A Thank You Note

Has anyone produced a list of the best of 2015’s “Best of …” lists? No? Anyone? This won’t be that. First, a thank you.

Thank you to everyone who reads this website, even if this post is the first one by me that you have seen: Thank you. If The Gad About Town receives its usual number of visitors today, one of you might give this site the 34,000th view it has received in 2015. More than 18,000 visitors have read or at least gazed at almost 34,000 things here. That stuns me.
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Why Bother Getting up in the Morning? Awards, of Course

In the last month, four fellow writers gave The Gad About Town four different awards. That is as kind as it gets.
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Everyone Wins

I’m a dope. If an acceptance speech was required or expected, I did not deliver one. The one time an award was given to me at a real awards ceremony, I dashed from my seat upon hearing my name, ran to the front of the hotel ballroom, paused long enough to collect the plaque (long since lost), looked at it long enough to see that my name was in fact etched on its surface, and dashed back to my newspaper’s table. The presenters were not looked at long enough for their faces to be retained in my memory.

I grabbed that thing as if I expected the membership of the New York Press Association to demand an instant recount. As if someone had clicked start on a stopwatch. It was not my plan to turn into Carl Lewis and hurdle the tables of our rival newspapers, but something snapped. It was 1997 and I still could run, but I lived a life in which I did not expect good things, so when good things came I was not “pleasantly surprised” as I like to be now, I was shocked into feeling like I was getting away with something that I clearly did not deserve.

I reprinted the column here in December; it was called “The New Wave“; the link is to it.
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‘Hindsight Is 50/50’ Sunday

[In 1997, the following column, “The New Wave,” won the New York Press Association’s “Best Column: Humorous Subjects” award in its “Best Newspaper” contest. I was the assistant editor, sports editor, schools page editor, and copy editor for a small-circulation weekly in Sullivan County, New York, which means that I acquired a lot of experience for very little pay. It was mostly worth it.

It is one of the very first columns I ever wrote, which is a fact that I hated for years after—”It was only ‘beginner’s luck’ that won me that award,” I complained silently to myself. (For years, I lived my life as someone who could think of an award or reward as a denial or a subtraction. And then I would spend some more time ruefully rueing the things I rued.) I was 27 at the time, and I think I also assumed more awards were coming my way. Until I started this blog on WordPress, there were no more awards.

The date of June 1996 is a bit of a guess from me as to its publication date. It might have been earlier that year. My family found a copy of the clip recently, so I have typed it up and included it here, back-dated and with some 2014 interjections, because I can not help myself. From 1996, “The New Wave.”]

The line at the local bakery for this morning’s hearty breakfast goodness was a long one. Some people arrived after me and were recognized by others ahead of me. These friends were all about the same age, 20 or so, and they politely took turns saying “Hey.” Eight “heys” rat-a-tatted out before they settled into their “what are you up tos.”

One friend waved to another behind me. The wave was one that has become popular in the last year or so [this was written in 1996] in this age group. Instead of the usual “Hi! How are you doing!” side-to-side shake of the hand next to the head, which has satisfied people in all their hand-waving needs since we first noticed there were people to wave at, it was cool, reserved. The traditional wave is too frantic, just another thing mom and dad do to embarrass us.

He raised his hand to half the height of the traditional wave, crooked his index finger above the rest, jammed his thumb into the crook of this finger, and passed the knot of fingers side to side four or five times. It was more of a grip than a wave. The expression on his face did not change.

To picture this new wave, imagine a baby swinging a rattle more vigorously than needed merely to make a noise, but not hard enough to hit itself in the head. Now imagine the baby without the rattle, but not crying because you took the rattle away. This is the wave. Now picture someone else, say your 20-year-old, doing it. He is sullen, but not so sullen that he cannot wave hello.

There are times when I think this is a valid wave. There are times when friendliness feels conventional, like something people do because they are supposed to. Why bother waving if you do not feel like it?

Conversation revealed that these friends had not seen each other in months. Their joy at seeing one another again after a semester away at college was not palpable. The wave, the greetings, and the conversation were all expressed with the emotional intensity of a lawyer representing a slightly unfriendly witness before a Congressional subcommittee.

People cannot commit even to saying hello to friends with emotion. Emotion is so … old. Their only solid commitment us to its non-expression.

Teenagers’ telephone conversations are traditionally perfunctory: [2014 interrupts: “Why ‘traditionally’? Maybe ‘similarly’?” And why telephone conversations? Oh, right, 1996. Life in the land before texting.]

