WHO SAID LIFE IS FAIR? – Marilyn Armstrong

With shock and grief, I hear the wailing of betrayed youth. They have made the awfulest Big Discovery.


Life is unfair.


You work hard, perform brilliantly yet wind up bruised and forgotten. Then again, you might find yourself famous, rich, and covered with honors. It’s not cause and effect, though we like to think it is … until the economy, health, or other people betray those beliefs.

The younger me knew — with 100% certainty — that work, talent, ambition and determination were magic. The older me learned you can do everything right, follow all the rules and then some, and it still doesn’t work out.

bankruptcy

I did it all. I worked hard and with more than due diligence. I smiled when I wanted to snarl to keep that critical positive attitude. I was creative. I gave it my all.

I did okay, but while I worked hard and put in overtime, I watched the suck-ups, second-raters, and those who worked cheaper if not better, move past me. I came in early and stayed late while they went to meetings and took long lunches. If I’d gone to more meetings, would that have changed the outcome?

Somehow, I doubt it. I can’t be someone I’m not, though I sure did try. It’s out of my hands. I’m a passenger on this bus and it’s a long ride ahead of me (I hope).

Former belief: Play by The Rules, give it your all. You are bound to “make it.”

Current belief: Do the best you can and hope for a bit of luck and a boss who really likes you. Oh, and a company that won’t go bankrupt before you get paid. If not, enjoy life. It’s the only one you’ve got.

We tell our kids if they do it all right they will get that pot of gold. We don’t tell them that work sucks. Most of their bosses will be morons who know less than they do and have less talent.

But we also were right. They will earn a reward: the satisfaction of knowing they did their best. It’s a big reward. Everyone can count on it and no one can take away.

We have to try. If we succeed and for a while, we get a piece of the good stuff, at least enough to feel it wasn’t a waste of time, that’s great. For some, it just doesn’t happen. Bad luck? Wrong attitude? Crappy economy? Not quite enough talent?

And you have to know that trying may not be enough. You also need talent and luck and good timing.

Sometimes, you need a better agent.

I no longer believe in inevitable triumph. There’s always a chance you’ll make it to the top and it’s fantastic if the magic works. For me, realism has replaced optimism. Everyone’s best achievement is living up to our best self. If this also turns into a success, I’ll wear your t-shirt. If not, this is an achievement no one can ruin. You can’t control the world, but you can control yourself.

Life’s a roller coaster. You’re up and then you’re down. Screaming, crying, laughing … you go where the rails take you. Life will surprise you and sometimes a loss becomes a winner and will give you moments of unimagined joy.

Rejoice when times are good, but if you must, cope with the darkness. You can learn a lot in the dark.

PASS THE SANDPAPER. I’M BUFFING. – Marilyn Armstrong

Buff has lately come to mean “handsome guy.” For me, it’s wood finishing. Especially the kind of sandpaper or buffing cloth I need to get the wood as silky as I can. I used to do a lot of that sort of thing before my son grew up and took away all my tools because I was obviously too helpless to do anything involving tools with sharp edges.

These pictures are very buffed!

It’s not that I’m helpless these days, but I am wobbly. It makes clambering up chairs or stepladders dicey. Nonetheless, carefully hidden in my hall closet, I have a little jigsaw and mini power sander in case I get an uncontrollable urge to carve a piece of local oak.

I know language changes. As a rule, I change with it because that’s how it goes. I have watched American English drift into something that sounds more like tweets than language. I don’t necessarily like the drift, but I go with it anyway.

Every now and again, a word is used in a way that simply annoys me.

Buff as a description of the human male? That’s one of them. Unless, of course, he used to be a hunk of wood but has now been properly polished and smoothed to an ultra-fine finish!

QUOTES ABOUT FREEDOM – Marilyn Armstrong

I really hate that we fought this war for civil rights before and it has come back. But more than that, I hate how easy it was for one detestable human being to make it happen. It took less than three years. I never imagined our freedom could be chipped away so fast … and I hate it!


“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ― George Washington

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public.” ― Theodore  Roosevelt

“Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.” ― Neil Gaiman

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell

POPULARITY – Marilyn Armstrong

We bloggers are endlessly in search of answers. All kinds of answers. I am, in particular, forever seeking an answer to the ultimate blogger query.

What makes people follow me? Why are some posts popular while others — which I think are better — are not?

