Monday, June 30, 2008


Taken about 15 minutes ago

Random notes

See what I put up with?

OK, alright, I strew hair clips around the house, but sometimes they come in really handy. Like, when I have a half-eaten bag of crackers and all the chip-clips are in use. Why not just clip the bag closed with the nearest paper clip, piece of tape, or ... hey, there's a hair clip right at hand. One, OK, I put one on the bag to hold it closed.

But then I get up the next morning and find this.

It fell off a truck.

No, really, it did. This poor shrub was lying beside the road withering in the sun. We stuffed it in the car trunk and planted it here, guessing as to its species. Possibly a camellia, in which case it should like this partial-shade spot.

The new finch mix is popular.

Lousy photo, partly because I took it through rain, and partly because zoom really erodes picture quality in this otherwise nice little camera. But it shows every perch occupied, and somebody awaiting an opening.

And in this other bad photo, you can see a painted bunting there -- the brightly colored guy on the pole.

One of our dwarf peach trees has two peaches.

And last but not least... trying to read the T-shirt that ronniecat's cartoon avatar was wearing (over on her blog but the avatar changes clothes frequently!), I went to yahoo! avatars ...

... and got distracted making one for myself. It shows just what mood my computer is putting me in. I'm trying to finish two editing projects before dealing with the problems, a decision I made before new problems with the cursor, and with highlighing text, showed up. To continue is a gamble, but I was so close to finished! But I do have backups...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad

56 years today.



Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I grew up in this little house. I took the photo on a nostalgic visit in 1999, but it looked different in my time. From 1957-1966 it was white with dark shutters and an unsheltered concrete front stoop. The arrow shows my bedroom and the dormer I gazed out of on my own nightly version of Neighborhood Watch. Those front lawn trees were shorter then and their leafed-out branches filled my view, though winter's bare branches let me see starlight. On ground floor right is The New Room, a cozy den added on by my parents in 1963. I accidentally dropped a spoon between the floor joists while I was eating ice cream one evening during construction. I expect it still lies buried in the foundation like Tut's treasure.

This was our 4th dwelling in my lifetime, and there would be 2 more. But the little white house was "home." Catherine, whose post about home got this train of thought started, mentioned the importance of place as a "source" of who we become. This was the place, for me. I was aged 3-12 there, and that house was a constant through a decade of huge change.

I grew, learned to read, battled the multiplication tables, got sick and got well, believed in, and then stopped believing in Santa Claus, gained crushes and ambitions and lost my only-child status of almost 7 years when my beloved (eventually) brother was born. My concept of an orderly law-abiding world shook the day in 4th grade that our teacher announced the shooting of John Kennedy, and I came home to find my mother doubled over on a hassock with a box of Kleenex in front of the TV, crying. And it crashed with the suicide of my friend's dad down the street.

That house shaped in me a concept of home as a place that stayed stable while nothing else, within or without me, did. My room, the tree outside. The two elderly gentlemen who lived at either end of the street and would meet on the sidewalk in front of our house and argue politics. Salesmen and deliverymen who had the same route for a decade and became warmly greeted friends. The tiny neighborhood soda shop and newsstand where kids could stock up on Double Bubble and the new comic books ....and that I was still walking to later when I got interested in Redbook's short stories and the always intriguing "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" column in Ladies Home Journal (housewife magazines fascinated me from about age 9 on. How I fell into that reading habit I have no idea).

I guess I had that feeling of permanence long enough to keep me looking, hoping to find it again. I never will. Not in a house or its contents. In each of 3 Opportunities For Growth -- a Charlotte flood, Hurricane Hugo, and a divorce -- more of my valued possessions have been culled out. Life shift after life shift shows me that the key is something I've just barely come to possess: a little eye of the storm inside me which houses my essential "self" and will let me transplant it somewhere new. Theoretically I could do this with no beloved memorabilia at all. Theoretically. I'm not there but I oughta be.

