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writing, labor, and cold hard cash (part 1)

The simplest way I can describe this issue: when people make something, they put a lot of work into that something.  If that person wants to give away their something for free, they have every right to.  I know a lot of artists who have given away their junk for free.  They’re definitely allowed to do so.

But if you’re using someone else’s work to make money for yourself, that’s probably not okay.

In Internetlandia, this has been a big point of discussion.  In Buzzfeed-era journalism, it becomes a major point of contention.  Is someone else’s content okay for you to use as journalistic fodder?

In my opinion?  Not really.  I am sick to death of reading or hearing news stories that are really only glorified twitter screencaps.  I crap you not, I happened upon a blog the other day that was — bear with me here — a blog about a facebook status someone wrote.  Not even kidding.  I had read the aforementioned facebook status; it was an extremely eloquent short essay about the situation that poor Jessica Duggar finds herself in and how we have to do better by our girls.  I even liked it.

But someone then essentially copied the entire text of said status, wrote a couple sentences of commentary, and published it on their blog.  Maybe as a “let me draw your attention to this”, but seriously.  That’s not writing.  That’s not journalism.  That’s not anything.  That’s glorified Pinterest.

It even becomes a point of contention when it comes to quoting people sometimes.  When you are writing something, anything of a journalistic nature, you have to ask questions.  You have to get quotes.  That’s what that game is all about.  I’ve been doing a freelance gig that requires a lot of quote getting, and I’ve been doing it for five years now.  Part of me feels guilty about just using a lot of what other people say, but sometimes, it’s okay to write down what people say.  If you’re interviewing them, and you come up with good questions, then yes, you’re doing the work.  Thanks to the magic of mirror sites, I have an old interview with my good friend Gina that I published in my college paper & also wrote up online.

And in Internetlandia sometimes, you will find people who you’d like to get a quote from.  Most of the time, you won’t hear back from them.  At all.  Ever.  Sometimes, you’ll get an enthusiastic response and even a thank you.  And sometimes, that person will curse your name.  They may even do it publicly.  It might even sting a bit.

But guess what’s the best course of action?  You demonstrate your own creativity and you figure out how to write something else.

If you’re a good writer, you’ll figure out what that something else is.  And if not, you’ll practice until you do figure it out.  But of course, practice doesn’t pay, unless you practice like a crazy person and then also get lucky and have your practice pay off.

But we’ll get into that in part II, when we discuss musicians, labor, intellectual property, and getting paid!

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chicken or the egg? really, it starts in the ovaries.

So let’s just get this out in the open.  My father, a lifelong alcoholic (and also a writer – imagine that!), wrote a story in his waning years.  He was in poor health, so he wanted me to type up his handwritten manuscript.  It was about me, and me getting pregnant and faking suicide to not shame my mother.  Not about me by name, but, you know, it was about me.  Sigh.

So that’s a big reason that I was a goody goody my whole life.  I think I desperately wanted to prove him wrong.  I frustrated the living crap out of boys in high school but I didn’t care.  I don’t even think I noticed.  Not that I was exactly miss hot to trot, but I surely left quite a few blue balls in my wake.

I believe in family planning and contraception, and there are studies that show that providing reliable, long-term contraception dramatically lowers teen pregnancies and abortions.  My students have been asking me a lot lately if I have kids, to which I respond no.  Not sure if that makes me a role model, being 30, married, having a steady career and almost a masters degree before I have kids (because the vast majority of the kids I teach were not born under these circumstances).  Whatever.

Of course, for as long as I’ve been involved in serious relationships, the pill and I have never gotten along and so I’ve always had mild panics once a month.  Many women know these.  Before I had visited serious relationshipland, when I was a freshman in college, I went five months without a period.  Seriously, body?  I had some ultrasounds when I was in high school, and they saw minor ovarian cysts, nothing major.  It was so long ago, and something not followed up on, that I have a hard time remembering, but whatever they found were minor impediments to being regular.

All through my life, I have never been the kind of person to easily adjust to habit.  Like – you mean, as soon as I wake up I brush my teeth and as soon as I get home I lock the door?  My lack of regularity with habits and sleep schedules and the like baffles most normal people, including my husband.

But, as all women are, I was born with the body parts I have and all of the eggs I would ever have.  And I just happen to have a body and eggs that don’t plan on being regular, well, ever.  It sure will be a fun time in the old corral when my husband and I do start trying to have kids.  The “oh crap, do this guy and I have to get married?” panic attacks have gone away at this point.  And that’s a good thing.  Plan B makes me a little crazy, and the off-brand pink-boxed pill you get at CVS is worse.   The  more first-world problem-esque “will us having a baby ahead of time prevent us from having an awesome wedding?!” panics have subdued.

