Wednesday, September 12, 2012

O, tiny victory (Part 1)

In which our heroine teeters on the brink of depravity

For a moment there, I was a villain. It was ever so brief, like a speck of ash that lodges in your eye and scrapes across your vision like an evil scheme of world domination before it is jettisoned out by tear duct and eyelash, only to flutter away harmlessly like yesterday’s junk mail. Yes, it was exactly like that, only faster and not so overwritten.

Snarkinator was blocked by my company’s firewall. Banned! Censored! Not safe for work!

Here’s what I saw:

That’s right, bitchez: Potentially Damaging Content. Omigodhowawesome. My site is salacious, it is taboo. My site has angered The Man. My site is risqué and outré and other words that sound exciting and French. My site… cannot be seen by my readers.

Gah. I have been smashed flat by the tides of history before I have even spread my wings. How do I fix this? How do I convince Websense that my blog is a national treasure, a cultural outpost of meaningful commentary on our social razor’s edge?

Websense is responsible for that robotic face-slap of a warning above. The company’s web-filtering software runs in the background of many corporate IT systems, preventing employees from reading neo-Nazi message boards and downloading amputee porn. It also occasionally blocks me from reading what I’m sure would be an informative and enlightening article on

Why? Because web-filtering software utilizes an ice-cold automated algorithm downloaded directly from the Borg collective. It does not see you or your funny CafePress mousepad. It does not see the hilarious picture of Mr. FooFooCat that you need to post on Facebook. It does not see the arty and slightly obscene music video that will buoy you through another workday. It does not see your secret pleasures, your cheap thrills, your need to creep slowly ever upward toward the light.

It sees only permissions violated, security compromised, malicious intent. It sees only that inappropriate photo from your trip to Cabo San Lucas and the resulting lawsuit that will cost your company its spot on the Hot Stocks to Watch list.

I turned to Google for help, or at least commiseration. The jumbled tides of misspelled queries and useless information washed over me until, finally, I floated onto the battered beachhead of a message board. And there it was, the clue I needed.

Bells rang. Angels sang. Sam Spade tipped his hat and walked off into the smoky, shadowed night.

For here I found an explanation: Apparently, the Potentially Damaging category is sometimes assigned to sites that are deemed to have “no useful content.”

I had pushed the launch button too soon, you see. Fumbling through the back end of a free blogging service that is popular, user-friendly, and about as easy to comprehend as a NASA satellite tech manual, I had accidentally published my blog with nothing on it but the tag line: “Like a cosmic death ray. But with words.”

And there it sat for upwards of 24 hours, luring web-filter bots like a skinnydipper in a shark movie. It was inevitable that the great roving eye of the Internet would find it, and mark it, and judge it. No useful content.

I was so screwed.

Electrolux Death Ray sculpture by Greg Brotherton -
Websense knows there's no such thing as a cosmic death ray, right?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Obligatory post about how I should be doing laundry

Today it’s the weekend. The laundry is unwashed, I haven’t vacuumed in about three months, and there is something I can only describe as guck all over the kitchen floor. The only edible thing in the cupboards is some novelty shaped pasta and a can of mandarin oranges. It all weighs down on me like a happy homemaker death sentence, but I don’t care, because…

I am not at the office! I feel elated and free. Sparkly butterflies are flittering across the vast expanses of my psyche.

The universe is mine. I can read. I can drink wine before lunch. I can add stuff to my Amazon Wish List.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like my job. Most days, I feel like a criminal mastermind for having figured out how to parlay a degree in Creating Writing into a paying job with health benefits and a window view.

But there’s something about the corporate office environment that sort of flattens me. Maybe it’s all the recirculated air, piped up through layers of steel and glass and spray-on insulation. Maybe it’s the fluorescent light that leaks down from the ceiling to give everything that cool overlit tone like the bridge of a spaceship. Or maybe it’s the fact that performing tasks for other people just so I can pay for food and shelter is DESTROYING MY SOUL.

I dunno. It could be any one of those things.

At least there are no meetings today. I don’t like the concept of meetings. It’s too draconian: You will be in this place at this time and do this thing.

(Aside and slightly off-topic, “draconian” is one of my favorite words. In the dictionary of my mind, it means “as commanded by dragons.” When someone complains of “draconian regulations,” I imagine a cruel wyvern overlord adjusting his golden chain mail necktie and raising a polished monocle up to his baleful serpent’s eye as he posts the new lunchroom etiquette rules.)

