I realize I have not been living up to my intention with this blog lately. I can usually see the humor in an situation, but there is little that is making me laugh lately. Most likely because national, regional and local politics are a depressing reflection of our deeply flawed society.

Also because I am attempting to write an essay to submit for publication. This will be a first for me other than plays and poems I submitted to contests when I was younger.

The essay I am writing is about growing up during desegregation, known locally as “busing”. I am prepared for rejection.

I have two things in draft right now about Bronies and setting new rules as the daughter ages out of the old system, that will have to wait while I polish up this essay enough to have my husband have a first read. Guest posts are welcome as I dither over pretending I am writer.

It was my birthday the other day. Normally I’m not one for taking stock on anniversaries, but a number of things swirling around have left me in a pensive mood. In addition to being a year older, my daughter recently attended her first semi-formal dance.

Short dress, high heels, boyfriend at the door, the whole magilla. Nothing too terrible there. She looked very beautiful, sweet and appropriate to an 8th grade dance. Continue reading

In an alternate future-world I will read the New Yorker magazine the day that it arrives in the mail. In present reality-land, they are scattered throughout the house in no real order. Some in the living room, some in the kitchen, a few hidden under piles of books in my daughters room, so I never actually read them in order. Which can be fascinating.

I recently read an analysis of Mitt Romney that ran prior to the November election and it was a great hindsight view of what went wrong in his campaign (thank God!). I do, however,  have a way of filing the magazines I’ve read so I am at least reaching for new (to me) content when I do grab one.

I just picked up the April 8, 2013 issue and read a Shouts & Murmurs that just slayed me. This regular feature can be hit or miss, but this one was dead on. Paul Rudnick did a scathing parody of the overprivileged Mommy Blogger. While I do write about my family, my daughter and parenting in general, when someone called my Rant a Mommy Blog a while back I was hurt & offended. Rudnick’s humorous, not so unrealistic, depiction of blogging is my darkest fear with my writing.

This post is a bit longer than my usual, but the Rudncik is well worth the read. I don’t think I am a Mommy Blogger and there is additional proof in the fact that I have not disabled the comments.

“I’m Jyll Cimmaron Stelton, and every morning, even before I crawl out from under my down comforter, I grab my iPad and start to mommyblog. I always begin by composing a prayer of gratitude for my beautiful children: Sonnet, Cascade, Nebula, and the baby, Diaspora. I’m not sure what the word “diaspora” means, but it sounds so pretty, and it was either that or Chipotle.

I believe that childhood is a brief, perfect state of being, and so I’ve tried to enclose my family in a shimmering sphere of enchantment, a realm that I call WonderPlanet, right here in our Park Slope brownstone. On WonderPlanet, anything is possible, as long as everyone loves one another and Goldman Sachs comes through with Daddy’s Easter bonus. I teach my children that money is like fairy dust, because when we sprinkle it around we can dream and sing and fly, usually in business class, and we can bake heart-shaped cookies that we can share with all the other children who aren’t allergic to stone-milled spelt flour, carob chips, whey protein, and smiles.

Some people have criticized me for not going back to work after my children were born, and for hiring a nanny. But I think of nurturing WonderPlanet as a full-time occupation, and someday I do plan on returning to my career as an advocate for women over forty who still want to grow and maintain waist-length hair. In addition, I’ve begun to sell a selection of trademarked WonderPlanet collectibles online, including hand-thrown ceramic mugs inscribed with the mottoes “Wander Into Wonder,” “I’m a Stay-at-Home Dreambuilder,” and “End Bullying Today—Buy a Mug.” I’m also marketing a line of meadow-dried teas, called Peaseblossom Morn, Smoochberries ’n’ Yarn, and Private Tutor. And in just a few weeks I’ll be introducing my WonderPlanet homewares line, in collaboration with Target, which will feature handwoven raffia boxes designed to hold smaller handwoven raffia boxes.

