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Happy Birthday

Facebook.

We all know it. Some of us love it. Some hate it. And some are unflinching in their indifference. But whatever the feelings its reach is inescapable.

Masquerading as the ever helpful connection between far flung friends, Facebook has managed to create not just a desire to stay connected but a dependence on social information. In scanning through my Newsfeed, I can’t help wondering: what is Facebook’s true motive here?

Studies have concluded that social interaction via Facebook can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and depression (take a look at this and this). Whether or not these studies are conclusive really is not the point. The fact that we are all subject to the potential findings is enough to inspire feelings of uncertainty and suspicion.

Perhaps it’s not in the forefront of our minds, but that lingering hesitant feeling before posting a status update is proof positive that Facebook encourages us to second guess ourselves. For me, the uncertainty comes in the form of a weekly birthday reminder email.

Every Sunday I receive an email reminding me which of my Facebook friends is celebrating (or not, whatever) a birthday that week. Some weeks I am prompt with my good wishes, some weeks not so much. And it’s those weeks that I feel that Facebook has far too much hold over my sense of self-worth.

I have good intentions. Don’t we all? I receive the email, and I think to myself that this will be the week when I finally beat Facebook to the punch. This is the week when my birthday buddies will know that they’re special. And then I fail. The weeks scoots past me, and before I can log on, birthdays have come and gone, and I once again find myself feeling guilty. Not profoundly so, but dully, naggingly.

In an attempt to mitigate these feelings, I am sending out best birthday wishes to all of my Facebook, Twitter, and blogosphere friends. I wish each and every one of you the absolute best birthday of your life this year. May it be filled with hope, happiness, and celebration. May your wish come true when you blow out your candles. And may you be set free from any and all obligations imposed upon you by some arbitrary social network.

I’m sure there are those who feel the same way I do, whether you will admit it or not. But for those of you who don’t know these feelings, for those of you who find yourselves able to absolve yourseles of any feelings of virtual responsibility or duty inflicted by Facebook, this post, I’m sorry to say, is not for you.

Dilly-Dallying with Daisy: Where’s That Heat Coming From?

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Ok, so, the lady I live with needs a name, and I know she’s not a fan of Hey You. So I’m thinkin’ about calling her The Boss. I think she’d like that. Funny thing about bosses, though, is that I hate being bossed around. I just get so bothered. I’ve even been accused of being indignant. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the lady I live with (aka The Boss).

So, one day The Boss brings home this thing. Yeah, I don’t know what it’s called. At first I thought it was someone new. Yeah, like a new friend or something. I like making new friends. And I always seem to meet them in the weirdest places. Parking lots, hair salons, doctors’ offices. Well, I don’t really get out as much as I’d like, but…anyway, yeah, so she brings in this new thing. And I try to make friends with it. I’m real friendly.

The Boss set it up in the floor, and then she just left it there. I don’t get it. What’s it doing? It doesn’t talk; it doesn’t move. I’m trying to be hospitable, and there’s just no getting through to this thing. Suddenly it starts to hmmmmm, and then it starts to glow. Ok, so maybe I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but this freaked me out!! The Boss thought my behavior was funny, which I thought was really rude. You know, like when you laugh at someone for doing something they can’t help doing? Like tripping over a dog leash or getting tangled in the bush while the dog is trying to sniff out its place? Oh my gosh I saw this lady one time who got all wrapped up in the leash, and…where was I?

Oh yeah. So I’m totally on my guard. I don’t trust the newbie. But the longer I sat watching it, the more I noticed I was getting kinda toasty. And honestly: IT FELT GOOD! See, I’ve got really short hair, and in the winter time I get sort of cold. I’m a warm weather kind of girl. Anyway, so I decided to get closer to this thing. And the closer I got, the warmer it got.

