25 Songs, Day 6: You’re My Best Friend

(Part six of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)


Day Song 6: A song that reminds you of a best friend

True confession: as soon as I read this prompt, Queen’s You’re My Best Friend lodged itself in my memory and it won’t let go. (Talk about an earworm…)

There’s multiple layers to my association, here. First is the literal content of the song, of course.

You’re the best friend
that I ever had
I’ve been with you such a long time
You’re my sunshine
And I want you to know
That my feelings are true
I really love you
You’re my best friend


The song is all about “best friends,” of course. Which is probably why the song was featured in the Kenneth Branagh-directed film, Peter’s Friends, back in the early 90’s. I can’t find the exact clip on YouTube, but here’s the film’s trailer, which also features Queen’s song prominently.

The film is centered on a New Year’s Eve gathering of a group of besties in college, gathering ten years later. Various cracks in connection emerge, showing ways folks have changed and drifted apart, at least to some degree.  Yet there are stunning moments of connection, both in a nostalgic way…

…and also at the film’s conclusion — which I am not linking here on the odd chance that someone who hasn’t yet seen the film would want to do so. As such, I won’t reveal any spoilers about how things unfold, but I don’t think anyone will be especially surprised to hear that by the end of the film, the old friendships have been re-established — yes, evolved and transmuted from years of growth and change, but the connections remain sound.

best-friends-iAnd that’s the kind of thing that’s a total mystery to me. I feel as if I never quite got the hang of sustaining long-term friendships. What with my innate shyness and the frequency we moved during my childhood, it seemed as if I’d make a group of friends, and then lose touch with everyone when the family and I were yet again displaced.*

Facebook has helped me re-establish some soft connections with folks from my middle school, high school, and college days. And I truly, truly appreciate having that small chance to have a window into people’s lives, and to be able to make small pieces of contact — a “like” here, a brief comment conversation there. But I’ve not yet felt a deep enough level of comfort to really re-connect. Would I invite someone our for coffee, or even send a real personal letter or email? No, that would feel too invasive. Not really sure if that’s an accurate read on the situation, or if it’s my old habits of self-isolating coming into high gear.

So, despite my jaunty image, above, I kinda sorta feel as if I might suck as a friend. Which is probably why it’s easier for me to respond to this prompt with a memory of someone else’s fictional best friends than any songs connected to my own friendships.

* Have I talked about this before? I think I’ve talked about this before. Too strapped for time to go check.


Image credit: http://didthatjusthappenblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/i-have-the-best-friends/

25 Songs, Day 5: The Dreaded Earworm

(Part five of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)


Day Song 5: A song that is often stuck in your head

Ah yes, the dreaded earworm. The song that infects the aural passages and the bloodstream, often causing physical pain and existential crisis akin to that once faced by Anton Chekhov a long time ago in a future inhabited by Ricardo Montalban:

ear_worms_ear_budsI have a strangely high tolerance for earworms. For me, they impact the same part of my brain where my affection for guilty pleasures and things delightfully kitschy resides, so even if the pleasure of said ear worm is of a different flavor than, say, my love for the Gayatri Mantra, I do often find a sincere sort of pleasure in hearing the “ear worm song.”

So I was incredibly puzzled as to what song to write about tonight. Old classics from my formative years, like It’s a Small World or Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

Entries from my young adulthood like Macarena, Mambo No. 5, or Lambada? Why are all of these Latinate one-hit wonders? Only Gaia knows… Also, is there anyone else out there who immediately spotted the Kaoma sample when JLo came out with her Pitbull collab, On the Floor? Just me, then.

Perhaps I should feature recent ear worms that are imprinted on my mind’s eye as much as anywhere else — I think of the Olympic swim team and Call Me Maybe, Lara Spencer dancing Gangnam Style on the set of GMA, or that wacky moment where I was just slightly ahead of the coolness curve when Ylvis’ The Fox went supernova-viral

But ultimately, I cast back into the early 80’s for this ditty from my early teen years: Toto’s Africa.

There’s a few reasons this bubbled to the top of the pile. First, is its innate infectiousness. Second, is the fact that we sang an arrangement of it in high school chorus, meaning I will never ever ever get those “Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo”s out of my head.

