Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Featured Blog Catalog Donors Choose Challenge Project of the Day

A teacher in Indianapolis reports that her white boards are literally falling apart. Her modest proposal to replace them has been more than half funded, and a mere $170 is needed to fulfill the project and provide these basic teaching materials.

Please drop by Donors Choose and make a contribution. As this example demonstrates, very small contributions add up to big differences in the lives of our elementary school children across the country. If just 17 people donate $10 to this project, it will be complete. Think about that--you and 16 friends can kick in just $10 and provide white boards for an elementary school classroom. I've paid more than $10 for a single mixed drink! (And I'll bet you have, too)

Yesterday, Total Divorce stepped in with a contribution that matched all of the donations made during the first day of the challenge, but there's still a long way to go...and we can get there one $10 donation at a time, if everyone will take just a moment to participate!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Blog Catalog Community Comes Together to Raise Funds for Education

Bloggers across the country are posting this weekend in a joint effort to turn attention--and dollars--toward Donors Choose, an organzation that brings donors together with public school teachers across the country who are looking for funding for projects and supplies their school budgets can't support.

Because most public schools are funded by property taxes, those in the poorest districts are often lacking in the most basic supplies and equipment, and can't even entertain the possibility of field trips, enrichment programs, or things many of our children take for granted, like a computer in the classroom.

At Donors Choose, teachers describe exactly what they need funding for, and donors can contribute to the specific projects they feel are most important.

Of course, I'd advocate making a donation to Donors Choose at any time, but a donation today will carry the added benefit of demonstrating how effective viral marketing can be in soliciting funds for charities so that similar projects in the future will assist worthy charities in spreading the word for free.

Big thanks to Tony at Blog Catalog for organizing and publicizing this, and to YOU for whatever your contribution might be--donating to Donors Choose, spreading the word through your own blog, or whatever seems right to you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Home Sweet Home

This evening, my daughter and I walked to the bank. There's nothing spectacular about that, except that my bank is in the very same shopping center that my mother and I used to walk to almost daily back in the late 60s (when I rode in an olive green stroller) and early 70s.

The ice cream shop with the wrought iron chairs and tiny paper cups of sherbet served alongside every sandwich is long gone. So is the Circle E steak place that served a "wranglerburger" I've never tasted the like of anywhere since, and an artificial Christmas tree festooned with balloons "for the little plate-cleaners". And the corner drugstore with its ice cream freezer filled with banana and root beer popsicles, and the grocery fact, there's not one business left in that shopping center that was there in my childhood except for a tiny barbershop with an old-fashioned pole mounted on the wall outside. They've been replaced with Blockbuster and Radio Shack and a big empty space that was a hardware store and then a furniture store and now just serves as home to a childishly optimistic "for rent" sign.

But the sidewalks are the same. The night air is the same. And even though I'm sort of famous for being unsentimental, there's something about walking the same sidewalk with my daughter that I walked with my mother almost forty years ago that puts the world in perspective. I don't know why this struck me tonight, when I've walked that shopping center with my daughter a hundred times, with my daughter and my mother TOGETHER more times than I can count. But it brought back a slideshow of other moments when the past and present have suddenly become overlaid for a moment:

Walking at the drive-in, carrying my daughter and hearing my feet crunch in the gravel as we walked and remembering walking beside my mother as she carried my sister along that same path to the concession stand;

Lifting my daughter onto a picnic table in front of Dairy Queen and remembering taking my sister there--and sometimes a handful of other kids--when I was babysitting for her the summer I was thirteen;

Sitting sideways on the front seat of the car with the door open, pouring a drink for my daughter, and suddenly SEEING my own mother's sun-freckled arm doing the same in Lake Geneva during the summer of 1977.

And now, I suppose, it's time to get to the point, but I don't have one. I'm just enjoying the feel of fitting my sandals into my mother's footprints on an early summer evening.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

This is Not a Parenting Blog

This is not a parenting blog. This is not...

Really. I promise.

But sometimes the little everyday moments are so simultaneously dismaying and entertaining that they call out to be shared.

My daughter is 11, and she often goes to my parents' house after school. It's not unusual for friends to visit her or call her there. Today, however, I was working from home and so she wasn't there.

