Month: January 2005

“Nothing is stupid. Even stupid things aren’t stupid.”*

A book about blogging? No, wait, a self-published book about blogging by a bunch of bloggers, many of whom are relatively unknown even in the blogosphere and none of whom are exactly rocking slots one through ten on the New York Times bestseller list?

Hey, they all laughed at Christopher Columbus (and probably, at some point, at the guys who wrote about it), too.

Intrepid business blogger Jon Strande hatched a stupid, ingenious plan for explaining blogging to the general (offline) public: collect a hundred, that’s right, 100, bloggers and see what they had to say about it. Seriously. At the outset, that was the sum total of the plan.

But then an amazing thing happened. In typical bloggy fashion, the bloggers he invited suggested others, which in turn not only suggested a great method of collecting 100 bloggers but a means of illustrating the connectivity, joy and power of blogging in the construction of the book itself.

Here’s how it ended up working: Jon invited the first 25 bloggers. They, in turn, invited 25 more. Their 25 invited another 25, and that 25 invited a final 25, for a total of 100 bloggers**, linked by blogging, just like…blogging!

Now that my little bloggy tree is established (me > half mad (former) spinster > Michael Nobbs > Trevor Romain), the next step is to come up with my post, er, chapter. I’d like for it to somehow reference one or all of my people, and at least a few of the other bloggers in the book, like Evelyn and Hugh, whose acquaintanceship was either directly or indirectly responsible for my participation. But that’s my problem.

The problem I’d love your help with is selecting a post, or even a style or category of post, since I’m kind of all over the map, for inclusion. “Why I Blog” is going to be a biggish topic in the book, but don’t let that stop you. If anyone out there reading this blog with any regularity has a strong opinion on which post I’ve blogged so far would be my best choice for this book, by all means, let me know, either in the comments section or, if you’re shy, via email. Don’t hold back, either; even if you think it’s an inappropriate post for inclusion in a generic blogging book, there may be some useful information in your preference. For instance, I’m probably not going to choose that perennial crowd-pleaser, the Mrs. Potato Head manifesto, but if it resonates with enough people, I will think seriously about incorporating the elements that I think make it successful, like the list format, the rapier-like wit and the wink-wink/nudge-nudge.

Thanks for playing, everyone! And remember, there are no stupid ideas. Even stupid ideas aren’t stupid.


*Words to live by from Callie – 1st grader, via Trevor Romain’s blog

**Well, we’re close, anyway. The math alone makes my head spin, so I’m leaving the collection process to John and other, sturdier souls.

Sometimes joy is the work


About two years ago, when I’d recovered enough from the Crohn’s to get out and about but not enough to do it for more than an hour or so at a time nor in combination with anything physically taxing like breathing, I undertook an experiment of sorts with my friend, Lisa. Lisa, like Debbie, Jan, the other Jan and most friends of great consequence in my life, is very good at lavishing time and money on herself, which sounds like a witty snipe but is, coming from me, the highest type of compliment. The product of a workaholic father who equated financial worth with the personal kind and an alcoholic mother whose money-management skills were so finely honed that she died $70,000 in debt, it took more than a little effort to pry a buck from my hands or me from behind the desk where I made it.

On the other end of the work-play spectrum, Lisa, who at that point would have chosen “chew own arm off” if given the choice between that and “clip coupon,” was very good at buying retail, socializing in trendy bars and hosting “Sex and the City” parties at her well-appointed, fashionably-located, cable-TV-equipped bachelorette pad, at least, when she wasn’t giving herself stomache aches over where next month’s rent was coming from.

You get the picture.

So I’m hanging out with ol’ Lisa (who is quite a bit younger than me, by the way, and therefore not old at all, except maybe to a third grader) and we hatch this plan: we’re going to give each other assignments. One a week, every week, for an open-ended number of weeks, until we feel like some much-needed good habits are seeded. Lisa got assignments like “balance checkbook” or “find checkbook.” I got assignments like “go to bookstore, browse for a minimum of one hour and buy at least one book for entertainment purposes only” because she knew if I was merely instructed to get a book for pleasure I would have opened the “to read” file in my Palm, found the titles of five or six instructive manuals on composting (you know, for when I eventually own a house with a backyard) and ordered them to be delivered to my branch library.

After much initial resistance all around, I’m happy to report that the experiment was largely a success. Lisa turned her hateful job into a career she loves and has her finances so well in hand that she recently added both call waiting and DSL after doing, o joy of joys, a comparative cost analysis of her telephony services. For my part, I not only bought myself a new car, a painting and digital cable (with HBO!!!), I actually got a second box so I could watch quality programming like “The Simpsons,” “Law & Order” and reality TV on my G5, sometimes even when i wasn’t working!

