Echoes and Mirrors

Now that the weekend is here, I can catch up on my Blogging 101 assignments. A few of the  assignments I haven’t posted about are “under-the-hood” ones: find new blogs, connect with people in the discussion boards, play around with the visual theme of your blog. I’ve done the first two and at some point I’ll make time to play a bit with the visual design here on JALC. During that Baltic cruise, I actually took a lot of landscape-orientation “texture” photos (things like a lacquered wood floor in The Hermitage, or a ceiling mosaic from the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood) thinking precisely of their use-value for Facebook and blog headers. Now if only I would actually take the time to download those July photos from my camera’s memory card to actually sort through them and start using them…

But one of the assignments was a post topic: the suggestion to

publish a post for your dream reader, and include a new-to-you element in it.

Continue reading “Echoes and Mirrors”

And Every Color Illuminates

Today’s post is a Blogging 101 “two-fer”: I’ll be playing catchup on the first two assignments for the challenge — a task made rather a lot easier by the fact that I completed these same two assignments back in September.

Taken as a pair, the assignments are basically a gesture of announcing one’s bloggy self to the big wide world, first with a statement of your intended focus/goals for blogging and, next, a revision of your blog name and tagline to bring it into alignment with said focus and goals.

(Tonight’s title, by the way, stems from my inability to roll with the inevitable Destiny’s Child reference and my insistence on looking to different musical inspiration…)

Continue reading “And Every Color Illuminates”

In Medias Manifesto

Because I have decided that 5 hours of sleep per weeknight is just too much of a luxury, I have decided to enroll in another challenge over at WordPress’s Blogging U. Blogging 101 is intended for individuals right in the start-up phases of bloggy creation. This invitation to register articulates the deliverables in this fashion:

On Day 30, you’ll have six (or more!) published posts and a handful of drafts, a customized theme that reflects your personality, a small but growing audience, a good grasp of blogging etiquette — and a bunch of new online friends.

So, considering that I first founded JALC some 5 years ago, and revived it more than 6 months ago, I am either well behind the times or way ahead of the game on this one. Still, I think it’ll be a good exercise for me.

I’ve been in recent conversations about the value of design thinking, and the ways that taking the time to step back and question your automatic habits and questions can be a good way to unlock a more intentional creativity. I see the Blogging 101 container as a way for me to foster that sort of intentionality here on JALC.

So, here we go…

Continue reading “In Medias Manifesto”

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…)


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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.


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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!


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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.


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