About half an hour after school got out, my mother called and asked, without preamble, to talk to my daughter. I told her she was in the shower and she said, "Well, there's this little boy at my door..." I took the phone into the bathroom and put it on speaker. Turned out the boy had come to my mother's door hoping to find my daughter in order to ask her where another girl lived.

My mother had offered him our phone number, and he'd asked to use her phone.

So she was calling, with this boy she'd never seen before in her kitchen, looking for my daughter's friend's address...which my daughter didn't know.

"Just give him her cell," my daughter said. My mother said okay.

Um. Wait. "Mom, do you HAVE her cell?"

And she said, "I have it written down somewhere." Then she hung up to let the boy use her phone to call my daughter's friend's cell and find out where she lived--but not before she'd plucked our phone number back out of the boy's hand and said, "I'll just take this back in case she doesn't want you to have it."

A short time later, she called back. She said the girl's voicemail had been full, so she'd described to him as best she could where the girl lived. My daughter said, "Ummmm...she's going to kill you."

And then my mother said, "Anyway, I just called to say that whoever this boy is, he's much cuter than the one who came over yesterday."

Now that I think about it, I'm not at all sure whether this is a parenting story or a story about parents.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Do We Really Need to Go FASTER?

I started this as a writing blog, and I hope that it mostly remains one, but every once in a while I have a thought. Well, I have thoughts frequently, but every once in a while I have a thought I'd like to make in public, without having to write a query and seek an appropriate venue, and I think that's mostly what blogs are for.

So here's my thought today: On the way home on the train this evening, I saw a sign advertising Chase's new feature that allows one to set ATM preferences so that you can "get cash twice as fast".

How long does the typical ATM transaction take? I'll admit that I've never timed it (although you can be sure that I'm going to), but I'm guessing less than ninety seconds. So. Yeah. I REALLY need to shave that 45 seconds off my cash withdrawal time. It's going to change my whole day.

I know it sounds like I'm being sarcarstic, but in fact I think that it IS going to change my whole day--and yours too--and the change isn't for the better.

Remember when you had to go to the library and sort through drawers for the right roll of microfiche and pop it into a machine and turn and turn and turn and focus in order to find an old magazine or newspaper article? I'm talking 1988 here, not the forties.

Okay, quick show of hands: how many of you have complained out loud about how long it takes a newspaper article or other resource to load online? We cut out the travel time, we cut out the sorting through the cabinets, we cut out the scrolling, then we even cut out the dial-up delay, and now we're groaning, "this is so slooooowww" when it takes 30 or 45 seconds for a web page to display.

Now, I'm not a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of girl by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to say that I think maybe driving to the library was much healthier for us, as individuals and as a culture. I say that in part because we interacted with live people more, and were less rushed when we did. I say it partly because downtime like that you spend driving alone gives you time and space to think. And I say it partly because I think there's something inherently unhealthy, mentally and physically, about feeling the need to shave that extra 45 seconds off our ATM transactions.

I don't mean to lay this all at Chase's doorstep, though I do think Chase is the root of all evil (we'll talk about that another day). I see it at the gas station where "Speedpass" promises to save me the time it takes to actually INSERT MY CREDIT CARD, since I just have to wave it at the machine. I see it at the grocery store where "one touch" payment is so "convenient" that we've all conveniently overlooked how creepy and 1984 it is. Saddest of all, I see it in the parents who can't let their children tie their own shoes or zip their own jackets because that extra minute or two seems so critical to whatever it is they're rushing off to.

So here's my plan. I'm not signing up for one touch payment. I'm going to write checks just like we did back in prehistoric times, and if that takes an extra 30 seconds I'm going to use that time to wish the clerk a nice evening and smile at the person behind me (whose brain will probably be exploding because I'm writing a check). I'm going to leave my ATM preferences unset and go ahead and take that full 90 seconds to withdraw cash from the machine. I'm never, never, never going to say "let me do that for you" to my daughter just to speed her up. And I could be wrong, but I suspect that all those "wasted" seconds are going to add up and reappear at the end of my life, when I live a lot longer without the pressure of having to complete all of my transactions in under a minute.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Seven Unsolicited Surprises

I just happened to be reading my friend Barb's blog, where she responded to a challenge from another friend to post seven things about her that the friend didn't know. It reminded me pleasantly of a post I'd made several years ago on another blog called "twenty answers". It was simply a numbered list of random information. That post, honestly, began life as an email to a man I probably shouldn't have been telling quite so much about myself, but it ended up on my blog and started a little bit of a trend for a minute or two...twenty answers, no questions.