“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“You home?’
“Yeah.”
“You want to do something?”
“Yeah. You?”
“You want to come over?”
“Yeah.”
“Bye.”
“Bye”

But this mode of conversation is extending way past adolescence into adulthood, middle age [2014 again: Ha!], and old age, which is new.

Walk around your town. Notice the other residents doing their shopping and browsing. As you and someone you do not know very well or even at all come upon each other, you may both smile, but it will not involve any teeth. The smiles will instead be grim little grins. You may both even say “Hi” as you pass, but you will wait for the other to speak first, and his faintly whispered “Hi” minus the “i” sound will be returned with your own clipped “Hi” greeting. One of you may even manage a “How are you?” but so inaudibly as to render the question silly.

I have been greeted by, and have returned this greeting to, people I know very well. Family members, even. We both appear to be in such a hurry, even though we are not, and we both know we are not. We cannot commit any emotion to the exchange, because we do not want to look silly. One never knows when interpersonal disaster will strike, apparently.

It seems if we are too warm with each other, we think the other person will walk away muttering to himself, “Drunk.”

A suggestion: The next time you see someone give the new wave, drop him to the ground, pin him, flatten his waving hand against the pavement, and make him greet you. Make him express how truly happy he is to see you. The world should be more friendly, damn it.

Copyright 1996 TRR

[The award citation said some very nice things, as it was an award, about how the column expanded its scope from something small to a larger thought. I guess I still try to do that.]

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 28 asks, “Now that you’ve got some blogging experience under your belt, re-write your very first post.”

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November Thank-yous

This is the 30th post for the month of November 2014 on this website. I have not written something every day, but there have been a couple two-a-days, one “in memoriam” poster, and some reruns (yesterday). All adding up to a very special 30-for-30 episode.

I am beginning to feel like a host at a party with this project, and sometimes I want one reader who posts comments to meet another one (where can we all hang out for lunch?); then sometimes I will read a third person’s columns and see that those two faces have clicked “Like” on that other person’s work. “Ah, I see you two have met. Good.”

In December, The Gad About Town will be one year old on WordPress. I started this in the fall of 2013, on another blog-hosting site, and there it still sits: The Gad About Town. I might have acquired readers beyond my immediate family and immediate friends as I proceeded with the website there, but readers other than my immediate family and immediate friends started to respond to this site right here right from the start, hitting “Like,” or subscribing, or commenting. I did not know what I did not know when I moved to WordPress: That my need for instant gratification, my addiction to numbers, would be met here.

Anyway, it sometimes seemed that most of my page views on that service came from spam-generating sources (anything called “vampire” anything is not something that I feel happy about seeing visit my website fifty times in one short hour).

In the month of November, this site has been visited 1677 times so far (by real people), at a rate of 57 visits each day. Neither of those are big numbers; I am certain that many of the blogs I read every day get thousands of visits per day. There were 38 new followers, which is a term that I have decided I do not like. “Subscribers,” okay; “followers”? No. There was one award from a fellow blogger, Aruna, who writes every day at Ripples N Reflections.

A Facebook page was launched here: The Gad About Town. You can find me on Twitter over here: Mark Aldrich. There are some very supportive Twitterers who Tweet my columns to other Tweeting people. (That’s how that works, I think.) I also have Ello invites if you want one.

All of these numbers have increased dramatically since I started participating in the Daily Prompt exercise in August. Before then, I was publishing once or twice a week and approximately one person (other than my mom or girlfriend) would hit the “Like” button each post. Thank you, Susanne Leist; she is the author of “The Dead Game,” and more than once seeing her face pop up on something that I wrote cajoled me into writing a next one. That is the effect a blogging community can have: We egg each other on.

Here are some more thank yous: Judy at Lifelessons, my fellow spoonie Mary at A Body of Hope, Willow at Willow’s Corner, Leigh at Leigh’s Wordsmithery, Melissa at This, Right Now, Rebecca at Genusrosa, Dixie Copeland, The Reluctant Baptist, Lydia at A Lot from Lydia, Swoosieque at Cancer Isn’t Pink, Mark at Joatmon14, Rose Red at Gelatinous, Ina Vukic at Croatia, The War and the Future. There are other thank yous, but this list is some of the people who communicated with me in November.