I was reminded of The Experiment last night while visiting my writing partner, a.k.a. The Other Jan. We’d finished working on our pilot and I was relaxing with a glass or three of wine after a delicious meal (which she cooked for us while I yakked on the phone), and now we were parked on her sofa to discuss the (free) seminar she’d taken last weekend. Taught by our former acting coach, it was, apparently, a compendium of The Forum and Lifestream and a few other all-Kool-Aid-drenched-roads-lead-to-Rome methods of self-actualization, but I was interested because (a) for the first time in the three years I’ve known her, The Other Jan is actually talking about quitting smoking and (b) I adhere to the tenet “Love the idea, hate the idealogue.”

I got the Reader’s Digest version, but there was still a lot of planning and thinking and writing, and at the end of our hour, I had a list of no less than 27 things I had to do to make myself a better person. Tomorrow. It’s tiring stuff, this self-improvement, so we knocked back a couple of episodes of my new-favorite show and called it a night.

But a funny thing happened when I left TOJ’s. Instead of being excited about the program, I felt a little anxious and depressed. They were all good actions, and eminently reasonable ones to take if I wanted to achieve the goals I’d established for myself, but something about them felt wrong. Too familiar. Too much work, not enough joy.

And then it hit me: for my particular goal, they were too much work. If my aim is (HUBRIS ALERT! HUBRIS ALERT!) to become a joyful conduit of truth and beauty in the world, maybe I’d be better served by focusing a little less on working at truth and a little more on the joy and beauty part. Not to say that a plan isn’t great and work isn’t necessary, but for overachieving micromanagers like myself, sometimes joy is the work and not-planning, an infinitely better plan.

So instead of working on my 27 things this morning, I slept in. And this afternoon, I played (not practiced) a little piano and baked a little SCD bread. I took myself to the bookstore and bought a stack of books. Of course, it was the used bookstore and I “bought” them with a credit, but they’re mostly fun books (if you can call Sinclair Lewis “fun”) and I spent one whole hour poking around the bookstore looking for them. And no, technically, I’m no closer to my life’s purpose for it. But my self feels greatly improved, which is usually not the case at the end of a long, busy Saturday. Which makes me think that there’s something to this doing less thing, or at least, a balance of doing-less with overdoing.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, my book and I have an appointment with a large vodka-rocks in a long, hot bath…


Photo by Tom-Tom via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

A home of one’s own, Part II.

house 4Several years ago, while I was going though an unusual confluence of broke (career change), unemployed (cataclysmically idiotic SAG commercial strike) and dork (freshly discovered love of computers), I stumbled upon a little time-suckage device called “Epinions.”

Much like the blogosphere, Epinions was a virtual community where like-minded souls could: (a) “meet”; (b) exchange ideas; and (c) engage in conversation or debate, lively or otherwise (depending on the mindset of aforementioned souls). Nominally, we were all there to provide consumer information in the form of product and service reviews, but for many of us, especially those of us who reviewed less popular and hence, less profitable items, the real draw was (O, Hubris, thy Name is communicatrix) intellectual stimulation.

house 82Of course, Change, merry prankster that he is, swooped in soon enough and decimated our virtual village. Egregious mismanagement and the incessant, petty shitcanning of reviews as “off-topic”, off-color, or just plain smart-alecky by the newly established Asshole Majority drove most of the people I liked to go home and take their balls (ha!) with them. Sad, sad, sad. I left my old reviews on the site (ten bucks a year is ten bucks a year) but the joy had gone out of posting and my involvement with Epinions dwindled to the occasional stray email commenting on my most popular review and my subsequent reply.

house 62

I suppose there was a blogosphere back then, too, but as a carbuncle firmly planted on the butt-end of the Early Adopter demographic, it was not yet my time to explore it. Plus, the UIs were ugly. (Sorry, but they were.) Besides, the strike ended, I started booking like a maniac and I had a little cashola with which to shop again. (Also, because the Universe is nothing if not generous, my live-in relationship helpfully went on Orange Alert, thereby providing me with a seemlingly limitless source of time-suckage with no lengthy dial-up waits. But that is another story for another day.)

house 7But the demise of Epinions left a void in my life and me and nature, we abhor a vacuum. I threw myself into my theater company (and, as a guest, anyone else’s who’d have me); later, post-Crohn’s, I became similarly obsessive about my involvement with the SCD Listserv, starting with rapacious reading at the front end of my illness curve, progressing to righteous diatribes on the necessity of “fanatical adherence” and the breathless posting of SCD “convenience food” discoveries (when you have to cook everything yourself, individually wrapped Baby Bel cheeses are indeed, a revelation).

