Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Crowding the spotlight

Every day I get an email from Google Alerts about something I've written and posted or something I've written that someone else has borrowed without permission, like this morning. I was notified that a web site was using one of my recent posts to advertise their site and services. I contacted the site and told them they were using copyrighted material and to either remove my work or contact me to discuss payment. I don't mind my work being reprinted elsewhere but I also expect to be paid and that they ask for my permission first.

Being a writer is a double-edged sword. As a writer's work is more available and more people read it, there is the tendency to feel like the spotlight is on you. In that way, it's like a having guilty conscience: everything is aimed at you. All those looks, people thinking you've done something wrong, people knowing what's on your mind and in your heart, and it can be exhausting. The writer is center stage in the spotlight and a lot of people want to crowd in there, too. It's especially true about some of the things I write because, as much as they like to think they're unique, people are very similar. That is why writing about situations and relationships has such a far reaching effect; people are basically the same. The problem is that sometimes people see themselves in what I write and they just aren't there. It's hard to convince some people that what I write is generic and often a combination of several people and situations, but that's the trouble with the spotlight. Some people love to be in the center and want everyone to look at them, often because they feel they've been the butt of a joke or the subject of a particularly bad situation.

A few years ago I wrote about meeting someone when I was out running errands and described the person as Uriah Heep. If you haven't read David Copperfield by Charles Dickens you would miss the analogy. Uriah Heep was a slimy worm of a person, always working his way into a position of power while he wrung his hands and talked about how he wasn't worthy to be noticed because he was a humble person and beneath notice. Someone I knew emailed and asked if the post was about them even though they didn't live nearby and I couldn't have met them while running errands. You have to wonder about someone who reads something like that and sees himself portrayed. Obviously, something struck a nerve. But it wasn't about him.

I write for many reasons: to illustrate a point, to share scraps of my life and what I experience, to connect with others and just to write. I seldom know where the muse will take me when I begin to type. I almost always have a point but seldom have a single person in mind, unless I'm writing a review or about the important people in my life. So, unless I mention someone specifically, the focus is a composite of many people and situations I know. And yet, there are always those people who are convinced what I write is all about them. They're crowding the spotlight, often to make themselves seem more important than they are or to play the victim. Just like the person who saw himself in the hand wringing, slimy worm always apologizing for putting himself forward and working his way closer and closer with evil intentions in his heart, there will always be those who feel the need to crowd the spotlight. After all, why wouldn't it be about them since they are the most important and relevant person in the world? It's just like a narcissist to believe the sun rises and sets to shine on him.

It's gratifying that people read what I write because it's part of the reason I write -- to reach people and make them think. It's also scary because there are people who believe it's all about them and that can have some disastrous and sad results. That's how stalkers begin. They hide in the shadows, watching and waiting, holding on to perceived insults like a festering boil, just waiting for the moment to spit out venom. The characters and subjects on which they focus says so much about them, especially when the stalker blames the writer. It's like a guilty conscience.

I am glad when what a write touches a nerve or reminds someone they're not alone. It's part of the reason I write. I smile when someone lets me know that my writing helped them to see past their blind spot. I worry when anyone decides without clear and undeniable proof that they have been maligned or that I'm telling all their secrets and laying them open to ridicule. Those people have serious issues and need serious help.

Like one of my friends who stood in the spotlight recently for her fifteen minutes of fame when Barack Obama walked up onto her porch to shake her hand, everyone gets a turn in the spotlight. Be wary of anyone who keeps taking center stage and crowds the spotlight, especially when they play the victim and point to all the reasons they are special. Those people are dangerous and their guilty conscience is showing. It's like a vindictive woman dredging up the past to punish someone for something that happened years ago; they just won't let go. They like being the victim. They like playing the wronged woman. They just can't keep from crowding the spotlight. And they're dangerous. At such times, it's best to move quickly and quietly to the exits in an orderly fashion. Save yourself. You cannot save them.

Today they're obsessing about someone else. Tomorrow they might obsess about you. They can't help themselves. They're not happy unless they're in the spotlight and crowding everyone else out.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

One more day in the life

When I get up in the morning, after the usual round of answering Nature's call and waking up and getting something to eat, I sit down at my laptop and go through my email, deleting most of what's there (spam), but my favorite thing, after playing my morning word game, is answering email from friends, family and friends-to-be. It's the first highlight of my day. Yesterday, I received an invitation to move to Sri Lanka and I can't say I wasn't tempted. I'm still tempted. I'd be that much closer to India and have a chance to live and get to know the customs and society of a whole different world, one that I know only from news stories, movies and books. Who knows? I may one day decide to retire in Sri Lanka.