We’ve had the thing for awhile. I still don’t trust it completely. It still won’t talk to me except to make that annoying hmmmmmm noise. But it sure is a considerate thing. Whenever I start shivering, it starts hmmmm-ing away and glowing and making things warm. So for now, I’m content to let it hang out as long as it’s cold out. I don’t think The Boss would move it even if I asked her to, and besides, we have a sort of understanding. I’ve even started bringing my toys around sometimes.

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The Big Apple of My Eye

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Some of the best friends I’ll never make are in New York. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to meet them all. That is the city’s great mystique, encouraging (indeed forcing) interaction while hoarding its people for itself. For some its the way of New York; they belong to the city and no one else. For the rest of us, it seems difficult to imagine the immensity of the place and its capacity for allowing simultaneous exposure and anonymity.

New York thrives on synchronous creation. People go to New York to create themselves without realizing that the city can only create itself from its people. Not a dangerous dependence, but one that is inescapable. A mere presence there allows the city to crawl inside you, perhaps to an abandoned nook of your personality, perhaps someplace more prominent. There it waits for the opportunity to spring itself. And it will. New York is nothing if not surprising.

Apathy is not an emotion to be associated with this particular metropolis. New York is a highly emotive place where feelings and thoughts, dreams and sorrows are amplified. Everything you ever did or didn’t do is magnetically drawn to the surface to be confronted. Suddenly, for everything in New York is sudden, you find yourself faced with unlimited possibility. New York is a city for asking, “Why not?”

For some, the electrifying potential seems daunting. So they leave, telling themselves that they can now cross NYC off some elusive mental bucket list, justifying their presence while simultaneously (there’s that word again) dismissing missed opportunity and things undone. Some convince themselves they don’t like it there, that they would almost rather be anywhere else, that New York holds nothing for them. But the city has already claimed them, whether they know it (and accept it) or not. And some of us leave reluctantly, knowing that everything now will pale in comparison with this place. We know we’ll be back. In fact, most of us have already begun planning our return visit because trying to resist the urge feels unnatural, uncomfortable. The city has claimed a part of us, and we acknowledge it freely, unashamedly, knowing part of the attraction lies in the reality that we will never be able to visit the same New York twice. We’ll be back there. How could we not be? It’s a fun quest, searching for that part of ourselves that the city snuck away while we weren’t looking and knowing that even if we found it we would give it up all over again.

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The Ponderings of Mr. Peay: Unfathomable Television

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Television is a curious thing, isn’t it? I never cease to be amazed at the ease with which the people I live are drawn to it. Lately, the lady with whom I live (henceforth to be known as Missus) has taken to watching a particular show that would fall, I assume, into the genre of reality television. The women on the show, created by BravoTV in its infinite wisdom, claim to be housewives. Now, I’m not precisely sure what constitutes housewifery, but something about the definition appears skewed on this particular show. They shop, eat, throw parties, attend parties, love, and hate all in the name of reality. I, however, remain skeptical. Though my social experience has a limited reach, I have never seen adults behave as these do.

Missus defends her behavior by saying that watching these shows is a bit like watching a train wreck: you know what’s coming, and you know you should probably change the channel. But somehow it becomes impossible. I always find it amusing to watch Missus’ facial expressions change from apathetic stare to twisted surprise, and I find myself drawn to drama. Whether or not it is real or scripted is irrelevant. We, Missus and I, find it entertaining if only for a brief moment.

I try not to think too deeply about what it means that we spend so much time watching the shows in all their various locales. Does it really matter? If the purpose of television is in any small way to entertain, then the Real Housewives franchise has accomplished that purpose. So please, don’t judge us too harshly. We are only participating in the construction of popular culture in a way that only BravoTV can make possible.

