Tuesday, March 10, 2015

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Negative of Positive

Want to hear the most trite, terrible advice ever offered: "Stay Positive."

A broken leg: Stay Positive
A broken marriage: Stay Positive
Death of a family member: Stay Positive
Death of a pet: Stay Positive

This phrase has become a conversational place holder where emotions should go. But they can't go there, because we don't allow ourselves to feel our emotions because we're so focused on "Staying Positive." Our focus on positive thinking has become a socially acceptable form of denial, on par with shopping too much or being frosty, posh and British. How does something that on first look is awesome, like positivity (or being frosty and British), go so horribly wrong?

According to the Mayo Clinic website, positive thinking can help you live longer, reduce instances of cardiovascular disease and even give you greater resistance to colds. All good things right? According to positive-thinking-self-help pop gurus positive thinking can get you a BMW.  That's way better than just staving off a cold. So which form of positivity do you think most people choose? The gentle, if materially unprofitable, form of positivity posited by the Mayo Clinic, or the intense, materially super profitable form shown by books like "The Secret." Spoiler alert: Capitalism takes the day.

In this intense positivity, everything that is seen as 'negative' or 'drama' is fast cut out, avoided and shunned. When faced with an event that is seen as negative but can't be avoided, then the muffling headphones of 'positivity' are used. The ugly event is still there, but an effort is made to muffle its noise and forget its presence. Gratitude journals are taken out, sights are taken in, yoga classes are scheduled, a rigorous monitoring of our thoughts is undertaken, all of this and still the damn unavoidable negative event lives in our thoughts.

We're hounded by sadness and listlessness. Unkind comments fly off our lips before we were even cognizant that those thoughts owned real estate in our heads. Everything is drab. We're surrounded by idiots. Life isn't fair.

This is good.

This is life.

Life isn't fair. We are surrounded by idiots. Life rarely appears in primary-colored saturations. If you deny this, if you try to convince yourself that this is 'drama' or 'negativity' then you aren't really living life. You have brainwashed yourself right out of being human. You drank the kool aid, friend.

What I think of as a healthy positivity isn't avoidance or dismissal. It's acceptance that yeah, life is straight up shitty a lot of the time. Cars break down, rent checks bounce, the Democrats/Republicans have a real chance of taking the White House/Congress this year, or next year or whenever. If you can deal with the shitty truth of that without trying to spin it in a more palatable way and still think the world is pretty rad, dogs are awesome, bees are cool or your mom has a great laugh, then I think you have achieved real positive thinking.

On that note, you're all idiots and I love you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New Adventures in Audiobooks

Audiobooks have become my new favorite thing in the past two months. Previous to this, my only experience of audiobooks was with my father in our 20-hour drive from Atlanta to Boston. My dad is a spy book fanatic. His desk is cluttered with library books by Vince Flynn, Robert Ludlum and Daniel Silva. Books with titles like, "The Icpress Files," "The Osterman Weekend" and "Transfer of Power." (Fun Activity: Read those book titles aloud in the most menacing voice you can muster. Fun, right?)

So before our drive, my father just sort of leisurely suggested that we should get the new Jack Jackson* audiobook entitled something like, "The Stalingrad Communiqué," you know, just to make the time go by faster. Lemme tell ya, that was one of the longest twenty hours of my life. All of these spy audiobooks (and for all I knew, all audiobooks) are narrated by gruff-voiced guys. When he had to voice the few women who showed up in the books, the narrator sounded so overly feminine that the thought crossed my mind that he was mocking the character...or that she was learning disabled or something. When the narrator hit the sex scene though, I thought my father was going to die of embarrassment. Suddenly dad was talking really loudly about how nice a Waffle House sign looked, and how, "These roads Meggie, these roads."

That was my experience with audiobooks. The ghost of Jack Palance narrating badly written sex scenes while my father yelled about infrastructure.

I rediscovered audiobooks, or discovered them in the proper form, by trying to show my support for a podcast I love called "Philosophize This," here's a link to it. It's a philosophy podcast done by some poor, stressed out man who just wants to quit his job and podcast philosophy full time. One week he was sponsored by Audible and he asked, to show our support, that we sign up for audible and get a free book download.

