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Archive for March, 2014|Monthly archive page

App-titude Test

In Should I Even Be Talking About This? on March 28, 2014 at 7:52 pm

I just finished an article in The Atlantic (Mar.’14) about Roboshopping (spell check keeps flagging the word, it’s new) Evidently, Wal-Mart has a new app for the Smart Phone, which is described like this:   ‘the app knows to turn on this thing called Store Mode, which surfaces in- store capabilities: Where is a product? Where is your shopping list? Where is the local ad for the store this week?’  (As of yet, no pictures to google map the particular children making the shoes for two cents an hour in foreign countries, but I trust a Wal-mart competitor is working on it)

This app is no different than a million other apps and electronics that ‘assist’ us each day. We have the Smart Phone that acts as a portable computer, GPS and lifeline- a myriad of electronic know- it- all at our beck and call. They serve as a kind of ‘external hard-drive’ for our brains.

But what effect does not having to think and trusting machines will do it for us, have on our life? With so much of ‘our’ knowledge being stored off-site (rather than in our brains) will our minds suffer the way bodies can, from complete lack of exercise? Would a massive power outage knock us out like a blow to the head, rendering us helpless?

Back in the not so distant day, we had to do all of this stuff for ourselves. We had to make our shopping list, get directions to places by asking someone (and write them down by hand) go for hours (sometimes days!) without seeing our friends because there was no way to access their humble-brags and Instagram’d meals like we can now. We’d sit at red lights and waiting rooms with zero entertainment-which could lead to thirty seconds- sometimes 30 minutes – or more!- of self reflection (Yes, this observation is the current equivalent of our parents saying they had to walk to school in the snow. With no shoes.)

We had to pace up and down grocery store aisles without a phone -whereas, with phone I notice people indulge in the most personal conversationsrather than face a moment of their own social discomfort! Now your inability to deal with radio silence is my problem– as in ‘Hey,  lady- by- the- rice: good luck at Evelyn’s appointment at the clinic on Tuesday. I hope it’s not that, either!” And man in the cookie aisle: I don’t know why they didn’t close on the house yet, either. It is almost April!’

People wear their phones like social armor, shielding themselves from any feeling that might be caused by a lull in the moment, or- god forbid- interactions. It sometimes seems like the person yapping on the phone in public thinks they look ‘popular’- yet all I can think is that they must be really insecure if they can’t just do the task at hand, and save us all from their personal life which always sounds so lame. (There is a difference between taking a quick  a call, and saying ‘I’ll call you when I get out of the store/office/restaurant.’ Normal people do that. It’s the upside of cell-phones. Oh- and a quick text works as well) Social media is a crutch for the awkward, and evidently, we’re all awkward but not willing to feel it. We will do anything rather than feel the thing.

This reminds me of a scene The Office, where Michael Scott and Dwight go on a business trip, using a GPS. They follow the directions exactly, and Michael, after being told to ‘make a right’, drives directly into a lake, because the GPS told him to, and he insisted on following it to the letter.

‘The Machines know!’ he yelled.

But  how much of the information that we trust is pure, and correct? After all, information is only as good as it’s source, and I doubt any of us really know whether or not the information we are privy to is accurate or free from ulterior motives. If an app tells you the nearest gas station is Shell- when there’s a BP right next to it, did Shell pay for the placement? Is Wal-Mart making shopping so easy that going to Target and having to ask an associate where the linens are will become a major inconvenience- a two second interaction that will ruin our whole day?

Does anyone else notice that ‘social media’ makes us the least ‘social’ people ever? Will brick-and-mortar stores eventually close down in favor of online shopping, leaving UPS and Fed-Ex drivers to be the only ones left roaming the land, like cowboys in the old (television show) west? Will social interactions become as rare and lonely as tumbleweeds? After all, if we already can’t risk looking each other in the eye, why bother venturing out at all?

With so much of our know-how stored off-site rather than permanently in our brains,- what will  happen when the system goes down, or is corrupted? Without spell check, will we even be able to correspond on paper? (True Story: I actually wrote an old school thank you card recently. I used a word I wasn’t confident of spelling, and pushed on it with the tip of the pen expecting to access Spellcheck.)

Without GPS will we be able to navigate our surroundings? I’m not one of those doom and gloomers about the future either- I love the new convenience that the internet has made possible. It’s just that in the back of my head, I wonder what the price will ultimately be, for all of us. How dependent are we on electricity (seriously, our entire lives are dependent on electricity) and spoon-fed information whose sources we don’t even question? Because now, when we fire up our laptops and phones, we’re turning on the lights to our day-to-day lives. I don’t think many of us could do it on our own anymore. And ‘ off the grid’ may as well be outer space!