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Writing Miss Daisy

Patience is not a virtue of hers. She is far too busy for that. Miss Daisy barely has time to sit down and introduce herself to you, which may or may not bode well for her future joywrites. So before she scampers away, take the time to get to know her:

Hi. My name’s Daisy. What’s yours? Oh nevermind. I’m too busy for that. What’s that over there? A leaf! Oh my gosh it’s a leaf! That’s so exciting! What? Introducing myself? Oh yeah. I’m Daisy. I’m super-curious which means I’m super-busy. A squeaky toy! I’ve been looking all over for this thing; it’s so my favorite. Except when it isn’t. Huh? Right…super-curious…

I’m not very organized, and I’ve never really thought about trying to tell people about something. Isn’t that what blogs are for? Oh my gosh, that person looks friendly…I could be friends with them. Ugh…right, organization. Anyway, I don’t really know what I’m gonna say to you folks, and I’m kinda glad I only have to do this once every other week. Because really, I don’t have the time!!

You should know that I’m real friendly. I consider you my best friend. Right now. As you sit reading this. Until the next person comes along, then hello new best friend!! What can I say? I’m fickle. No, not fickle. Just busy. Oh my gosh!!! It’s a butterfly! I just love butterflies. They’re so pretty, and I like to look at them and try to catch them…but yeah, best friends.

Another thing about me: I LOVE attention. I mean seriously, if I’m in the room, it is MY room. I own it and the people in it. And you just better tell me how cute I am. Don’t worry. If you forget to say it, I’ll remind you for sure.

Anyway, as much as I would like to stay here and chat, I have spotted some dust motes that require investigation. And maybe that sock over there. That wasn’t there a minute ago. Oh well. Belongs to me now. Just busy, busy, busy…

Look for Miss Daisy’s coming joywrites. Who knows how many there will be…

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Under the Overpass

There’s an overpass at an intersection in El Paso, Texas that’s just like any other. It’s built the same. It serves the same purpose as all the other overpasses ever built. It’s not made of anything fancy, and it doesn’t help you get to anywhere thrilling or exciting (unless, like me, you think that Target is the happening place to be). But this overpass is special. Different. It has something that makes it unique.

It has the peanut waver.

The peanut waver stands, day and night, on the corner underneath one of the traffic lights. He rests his bicycle, which is missing the rubber on one of its wheels, up against the light pole, and at night he turns on flashing red lights. Whether for the safety of the bike or himself remains unknown. He wears a reflective vest all day everyday and glasses and shorts (more often than pants), and he is relentless.

He waves his bags of peanuts vehemently at passing motorists. Methodically, rhythmically. Swinging his arm back and forth. I wonder sometimes if he would notice if the peanuts were not there. And it’s always peanuts. Except during the summer when, for a few brief weeks anyway, he chooses to wave bottled water instead. Back and forth. Back and forth. He watches as we pass. The look on his face is neither resigned nor passionate but rather vacant, as though he isn’t really looking at us at all. Back and forth. Day in, day out.

One might be tempted to assume this man is homeless. Isn’t that the category into which most people under overpasses are placed? But I can’t help wondering:

What if he isn’t?

What if this peanut-waving man has a home. And a family. What if he’s a retired air traffic controller and has nothing better to do? What if he’s trying to raise money for medical research? Maybe he has a rare disease, and he’s actively seeking donations to pay for an expensive treatment that will make him well again. What if he’s a graduate student at a major university? He could be a student of sociology doing an experiment on human interaction and perceived neediness. Maybe he’s a multi-millionaire killing time while his international corporations rake in the necessary funds for peanuts and bottled water waving. Maybe he’s bored. Or maybe he really is homeless.

The truth of the matter is that we rarely think about the circumstances of other people’s lives until they intersect with our own. People, it seems, like categories. We like labels. We like to know where each person fits in the web of social experience. Very seldom do we ever take the time to try and understand someone else’s situation. We see what we see, and we file it away neatly into a variety of social folders. Our descriptions very rarely overlap, and we don’t know what to do with them when they do. We don’t like ickiness and discord when it comes to social labeling. We like things neat and tidy.

