XML Hell

I am in the middle of XML hell. This class that I am taking on e-publishing infrastructure is my college algebra nightmare come to life. You know the one: you dream (or at least I do) that you’ve forgotten to go to math class all semester, and now it’s time for the final exam, and you don’t have a clue as to how you are going to pass the exam because you haven’t gone to a single lecture. Well, that’s what this class is like. I’m going to the lectures, but I think that my intake valve is stuck, and nothing is getting through, that or the pain of trying to put together the website still hasn’t ebbed enough for me to be willing to ingest the miasma which is code and the code behind the code. I think the Borg are behind it all. I’m certain that there is some plot to assimilate my consciousness into the computer, which, at this point, is fine with me because I’m just not getting it.

Then again, it may be a serious lack of chocolate that is affecting my brain, or perhaps chocolate overload. My house is full of Easter candy: peanut butter eggs, truffles, jelly beans, chocolate covered marshmallow eggs, other things involving chocolate, coconut and caramel. My youngest son, the thinker, pointed out that he has yet to figure out the connection between the holy holiday and eggs and chocolate bunnies. I nod sagely, and shove more chocolate between my teeth as I move between the kitchen and the bedroom, muttering “why?” over and over, which my family knows is code for “mom is losing her mind over the computer again, and let’s just leave her alone with her chocolate…”

It’s sad, really. My daughter stopped by, this evening to “borrow” a pot to plant her new lily in, and I had plenty since I never got around to potting any plants last year. She wondered aloud as to why I had emerged from my cave. Wasn’t I supposed to be doing my homework, she asked? Exactly, I replied. What a good time to come out and find a container for her new bamboo . . . There is no form of avoidance that I won’t employ in the name of honest procrastination techniques, and this assignment called for drastic procrastinating. So we looked for a vase. Unfortunately, the vase I was looking for had been thrown out or given away about five or six years ago, so we had to look for another one, which was good for at least another half an hour of searching. I managed to waste about 45 minutes before resuming my self-induced Sisyphean torture.

I’m sure that at some point it will all begin to make sense to me (or at least that is what I am hoping), and then I can cease to bemoan my lot, but until that point, it remains one huge boulder that I must push uphill. My only solace? Lots and lots of Pepsi and chocolate.

How honest can I be

I must confess that I really don’t like yesterday’s entry very much. I was seriously contemplating deleting it. In fact, while we were out and about yesterday, I told my husband (let me pause here, instead of this irritating ongoing labeling of “my husband,” which I find sexist, I would much prefer to use his name, and since I plan to write many more blogs in which I will probably reference him, why don’t we dispense with his namelessness and facelessness, but until I ask him what he prefers, I will use the noun in at least one more blog since I should ask the man if he likes being anonymous . . .), back to the subject, I told my husband that I was going to delete the entry since I thought that it really didn’t “do very much.”

I waited until this morning, and then I realized that I couldn’t delete it. After all, this is a site about writing, or at least, that is what I purported it to be. Are we 100 percent all of the time when we write? I know that I’m not. Hardly. Yesterday’s entry was cannon fodder. My best friend Mari will appreciate that term. I had nothing much to say but felt compelled to say something, so I wrote about the first thing that came to mind. It was very much like the kind of writing exercise I used to use in my composition classes at the beginning of class as a writing prompt. This was the assignment: Students had to write, pen to paper, for ten minutes without stopping, which is very hard to do if you have nothing to say. If you had nothing to say, you had to write, “I have nothing to say” over and over again until you thought of something to say, which usually led to the student saying something about how stupid the assignment was, which usually led them to some other train of thought, which usually led them to something that they could write about for the remainder of the time. By the middle of the term, there were far fewer “I have nothing to say” comments and far more entries about roommates or life or whatever vexes a freshman. I really didn’t care what they were writing about; I only cared that they were writing. That was the point. I didn’t care about punctuation, structure, spelling, anything that remotely resembled rules, and they knew that, so they felt free to write. Once I had them writing, we began to step back into structure, punctuation, and all of the other things that resembled rules. No one had ever come at them completely backwards before and told them that they could play in the sandbox without rules, that they could throw sand around and not bother to build anything with it, and in so doing, I allowed them to build the kind of castles they had never considered.

