pointed out that the young man who had died was already afflicted with kidney problems which were exasperated by being forced to go without water, food or rest in extremely hot weather.

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I looked up from the paper and said to Garry, “This poor fellow suffered from exasperated kidneys. I can hear them now … (in a kidney voice) ‘That’s IT, I’ve HAD it, I’m OUTTA here …’ “

The dreaded spell-checker had struck again. The word had been exacerbated but the spell-checker didn’t know the word, so … the young man died of exasperated kidneys. What a pity. And so young, too.

There’s a moral to this story and that is (I hope) obvious and relevant to all of us who write or blog. Don’t depend on spell-checkers. They are helpful, but they are not intelligent. They are only nominally better than auto-correct … and we all know about that!

Spell-checkers don’t get context. Or style. You may want to say “my own” rather than simply “my.” The spell-checker will argue the point until you want to put your fist through the screen.

Proofreading is a big problem for all self-published writers, including bloggers. I’m tempted to give up on text and publish only pictures without captions. Even a headline could prove fatal. I am the typo queen. Worse, I hold the cut and paste error championship. When moving text, I can count on leaving something behind or taking something away that ought to have been left behind. It’s frustrating, it’s embarrassing and occasionally  funny … but not in a good way.

If I took everything to heart, I would have long since given up blogging. I do not have someone dedicated to proofreading and/or editing my copy. There are two reasons for this:

  1. No one wants to do it. They have other things to do (What? Something is more important than me? How could that be? Aren’t I the center of the universe?)
  2. No one I know is any better at proofreading than I am. I know this because I self-published a book. It was read and re-read by all my friends and family members and there are dozens of typos remaining.

Authors are generally lousy proofreaders of their own work. Sometimes, we are lousy proofreaders, period. As authors, we see what we meant, not necessarily what’s really on the page. It has nothing to do with sloppiness or not caring. Writing and proofreading are different skill sets. Hemingway didn’t have to do his own proofreading, nor did Thomas Wolfe. If they’d had to proof and edit their own copy without the excellent support of their publisher and Maxwell Perkins, they would never have made it into print. Nor would many of today’s most popular authors like Tom Clancy make it to print. Clancy, by his own admission is a very poor editor and proofreader … and in many people’s opinions, not a great writer, either, but I digress.

In the past few decades, editors and proofreaders have been mostly eliminated as too costly. Authors are expected to present press-ready manuscripts. Unless you are one of a publisher’s big money-making authors, there’s a very high likelihood that no one will read your manuscript before sending it for publication.  The result has been visibly lower quality manuscripts. You see it in printed books and even more on e-books. The official position of publishers is nobody cares. But readers do care.

Who doesn’t care? Publishers don’t care. Readers don’t get a say in the matter. If we want to read, we learn to cope with and compensate for text errors. The absence of proofreaders and editors is part of cross-industry cost-cutting and bottom-lining. The idea is to keep eliminating support services until there are no more services to cut … and then be thunderstruck that your product has suffered.

I spend hours going over my posts and I still miss stuff. It’s infuriating and embarrassing, but no one has time or inclination to read everything I write. It’s my blog and my responsibility. Not everyone has someone to backstop blog posts. My choice has been to write shorter — and fewer — posts. Fewer words, fewer mistakes. As it is, I spend more time proofing than writing. Ten minutes to write the post, 2 hours or more to proofread. There aren’t enough hours in my day.

If this means people won’t read my stuff because I’m a crappy proofreader, then I throw my hands into the air and say fine, whatever. I agree punctuation and spelling count, but so does content. If punctuation and spelling are the only things that count, something is wrong with the reader, not just the writer.

But what about spell-checkers? Surely they will catch the typographical errors!

Yes and no. Remember exasperated kidneys? Spell-checkers will find words that are misspelled and occasionally a few words used incorrectly. Spell-checkers will never find words that are spelled correctly but should not be there (cut and paste errors). They will “decide” what you wrote should be something else — witness exasperated instead of exacerbated — because the word you used isn’t in their database. Spell-checkers only catch misspellings. They won’t catch a missing word, a wrong word, an extra word. If you let them, they will change your text to mean something quite different.

There’s no convenient, simple answer. In the end, we do the best we can with whatever resources are available.  If perfection is going to be a requirement for blogging, most of us would give up. Perfection will never be achieved by anyone. Or at least, not by me.

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Prompts for the Promptless: 502 Shining Lights

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In the midst of one of the more difficult weeks of my life, with all of the Sturm und drang, agonizing and fear, two strangely marvelous and marvelously strange events occurred.

First, because kindness and generosity are always a marvel, a gift never to be underestimated or ignored, my kind readers have rallied around — along with my oldest and best-loved friends — to make me remember that there is always a reason to go on with life.

To accentuate the amazingness, rediscovering how people you’ve met through an electronic, completely magical medium, can show they care, are real people, even though they are too far to come and personally offer a hug … I tipped over the big 500 number and stand at 502 WordPress followers.

That’s amazing. Hard to believe it’s real. More than 500 people like my pictures and my writing — and me — enough to subscribe to this little blog. It’s awesome, marvelous, and strangely wonderful!