As for our nanny, well, because Tula is really more like a member of our family, we call her our Friendgiver. Sometimes, when I’m on the chaise longue in my home office, editing the audio of the duets where I sing along with Taylor Swift and then mimic Taylor’s voice thanking me, I get a little jealous, because Tula is enjoying the gift of bathing my children and inspecting their scalps for head lice. Once the little ones are all fresh-smelling, with their heads shaved and shining, Tula and I love to create games like Let’s All Be Butterflies and Pretend That Tula Is a Windshield, and Let’s All Change Tula’s Name Again and Ignore Her Until She Answers to Mrs. Melonbutt T. Wiggleburp.

One afternoon last week, I came upon Tula sobbing quietly in a corner, and I didn’t want to upset her by asking why, but I knew: it was because, at the end of each perfect Brooklyn day, she’s forced to return to her own home, in an outlying borough that the children and I call Underplace. I curled my arm so that it hovered about four inches away from her shoulders, and stroked the air above her head, while murmuring, “There, there, don’t cry. Next weekend, I’ll let the children stay with you in Underplace, so I can finish the proposal for my cookbook, called ‘Sparkle Soup and Gummi Flax: Imaginary Recipes for Obese Children in Public Schools.’ ”

Of course, I dread the day when Sonnet, my eldest, will begin her half-days at St. Elizabeth’s, the only preschool in our area where children are required to wear wings, crowns, and non-gender-specific leg warmers. I have refused to confine or label my children in any way, and sometimes I tell Cascade that his penis is called a vagina, just so I can watch him pound his tiny head against the wall with secret joy. And once, after Nebula asked me where babies come from, we had a wonderful afternoon, filling condoms with water and then hurling them at Tula.

Most of our days, however, are spent dressing up in hand-embroidered Swedish linen smocks, tulle tutus, and velvet tunics, and fashioning dance/performance pieces illustrating what I like to call “Ye Enchantable Historye of WonderPlanet.” Yesterday, when some neighboring children came over, Nebula chose to play the Darkling Shrew, a mother who neglects her children by selfishly pursuing a life of social work and city planning. The other children all played positive emanations, including Kindness, Quiet Time, and Really Listening. They surrounded the Darkling Shrew and punched her until she promised to quit her job and devote more time to Instagramming photos of them touching oversized soap bubbles.

The afternoon flew by, and before we knew it Daddy came home, carrying a bunch of daffodils, a loaf of still warm cracked-carraway-seed bread from our local bakery, which is staffed entirely by Dartmouth Ph.D.s, and all of Mommy’s prescriptions, which I immediately sorted into imported French porcelain pillboxes, labelled “Stress,” “Mood,” and “I Wish I Had a Gun.”

The children always leap into Daddy’s loving arms, eager for kisses and cuddles and the marvellous lemon-verbena scent of that twenty-three-year-old whom Daddy insists is simply an eager Wharton grad he’s mentoring. Then, because we’re all finally together on WonderPlanet, Tula distributes the wood blocks, tambourines, and Pan flutes, and we become the WonderPlanet Starcarrier Symphony Sensation, led by me strumming my lute, with Daddy keeping time by tapping his glass against the bottle of Scotch. Together, we all perform old family favorites like “Hooray! It’s Tuesday!,” “Tula Is So Slow!,” and “Daddy Is Just Tired from a Very Long Day, So Please Stop Whining About Montauk.”
After dinner, and while waiting for Tula to get all four children in bed, Daddy and I finally grab some alone time. I show him the children’s new watercolors. We marvel at their vivid imaginations, and we ponder what it means that the stick figures in Nebula’s paintings are all on fire, under the words “While They’re Asleep.”

So ends another exhausting, confounding, and inspiring day here on WonderPlanet. I know that this paradise can’t last forever, and that’s why every day I post an affirmation on our family’s Web site and I add a few bills from Daddy’s wallet to my secret lingerie-drawer bank account. And, as I close my eyes and begin to dream of the next morning’s blog entry, I think, I’m so glad I disabled the comments section.”
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One of the interesting things I have found about writing a blog is the sense of obligation I feel to unseen readers. I know I have exactly six followers (the little icons show up on the bottom of the page) and a handful of other folks who have told me they read it. So when I don’t post three or four times a week I feel it niggling in the back of my mind. 