In the end, though, it was no use. These groups I joined were…well, groups. And try as I might to fit in, I’m a freak, I’m a loner, I’m a lover, I’m a fighter, I’m everything but a joiner. Granted, when forced to attend large, festive gatherings I’ve gotten much, much better at imitating a person enjoying herself, but inside, my heart is gripped by fear and my brain is ticking off the minutes until I can safely escape to the blessed solitude of my car, my cave, or both. Whatever the reason, I just do better one-on-one, if not just plain one.

house 17So here I am, several years later, blogging away. And while I’ve blogged about why I blog and blogged about my need for a safe space to explore my truth, I don’t think it’s even occurred to me until this very day how much I blog because it’s become my artistic home, a safe house to play in conveniently located in a community full of like-minded souls whom I can visit for inspiration or companionship and from whom I can retreat into solitude as my spirit requires. Evelyn Rodriquez is there with sound advice or food for thought when I need her and cool when I need me some “me” time. (And vice-versa, of course.) Half-Mad Spinster went away on sabbatical for goodly chunk of time (and came back Half-Mad Married Lady!), but good neighbors that we are, we dropped by occasionally to make sure her house was still standing, and then, upon her return, welcomed her with much rejoicing if not a real-live shindig. Blogging is a two-way street (albeit a really long, twisty one that goes on and on and curls back on itself in unexpected ways). And my blog is a little live/work studio on that street.

So I (ahem) bang away here in my little bloggy space, making what I will of it. I thank you all (or, more appropriately, you both) for stopping by every once in awhile, mainly because it’s fun but also because it forces me to keep things relatively clean and tidy.

And for those of you who dropped in accidentally, say, on your way to “‘WOMEN SLAPPING’ AND DOMINATION” or “black camel toe xxx”, well, the door’s to your left.


Project Life, by “Project Runway”

You are a young1, aspiring designer. You have a dream: wealth, fame and the possibility of immortality via your own couture label (plus maybe a low-end spin-off at Target®). When you are given the opportunity to compete for the realization of that dream, you jump on it. Nothing can stop you now! Nothing except…yourself. DUM DUM DUUUUUUM!!!

happymodelIs it any wonder that Bravo’s Project Runway is a runaway hit? This is no mere reality trifle exploiting the fashion world, this is an illumination of the human condition, of the triumphs we rejoice in and the tribulations we muddle through. Like all great works of art, by focusing intensely on the specific, Project Runway speaks eloquently to the general. And the Lessons of Project Runway are like the Lessons of Life (only more stylish and way funner to watch). Listen to Tim, Project Runway‘s designer-judge liaison-type person (and resident sage), and learn…

Lesson 1: Make It Work

For the materials with which you will construct your first creation, a fabulous couture dress, you are sent to the store, the grocery store.

cornhusksNo problem, ever-creative, you fabricate an fanciful frock from packing tape and strategically placed corn husks. You are a genius. You run off to attend to some details (how does one accessorize a husk dress? A tortilla tam? A Sno-Caps clutch?) and when you return, sacre bleu! The husks have dried and shrunken, leaving unseemly bald patches all over your glorious creation!

Do you panic? Do you cry out at the unfairness of the universe, rend your flesh, curse your ignorance of husk water retention? Heckers, no! You slap a bunch of husk shards on the blank parts, et voila: you not only save your dress but win your round, and immunity going into the next challenge!

oopsSo the next time tragedy parks itself on your couch with an oversize rolling duffel, remember: if Austin can resuscitate a couture dress under that kind of pressure, you can certainly fix an overly-cumined batch of chili or salvage your crappy relationship.

Better yet, give ’em both the heave-ho and make yourself your fixer-upper. Because let’s face it, what are we really trying to fix when we work on our dresses?

That’s right, people. That’s right…

Lesson 2: Make The Most Of Your Resources

bagpaperDaniel thought he was soooo smart.3 Everyone else was freaking out about how to make a grocery-store dress with only 50 bucks, and he fashions his from butcher paper and a garbage bag. But as Tim says,

For me, that statement was an instant uh-oh,because he wasn’t fully utilizing the extent of his resources. It’s a bit like saying that you have $500.00 to spend on an outfit at Banana Republic and you come away from it wearing a pair of [Banana Republic] boxer shorts and a [Banana Republic] scarf why? [NOTE: This comment, like Project Runway, brought to you by Banana Republic.]

If life gives you the equivalent of a $500 shopping spree, don’t “chintz” out (LOL!!! ROTFLMAO!!!) at skivvies and a scarf. Unless, like, the undies are Hanro and the scarf is Hermes or something.

But seriously, use all the brains, beauty and talent you were born with4. To do anything less isn’t humility, it’s insulting. I mean, you don’t see Paris letting the moss grow under her feet, do you? Ha. I think I’ve made my point.

