just call me raegen


Month: March, 2012

Let’s play the Blame Game!

Finger pointing

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about personal responsibility — and not just because I’m currently in the middle of a complete cluster thanks to my landlord (if by “land,” of course, I mean “slum”)… though that helps.

Consider the list below and ask yourself this question: What do the following things have in common?

1. An unruly, sociopath child

2. A controlling, psychotic ex or similarly qualified current partner

3. Parents

4. My landlord

5. Peter Pan

6. Me

7. You

My answer (which may, of course, differ from yours): They all have the potential to grow up. But the more interesting question is, will they? What will it take for Nos. 1 through 7 to have a sense of personal responsibility? And by “personal,” I don’t mean “just you.” True responsibility, in my estimation, means that you are responsible for your person — which means you not only take care of yourself, but you’re mindful of what you do and its potential to impact others around you — for better and worse.

Let me just say I will be the first to tell you I don’t claim to be mature. I don’t claim this because I want to continue to make jokes about things that emanate from my nether regions — like farts, for one. This is personal choice, though, that requires the level of awareness that one is making a personal choice. I will claim to have that amount of awareness applicable to this particular circumstance.

For some of the others enumerated above, however, I can’t claim the same. Some, such as No. 1, have good reasons for being oblivious — like being 7 years old. Others, not so much. Regardless, though, I am of the mind — in a very anti-Zen way, I am sad to admit — that there will always be some unnecessary drama in the world causing people to suffer, and there will always subsequently be someone at fault, someone who didn’t think through the implications of their freely chosen actions, someone to blame. This is where personal responsibility comes in and is extremely important. It’s also extremely noticeable when lacking.

If you’re the proud parent of a No. 1, it’s time for you to remove your head from your sphincter and realize you are doing something wrong — and not just by your child, but by all those lives your child, like the plague, will touch throughout its life. I can’t tell you what it is, but kids are smart, and if you’re lucky, they’ll tell you themselves… presuming you haven’t warped them beyond repair yet. Time to man up and take responsibility for the damage you’ve done and try to make sure your kids don’t go out and shoot someone later.

Pazuzu (The Exorcist)

Look familiar? But of course — it’s your child’s six-six-sixth-grade portrait! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re No. 2, I’m sure you have plenty of excuses as to why you are the way you are — none of which, of course, have anything to do with you, because you are the ultimate finger-pointing master. They generally, though, revolve around some wrong done to you when you were a No. 1. “My mom drank.” “My dad beat me.” Yada, yada. Perhaps those things happened (presuming you aren’t also a compulsive liar like some of my exes were), and if they did, that’s unfortunate. But notice that not everyone who suffered those things turned out to be an (insert expletive) like you. Sorry, but if you’re over 18, we qualify you as an adult in this country, so get a shrink and get on with your life. Oh, and while you’re at it, get out of mine.

fi:Pivot animaatio

Buh-bye. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But wait. Before we move on from this subject, you may be asking yourself, “What does it mean if I’m the long-suffering current or former partner of a No. 2? Surely I wasn’t to blame.” You won’t get off so easy, either, my friend. No, it’s not your fault your boyfriend hit you… but it is your fault that you came back, that you tolerated any kind of abuse, that you didn’t like yourself enough for whatever reasons (typically similar to the No. 2’s excuses for being an (insert expletive)) that you allowed someone to treat you as less than human. Respect yourself, and you’ll find that either A) others respect you in return or B) you kick others to the curb where they belong.

And now we’ve reached No. 3s. Some adults do grow up. And some never grow up. And then they have children that either don’t grow up themselves and continue the cycle of stupid or adopt the phrase “I will never be like my mother/father” and proceed to do or be the exact opposite of what the resented parent did or is. Neither is great because they’re extremes, and besides, no one’s ever entirely wrong about everything in life…

Except No. 4. That I maintain. If an adult is old enough to purchase property but can’t understand that when you buy a piece of property and then allow other people to live in it, you have a responsibility and obligation to maintain said property as habitable, you are undeserving of that property, of any tenants, and — most importantly — of the money said tenants are putting food on your table with. This isn’t Pee-Wee’s Playhouse; these are people’s lives, time, finances, energy, and belongings you’re messing with. If you want to be negligent and irresponsible, fine — Vegas is the right place for it, I suppose —  but don’t make anyone else suffer or, even worse, pay you for it.