Third is the way it has spawned other infectious ditties, such as Straight No Chaser’s arrangement of 12 Days of Christmas:

Fourth and finally, is this brilliant deconstruction of the song, by author Steve Almond:

Rather than expose us to the hard-won truth of individual experience, the song immerses us in the Karo syrup of an entire culture’s mass delusion. It is the love child of imperialism and muzak.

Almond’s spoken essay makes me both hate the song and love it all the more. And hate myself a little for loving it. Which is the quintessential definition of a guilty pleasure, if not of an ear worm.


Image credit: http://mcphee.com/shop/ear-worms-ear-buds.html


25 Songs, Day 4: In Praise of the Divine

(Part four of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)


Day Song 4: A song that calms you down

I am not really much of a meditator. You might think, what with all the ways I talk about my consciousness work and my striving for spiritual awakening, that I’d be exactly the kind of person who had a regular meditation/mindfulness practice — but that’s not the case.

Well, that’s partly the case. If there is a type of person to have a meditation practice, I daresay I would be that type. I understand the value of such a practice, and I sometimes give thought to the question of how best to establish a regular sitting practice. But right now, for better or for worse, my regular reflective practice is my morning journal-writing

Even though it’s not a regular practice for me right now, I have had a sitting practice for short stretches of time during the last 6 or 7 years. During those times, I was much better able to focus my attention using mantra meditation and chanting than with silent meditation. Which brings me to today’s song: the Gayatri Mantra as sung by Deva Premal.

essence_180I believe I came across Premal’s work early in my attempt to learn more about Eastern religions, about meditation and about chant. I’d started with Krishna Das and the Ravi Shankar/George Harrison collaboration Chants of India. Wonderful, uplifting, heart-centered works, all of them, but as I listened, I was aware of a deep longing to hear a female voice to model my own baby-bird chant-croakings after.

So I bought Premal’s album, The Essence. And when I put it into ye olde CD player and started the first track, her singing of the Gayatri Mantra entered my heart and soul.

Om bhur bhuvaha svaha
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yonah prachodayat

Praise to the source of all things.
It is due to you that we attain true happiness on the planes of earth, astral, causal.
It is due to your transcendent nature that you are worthy of being worshiped and adored.
Ignite us with your all pervading light.

I still listen to this mantra now and again. At work or at home, as a centering background in the midst of some stressful task or another. Every so often, to sing and chant along with Premal. Sometimes I listen just because it’s beautiful and I love it so.


It wasn’t until I went to the CD booklet to type the lyrics and translation into this post that I was reminded that the Gayatri Mantra has a deep, personal connection for Premal as well. This page paraphrases the story told there:

My father has been on the spiritual path since the 50’s. . . . He taught himself Sanskrit and began chanting mantras. When my mother was pregnant with me, their welcome was to sing the Gayatri Mantra throughout the pregnancy. . . . As I grew up we continued to chant the Gayatri Mantra together regularly before sleep. I didn’t really know what I was singing… and why. I just did it because I was told to. It wasn’t until much later that I came to appreciate these precious times. . . .

One day I heard the Gayatri Mantra being sung by a friend in England. It was a different version to the one I had grown up with, and knowing the text so well, I was touched and excited by what I heard. I felt re-connected. This time I could feel the power of the mantra as never before, the strong effect it had on me, and the sacredness of it.

We began featuring it in our concerts. At last I had found my song! I had found something that felt like ‘mine.’ I felt at home with it, and I watched as it touched people night after night. I began searching out more mantras and before I knew it, I soon had enough for my first album! We recorded it in my mother’s flat–the same one I was born in, where the Gayatri Mantra had been sung to me all those years before.

The page ends with a shot postscript describing the death of Premal’s father in 2005:

I feel so grateful that I could be there until the moment of his death. We were singing the Gayatri Mantra to him until the end and so the circle is complete: He accompanied the beginning of my life with it and I the ending of his. I am also very touched by my family…how they were all joining Miten and I with the singing for him and how we are totally in tune with each other about how to deal with everything now…

I am deeply moved to discover the depth of authentic feeling Premal has for this mantra. I am sure that authenticity has imbued the recording, and that it is part of why this recording of the song has come to be so precious to me.

Not only does it calm my restless spirit: it opens my heart.


