planning the day

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
― E.B. White

I stumbled across this quote a few years ago during a visit to my mother. It was posted somewhere in her community art room, and I read it in passing. But the words followed me out, and prompted me to both look them up again, and revisit them regularly in my thoughts. E.B. White’s words nicely encapsulate so much of my inner conflict. For example, my struggles with figuring out what to post here, and on a larger scale, what to do with my life.

I find great joy in the little details in the world around me. I can get lost in the sparkle of ice on a branch or a fence, or the unexpected grace of shadows on a stairway. I often attempt to capture the beauty in photos, with varying degrees of success. I am a collector of images, and it pleases me to sort and categorize them, and share them here. A group of leaves here, an assortment of doors there, a selection of silhouettes yonder. Hell, I’ve even posted photos of storm drains and the peeling paint on dumpsters. I find beauty and comfort in seeing patterns, and putting them together.

Beyond that, the world offers a multitude of sources of enjoyment for me. I love food, I love to make things with my hands. I love art. I love music. I love reading and watching movies. I love humor and playing with words. I love the structure and richness of the world’s languages. I love doing scientific research, and finding the beauty in patterns. And I really, really love to travel. I love to spend time with my family and friends, and I love to spend time by myself doing things that I love, or thinking about doing things that I love. There is enough passion in me for so much beauty, so much wonder for the world’s amazing variety and order, that I could fill a hundred blogs (and I mean blogs, not just posts) if only I had the time to do so.

On the other hand, there is so much ugliness in the world that I can’t ignore. News reports of police shootings. Stories of the plight of refugees. Data reflecting the threats to our planet’s equilibrium through climate change. Systemic racism and misogyny and homophobia and xenophobia and so many other biases. Horrific acts perpetrated by governments and individual acting on their behalf, in blindness to the systemic biases in the system and the damage they inflict. Horrific acts being perpetrated by individuals, often growing out of the collective illness of our society. There is so much societal injustice that needs to be addressed, and I regularly feel the call to address it. How can I sit back and write silly posts about pants when there are people literally dying in the street? What good are my sets of colorful leaf photos to a world in which hundreds of thousands of displaced people want nothing more right now than food, shelter and safety for their families? If I’m going to be writing or posting, shouldn’t I be putting my energy into addressing the injustices of the world?

Further, frankly, writing about difficult topics is…difficult. While I have ventured into social justice topics in my writing, such forays take a lot out of me. I want to be able back my claims with data and sources. Moreover, I want to choose my words with care, lest I inadvertently do harm to the very cause which I am hoping to contribute to. I worry about provoking backlash, both from those who disagree with me, and from those who largely agree with me but find fault with my words or understanding. I am flawed and learning and growing, and I am prone to mistakes.

It has been this tension within me, the pull to share posts reflecting my enjoyment of the world against the pull to lend my voice to improving the world, that largely kept me from posting or doing anything creative at all for many months. I wanted to post light things, felt like I should post heavy things, and in the end generally posted nothing.

I have come around the realization that I really want to do both things, and that I can do both. They may not be equal in measure, but I am giving myself permission to express myself creatively and also, at least occasionally, write about topics that I consider deeply important. I can feed both of the desires, and both can help me to grow, and grow stronger.
This essay is my first entry in #52essays2017, a project to write and post an essay each week this year. To read more about the project, visit Vanessa Martir’s Blog.

writing goals for 2017

I’ve never been a big one for resolutions¹, but this year I find myself full of resolve. I have a number of goals: personal, professional and political. Among my personal goals are  revamping this space, and getting back to posting regularly every month. I don’t think I can swing daily posting, but I should be able to manage once or twice a week. I would also like to get back to writing, for fun and personal growth. To that end, I have signed on to a rather daunting project: I will be writing and sharing a new essay every week for the year. I’ve nearly run out of week this week, but I plan to post my first essay tomorrow.

The damaged “2017” of an ice sculpture in Boston, from New Year’s Day. A number of artists produce and display ice sculptures around Boston on New Year’s Eve. This year, the next day was quite warm, and the ice sculptures were a little worse for wear. But still cool. (No pun intended.) In any case, I thought it fitting to post this damaged, day-late view of the new year, since I am so often running late and a little bit rough around the edges. 

¹ At least not one for posting resolutions before I have achieved them. But I am still rather amused by my retrospective resolutions of 2006, posted in my 2nd month of blogging.


Waffle aftermath.