In December (wait! that’s tomorrow!) I will start playing around with a new layout and, more important, get my big book co-writing project moving towards the door marked “Publish.” Thank you to all the future purchasers of that future book.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 30 asks, “What’s the longest stretch you’ve ever pulled off of posting daily to your blog? What did you learn about blogging through that achievement, and what made you break the streak?”

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A Leet

According to WordPress and other services, the number 1337 is important. It is not important for obvious reasons, like, say, reasons that are important, but for more obscure, talismanic ones.

Almost from the start, the online world has been something of a secret handshake society, but a democratic one, in which one and one’s friends can come up with a new secret handshake, and a capitalistic one, in which some secret handshakes become more popular, trendy. Elite. Or, “1337.”

Going back thirty years, users of programming language and speakers of everyday speech started to find places where the two collided. Going back thirty years, teenagers were passing messages to kids in the next aisle by typing on their calculators. Remember doing that? Certain numbers look like letters upside-down, so when one types 0.7734 that is also saying, “hello.” Here is a list of 250 such calculator-words: 250 Words You Can Spell with a Calculator.

I have had only one problem with this from thirty years ago to today: 0.7734 has never looked like “hello” to me. I just do not see it. I was the friend across the aisle from you in school who, when you showed me a secret calculator message, inadvertently said out loud, loud enough to attract the teacher’s attention, “What?”

I also do not see hidden anythings in “magic eye” posters, other than pretty fractals and colors, so I am just a generally all-around evil human being and no fun at all.

In the early days of the internet, in the era of bulletin boards and relay chat, the era in which someone typing on a keyboard in a movie was the height of real drama, those sorts of calculated calculator misspellings became a short-hand way of demonstrating one had inside knowledge about a topic at hand. Some of these terms have entered the culture at large, like newbie or pwned, and many have not.

For all of my life, I have felt like an outsider gazing in at a world of secret handshakes. Further, I am at my most uncomfortable when I try to look like I think I belong with you. Thus, when the kids in school in the ’80s who were “into computers” made it look like a secret society, I lost interest in programming. (Your loss, gaming community!) When the secret handshake society’s special vocabulary filters into the larger society and becomes a trendy lingo for a month or two or a couple of decades, it makes the world look like how I feel when I am trying to bluff my way into fitting in.

(Amusingly, I am composing this rant in a WYSIWYG in which I write my own simple HTML code and do not use a visual editor, a habit dating back to my newspaper work and a blog I started writing [now long lost] in 1997.)

1337-1xWhen one achieves 1337 of anything on a website, it is worth noting because 1337 is a lot of anything. In the case of The Gad About Town, it reached 1337 likes on November 26, when someone liked the column, “Gratitude Week.” In old-school hacker lingo, being an elite member of the community was designated by referring to them as elite, or a leet, or 1337. Again it’s the upside-down calculators that I have never looked at without saying, “What?”

Thank you to my readers and especially those who make the effort to express that they like some of the things I do. You have liked me more than 1337 times so far in ten months, which definitely makes me feel like a member of an elite.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 28 asks, “Today, publish a post based on unused material from a previous piece—a paragraph you nixed, a link you didn’t include, a photo you decided not to use. Let your leftovers shine!”

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Two Awards in One Day

Two fellow bloggers separately named “The Gad About Town” as a winner of the “Lovely Blog” award today. That is as cool as it gets.

Both are blogs that I enjoy reading regularly, by two very different writers in different parts of the world: Tidlidim and The Reluctant Baptist. Thank you both. Both writers have strong personal voices in their work and sometimes include their own photos.

In the blogging world, there are some rules of etiquette in the form of paying forward the “lovely” attention. Here are the rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for the award.
2. Add the “One Lovely Blog” logo to your post. Display the award on your blog—by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget.”
3. Share 7 facts/or things about yourself.
4. Nominate 15 bloggers you admire and inform nominees by commenting on their blog.

The last one first. I have been participating for the last 10 weeks in responding to our WordPress service’s Daily Prompt, which has helped spur my most prolific period of writing since graduate school. (This prolific-ness is a good thing, too, because I am working on a terrific project, due out soon, with another blogger.) Most of the writers with whom I have been communicating regularly, several of whom ask me questions and give me applause every single day, I met via that service. My subscribers have doubled and so has the number of blogs that I subscribe to. Go to the Daily Prompt any day and you will see the several dozen blogs that I read and often like every day.

I fear I will leave someone out, is all I am confessing.