But life isn’t like that. It seldom allows neatness and tidiness free reign. And while these organizational systems of classification seem effective, rarely does a single person fit neatly into one social folder. Human nature is multi-faceted. It doesn’t lend itself well to one-dimensional classification. In filing people away like this, we limit our ability to interact with each other in any more than a superficial way. In filing people away like this, we cannot pretend to know what their lives are like. We cannot pretend to know why they are the way they are, what made them who they have become. We cannot pretend that we have anything in common with them. An isolating idea, no?

Although I’ve never seen anyone actually purchase a bag of peanuts or a bottle of water, I have seen them roll down the window and pass change, money, and a variety of ambiguous food items to the peanut waver for which he seems neither truly grateful nor truly disgusted. He simply grabs another bag of peanuts. Back and forth. Back and forth they swing.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been to El Paso, but I’m sure if I went to the overpass under which the peanut waver makes his stand, he would be there. There’s something to be said for his consistency. It’s more than most people have going for them. And while I’ve never asked him specifically about his background or history (indeed, I’ve never spoken to him at all), it’s reassuring to know that the possibilities are many, that his story is interesting regardless of society’s arbitrary categories.

Meet Mr. Peay

For many people, blogging offers a source of catharsis, a way to release that which we keep pent up within ourselves, a therapy of sorts. But as with anything else, every now and then change becomes necessary. The blogosphere is great for that. Adaptable and fluid, a blog offers its writer the chance to grow when he or she wants to or to remain in a virtual comfort zone indefinitely.

Unquestionably, offering new and various perspectives is a great way to keep things fresh. Bringing on guest bloggers opens up new possibilities and outlooks and can help to remind us of the things we take for granted. For that reason, it is my hope that both of the guest writers you see here will offer a unique perspective on the world as he and she see it.

So without further ado, meet Mr. Peay:

That’s pronounced Mister Peeee. It’s European. Hello and welcome. Where to begin explaining myself I’m not quite sure. So allow me to start at the beginning. I was born in a small town in Tennessee. My family was not what you would call close, and we never see each other. Despite a questionable childhood, my sensibilities remain fully functional and, normally, fully employed. Some people prefer to call me nervous, twitchy. I, however, view myself as alert and attentive. Someone has to be, you know.

I have lived in a number of places, some nice and some not so nice. I try not to let geography dull my abilities to maintain order and a sense of correctness, and most of the time I am successful.

In terms of personality, you should know that I appreciate and demand order. I do my best to constantly order my surroundings, and I make every attempt to create some sense of organization in the lives of those around me. Despite their resistance. It is my firm belief that the only way to live a productive, healthy life is to live in as regimented a way as possible. You could say I love a good routine.

While it takes me awhile to warm up to new people, once I accept you as one of my own I am deeply loyal and (probably) overprotective. Some people mistake my suspicion as aggression, but let me be clear: I am not an aggressive being. On the contrary, I am gentle and loving. I feel I need to be clear about this because it bothers me to no end when people assume my personality is something it isn’t. It makes me fretful and needy, and I dislike feeling vulnerable that way.

As far as interests and hobbies are concerned, I appreciate a good movie. I can stare at the screen for hours, completely captivated, and I am particularly fond of animal movies. While movies are certainly my favorite, I sometimes fall victim to the allure of a good television program. My only quarrel with television would be the commercials; they break my focus, and it becomes difficult to remember where I left off.

I am new to the computer craze, and I am fascinated by its ability to perform so many tasks. When it first debuted itself in my life, I sat watching the woman with whom I live pounding away at its keys, hoping someday I might know it well enough to do the same. While I’m still learning, I feel I’ve made tremendous progress, if I do say so myself.

This is to be my first attempt at blogging or, indeed, communicating on a grand scale via the Internet, and I’m hoping to make it a success. I do love a good, well-deserved pat on the back. It is my sincere hope that my perspective will bring both enlightenment and humor to the reader’s daily life.