Life has been busy the last few days, full of lots of good things, but leaving me without much time to write much of substance here. In my commitment to posting daily this month, it feels a bit like I’ve been dropping crumbs.¹ I have several posts that are brewing in my head, but not yet ready.² One post that will be coming up soon is thanks to my friend Sarah, who has picked me as one to carry on a meme about the writing process. I entreat you to follow these crumbs to her blog³ and sample her words. Her writing is expertly prepared, rich with buttery layers, and baked to a golden perfection.⁴ If you are like me, you will find her blog to be at once satisfying and leaving you wanting more.⁵

¹ Or scraps and the occasional shard. I admit that I do enjoy the sequence.
² Though with my crumb metaphor, a baking metaphor would be a better one. The dough of several posts is rising in my head? Um…I don’t think so. My brain doesn’t like the sound of that at all.
³ And by that, I mean, click the link.
⁴ I totally just made myself want a croissant.
⁵ She also said some nice things about me.
⁶ This post has a very high footnote to sentence ratio. This footnote doesn’t go with anything, really. I just felt like it.

capitalist dictators

As November approaches, I find myself hankering to join in on that mad month of collective daily blog posting known as NaBloPoMo. I’ve been crazy busy with work and life, but having now participated for 4 years running, I still want to give it a go. The NaBloPoMo headquarters have been relocated from their previous home at Ning to BlogHer. I went to the page where I needed to go to list my blog for the November blogroll, and stopped short.

I found myself very irritated, perhaps unreasonably so, by the instructions “Please enter your blog name, capitalizing the words as you would any title.” The trouble is, I do not capitalize my blog title. My blog title is collecting tokens, not Collecting Tokens. I don’t really mind when people capitalize it, when, say, mentioning me in a post, or listing me on a blogroll. But I do mind being told that I should capitalize it when I list it somewhere.

Putting the title in lower case was a deliberate stylistic choice I made when I started my blog nearly 5 years ago. I can’t exactly say why, but given my Propensity for using Capitalization in a Tongue-in-Cheek way to signal Pomposity and Officiousness (c.f. The Ministry of Silly Blogs, which is decidedly Capitalized), I suspect that I wasn’t feeling all that Serious. This blog, my main blog, is an informal place for me to unload my thoughts, memories, creative outbursts, and so on. The lower case perhaps reflects the lower bar; this site is a work in progress. (For that matter, I also decided on the blogging name of alejna, which, while it bears a striking similarity to my legal first name, is not the same. The stylistic difference is meaningful to me.)

So, I was about to sign up for NaBloPoMo, but I have hesitated. I mean, I hate to look like I can’t follow directions. I am predisposed to Following Directions when dealing with Bureaucracy. But to capitalize my blog name feels just Wrong™.

Here’s the thing: blogging is a new medium. (Well, it may seem old in today’s whirlwind of social media, but it hasn’t been around all that many years.) It is a form of self-publishing that has been revolutionary. Individuals have the power to put their written words out there to reach potentially large audiences without the constraints dictated by traditional printed media. Yes, this does lead to a wide range of writing and grammar skills sharing space on the web. Sure, there may be plenty of downright errors. Spelling errors, word misuse, typos, and all that jazz. Yes, some people could clearly benefit from an editor. But this medium also encourages stylistic liberties. We can choose to boldly split infinitives. Use sentence fragments. Or we can decide to begin sentences with conjunctions. And dammit, we can choose how to capitalize our own freakin’ blog titles.

Looking through my blogroll, I see that I am not alone in my capitalizing choices. Many bloggers have even chosen to further eschew capitalization norms, such as the writers of baggage carousel 4, crib chronicles, These three women are well-educated (highly educated, even), intelligent, and fantastic writers. They certainly know how to capitalize according to the style guides. (And my guess is that there are contexts in which they choose to go along with the capitalization norms.) They choose to write without capitalizing their sentence-initial words or first person singular subject pronouns.

Dictating how bloggers should present their blog titles is stylistic prescriptivism that I don’t feel should be part of blogging. If you publish a scholarly journal, by all means tell people how to capitalize and punctuate their section headers. Tell them, if you feel so strongly about it, what font to use and when, exactly, to italicize. But if you are a blogging hub and listing the blogs of many across the diverse blogosphere, respect the stylistic fluidity of the medium. (And dudes, with a name like NaBloPoMo, making an issue out of archaic style guidelines just makes you look Silly™.)