Several random facts about me:

1. The number four is my lifelong “secret lucky number.” (Anyone who has gambled with me knows about this. Read: The Gad About Town: Against NYS Proposition 1.) Now, I know that in most of the world’s luck traditions, if one declares out loud that something is secret and lucky, one has immediately kiboshed all secrecy and luck out of that thing’s existence, but that is the beautiful thing about my “secret lucky number 4”: It remains lucky and maybe even grows in power every time I speak of my special relationship with it. Maybe.

2. I left New Paltz in 1995 to work in Narrowsburg, NY, and moved back to New Paltz in 1997. I left New Paltz again in 2000 to work in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and returned to New Paltz in 2006. (There are legends about New Paltz and eternal return and gazing upon the nearby Wallkill River—I am legend, I suppose.) And then I had to move again, this time to Goshen, NY.

3. Depending on my relative levels of optimism or pessimism, I may refer to my spinal muscular atrophy as an “illness” versus a “condition.”

4. I pretended to write before I knew how to write. There may even now be pieces of furniture at my family’s house with my crayon scribblings on them and in them—I did not draw, I wrote, wavy lines that I would then inform my parents was a story. I’ll guess I was about three or … four. See? It must have been a lucky number.

5. I am very audiologically sensitive (I do not know if that is even a term). I can identify voiceover actors, even when famous ones are used anonymously. The downside of this is a sensitivity to certain noises … if the faucet in your kitchen sink is dripping, I will excuse myself from your living room to see if the tap can be tightened or if the faucet swung away from any container under it. Bloop bloop bloop. Sadly, this sensitivity does not translate to any musical ability. I have none, just an appreciation for music and performance.

6. I see words as I speak them.

7. My favorite animals growing up were dinosaurs. My favorite dinosaur was the triceratops. In the children’s books about dinosaurs, the triceratops always seemed to get into a tangle with the fearsome T-Rex and walk away, unscathed.

http://thereluctantbaptist.com/2014/10/07/and-the-nominees-are/

http://tidlidim.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/grouping-two-lovely-blog-awards-into-one/

An Award-Winning Blog

liebster2A nomination for a “Liebster Award” is something of a blogger’s—or at least a WordPress blogger’s—rite of passage. In German, the word “liebster” means “dearest” or “beloved,” so sharing a nomination for the award and asking the nominee to pass it on (which is one of the stipulations of the award) is a way to make the world a little more dear. Billie nominated me this week, so I am a dear in her headlights. Please visit her website—it is worth your time, and her design and approach have given some direction to my plans for this website.

As I have detailed elsewhere, my column won a prize from the New York Press Asssociation some years ago, but most of my pride that day was for the writers I edited who won awards for their work, themselves. Those were some of the best phone calls I have ever been asked to make. This is the first time work of mine has been nominated by someone other than my employer. A Liebster Award nomination is the same thing as winning—as long as I pass it on and nominate several blogs that have fewer than 1000 followers each and give them some props and ask them to take part. (This award is kind of a pyramid scheme, minus the con. It’s actually just a cool way to build readership and showcase some blogs that are worth getting to know.)

Besides “Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me,” my nominated blogs are “Mywordsontheline,” “Words, Words, Words,” “Read. Write. Teach,” “Writing with Purpose,” and “black is white.”

If I have nominated you, and you choose to accept my nomination of your blog and continue with the Liebster award process, here are the rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.

2. Display the award on your blog—by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget.” (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)

3. Answer eleven (11) questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.

4. Provide eleven (11) random facts about yourself.

5. Nominate five to 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, blogs that have less than 1000 followers each. (Note: you can always ask the blog owner for this information since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know how many followers they have.)

6. Create a new list of questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer.

7. List these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to then:

8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster Award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of this prestigious honor).

Here are the questions that were sent to me and that I now send on with my replies: (in the case of the first question, change “Ireland” to “upstate New York”)

What do you think of when you think of Ireland?
The Hollywood version, probably: “The Quiet Man,” etc. I studied James Joyce in graduate school and have ambitions to reread “Ulysses” this year. I also have ambitions to see Ireland in person someday …

What food is too much work for you to eat?
Anything too hands-intensive. Lobster. I can still work chopsticks.

Did you ever have a tree fort growing up? How about a secret club?
My dad laid some planks in a tree in our backyard, and I remember some steps nailed to a tree. I never liked climbing trees or even jungle gyms. I seem to have developed my healthy fear of falling from the start, before ataxia.

What technology (if any) in today’s world are you suspicious of?
Anything controlled remotely or automatically—drones, online bots.