Until we meet again,

Mr. Peay

Meet Mr. Peay:

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What’s New?: The Golden Globes

Once upon a time in a land far away, there lived an actor. And an actress. Many of them, in fact. These cinema folk created multiple worlds and multiple realities for both themselves and those of us too lowly to enter the bubble that was Hollywood.

People speak of old Hollywood, of Carey Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, of MGM and Universal, as though it were a mythic place filled with god- and goddess-like people. Those who populated the Hollywood of old became more than mere humans to those who watched their performances on screens across the country. They became legends. Icons. Untouchable.

But we on the outside soon learned that believing in such places and investing such people with such heavy importance would only leave us disillusioned by their humanity. They were people. Just like us.

From the start, however, we saw fit to honor these stars with various awards for their work. They entertained us and took us away from the lives we were so willing to leave behind, if only for a couple of hours, and for that we saw fit (through various boards and guilds) to reward them for the accomplishment. Thus became the Golden Globes. The Oscars. The Academy Awards.

For sixty-eight years, actors and actresses have been awarded golden statues for their work. They have walked the red carpet in dresses and tuxedos designed to make the rest of us envious and swoony. They have attempted humility upon accepting their awards, knowing that it could just as well have been someone else. And we have watched, enamored, drawn to the mythical land that once was Hollywood.

Eventually, however, the novelty wears off. Old stars burn out, and new stars take their places. These stars have access to Twitter. And Facebook. They are not afraid to put themselves out there in honest and misguided ways, making their private lives not so private, lending themselves to spectacle and speculation. Politics, sex, marital woes, and children are no longer considered off limits by the stars or those who hound them. A story is a story, all the better if the subject gives it freely. Old Hollywood glamour has become a thing of the past, a myth in Americana.

Through it all we continue to applaud and award actors and actresses for their work. Award season comes and goes every year, bolstered by the pomp and ceremony with which it was vested so long ago. It is the last embodiment of Old Hollywood hanging on tenuously in the ever-changing entertainment industry.

This year’s Golden Globes saw the traditional red carpet. Viewers oohed and ahhed over the dresses, and once again we were reminded that actors are people too, albeit well paid and somewhat removed from reality. But the show itself seemed disorganized, unrehearsed, and lacking in overall glamour.

Stars were out of breath as they gave their acceptance speeches and met with confusion upon attempting to exit the stage. Teleprompters failed to accomplish the task for which they were built. The humor and merriment seemed forced at times, a reminder that while many of them can act, most of them cannot write. Jokes and references to the economy fell flat with viewers who were incredulous regarding the proximity of those in attendance to the economic woes that are reality to so many of us. What, we found ourselves asking, do these people know of economic hardship today?

In a time when most of us are jaded and disillusioned regarding most other aspects of our lives, when we find ourselves looking more than ever to television and movies as an escape, is it too much to ask that those frivolities that have remained so constant over the years continue to do so? For many of us, watching the Golden Globes or the Oscars gives us something to smile about. It reminds us that there was a time when Hollywood was a truly glamourous place to be. When it is cheapened by poor organization and cheap laughs, uncomfortable chuckles and feigned merriment, we no longer have that sense of wonder that makes Hollywood seem so dream-like. It becomes just another place, the actors just other people. What then? Where will we seek escape and relief from the norm?

What will we do when Hollywood and everything in it ceases completely to be a bastion of entertainment and creation? To what will we turn when we can no longer cling to the idea that glamour still resides there?

What, more importantly, will happen to Oscar?

Are We There Yet?

A timeless question uttered by innumerable children (and countless adults, if we are to be honest with ourselves). Generally when this question finds its way to the conversation, we are at our wits’ end. We have run out of the patience we promised ourselves we’d maintain upon embarking on the journey, and now it becomes all about the destination.

So what do we do when we arrive only to find that the journey, cliche as it sounds, was the best part of the experience?