What about you? How do you feel about capitalization? If you have a blog, do you, too, feel that your choice of capitalization is integral to the blog name?

p.s. Having gotten this rant out of my system, I went ahead and just filled out the form. But I used lower case. Because I am a Rebel like that.

picking myself up

Dear diary,

Another day has gone by, and I’ve been overlooked yet again.

When she grabbed for me a couple of days ago, I nearly burst at the seams from excitement. But then I nearly burst at the seams when she tried me on. I guess I don’t quite fit the way I used to. Maybe I shrank in the wash. She just tossed me aside, half-way inside out. I felt so exposed.

My mother used to say “you’ll be put on one leg at a time just like everybody else.” But I always thought I could do better than that. These days, I’d settle for just being worn on one leg. Or at least to be folded up in a drawer with some dignity.

Some days, I wish I could just pick myself up off the floor.

So the Monday Mission for this week was to write a post in the style of a diary entry.

I used to keep journals. I wrote really often when I was 17 through 20. I still have all those books, lined up on a bookshelf next to my bed. I don’t really look at them, and certainly never read them. I largely forget their existence. But for the assignment I thought “wouldn’t it be funny to post a real journal entry?” So I went and had a look last night. I picked up a few of the journals, and flipped through them, looking for something entertaining. I tell you, I am slightly scarred from the experience. At 17, I was insecure about my looks and my self-worth, wasting time and energy dieting and suffering from unrequited affections. And I took myself way, way too seriously.

I can say that, without doubt, I like myself much more than I did back then. I wouldn’t go back for anything. I’ll take 37 over 17 any day.

right from the start

I have given in to the urge to put together a sort of 2008 blog recap. Following in the footsteps of Mad, Magpie, Bea and Holly, I present to you the opening sentence of each first post of the month. (Or in some cases, a sentence fragment. Because I like sentence fragments.) (And I’ve also put the post title.)(In parentheses.)(Because I like parentheses.)

What this excercise has demonstrated to me is that my posts tend to lack interesting beginnings. I’d like to say that I’ll work on getting more interesting “hooks” for my posts. However, if I were to agonize about the beginnings of my posts, I would likely collapse in a heap of debilitating self-awareness.

On the other hand, I could try starting with the right opening sentences, and then work my way from there. What my openers above clearly lack, aside from elements that might intrigue a reader, is pants.

I offer to you an alternate universe list of post openers:

    January: The moment I walked in the room, I realized that I had worn entirely the wrong pair of pants.

    February: Hell hath no fury like a woman pantsed.

    March: You would not believe the number of people who have been trying to get into my pants this week.

    April: Today I invented a novel way of wearing pants.

    May: You can tell a lot about people from their body language, or from going through the contents of their pants pockets.

    June: I can’t remember where I left my pants last night.

    July: Shakespeare knew a thing or two about writing, but from what I’ve heard, he was a bit lacking in the pants department.

    August: My love of pants may finally have gotten me in trouble with the law.

    September: Last night I found a mysterious message, a poetic missive written in an elegant hand, stuck to the seat of my pants.

    October: On beautiful Fall days like this, I sometimes gaze out the window at the leaves falling gracefully from the trees and the pants falling clumsily from the waistlines of the passersby.

    November: I’ve signed on for NaPaWriMo (National Pants Writing Month) this year, which means that every day for this whole month, I’ll be joining the ranks of those who can’t help but write about pants.

    December: Today turned out to be an unfortunate day to go outside without my pants.

Now with more Polysyllabic Nonsense

I think most of you have seen this item making its way around the bloggy world: the blog reading level score. I’ve seen it a bunch of places:

You wanna know what I got?


(Note that my blog shares this honor with Sassy of eye heart internet, who can even blog at the elementary school level bilingually.)

Actually, the first time I tried this, a few weeks ago maybe, I got junior high level. But apparently my writing skills are deteriorating.

What I find funniest, though, is that I also tried my other blog: The Minsitry of Silly Blogs. This is a blog I threw together on a whim to go along with a NaBloPoMo group I started. See what it scored?

genius.jpg The Ministry of Silly Blogs

It would seem that when I am making efforts to sound Officious and Pretentious, as well as Silly and Pompous, my writing appears more erudite. Even if what I am writing is Utter Nonsense. (Which is not to say that I believe that all those whose blogs scored higher than elementary school write Officiously and Pompously. But perhaps you all write Utter Nonsense?)

All in all, I find myself terribly curious about the means by which a reading level score is achieved. Is it sentence length? Average word length? Does anyone know?