Image credit: http://www.devapremalmiten.com/deva-premal-and-miten-information/articles/my-journey-with-the-gayatri-mantra




25 Songs, Day 3: In Praise of Denim

(Part three of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)


Day Song 3: A song that reminds you of one or both of your parents

Obviously, both of my parents were part of the story back for Song #1 when I was discussing ABBA. But let’s be real: even though ABBA was on the list of music we all could tolerate, between my two parents, my mom was much more of an ABBA fan than my dad was.

Dad was a Neil Diamond fan. And his favorite of all of Neil’s songs was Forever in Blue Jeans:

Money talks
But it don’t sing and dance
And it don’t walk
And long as I can have you
Here with me, I’d much rather be
Forever in blue jeans

Honey’s sweet
But it ain’t nothin’ next to baby’s treat
And if you pardon me
I’d like to say
We’ll do okay
Forever in blue jeans


There’s lots of ways Dad was the example of that old Horatio Alger ideal. He grew up in a Pennsylvania steel town; both his parents died before he was out of high school, so he went into the Air Force and then used his GI Bill benefits to get the college degree that helped him start the business career that would (pretty quickly) allow Mom, my sister and me to live in the comfort and middle-class privilege that I remember from my childhood.

jeans-iconThere was one time when I was a little girl that he first shared a compliment with me — with all of us? I can’t quite recall. A co-worker or a boss had said something to him about how he “was as comfortable with a Big Mac as a filet mignon.” That praise meant a lot to Dad. I think it told him he’d managed to “better himself”* without becoming a snob.

And even though I’ve taking things in a much more intellectual and politicized direction, I wonder about the ways that my desire for social justice, and my ongoing practice in unpacking and understanding my privilege is a different flavor of that ideal. From a spiritual perspective, I wonder about the links between Dad’s (admittedly imperfect) egalitarianism and my desire to find compassion within myself  for people and my (hugely imperfect) practice towards the sort of acceptance that would allow me to open-heartedly “meet folks where they are.”

Maybe those are stretched connections. Maybe not.

What I know for sure: I still smile and think of Dad whenever I hear a Neil Diamond song.** And since this summer trip is an itinerary he wanted to bring the family on — we just didn’t have the chance to do it before he died — I might just be thinking of Dad a lot during this stretch of days.

Maybe I’ll load a Neil Diamond playlist on the iPod before I go.

* I know, I know: that’s an incredibly loaded and problematic way to put it. But I do think it kinda captured his perspective on the distinction between his childhood experiences and the middle-class life he was able to build for us.

** Except when I’m tearing up. Even five years later, grief can be a tricky tricky thing.


Image credit: http://fashiontribes.typepad.com/main/2007/06/forever_in_blue.html


25 Songs, Day 2: The Boulevard of Ex-Boyfriends

(Part two of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)


Day Song 2: A song that reminds you of your most recent ex

Okay, here’s where I think that I am perhaps not really in the planned demographic for this challenge? Mr. Mezzo and I coming up on our fourth wedding anniversary, and we’ve been together for more than a decade. And then, to make things even more interesting hopelessly banal, I might as well cop to the fact that I’d taken myself “off the market” for about 4-5 years prior to meeting my Mr. (Long story not worth the telling: basically I realized around the age of 30 that I really needed to get right with myself before trying the relationship thing again. So, you see? Sometimes that old saying is true: love does come along when you least expect it!)

Anyhow, whichever way you slice it, it’s kind of been a long time since I had any sort of ex, so memorializing some fairly-insignificant romance with a song here just feels kind of — odd.

Word Cloud Boulevard of broken dreams

Instead, a brief recollection. When I was in grad school at UPenn, there were two main geographic areas where I and all my social circle lived. There were those of us who had chosen to use the Schuylkill River as symbolic boundary between work life and home and lived in a vaguely Center City/Rittenhouse Square(ish) locale. And then there was everyone living out west of campus and past 44th street.

So, one evening, some few years after I’d left school and started my non-profit career, I was driving up Pine Street, en route to hang out with a friend of mine at her apartment. And this song came on the radio:

Green Day, Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It hit me like a thunderbolt. I was at that precise moment driving along a two-block stretch that had housed the apartments of not one, not two, but three grad school ex-boyfriends. I’d lost touch with all of them by that point, so had no way of knowing if any or all of them had moved on to different addresses (towns? countries?). Didn’t really matter. The energetic signature of that song, playing at that moment, at that specific location, was just richer than rich.