This isn’t to suggest that the destination isn’t worth the journey. Take Carlsbad Caverns, for instance. The caverns themselves are breathtaking. Words large enough to describe what has happened there underground do not exist. It is both alarming and humbling to look up and see the literal weight of the world supporting itself right above your head. Yes, Carlsbad Caverns are unquestionably a destination for which making a trip is completely justified.

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Getting to the point, it is perhaps the people inside that offer as much amusement as the stalactites and stalagmites. Upon entering the caves, whole families wrought with the pleasure of being out of the car and the anticipation of what lies in store for them eagerly make the initial decent. Despite the warnings of the park rangers to “only whisper” because of the echo, children find it difficult to contain their enthusiasm, and parents find it equally difficult to contain their tempers. By the time these families reach the bottom, they are as ready to find themselves on the journey home as they were to find themselves making their arrival.

“Why didn’t you tell me there was more down here to see?!” the husband bellows to his wife (inasmuch as a person can bellow in a whispered voice).

“It says it right there on the sign,” the wife explains in that tone of exasperation so familiar to a woman who has endured both an exasperating car ride and a rather difficult and unexpected (why walk when they have elevators that take you all the way down to the bottom?) hike to a cave she did not want to see in the first place.

“I did not drive all this way to see only part of this thing. I wanna see the whole thing. Now, how do you get over to that part?”

His wife has apparently interpreted the question as rhetorical as she is no longer acknowledging her petulant husband.

Meanwhile, the children have run into one of the far reaches of the main cavern, forcing their parents out of their argument and into a frenzied effort to decipher the cavern map, and the other tourists are simply trying to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

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Further up the path, a young couple accompanied by a belligerent father attempt to captivate the moment via digital camera. The younger gentleman readies himself to act as photographer only to find the batteries have long since outlived their usefulness. Ever the helpful soul, the wise father makes an attempt to offer his sage advice:

“What’s the matter with that thing?”

“Well, Dad, it appears the batteries have died.”

“Batteries? I thought you replaced the batteries before we left?”

“I did, Dad, but I replaced them with old batteries from the drawer.”

“Old batteries? You mean used ones?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Well, that’s just no good.”

Score one for belligerent old man. There is something to be said for stating the obvious, and an important lesson was learned by all. Hopefully.

Yes, the caverns are a sight worth seeing. And so are the faces of the families making their departure. They sullenly rip the doors open on their Minnesota minivans, resigned to the vicious ride that awaits them and thankful that family trips only happen once every summer.

When the Newness Wears Off

First of all, allow me, Reader, to wish you a very belated but nonetheless heartfelt Happy New Year. I find it difficult to believe that this blog is one year old. Last year proved to be full of learning experiences both about myself and about my writing. May this year be as fruitful.

The beginning of every year offers the opportunity to make promises to ourselves with an optimism that suggests we might actually keep them. The gym is full of people with good intentions and great expectations, and because they are coming down from the high that is NewYear’s, they can honestly (earnestly) believe that things will be different this year.

For me, New Year’s always brings a similar optimism that I will grow as a writer. I tell myself that this will be the year I write something important. This will be a year of perpetual blogging with no embarrassing month(s)-long breaks. Well, that’s what I told myself last year. What I learned in the ensuing months was that in order to continue growing, I had to continue experiencing. And sometimes that meant taking a break from the writing to spend time on the living. I also learned that change can be a good thing, even when it is small or seemingly unimportant. Sometimes a girl needs a new look to keep things fresh; otherwise the writing becomes stale, and everything starts to read the same way.

With that in mind, I hope those of you who are familiar with Just Joywriting like the new look. Hopefully this will prevent any literary doldrums over the course of the next few months. I also have some new ideas for content, including weekly alternating guest contributors. They’ll get a full introduction soon, and I hope you find them as hilarious as I do. I also have something else in mind that, hopefully, will prove to be entertaining as well as current. But more importantly, the random happenings in life will continue to be the most important inspiration for this blog. These are the things that give me joy. After all, life is a joywrite. It’s about enjoying the ride.

What were some of your resolutions?