This could turn into a post about spirituality and how "this world is not my home," and for me that's part of the answer, but I see that calm eye in people of all brands of spirituality, and of no spiritual belief at all. New climate and terrain, accents and local traditions... for people who carry the calm eye within them wherever they go, these things are details. They color life, they don't draw its features.

Hurricane season is here again. I have a shelf of hard or impossible to replace books. Some are common printings that I value because they bear my grandparents' bookplates. Stuck between them is The List. It's my evacuation checklist of other treasured things scattered around the house. All I have to remember in a crisis is to go to the shelf, get The List and follow its instructions. I could get what matters most into a laundry basket. With advance warning, I can get secondary-priority stuff into a couple more. Things are the home I can carry with me, my seeds for transplanting to make a new home.

Like anyone who watches the news, though, I know a bit about disaster. Lead time is a luxury many don't get, and no inanimate object can be counted on. I really hate that thought.

We dream about our eventual mountain retreat, the place that will be our "real" home. "Someday," we say, "when we can get some land, we'll make the exact home we want." Once we pay off some other debts (and $43 fill-ups for a Civic ain't helping), we plan to look for a spot, maybe with a secure little storage building, and begin to move some of our most cherished belongings to it, out of storms' reach. But I know it's an illusion. One good mountain wildfire could sweep through. Larry, who's been through his own versions of the loss-thing, thinks it's possible to regain a lot of that safe and settled feeling, and I hope so but pessimism is my old buddy. I'll always expect the world to be lurking on the doorsill trying to pick our locks, but if I can expand my inner eye-of-the-storm, I can ride it out.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Writers and readers

Tuesday, 14 March, 1944

Dear Kitty,

Perhaps it would be entertaining for you--though not in the least for me--to hear what we are going to eat today.

In 1966 I read Anne Frank's Diary for the first time, and encountered this unforgettable line.

If you're wondering what could be more forgettable, believe me, I wondered too. Why wouldn't this bit of trivia leave my head? Why did it seem important?? It was one of those writer-to-be wake-up moments, but I was 12 [2], and I didn't recognize it at the time.

I'd run into plenty of entries about the minutiae of her daily life in the 100 pages before that, but here's where she kind of broke the 4th wall of diary-keeping and seemed aware that her readers would be living different lives from her own. It might not even have been the first time she did it -- it's been some decades since I read it -- but it's the one that got through to me.

So I blink my eyes and ka-foof! [3] it's 40+ years later and I'm in this Jetsons world I never imagined, where I can write anything I want, ignore rules and conventions, put it online for free, and even get read.

In the land of Twelve Steps we're urged to live the examined life, to really look at what we do, why we do it, and why we feel what we feel. When other bloggers feel they need not only to take time off but to delete years of carefully crafted and often excellent writing, I don't question it. OK, that's a lie. Let's reword it: I acknowledge that I have no right to question it. They're examining their lives and deciding accordingly.

I'm examining mine too, though, and wondering what the "negatives" of blogging are.

The time it takes from Real Life? Well, yeah. The way it satisfies a need to express myself, which bleeds energy off of writing a book? Yeah, it does that. That it elevates the trivial?

But Anne Frank proved that the trivial can be very interesting and even important. It can be that little glob of paint I spotted in Bruegel's The Harvesters, last time I visited the Metropolitan Museum.

I used to sweep through museums like a Roomba [TM], but last time, I got smart and realized I wanted to see less but to really see what I looked at. I love Bruegel, so I sat and studied it without imposing a time limit on myself. There among the meaningful brush strokes was this little spot where the paint had kind of glommed before the brush moved on and it was breathtaking. It connected me with a "trivial" moment when the paint was wet, 400+ years ago.

Most of my blogging friends live everyday lives that are very different from mine and I enjoy that window on their worlds.


So far I've run into no outright nutjobs, and if I do, there are powers that I could wield to remove their access.