It's not my first invitation to move to India or nearby, but it is certainly the latest. The last invitation came from a publishing company that wanted me to write books to be translated into Sanskrit and Sinhala. I'd be famous. My stories would be made into movies and I could live a life of ease and comfort and wealth, but I'm not a big fan of the heat and I would miss the change of seasons that I love so much here. Still, maybe one day...

This morning I received a message from a Capricorn, a sort of Jack and the Beanstalk kind of guy who tools around the countryside in Missouri in his company truck. The combination of astrologer, world traveler with military experience and a teaching degree who once taught English is fascinating, a little like catnip in a way. He's one of my recent pen pals, and one who was certain I was looking for pen pals only in foreign countries. I didn't tell him it was too soon for him to judge my intentions, but I'm sure he will figure it out.

After a very long wait, I finally received my new knives yesterday, lovely, sharp, beautiful knives to go along with the cutting boards I had to replace. They weren't expensive, but they are necessary as my one paring knife is insufficient to the tasks it has been forced to perform the past two months.

Two months. I have been here two months and will pay the rent for my third month here today. The time has flown by, but everything is coming together quite nicely. I will have to finish getting everything in place since I have a birthday party to host at the end of the month for Nel. I still have to figure out what to serve that will suit everyone coming and how to fix a dessert that isn't too sweet for Nel and still satisfying for everyone else who will expect a sweet dessert of some sort. At least I have some time to figure it out and get the invitations ready.

In a couple of days I will also send up my very last issue of the ham club newsletter. No one so far has stepped up to take the job and I am afraid that the newsletter will end up consisting only of a president's message and the minutes of the board and club meetings. At least it will be very inexpensive to publish and will probably end up only on the web. But I can see what is happening. The members and board have decided that if no one steps up to the plate I will have to stay on until someone is found. I can't say I haven't thought about sticking around, but I'm not going to do it. I may not do it. Yeah, I'm considering it, but not seriously. I need a break. Maybe that's what I'll do, take a break for a few months and then pick it back up again. Then again...maybe not. I don't want to spend the rest of my natural life doing this newsletter.

The city workers started early this morning but the one workman who sings either isn't here today or even he doesn't feel like singing. They've moved a little farther down the alley so the noise and vibrations that nearly shook the cottage off its foundation yesterday are lessened but the dust they're kicking up sifts through the screens and coats everything with a fine gritty layer. At this rate, they may finish soon and will be out of sight and sound and mind. I certainly hope so. As much as I dislike typing operative reports for doctors unwilling to learn to speak English properly or without things in their mouth or even at a rate that is clearly and understandable to an ear other than a canine's, at least it keeps the cottage roof over my head and allows me to be inside almost protected from the dust and heat and cacophony of sewer repair, and that's something.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Behind the curtain

Can't a person have an opinion without spewing rage and anger? I'm beginning to wonder about that when LJ posts and conversations are heavily peppered with anger. I don't think the conversation is creating the anger, but rather the anger and rage are always there right beneath the surface and they bubble up like tar on a brass sky, blazing hot day. You'd think that people with so much good in their lives, if the reports are to be believed, would be calmer and less angry all the time and that it wouldn't blast out on such innocuous subjects.

Case in point: The fellow with whom I debated altruism and the meaning of life was so angry throughout the exchange, blasting me time and again with what he perceived as my cynicism and selfishness while he was a tireless and constant force for good and charity, while I remained calm, cool and logical. I just don't get it. This is someone who claims to be happy about volunteering his time to help others, indeed working his whole adult life as a fireman dedicated to saving lives and property, and he was angry at my suggestion that there are other personal motives hidden beneath the altruism. I must have hit a nerve.

Every time I read someone's journal who writes endlessly about how happy they are or meet someone who claims to have it all, I am a little surprised that such happiness barely hides so much anger and rage. How can such negative emotions flourish in such contented soil unless the contentment and happiness are all a facade?

