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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Feed the Artists - Be the Artists

  In an era where Americans cut every creative program possible during all but the flushest economic times, the British are considering an increase in funding for the arts.

Wild About Harry by D.D. Guttenplan (, subscription required - and you really should subscribe) discusses how the many positive impacts of the American Works Progress Administration during one of the United State's major economic depressions is inspiring plans for new programs to support Britain's cultural industries.

The British have fabulous cultural industries they intend to preserve through the current economic crises, and the article touches briefly on innovative ideas that sprung from a lecture on the merits of the WPA. But what I liked best about the article, aside from a progressive characterization of the WPA's cultural achievements, was this very democratic statement:
It was the WPA that taught a generation of Americans that culture is not something that you go out and buy, or passively consume, but something that is made by and belongs to people like themselves.
The WPA produced some great art and architecture during some very difficult times. We now think of those buildings, those murals, those photos, as quintessential American treasures. Imagine what we could make now, if we cared to invest in it.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:07 PM

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wearing one's heart on one's slightly bloody sleeve

  While the business papers blather on about their hopes of having taxpayers share their pain without ever sharing in the system's profits, my colleagues and I are bonding under workplace duress in new and novel ways. I may have reported that nearly half of the regulars physically operating from my company's HQ who were with our company at the beginning of the year are no longer with us. There have been dramatic leadership changes, dramatic strategic changes... Am I also describing your company right now? If I am, depending on the disposition of your colleagues, you may also find yourself experiencing some sort of survivor's bonding. You know what I mean: breathy, heartfelt conversations with people you didn't know so well before, telling you how they REALLY feel today about the company, or about their life choices relating to employment, or about any subject relating to the company. As if we've all been through something terrible, beyond the normal course of human experience. Worse than reality TV, even. [cough]

I've been trying to explain this remarkably open, honest atmosphere of exchange to a few people who haven't noticed it. They weren't so sure what I meant. (I was afraid for a moment that they thought it was just a new openness among the women of the company, since some of these conversations do occur in the women's restroom, where the majority of the company's current leadership can not tread. [Ahem.])

And then, a colleague who is now one of my heroes sent out an announcement about a company event. In the background of his email was a half-tone image. (This means it was pale enough to easily read the text.) The image: the image right below the title on this web page ( The one with the little boy find a baby bear in a box, befriending it, raising it, having naked bubble baths with it (!?)... and ultimately being attacked by it.

This image starts out so innocently, and the message over it was so innocuous, that many readers never even got to the image at the bottom of the poster. For those who did and who also bothered to ask our posting hero about it, there was an outbreak of honesty: the bear was an allegory for corporate America. No matter how dedicated you may be to it, it can turn on you.

This explanation was made even better when another colleague, in interpreting the image, came to the conclusion that the bear represents our company and we are represented by the boy BEFORE the sending shared his view.

This exchange is an EXCELLENT example of the new openness that is spreading between colleagues.


The creator of this mauling pink bear is Mori Chack, and his website, doesn't quite rely on the same idea. If you go to his about page, he has an urban, non-vegetarian's concept of the evils of human exploitation of animals, a concept that extends to depriving animals of their true wild natures in most forms of visual representation, which he perceives as a crime. His reaction is Gloomy Bear. (I believe I found this page at naming Gloomy Bear with a Google search worded as 'pink bear mauls cute boy.')

The fact that my friendly colleagues are at a point where more than one of them can allegorically describe us as being mauled by a cute, clawed bear tells you about where we are in our strange, survivor's bonding period.

Added bonus: Mori's hair. Go look.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:56 AM

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


All the glamour of paralegal life

This is a true story from a friend.
Last Friday another paralegal and I were called up to one of the partnerís offices. There were two partners there. One sitting in a chair looking distressed.

Partner in the Chair (other partner pacing the floor): We called you two up here because last night at midnight I woke from a dead sleep and realized that there was something that I was supposed to do today, or that was due today, or that we needed to do for next week. I thought to myself: ďOh, this is too important and I wonít forget it.Ē But then around noon today I realized I donít remember what it was. I canít remember what case it was for. I want one of you to go through all the scheduling orders in all our [] cases and figure out what is due today or next week.
No, they don't tell you about these sorts of things in paralegal school.