The question is: did me being highly emotional and lacking regularity in my sleep schedule or other daily habits cause my body to rebel, or does my highly irregular body cause these issues throughout the course of my life?  How do you ever expect me to be on time anywhere I go if my eggs never, ever arrive on time?

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birthday inventory

“After that I never put another time line on anything in my life.” – Cameron Diaz

While I don’t necessarily consider Cameron Diaz to be a role model of mine, she’s absolutely correct.  Your life is going to happen the way it happens, regardless of the way you design it to happen.

That said, upon reaching certain milestones, you start to gain some perspective on your life, and where it’s going.  Where you want it to go.

Last year, in September, I went out to a gay dance bar that featured some beautiful male entertainers with a friend of mine who was turning 30.  We had a blast.  The question that she felt she was getting asked a lot, however, was, “Are you happy with how you spent your 20s?”  And she would sort of grimace and turn away.

Which, whatever.  She lived internationally, she wrote a lot, had many adventures, lots of ups and downs in relationships, and did a lot of the typical things, such as graduating college and the likes.  In the year since then, she’s moved to Philadelphia and started law school, and incidentally began a relationship with another very close friend of ours (which, ha ha ha, happened during our wedding weekend ::stops to pat self on back::).  He visited her just this past weekend.

But that question comes up to me.  Quite a bit.  Am I satisfied with how I spent my 20s?

Definitively, the answer is yes.

In regards to party, my husband and I are combining my birthday this year with tailgating for a football game (at our alma mater).  Which essentially means it’s a picnic party, with lots of drinking and just hanging out all afternoon, playing cornhole and the likes.  I am going to drink mimosas all day long and talk with my friends and grill avocado and have a fabulous day.  And then go sing some karaoke after the game.

Today, while walking through the massive halls of a discount store with a friend of mine, I said, “I had wanted to go to my most frequented Orlando bar, which is where I also went when for my 23rd birthday…”  I trailed off.  Holy shit.  Had I really been going to the same said bar for the past seven years!?  I remember being 23, and it not being so terribly bad I guess, but when I think about it in terms of that being seven years ago, I feel like I was an infant then.  Geez.

Lucky for me, many of the things in my life turned out the way I’d expected them to, even at the age of 19.  If I were to take a checklist of the things I’ve done in my 20s, as per what I had wanted to accomplish, I think I’d have come out ahead.

  • graduated from college
  • began my masters degree
  • started my career in my long-since chosen field
  • published a really long and fancily bound academic paper, even if no one ever really reads it
  • had a couple of very informative long-term(ish) relationships
  • traveled overseas, and to the Pacific coast
  • performed, a lot
  • exposed myself to a lot of new things and people and ideas
  • moved away away from home home
  • got married to one awesome dude
  • learned how to freaking cook (and how to bake)
  • published some stuff in stuff
  • have been kind of a big deal in quite a few kids’ lives
  • loved & danced a lot

The last two may be uber-cliche, but they’re important to me.

I forsee some of this in the next decade of my life, and surely, the plans will change the specifics will vary.  A lot.  Just as they have in this decade.  I don’t even know about writing down goals for the next one, just because I don’t like being one of those people who specifies so much, is so sure of what’s going to happen, only to see everything go to shit.  Or to deny that I ever thought any of my previous goals would occur.

So yeah.  Here’s to being lucky enough to come out ahead, and that luck continuing for the next decade of my existence upon this earth.

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not there. not fair.

My aunt died this morning of cancer.

It was her second bout.  She was a breast cancer survivor from several years ago, and an entirely separate cancer appeared near her kidney.  From what I got from my mother, the doctors referred to it as a lymphoma, but it was not a blood cancer.  (Rather a specific type of lump.)  I had not spoken to her recently, but as per instructed by my family, had been sending her text messages.  She was in a lot pain before she died, and had become very depressed.

My family has always been far away.  The distance has been a long way physically, and sometimes emotionally.  My mother’s family is not a part of the picture, and maybe that’s for the best, and my father’s family has always been spread out.  We’ve not gotten to spend a lot of time with them since we moved from New York in 1985 (when I was three).  Despite being so far away and not having a whole lot of contact, I always loved seeing them.  I have always been fond of my cousins, and have wonderful memories of being around them throughout my life.

When T-storm and I got married, neither of us had a huge contigent of family there.  But everyone who was there meant a lot.  There was a wonderful moment in which I went to the second hotel where our families were staying the day before the wedding, and was greeted at the downstairs continental breakfast by his aunts, shouting “There’s the bride!!”  It was instant acceptance, and so much love in the room it was almost overwhelming.

