Almost half of those posts this year came about from my participation in the Weekend Assignment, which is hosted by Karen Funk Blocher on her blog Outpost Mâvarin. As this year began, Karen was new to hosting the Assignments, having recently taken them over from their founder, John Scalzi, although she had been a participant in them; I was just plain new to them. The Assignments have been an excellent source of weekly writing prompts, and I would love to see them get more participation! They have also introduced me to some of my favorite bloggers.
Excerpts from a few of my favorite Weekend Assignment posts:
I'm not the most adventurous person you'll ever meet, but jumping in the car and heading off somewhere really appeals to me. I like choosing a destination and planning the route; I like deciding what to bring and packing, if the trip will last more than a day; I especially like seeing what there is to see along the way, and stopping on a whim to take pictures or explore what I find. There's also an All-American mythology element to the whole "road trip" idea that attracts me - the lure of the open road and all that. I spend most of my time driving around metro Los Angeles, and "open" is one of the last descriptions applicable to the roads around here, unless it's around 2 AM.Weekend Assignment #203: Road Trip! (2/18/08)
I'm very lucky to be married to someone who likes road trips too - he even likes hitting the road with no particular destination in mind, and just seeing where we end up. He also really enjoys the driving itself, if it's a car that's fun to drive - which means, most likely, not his own Honda Civic. That reminds me - if we're getting a prepaid rental car for this trip, I expect that he'll be asking for a Dodge Charger.
My family has a place in Northern California, in a small lakeside town between Mammoth and Lake Tahoe, where we've gone on vacations for years. A couple of summers ago, we were driving through town when Mom mentioned that she wanted to visit a friend's gift shop. "Just remind me where it is," I said.Weekend Assignment #209: Lies, all lies! (3/31/08)
"Oh, sorry, I think we passed it - it's just back there, across the street," she said.Grumbling a little about the late notification, I checked for clearance, shifted over, and turned the car around, heading back down Main Street in the other direction. Of course, I had just come through the turn when I noticed the police car behind me, but I thought it was probably just coincidence. Unfortunately, the kids noticed too, and they turned around to watch. "I think the police car is following you," came from the back seat.
My parents gave me a very long name, particularly when you consider what a small child I was (even by small-child standards), and they always called me by that name in full. (You knew you were in trouble with my mom when she yelled out your first, middle, and last name.) The only one in my immediate family that was regularly called by a shortened name or nickname was my dad.Weekend Assignment #229: What's in a (nick)name? (8/18/08)
But outside the house, the smallest kid in the class was frequently addressed as "Midge" or "Munchkin," and let's not forget "Four-Eyes." None of these are names one really wants to embrace.
Looking back, it seems there's never been a shortage of political candidates that can't be taken seriously. If you start from the premise that anyone who wants the job is probably crazy to begin with, it's not hard to fathom that it could go downhill from there. There have been a few elections where I was quite tempted to cast my write-in vote for "none of the above." But since I do, for the most part, consider my vote too important to throw away, I've never done that, although I certainly have voted for candidates who didn't have a chance at winning their elections. I really hope that won't happen this November.Weekend Assignment #231: Candidates with a Difference (9/2/08)
Having said that, though, I do enjoy a colorful candidate, and when I lived in Memphis, we had some pretty interesting local elections.
During the spring and summer, I was a semi-regular respondent to the "Hump Day Hmm" questions that Julie Pippert posted at her blog, Using My Words, on Wednesdays. (Julie seems to have become a semi-regular blogger these days, due to various demands of real life, and I miss both her "hmm" prompts and her generally thoughtful posts.) I liked these topics because they really made me think, and they took both my thinking and my writing in directions I might not have traveled otherwise. I'm not sure I would have posted some of my more opinionated, issue-oriented writing if I hadn't had the experience of responding to Julie's questions.
Excerpts from a few "Hump Day Hmm" posts:
The rules themselves don't mean much, though, unless they're followed, and it's sad but true that they're more likely to be followed if people know there may be rewards when they do, and there will penalties when they don't, rather than because the rules themselves mean anything. However, I don't think "following" the rules means blind obedience, or that the rules can never be questioned. Society won't progress without questioning the rules. The rules need to be questioned. A society where the rules matter more than the people is just as uncivil as one where the people ignore the rules; it just flows in the opposite direction.
A former manager of mine used to have a sign over her desk that said, "There's no reason for it: it's just our policy." It was a joke, but unfortunately it's too often true, and that's why the rules need to be questioned.