No More Slumlords!

 (Photo credit: Miami Workers Center)

Don’t worry. No. 4 should’ve received my breach of contract letter this afternoon. (Perhaps that’s why we finally have people working to clean up her mess.) And I’ve learned my lesson, too — my own personal piece of responsibility here. I trusted a property manager I’ve worked with before. Unfortunately, I didn’t consider deeply enough the profoundly inappropriate relationship created when said property manager decided to manage a townhouse owned by one of her employee’s friends. Past behavior unfortunately does not dictate current or future behavior, no matter how much anyone hopes it will or wants it to.

So I skipped right to No. 6, I suppose, but who can pick on Peter Pan? I mean, to contradict a lot of what I said herein — because hey, that’s what writers do, right, which is why we’re perceived as “complex” and “deep” — he’s what we all wish we could be in some ways. Plus, he’s fictional, so I’d kind of be wasting my breath going off about him. But if you want to be jealous, point your finger in the direction of the creator, J. M. Barrie.

Michael Llewelyn Davies dressed as Peter Pan a...

Yeah, that effin’ guy over there. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Damn you, J. M. Barrie! Why can’t we be Peter too? He’s just larger than life — especially in this photo.

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if none of us ever had to grow up?

Truth is, probably not. I mean, someone has to cook for us, clothe us and all that jazz. But I’ll admit, I’d really rather just make fart jokes and not waste my time internally debating whom I should have on my social media pages and what level of personal responsibility I need to have in this increasingly unprivate world we live in, given that I’m not yet willing to relinquish said fart jokes but still want to appear upstanding and professional — at least to some.

::sigh:: Such problems in the world…

You’re not trying to have a real life, now, are you?

Almost as often as we receive articles about either the latest and greatest in the trade I write for or unadulterated self-promotional pieces, we’re receiving articles about social media — how to engage in it, how to make it work for your business, how to get to Pg. 1 of Google, etc. Most of them give the same kind of advice — useful, though somewhat canned. This week, however, brought to my desk a fresh perspective on the subject.

Well, let me back up. The subject was initially TV, actually. The author of this particular piece (who I’m not at liberty to reveal, since we haven’t published the article yet) was discussing the death of cable TV in favor of social media or some sort of social experience. A coworker about five years younger than me and of that generation that for the most part grew up in front of a screen started talking about Hulu, where you can comment on programs as you’re watching them, and how this brings a whole new dimension to the experience. “Imagine interacting with other people who are watching what you’re watching at the same time but are somewhere far away,” was the gist of what she said… which kind of made me wonder what was wrong with interacting with the people you have sitting next to you on the couch — presuming you have any — while you’re watching something on the tube. (Oh, man! I can’t even use the term “tube” anymore for TVs; they’re all flat-screens instead of CRTs!)

Help! I've become so obsolete, people leave me in the mountains!

To be honest, I’m not sure I’m very fond of a world in which I could be closer emotionally to someone I’ve never even met (but who sure does enjoy the show I like!) than I am to my family or my lover, a world in which anyone can be made a star regardless of hard work or talent (and yes, I am referring to “Jersey Shore”). The weirdest part from my point of view is, OK, you want to be social, but you don’t really want the “burden” of having to actually meet people in real life, do the hard work of building a genuine relationship, or take the chance of getting rejected and subsequently take a hard look at yourself and improve thusly. Of course, some people are so deluded that they probably wouldn’t have any friends at that rate — or perhaps I just wouldn’t be able to tolerate very many people who’ve crossed my path in life long-term. I will say, though, that the friends I do have, I feel a genuine kinship with and have typically had for years, if not decades. But we had to build those relationships through actual face-to-face interaction, even if time and life eventually took us to different places in the States and abroad.

OK, maybe what’s even weirder to me is that I can see how easily this online behavior could lead to groupthink. I’m terrified of the brainwashing of the masses… though, of course, it’s happening anyway — as evidenced in one simple way that stands out big-time in Vegas: girls who have to wear the trendiest clothes even though their body types do not by any stretch of the imagination or fabric allow for it; yes, I’m talking to you, skinny-jean wearers! There’s nothing wrong with your curves, but in case you haven’t noticed, skinny jeans are not their friend!

Epic fail.