I’m not claiming to be any kind of miracle worker. They didn’t turn into a class full of F. Scott Fitzgeralds or Virginia Woolf’s. But occasionally, I’d come across a glimpse of wit or promise that made it all worthwhile, or I’d make a friend who would go on to take my upper level classes or stop by and keep me abreast on his or her progress until graduation. I’d even get cards, letters, wedding announcements post graduation. I never really hated teaching composition the way that some people did for just that reason–it was an opportunity not an onus.

So back to yesterday’s entry: it was more of an exercise than an experience. I didn’t feel very attached to it, so I suppose that’s why I thought I should exorcise it from this site. After all, shouln’t my entries be witty or thoughtful or insightful or at least passionate about something? Shouldn’t I be contributing something about how I feel about writing poetry or prose? Well, not necessarily, I realized. Maybe, I can just be writing to be writing because if I am to be truly honest, the reason I developed the site in the first place,  was to make myself get back to writing on a more regular basis because anyone who writes knows that to be a writer, you have to write regularly, and to be published, you have to write. No one just knocks on your door and says, ‘hey, come and write for us.’ Being back in graduate school has made me write more, but not regularly, as in daily. With this blog, I am trying to write daily, trying to make my mind think about writing daily, trying to make my creative self engage in the process at least once daily so that perhaps a wisp of a poem, a fragment of thought might lead somewhere, and I can begin to compose again. Who knows if it will be in that fiercely manic way in which I was writing during my last creative phase, but at this point, I will settle for steady. So, if I write a post that is not what I consider to be terribly engaging and I delete it, am I censoring myself or editing myself for the good of the blog or because I am vain? Do you edit your journal? Is a blog a journal? I suppose I need to determine the answers to these questions before I delete entries.

Any thoughts on this from other blog writers?

Lowering Your Expectations

I was once having lunch with a co-worker, and I started complaining about the service. She looked at me, and said that I seriously needed to lower my expectations. After all, she commented, what did I expect for fast food? I thought about what she said and realized that she was right. I did need to lower my expectations as far as the quality and service were concerned regarding fast food. It was fast food; the people working in fast food were being paid minimum wage or slightly above. It was not haute cuisine. There were no linen napkins. The tables were made out of plastic, as were the cups. I needed to get real.

I was reminded of my exceedingly high expectations regarding many things in life just this morning by my husband when I went online to check the status of our refund from the IRS, and the site informed me that we could expect our refund around April 1, which was not soon enough for me. His comment was exactly the same as Colleen’s, that I needed to lower my expectations. This made me pause. Was I going through life with such high expectations just because I thought that things should work as the ads claimed they would? As the declarations stated that they would? Was I living in some kind of fantasy world in which life was a glossy advertisement?

Now, if you have ever seen the recent state of my house, you would find this last statement absolutely hilarious because we have been in a state of “redoing” the house for about four years now, which means that nothing is where it should be, and the last thing my house looks like is a page out of a magazine, but I can fantasize, can’t I? Some women fantasize about gorgeous men. I fantasize about a clean, clutter-free house in which I have hardwood floors and kitchen cabinets that actually work. Oooooh. Aaaaah. I can smell the lemon wax. I feel faint. But I digress.

Back to expectations. I think it has something to do with the old golden rule thing. You know the one–do unto others. I won’t spit on your cheeseburger if you won’t spit on mine, to put it into terms more worldly, or earthly. I suppose it comes down to saying simple things like “please” and “thank you” instead of “whatever,” or expecting people not to have loud conversations on their cell phones in movie theaters after just spending $40 on tickets and two sodas. I think that my family is always concerned that I am going to say things to rude people because I have no patience with rude or stupid, and the reality is that on occasion, I have been known to make comments when perhaps silence may have been the option voted for by the majority. But then, I have never been known for my willingness to go with the flow.

But it’s also a matter of treating other people the same as you wish to be treated. If that way is with respect and courtesy, then you should show ample amounts of respect and courtesy in your dealings with other individuals. That’s usually how it works, or rather should work, but not always. Let’s take the fast food example. These are people who are not making a great deal of money. Does that mean that they should not be treated with a great deal of respect? Some people act that way. Some people in our society, quite a few actually, equate how you treat an individual with how much money that person earns or how that person dresses or what kind of car that person drives, or the color of that person’s skin, or what kind of accent that person has.