As might be expected, a lot of my worry had to do with my future, which was suddenly in limbo. I had never truly been "single" as an adult - I had never even lived alone - and I was looking at approaching forty and learning to be on my own for the first time. During this period, I did some reading in a genre I had rarely taken seriously before - self-help - and found that some of what I read actually was quite enlightening and, yes, helpful. Two books that made quite a difference for me were by Judith Viorst, Necessary Losses and Imperfect Control. Both of them contributed to my making a connection that later seemed obvious - as is so often the case - and has made a big change in how I engage with the world: worry is inversely related to control. The more control you feel you have in a situation, the less there is to worry about.My moment of Zen, or how I learned to stop worrying...sort of (7/30/08)
The "feeling of control" may not be the same thing as actually having control over something, and it's an important distinction. It's similar to the idea of the Serenity Prayer, which asks for "the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." I think the last of those is the most important, and coming to understand this was liberating. I started to see a lot of the situations in my life from this new angle, and realized that I had both more and less control than I knew.
1984 was the first year I was old enough to vote in a Presidential election, and I didn't want to "throw away" my vote. Enough said. But I really think it's a shame that 24 years later, our country is still struggling with some of the same issues. In many ways it not only hasn't moved forward much, it's backtracked in a number of directions. Civil rights once granted have been threatened or taken back entirely, class divisions have grown (even though we still officially consider ourselves a "classless" society), and community consciousness has become less important that individual privilege. I think that attitude of concern for self over other is a big part of what's keeping us stuck - "yeah, nice idea, just don't inconvenience me/regulate me/expect me to pay for it." Sometimes being an adult means seeing past your own nose. And sometimes ignoring or neglecting what came before means you find yourself back in the same mess, and you're not sure how you got there or how to make sure you get out of it and stay out.1984: There and back again (8/20/08)
Some of my own favorite writing this year wasn't in response to blog-based prompts, though; the inspirations were more life-based. I shared my family's national-parks excursion this past summer in the four posts that made up my road-trip diary; I recapped BlogHerCon '08 without even attending; and I hit a few political hot buttons.
Some of the "hot-button" posts here were hatched by my writing in another place entirely; since July, I have been a contributor to the Los Angeles Moms Blog, a member site of the Silicon Valley Moms Group. I'm not always consistent about linking here when I have a new post up over there, but that happens roughly every couple of weeks. One of my posts there was selected for national syndication back in August; I was pleased and excited about that, as you might imagine, but I have other favorites among my contributions to the Moms Blog. Here are excerpts from a few:
I'm sure that other people have viewed my decision to stop with one child as suspect, and may have picked up on the aspects of selfishness within it...but people will think whatever they think, and there's not a lot you can do about it. I had several stock responses to the "Are you going to have any more?" query, and one of my favorites was "I want to see how this one turns out first." After 24 years, Son is a college graduate with a good job as an electrical engineer and a decent social life, living on his own and NOT on my couch, and a smart and personable guy to boot, so I think the verdict may be in on that one - besides, at 44, I may finally be old enough to avoid getting the question in the first place.The one and only (7/17/08)
Then again, it's possible that no one asks that question anymore because it's apparent that I have two children now - the proverbial boy-and-girl matched set, actually. (Well, actually I have three, but anyway...) They were part of the deal when I married their father two years ago.
While there are certainly plenty of drawbacks to having a baby when you're only twenty years old, in retrospect there was one really good thing about that timing - my mom was there for it. She was there when I found out I was pregnant. She was there to advise me when I was confused and overwhelmed by the needs of a newborn. She was there to help keep me focused on what was important. She and my dad provided the practical help of childcare and housing that allowed my son's father and me to get through college for our bachelor's degrees. Granted, there were plenty of times when trying to define myself as an adult and a mother while still living with my own parents had its challenges, but I really don't want to think about how much more challenging it could have been if my mom hadn't been there. And in being there, she was also there as a daily part of the life of her first grandchild during his first three years.Mom: Something to remember (9/30/08)
Sadly, the grandchild really doesn't remember much about that period of his life - but then again, most people in their mid-twenties don't remember their preschool years in much detail. The sadder part is that just a few years later, the grandmother didn't remember it either.
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (11/15/08)My family has always been pretty far-flung geographically, and there have been many years when we couldn't all be together during the holidays. Work responsibilities, the challenges of traveling with small children, the cost of plane tickets, obligations to the in-law side of the family - any or all of these have contributed to not having a big family gathering, and we've accepted that and made do. And there were years when I was the one who didn't come home for Christmas, especially when my son was little. I felt that my parents should be understanding about my need to start my own traditions, with my own young family...and I think they were, but now that the shoe's going on my foot I'm getting a sense that they may have had some very mixed feelings about it.I've known parents of young children who can't imagine the day might come when their kids are somewhere else on Christmas morning. And maybe it won't; I've known families who've never lived far apart, or who have had the resources to bring everyone together every year no matter what. But I'm not from that kind of family, and therefore my son isn't either.
As I previously mentioned, I read and reviewed "only" 35 books here this year, so if you're a regular reader, you're getting a lot of non-bookish stuff too. I plan to continue with the essay-writing, so I appreciate your sticking around to read those as well! And by the way...if you have a topic or question that you might like to see me do some "thinking out loud" about, please leave your suggestions in the comments!