But I digress. Honestly, do we really need to know a total stranger’s stream of thought while we’re trying to watch a show? Once again, that zero-attention-span, instant-gratification mentality seems to dictate that a TV show could never be enough to entertain us. That means there’s something wrong with entertainment today, in my estimation — not that we need yet another distraction from our distraction. Maybe if they’d actually get some writers up in there instead of train wrecks they find on the street, we wouldn’t be having this problem. And PS – I know some great screenwriters and playwrights. They are out there.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that many a friend not walking storage spaces for movie quotes have been annoyed by my sister’s and my ability to hold entire conversations with each other that make no sense to the outsider — the outsider being someone who hasn’t watched the particular movie we’re quoting or doesn’t remember it well. Two things, though: 1) being sisters, we obviously already have a relationship established with each other that didn’t start online behind a screen, and 2) we do this after we see a movie, not during. I do do this with a few friends as well — you know who you are — but I made these friends IRL, as the kids would say, not online.

Fish make good friends because they don't talk back. Hey, come out from behind that rock and listen to me when I'm talking to you!

I have to say, I really am torn on social media, and I’m sure the evidence — I mean, “timeline” — I’ve left in my wake with respect to it in recent years proves that. Granted, I’m a private and paranoid person, I was pretty sick last year, and during the few years before that — well, my real friends know what was going on in my life at that time. And they know it not because I put posts up all over Facebook — as one of my friends called it, “the passive-aggressive way of keeping in touch” — but because we had face-to-face conversations, phone calls, or even — gasp! — letter exchanges via snail mail, during which time, I was able to find out what was really going on in their lives: who was struggling to get over a former lover, who was looking for a new lover, who had loved ones pass on, who had loved ones enter the world, etc.

It’s sad, really, because I think so many people out there feel incredibly lonely. They turn to social media to fill the void, but it generally only serves to isolate them even more in the long run from genuine relationships that will truly satisfy them. Please correct me if I’m wrong in my assessment. That’s just the way I see it.

On that note, I’ve got to go plan my shopping list for the guests I’m having for dinner. Fava beans — check. Chianti…

The Impotence of Teaching

One of the more entertaining moments for me at the 2012 AWP Conference in Chicago was the recitation of the following poem — which, if you’re interested in hearing a rendition of (because it really does add a whole other dimension to the experience, and poetry should be heard anyway), you can listen to here on YouTube.

“The the impotence of proofreading” by Taylor Mali

Has this ever happened to you?
You work very, very horde on a paper for English clash
and still get a very glow raid on the paper (like a D or even a D=)
and all because you are the liverwurst spoiler in the whorl wide word.
Yes, proofreading your peppers is a matter of the the utmost impotence.

This is a problem that affects manly, manly students all over the word.
I myself was such a bed spiller once upon a term
that my English torturer in my sophomoric year,
Mrs. Myth — she said that I was never going to get into a good colleague.
And that’s all I wanted — that’s all any kid wants at that age —
just to get into a good colleague.
And not just anal community colleague,
because I am not one of those guys who would be happy at just anal
community colleague.
I need to be challenged, challenged menstrually.
So I bet this makes me sound like a stereo,
but I always felt that I could get into an ivory legal collegue.
So if I did not improvement,
then gone would be my dream of going to Harvard, Jail, or Prison
(you know — in Prison, New Jersey).

So I got myself a spell checker
and I figured I was on Sleazy Street.

But there are several missed aches
that a spell chucker can’t can’t catch catch.
For instant, if you accidentally leave out word
your spell exchequer won’t put it in you.
And God for billing purposes only
you should have serial problems with Tori Spelling,
your spell Chekhov may end up using a word
that you had absolutely no detention of using.
Because what do you want it to douche?
It only does what you tell it to douche.
You¹re the one whose in front of the computer scream
with your hand on the mouth going clit, clit, clit.

So do yourself a flavor and follow these two Pisces of advice:
One: There is no prostitute for careful editing when it comes to your work —
no prostituting whatsoever.
And three: The red penis your friend.

All joking aside, though, many of you have taught or are teaching right now, so this poem will likely strike as uncomfortably close to home for you as it did for me.