I meant to quit after the first one. I swear I did.

But the first one was so good!

It was "Bring Up The Bodies" by Hillary Mantel. The narrator, who was a man, was neither grizzled-voiced or demeaning to listen to. And the book! The book itself was magic. I would listen on my phone while I was in the bath, dreading having to put my head under water to rinse out my shampoo for fear of missing some wisdom bomb or cleverly-put phrase. I was actually relieved I didn't have cable as t.v. would cut into my listening time.

I think the whole thing was about eighteen hours long. I would listen in the bath, while I was cooking, while I was cleaning, while I was driving to Atlanta. I actively looked for long stretches of time where I could be by myself and listen. Of course I do this with regular books, but I was surprised that I wanted to do this with an audiobook.

I was sad when it was over.

My friend, the narrator, was gone. It was like adding insult to injury as this wonderful book had ended but now my narrator friend was gone too.

So, I found a new friend. My new friend is "The Satanic Verses" by Salman Rushdie and it is off the chain good. My new friend and I hang out in all the same spots my old friend and I used to hang out, only it's different this time. My new friend tells me about India and Bollywood and suicidal mistresses. My old friend talked about England, King Henry and Anne Boleyn. Equally good things to talk about but unlike my old friend, whose secrets I know, I'm looking forward to my new friend's great reveal. What secrets do you have, new friend. Maybe we just need a little more time together until you can tell me.  

*I made this name up. Totally sounds like the name a spy novelists would have though

Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Did Over My Summer Vacation by Meg Donahue

Summer is a bit of a dead time in the department. And by "a bit of" read "a massively." The boss had it in mind that a few of the staff would do different rotations with our partners during the summer as we had time to spare. So that would mean we would spend a week in the photo department of the paper, a week with the radio station, a week with the cops reporters, so on and thusly. Someone called it a way to develop "Cross Departmental Competency" which was a far fancier term than what I was calling it. The Holy-Hell-They're-Going-to-Find-Out-I-Have-No-Idea-What-I'm-Doing-and-Ultimately-Judge-Me-Harshly-Because-of-it Rotation Week was a tiny bit longer of a term and required a big gulp of air halfway through saying it before you could continue, but it was apt as to the panic I had before I started my first rotation.

First rotation,  radio news and features.

You know how people criticize Aaron Sorkin by saying that no one talks in that clipped-quick-one-step-ahead-walking-and-talking-because-I'm-so-busy-I don't-have-time-to-sit-and-talk-because-damnit-I- have-places-to-go dialogue he writes? Fun Fact: It turns out that that is the native language of radio journalists on deadline.

My first assignment went by in a hazy streak of press release, script, voicing and AP style. I was, and remain, positive that it is the worst thing that ever took to the air. Like the Hindenburg of spot news. Ah, but my second assignment was a feature and I know from features. I've covered a decent amount of zoning board meetings and city council meetings but for me that was news, never a story. For me, stories live in the odd and overlooked corners of what doesn't get covered. Being a fan of the odd and overlooked, I naturally was drawn to features where these two flourished.

Before we go any further, I suppose a little back story is in order here. Macon, Georgia is known as the City of Churches. It has over 200 different churches within the city. There are only two mosques. Being as it was Ramadan, I did a story on being Muslim in Macon.

The good thing about journalism is that you are allowed to have short bursts of obsession. For that week Islam was my obsession.

I know the Arabic names of the five daily prayers all Muslims must pray. I know all the synonyms for "Mosque." I know the reasoning behind the fasting of Ramadan. I know they use a lunar, rather than a solar calendar to decide on what day Ramadan will start. I know the life stories of many of the congregants of the mosque. I know the stories they weren't sure they wanted to tell.

Of all this information, maybe 20% went into the actual story. But it was the best 20%.

Then comes the sound editing. We will go into that adventure in the next blog post. Also, I will post the story itself, so you get to see what all this panic and hard work culminated in.    

Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Open Letter to My Son of a Bitch Downstairs Neighbor Who Hits His Dog 

Dear Son of a Bitch Downstairs Neighbor,

My name is Meg and I am the person who hates you most in the world. Well, that's not entirely true. You see, I have a strong inclination that your dog (the one you keep out on a two foot by nine foot apartment deck, rain or shine) that he may be the one who hates you most in the world, and with good reason.

When you first moved in you kept me up during the NBA finals shouting about whatever it is people shout about during NBA finals games (you see, I don't care about sports. Just another reason you and I will never be friends). I wrote it off to apartment living and wished you the best. I don't mind that it sounds like you are constantly moving furniture around. Again, we live in rather close quarters and what else could be expected. I mean, it's not like these walls and floors are made of oak, right? 

But what I cannot and will not abide by is your abuse and neglect of your dog. You see, your dog and I have a special bond formed by our shared torment by you. Sadly, the dog is dependent on you for love and food and is at your mercy. Happily, I am not and can afford to tell you the truth. Today, when it rained, I came home to the second saddest howl I've ever heard an animal make. (The saddest howl I've heard was when my own dog was having a stroke. I never want to hear anything like that again.) God knows how long your poor dog had been out in the rain and wind. I came out to hear you slap it with the flat of your hand saying, "Stop it. Stop it." I realized then that not only were you cruel, you are stupid as well. 

I called over my deck with an overly-polite, "Sir? Excuse me, sir?" I was going to bottle my rage and in a laid-back, friendly manner remind you that animals are not to be left out on the apartment decks. In my mind I hoped that you would say to me, "Oh really, I had no idea." Then I would gently tell you about the dog park and how maybe you should take your dog there and how much fun it would be and maybe slip a few pointers in there on how to be a responsible dog owner as well. You wouldn't even realize I'd done it, but you would leave our conversation a changed and kinder man. Instead, you didn't hear me and went back inside. Not surprisingly, my little idea that I was flattering myself with about how I could change you in a five-minute conversation just didn't pan out. Then I started to actually think. 

Maybe you don't know any better way. Maybe when you howled someone hit you and said "Stop it. Stop it." If that's how it was then I'm sorry for you. I'm sorry that no one stepped in and tried to protect you from the cruel and the stupid. Even if I understand where you got your warped reasoning and you have my compassion I still have to try to protect your dog from you. I'm sure you understand. 

Tomorrow I will speak to the apartment manager and call the Humane Society. Hell, I'll repel down the apartment wall and kidnap that dog before I let you hit him again. 

I think you love your dog. I think you have a vague emotional attachment to him that you call 'love.' You just don't know yet that 'love' is just another word for 'responsibility.'  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

How I read and why

I take my reading very seriously; I arrange it by seasons. 

Spring is a great time for French writers like Choderlos and Balzac (but not George Sand, she's dead to me. I'll explain another time) and 19th century English writers like the Brontes

Summer is all about the Southern writers and others who live in a humid climate, like Rushdie, O'Conner,Garcia Marquez and Faulkner. 

In the fall I try to go to big American writers like Vonnegut, Ford, Hemingway - although a lot of his stuff takes place in Spain so it works for summer too- Fitzgerald, you know, Americana. 

Winter is the right time. "The right time for what?" you ask. It's the right time for Russians! Chekov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, it's all good. I have found that short stories and poetry are seasonless, they're like a cardigan sweater that way.

Being that it is winter I am attempting (for the fourth winter in a row) to finish The Brothers Karamazov. Don't get me wrong, it's good. No, it's great in the way Russian Lit ought to be great. It is dense with ethical questions like, "To whom do we owe our loyalty, what does it mean to be wise and what, exactly, is love? Can we love on a global level but hate on a very specific level?" Good stuff, right? So why has it taken me four winters to get through and still no end in sight? I don't have a good answer for that. I'd like to say something amazing like, "It has to be savored," but that would be a lie and as someone who has reread the first two hundred pages of "The Brothers Karamazov" FOUR(!) times I can tell you that one of the main themes (I think) is not to believe the lies you tell yourself. 