If they were called “work parties,” now that would be different. I would show up wearing a jaunty hat and I would bring cupcakes. Work party at 3 p.m. to discuss strategic operational tactics regarding initiative #37. See, doesn’t it sound awesome? I’ll bet there will be a DJ.

But “meeting.” Good lord, it’s drab. It smacks of that 1950s aesthetic when everybody thought it was the future but it was still very much the past, wholesome and hokey and hard as Bakelite. A world of slacks and cardigans and hair oil and reams and reams of paper, everything effused with the toxic yet alluring scent of the mimeograph machine.

I feel it every time I sit down in a meeting: the constricting wraparound of the business day, the grippy slice of pantyhose, the smothering cut of an off-the-rack suit. It’s in the air, like the smoke from an entrepreneur’s cigar: it promises career momentum, a rung up on the ladder, a chance at the golden parachute, but all it really does is leave your throat raw.

Work/life balance, what an insulting term. Like it’s some sort of circus act, a great feat of talent and sheer will, just to live through a Monday without taking your own life.

I know it could be worse, same as you. I mean, I’m not a coal miner, and I didn’t just live through the Dust Bowl, and my child isn’t dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

So excuse me for busting on the American Dream as I sit here in an affluent neighborhood of a prosperous city and drink my filtered water as I spy on the world through my broadband connection, but somehow, this just isn’t good enough.

I don’t want it all. I just want a little bit more.

Maybe it’s on Amazon.

Ta da!

Friday, September 7, 2012


It was just a Wednesday. The worst day of the week, because it starts with a gawky, unsexy W. Because it has a big old “D” in the middle that you don’t pronounce. Because it hovers there midweek like a poisonous mushroom, a thing to dread and somehow muddle through only to discover that it’s only freaking Thursday.

I shuddered through it, sitting at my desk, surrounded by coworkers that I liked well enough not to steal from or take out in a blaze of USPS-worker fury some bleary morning. It was weekly workday-ish. Meeting-y. Red flagged and I-need-this-yesterday-ized.

As I ate my microwave lasagna lunch, I surfed for shoes I didn’t need, I read six articles about superhero movies I would never see, and I began to covet a $400 Asian ball-jointed elf doll that would fit in neither my home nor my economic stratum.

And so it hit me, like a thunderbolt, like middle age, like that icy realization that something is not right. I need to start a blog.

We are surrounded by this ubiquitous technology that allows us to vomit up information and display it on every visible surface. Our once private thoughts are now writ large, our dull little shoebox lives have become adventures to chronicle.

I fume as I read them, the blogs of the amateurs. Their dear little posts all lowercased in an adorable baby-type that makes my eyes burn: o i m 2 cute 2 use big letterz haha :) You’re not so precious, you’re just lazy. Hitting the Shift key takes but a pinky’s worth of energy. Is it really so hard? Have we become so post-modern that we must rebel against the very structure of language?

What goads me, I think, is the sheer ego of it all. Look at me and my funny, funny life! Every fool with a keyboard has become a media outlet of wit and whimsy. There are t-shirts and book deals.

I say this, of course, from my ivory tower, where my fancy writing degree is displayed prominently at the bottom of a storage box filled with old journals and high school yearbooks. But I might as well be wearing it on my head like a crown, for it blazes forth from my consciousness wherever I go, a secret symbol of my dread, if rarely used, power. It says, “Behold, for I wield language like a mighty sword of truth. My words will provide solace for the weary and strike fear into the hearts of evil men.” It says other things, too, whispering in my ear like a jilted lover, murmuring like the echoes of a magical spell.

Because there is something else out there, behind the fanboy reviews and toddler anecdotes, behind the overshared, Instagrammed mess of our not-so-private lives. There is community. There is appreciation of our small and ragged artistic endeavors. There is humanity’s collective effort to be heard amid the din of the great and expanding universe. Hello. I did some things today.

And so I will join the fray, add my voice to the screaming millions that fill up the virtual hallways of the Internet like so many angry, opinionated hornets. I will be brilliant or I will be stupid. I will be poetic, prophetic, or bitchy. My words will sear into your soul or you will forget them as soon as you read them. It doesn’t matter. I claim this one brief instant of recorded history for my own.

All I have to do is hit Enter.

You're still thinking about the $400 elf doll, aren't you? So am I.