Attempting to visit one of my doctors recently, I was pawned off onto a nurse practitioner working toward his advanced degree. After asking me what I did for a living and learning that I was a writer and editor, he told me about an unlikely task he was given by his dissertation advisor: edit master’s candidates’ theses and articles, which were intended to one day make homes for themselves in some medical journals out there. He then proceeded to laugh at the thought that any of these people would get published, because after hours of torturous labor sifting through typos, sentence fragments, comma splices and all the other accoutrement, it became clear to him that — educated as these people were or were supposed to be — they simply lacked the fundamental skills most obtain as early as elementary and junior high school required to communicate properly on the page. So unless they had an editor around the rest of their lives, the dream of one day seeing their research in print would remain just that: a dream.

Frankly, I was horrified — but not the least bit surprised. Americans — from our doctors to our children — seem to be growing dumber by the second, and I don’t think we can really blame the teachers (the good ones, at least). Many of us try to catch these kids and adults up — as I did — to no avail, because our current system is about passing students through to collect $200 again when the desk is filled by a new body regardless of whether people are ready to proceed or not. And even heads of huge companies and corporations know this to be true, which makes the job of succession planning a heck of a lot harder for them. Be honest with yourself if you teach: Can you really imagine one of your students, past or present, successfully filling a CEO’s shoes? If you can, lucky you! That would give me some shred of hope. At CES this year (for any tech geeks who don’t know about this amazing show already), Xerox CEO Ursula Burns emphasized the importance of education; of course, her focus was on science, math, and engineering, but she made a good point when she reminded all of us in the audience that without people who specialize in these particular fields, we’re dead — literally. After all, there’s no one to jump-start a still heart if there are no doctors. (If you’re interested in reading more about what she had to say, here’s a good blog that sums it up.)

But how does any learning occur? Through language, communication, and — of course — part of that is reading. I ran across some information in an article I was editing at work that made me chuckle: Apparently, color printing increases students’ willingness to read, according to the studies. Of course, this could just be another ploy to indirectly advocate for color printing and subsequently advertise the authoring company’s color products, but the real reason I laughed is because putting color images in a textbook doesn’t encourage reading, it encourages viewing — two different things. And even considering the possibility that the reference was to the use of color text, well, perhaps I’m showing my age (though it really wasn’t all that long ago, actually), but I remember a time when the burden of engagement was on the actual content of the text versus the smoke and mirrors of color, pictures and even multimedia; and though I can see how all of these additions can be used well to further engage learners, I’m not sure I agree that they should be the primary methods of engaging learners in the first place — at least not all the time. (And if you really want to be disturbed, visit this link — I dare you.)

Illiteracy is an awful reinforcing cycle, when you really think about it — especially considering every profession truly does require competent written communication to take place: Kids are growing up in front of screens and images instead of pages with words that they have to learn to read and know the rules of, which leads to poor reading and writing skills down the line — especially in the context of deliberate texting misspellings, but don’t get me started on that — which leads to other methods being again required to engage viewers (who are no longer readers), which leads to continued ignorance regarding language and communication, which leads to more ignorant and undereducated people who later have their own — you guessed it — ignorant and undereducated children who, yes, will one day be running the world. And parents are really surprised by things like the Brat Ban Movement, which is basically, as far as I can tell, one way for the public to tell parents that they might have some work to do when it comes to parenting their children, with a measure of rudeness equivalent to (but likely less than) the children’s behavior itself?

Of course, I can’t entirely make the argument that kids are ignorant and out of control because they can’t read — but I can make the argument that kids are ignorant and out of control due to a combination of poor parenting and a culture that both encourages instant gratification and rewards acting out (and even violence) instead of valuing education and communication. I believe there’s something about reading that not only teaches the information intended to be disseminated, but also teaches 1) the proper ways to communicate from a grammatical perspective and 2) good old fashioned patience. And kids can be patient, but only if they’re taught to be so through consistently modeled behavior. Likewise with clear, cogent communication.

One interesting thing I didn’t mention earlier about Taylor: He’s got a personal campaign going on this website, where he’s trying to encourage 1,000 people to become teachers. I’ve been blessed not only with a mother who taught me to read before the age of three, but also fabulous teachers along the way who kept me on the path of education and provided me with the tools I needed to succeed in the workforce. And while the ship has sailed on being a teacher myself for the quite cynical time being — because, short of not awarding degrees until people can properly punctuate sentences, I’m not sure I believe there’s any incentive for people to catch up on communication skills they’re lacking — if you want to take on the task, my deepest respect and thanks — as well as that of my nurse practitioner — go out to you.