The truth is, that as I get older I find those ethical questions that I found so fascinating in the abstract, downright annoying in the practical. I think that if you are over the age of thirty you have wondered what love really is. Is it the 'only wanting the best for the other,' or is it the passionate self-destructing flame-out love that that is such a trope (and perhaps for good reason). Can one exist at the same time with the other? As for where our loyalty should lie, is it with the people who created something, or with the thing itself? Example: You get a job, with it comes a mentor. The mentor is fired, do you quit your job?

See? Most everyone has had either these thoughts or these experiences in their lives. Why is it we need to read about some miserable family, in miserable Russia not having the answers either? 

The only reason I can think of is that we don't read fiction for answers. We go to science or math for that. We read fiction (or at least I read fiction) for meaning. Meaning isn't the same as answers. It isn't as cut and dry as that. Meaning changes from one situation or one group of people to the next. It's 5=3 and it is no less right than 5=5. 

So I will trudge back to Russia where Dimitri and Alex and the Elder Zossima have been waiting for me patiently since last winter, snow filling up their boots. I will listen quietly in the background while Dimitri rages about what he is owed and Alex tries to love his family and hope, just hope, that some of the meaning of their story will lend meaning to my own. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Real Men Don't "Do" Valentine's Day

I feel bad for guys on Valentine's Day. It's such a LadyCorp day (see below for explanation of LadyCorp). I wouldn't blame guys if they felt like walking ATMs with a cuddle feature. Many ads for Valentine's go something along the lines of "Thank her for being with you, you sad sack of a loser man. Buy her diamonds or she will leave you for your less-idiot, more-handsome best friend. DIAMONDS!"  I feel for you guys, I really do. It seems like Valentine's is the one day that the LadyCorp laser beams are aimed directly at the male sex. This can be unsettling or even depressing if you haven't had a whole lifetime of LadyCorp advertisements telling you how fat you are, your hair is the wrong color, your skin is the wrong color, "Twilight" was a great book, you know, lies essentially. But men, we women have been dealing with this nonsense ever since we noticed that we would never be as pretty as our "Aerobics Instructor" Barbie and out of that grew "The Slapback." You know, the "woman, you are beautiful no matter what Karl Lagerfeld says about chunky women" inspirational essays. So, here is a "Brother Friend, You Are Beautiful" inspirational essay  concerning why dudes are awesome:

First off dudes, I knows you love the lists (and I knows that you hate when people say "knows" so I'm going to back off that) so this essay will actually be a picture heavy bullet-point list. Nice, right?

  • Dude, you invented democracy- Well, obviously, you didn't, but this guy Cleisthenes did. He took Athens' government from a tribal-warring tyranny to a ballot-casting democracy. Note: He never had to give anyone flowers to do it.

  • Dude, you invented electricity- Nikola Tesla didn't actually invent electricity, but he did do a lot of work with it, laying the groundwork for wireless communications and a really cool movie with Christian Bale. As he was a life-long bachelor, it's doubtful he ever had to send anyone a heart-shaped balloon to let them know they were appreciated. Mostly because he hated people and was a germaphobe but that's beside the point.

  •   Dude, you kicked the crap out of the Nazis- Winston Churchill may just be the coolest guy of the 20th century. Any woman with a brain in her head would swoon over the man, but look at him. Even younger he was ah, shall we say, "husky." He was a known drinker, had a speech impediment, dubious fashion sense and a penchant for stinky cigars. Yet women and men still love him. And I think this is where the LadyCorp gets it wrong. Women don't want men who just give them stuff. Any moron with a credit card can go into a jewelry store and come out with what some would call love. But mostly people want to be with other people who make them feel things, to see the world in a new way and to be understood. No amount of candy, teddy bears, shiny objects or fancy dinners will make a woman love you any more or any less. So relax. After all, dude, you invented love.

  • LadyCorp is my term for the Feminine Industrial Complex of magazines, ads, products and books that try to make women feel "less than" in order to boost company profits...by selling us crap we don't need.