I think I’ve got it part of the answer. Not the whole one. There are just some posts that, for reasons I cannot fathom, become wildly popular and I never figure out why.

The more typical answer became obvious while I was reading someone else’s post titled “Excellent Demo.” It was about a software presentation to a prospective client that goes horribly wrong. The WiFi connection doesn’t work. The hot spot tool doesn’t help.

It’s humiliating and the kind of experience we have all had. It’s painfully universal. I can remember at least two horrible professional moments, both involving cameras. After more than 30 years, they remain cringe-worthy and painful to the touch.

His company got the contract anyhow. He wondered why?

I realized the answer was probably simple. Everyone in that room — at some time or another — had a similar experience. That the demo went badly generated a visceral empathy with the audience. The disaster didn’t sell the product, but it didn’t unsell it, either.

Back on Serendipity, I noticed the two posts that did better than usual were both about the kind of stuff that happens to everyone. What was the common thread? I looked at other popular posts.

I looked at the list of my all-time most popular posts. Not including camera, movie, television, and technology reviews which have an evergreen cycle, all Serendipity’s most popular posts have a universal theme, something to which anyone and everyone can relate.

I don’t write this way on purpose. I’m betting most of you don’t design your style. It comes out of you. It is you. I can control my subject matter, but I have little control over my style. When anyone asks about my “process,” I come up blank. What’s a process?

I don’t have a process. I get an idea. I write about it. It may leap out of a conversation with Garry, a comment I make on someone else’s blog, a book I’m reading, a TV show I’ve watched. A dream I had or what the dogs did. Many are anecdotes … things that happened here and elsewhere. Often, the interesting part of the story isn’t the event, but how it affected me or others.

There are blogs that deal with issues. Some special interest web sites which talk about current events, news, politics, religion, archaeology, history, the power structure, education. Some are all about history or literature. Or talk only about movies. They have their audiences, people who are interested in the things these bloggers write about. I and many of you reading this have special interests too, but mostly, we are interested in life.

That’s what we write about it. Sometimes, it’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Nice and tidy. As often as not, it’s a memory, a string of thoughts wrapped around something that happened. A wish, a wisp, a wistful moment. And strangely, other people enjoy reading it.

Go figure, right?

BLUNT FORCE TRAUMA VERSUS RAPIER WIT – Marilyn Armstrong

The English language has more than 200,000 “official” words in its dictionary and probably another twenty thousand or so unofficial, idiomatic, or regional words used by specific groups which have meanings yet to reach a dictionary.

There is nothing you cannot say in English using real words. If you are living in an English-speaking country, using real words will not diminish your level of communication. More likely, it will enhance it while lending you credibility with other literate people.

You know: people who read books and stuff like that?

If you feel there is nothing you can say that is not cruel or insulting — and which will surely hurt someone? If you cannot make your point without hateful speech? Maybe you should consider just shutting up. Silence is golden, they say, so why not give it a try?

Hateful speech and bullying is not a symptom of how free you are. It’s a sign of a twisted soul. It is by definition ungrammatical and ugly.

Everyone knows the invisible yet obvious lines of what is acceptable speech and what isn’t. I think we all know this much by the time we get to first grade.

The people who regularly cross these lines are not ignorant. They know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. It isn’t any lack of education. It’s a failure to have sympathy or empathy for other humans.

This is a disease for which there is no known cure.

The language of the truncheon is not an accident. Those who speak like thugs do it intentionally.

You can argue this point until the cows come home. It will remain wrong.

One of the things I’ve always admired about the British upper class — possibly the only thing I admire about the British upper class — is their ability to be absolutely polite while verbally eviscerating their opponents.

It’s an art form. They at least understand that a rapier — a razor-sharp, tool — is a much classier weapon than a bludgeon. And on the whole, leaves less of a mess.

If you have to join the fray, put away the big stick and try the rapier.

SNOOPY AS A ROLE MODEL – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I read a unique article in the Washington Post by a writer talking about something from her childhood that inspired her to be a writer as an adult. Her name is Ann Patchett and her title names the motivating force in her career choice. The article is called, “Snoopy taught me how to be a writer.”

