Facebook, Serendipity, Alec Guinness, and a Cat

What is Facebook good for?

After several years’ pondering, I have the answer:

Facebook is good for

  1. pictures of animals; and
  2. serendipity.

Français : Mon chat Guinness.
Français : Mon chat Guinness. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) By Jeanjeantende (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I wrote about #1 in an earlier post. If I could remember the blogger who prompted the generalization, I would give him credit. Unfortunately, when I wrote that post, his name had already leaked out of my brain.

Such leakage happens with increasing regularity.

Anyway, the reason for #1 is that pictures of animals make us happy. Videos  of elephants rolling in mud, a sloth petting a cat, (a long video because sloths pet slowly), a hamster wrapped in a blanket and eating a carrot–if these don’t lift the spirits, what will? Facebookers who share them aren’t empty-headed or cretinous or inane. We’re compassionate, caring, and kind. We have senses of humor.

Number 2 on the above list, however, I worked out for myself. Facebook exists for serendipity.

I first heard that word when the Serendipity Singers sang “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down” on the Red Skelton Show. That was a few years back.

Serendipity is the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. Horace Walpole coined it in a letter in 1754.

Walpole’s source was a Persian fairy tale: A king fears his three sons’ education has been too “sheltered and privileged,” so he sends them out into the world. On their travels, “they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of …”

This morning’s serendipity was an article about Grace Kelly and Alec Guinness. A picture of Grace Kelly is like a picture of a cat: it makes you feel better and possibly lowers your blood pressure.

But a picture of Alec Guinness is even better. Alec Guinness is the god of my idolatry.*

Recently, in another bit of serendipity, I came across a video of Guinness’ movie The Ladykillers on Youtube.** “Professor” Marcus, portrayed by Guinness, rents rooms in the house of sweet little Mrs. Wilberforce, telling her that other members of his string quintet will visit regularly to rehearse. Behind the closed door of the Professor’s room, while chamber music plays on a gramophone, the musicians plan to rob an armored truck and use Mrs. Wilberforce to transport the lolly. They don’t reckon with Mrs. Wilberforce’s parrots, her friends, or her penchant for serving tea. Or coffee, if they prefer.

The movie is laugh-aloud funny on several levels, but my favorite part is watching Guinness’s face as his expression changes from moderately crazy to deranged verging on maniacal. I’ve studied and still can’t see how he does it. A slightly raised eyebrow, a slightly lowered eyelid, an almost imperceptible change about the mouth?

Guinness was a chameleon. Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai, Japanese businessman Koichi Asano in A Majority of One, eight distinctly different characters in Kind Hearts and Coronets, Star Wars’ Obi-Wan Kenobi–none of these characters could ever be mistaken for another. It’s not because of makeup; it’s because of what Guinness can do with his face.

If only I had access to more photographs, I could prove what I say. The best way to check my facts is to watch the movie for yourself.

Unfortunately, the “full movie” version of The Ladykillers on Youtube lacks the very beginning and the very end. There are also versions available for a fee. I’m going to order a DVD, however. Old technology, but I want to watch it over and over, binge style.

And here’s more serendipity: Kiri Te Kanawa and Jeremy Irons–My Fair Lady in Concert. I hate to say it, but Jeremy Irons makes as good a Henry Higgins as Rex Harrison did. Te Kanawa? Loverly.


*Shakespeare wrote “god of my idolatry.” I’m just borrowing it.

**Not the version with Tom Hanks. The Tom Hanks version would not be serendipity.

Safe, Guilt-Free Online Resources for the Addictive Writer

Last night I did the unthinkable. Or the un-thought-out.

I stumbled upon StumbleUpon, joined, and stumbled upon websites I would be better off not knowing about. I could click click click for hours, and did. Quotations. The Pre-Raphaelites. Cats…

One site, however, has oodles of redeeming creative value–so many oodles, in fact, that I wanted to pass the word. Once I began, I thought of other worthwhile online resources that have been shared with me.

So here, beginning with the stumbledupon, are four places any writer battling a surfing habit can visit safely and without guilt.