I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone

I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of broken dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I’m the only one and I walk alone


For the entire rest of my time in Philadelphia, I thought of that little stretch of west Philadelphia as the “boulevard of ex-boyfriends.”


Image credit: http://cchcamilo.blogspot.com/2010/05/boulevard-of-broken-dreams.html

25 Songs, Day 1: Music to Wash Dishes By

(Part one of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)


Day 1: A song from your childhood

I guess I’m like lots of folks in that I have tons of music memories from my childhood. Sesame Street 8-tracks in the car on long car trips, immersing myself in my mom’s copy of Sgt. Pepper at around the age of 8, watching my parents and their friends try to learn the Hustle in our Sao Paolo living room. But the song I’m choosing today is Dancing Queen, by ABBA.

I’m sure they’re especially front-of-mind right now because we have tickets to go see the ABBA Museum when we’re in Stockholm. But it’s also true that we listened to them a bunch during my childhood and tween years.

abbapicOne of the traditions we had up at the lake house during the summer was that whoever was washing the dinner dishes got to choose the music the house would listen to during that chore. On a nice night, most everyone would be out on the screened porch while the “KP crew” washed and dried and put away, but the cottage is small enough that any music being played loudly enough to reach the kitchen is also going to reach that porch and its occupants.

Clearly, the most liberal interpretation of this tradition hypothetically allowed the KP crew to “inflict” music that the rest of the family hated upon them, but there was also nothing that barred the inflict-ee from complaining vociferously about a particularly-hated music selection. So, during my tween years, I recall some small music wars, broken along generational lines, of course. My sister and me in one camp, our parents in another.

And ultimately, after a few small skirmishes, we all fell into a more nuanced expression of this tradition. For the most part we tried to choose things that maybe one side of the generation gap liked better than the other, but it would be music that we all enjoyed at least to some degree.

And that’s where ABBA came in. One of us would start the tape recording of Arrival while the other began to run the water and fill the dish basin with soap suds. By the time When I Kissed the Teacher was over, we’d be ready to wash. That evening’s DJ would crank up the volume, shimmy over to the kitchen as the opening piano glissando and ah-ah-ahs of Dancing Queen rang out into the air. And away we’d go, singing along as the dishes were done.

I enjoy a lot of ABBA’s songs, and know a surprising number of them by heart. (Even the minor hits and obscurities like When I Kissed the Teacher.) Since my fondness for the oeuvre is so wide-ranging, I almost chose Mamma Mia as my example song. After all, it and its original video have become so darn iconic, so fully representative of the Abba phenomenon:

That’s the song that became the title for the Broadway and movie musicals, and that’s the song that (to my awareness), has has been recreated in any number of endearing fashions, including this twofer from Down Under:

(Yes, Muriel’s Wedding used a different song, but those costumes! The camera angels! Those head turns! That’s a Waterloo/Mamma Mia cross-pollinated homage if I ever saw one! And Priscilla‘s just plain fun.)

But when I think back to my tween and teen years on the KP crew, it’s Dancing Queen that first rings in my head. (Now that our ABBA listening is the iTunes playlist derived from ABBA Gold, that sense of Dancing Queen as the lead-off track has only been intensified.)

Back during those fractious, difficult years, I remember our ABBA dishwashing nights as a small reminder that we all did have some threads of connection and commonality in our family: sister to sister, child to parent. I think that emotional resonance is one of the reasons I still have such fondness for ABBA’s Scandinavian disco fabulousness, and one of the reasons I’m very much looking forward to my ABBA pilgrimage in Stockholm.


Image credit: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-boland/abba-went-badly-dressed-get-tax-deduction

These Precious Things

The final (Day 20!) prompt from Writing 101:

For our final assignment, tell the tale of your most-prized possession. If you’re up for a twist, go long — experiment with longform and push yourself to write more than usual. [. . .]

How long is long? That’s entirely up to you to decide. You can go with a set number — 750, 1000, or 2000 words, or more (or less!). Alternatively, you could choose your longest post thus far in the challenge, and raise the bar by, say, 300 words, 20 percent, three paragraphs — whatever works for you.

