Serendipity

ETIQUETTE ACCORDING TO SERENDIPITY

Time, once again, to review Serendipity’s version of etiquette:

  1. I have extremely limited tolerance for bullshit. When you make a statement of fact, you’d better have something more than your opinion with which to back it up.
  2. Trolls are out of here and I mean instantly, without reprieve. If you want to start trouble, you’re on the wrong blog.
  3. No personal attacks. On anyone. Period. None. Not the President, not me, not anyone who writes or comments here. If that’s your “thing,” find another place.
  4. Publicize your blog elsewhere. This space belongs to Serendipity. Anyone interested in visiting your site can do so by clicking your blog address next to your comment. If you don’t include an address because you prefer to remain anonymous, that’s your problem. Stand up and be counted or shut up about it.
  5. If you aggravate me, you’ll be gone. It IS personal. This is my happy place. If it stops being fun and you are responsible for making the fun go away, I will make you go away.

Age has privileges. We oldies have passed the point of tolerating fools. What’s more, I have earned the right to run Serendipity according to my rules.

There are folks who comment regularly, who read this blog and whose stuff I, in turn, read. They can get away with a lot because they are friends and I trust them. Cutting slack for friends is my choice. But don’t pop in here out of nowhere and act like I owe you a hearing. I don’t.

SERENDIPITY STRIKES AGAIN!

A Name for Yourself

Some writers’ names have becomes adjectives: Kafkaesque, marxist, Orwellian, sadistic. If your name (or nickname, or blog name) were to become an adjective, what would it mean?


Lucky me. Smart me. Far-seeing me. Pat, pat on my back, back!

When I picked my blog name, it already meant something, which is “to find something for which one is not looking.” A serendipitous discovery is pretty much a happy accident.

ser·en·dip·i·tyˌ noun
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. “A fortunate stroke of serendipity”. Synonyms: (happy) chance, (happy) accident, fluke.

I suppose you could talk about my pithy, ironic commentary as Marilyn-isms, but there are more than enough existing words to describe pithiness, irony and wit without making up a new one.

Let’s just stick with serendipity. It’s a good word, a happy word. When chance takes you someplace pleasant and surprising, if you unexpectedly happen upon something that tickles your fancy, think of me.

Serendipity strikes again!

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?

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It took me almost two years to build up a following for Serendipity, but just a week for traffic to drop to fewer than I can count on one hand. If anyone needed a test of what keeps a blog alive and active, the answer is utterly simple. Content, content and more content. Pictures, stories, stuff. New stuff, funny stuff sad stuff. But mostly, stuff.

We got home this afternoon and I’ve been running in place ever since, trying to play catchup with unanswered phone calls. Dogs apparently starving for treats … the poor things were practically FAINT and WEAK from lack of biscuits. Garry was actually insulted when, in the middle of giving some serious love to the furry kids, they heard me walk into the kitchen and abandoned him en masse in the hopes of acquiring a cookie. Or a piece of fallen bread crust.

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“Try not to take it personally,” I said. “They are DOGS.”

“Hrmph,” he said and went back to watching Steve McQueen in a rerun of “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

“We shouldn’t bother with vacations. We should just stay home. We like it better here. Except for the pictures,” I paused. “It was a great photo shoot.”

“Yup. That’s exactly what it was. A week-long photo shoot.”

“Punctuated with baseball and two pair of really cool new shoes.”

“Yup.”

That was when Bonnie jumped back onto the sofa.

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“Oh, NOW you want my attention? I was letting you play with me while wearing one of my good shirts. And you KNOW how I feel about my shirts.” Bonnie was unimpressed and continued to dance around. She loves him, but she loves treats more, at least more immediately. Dogs are not into the whole deferred gratification thing.

So meanwhile, because I couldn’t post or edit anything on this site, I started another blog — Serendipity Redux — on Bloggers and I’m not sure how I’ll divide my time. I do know reclaiming a little piece of my life felt pretty good and maybe I don’t want to be quite such a slave to Serendipity. Maybe unplugging for a little while wasn’t such a bad thing.