I've been through some rough times, rougher than many people know, but one thing I've held onto is the sense that no matter how bad things get there is always something positive to take away from the experience, even if it's only the knowledge that I have survived. I don't mean that I don't get angry -- I do -- or that there aren't moments that I want to throttle some idiot for hurting someone I love, but mostly . . . I don't. My anger is momentary because I realize that people are always going to do bone-headed things and hurt other people by design or out of ignorance and I know I can't change that, so it's a waste of energy to be angry. Like my neighbor, Ms. Stilettos, and dumping my trash on my deck because she didn't want to share the trash bin. She seldom even uses the trash bin, except to throw away Starbuck's grande coffee cups and the occasional fast food bag, at least as far as I can see when I dump my bag of trash every week just before the garbage trucks come, so why the rage and me using the bin? I'd have to say it's control. She didn't control the trash bin any more and she couldn't control me.

As far as I can see, rage and anger boil down to control, even when the control is not being able to control how people see you. Once the smiling mask has been lifted or the man behind the curtain exposed as just a flunky or a man, rage takes over. Sometimes rage takes over as a defense to make sure that no one sees behind the mask or the curtain because it keeps the focus on the rage and people occupied defending themselves against the rage. Such insecurity in the face of discovery must be difficult to live with no matter how good things are. Even the great and terrible Wizard of Oz was nothing more than a carnival mind reader and balloonist who happened to fall into the right place at the right time to make his fortune and to wield great power over the people in Emerald City when what he really wanted to do was run away and hide, so he retreated into his palace, set guards at the entrance and created a powerful mask of rage to hide behind so people would be too frightened to ask or even approach. Such power and such loneliness in the midst of so much of what most people would see as riches and happiness must be horrible to live with day after day. Makes you wonder what else they're hiding behind all the rage and anger.

No, my life isn't perfect and there are things I'd like to have and don't, but everything comes in time. It took time to get what I've lost and time to realize I didn't need everything I've lost, and it will take time to rebuild, but at least I am not starting from scratch and there are always good things that come alongside the bad, like penicillin to cure infection from moldy bread. I don't mind the momentary anger at injustice or hurting those I love and care about because eventually I'll figure out what good comes out of the situation when the anger no longer hides the truth and I am calm enough to see the anger is about me. Good thing my vision is getting clearer and better all the time, but I wonder how people so full of rage and anger see.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

In the Cut

I finally got to see In the Cut with Meg Ryan yesterday. It's dark and gritty and a huge departure for Meg. The big selling point when it was in the theaters was seeing Meg Ryan naked. As a woman who doesn't go for tongue and groove outside of flooring and furniture, I wasn't impressed. As an artist who has painted and drawn many nudes over the decades, I wasn't impressed, except when she was prone and the light was dim; then she looked like a Grecian sculpture. Full frontal, not impressed and not her best side, speaking from a strictly aesthetic standpoint, but she is otherwise quite beautiful and her figure is mature for her age. As a woman who has given birth to children, she is very well preserved. But what stands out about this movie isn't Meg's nudity, but her acting.

Frannie is a schoolteacher, but she is like no schoolteacher I ever had. She is just this side of hippy hip with undertones of the Beat Generation yet still maintains a certain coy innocence that is liberally tinged with avid sexuality and curiosity that is quite alluring. Her character is confused and tentative with people and yet comes alive when faced with words that move her and stimulate her mentally and emotionally.

Meg is still a beautiful woman, but this movie was made before the disastrous My Mom's New Boyfriend and before she gave her beautiful face to the knife and ended up with trout lips. Too much collagen in the lips and not enough brains in the head for her to have messed with such a classic, although of late too thin, beauty. Once again, Meg Ryan prone sunning herself by the pool was a gorgeous sight to behold, before she stood and went full frontal -- face, I mean -- and showed her caricature of a mouth, the ruined curved of those sensuous, uptilted cornered lips defaced by too much collagen or a too big lip implant. Not everyone needs to be Angelina Jolie.

At any rate, In the Cut is a movie that is part thriller, part trip into the psyche of a macho, on-the-make cop who likes to color way outside the edges, and part character study that almost works. The flow is choppy and confusing at times with a raw, almost uncut feel to it, as though made as a second year film student's project, but it did draw me in. Kevin Bacon plays a small part and he's another one who should stay away from the knife, although what has been done works very well for this not-out-of-the-closet, would-be stalker who is so clingy and needy he made me want to run and hide. Yikes! Mark Ruffalo as the homicide detective Frannie keeps trying not to and eventually does fall for is dark and edgy and just barely this side of sleazy. Sharrieff Pugh as the intense English student from Frannie's class who defends John Wayne Gacy is intense and young and very hunky, but that relationship wasn't quite developed enough and seemed erratic at best, but should have had more screen time to develop.