One thought that has returned repeatedly in the time between the last post and this – which was by no means empty I assure you – is the use of the phrase “A drop in the bucket”. This caught my attention a few weeks ago in a story about Syria. The person reporting the International Aid provided had a very disgusted tone and was stressing that it was so little as to be meaningless. Then, as these things do, I started hearing “a drop in the bucket” in all sorts of conversations.

I couldn’t help wondering if the people on the receiving end in Syria, as much as they need a great deal more intervention and attention, were not happy to receive something rather than nothing. It is a curious attitude people often have about the worth of effort. “Choose your battles” is another one that implies futility to me. My question, which I’m sure is rich for psychoanalysis, is ‘Just because something is futile, does that mean you shouldn’t do it?’

I would love to be part of the grand gesture, launch the world-changing movement or earn a place in the history books, but that doesn’t mean I turn away from the individual kindness, the small monetary contribution or the tedium of what needs doing. It’s not even that I have a “pay it forward” mentality (another phrase that could use some critical analysis as to the self-benefit attached to “public” altruism), I think I am much more utilitarian – do what you can, when you can.

The futility calculation translates too easily into helplessness and it’s easily forgotten that drops add up and fill the bucket, that molehills piled on top of each other become a mountain. Sometimes my “something” ends up being simply sending thoughts into the world via my little blog noodlings. Conversation I am having with the world. Or myself. That part is less clear.

But at least its something rather than nothing.

I occasionally read science fiction and sci-fi fantasy books. Less now than I used to just because it takes effort to find good writing and when I pick up a book at the library its invariably the 3rd installment of something that is a splinter world of source material I haven’t read. So mostly I stick to Terry Pratchett & Octavia Butler, neither of whom are writing much anymore.

One series I liked once upon a time was about a split world of technology & magic. There were places where you stepped through a curtain and you were with the unicorns and wizards. Split Infinity was the name. The trick was that  you could only cross the curtain if your counterpart in the other world was dead. At least that’s how I remember it

I feel like I am living in two worlds at the moment. In one world I have a full time job where I perform certain tasks that I get paid for because they are assigned to me. In this world I spend a lot of time with my friends iMac and Pandora. I have been told that my skill set lacks certain competencies around oral and written communication, team work, cooperation and interpersonal respect. I need to try harder.

In the other world I am paid to perform tasks because they are my greatest competencies. I spend time with other humans who seek me out for these competencies. My skill set includes interpersonal respect, deep and effective communication and positive collaboration. I receive praise and thanks.

It is getting harder and harder to cycle between these two worlds. The magic world seems more real everyday, and the real world more bizarre. Writing is part of the magic world that’s crystal clear. Its also part of my reality check.

Little deep for Friday afternoon but its almost quitting time. Yup. Its almost quiting time.

That will be the ultimate reality check.

I am currently reading Isabel Allende’s Zorro. It has been on my nightstand for roughly a year in the “to be read next pile”, but I gave in after a friend’s gentle, if loud, hectoring that I need to “do something that’s not work related!”

I often read fiction but have been swamping myself lately with what my daughter calls my “boring books” whose titles almost always include a colon or subtitle. Two examples next to me on my desk as I type: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions and Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing your Career.  I read the first one when it came out years ago and wanted to pull some examples, and the other I’m reading because some folks I’m working with are going through big transitions right now.

This post isn’t really about my boring reading habits, its more about unmasking. I have been considering putting this blog under my own name – leaving the clever title of course because I like it – but allowing a public profile & my real name to be shown. When I started it years ago the anonymity was partially because I thought it was pretentious to call myself a writer, even of a blog, so I wanted to hide. And partially because I was afraid the writing was just crap anyway and if it was anonymous I could be less embarrassed about my desire to write and my lack of skill.