I hope the months to come won’t take me away from this remarkable connection to so many people I have come to cherish as a virtual family. I know there will be a break at some point, at least for a while — but I hope it won’t be for too long … and won’t happen for a while yet.

There’s a third thing. It may not sound so marvelous but it means more than I have words to say. A simple thing … a bouquet of flowers from my husband. Bright and shining on top of the cold woodstove on the fireplace mantel. Reminding me that I am, despite how crazy, broken and difficult I am, I am nonetheless loved.

Thank you. All of you. From the bottom of my imperfect heart.

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THE FBI CAN’T DO A SIMPLE GOOGLE SEARCH? THE REBLOG

Marilyn Armstrong:

You know, with all of that …. they never did credit the group or finish the plot they started on that premier episode in 2012. They seem to have just abandoned it with no resolution. Anyone think they’ll ever come back to it?

Originally posted on SERENDIPITY:

On Criminal Minds in the première episode for the 2012-2013 season, the “perp” sews a victims mouth shut but in his mouth leaves the message “Gazing through to the other side.” The BAU FBI team cannot find any reference to this quote. So I typed it into Google and hit Enter. Guess what?

It’s part of a song, the lyrics to which essentially are the plot of the episode in which the first four victims are women, thrown into ditches, with their mouths sewn shut.

If I can find this in one hit on Google, is the FBI less capable than I? Unable to do the most basic Google search? There isn’t anything more basic than typing in what you want to know about then hitting Enter, is there? My granddaughter could do this kind of search before she was in first grade.

If anyone thinks I believe the…

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Daily Prompt: So long, it’s been good to know yuh …

So Long, Its Been Good To Know Yuh
(Dusty Old Dust)
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

I’ve sung this song, but I’ll sing it again,
Of the place that I lived on the wild windy plains,
In the month called April, county called Gray,
And here’s what all of the people there say:

CHORUS: So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh.
This dusty old dust is a-gettin’ my home,
And I got to be driftin’ along.

A dust storm hit, an’ it hit like thunder;
It dusted us over, an’ it covered us under;
Blocked out the traffic an’ blocked out the sun,
Straight for home all the people did run,
Singin’:

CHORUS

We talked of the end of the world, and then
We’d sing a song an’ then sing it again.
We’d sit for an hour an’ not say a word,
And then these words would be heard:

CHORUS

Sweethearts sat in the dark and sparked,
They hugged and kissed in that dusty old dark.
They sighed and cried, hugged and kissed,
Instead of marriage, they talked like this:
“Honey…”

CHORUS

Now, the telephone rang, an’ it jumped off the wall,
That was the preacher, a-makin’ his call.
He said, “Kind friend, this may the end;
An’ you got your last chance of salvation of sin!”

The churches was jammed, and the churches was packed,
An’ that dusty old dust storm blowed so black.
Preacher could not read a word of his text,
An’ he folded his specs, an’ he took up collection,
Said:

So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh.
This dusty old dust is a-gettin’ my home,
And I got to be driftin’ along.

 Strange for that song to be rolling around my head, but we watched a PBS show about old folk singers the other night … and there it sits, in my brain, rolling around and around.

It’s the anthem of my generation. We’ve said goodbye to a lot of folks. Some are gone because they went away to that other place, bought the farm, as it were … but just as many — even more — really did buy the farm, or at least real estate in a community far away where the only crop they grow are old people.

I never wanted to live in an Old Community, though I recognize one doesn’t always have a choice in the matter. I never wanted to live in any community that was all of a type. When I was young and raising my son, I sought out racially diverse communities because I like the grittiness of different cultures mixing together. I wanted my son to know, without being told, that people come in all colors and shapes and there’s no reason to be afraid just because someone doesn’t look like you. It was a very unpopular position to take, but fortunately my husband agreed with me and we found … and lived in … mixed communities the entire time my son was growing up.

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It worked. He didn’t — doesn’t — recognize skin color as a descriptor. He could tell me the type of refrigerator the new people in town had in their kitchen and every detail of the cars they drove, but not the color of their skin because for him — and my granddaughter is the same way — it was a matter of gradation. There were no black or white people, just off white, pink, tan and brown people, with a variety of hair textures and colors. Some friendly, some not so much.

Then we lived in Israel and he was one of the few Jewish kids who had Arab friends because no one had told him he shouldn’t, and even though it was dangerous, I wanted him to know that people are people, not the labels we put on them.

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Color blind. That’s the word for it. My granddaughter gets mad when someone calls her grandfather “black” because, she says, he’s not black … he’s a nice light to medium tan, depending on the time of year and whether or not he’s been in the sun. As for me, I stay a disgusting shade of fish-belly white no matter what I do and any effort to alter it results in third degree burns, a lot of pain, and turning an unnatural shade of hot pink which may look good on a tee-shirt, but looks alien on human skin.

And all of this somehow reminding me of driving down the highway in Garry’s old flame orange Dodge Challenger. He bought it when he was working at ABC Network in New York in the 1960s. He bought it in 1969, the year my son was born which is relevant because Garry is my son’s godfather. But the car was a 1970 model year. It was the car he brought with him when he became a reporter in Boston in November 1970.