Oneword offers a one-word prompt–and then sixty seconds in which to write–on the site itself. You can use the site free or join–free. If you join, you can submit what you’ve written to a members-only page. You also get access to the archive of words.

Oneword is social media site, if you want to use it as such. I’m interested in seeing what I can write in only 60 seconds. And in finding out whether I improve with practice. And in stumbling upon a few lines that spark an idea for a story. Here’s what I wrote tonight using the word placed.

Tacos (Photo credit: YardSale)


He placed the plate on the table in front of her.

Tacos? she said. They’ll crumble and spill all over my dress.

Why’d you wear white? he said.

Men, she thought. They don’t understand anything.

Write or Die allows you to set goals–# of words and # of minutes–plus consequences and a grace period if you fail to hit your targets. Choice of consequence and grace period comprise such words as gentle/normal/kamikaze/electric shock and forgiving/strict/evil.

I’ve used this site several times when I needed external stimulation; at one particular setting, if you pause too long to think, the backspace function starts eating the words you’ve already written. It’s fun if you’re not the anxious type. If you are, set it at the lowest levels. (Scroll down till you see the free Web App Online, unless you want to pay for a download to your desktop.)

Written? Kitten! (writtenkitten.net) gives you a picture of a kitten every time you complete your target word count: 100, 200, 500, or 1000. No restriction on time. Strictly reward, no punishment. No words are gobbled up. Great for cat lovers, but if cats give you the fantods, skip it.

Note that Written? Kitten! is a dot net, not a dot com like the other sites described here. If you look for dot com, you’ll find something you don’t want.

Rescuetime tracks the sites and programs you use and analyzes your productivity. To use the site, you must join, but it’s free. RescueTime gives you points (+, 0, -) for the sites you use during each accounting period. You can reset values–for instance, you may designate your blog site as productive for +2 points rather than as entertainment (social media, -2 points). You can also target when you want RescureTime to track–if you write in the afternoon, set it to track just the afternoon. Check how productive you are by by day, week, month.

There’s a great deal of information here, lots of graphs and charts, more than you need if all you want tracked is time you’re writing/not writing. Still, it can be an eye-opener.  So far, it’s told me I’m a first-class slacker, but that was less of an eye-opener than a confirmation. Which is why I’m using RescueTime.

Have you found any online resources that aid your writing or creativity? Would you share?

Day 10: Squirrels and seduction

Someone sent me a squirrel.

If I wanted to know who sent it, Facebook said, I had to send squirrels to sixteen other people.

I have more than sixteen FB friends, but I wasn’t sure they wanted squirrels. In fact, I was afraid they might be offended or, worse yet, think I was trying to attract undue attention. Or, worse than that, think I wanted them to send me a squirrel by return click.

I didn’t want to be unfriended over an unwelcome rodent.

But I wanted to know who sent the squirrel, so I tried to outwit the system. I clicked on three names–teenagers I thought might like being singled out for the honor–and sent them squirrels. Then I clicked on the link promising to identify my benefactor.

The resulting page complained that I hadn’t followed instructions. “Sixteen people” means sixteen people. I was thirteen short. Until I sent squirrels to those thirteen, my squirrel-giver would remain anonymous.

A footnote, however, contained an out. If I didn’t want to bestow squirrels on the majority of my friends list, but still wanted to know whence mine came, I could do so by acquiring Giftie Credits.

Curious, I pursued this option.

Curiosity waned when I discovered that Giftie Credits come with a price.

I could get 160 Giftie Credits for ten dollars.

Or I could perform certain actions:

  • subscribing to a DVD service would bring me 317 Giftie Credits;
  • participating in a trial of green tea would bring 455 Giftie Credits;
  • ordering a trial something-or-other designed to allay my fear of wearing a bikini next summer would net 380 Giftie Credits.

Because I get DVDs from Netflix, don’t care that much for green tea, and don’t own a bikini, I declined those offers.

The “FREE Slim Seduction Trial”–408 GCs–sounded interesting but didn’t seem practical, so I passed that up as well.

Instead, I slid the pointer up to the toolbar and flew to my very own Facebook Home page, where commerce does not dwell.