I’m not exactly sure I’m going to push the “longform” angle too strongly. After all, I am long-winded even in the lightest of breezes. (A quick survey of prompts 11-19 from the Writing 101 experience reveals an array of posts ranging from 615 words up to 1,040. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the posts where I get extra-ranty: this morning’s post about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby went to 1,255, while my attempted takedown of George Will went on for a full 1,609 words.)

So I don’t know how much “longer-form” this will turn out to be when compared to other long posts I’ve posted, but if nothing else, I will write something that surpasses the 1,040 mark (the longest of the set of Writing 101 posts I’ve written in the last week.)


These precious things
Let them bleed
Let them wash away
These precious things
Let them break their hold over me

~ Tori Amos, Precious Thing

I’ll admit, my first thought when contemplating writing about my “most-prized possession” is the same one I have whenever I’m asked to name my favorite move/book/song: Just one?!?

I am a collector, you see.Which is really just a polite way of trying not to call myself a hoarder.

Invertigo-Fun-in-Limbo-1During the move and the endless unpacking process, I’ve had a chance to really think about various possessions and ask myself about my level of emotional connection to them. To ask myself: what is that value of this to me? Is it precious? Is it prized? Or am I just holding onto it from inertia?

And there have been a number of objects that, when interrogated through that lens, have made their way straight out of the moving box into the Goodwill box. But there are still a lot a lot of Things left, which is where my habits of clinging and attachment and cocooning myself for protection come strongly into play.

I read once somewhere about how a key distinguishing feature between a hoarder/clutter-bug and someone of a more minimalist persuasion boils down to the level of emotional meaning the clutter-bugs infuse into objects. (Too lazy to look it up right now.*) I can’t speak to the minimalist perspective because that has never been me, but I can sure say I’ve lived — am living — the piece about infusing objects with emotional weight.

And the strength of those emotional attachments create the spiderwebbing that has kept me bound to so many things. The books I have held because they symbolize the years I spent in grad school, or my spiritual journeys through neo-paganism, Unitarian Universalism, and buddhism. The veils and hip scarves from when I took belly dancing classes and was more comfortable in the movement and miracle that is my body. The artwork and knick-knacks that remind me of different childhood years, different homes, the seasons and tides of my life. These precious things hold memories for me, which makes them harder for me to release.

Then in addition to my sentimentality, there’s a whole other complex that imbues objects with disproportionate value to me. The trauma-driven need for safety: the desire to have supplies on hand hand so that I can be prepared for life’s twists and turns. That’s where the different stashes come into play. Office supplies, candles, kitchen tools, clothes across the various body sizes I’ve had during the past couple of years. Never know when a lemon zester will come in handy.

Add these two complexes together, and no wonder I’m having such a hard time releasing the clutter. Especially when you factor in two other threads.

First are the items that I know I don’t want to keep but that have such familial baggage around them I haven’t figured out how to free myself. Some day I could tell you a whole damn story about this antique china I got floating around with nowhere to live and no real soul-resonance for me. I know these items should not be in our house, I have known it to my bones since the lightning bolt of awareness hit me back in early February. But I hold such intense layers of fear around the shit-storm I would cause if I tried to get rid of these items that I remain paralyzed, stewing in my childish immaturity.

Also, I know that amidst the stuff-mountains inspired by these various complexes rest objects that are legitimately of sufficient value — whether emotionally, spiritually, or practically — that they are truly precious. I might eventually get myself to a place where I am living an incredibly minimalist life, but even in my most zen-like of imagined homes, I see a coffee maker, my journals, my wedding ring on my finger.

These precious things. Let them break their hold on me. Let me continue to examine and discern and piece by piece, may I release and be released.


Well, this did not rate as “longform” for me, but it’s been an odd, upset kind of night, so this is quite literally the best I can do with this topic in this context. So, 946 words it is.

* Scholarly blasphemy! Someone come rescind the Ph.D. I never finished! (Oh, wait…)


Image credit: http://artsmeme.com/2011/09/21/invertigo-dance-theatre-fun-clutter/

Through a Child’s Eyes

Here, finally, is my response to the Day 18 prompt I found somewhat entirely tiresome on the day of. Chalk it up to the ongoing tension (which I have named previously) between the fiction-ness of many of the Writing 101 prompts and the commitment to non-fiction I have made for my writing here.

