Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Holding Back the Years

I Googled myself the other day (hey, now, I was fully-dressed) and discovered a piece of myself I had completely forgotten: my LiveJournal blog. I went through the entries, from 2002 to 2005, and was amazed at how damned optimistic I was then. I also listened to a lot of music, because the sountrack from 'Chicago' was featured heavily for a couple of months. Deb Ng says that 'Online is Forever,' and it's very true, but this time I was thankful. I was always looking forward to something back then, and it nearly feels like reading someone else's words. How did I become so sarcastic, cynical and old in just a few years? Maybe it's too much life experience, or too few movie soundtracks in my life. In any case, it points out to me that this new digital generation won't be looking through yearbooks and photo albums in the years ahead, but old blogs and social media sites. It's only a matter of time before someone starts up a business searching and archiving all your online moments, condensing your life into one convenient DVD. When that business pops up, give this jaded ol' broad a cut of the profits, will ya?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Raccoon House Party

(A post done by special request, for Amy!)

People in the city often believe that life in the country is serene and peaceful. In truth, it’s more like Animal House, with real animals; I fully expect, any day now, to see possums wearing togas and chugging the homemade beer I threw out. In the myth of rural life, the silence is punctuated only by the gentle warbles of songbirds during the day; in reality, there’s three crows shrieking Vaudeville-era jokes in the tree above my kitchen, then trash-talking some nearby bluejays who are stealing bits of dog food right out from the bowl. In autumn, it’s turkeys gone wild, complete with gobbling calls of “Lift your feathers!”

At night, though, is when the real action happens. Every dog on the Psychic Howler Network passes news up and down the valley; my own personal Woof Blitzer announces the arrival of an armadillo in the yard, a statement that is discussed thoroughly by the panel at large.

But things really became interesting the year we installed a motion-sensing security light. At first, we set it on sensitive, which caused the cats to suffer from Britney Spears-like attacks of paparazzi blindness. After submitting Fluffy and Mr. Whiskers to rehab, we dialed the sensor down a few notches.

Enter the raccoons. With just one hairy bandit, the light went off occasionally like an overcharged firefly. As more began passing through the yard, the security light hit disco-ball speed night after night, and all that was missing was the thump-thump of an ear-splitting dance mix. My proudest wifely moment was seeing my husband out on the porch at 2 a.m., waving a broom at a gang of chittering teenage raccoons and yelling, “Get off my lawn!”

By the next day, the light was disassembled, and the dogs were left out of their pen to chase the juvenile delinquents at their leisure. The cats also recovered, although they refuse to give interviews. Life became slightly quieter, and we no longer needed those sunglasses past dusk. But I like to think that somewhere, a squirrel DJ is setting up in an old barn while raccoons hold up their glow sticks, and rock to the sounds of the night.

Biting the hand that hungers you

I saw a paying blog opportunity at Freelance Writing Jobs this week; apparently, a well-known health magazine is looking for bloggers on the topic, and I wondered, does all my failure count as experience?

I have been on diet after diet in my adult life. The Atkins diet (which worked for a while, but made me really cranky), the diet where you eat mini-meals throughout the day, and, most recently, the South Beach diet, which allowed me to lose a little water weight, but also made me snap on day 6 of phase one. While I haven’t tried the Paleo diet (eating like hunter/gatherers), I do have a male friend on it. The main problem with diets in general is this: I’m so obsessed with what I can and can’t have, so I’m thinking about food constantly. “Can I have carrots? Can I have sprouts? Do I have to eat celery with tuna on it? What happens if I eat a Big Mac and fries? I don’t want a tiny square of dark chocolate, I don’t like dark chocolate, I don’t even care for any chocolate that much. I want a Twinkie!” And so on.

With all these diet plans and books, I was doomed to fail. With the South Beach diet, I was eating stuff I don’t like, plus I believe that sugarless gum should never be listed on a meal plan. That’s silly. With Atkins, the emphasis is on protein, which is good for my blood sugar, but I naturally prefer a less meaty existence. I’ll eat steak maybe once a year, turkey’s okay, can I have my Boca burger or tofu stir-fry now please?

What I have finally learned, after years of starving myself then pigging out again, is to listen to my own body. If left to my own devices, I eat fairly simply, and I’ve finally learned portion control. I could use more veggies, but who couldn’t, really? I love to walk, and will start walking more when the weather cools down. I also learned a trick years ago about treats: I don’t buy boxes of donuts or other goodies; if I want something decadent, I’ll buy it single-serving size at the market, indulge, then go on, remembering to not do that too often.

I feel like a hardened veteran of the food wars, not likely to turn my head over the latest fad. Eat less, sure, but eat foods you like, and move around more.

Hmmm. Maybe I will apply, after all.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Three freelancing myths

I see a lot of newbies swish in and out of the writing forums, asking the same questions over and over, then getting frustrated when their concerns aren’t immediately met with soft, encouraging words and a handful of easy-to-score, high-paying markets thrust into their palm. Some are willing to listen to the voice of experience, others, not so much. These three myths are a common theme among new freelancers, and are harder to extinguish than the urban legend of receiving free beer through e-mail forwards.