Who’s with me?

Because I am certifiable, I have signed on to NaBloPoMo. Don’t worry, it’s not a cult. (At least I don’t think so.¹) November is National Blog Posting Month. It involves commitment to posting every day for the whole month. That’s 30 days in a row.

The NaBloPoMo website lets members² make groups. To hang out. Like in cliques, I guess. Lots of people have started regional-based groups, like New England Bloggers³, Tennessee Bloggers, or Blogs from Europe.

Many others have created groups reflecting special interests. And perhaps some are especially interesting. Such as bikers, or brides or pregnant bloggers. Or pregant biker bride bloggers. Or knitters. Or (judging by their limited enrollment⁴ so far) even more specialized special interests, including Bichon bloggers and Kevin Spacey Bloggers.

I found myself with an urge to join a bunch of groups. Just because. And what’s more, I had the urge to start my own group: The Ministry of Silly Blogs:

Our chief functions are threefold: a) to identify silliness on the web, b) to create silliness on the web, c) to promote silliness on the web and 4) to encourage the promotion, creation and identification of silliness on the web.

And while filling out the form to start the group, I noticed a box to fill in an existing website for the group. “Damn,” I thought. “The Ministry of Silly Blogs deserves a website.”

So I made one. With some Official Ministry Bling, even.

And 3 other people have already signed on to be part of the Minsitry of Silly Blogs. 3 people who are total strangers even. (And quite possibly, 3 people who are totally strange.)

So, anyone else out there care to join me? Either at the Ministry, or just with NaBloPoMo in general?

I also have in mind a number of other groups, which I may or may not decide to officially form:

  • Pants Bloggers: For bloggers who write about pants, like to say the word pants, and/or who wear pants while blogging
  • Homo Sapiens Bloggers: For bipedal primate bloggers who consider their brains more highly developed than your average baboon
  • Genji Bloggers: for bloggers who like to write about having read the 11th century novel The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu, often known as the first novel ever written.
  • Linguistics Grad Student Bloggers with 20-month-olds Named Phoebe and Who Like to Write Lists and Make Stuff Up: For bloggers who are named alejna

¹ I followed Magpie over there. But how well do I really know her?

² Why is that I get uncomfortable with that word?…members…Sounds a bit like card-carrying members. Or perhaps cult followers…

³ Well, “Bloggahs,” which I joined in spite of my non-native tendency towards rhoticity.

⁴ N=1.

breaking the spell of procrastination

I’ve lateley spent some time thinking about procrastination. And not just about procrastination, but about procrastination. The word, that is. Perhaps because I’ve been spending a lot of time procrastinating. Inspired by Sage‘s Word Wise Wednesday tradition, I thought I’d share a bit that I’ve learned about the etymology of procrastination. Remarkably, the meaning of the word has not drifted far, at least according to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1548, from L. procrastinationem “a putting off,” noun of action from procrastinare “put off till tomorrow,” from pro- “forward” + crastinus “belonging to tomorrow,” from cras “tomorrow,” of unknown origin. Procrastinate is recorded from 1588.

It’s terribly unmysterious.

I was quite interested to note, however, the description of the word as a “noun of action.” In my experience, it often seems to be more of a noun of inaction. And what’s more, observe that one can spell the word inaction from a selection of the letters of the word procrastination. Coincidence? I think not.

Because let’s face it, without inaction, procrastination just wouldn’t be the same.¹

You may also be interested to learn that, in addition to inaction, the following words (and many, many more) can be made by using letters of procrastination:

pasta, carrot, onion, poi, toast, pots, coin, top
trap, scrap, ration, nation, station, Patton, stint, coot
tint, print, caption, croon, tiara, stair, star, icon, coop
scoop, poo, poots, crap, strip, carrion

and, you may be happy to learn


And do you want to know what got me a-ponderin’ about procrastination, and the words one can spell from its letters? I realized that one can spell…pants.


And of course, realizing that made me want to come up with a full-blown anagram for procrastination with pants. It’s been tricky, but here are my candidates.

Croatian roi pants²

coir pants ration³

I think my best attempt is this one:

Rio pants action: R

¹ Actually, without inaction, procrastination would end up something like prorast. And where would that get us?

² Using the a French word roi, meaning “king.” Or alternately “Croation iro pants,” using a Japanse word, iro, meaning “color.”

³ Where coir is a fiber that might be a bit rough for pants.