We haven’t always had the money to buy our children the right labels for their clothes and shoes. In fact, I make it a point to buy things on sale or at TJMaxx or Marshall’s, simply because I find it ridiculous to pay full price even when I can afford it. What is the point? The point is that I am neither better nor worse than the next person. I think that my expectations are high about the right things. Not about clothes or cars or money. But about respect for yourself and others, and honor, and keeping your word, and doing the right thing when the time comes. I expect my children to try to do their best and to treat others well. They don’t have to be Rhodes’ scholars, nor do they have to be doctors or lawyers or even college graduates. As long as they are happy within themselves, they try to have kind hearts, and they are good to the other people in their lives, then they can be proud of themselves. That is all that any parent should want.

Reformation Soap Operas

“Those eyes are like dark hooks for the soul,” says Sir Thomas Boleyn of his daughter Anne in The Tudors. I must confess that I am awaiting March 30th anxiously, for that is the date that Showtime’s addictive saga The Tudors returns for its second season. Those of you fortunate enough to see season one already know why this is a date worthy of celebration. It is much akin to Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, an adaptation of an English king that was worthy of at least two cinematic viewings alone. The St. Crispen’s Day speech was everything Shakespeare could have possibly intended when he penned those magnificent lines:

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, 
From this day to the ending of the world, 
But we in it shall be remembered-
    We few, we happy few,

Just remembering that scene still gives me chills . . .

But back to The Tudors. It is breathtaking in its own right, and makes me yearn to be in a Shakespearean seminar. Henry VIII is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and he is nothing like Richard Burton’s stocky, hammy Henry of Anne of a Thousand Days. This Henry is sexy, menacing, brooding, and has enough hubris to be believable. The characters major and minor are wonderfully cast, the writing rich, the setting palatial but time-appropriate. Not that I am a film critic.

The wonderful thing about having On Demand cable is that I was able to catch up on season 1 in one week. That’s not to say that it didn’t make me sleep-deprived, but it was a sacrifice I’d gladly make again. I even managed to turn my husband into a Tudors’ junkie. I’m thinking of watching the last few shows again just before the 30th just to refresh my memory so that I’ll be in peak viewing shape when the curtain rises on season 2, just after Wolsley has gotten his just desserts.

Just in case you might be wondering why on earth I’m writing about a television series on a blog about writing, then you obviously haven’t seen this series. Each show leaves me breathless and wishing that I had written just a few lines of the dialogue, such as the one with which I opened this entry. How often have you wanted to describe someone’s eyes but been unable to find just the right words? Have you ever thought to use the word hooks? I know that I haven’t. So I’ll keep watching and listening with my ears attuned to the words as they tumble out of the actors’ mouths like ripened fruits, moist and luscious, wishing that I could taste them so that I could better know them, how to access them. To write like that, to be part of the few, the happy few . . .

The poem makers project

Well, I have to say that the website hasn’t exactly been the burning bush that I had hoped that it would be so far, but then again, I knew from the beginning that I didn’t really know what I was doing when I put the site together. I still need to figure out how to put the Google Adsense on the pages, and I haven’t been able to make the Amazon Associates widget visible on my Social Networking page. However, the good news is that the class that I’m taking this session has more coding involved, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to fix some of the problems that I just applied band-aids to before in my attempts to get the site just up and running.

I do get very excited whenever I find a new line on the Work in Progress page. It’s like finding an unexpected present. I wish that I could find a better code for allowing users to add line-by-line text. If anyone out there knows of a better code than the one I’m using, please let me know. I think that mine might be confusing visitors because the line that is added doesn’t move into the poem. I don’t know how to do that yet, and I would love to have the magical mystery code that would enable such a thing to happen.

For now, I will be happy with the increasing number of visits to the blog site and the main site and just keep hoping that people will sign up to be contributors. Word of mouth is a great thing, and I hope that those of you who visit will pass along the web address. I’ll keep plugging along, writing about things, and tightening up the site. I welcome any suggestions on coding or other things.