Lesson 3: Candy, Not So Dandy

Whew! There are a lot of lessons packed into this episode! (Kinda like…life!)

candymodelWendy crafted her creation out of candy, which the twin terrors of body heat and runway lights almost melted into, as Tim sez, (a) design too revealing even for cable TV! Yikes!

“Where is the life lesson in a melted candy dress?” I’ll bet you’re asking. Well, I’ll tell you, smarty-pants: Choose the people surrounding you not for their sparkly appeal, but for their ability to make it through the long haul…and for their sparkly appeal.


Wow! That was hard and took a long time, too. I guess I’ll come back later with more lessons. In the meantime, make sure you watch Project Runway tonight, Wednesday, on Bravo. Back-to-back episodes at 8pm/9pm! First, they each make a swimsuit. Then they make something else, I think together. Oh, bother. I’m too tired to watch the video clip and report back to you. My advice to you is look it up yourself.

Hey! I like giving advice, too! Maybe I should create a reality show where the contestants are all aspiring to be the advice people on reality shows!


skinny1My bad! Not all of the Project Runway contestants are young. Project Runway prides itself on its diversity. For example, Kara Saun is black!* And Austin is gay! And Wendy, the old one, is also kind of fat! I heart diversity! And Project Runway, too!

2Sorry, I don’t know his last name. I am new to the show since I am a dork who doesn’t watch enough TV. Actually, I watch a lot of TV, but mostly reruns of Law & Order (comforting), King of the Hill (hilarious and comforting) and Judge Judy (disturbing but oddly comforting, and often hilarious). I will try to watch more TV in the future. But all the lesson titles are actually by TIM, called “Tim’s Takes.” Don’t believe me? Go look it up!

3Only I guess he wasn’t, ’cause he’s not on the show anymore!

4And your trust fund, too, if you were born with one of those. Only don’t spend it like a jackass. And tithe. Everyone should tithe. Maybe if you’re rich, even double/triple/quadruple tithe. Oprah tithes, and she has lots of really nice clothes and shoes and stuff. But she is also nice, and changes the world for good. So I guess, if you’re rich, call Oprah and ask her about the tithing thing. If you’re that rich, you probably have her number or something anyway.

*And she is so the best one! I hope she wins. Hey! I just realized this is, like, a footnote in a footnote.**

**Wait, this is one, too! Cool!!

Stamp out hackting!

While searching for links for my last post, I was dismayed to find not a single definition, mention or even blog entry using a word I feel should be in wide circulation in the English language, hackting.

Not being one to sit on my ass (and being a monstrously competitive type hellbent-for-leather to put my grubby thumbprint on the lexicon) I took time off from writing that post to submit the following definition to the Collins Word Exchange:

hackting (n) egregiously bad, superficial or ham-handed acting; performance undertaken for the sole purpose of adding to one’s wealth or fame: “phoning it in”; from “hack” and “acting”; also “hacktor” (n) one who engages in hackting

After a brief registration (which will allow you to add other words you stumble upon or dream up by your own, very smart selves), you can submit this definition yourself. I of course think it’s such a no-brainer they’ll add it immediately, but it can’t hurt to have a little backup!

Go here to register. I, along with critics and discerning, English-speaking performance patrons everywhere, thank you in advance for your support.


The Station Agent

In my capacity as ornery cuss, unless I can screen them pre-buzz, I generally sit out wildly popular movies on principle. Often, this proves wise; in the case of a genuinely worthy film like Sideways or The Station Agent, I’m only punishing myself.

That there are similarities between the films (strong sense of place, a rock-solid script, actors who look like real people) doesn’t surprise me. I’ve always had a weakness for the indie film; I’ll generally cut it more slack than a studio picture, just because I know that for as hard as it is to get any movie made the right way, the sheer force of will that’s required to pull together the resources needed to make an indie deserves support.

But too often, indies piss away that good will with aggressively quirky stories or hackting. That The Station Agent is set in super-smalltown rural New Jersey and is populated with a train-loving dwarf/loner, a chatty Latino hot-truck operator with a lust for life, and a kooky painter who meets cute with the dwarf by nearly running him over not once but twice in her SUV, didn’t bode well.

But the film unfolds slowly, ever so slowly, confident in the reality of the world it’s creating, with beautiful, in-the-pocket performances by almost the entire cast (I had a wee problem with a couple of actors playing the local tough-guy losers winking at their characters instead of just playing them). I’m a fan of Patricia Clarkson‘s since her genius performance in High Art, and after seeing the unbelievably self-possessed Raven Goodwin knock it out of the park both in this and Lovely and Amazing I would like someone to please explain to me why this incredible little girl does not have a huge movie career, her own TV show or both.

Enough. It’s on DVD now; if you’re an asshole like me who sat it out while it was in the theaters, you can put it on your Netflix queue and no one will be the wiser.