Writing Intimidation/3/31/14

In Writing on March 19, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Today I bring up a subject that has only recently begun affecting me- what I call ‘writing intimidation’. I’ve been working furiously as of late  on what I call my ‘real’ writing (as opposed to my blog posts – which I enjoy writing immensely, but which seem less ‘real’- as in ‘marketable’ because they have already been released into the wild, so to speak).

I find that my attention is being drawn almost exclusively, to other writer’s credentials. The kind of credentials I simply don’t have. Should I be worried? Or should I just plod along with blinders on- the kind that blocks me from noticing that many writers have gone to expensive and exclusive schools, worked under the tutelage of famous authors, have MFA’s and teaching gigs at the Iowa Writers Program (teaching! I can’t even explain what I’m doing, let alone teach it! And isn’t teaching a whole separate degree?)

Pulling random books from my overflowing bookshelves (and book piles) I open to the writer credits,usually on the back cover, and inevitably it’s a ‘who’s who’ and ‘what’s what’ of accomplishment. Most of it is scholarly and/or massive sales-worthy. Here are some  examples: Augusten Burroughs is the New York Times Bestselling author…..David Sedaris’ half dozen books have been translated into twenty-five languages and his essays appear in the New Yorker and he can be heard on NPR’s ‘This American Life’…Barbara Kingsolver earned a graduate degree in biology before becoming a full-time writer…H.G. Bissinger  received the Pulitzer Prize and went to Harvard University….Wendy Lesser is the founder and editor of The Threepenny Review, which has been called “one of the most original literary magazines not only in the U.S. but also on the entire planet.”  These are a mere smattering of the applause from the books on my shelves.

I recently bought Ann Patchett’s long read on the craft of writing, (‘The Getaway Car’) and was somewhat alarmed that much of her journey centered on writing programs, scholarships and chance meetings and classes with certain teachers (often famous writers) without which she says she surely would never have become a ‘good’ writer. Not exactly inspiring.

It leaves me wondering: Is being a writer without an expensive Ivy League degree similar to teaching yourself to be a doctor over the internet? Is it that far fetched?

Reading interviews with authors is even more intimidating. Take the one I read this morning, a discussion with Gina Frangello, author of the book ‘A Life In Men’ where she speaks of her path to being a writer -(please allow me to paraphrase.)

“My husband had his first real job post-doc at the University of Chicago. He suggested I go back to school (note: she was already a licensed therapist) and get a Master’s in Creative Writing. I was in The Program For Writers to get my MFA and started working at a literary magazine and got a TA-ship. I ended up in the Ph.D program. I started teaching. I wrote a novel”

Two questions: What does that even mean and what chance in the world is there for an uneducated writer? My degree consists of 30 credits towards an Associates in Mass Communications at a community college, years ago. Nothing concrete, and absolutely nothing impressive. Since then I’ve been writing in private, and taken  Creative Writing courses here and there (mostly to check and see if there were other ‘crazies’ out there, writing away- and I’m happy to report: yes, there are!)

So,  how do writers such as myself exude confidence in the eye of such stellar competition?

Perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel is that as writers- true writers who feel compelled to write- there will be no such thing as giving up. Because to not write would be to not breathe, and in turn we would die. Write or Die, my friends…..Write or Die. Because even if we never ‘make it’ as writers, many of us will die trying.

I can’t speak for you, but I know that I have never regretted the trying, though there are times when it seems like such a ridiculous leap of faith, like something only a naive child would ever take seriously-especially if she is a non-graduate of Flaunty Von-Snootyville (jealous, much?), where scholars go to learn and ivy covers the walls. And one can find solace in the fact that there’s a huge difference between being intimidated and being defeated.

The Oscars Blow/2014

In Should I Even Be Talking About This?, Television on March 4, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Thoughts on The Oscars 2014: thank god it’s over. As usual, I didn’t watch, but feel subjected, regardless.  The Oscars (to me) are overblown, empty hype, the fawning over of a bunch of rich, privileged movie stars, who do none of the heavy lifting in their ‘vehicles’ (movies)

They (generally) don’t write the material, they don’t struggle to sell or finance said movies, and they aren’t the characters in these movies! They are paid insane amounts of money (as though they discovered the cure for cancer-except-oh wait- those people don’t really get paid…)

They aren’t even necessarily good people, or nice people, or people who would give any of their fans the time of day (though the fans can’t seem to compute that). Instead, people will sit there on this particular Sunday night, gazing dreamily at movie stars while they are congratulating the hell out of themselves- as if they haven’t already gotten enough praise to cover a million people’s allotment in the ‘real’ world. I just don’t get it.

This year- something fascinating happened. Believe it or not- and I don’t want you fainting or anything, so maybe sit down before you read this-evidently, the most popular of the popular kids (because if life mimics high school- and it does- the Oscars are the equivalent of not being invited to the prom, but watching the kids who were have the time of their lives as you sit home) -wait for it-………THEY TOOK A SELFIE!!! (*sponsored by Samsung*)

OH MY GOD!! I KNOW!! IT’S AMAZING! A SELFIE!  