Craft a story from the perspective of a twelve-year-old observing it all. For your twist, focus on specific character qualities, drawing from elements we’ve worked on in this course, like voice and dialogue.

The prompt in its entirety actually gives you a very specific scenario to narrate through the lens of your invented 12-year-old. And I can’t deny the intriguing comparisons that were allowed by reading a few different takes on the prompt by different bloggers. However, the prompt left me once again where I have been several times throughout my Writing 101 journey: I haven’t had the particular experience in the prompt’s scenario, so I was left with the task of distilling said prompt to a core essence, the code to unlock and make the prompt true and real for the kind of writing I do on JALC.

And that’s where I checked out of the process in annoyance last Wednesday night.

I mean, I did a little bit of stream-of-associating about the topic in the days since then.  I’ve been watching DVR’ed episodes of CNN’s The Sixties TV series, and the episode about JFK’s assassination sparked a recollection that I was home sick from school the day John Hinckley, Jr. shot Ronald Reagan. “11 and a half is close enough to 12. Maybe that can be my ‘child’s eyes’ post.

I thought about the original prompt’s scenario — a neighborhood domestic drama — and fruitlessly tried to come up with some sort of family or neighborhood event I had witnessed that could be fodder for a post. “I got nothing. Was I really that sheltered and self-absorbed during my tween years?

So: a little bit of noodling here and there. But mostly, I just pushed the task to the back of my mind in a very annoyed and put-upon kind of way.

Until it hit me.

It is precisely my level of annoyance and self-created victimhood around these prompts that is the childish perspective asking for exploration in my post.

After all, the initial invitation to register for the Writing 101 challenge makes it eminently clear that participants have the freedom to re-interpret and remix the prompts however they see fit:

You can mix assignments up however you’d like. Respond to the prompt, and ignore the twist. Try the twist, but write on your own topic. Use both the prompt and the twist.  The only mandate is that you write every weekday.

The Blogging U organizers are about as far from being authoritarian writing dictators as one could ask them to be. In fact, they created a structure with lots of freedom and flexibility, to accommodate the wide diversity of writers and perspectives on the continent of WordPress.

Einstein_tongueSo then who is the child/teenager identity in me? The one that has found it necessary, not just to write my re-interpretations with a matter-of-fact notation “Inspired by such-and-such prompt,” but instead to call such obvious and painstaking attention to the ways I’m having to “jump through extra hoops” to “make the prompts work” for JALC.

In some interesting ways, the contemporary self-absorption of that is strikingly similar to the historical self-absorption suggested by my inability to find notable family or neighborhood events I witnessed at 12 to write about.

It’s amazing, this process of growing towards spiritual maturity. Just when I think I’ve got a trajectory going, there’s another subtle form of self-betrayal to watch out for.


Image credit: http://www.replicatedtypo.com/sticking-the-tongue-out-early-imitation-in-infants/6082.html





At the Vocational Lost and Found

[Set-up] This is the Day 16 prompt for Writing 101 — the conclusion of a three part series that began with me “losing” academia, continued with the story of how I found my career path as a non-profit fund-raiser, and now…

Today, imagine you work in a place where you manage lost or forgotten items. What might you find in the pile? For those participating in our serial challenge, reflect on the theme of “lost and found,” too.

There’s been a slight re-imagining of the topic to fit my own memoirist approach to blogging. But not as much as I might initially have imagined. [/Set-up]


During my own journey from academia into non-profit management, I was aided greatly by an online community that continues to this day under the moniker Versatile Ph.D.  The community was founded by Paula Chambers, whose own biography on the site reads like its own saga of “lost and found”:

In 1991 at age 29, she left the entertainment industry and returned to school. . . . Midway through her PhD program, she realized that she would probably be happier in a nonacademic career, and founded a listserv called WRK4US (Work For Us) while dissertating, to provide a safe space where humanities PhD students could openly discuss non-academic careers. . . . After graduating in 2000, Dr. Chambers . . . became a successful grant writer and fundraiser. . . . All the while, she continued managing WRK4US in her spare time. Eventually, Paula finally realized that helping academics find non-academic careers was her true calling. She transformed WRK4US the listserv into Versatile PhD, a web-based socially positive business, in 2010. Paula runs The Versatile PhD from her home office in Los Angeles and is an in-demand speaker on the university circuit.*

And, no, I don’t work there, but I do maintain my participation, as best I can: reading the threads of discussion on the user fora, answering questions when I can and when I feel I have something worthwhile to add.