What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night?
Start boiling water for coffee (I love my coffee press). Fall asleep watching Netflix.

What (if anything) would you absolutely refuse to do under any circumstances? Why?
Physically injure an animal.
Hum. I don’t hum.

If you could ask one person one question and get a completely honest answer, who would it be and what would you ask?
Maybe my great-grandparents (great-grandfather, I suppose) on my mother’s side about what made them leave Russia and move to America.

What is the first thing you learned to cook? Did you enjoy the experience?
The first thing I actually remember cooking for myself (or knew that I knew how to) is french toast.

What thing sucks most of your free time away? Do you enjoy it?
Online social media. Yes, I enjoy being in touch and expanding my circle of friends.
When my health insurance starts up again, I will be spending a lot of time in doctors’ offices. Because of my ataxia, I have a neurologist and a cardiologist.

Describe a time when a small decision by you brought big consequences (good or bad).
If I knew that the night I drank my last drink was going to be the night I had my last drink … it was not a decision, not one made by me, at least, and it was small in the scheme of things. The universe did not change when I stopped, but when I stopped, my universe changed.

What major historical thing(s) happened in your lifetime? Has it changed your life?
In my lifetime, there have been many major news stories. There were two presidential impeachment cases, one of which provides me my earliest memory of a news story, and the later one I wrote about in a newspaper. Space exploration accidents. The realization that climate change is happening and more man-made than not.
Mandela.
The social neuroses caused by the Cold War. I probably still have those echoing in my psyche.
September 11.
Chernobyl.
The announcement last year that Voyager 1 had left the solar system affected me deeply; the “pale blue dot” photo.

Eleven random facts about me:

1. The number four is my lifelong “secret lucky number.” (Anyone who has gambled with me knows about this. Read: The Gad About Town: Against NYS Proposition 1.) Now, I know that in most of the world’s luck traditions, if one declares out loud that something is secret and lucky, one has immediately kiboshed all secrecy and luck out of that thing’s existence, but that is the beautiful thing about my “secret lucky number 4”: It remains lucky and maybe even grows in power every time I speak of my special relationship with it.

2. I left New Paltz in 1995 to work in Narrowsburg, NY, and moved back to New Paltz in 1997. I left New Paltz again in 2000 to work in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and returned to New Paltz in 2006. (There are legends about New Paltz and eternal return and gazing upon the nearby Wallkill River—I am legend, I suppose.)

3. Depending on my relative levels of optimism or pessimism, I may refer to my spinocerebellar ataxia as an “illness” versus a “condition.” The latest feature of this condition that I have been noticing of late (first noticed last year) is that when I can not see my feet, I lose track of which is which. I may think I’m tapping my right, but it’s my left that’s annoying people around me. After going to bed, I may think my left leg itches, only to scratch it and find it was my right, or worse, that I am scratching the mattress.

4. I pretended to write before I knew how to write. There may even now be pieces of furniture at my family’s house with my crayon scribblings on and in them—I did not draw, I wrote, wavy lines that I would then interpret to my parents as a story. I’ll guess I was about three or … four. See? It must have been a lucky number.

5. I am one of the least ambidextrous humans on earth. When I sprained my right side a few years ago (falling asleep in an office chair), I learned that I could not write my name left-handed. This was a severe disappointment, as I spent many hours as a child trying to become ambidextrous and had trained myself to write at least my name with my left hand. The skill has left me.

6. I am very audiologically sensitive (I do not know if that is even a term). I can identify voiceover actors, even when famous ones are used anonymously. The downside of this is a sensitivity to certain noises … if the faucet in your kitchen sink is dripping, I will excuse myself from your living room to see if the tap can be tightened or if the faucet swung away from any container under it. Sadly, this sensitivity does not translate to any musical ability. I have none, just an appreciation for music and performance.

7. I see words as I speak them.

8. If you have a trivia team, I am an asset. My areas are American political history, baseball, English literature, broadcasting history.

9. My favorite animals growing up were dinosaurs. My favorite dinosaur was the triceratops. In the children’s books about dinosaurs, the triceratops always seemed to get into a tangle with the T-Rex and walk away.

10. I remember most people’s names after one hearing, especially if I also saw it written down. I can not, however, remember jokes or poems.

11. Formal logic is a weakness. In Geometry class, it once took me eight steps in a proof to establish one leg of a triangle equal to itself. It amazes me that I can design this webpage.