That’s right – the Snoopy from Charles Schultz’s beloved comic “Peanuts”. The perpetual loser, Charlie Brown’s dog. Ann says she read Peanut compilation books, as I did, in her formative summers and was smitten by Snoopy. She says that she was a nerdy, uncool kid who saw Snoopy as the essence of cool. He even raised the totally uncool status of his ‘person’, Charlie Brown, just by being so quintessentially cool himself.

Snoopy was confident enough to let himself become totally absorbed in his fantasies – WWI Flying Ace, Soldier in the French Foreign Legion, figure skater, tennis star, astronaut, and so on. He brought everyone else along with him in his fantasies to the point that they too heard the imaginary bullets flying by and the roar of the imaginary crowds.

Most important, Snoopy was a writer. He let his imagination run wild here too and then he sat down on the top of his doghouse and typed. He sat at his typewriter and plinked the keys to form hackneyed and repetitive paragraphs that he knew needed ‘editing’.

He had confidence and sent his manuscripts out to editors. He got lots of rejections, like all writers, yet he kept on trying. The best thing about Snoopy was that even when he failed and his doghouse was riddled with bullets, he lost in sports or his manuscripts were rejected again, he was still cool.

His superpower was that he remained cool in failure as well as in success.

Snoopy at his typewriter

Anne says that Snoopy taught her how to survive the publishing process; to deal with rejections and then get over them; to ignore bad reviews and move on. Snoopy turned out to be her perfect career mentor and he also led her into a life with dogs who enriched and fulfilled her. She says she always assumed that her dogs have an active inner life and are always cooler than she is.

I was never inspired to write. I just always did and so did my parents. My school required creative writing and analytical writing as well as research papers from the third grade on. My high school papers are indistinguishable from my college ones.

My father published seven books and numerous articles in the field of psychiatry and anthropology, many before I was born. He spent every summer locked in his study, writing, Every day he would present his writing to my mother who would edit it and encourage rewrites when needed. There was a lot of heated discussion about content, organization and writing style throughout my childhood.

My father in his fifties

When I was around fifteen, I joined my mother and we became my father’s editing team. As he got older, his writing often rambled and went off-topic and it was our job to keep him focused. We often had to outline material for him and even rewrite sections ourselves when he resisted our ‘advice’ and insisted on his now more stream of consciousness style. That may work for fiction, but not for an academic treatise.

Writing has always been a part of my life. I went through a period of anxiety and insecurity in my own writing when I was in high school and my mother did for me what she did for my father. She helped me figure out what I wanted to say and the most effective and persuasive way to say it. She taught me how to organize my thoughts and present my ideas cleanly and clearly.

Me at seventeen

When I started writing short audio theater plays with my husband, I had to learn how to write dialogue, which is a totally different kind of writing. I was used to writing analytical prose, which is not the way people talk. Dialogue has to sound like someone is actually speaking, not reading aloud from a non-fiction book.

So my writing evolved and expanded to encompass a new format for me. It is amazing and gratifying to hear actors bring your words to life. It’s even more awesome to hear audiences reacting to your words by laughing and applauding.

Title page of one of our scripts

I loved Snoopy too growing up, but I identified more with Linus and Charlie Brown than with the fearless, adventuresome Snoopy. I can imagine that if Snoopy ever wrote short plays, he would picture the adulation of audiences and bask in their approval. I’ve had that experience, so in a way, I’ve had my ‘Snoopy moment.’

Even a nerd like me can feel cool. But never as cool as Snoopy.

TOO MANY MURDER MYSTERIES – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Thursday: PROXY

As soon as whoever it is — usually, a child or grandchild of some older person shows up clutching a proxy in hand, evil will be done. The old person will be forced out of his home, all his possessions will be stolen right down to and including his most comfortable chair.

The two Barnabys

Soon, a scream will echo through the halls of the lordly manor as the corpse is discovered.

The REAL star of the show, Sykes

Will it be the old person or the young person … or, sometimes, someone apparently completely disconnected from the event? Barnaby and his sidekick Ben will investigate.

A little map of Midsomer

The truth will always surface and that person found dead — who I assure you will not be the only person found dead because no good Midsomer Murder has fewer than three murders in any episode — will ultimately be discovered to have some hidden, furtive relationship with everyone else.

Typical local home in Midsomer

Who is everyone else? Family, of course. And the wealthier and nobler the family, the more murders will have occurred before the show ends.

I always feel short-shrifted if there are fewer than three murders in an episode. And there has to be at least one scream.