Please consider adding a line or two to the poem or adding a blog post. Poets, writers, talkers, or thinkers one and all, come along for the ride.

Death and Taxes

Okay, so I’m not a big conspiracy theorist. I do not believe that the chlorine in our water is actually somehow allowing the government to tap into our brainwaves. If that were the case, there couldn’t possibly be so many damned foolish politicians, and W would certainly have learned how to speak in complete sentences by now, wouldn’t he? I mean, ectoplasmic transfer, thought distillation, something should have gotten through, shouldn’t it have? Anyway, I might actually put an aluminum foil hat on my head one day just because of the scene in M. Night Shamalan’s Signs, and who wouldn’t want to put an aluminum foil hat on to thwart aliens? It seems perfectly logical to me, but that’s another story for another time.

Back to the government and conspiracies: I just finished doing our taxes. I have always been the tax person in the family, even before online programs. I remember creating my own spreadsheet in the unwieldy spreadsheet program Lotus 123 just to make sure I was doing all of my calculations properly, and I’ve never even remotely liked math. I’ve just always liked software programs and any chance to use a new one for any reason. It’s my own personal little nerd fetish (I suppose it counteracts the black boot buying compulsion). But that’s not the point. TAXES. That’s the point. Everyone always moans and complains about the new tax laws and how horrible taxes are and how imcomprehensible the codes are, and year after year I just graduate from a calculator to a spreadsheet to a computer and keep thinking to myself that I must be doing something wrong because I manage to muddle through it all, so I’ve kept my files for the reqired seven years just in case that awful unnamed A thing ever happens. And everything manages to get done (although usually at the last minute because of that procrastination thing of mine). That is, until this year.

This year, for some unknown reason, the U.S. government decided to take state taxes out on my husband’s reserve pay from his former home state of Ohio. Now, let’s try to look at this logically. My husband has not legally resided in Ohio for at least eight years. The Coast Guard managed to get his state of residence correct for the last year of his active duty and for his first part of his reserve status. And then, because last year was decidedly one of the worst years on record for us (for example, he had a torn ACL and had surgery; I had major back surgery and never quite recovered, to name just a couple of minor things), the government decided to complicate our tax filing status by sending us a W2 with Ohio as his state of residence.

Now, some of you might suggest that we should have noticed that sooner, as in when he received his pay, but when those checks are direct-deposited and aren’t your primary means of income, you don’t eyeball the paystubs quite as hard as you probably should, except to make sure the amount is correct. You don’t notice a small OH in the bottom left where a VA should be, and I didn’t notice the small OH until I was inputting the code from the W2s, and then I paused and said Hmmm . . .

Things that make you say “hmmm . . . ” and in such a way that all of the air in the house stops moving and the earth stops rotating on its axis for a moment, and everyone around me pauses and holds their collective breath in ancitipation of the next sound to come from my mouth, which I shall not repeat here. So, I shall skip a few steps for brevity’s sake, and move on to the point at which I have completed the Federal returns, and the program is now asking me which state return I would like to begin next. I’m sorry . . . “which?” The prompt clarifies for me, ‘the nonresidential state should be completed first because it may affect the return for the state of residence.’ Well then, let us proceed without haste to the state return for OH. This is the point at which my tax mojo fails me and things turn ugly.

Now my husband, who I may have mentioned is more than patient with me, has been on standby since I began the returns as he has come to anticipate my completely arbitrary questions, a la, ‘do you remember that receipt for . . .’ and he can actually produce an answer, which keeps the process going at a somewhat reasonably even rate with very little vexation on my part. That is, until I began an Ohio state return, and it begins to ask me all kinds of questions for which I had no answers, and the little bottom line at the top right–you know the one, the ongoing calculator that shows how much you owe or will get back–that one starts to blink that we owe $1400! I think the term that most aptly describes my reaction is apoplexy followed by the vapors. How, I scream at the computer, can you expect us to owe that much when we don’t even live in your stupid state? (apologies to my husband’s family at this point). It only got worse from here. After some backtracking and filling in, it turns out that we owe Ohio $2. I am not spending $29.95 to e-file a return to Ohio to pay $2, so I will just have to download a paper return and do it the old-fashioned way and enclose a check for $2.