This one is tougher, though, because it's supposed to be things "you" don't know--whomever you may be. Since I adopted the challenge unsolicited, I can't focus on things a particular person won't know, and have to think about the things that may surprise the world at large.

1. My favorite song is by Aerosmith.

2. I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet every night.

3. My first paid piece of published writing was about McGruff the Crime Dog, and took me more than three hours to write, with a lot of help from my younger sister.

4. I watched General Hospital for years, even taped it when I was working during the day--and NOT when Rick Springfield was on it.

5. I cannot swim, but I love deep water.

6. I finished my first novel in 1993, but I've never shown it to anyone.

7. I like to fish: dig up my own worms, bait my own hook, feel the simultaneous slip and scrape of the scales against my hand--but I always let them go.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Whole New Can of Writing Worms

Last week, I wrote this post about what makes a writer in response to another blogger's comment on her blog about another blogger's comment on her blog about....well, we've covered all that already. But then a comment to the original post raised yet another question: we've all agreed (I think) that you don't have to be published to be a writer, but does being published make one a writer?

Again, I think it depends wholly upon usage. If "writer" is a state of being, then no, it does not. Or at least, there's a fair argument to be made that it doesn't. But if "writer" denotes a person making a living in a particular profession, then I don't think quality counts. There are good and bad doctors and good and bad lawyers and good and bad waitresses and good and bad mechanics, but we don't quibble about their titles. We don't walk out of a restaurant after getting bad service and say, "she wasn't really a waitress!" Crappy service or not, she's a waitress because it's her job title. The same can be true of a writer.

I don't necessarily think that talent is a prerequisite to becoming a writer by trade. Perhaps there is a line that one can't cross without talent, but with thousands of publications and tens of thousands of Internet outlets and hundreds of thousands of small businesses in need of copywriting services and websites, it's certainly feasible to make a living as a writer without crossing those lines.

In fact, I strongly suspect that many without what some of us would term talent HAVE crossed those lines. I'm not going to name any names, but I'm willing to bet that everyone reading this can quickly call to mind a wildly successful writer that he or she doesn't think can write. I'm not talking about someone whose style you don't care for, someone who doesn't suit your tastes, but someone you truly think is just a BAD writer.

You know you can.

So...if you're a writer...a writer who wants to be published...a writer who wants to make a living writing...maybe even a writer who secretly yearns for fame and fortune...what does that writer have that you don't?


Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Great Yahoo Conspiracy?

I recently used the (free) Google information bar to find out how recently Google had spidered a friend's website. Good news--they'd visited just a few days earlier, less than a week after the previous visit.

I cut and pasted the date and time of the visit into an email and sent it to my friend--and that's when the intrigue began. You see, my friend uses sbcglobal as her ISP, and SBC, as you may know, is Yahoo! (or owns Yahoo!, or is owned by Yahoo! or some such--I can't keep it all straight)

SBC sent me an autogenerated email telling me that my email was undeliverable for "policy reasons".

I puzzled over this for a moment, experienced a moment of gratitude for gmail (however creepy it might be that ads relating to the subject of my email pop up up in the margins) and considered sending my friend an invite to get a free gmail account. Then I re-sent the email to another of my friend's accounts.

She replied from her SBC account. That got through fine, trailing my cut and paste along with it, but when I tried to respond, I got another bounce message...policy reasons again. No explanation as to what policy I might have violated, of course. And I can't rule out the possibility that there's some code under that Google information that innocently set off some kind of screening. But I also can't rule out the possiblity that the policy I violated was one against consorting with the competition, and that idea leaves me decidedly uneasy.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Accidental Grammar Police

Rest assured, I am aware that my grammar is not perfect. Sometimes I make mistakes in haste. Sometimes--though I tremble a little to admit this--I know the proper usage and reject it. For example, I use the word "can" when I should say "may". Every time I do, I hear a taunting little grade-school voice in my head saying, "I don't know...CAN you?", but I do it anyway because "may" sounds so prim and 1950s Miss Manners to me that I just can't bring myself to use it. It's as if my whole paragraph will freeze up, cloak itself in a crisply ironed dress, and start vacuuming the living room in pearls and high-heeled shoes.

Still, I identified with Lynne Truss and fully understood her need to carry spare apostrophes.