When my family got there, they were a bit more low-key (my father was the one with the hysterical gene, apparently), but it was so wonderful having them around.  My grandmother, aunt and two uncles came (all biological family), as well as my cousin who was only a year younger than me.  They danced, they enjoyed the photobooth, they had an absolutely wonderful time.  My brother told me that my cousin, who lives in Manhattan, was double-fisting cupcakes from the cupcake truck we had there, which made me feel pretty great.  My uncle’s girlfriend stayed until the very end, until we lit the sparklers, and danced the night away with me and my diehard dancefloor friends.  I got to take photos with them and I was so glad we were able to show them a good time.

I was so grateful my aunt was able to make it to the wedding.  Strangers told me that I looked just like her when I was a kid, and while our encounters were only every few years, they always meant a lot.

The wedding was in November; in March she was stricken with her diagnosis, and now two months later, is gone.

My father had a terrific talent for berating people, although he did so lovingly most of the time.  My aunt’s husband, uncle D, was often a target; my father would joke about him being uptight or boring, but my time spent with him was always great.  He was warm and caring, an unbelievably devoted husband, and also hilarious.  My brother and I spent a good deal of time at their house in the summer of 1997, playing video games in their basement and seeing family.  I have a specific memory of an epic Scrabble battle between uncle D and my mother, and the morning after, before he left for work, he wrote out some trash talk as a prelude to a Scrabble rematch, and my mother took a red pen to the note and gleefully corrected it.  That made us laugh for years afterwards.

My uncle D  is rightfully devastated.  He and my aunt had a wonderful life together: two children, an amazingly beautiful grandchild (whose birth my aunt got to witness), got to retire and travel a little, and had the most beautiful garden in the backyard of their house on Long Island.  One of my favorite all-time photos is me, at age 14 that same summer, with my brother and my two younger cousins in their backyard.   My aunt & uncle were together for over 40 years.  In a lot of ways, T-storm reminds me of uncle D and for that, I think I’m lucky.

While I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with so many of my relatives, family lore and legend has played a huge part in my life.  There have been times that I feel like I don’t come from anywhere, or that I lack customs or heritage or whatever else, and then I think of stories from my childhood.  Videos of my third birthday party, right before we left Long Island for Florida, where my whole damned family was there and I wore my She-Ra mask with my little plaid dress.  It’s not religion or nationality that define me, it seems – photos and stories and the such make up the core of my existence.  And even things beyond childhood, like when my brother brought home leftovers from a fancy Italian restaurant that summer we spent on LI, and my cousin ate them at 3 in the morning.  It’s family legend.  And it runs deeper through me than I realize most of the time.

My aunt was an exceptional education teacher for decades, and so I have thought of her particularly often over the last year.  She was able to retire and have some calm time.  She and my grandmother were exceptionally close – my aunt was the first born of four kids, and the only girl.  At this point, my grandmother has buried two husbands and two children.  (My father died when I was 19.)

The world is a terrible place sometimes, and surely there are worse ways to live and die.  But her end was particularly rough, and she’s left a huge hole in the lives of everyone who loved her.

The only thing that seems to make sense out of it all is that the next time someone chides me for spending money to travel and go to friends’ weddings and the likes, I won’t even listen.  Celebrating the lives of the people you love is important, and I consider myself so lucky to have gotten to see her one last time before she was taken from so many who loved her.

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annoying blonde romantic tropes, part III: Sting wrote a song called…

The next movie in our Fred Willard film festival was Roxanne.  It had been on the queue for some time.  My mother loves this movie.  I’d seen glimpses of it growing up.  I knew it had the guy with a big nose in it.  I never read Cyrano de Bergerac, but I had a close friend who quoted it all the time in high school.  She went through a Dante quoting phase, as well.

(So basically I don’t know anything – I just soak up information from my more literary friends, now including my husband.  The more and more I think about the way the rest of my life has gone, the more it makes sense that I married him.)

Anyway.  T-storm and I decided to watch this film on a Wednesday night or something.  And I will say, I enjoyed it a heck of a lot more than Ira & Abby.  My pretentious asshole film critic ex-boyfriend might not agree, or the film theory books he read might have told him to disagree, but the 80s produced some good movies.  I don’t know.  Roxanne made me feel nostalgic for 80s movies.  A bygone era as it were.  Don’t even get me started on my unabashed love for 80s music, of all forms…but there was a certain magic in all 80s pop culture that’s missing today.  We had Tim Burton before he’d fallen so deeply in love with himself that he couldn’t see straight (and now I want to watch Beetlejuice immediately), we had bizarro kids movies aplenty, and even in the music, many things slipped through to mainstream popular culture that are still frowned upon today.