We’ll see how it goes. Right now, glad to be home, glad we’ll get to sleep in our own bed tonight. Did I mention (no, I didn’t) we left our wonderful pillows at the hotel? We have to drive back to the Cape tomorrow and get our pillows. I was trying to figure out some way to not have to do that, but I couldn’t. They are special pillows and we need them. Love them.

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We’ll take cameras because the trees are amazing right now. Not so much on the Cape, but here in the Valley, wow! It’s autumn, baby.

Daily Prompt: My name is Marilyn. I’m a teepee.

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My name is Marilyn but you can call me Teepee12. I am alive, if not entirely well. I plan to stay alive as long as the choice exists.

I never intended to hide my identity when I chose this Internet ID as a username for my blog on WordPress. I chose it because I’d been using it since 2007 when my book — The 12-Foot Teepee — was published. It was easy for me to remember and no one else wanted it — as opposed to my real name for which there is heavy competition. The perils of having a common name were never more obvious than when I tried to get a piece of my real name for use on the Internet.

I began using the Internet back in prehistory. No one used real names back then. It was considered most uncool. I went through a lot of names before starting to use Teepee12. Unlike many other names I used and abandoned, it stuck, though no one can spell it and auto-correct always changes it to Steeper (damn you auto correct!). I wish I could go back and do it over, using my real name or something close to it  The problem is that there are dozens of Marilyn Armstrongs all over the Internet, on every continent and a bunch of my namesakes recently died. If I Google me I end up  reading obituaries. This can be troubling in some indefinable way.

I got the name Marilyn — never a common or popular name — because my great Aunt Malka died right before I was born. In Ashkenazi families, babies are named after recently deceased family members. They don’t have to be favorites. You don’t even have to like them. In fact, as was the case with great Aunt Malka, you don’t even have to know her personally. It’s just a custom and no one, including my mother, could explain why we clung to it. We weren’t  observant … but my Aunt Kate, who was indeed a traditionalist and family Matriarch, quite insisted.

My mother refused the straight “Malka” because she said it sounded like the cleaning lady. It means “Queen,” actually but doesn’t sound queenly. So she suggested Mara because apparently, to maintain the tradition, all you need is a name that begins with the same first letter sound (the Hebrew alphabet is, after all, different from English). But Mara (the root for all “mar” names like Mary, Marie, Mireille, Marilyn et al) means “bitter” in Hebrew and my aunts collectively objected because you should not name your daughter “bitter,” feh, bad luck. Ptui, ptui, ptui.

“Fine,” said my mother. “Marilyn.”

No one had any objections so Marilyn it was. How romantic! To be named almost randomly after a dead relatively about whom no one much cared. Wow. And to add insult to injury, I wasn’t given a middle name, so I had no name to which I could retreat.

I struggled with my name. I hated it. I’m still not fond of it, frankly, but I’ve at least made peace with it. No one can spell it correctly and it has never felt like me. When I was a kid, I tried to change my name to Linda, which I heard meant “pretty.” Then “Delores,” which sounded like the heroine of a romance novel. Finally, I tried for “Spike” because I figured tough would be better than dorky Marilyn.

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Nope. No other name. Not even a nickname unless you count “Mar” which is just a way of saying it shorter.

As for children? My son’s name is Owen. It’s become quite a popular name, but wasn’t when I gave it to him. It sounded good with his last name, a bit Celtic or Teutonic, depending on how you look at it. Everyone called him “O” from the start and still do.

At this point, my name doesn’t really matter. My identity is defined by electronic documents collected by daemons and maintained in various government and other databases. No human beings review the data. If you find errors, you cannot correct them because being you is not considered sufficient credentials. Human knowledge has no force of law any longer. I’d find that scary if I weren’t so funny.

A lot of people worry about keeping off the radar. The thing is, the radar is so inaccurate, it doesn’t matter. No one will find you because your address is wrong, your age is off by ten years, you live in a house you never owned at the opposite end of the state and have a phone number that was disconnected over a decade ago. Your email address belongs to an ISP that went out of business in 1992 and it is spelled wrong anyhow. I think you might be safer on the radar than off.