I don’t know  how one wraps their head around this: famous people, who have been photographed non-stop for years, agree to act like- well- their fans…..and take a picture of their favorite subject, which is themselves!!! This sent the fans into a frenzy of disbelief- causing sheer Beatles-coming-to-America mania. Not surprisingly this precious selfie was the reason Twitter blew up (literally) as the stay-at-home peasants audience went crazy in a rush to be first responders on the scene at Twitter. 

Even if I could somehow tune out all of the next day yapping. I could have predicted some of the things that were bound to happen, as they do every year, even though I don’t even watch. The day-after coverage is brutal, the shrapnel impossible to avoid, like it’s being dropped from above by an army of drones.  Here are the things guaranteed to happen:

Jennifer Lawrence trips (it’s a tradition) and Jennifer Lawrence is hungry (never has an actress gotten more mileage out of admitting she eats, nor has anyone been able to stay as thin as she has considering what she claims to eat. Only Lorelei and Rory Gilmore have that magical eat-but-don’t gain ability- and they’re fictional!) One can only wait for her to someday gain some weight, and see how hilarious  and ‘down to earth’ it will all be then. Have fun with that, Jen.

Then, one of the blessed ‘stars’ will actually address a civilian in a civil way- and it will be interpreted as the sweetest, most amazing act of kindness ever in the history of the world. Isn’t it great when people who get their asses kissed all day, every day decide to acknowledge the peons for the cameras?

This year Will Smith RECOGNIZED a camera-man!- amidst excited commentary on Twitter like: “Will Smith recognized the camera-man!”- followed by blizzards of exclamation points. I can only imagine this is thrilling because the peasants-I mean, viewers believe (wrongly) that they, too, might someday be acknowledged by Will Smith. They will not.

Several of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors will show up to the Oscars with their mothers. At this point it’s a jaded stunt, but this too, will be gushed over as the sacrifice of the century- after all- they could have taken anyone! and they chose mom! Or maybe it’s the greatest  dating loophole in the history of Hollywood. A way to keep dating a slew of women without letting them become aware of each other, or  giving one of them too much power, or having to designate a single one as ‘special’ or an effective way to remain in the closet.

Speaking of gimmicks: this year’s gimmick was the selfie- but also the infamous pizza. There is something about seeing rich and famous people eat cheap food that sends viewers into a frenzy. It’s like that tabloid feature ‘Movie Stars: They’re Just Like Us’ come to life. I’m sure none of it was planned, as from what I hear it was totally off the cuff-and thank goodness the pizza place could hop to it for such a large order. And think of all the free advertising for the pizza joint. You just can’t plan stuff like that out. And America went to bed spent and happy after watching their ‘friends’ live on the edge like that. Look! They chew! They swallow! They recognize pizza! Just like me!

Then comes the God/ Dream speeches: We will hear all of the winners ad-nauseum speak of how, if you have a dream- you can and WILL achieve it. This will be told to you by people who have hit life’s lottery, but they leave out that these dreams will be realized for roughly as many people as actually win the lottery. (The Powerball!)

Of  course these stars believe in dreams and that God is looking out for them! Because it appears they are favored! They have  been awarded adulation, riches and often symmetrical, physical perfection. They will hold up their lives as examples of what you can achieve, rather than admit that the life they are living is a freak accident that even they can’t explain. And like: Phew! I could have just been average! The horrors!

If you’re gullible, you might measure yourself against them, rather than appreciate all you actually have.  Hopefully, you won’t recall these bastions of hot air during a hard time in your own ‘regular’ life, wondering what happened to your big break. Always remember: these people are not a reflection of you, they are a reflection of themselves. Period.

Along with having to listen to big stars ramble on incessantly- (Matthew McCONaughey claims the hands of God are on him every day-which must be why babies die of cancer-because even ‘God’ is busy hobnobbing with celebs on the red carpet! And despite having God’s magic balm being rubbed upon him daily by The Man himself, McConaughey reveals that his own true hero is….himself!) Could not one single person call this egomaniac out?

People were laying praise in heaps to the host of the show, Ellen Degeneres. It seems Ellen is the greatest hostess ever. (She is also ‘the greatest human to ever walk the earth’ according to one Twitter feed) Her ability to maintain that down- to- earth vibe,  mixed with the ‘I’m cute  and confused-as if just roused from a deep sleep’ schtick is admirable for someone who just bought a forty million dollar house.( It’s almost like she’s one of us!..psssst: she’s NOT!) 

All that being said, I imagine there are probably five people in the United States who don’t like/watch the Oscars. I am personally ‘so grateful to God!’ for making me one of them. Wait till you hear the speech I’m writing about it. Oh wait- I’m not famous, so I’d better not bother. You’ve already stopped reading.

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