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It was his first on the air job. It would be his last, too, because he would work at Channel 7 for 31 years, the remainder of his career. He would drive the orange car until after we were married, until it finally stopped being dependable and wouldn’t drive in the rain because the wires got wet and it would stall. It still drove like, as we say, a bat outta hell because it had a huge engine and Garry took pretty good care of it. Not great because he entrusted its care to a garage that cheated him and he, not knowing enough about the mechanical stuff to realize it, assumed that if it looked okay, it was okay.

We got another convertible after that … a red Mustang and had that for almost a dozen years, but it was getting to the end of the convertible years and they didn’t make them like they used to. They didn’t make us like they used to either, and I needed a car where I didn’t have to wrap myself up like a mummy to keep my hip length hair from turning into a mass of knots  or getting a horrendous sunburn just sitting in the car. Only in TV shampoo commercials do long-haired girls drive in top-down convertibles with their hair blowing free because it’s going to take hours to get that mass of hair untangled later.

And now, it’s time to stop, even though this has rambled from one place to another without any logic to it … Fast writing, stream of time, stream of consciousness. We’ve driven a ways down the highway of memory and time … I wonder if the old orange car is still around? It was a few years ago. It had been restored, I hear and I was glad to know it. I have such fond memories of the old beast. Of all the old things and old people I knew.

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We still don’t live in an Old Community, though this community is old in other senses. And I’m glad, though I sure do wish we had more ethnicities among us. Miss the mixing up of color and culture and music and dance … and the wonderful smell of the food everyone cooked on holidays …

Tis a gift to be simple … or is it?

If you love it, set it free … Really?

The whole quote is:

If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be. – Unknown

We yearn for simple answer to complex questions. But honestly, do you genuinely believe it’s what your spouse, lover or friend wants? To be set free? To be let go? Doesn’t this sound like a bogus excuse for dumping someone you wanted to get rid of anyway, but couldn’t find an excuse beyond “Wow, I’m really up for something new. See you around, okay? … I’m outta here!”

Sayings … platitudes … are a cheesy way to over-simplify the complexities of life. Especially when you can’t think of a good exit line. Kind of like using “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” and pretending to be Rhett Butler on your way out the door … or mumbling “No, no, no it ain’t me babe … ” thus attempting (and failing) to make someone think you’re Bob Dylan incarnate. Dylan was personally a social loser despite enormous talent as a poet — but lord, he could NOT sing worth a plugged nickel and still can’t …

Which is why his songs always sound so much better when his ex girlfriend, Joan Baez, sings them. I’m just saying …

The five-minute project that ate Chicago

“Wait a moment,” says I, twiddling with something on the computer. “This will just take a minute.”

My husband’s eyebrow rises. The right eyebrow. The eyebrow I fear. That eyebrow says “A minute? Really?”

I look up, peer at the eyebrow. “Okay, five minutes. Tops, half an hour.”

“Uh huh,” he says. Cynicism drips from his tone. He racks up The Magnificent Seven and settles down for a good two hours of favorite movie viewing. Just in case, he has Tombstone set to go as the second feature.

“It will just take a few moments,” I declare, stubbornly. “I’m nearly done.”

The hands of the clock have crept around past midnight, then one, two and are heading to three. I’m not quite done. Yet.

Why does this keep happening? It looks so simple. All I had to do was set up the background.

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Pick a photo to use for the background. Enlarge it to the size it needs to be and sometimes, it doesn’t even need to be enlarged. If necessary, expand the canvas. Do some creative filtering to soften and lighten it to superimpose the text and have the text be legible.

Type out the text in a separate document. Cut and paste the text into the text box. Format the text. Mess around with it to make it do whatever I planned — wave, like a flag? flow like a river? fade into infinity? Whatever. Save it.

Check to make sure it’s readable, not too pixellated. Make sure I copied all the text and didn’t leave something behind. Save often. Save, save, save because if you make a mistake, Marilyn, you do NOT want to go back and start from scratch.

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The text doesn’t fit. The font doesn’t display properly. The background is too busy, too dark, too … too. It’s much too grainy. It’s not grainy enough. Needs more fog. Needs less fog because I can’t even tell what the picture is anymore. I don’t like it. Why am I bothering? My husband is turning off the television and going to bed without me. But I can’t quit now!. I am so close!

It reminds me of art projects in college … there you are. Twenty-seven cups of coffee to the wind. The sun is rising and the glue won’t dry.

Now, we don’t use glue, but it’s three in the morning. My five-minute project ate not only Chicago, but the better part of an entire day. Since it isn’t finished and I’m so stubborn I simply will not let it go, it’s going to eat a big chunk of tomorrow, too.

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Doomed. By my pickiness, unwillingness to compromise. Refusal to throw in the towel.

Do your projects eat your days? Consume your weekends? Is there some kind of cosmic law that says all projects which look simple on the face of it have a lurking monster with tentacles just beneath? They will reach out and drag you under … and it will just take another five minutes!