Marilyn and Bonnie

I’ve been blogging for a while now and I can’t figure out how to get my name back. I’ve put my name on Serendipity’s header and in the “About Me” section. I sign my name when I write to people. But it apparently doesn’t matter. I have become a teepee and a teepee I shall stay. A 12-foot teepee, which is the smallest possible teepee that isn’t a miniature. Pass the pipe. I like teepees, which is fortunate.

So, consider this my official coming out party. My name is Marilyn Armstrong. I wrote a book titled “The 12-Foot Teepee” and my online ID is Teepee12 whether I like it or not. Marilyn Armstrong is not available and I would have to be MarilynArmstrong00054 or MArmstrong876987 or something and that sounds too much like an android or robot … so for the forseeable future, I am a Teepee.

Teepee12 to you.

Serendipitous Photo Ops — Big Car Show in Mendon

I had a doctor’s appointment in Upton. It’s about 6 miles away and normally takes me 20 minutes to get there. I usually leave half an hour because it’s all local roads and it’s road repair season in New England.

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But today, traffic was stopped. Like everyone’s tires had been super-glued to the road from Uxbridge all the way through Milford.

It turned out … they were having a car and motorcycle show in Mendon.

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We are not renowned for entertainment in the Valley. Carnivals don’t come here any more, though they used to. Maybe the carnivals are gone and that’s why they don’t come. Or may it’s because the town sold the fair grounds to a private developer. That could be the answer. Thus a big car show — this was a large one by any standards — draws a huge crowd. And everyone has to get there via Route 16.

Which doesn’t mean that other people, like us, didn’t also need to use the road. Hah. Fat chance.

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Route 16, which is the main route from one part of Blackstone Valley to anywhere else is two lanes. One in each direction. When it bogs down, it backs up for miles in both directions, which is exactly what it did. You can’t go around because we don’t have many roads. With so few roads, it’s hard to get lost in the Valley even if you have no sense of direction. The paucity of roads makes it hard to get lost, but close to impossible to find alternate routes from town to town. Essentially, there are none. You can make huge loops that take you miles out of your way, but it’s not really an alternate route … just a long circuitous detour.

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So, while we were sitting in traffic, occasionally moving forward a few feet, I opened the window, stuck my head outside and took some pictures as we crawled past. All of these pictures were shot from a slowly moving car through the open window.

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These are the ultimately serendipitous photographs. I was using a long telephoto lens, which accounts for the odd perspective. But interesting. Almost abstract.

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I couldn’t get shots of most of the cars … too much stuff in the way, but I got some of the motorcycles and other attractions. It’s what to do when you’re stuck in traffic … and why I always carry a camera.

 

75,000 Hits – Wow. Gee. Golly.

Yesterday I passed 75,000 hits. In the not very distant future, I’ll cross the Rubicon of 100,000. What does it mean? It’s nice to have substantial numbers. If after all this effort, I didn’t have something to show for it, I’d probably give up blogging. It has been an interesting and sometimes exhilarating year.

Dogged determination got me through a lot of it while trying to work out a formula to create high quality content — every day — and still leave time for the rest of my life. It eventually paid off. Most importantly, it got me writing again. When I started blogging, I hadn’t written anything but email in years. Writing is good for me. It gets my mental gears meshing, makes me reconnect with the world.

Serendipity got off to a slow start. Although I began it in February of 2012, it was well into summer before I began to take it seriously, post regularly. Last June, I was thrilled to get 40 hits a day. I couldn’t imagine getting 75,000 hits. Ever.

I caught some lucky breaks. A couple of my posts hit at a perfect time, a little ahead of events. Pure luck. The rest of it, though, was a determined effort to figure out a way to create good, interesting content and still have time for a life.

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Posting daily makes it tempting to just put something, anything out there. For a long time, I reblogged a lot. I’m a pretty good curator and I think I chose good material, but ultimately the sheer weight of so much stuff became a problem. I had to rethink my approach.