Now I don’t know. Some folks who I admire and trust have said its not half bad. Some say writing an anonymous blog is exaggerating your own importance – that no one will actually care. And that your readers are less connected to you if they don’t “know you” through your profile. So I am looking for feedback.

If you read this blog, or have just read this post, what do you think? Anonymous or no?

You may have been subjected to a personality test at some point in your adult life – Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Strengths Finder –  there are oh so many to choose from. If you have it’s likely it was a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator was which I have written about before.

If you have your type memorized (I am either ENTJ or ESTJ depending on the day), you can indulge in the humor of the Prayer Grid below. It is so hard to get out of our boxes. That is one of my goals this year, to at least climb into or try on some new boxes. Recommendations?

Couples and families often have in jokes & catch phrases that turn into short hand too obscure for outsiders even when explained. Lemon difficult is one between me and my husband.

Long ago my friends and I worked to get our hipster cred by slogging through lots of lousy sketches on Saturday Night Live to get the one insider gem that would be all anyone could talk about the following week. Now I pay $7.99 a month for Hulu on Roku so I get the best bits vetted and watch them on my phone over lunch. I digress. Or not.

A while back we saw the most tense, disturbing, political movie I’ve ever watched called “In The Loop”. Beside the fact that it should have been named “Capaldi Live: Cursing as Art Form”, I thought I was going to pass out because I kept holding my breath. There was one deeply funny moment however, that made me laugh until I cried. I still have a hard time repeating the words without cracking up. An idiotic politician tells his staffer to do a profoundly impossible thing at a UN meeting in the middle of a situation that is beyond crisis. He blithely says it will be “Easy peasy, lemon squeezy” and the staffer hisses at him “No it wont, it will be difficult, difficult lemon difficult.”

Things that are currently “Lemon Difficult”:

  • Recommitting to the house we live in. Because, in anticipation of a pending move that was subsequently canceled, many hundreds of books are boxed up. Which makes this the perfect time to paint, rearrange, re-purpose rooms, areas, furniture etc., also known as “The Great Cascade of Work”.
  • Trying to determine the criteria for the project management for “The Great Cascade of Work”. Possibilities include: what do I /we need out of boxes, what room is most annoying to have in chaos, what would be the easiest project to accomplish, what would be the fastest project to accomplish.
  • Writing my annual performance review and objectives. Just this side of torture, this chore takes an inordinate amount of my time because it is all self-assessment which I absolutely suck at.  Hey maybe I will make that Objective II: Suck less at self-assessment. I wish I could do a Survey Monkey with a 5 point Likert Scale…
  • The pending homework for my certification. I am being such a slacker lately what with all the paralyzed staring at walls that I am a bit behind. Where to start.
  • The pending paper that I have not been writing for two solid months (see wall staring above)

The law of Amanda writing would indicate that since I am writing about it, Lemon Difficult must be on its way out. Had the impulse here to launch into a discussion on law v. theory but I really do need to read a few more articles today.

I think I will spend some time this weekend making a Meyer Lemon simple syrup for a Lemon Difficult Cocktail. Much more satisfying than lemonade don’t you think?

It’s 3am and once again I am awake with my mind racing. A hybrid mix of things I have neglected to do and things I have done badly, a friend of mine calls this the “highlights reel”. Depending on the day, the season or the worry stone my mental thumb is rubbing, the highlights could include anything from emails and reports I haven’t gotten to or cruel remarks I made in high school. The possibilities are endless.

I was thinking this habit, which I know is shared by millions of other self-flagellating unfortunates, has potential as a book series. Like the beloved Little Golden Books of my childhood, I am imagining Little Golden Showers: Ways To Piss on Your Life, a bedside primer of fables for the middle aged insomniac.