Snobs decry the purported downward spiral of popular music, and particularly the lyrics of popular music these days, but in the 80s you had little kids surely singing “Relax / don’t do it / when you wanna come”.  There’s not much tongue and cheek there.  You had Madonna humping the stage at the VMAs when they were A Thing.  But now we think of her as being so much better than Lady GaGa because we’re nostalgic for our collective childhood.  Madonna isn’t better than Lady GaGa (she probably has less musical skill than Ms. Germanotta) –  she just did all the same things first.

Anyway.   I can’t help it.  Movies do seem different these days.

I was once around a bunch of kids who were seeing The Muppet Movie for the first time, bless their hearts (the movie is straight up 70s, but close enough to the 80s and to an 80s aesthetic enough to call it a “close call”), and when they saw Steve Martin serve Piggy & Kermit wearing lederhosen, they said, “That’s the guy from Cheaper by the Dozen!”  It made my heart sink.  I mean, come on!  He’s The Jerk!  Surely, he’s been making attempts at picking up the rent (and financing his bluegrass career) since the early 90s, with sentimental stuff like Father of the Bride, but these kids who know him only as a cranky dad are missing so much.

Although it’s not a child-friendly movie, and not as good as The Jerk, it’s possible that Roxanne might be a good introduction to Mr. Martin for beginners.  He makes the movie worth watching for his performance alone.  He is that good.

So that’s what I really enjoyed about the movie.  Suffice to say.

But Daryl Hannah annoyed the living shit out of me.

Maybe it’s because she reminded me of myself in some sort of former life.  Sure, she plays a “nerd”, but you can’t just give a supermodel a telescope and say, “Oh, she’s mousey now!  Lookit her!”  The same way you can’t tell me that Julia Roberts is not Julia Roberts because she dyed her hair brown, put it in a ponytail, and dons glasses.

And the whole friggen’ movie, Hannah just wants pretty words from a pretty boy.  “Write me a letter!  Tell me pretty words!”  Martin most definitely picks up the slack from there, and even the more secondary characters (even the dumb pretty boy that Martin’s character ghostwrites for) are well done, but I couldn’t get over it.

It was like I was 21 and had spent way too much time in my young life at that point listening to moody love songs and watching too many movies and sighing and waiting for something to happen.  Then a boy came along and made me  a mixtape or six and the timing was right and blamo.  Four years down the drain.  Not entirely down the drain – I sure as hell learned a lot, experienced a lot, even the shitty stuff on the other end of the relationship spectrum from first kisses and mixtapes, and having a boyfriend in college certainly kept me out of trouble.

And it landed me here, in South Florida, with almost two years to explore before I met T-storm.  And it also gave me the wisdom to understand that, no, Rob Sheffield, love is indeed not a mixtape: it cannot survive if it’s not built up from a true emotional connection and the mutual support of two committed partners.

Suffice to say, more than just pretty words.  That’s just the surface.  That’s just the start.  That’s not much at all.

C’mon, Daryl Hannah.  I’m supposed to believe you as an astronomy grad student, who wants nothing more than to be told how wonderful she is through cleverly strung together words?  Real women of science demand more than that!

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Sunday Morning in downtown Wilton Manors

1) Tomatoes and bananas are indeed just as inexpensive at outdoor markets sometimes as they are at Publix and Publix never signed on to make sure tomato workers were safe in South Florida.  Damn straight.  

2) There are no Asian restaurants open before about 2pm on Sundays down here.  Surely this would be different if we were in the more urban northeast, or definitely on the West Coast.  But for as diverse as South Florida is, we are not the most idyllic place to be Asian, or to have a taste for Asian foods (like my husband who lived for a year in Vietnam).  We went to a free Digital Underground show last night, with a number of Miami food trucks in attendance.  That was pretty awesome, except for my husband’s inability to get the lo mein he so desired.

I guess we have to go to Orlando, where you can get GLORIOUS Asian food near Mills & 50, and lots of different types.  Including the vegan-alicious Loving Hut (which also has its own traveling truck, and has for years).  I really hope that development in Orlando never gets rid of those glorious places.

3) I think I had a priest compliment me today.  We were walking to get some type of food, Asian or not, and a guy in some sort of religious gear said to me either “nice glasses” or “nice breasts”.  I know that the fact that he was apparently a man of some kind of cloth doesn’t exempt him from being a perv, even on a Sunday (have you ever worked food service in a God-fearing town on Sundays?  BONKERS).  What made me relatively sure that he was complimenting my glasses was that we were in front of Java Boys, the most rainbow decked coffee shop I’ve ever witnessed.  

As I’ve mentioned before, I could walk outside in my neighborhood stark naked and not be harassed.  And I think unless you wear black leather and spikes to the club Ramrod, harassment in Wilton Manors proper is on the low side. 

 

So was our Sunday morning jaunt about town.

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