I decided if I need a day off — or I just don’t have time to put something together properly — it’s better to rerun my own material. Some of you commented on my reruns; some think it’s cheating. Frankly I can’t see how reblogging someone else’s posts isn’t cheating, but reworking ones own material is. It doesn’t make sense. Every television station reruns shows all the time, so why can’t Serendipity rerun posts? I have favorite pieces I’d run every day if I could get away with it. Gradually, over the past few months, I’ve been limiting reblogs and reworking my articles and photographs. And deleting, deleting, deleting.

And, like distant thunder, the numbers keep rolling in. By the time you read this, they will have chugged along, heading toward the next milestone.

Change is constant

I’ve been changing Serendipity slowly but steadily. Without fanfare and some folks haven’t even noticed, but if you look at past months, the difference is pretty obvious. There is always a price to pay when you stop providing what your audience has come to expect. In my case, it resulted in about a 20% drop in traffic, though it’s picking up again. I think it was a worthwhile trade. Serendipity is a better site. Better designed, better material.

There’s less of a “kitchen sink” feel to it. More focus on reviews — books, movies, television and technology. More stories, less philosophy. More photo essays but in total, fewer posts.

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I’ve deleted hundreds of old posts — more than 300 so far and lots more to go. I was storing over a thousand articles. It was too much. Even with all the deleting, there are too many posts, but deleting has to be done slowly and carefully for technical and aesthetic reasons. I’m working my way from earliest to most recent. It’s hard to let go. I fall in love with words. It hurts to throw them away, but everything gets old. We all have to clean house.

Staying fuzzy

After a full year of daily blogging, I am finally seeing a shape emerging, a sense of what this thing I’m doing is and maybe where it’s going. It’s soft and fuzzy, but I don’t need it sharp. Edges become boundaries. I want the freedom to change directions whenever I feel like it. I don’t want to commit to a course. Life already has too many restrictions. Commonsense, personal inclination and good taste should suffice to keep me on track.

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This blog is my free space. It is intentionally amorphous. I gave Serendipity to me as a reward for years of following rules I hated, stupid rules enforced by ignorant people. Now, if the rules are stupid or ignorant, they are my own and I have no one to blame.

75,000 is a big number

Numbers have great symbolic power. It’s those tens and fives , numbers that match our fingers and toes. I blithely ignored 71,000, 73,000 and have watched the ascent past 74,000 to the nice round 75,000.

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What can you expect in the next months and years at Serendipity? I’m not sure. I’m going somewhere for which I have no map. We’ll go there together and see what we see. I’ll write stories about it, take pictures along the way.

You can count on book reviews. Stories. A rant or two. Technology, gadgets, movies. Lots of photographs. I’ll try to make you laugh, cry, buy cool gadgets. I hope you’ll hang with me because you — all of you — friends, followers, occasional visitors have changed me and my world. You’ve introduced me to art, movies, books and ideas. I’d never have found all this great stuff without your nudges, hints, suggestions.

Change is ongoing. I may find something fascinating and new or may go back to things I’ve allowed to get dusty. It’s a messy erratic unpredictable thing, this business of living. Serendipity is alive. Messy. Like me.

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Daily Prompt: Say Your Name — My name is Marilyn and I’m alive.

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My name is Marilyn but you can call me Teepee. I am alive, if not always well. I plan to remain alive as long as I have the option. I apologize for any inconvenience.

A while back, I got another blogging award. It was given to Teepee12. When I started this blog, it was never my intention to hide my identity. I automatically, without thinking, entered my familiar Internet “handle” when WordPress asked for my username. I’d been using this name since 2007 when my book was published. Teepee 12 derives from the book’s title, The 12-Foot Teepee. My real name wasn’t (still isn’t) available. There are a lot of Marilyn Armstrongs out there. Most of them are more accomplished than I am and many are deceased.