In order to maintain itself as a safe space for people to explore alt-ac careers, VPhD has a strict confidentiality policy — an entirely appropriate move, considering the unfortunate myopia too many tenured professors still have about alt-ac career paths, and the very real trouble that can be caused by such blindness and prejudice when the privileged old guard discovers someone is looking for different career options.

Out of respect for this entirely-appropriate policy, I’m not going to be dishing specifically on anyone’s life story. But even painting in broad brushstrokes, it’s amazing to consider the mixture of variability and commonality that exists within these many post-academic transitions. Everyone’s path is uniquely unique, but there are also threads of intersection, shared losses and common discoveries.

For example, there have been numerous explorations of the grieving process that occurs during the ac-to-post-ac transition. As JC articulates in hir blog From Grad School to Happiness:

You’re not just losing the concrete academic work that you either loved or hated. You’re losing an identity that you’ve had for years or decades. You’re losing a culture, and a prestigious job title, and a career path that you were convinced was going to lead to lifelong happiness. Whether you’re leaving voluntarily or because of circumstances outside of your control, it’s normal to feel some grief and sadness at such a tremendous loss of identity.

At VPhD, we’ve discussed this same loss of identity from all the moments of the journey, from voices deep in the midst of the losing, to those of us who are years-if-not-decades past the initial grieving process and can still remember the pains, the tears, and — thankfully — the coming through into a better place.

On the flip side, there’s the trajectory of self-discovery many of us traverse: finally having the space to figure out what it is we’re good at and what we actually like to do. There are places where that process is terrifying, but it can also be really exciting.

Currer Bell** writes on the site How to Leave Academia: “You do indeed have skills that workplaces value.” And it’s true.

be-more-awesomeBut perhaps more exciting to me than simply tallying up my list of transferable skills was to understand how certain things that were taken for granted at UPenn, or even devalued there, were immensely valuable once I kicked into my non-profit career. In grad school, I was no great shakes for reading and assimilating text quickly, at least not when compared to my grad school peers. Out in my non-profits? I get pretty high marks on that score. And that wacky dedication I felt to making sure student papers were graded quickly and thoroughly, even when it got me in trouble with my dissertation research? That deadline focus and those quick editing skills have been priceless when negotiating a calendar of aggressive grant deadlines.

I think there’s a certain strain of perfectionism that infects most academic settings, and so to immerse yourself in that environment can often lead one to sink deeper and deeper into the self-perception of “not good enough.” So to find out that out in the big wide world, you can indeed be good enough? And not just good enough in a “barely getting by” kind of way, but in a “fulfilled by my life and impacting the world positively” kind of way?

It’s the best thing I ever came across in the vocational lost and found.

* Apologies if my edits cut the bio to ribbons — I’m trying to use briefer quotes and write shorter things, now and again. (At least “shorter” by my own long-winded standards…)

** Love it!


Image credit: https://popforms.com/maximize-your-strengths/




Crazy Like a Fox

Dear Fox Executives,

Why do you always kill the things I love? Is it greed? Corporate stupidity? Do you have some spy-bugs in my house just to figure out what I like, what I’m getting passionate about, so you can hurry up and cancel it ‘cos you have something specifically against me?

One of my first recollections of this pattern is from the early 90’s, when The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. was unceremoniously cancelled after only one cracking season. Luckily, I was able to follow Bruce Campbell to other projects like Herc and Xena, but still it hurt. A clever, comical steampunk western: fresh, funny and fun. And yet away it went.


Of course, the level of cultural tragedy you created by canceling Firefly is legend. Even now, 12 years later, the level of wasted potential around that is enough to make a grown woman weep quietly in her beer — or glass of water, as “the woman” is more prone to be drinking nowadays. The show was creative, funny, suspenseful. The cast gelled in a way that is rare enough for actors to reminisce about a “once in a lifetime” job and for audience members to create clip compilations on YouTube capturing favorite lines and scenes. We Whedonites proved you wrong by making the DVD sales explode to a large enough degree that the “Big Damn Movie” happened, but none of that erases the way that Joss’s skills in the long narrative arc could have given me years of enjoyment in Firefly’s universe. But you, Fox TV? You killed that dream dead.