In some ways, In the Cut feels thrown together as though the director chopped up the whole movie in a fit of pique and decided to put it back together without a clear arc or time line. It would be a better movie with a little judicious editing, but otherwise the discordant and jumpy feeling does go well with the jump and erratic Frannie's emotions and life. It's not quite there though. Needs more time to cook before it's done and I hope this is one film that gets a director's cut when the director isn't on or coming off of some very good drugs.

That is all. Disperse.

Pen pals and sewers

When it rains, it pours. Of course, it hasn't been raining much here, or pouring, on the outside; inside is another story altogether. I had a new friend from Iowa come to visit this past week (coaches convention) and I not only misplaced his phone number in the stack of books I had to get through but completely forgot to call him because I was so busy with work and writing reviews. Unlike the rain, which kept rumbling and grumbling but never falling for more than a few minutes, I was deluged with work and responsibilities. It's been that way for weeks. I even sent out a call for pan pals when I had some time to spend getting to know a little about people in other cultures and they responded en masse. Like I said, when it rains, it pours. Weatherwise? No. Personal life? Yes.

People from Ghana have learned how to use web crawlers (not Spiderman) to scope out potential targets, like pen pal and singles sites, to further their need for infusions of cash, most with an introductory letter that seems personal (mostly misspelled with lots of netspeak and no punctuation or capitalizations), that explain they know most people are racists in America but they want to learn more about the people. Uh, no you don't. What you want is to tweak the American nipple to see if it will payoff like a loose slot machine in a Vegas bus station. Not going to happen. After thanking the first person (wearing a tailored Armani suit that costs about $2000) for his response and answering his questions, I was immediately inundated with ten more young men from Ghana, all who believe Americans hate black people. Uh, no, I don't. I have a black ancestor in my family tree and I'm quite proud of him (runaway slave adopted by Cherokee). I figured out the scam pretty quickly and and now I just delete anyone from Ghana. This may seem like I'm prejudiced or not willing to check each and every one out, but I don't have the time or inclination to ferret out the few sincere writers from the scam artists. I wanted a couple of pen pals, not to be mother to Ghana's poor, tired and hungry masses yearning to live for free in America.

I have, however, picked up a few pan pals: from Sri Lanka, India, Israel, Iowa and Pennsylvania and they are turning out to be very interesting and colorful. I wish I could visit them all or at least get them all together for dinner or a weekend and not have to worry about time or work or anything but getting to know one another. However, I have to live in the real world -- at least for now.

The weather hasn't cooperated with my plans, but at least it has been cooler over the past couple of days, despite the noise and heat and stench of diesel fuel from the city workers tearing up the alley three feet behind my office window. With all the jackhammers and backhoes and shouting and clashing metal, it has been difficult to sleep in the morning or get much work done while they're out there. One small pleasant note (actually, a few pleasant notes) come from one of the worker who has a habit of singing first thing in the morning when he gets on the job. He has a pleasant voice and it soothes my jangled nerves as I am throttled awake by the roar and belching clouds of diesel fuel when the backhoes and heavy machinery are started up first thing in the morning. It's the reverse of what I'm used to, the slap in the face and then the pat on the back. In this case, the pat on the back is literally music to my ears.

I like to work with the window open so the breeze can circulate through the house, but since the workers are digging up the alley to put in a new sewer system, leaving the window open is not an option. It's not as if the window keeps out much of the noise when the pavement is being battered and pulverized, but it does keep out most of the stench and the dust. It also makes the room warmer and stuffier, but that is to be expected in the summertime. They won't be out there forever, but if last year is any indication, they will be here for at least a month or so, or until the weather gets cold and the snow starts falling, which I pray may be very soon indeed.

As I unpack more books and boxes of things, the cardboard pile is getting higher and I am determined to finish breaking all the boxes down and taking them to the recycling bin, along with all the magazines I've read and no longer need and the waste paper and plastic from all the air-filled pillows needed to protect a book or magazine from being jolted too much.

Suddenly, it occurs to me that if there was a shortage of air, those bags might come in handy -- for a while. There's a story there. I can feel it.

At any rate, I have laundry to do (yippee for washer and dryer), a load of dishes to wash (yippee for dishwasher) and a piece of homemade oatmeal cake from my Gram's recipe to eat before I shower, dress and chain myself to my chair to get some operative reports done before the jackhammering and backhoeing starting again tomorrow. I also have a book to finish reading so I can review it and move onto the next box of books. And life continues here at the cottage while the sun shines in a brilliant blue sky and cool breezes drift through the open windows.

That is all. Disperse.