The title of this lovely blog design is called “Manifest,” but it seemed to me, given my personality (or multiple personalities, depending on whom you ask), that the word was missing the O. For those of you who know me — especially as a writer — you know I can rarely leave well enough alone with things as they appear the first go-round. For those of you who don’t, welcome to the insanity.

This brings me to the purpose of this blog. Why, after several years of blogging on Myspace, then several years of not blogging at all, have I returned to it? You people won’t stop nagging me about it. And by “you people,” I’m of course referring to my wonderful friends who — masochists that they are — actually tolerate me saying such things about them. The most recent request, made in a freezing car when I was back visiting my hometown, Chicago, was direct and to the point: “Y-y-you should start w-w-writing those b-b-blogs again. They m-m-made me laugh.”

So Goal 1: Make people laugh.

This then brings us to the mechanics of how laughter occurs. I’m not talking about the actual physical responses of the body, but what it takes to make people laugh from a communications perspective. It’s crazy, really, when you think about how little, oddly shaped symbols can actually invoke bodily reactions.

… … …

Of course, most often, we think of how words can in fact hurt us — sometimes more than sticks and stones. And perhaps somewhere down the line in my rantings, you may find that I have accomplished that too. This is not my goal, however, and if it does happen, it will most likely be a result of my bringing to your attention a simple disagreement we may have about how to live life.

This brings me to the subhead of this blog: “Stupid, meaningless lives unite to discuss unpopular opinions.” The first part I stole from one of my friend’s old Myspace page because it’s genius and she’s not a writer, so she won’t sue me for it. Do I really think your life is stupid and meaningless? No more so than my own or anyone else’s; you can decide for yourself what that means. Which brings us to why we will be discussing unpopular opinions. In the age of reality TV, where anyone — regardless of talent and IQ — can be a star, I’m here to remind us there once was a time in which people had to at least do something, however minimal, to earn the fortune and fame they later enjoyed.

This brings me to what my blog will not be: A constant and shameless self-promotion of my work. It doesn’t nourish me, and it doesn’t entertain you. Yes, I am a published poet with a first full-length manuscript in the works, and I may occasionally drop a line about an acceptance here or there — likely because I’ve tended to be so private about it, a few of you have actually wondered aloud to me and/or the Internet world what this alleged poetry of mine might be like, if it really exists, and if it will continue to be produced. Yes, I am an associate editor and staff writer for both a monthly and quarterly publication, and I may show links to that work if it seems relevant to what I’m ranting about at the time. Yes, I read books that I love and will mention — but it will not be for the purposes of getting that author to follow my blog, like me on Facebook, etc., etc., to promote that career. If I like your work, great; if I don’t, whatever; but you’ll never see a review of someone or something on this site that I’m not passionate about just because someone has a big name in the creative writing world and I think they might somehow do something for me (which, if you’re in the creative writing world, should’ve made you chuckle, because seriously, “big name” in creative writing? Really? REALLY?)

Ideally, this blog will be an outlet for me and entertainment for you, then an outlet for you and entertainment for me. Ideally, it will be a discussion among us, because I happen to believe my friends are among the most intelligent, opinionated, and hilarious radicals on the planet right now — even if they wouldn’t categorize themselves as radicals (note I left out intelligent, opinionated, and hilarious — wink, wink). In my opinion, if you use your brain these days, you qualify as both a minority and a radical, and that’s all I have to say about that for the time being.

If you actually take the time to read something that’s longer than 500 words, this also qualifies you as a minority and a radical, and I salute you for being interested in doing so. Few things upset me more than the instant-gratification/attention-span-of-a-goldfish mentality so many seem to have these days… but you’ll find out about all those wonderful things down the line.

I always said if I could just find a way to get paid to think all the bizarre thoughts I was already thinking anyway, I’d have it made. Well, I’ve found that in writing. My only hope is that, down the line, this blog will continue to engage you. I’m shooting for at least one post a week because I still have to make time for my beloved oetry-pay. If you have topics you’d like to discuss — either through your own blog or through mine — you have an audience in me, so tell me about it! I hope to create a place that nurtures you souls in the world who still dare to read, think, and speak your mind.

Gift to self — done. Happy birthday to me!