(Of course, in said BDM, Joss also killed a couple of the things I love, which means that even if there were a miraculous Firelfy reboot, the experience would be made more hollow. But that’s for Joss’s own “Why do you kill all the things I love?” letter — and Gaia knows, he’s earned one. And you know what, Fox TV executives? This hypothetically less-satisfying Firefly reboot is still always and eternally hypothetical because the show is never coming back. And why is that? Because you killed that dream dead.)


When you scheduled Joss’s show Dollhouse a few years later, I’m sure I was part of a legion of fans wanting to ask Mr. Whedon “What are you smoking?” Going back into business with the antichrist….that’ll end well. And I’ll admit that season 1 took a bit of time to find its footing (see exhibit A: Buffy). But Epitaph One blew the top off this universe, and showed how, once again, we were likely to get the best of the long game in seasons 2-5 (again, exhibit A: Buffy, and also exhibit B: Angel). Sure enough, season 2 was kicking ass and taking names, and yet, according to the Fox executive’s suite, that was still all she wrote.

In between these flirtations with Joss Whedon falls the aborted television run that perhaps sticks in my craw more than any other: another “screw you” to Nathan Fillion, this time for his series Drive. The official series record shows that Fox gave this 4 episodes before pulling the plug. But that doesn’t even begin to capture the indignities you made the show suffer. First you burned off the first two world-and-myth-creating episodes in the Friday night death slot, then you showed episodes 3 and 4 in the “normal” early-week slot — never mind the fact that viewers coming into the regular time slot wouldn’t be able to figure out what the hell was going on because you burned off the world-creation eps on Friday night!! Ultimate time elapsed: about a week and a half.

I know that every now and then a show hits the zeitgeist and becomes a phenomenal smash from night one, but that event is awfully rare and isn’t really something you should count on. So maybe, just maybe, you should give a show longer than 10 days?

As I was looking up some of the air dates on these broadcasting murders, I found a terrific article by Kevin Guhl on Topless Robot that catalogs many of your other crimes against TV-manity. this includes a bunch of early cancellations — like Arrested Development, The Tick, and Wonderfalls — that weren’t included in my lament because those shows just never became my personal obsessions the way Firefly, Dollhouse, Brisco County and Drive did. When all is said and done, though, how can I disagree with this trenchant analysis?

The Fox Network is the fucking devil. How many times in the last 20 years has this story repeated itself? Fox greenlights an awesome show. Many viewers love it and practically become obsessed with the show. Fox then cancels the series after a handful of episodes because the ratings did not climb fast enough for the impatient, small-minded execs at Fox. . . . The network manages to find and purchase some of the most imaginative shows on television, and then proceeds to sentence them to a quick execution to the horror of the viewing audience. Even worse, Fox itself often sabotages its own shows by poor and erratic scheduling. Fox’s sports coverage has a history of pre-empting and therefore destroying great shows. No wonder no one watched, you fucktards; they couldn’t find the show! As for ratings, Fox obviously has unrealistic expectations to think that a show will succeed so immediately, especially in a day and age when there’s so much competition.

Yeah, what he said. Give a freaking show longer than 10 days, all right?


And don’t you dare fuck with Sleepy Hollow.


This is the belated response to the Day 15 prompt from Writing 101:

You’re told that an event that’s dear to your heart — an annual fair, festival, or conference — will be cancelled forever (or taken over by an evil organization). Write about it. For your twist, read your piece aloud, multiple times. Hone that voice of yours!

I only had to angle the topic slightly to fit this whole feminist/geek-girl/memoir thing I got going on. As for the whole “finding your voice” thing, I didn’t pay that much attention. Like I’ve said before, no matter what other insecurities I have about writing in general and blogging in specific, I’m pretty sure that I’ve found an authentic voice to use here on JALC.


Image credits:

Kirk: http://www.funniestmemes.com/funniest-memes-firefly-gets-one-season/

Boromir: http://www.troll.me/2012/04/27/boromir/one-does-not-simply-get-over-fireflys-cancellation/

Ylvis: http://sunnydale.co.vu/post/62295470041/cariebeara81492-did-you-just