As for honest disagreement .... I reallyreallyreally hate it, OK?!! I hate when I'm an idiot and someone calls me on it, but blogging makes me think my stuff through and by the last draft, I often end up with a more balanced view than I started with. Plus I need badly to face it as an Opportunity For Growth [4].

I speak for nobody else, this applies ONLY to me, but I see these not as negatives of blogging, but as negatives of me. Temptation to give short shrift to my real life, to take easier paths, to avoid criticism. It's all personal baggage and it'll go with me into anything I do.

Used rightly, blogging can hone some of my writing skills, and teach me something about discourse. Maybe even interest readers but that needs to follow my process, not lead it.

A delicate balance to strike. Its important to get tough on oneself, especially when it comes to blogging, because it's so easy to hold oneself to no standards at all. This power, this freedom to say anything any way, could tend to corrupt.

But it can also corrupt me by making me try too hard to pre-empt criticism. My perception suggests to me that I have a soul. And that it needs nurturing. Experience has taught me that letting others tell me what to say, and how, starves it.

When am I making my writing better, and when am I failing to be true to my vision? A blog can be a good place to repeatedly examine that issue and practice a healthy balance.

For its first six months or so, I concocted a few blog entries to entertain myself and blow off steam, but nobody knew it existed. Then people started discovering this thing.

It wasn't by design , but it was probably where I needed to go next. Writing to engage reader interest is a skill I need to hone. But I also need to stand strong against pandering to The Market.

So here's an entry from last December, that I never posted because I thought it would bore people. It's about hymns! Scintillating! 8~) I'm putting it back there in mid-December where it would have shown up, so here's a link.

I could be wrong about reader reaction, but that's totally NOT the point. I need to hold myself to high standards, but not post to please. Otherwise I'm squandering this opportunity.


[1] Anne Frank. The Diary of a Young Girl. The original 1947 version I grew up on.

[2] One proper-form rule I get to break is that of spelling out numbers instead of using numerals. I hate spelling out numbers. Vive la révolution!

[3] I also get to make up any weird onomatopoeia I want to.

[4] Opportunity For Growth started out as a suggestion for healthy attitude adjustment toward coping with life's problems. But it's become a sarcastic 12-step-program euphemism for Miserable Experience. When you complain, you get told to stop your Pity Party. But word it as, "I had an Opportunity For Growth this week," and you get lots of sympathy: "O no! I am so sorry!" etc etc.

Monday, June 02, 2008

[UPDATE] eBay feedback changes - "neutral" ain't neutral no more, folks!

An UPDATE is called for!

Sincere thanks to my friend Christy for passing along to me eBay's announcement that this policy will be changed back to the logical stance of neutral feedback being.....neutral!

The seller outcry -- and maybe some protest by buyers who meant "neutral" when they said "neutral" -- must have been substantial!


One day in 1999, Larry came home from work early, which was very weird. He worked at a federal government office in a Trenton NJ neighborhood. Public service US government offices keep exact hours. Something serious has to happen to alter that.

"What..what..?" I sputtered.

"The mafia is burning out the independent crack dealers on our street, so we were told to close up early and go home," he explained. Fires were going up in various rowhouses across the street.

It was around then that I started thinking we oughta notch up our (then) part-time online business to make it a full-time career for us both.

We were practically a ground-floor eBay seller, starting in 1998. Our pride was, and still is, actually caring about our customers. It shows in our feedback.

I've never believed that "the customer is always right." We've run into too many wackos. But in practice, you're crazy to try to reason with unreasoning people, and you're better off biting the bullet. We had a no-questions-asked return policy and never got a negative feedback.

Never. In 10 years. Not one. Our score was 100% positive.

An excellent seller can have a 99.8. It's not a catastrophe. I did cherish that 100% and what it meant to buyers, but I also knew that its days were numbered. No matter how great we were, a crackpot with our name on him had to be out there somewhere. Someone who'd accept no concession that even we, willing to go the extra mile, could in good conscience provide. Or who wouldn't even ask for satisfaction before hitting the red button.