Instead of The Poky Little Puppy, we would have “The Undeserving Little Puppy” who reaps rewards by taking advantage of the other puppies glaring errors and inability to notice behavior patterns. The Little Red Hen would become “The Little Red Martyr” who suffers from the delusion that she asks for help and is refused, when hidden cameras reveal she deflects all assistance because “she wants it done right”. The Shy Little Kitten and the Tawny, Scrawny Lion are opposite ends of oblivious feline behavior demonstrating naïveté and selfishness.

And then there is The Giving Tree which doesn’t even need a re-write to be renamed The Guilt Tree, or Are You Really Doing Enough for Your Child? So many titles, so many opportunities for creativity.

3am really is the “Golden Hour” for self-reflection.

Digging through the CD case that was tucked in the door of the car the other day my daughter found a CD from when she was small. It was a “mix tape” made as a gift for her by her dad’s friend who has a child a few years younger than her. It was equal parts corny and delightful to listen (and sing along to) to songs we forgot about as she moved on to her own musical choices. Not to mention Pandora and iPod genius mixes.

She has always had eclectic tastes in music, probably because her father made her CD’s with music ranging from punk/rock/jazz and everything in between. Joe Strummer, The Specials and Squeeze were early favorites, which meant we were spared the cruelty of Barney, The Wiggles and Disney Radio.

The “La La La La” song by Barenaked Ladies was one of the songs on the “Joey Mix CD” that we listened to the other night. It does “unexpected” things with the letter “L” like singing about linoleum rather than lullaby’s. This popped in my head today as I was reading an essay on language by Joshua Foer in the New Yorker (you can read it here). The thing that hooked me, and made me start humming the lemon song, was the premise that language could (or should) be “cured” of its inherent flaws so that communication would be logical, efficient and precise.

As someone who spends a lot of time talking (and writing) I can’t say precision has ever been my uppermost goal. Maybe it is a symptom of the language, but my drive is to usually word choice that creates feeling. Data is never as powerful as metaphor or story – no matter what our mouths keep saying – our brains know better.

Communication by language is so much more than just the words. I understand the desire for precision for certain topics, philosophers are notoriously obsessed with describing reality with precise, neutral language, but that’s what I thought Latin was for. Language conveys history and values along with ideas. Imperfect slices of the evolution of a society, the adoption of “accepted” knowledge and advances in science, are all reflected in language, dialect and common usage.

Its a fascinating topic, thinking about the purpose of language. Linguistics in general, semantics in particular. I didn’t realize before how attached I am to my language evoking feeling and connection. I think of myself as fairly logical, but I guess the swirly, word soup in my head is closer to the whimsy & charm side of the scale than the precision & efficiency end.  I think in the work I do the emotional connection (forged by words, anecdote, metaphor) is actually what greases the neural pathway to allow new behavior. It’s all self-motivation of course, but the language is a trigger.

Much to think about. Including how children’s songs about lemons fit into our conception of the purpose of language.

CODA:
I neglected to click “publish” after proofing this post yesterday because I needed to take my daughter to her school spelling bee. Which she subsequently won. As much as I like writing I can’t spell to save my life so I take no genetic credit for her spelling skill. Her father and I are very proud of her accomplishment.

I am just poking my head up after a 4-hour trip down the rabbit hole of Internet research. In the midst of writing a paper (that I don’t feel like working on right now) I made the mistake of trying to locate a fact rather than leaving my usual lacuna [need info here].

[need info here] is my way of continuing to write rather than stopping to edit. Today I stopped to edit. The info I needed was the amount of federal money spent on a particular program from 2001 – 2012. The problem was that in our click-able world I ended up reading 2013 Agency Budget Requests to Congress instead of finding the information I was after.

As I am sure you know the 2013 budget, written by the POTUS in February 2012 for approval in October 2012, is still languishing on the edge of a cliff. The 2014 budget may actually reach Congress before the 2013 one is settled. Or maybe there is some archaic rule that will keep that from happening.