When I joined Facebook, I intended to keep up with family, friends, and my old paralegal school. I wanted to make professional contacts. I thought I might get in touch with former students and co-workers. I expected to read about piano recitals, graduations, and book signings.

I didn’t expect the squirrel.

And I still don’t know who sent it.

In fact, I haven’t even seen the little devil. I’m sure he, or she, is as cute as a bug, probably a lot like Perri on the cover of the Disney LP I had when I was eight. But I don’t know where he is or where he came from.

Not knowing isn’t acceptable. I want answers. I don’t like to be left hanging.

I shall try to be patient. Perhaps in time the craving will dissipate.

But if it doesn’t–if the desire to know becomes unbearable–I might be forced to check out the Slim Seduction Trial.

With 408 Giftie Credits, I could send a lot of squirrels.


“Squirrels and Seduction” appeared in Whiskertips in 2009. An updated, revised, and corrected version appears here at the request of my most ardent fan, who does not want to write a post from scratch tonight.


Image by Dave-F, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, via flickr.com.

Day 8: Connecting

My high school English teacher read the Day 7 post, the one in which I wrote that she told students we had important and relevant things to say.

That is the problem with blogging. At some point, you make a remark, a perfectly innocent remark, and the person you remarked about happens across it and reads it and calls you on it. Especially if you link the post to Facebook, and that person is one of your friends.

Anyway, said English teacher (who taught me in grades 8, 10, 11, and 12, so you see what we were both up against) asked whether she really said relevant and important, or whether she said, “Hush up and write.”

I admit it. “Hush up and write” was more her style.

And I really went overboard with relevant. I don’t think anyone I knew said relevant. It was one of those television words, ubiquitous and meaningless. The curriculum wasn’t relevant. School wasn’t relevant.

Relevant isn’t complete in itself. It needs something more. Relevant to what? And in whose opinion?

The 60s didn’t get to my part of Texas until late. And being as contrary then as I am now, I rebelled against the rebellion.

According to my husband, people should never send e-mails they wouldn’t want Ted Koppel to read on the air. David is correct. That goes for Facebook and blogs and all media, I’m sure.

Although I agree with his policy, however, I don’t follow it. Anyone who has read this blog knows that.

My one hope is that any potential employer who googles me and reads my work understands self-deprecating humor.

In other words, I’m neither as dumb nor as ditsy as I portray myself. Fiction is fiction and fact is fact, and in between there is irony.

If hired, I will be on time, work through breaks and lunch and do overtime, meet deadlines, take a personal interest in my work, and play well with others. I will spell correctly and use the serial comma. And I will not write about you on my blog.

I’ve been thinking about starting every post with that paragraph. Especially the post about my hereditary tendency to burn toast.

Although I write about my flaws, or pseudo-flaws, I am a private person. I want to choose what I tell and when and to whom. I don’t appreciate Facebook’s rabid desire to help me extend my social circle. I really really don’t appreciate Facebook’s sharing my information and not telling me, or making it difficult for me to lock down information I don’t want to share with people I don’t know.

There are days when I would like to close the account completely–as if that were possible, given FB’s determination not to delete it–but I’m in too deep. Closing out of FB would be like disconnecting both the telephone and the television. I don’t use either appliance very often, but giving them up would put me completely out of the loop.

No more pictures of Kenna wearing her little pink hat and grinning.

No more surprise messages from students I haven’t seen in years.

I’ve had the good fortune to “connect” with two women I first knew when they students. They were back-to-back winners of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest, Young Adult Division. One has signed a book contract with a publisher. The other recently signed with an agent.

When their books come out, I’ll be jumping up and down.

I hope the high school from which they graduated will honor them by inviting them back to speak to current students. I hope the elementary and middle schools do the same.

I hope the school district makes a BIG DEAL of their accomplishments.

Let me say that again.

I hope the school district makes a BIG DEAL of their accomplishments.

Not for the writers’ sake, but for the sake of children who need to see that telling stories is important, that publishing a book is an event to be celebrated, that kids who once sat in those same classrooms grew  up to be writers.

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