But I was completely unprepared for it to be eBay's managers who bitchslapped us by changing the tally value of feedback categories, and applying it retroactively.

Somebody gave us a neutral four months ago. The toy Matchbox [TM] car he bought, which we'd called 1:64 scale, was actually scaled a bit smaller than true 1:64, as most Matchbox items are. They vary. When we asked why he hadn't requested a refund or some other compensation, he wrote back that the scale did not actually matter a bit to him. But the neutral sits there. Until now, it was .... neutral.

Recent changes to their feedback system have made lots of news but I can't seem to find any outrage over this particular new policy. To any sellers dropping by - you may have missed this little gem, because other changes in your score masked or absorbed it.

"Neutral" feedbacks now count as negatives, against the seller. Yes. Really. Click any seller's feedback page to look at the new calculation method:

Positives are now a percentage of all feedbacks.

positives + negatives + neutrals

Of course eBay doesn't word it as transforming neutrals into negatives. O no! They are merely Doing The Right Thing To Create Great Buying Experiences on eBay!

Click for more condescension by eBay spokesman Brian Burke:

"We know that seeing your positive Feedback percentage drop is hard," he coos.

No. It is not "hard." It's inaccurate.

They simply "include" neutrals in the calculation, he says.

No. They do not merely "include" them. Neutrals are now placed in the denominator, counted equally with negatives. They now carry the same score-lowering weight as a full negative.

The carefully crafted example he gives is misleading. See, Burke tells us, if two sellers have the same number of positives and the same number of negatives .... but Seller Two also has fewer neutrals, the score needs to reflect that Seller Two is "providing a better overall customer experience"!

Aw, I feel terrible for questioning their much greater wisd-- But wait a minute.

Here's how that works out. Say you have :

100 feedbacks;

_____98 positives_____
98 positives + 2 negatives

= 98.0

_____98 positives_____
98 positives + 2 neutrals

STILL = 98.0

Other feedback changes may make my life as a seller harder, but they're at least logical. They were instituted to boost buyer confidence. Well, OK. Somebody wins, even if it's not me.

But this one makes no sense. These two sellers would have the same rating. Buyers whose Great Buying Experiences eBay is so terribly concerned about, aren't getting an accurate picture by eBay calling neutrals and negatives equivalent. Nobody frikkin' wins.

Buyers issued neutrals under ebay's own rules -- that they would neither boost nor lower a seller's rating.

eBay is not explaining why they now want to override that choice, but -- and I'm speculating -- this seems to be an additional measure to compensate for the past when some buyers wanted to leave negatives but feared retaliatory feedback in return.

If so it doesn't wash, people.

For one thing, it's a blanket change, and assumes that all neutral-clickers really meant negative, and that no seller has the right to the rating he was originally given. That no buyer ever really felt neutral. That it was never about honest misunderstanding or minor nuisances that left the buyer with no complaint once they were cleared up -- which is, in fact, exactly what neutrals are likely to be.

For another, eBay has already disabled retaliatory feedback. Sellers can't give any but positive feedback to buyers anymore.

I don't know whether I'm more baffled by eBay's belief that they need to penalize previous neutrals equally with negatives, or by their belief that they are entitled to do it.

Legally entitled - maybe. Sure, these fat corporations can make their own rules, but in this case, they are not changing a rule from this point on -- they are taking a term that meant one thing, redefining it to mean another, and applying that to past uses of the term.

If the yes-or-no system wasn't adequate, it's wrong to reassign a value after the fact.

And it's nonsensical for that value to be identical to the value of another choice.

They could split every neutral. Add half a point to the positive numerator and half to the negative in the denominator. That would "include" it.

They could eliminate "neutral" and have buyers simply give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. But if buyers dislike having to use simple extremes, that's understandable.

Other sites, like, use a 4- or 5-choice spectrum. This would mean that "pretty good" and "great" wouldn't need identical values. Neither would "not so great" and "terrible."

Full permission is granted to any reader, to quote from this post. Use it.