There are, really, only two schools of thought about this issue: "Grammar as Religion" and "Oh, Lighten Up--Don't NITPICK"

I'm a nitpicker, and I'm here to tell you, it can't be helped.

Sometimes we can suppress the urge to comment out loud, although if there's another nitpicker in the room it's hard to resist a quick, shared, significant look (a la Charlie's Angels), but we can't help noticing. No, really. I don't mean, "I couldn't help noticing that you've included an apostrophe in 'car's' even though you clearly intended the plural and not the possessive," but we REALLY CAN'T HELP NOTICING.

We don't look for grammatical errors. We don't analyze text. They stand out as if they were a thousand feet tall and flashing neon, surrounded by fireworks...and not just any fireworks, but ARROWS pointing directly to the word or phrase in question.

Twice a month, an email goes out to everyone in my office, and it says, "Paychecks are ready, if your hours are complete."

Twice a month, I think, "Well, no. They're ready whether or not our hours are complete--you just won't give them to us unless our hours are complete."

I like the woman who writes the email. She's nice and she's professional and she seems quite intelligent. She's very pretty, too. I don't WANT to criticize her emails over a little technical point like that "if", and I don't do it out loud. But I can't read that sentence without noting that it's not factually accurate. It doesn't express what she meant. It COULD be factually accurate, but it's not; I know that all of the checks are ready. And so my brain issues the correction, every time. And it's every bit as annoying to me as it looks from the outside, but no more avoidable. Less, in fact, because the vast majority of those observations are never spoken.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Writing about Writing (Wait...Have I Used That Already?)


There's a whole new state of affairs around here, and I don't know what to do about it.

You see, I've been happily writing along assuming that no one was reading a word of this and I could say any damned thing I pleased, and then suddenly, Barb Cooper blogged about one of my recent posts (in the same post where she showed us the scars from the reconstructive surgery on her foot--I'm just sure that was a coincidence. Really.) and then this lady I don't even know apparently read Barb's post and followed the link to my post...and the next thing you know it's like BLOGGING or something.

It got me thinking about terminology. "Writer" is a funny word, because it can denote both a profession and a state of being. Other professions aren't like that; I was a writer long before I was published, but I wasn't a lawyer or a teacher or even a hostess in a restaurant until I was hired into those positions. I certainly thought of myself as a writer back in the day when no one--and I mean no one--ever saw a word that I wrote. Back in the days before email and blogging, before I was making my living as a writer, I just wrote and wrote and wrote, and when I finished something I tossed it in my desk drawer (I didn't even have filing cabinets back then) and started something new. And I defined myself as a writer not because I made my living that way--I didn't even have a living to make, back in high school and then college and then law school. I thought of myself as a writer because it was who I was, how I thought, what was most natural and elemental about me.

All I really wanted to do in life was write. That's what made me a writer. I'm also a writer by profession now, and when I wrote this post about blogging being dangerous for writers, I meant (though didn't specify) writers who wanted to write professionally. It's hard for me to imagine that any writer wouldn't want to write professionally, but that's not because I have any desire for fame or fortune or to be "heard" or anything like that. It's simply because I forget that some people have the luxury of time to write WITHOUT using it to support themselves.

I've been writing since I was six; I started publishing because it was the only way I could buy myself time to write. I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that most writers are like me in the sense that there's virtually nothing they'd rather be doing than writing, and that a lot of other necessary activities in life feel like time stolen from writing. Since the realities of life required me to be doing something lucrative 50 or more hours a week (feeding my kid wasn't one of the things I was willing to sacrifice in order to find time to write), I had a choice--give up the vast majority of the time I could be writing, or make writing pay. I'm no more a writer today because I have a full time writing job and a few freelance gigs on the side than I was when I was seventeen and I was writing short stories no one has ever read to this day. But I'm MUCH more a writer today than I was when I was practicing law 60 hours a week and didn't write for months on end, and I'm much more a writer today than I was when I was teaching and training and doing admissions consulting around raising a child alone and I didn't write for months on end.

For anyone who has the luxury all the time he or she wants to write without having to make a living at it, I can't think of a reason in the world that publishing is better than not. But for anyone who, like me, has to make a choice among giving up writing, giving up sleep, or finding a way to make it pay, I stand by my original thoughts. Put your effort where the opportunity is. There will be plenty of time to blog when the money is rolling in.