It’s fast money. Oops, excuse me, I just laughed so hard that milk came out my nose. In the big picture, freelancing may seem fast compared to the evolution of dinosaurs into chickens, but it won’t be faster than the due date of your electric bill. Sorry. It can take months between query, assignment, rewrite, acceptance, invoice, payment and publication. Need a speedy turnaround? Find some local clients who need press releases, newsletters and other writing products. In my experience, the process goes faster when you’re working with a local business. Sometimes I would get paid the same day I submitted my invoice; in other instances, it took a couple of weeks.

All you need is an idea and a keyboard. In theory, yes. But you also need information. A big chunk of freelancing is research, so get started now. Locate a copy of Writer’s Market and read the articles up front. There’s a lot of valuable info in there, from how to write a query letter to determining what you should charge. Also, check out writing sites like Absolute Write, which are worth their weight in cyber-gold. AW’s freelancing forum has a collection of stickies at the top of the page representing lifetimes of experience.

Big markets are easy to crack. I once had a client who asked me, “If you send this press release to Reader’s Digest, what issue will it be in?” It’s tough to crack the top markets—that’s why they are the top markets. Family Circle, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Parade, Smithsonian etc., are staffed by very busy, very talented people. It takes a lot of time and effort to get their attention, and many writers spend years doing the rejection-query waltz with editors.

Again, think global, write local. Start out with regional pubs, get some clips, and climb the first few rungs of the ladder. We’ve all heard about the exceptions; people who claim, “On my first day, I wrote an article, sent it to Reader’s Digest, and they bought it!” These people suffer mysterious aches and pains throughout life, because the rest of us stick pins in their voodoo-doll likenesses. Most freelancers work very hard for each new level of accomplishment. It’s not a walk in the park, but if you do your job right, you could touch a few hearts and change a few lives with your words; if you’re very lucky and dedicated, you could even make a living at it.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Quirk work

I’ve been tagged with a meme by Jen from Creatif; the subject is quirky behavior, so naturally it took me a week to narrow the field to six unspectacular personal quirks. The next six victims are listed at the bottom, so be sure to check them out as well, so you can feel better about your own weirdness.

1. Quark quirk: I love astronomy, adore star-gazing, and watch the NASA channel whenever possible. But I cannot get the hang of recognizing constellations. The entire night sky could be flipping me the bird, for all I know.

2. Quirk-a-licious: For me, the best meals and snacks have both soft and crunchy textures. One of my favorite snacks is dipping a banana into fake bacon bits, bite by bite. Mmmm, sweet and soy bacon-y.

3. Plurk quirk: Social networking on sites like MySpace and Facebook is not my cup of digital tea, but I’ve just joined Plurk, and I really like it. It’s like the ADD-afflicted love child of chatrooms and forums. I also like the imaginary verbs that rule the Plurkdom; ‘I’m Plurking now, and I just friended you.’

4. Sssshhhh-quiet quirk: I have weird reading habits. Over the past holiday weekend, I read the May/June issue of Columbia Journalism Review, Betty & Veronica Digest #185 (oh, that Archie!), the latest issue of Mental Floss, and I started reading two books: Doctor Who: Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole and The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus by Joshua Kendall.

5. Quirk rock: I hate ear buds. Although I do own a small knock-off MP3 player, I don’t use ear buds with it. Many years ago, I worked at a chicken-processing plant, and was required to wear ear plugs every day, which gives you an uncomfortable feeling of someone walking behind you constantly with their fingers in your ears. Give me those old-school, big-ass Princess Leia stereo headphones any day. Even better, just ditch the headphones and turn up the music until the windows rattle.

6. Kirk quirk: Sorry, Picard just talks too much. I like my starship captains in action with their shirts torn, their muscles ripped, and a smart-ass quip whipped out at the perfect time.

And now, the next six quirkmasters. I tag Melanie at What Am I Doing In Mexico? (ooh, hot Mexican quirks!) ; Donna at Fantastical Imagination (just imagine the quirk possibilities, plus her blog has a new home, and everyone should drop by); Rosemerry at Blue Cherrie (I'd love to hear about quirky dishes or recipes!); Erika at Musings from the Mitten (she always comes up with cool stuff); Skyraven at Skyravensays and Dawn at Anything that Pays (both ladies have great blogs!) If anyone else wants to join in on the meme, consider yourself tagged, and let me know so I can read it!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day of remembrance

This is a day of remembrance for me. As of today, my dad’s been gone for 32 years. He was so young when he died, younger than I am now. I was eight years old when he passed, and it’s hard to remember his face other than the way he appeared in photos. I do remember experiences, though: hearing him and my mom talk as I napped in front of the box fan, feeling that my world was safe and happy; his odd sense of humor, which I have definitely inherited; riding with him to pick up a Sunday newspaper, and perhaps receive a special treat of Twinkies to share on the ride back. I remember the walks we took down country roads, and how hard he worked to take care of us until he was too sick to move. He worked blue-collar jobs, never getting to follow his own dreams, but he was around to see my first words in print—a poem about tigers in the school newspaper. I know he would be so thrilled to see me achieving my dream as a writer. So I’ll take some time today, as I do every year, to remember him, and be grateful for all the things he taught me while he was here.

Thanks, Dad, for some swell memories. No matter how old I get, I'll still miss you.