The piece of the pie that interests me in my work sits in the “Remaining Programs” slice, the 2% allocation to Science and Medical Research to be specific. Of that 2% the agency I write grants to gets 21%. From the 21% my program area gets (hopefully) $17 million in 2013, down from $23 million in 2009. In my world that means two fewer $750K projects funded every year.

The looming 10% sequestration cuts figure very large in my world.And now they are threatening temporary sequestration cuts whatever that means. More game playing with peoples lives.

Maybe that’s why writing the paper, that will help prove the value of the work, so the funding to continue can be secured, doesn’t feel so pressing. It can all be undermined by a bunch of clowns throwing pies.

I really should have called this post “cull” because I’m having a hard time actually purging.

I’ve been on a kick to sort the paper in my office. Boxes of files, cabinets of files, files of files – I am surrounded. It starts innocently enough when I grab a 3-inch stack of paper or an overstuffed binder or accordion folder and say to myself “I haven’t touched this in years, I don’t know what it is, I can probably throw it straight into the recycling”.

And then I check. Just to be sure. Who knows if an heirloom photo, a diploma or a stray Apple stock certificate is lurking in there. Could happen.

30 minutes later I can’t seem to part with the lecture notes from a class I taught on Contemporary Moral Problems.  Some pithy stuff about normative ethics and the Challenger disaster, or Augustine’s analysis of lying to liars (seems like it should be morally okay doesn’t it) and 40% of what I started out purging is now merely culled.

Why is it so hard to let go of some things?

It’s highly unlikely I will ever teach philosophy again, I barely read it and almost never even talk about it, so why can’t I chuck the notes & articles? I’ll ponder this while I find someplace to wedge this binder in my “archives” file cabinet. Calling it archives is my clever way to mask hording chunks of my  past.

Paper chunks.

Poor tree.

I have a character flaw that blew up like an IED last month. A completely unhealthy reaction that I am, as of yet, unable to beat into submission or transform into something useful.

I over-identify with negative behaviors I witness.

In plain English, when I see behavior I find obnoxious, I start to discover all the ways that I do that exact thing and over compensate in the other direction. When I worked in theatre years ago there were some women who were very blatantly, aggressively sexually provocative in clothing and behavior. My reaction to this was to cover all available skin by wearing a black turtleneck and black pants every day for years. Problem solved: I am not them.

My force field repels “obnoxiously loud” by being silent, diffuses “self-aggrandizement” by deflecting praise and ruthlessly quashes any and all hipster-ish behavior.

This over correction happens almost automatically with certain people that I’ve known for years. Most recently I made the mistake of reading a blog that I found to be almost painfully pretentious and self-involved. And I found the writing to be cringe worthy. I blushed in embarrassment on behalf of the writer. And promptly stopped writing my blog.

The unfortunate part about this is that it wasn’t conscious. I thought I had writers block, or too many jagged thoughts competing in my head, and even while I was feeling bad that I wasn’t writing, I couldn’t figure out why. And then I did.

In the age of participation – when anyone and everyone can self publish, write a blog, have multiple twitter feeds and live their lives in the pseudo public eye of cyber space – I suddenly saw my blog writing as pathetic, self-indulgence. And maybe it is, who knows. But I enjoy writing it.

As a middle aged woman with a boatload of other personal issues, I think I can, in this instance, suck up the fear that I resemble this other writer and continue to write my blog. And, like an alcoholic who first has to admit there is a problem, I’m counting this as “progress”. I will persist in my efforts to overcome the habit of recoiling in horror from blatant self-indulgence and intellectual masturbation. I’ll even work on not blushing on behalf of TV actors wearing costumes in commercials. That one may take a while.

Character flaws in novels can take hundreds of pages to be improved, so by that standard I have at minimum a few more years of blogging to figure myself out.

I have taken an involuntary hiatus from my blog. Not exactly sure why, but I have been experiencing a kind of writing paralysis that might be called writers block but feels much more destructive.

I generally ruminate and chew my thoughts, but it usually produces something eventually. This time, no matter how much I rub this particular grain of sand, it refuses to cooperate and become a pearl.