It’s been a long day with entirely too much drama; I believe I will now seek solace in CSI or Law & Order and play with the dogs.

The Insidiousness of Guilt

I have already written about my fascination with Catholicism, and one of the aspects of the religion that I have always found terribly unfair to those of us who are non-Catholics is the whole rite of confession and absolution. Now, I don’t claim to know all of the details about this pipeline to god, but from what I can discern, you tell a priest about everything you have done wrong during the past week, ten days, month, year, whatever period of time you are covering; your receive your penance, and then whoosh, you are absolved of your sins, clean slate. Now this seems like a pretty infallible system to me.

I remember reading about the whole system of pardons back in the middle ages in which people could buy their way into heaven, supposedly, until the pardoners were revealed to be less than holy men themselves, which meant that the money spent hadn’t actually bought anyone a seat on the other side of the pearly gates after all, and no one was  guaranteed anything any more than the rest of the peons. Of course, this was just one flim flam in one particular religion, and we know that the world is full of lots of different religions, and I’m not about to go into all of the different methods for gaining access into heaven and who is right and who is wrong, or we’d be here all day, and quite frankly, I find the whole debate too taxing.

Let’s get back to absolution and getting rid of your sins in one fell swoop. What no one bothers to mention is whether or not you get rid of the guilt as well. You see, this is where the Jewish side of me takes over–the whole idea of guilt. Don’t be offended. I am no more Jewish than I am Catholic, but I have an ample sense of guilt that I believe must mean that I was Jewish in one of my previous lives just as my love of the Catholic rituals must mean that I was Catholic in another life, and my deep respect of the Buddha and pantheism probably means that I was a grasshopper in another life . . . you get the picture. Back to guilt. I just don’t think that having someone absolve you of your sins can make the guilt go away. I carry guilt around like a talisman in a velvet bag next to my heart. It is omnipresent.

Some of my best poems have sprung from guilt. I still feel guilty about the Slinky that I stole when I was ten years old (but that’s another story). More importantly, I feel tremendous guilt over the ways in which I am certain that I disappointed my father who died of pancreatic cancer in 2001. I feel guilty that my first marriage ended in divorce simply because I never envisioned divorcing my best friend even though we had grown apart. I feel guilty that I have never gotten my PhD in English because it has always been a lifetime goal of mine. But the real truth of the matter is that I feel guilty right now because I am skirting the whole issue of what guilt really means to me because I’m not sure that I can face it.

You see, I will always carry around this pocket of guilt in my heart no matter how long I live, no matter how much I write about it, because there are some things that simply do not go away. My youngest daughter died as a result of complications from a brain tumor. It was many years ago. But as her mother, I should have been able to save her. That is just the way that it is. That is ingrained in your DNA and programmed into every fiber of your being, no matter what the doctors tell you or logic dictates. When she suckled at my breast, I should have been able to transfer that inviolate shield that protects your young from harm, but it did not work.

And so, for years, I have carried guilt with me like an extra appendage, and I probably always will. And any guilt that anyone else might try to impose upon me for whatever reason will never come close to the guilt that is with me constantly–whether it is my mother, who likes to point out the added poundage around my middle as if my sight is failing and I hadn’t noticed that my body is not what it was when I was 20, or it is someone else close to me who, in a vexing mood may feel a need to state an obvious shortcoming so as to try to fight my ingrained passive/aggressive defense strategies. And now that I am experiencing my own physical limitations, it only makes my self-imposed guilt more pronounced, not less, which, I know, is not logical. I have less tolerance for myself, especially when reliving the past.

Her name was Caitlin, and her short life and excruciating death propelled me to write lines upon lines of verse, most of it bad, but necessary to my healing process. But the ensuing guilt has led me to write and write and write all kinds of things: some of it sarcastic, some of it sad, but all of it cathartic in some way. So while guilt is insidious and it can take over your life, I wouldn’t hand it over in a confessional box because it has made me who I am: melancholy, curmudgeonly, creative, spontaneous, cautious, aggravating, and bitchy. I have never pretended to be anything other than what I am, and I wouldn’t pay a pardoner a penny to be rid of that which makes me who and what I am.