I began using the Internet in prehistoric days when modems ran at 1200 BPS and no one was sure what a computer virus was. We each had a handle. No one used real names. I think it was a hangover from CB radios. I’d had a variety of handles over the years, but once the book came out, I wanted to be identified with it and so began using Teepee12. It was a poor choice. No one can spell it. Auto-correct alway changes it to Steeper (damn you auto correct!). I wish I could go back and do it over, use my real name or something close to it. But it’s hopeless.

Last I looked, there were more than a dozen of me on Facebook alone. When I Googled myself, I wound up reading a lot of obituaries with my name on them. This can be troubling. The most interesting discoveries were that all my past incarnations still exist in cyberville. I am listed as living every place I lived since 1987 when I came back from Israel. My age ranges from early 40s to mid fifties (nice). I have two Boston telephone numbers, own three houses, including one on Beacon Hill (we only rented that one), another in Roxbury.

Being oneself carries no weight. You need a computer to identify you and it can’t be your own computer, either.

A friend of ours was trying to correct his Wikipedia entry. It showed him working at jobs he never held, in states he’s never visited. Wikipedia wouldn’t let him make the corrections. It told him he didn’t have sufficient credentials to correct the entry. Being himself was not enough. You need expertise and me being me, him being him, doesn’t count. Yet  I corrected a bunch of information about some movies we watch. When asked for my bona fides, I merely said I have watched the movie a few times. That was apparently sufficient expertise. I don’t have a personal Wikipedia entry, so I don’t have to worry about it, but Garry’s brother does and I tried to correct it, but being close family doesn’t count as bona fides either.

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My mother wanted to name me Mara, but that means “bitter” in Hebrew and her whole family objected. It’s the Hebrew root for Marilyn, Mary, Mireille and a bunch of other names, so actually Marilyn means “bitter” anyhow. Technically, I should have been named Queen or something awful like that, because my real name is Malka, which means “queen” in Hebrew. I was named after my recently deceased great-aunt Malka. It’s a tradition in Ashkenazi families to name babies after recently dead relatives, even when no one was particularly close to them. Maybe especially when no one was close to them … to keep their names alive. Certainly I never heard any humorous anecdotes of adventurous Aunt Malka — or any stories at all. I doubt, other than my name, any memories are attached to her by anyone living.  I’m her memorial.

I hated my name as a kid. It was a stupid name and no one else had a stupid name like mine. All my friends were Susan, Carol, Mary or Betty. Marilyn Monroe did not make me feel better because at no point did I bear any resemblance to her. I renamed myself “Linda” for a while because it meant “pretty” and I thought it might rub off. Then I decided Delores was much more romantic. By the time I was a young mother, I told everyone to call me Spike, but no one ever did. I never even had a proper nickname. People too lazy to say all three syllables call me “Mar,” but that’s not a nickname. That’s just a shortening of a longer name. Why won’t anyone call me SPIKE?

Instead, I have become Teepee, which is a very peculiar thing to become at this late stage in my development.

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I’ve been blogging for a while now and I can’t quite figure out how to get my name back. I’ve put my name on Serendipity’s header and in the “About Me” section. I sign my name when I write to people. But it apparently doesn’t matter. I have become a teepee and a teepee I shall stay. A 12-foot teepee, which is the smallest possible teepee that isn’t a miniature. I suppose I don’t really want to become Giant Teepee. That would carry other implications.

For the record, my name is Marilyn Armstrong. I wrote a book titled “The 12-Foot Teepee” and my online ID is Teepee12 whether I like it or not. Marilyn Armstrong is not available and I would have to be MarilynArmstrong00054 or MArmstrong876987 or something and that sounds too much like an android or robot … so for the forseeable future, you can call me Teepee.

Teepee12 — that’s me.

Getting the Good Shot: Down and Dirty

It was hard figuring the best candidate for this one because I do this kind of shooting all the time. Some of my favorites are taken from above my head or way down near the ground. I picked this one because for some reason, it has always talked to me. But what, exactly, is it saying? This is Boston by Symphony Hall, the only place you’ll find these interesting crosswalks.

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