Yes, I used to dream about missed deadlines, but those were generally just dreams. And I didn't have the sort of minions that I would abuse by making them do background research on my dream deadlines.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:20 PM

Sunday, November 04, 2007

  Official NaNoWriMo 2007 ParticipantSteven is making fun of me for blogging as a break from working on my novel for National Novel Writing Month.

"Taking a break from writing by writing! Bah!"

"I never said I was sane," was my response.


Random conversational snippet from the week:

S: Little white dogs like that one [indicating fluffy, small dog waiting for its guardian in a car] are like the rabbits of the dog world.
Me: Meat dogs?
S: Yes.
Me: Dogs that exist solely to make eagles feel good about themselves?
S: Yes. But when an eagle catches one, the other eagles say, 'THAT isn't a dog. It doesn't even count.'


I started working on my novel yesterday afternoon, and got in 4,438 words. My novel is starting off darker than I expected, and I'm noticing a pattern. Each of my novels is basically about employment (though this was less direct in the third novel), and there are a variety of rather harsh criticisms I make of the current economic, political, and class systems that are more stinging than you would expect from an office worker in the legal profession who owns her own home. I'm theoretically one of the success stories of this system, and yet my near-future representations of the working world have remarkably bleak edges.

I hadn't really thought about it until Steven read my second novel, and was nearly depressed by the city that my character lived in. Later, unfortunately, he started finding real news stories that he said would have fit perfectly into that dark world I was writing about, but which actually belong to our current world. Eek.

I'm going to try to make things brighter in this one as the novel evolves, and that will have a lot to do with the circumstances of the characters, which are on a certain course...

Did I ever post any comments about this year's novel? Let me quote from a message I sent to Steven and a fellow writer on October 10th:
This morning, on the train on the way here, I came up with an entirely new story to work on for NaNo this year.

I had been planning to write a story about a woman who writes for travel guides and lifestyle publications and suffers from the shallow commercial pressures that force her to talk up uninteresting places and inane people because they are officially "fashionable," while being bullied by her family and friends for not being "normal" and conventional enough. Peer pressure forces her into making a lot of choices that don't suit her, and she continually feels like a failure. She has a very clumsy (but fun) epiphany (involving being arrested for vandalism, of all things) about where she really fits in, winds up with a fun writing job, and breaks free from the suffocating and misguided influence of her loved ones.

I'll write that some other time. Instead, I'm going to continue on my "Divine Interventions" series.

Volume 1: The afterlife is a bureaucracy, and the way the world works can be adjusted mechanically.

Volume 2: Benevolent aliens invade earth, disrupting the "natural" systems of entrenched corporate capitalism and financial feudalism that dominate society.

Volume 3: War-caused mass economic collapse results in the restructuring of society on decentralized lines, giving rise to both religious states and eco-societies in the fragmented former U.S.

NEW: Volume 4: A group of temps find themselves getting increasingly bizarre paying assignments from their agency, from keeping people from boarding planes to spilling coffee on people who are on their way to an important date. Gradually, they discover that each of the employees in their small division have an odd number of experiences and background details in common. Are they really just working for a temp agency and its eccentric president?

The idea fits with the madcap series and suits my current style. I've already picked the old Federal Reserve Bank building as the agency's office, and I know it well enough from my Orrick days to describe it in minute detail. One of the characters will be reading The End of Eternity, which gives a hint of what's going on without giving anything away. I'll set it a few years into the future, so there can be even more senseless gadgetry than we currently have. The three lead characters will start out suffering through banal office tasks before things take an odd turn, and won't figure things out until about 3/4 of the way through the story; then they will struggle over whether to embrace their freaky situation or resist what looks like a well-planned destiny.

*plot tremor* I just had two more ideas pop into my head for my outline.

Oh dear.
I think that conveys some of my current madness.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:57 AM

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