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Gravatar Anxiety Disorder and the search for an online identity

29 Mar hippie change gravatar

Just for fun, or perhaps in some deep-rooted yet light-hearted passive-aggressive schadenfreudian slip (feel free to psychoanalyze and/or judge - your conclusions are probably right), this week I participated in Throwback Thursday on Facebook and uploaded a profile picture of my 22-ish year old self.

That was fun, but now it’s time to change back.

Whereas in real life, the change over the past 28-ish years has been gradual and natural, going from Throwback Thursday to Reality Friday (some things are just too serious to alliterate) has presented a challenge similar to one I’ve experienced with my struggle for identity as Hippie Cahier.

Regular readers (and again, I thank you beyond words for that) have noticed that I frequently change my blog theme, which is, of course, ill-advised if one is seeking to establish a brand or otherwise make oneself instantly recognizable. I have consistently maintained that I am consistently inconsistent, so the frequent blog theme change is either in keeping with that brand or it is simply further support of another consistent assertion, that I’m not here to sell anything.

Changing my blog theme has become almost a hobby, one far less expensive than redecorating the living room, not to mention easier on the knees.

Some may also have noticed that, especially lately, I’ve changed my “gravatar” or profile picture more frequently.  I, myself, am fascinated and/or amused at how much anxiety is behind the search for my online identity.

On both Facebook and the Hippie Cahier blog, I’ve been using a selfie taken just before a face-plant in the snow on my snowman-making misadventure a couple of months ago. Since we’ve all had just about enough of this winter, it’s time to change to something without a winter coat and scarf with barren trees in the background.

One very big obstacle to including an updated photo is the fact that I hate having my picture taken.

As a matter of fact, if you have  time to waste and you’re not into updating your blog theme, find a thesaurus, look up the word ‘hate,’ and find the strongest synonym.

Multiply that times googol and that’s how much I dislike having my photo taken, so much so that it totally derailed some offers for modeling jobs when I was around 18 to  22-ish.

I’ve considered trying another selfie, possibly sporting the new big, geeky reading glasses I picked up at the dollar store, based solely on a rare  compliment from a boy whose opinion shouldn’t matter but, for reasons that shall forever elude me, does. But that would require more effort than I’m willing to expend.

I got a belly button ring when I was 36. My father died a few months later. I am haunted to this day by the notion that there is some connection between these events.

I got a belly button ring when I was 36. My father died a few months later. I am haunted to this day by the notion that there is some connection between these events.

I recently played around with a fun “paper doll”-like program that I stumbled upon online, and came up with a teenager hippie cartoon, but let’s face it, I’m not a teenager, and my father would be appalled at that bare midriff. Appalled, I tell you.

After a good deal of thought, I’ve decided on two contenders for the “real” hippie gravatar and some reasons for rejecting the other contenders:

One is the original picture I chose when I had every intention of remaining completely anonymous.  The hippie kid still has a place in my heart for the childlike adventure “she” represents.  That anonymity has faded slightly. I’ve met four of you and 75% of the time a pleasant off-blog acquaintance has been the result.

It’s that one-out-of-four experience that makes the hippie kid bittersweet for me.

Adorable, before she figured out that whole blonde thing.

Adorable and forever young


I’m searching for a summer Hippie and a more modern photo, so the one I used last summer should be in the running, but it’s not. Because it’s blonde Hippie.

It may not look blonde to most, but it’s at the beginning of another summer hair experiment, the second time I’ve tried seeing life through the eyes of Those Who Have More Fun. Turns out, I’m not really blonde. So not me.

Time and again, I come back to one true “Hippie Cahier” photo, which I’ve re-established as my gravatar, unless and until a good selfie of me in my geeky readers comes to pass.

One reason I’ve changed from this photo is that it is misleading because it isn’t current. It was taken at least fifteen years ago. In putting it back up, I thought I’d tell why it is perhaps my favorite photo of me as Karen, and fitting of me as Hippie Cahier.

The photo was taken by someone I knew for only a few days, but in considering why it is that this is my favorite image of me, it seems to me that he is one of the few men I’ve ever known who truly saw me.

Maybe if I’d known him for longer, that  would have changed, and maybe that’s the beauty of only knowing him — and of his only knowing me, if I’m going to be fair about it — for a few days.

When I think about why it is that this picture seems to capture “me,” lyrics  come to mind from Jackson Browne’s “Fountain of Sorrow,” which is a more depressing title than the sentiment I intend to suggest.

I wasn’t posing for the photo. I didn’t know the camera was out, which probably would have changed the shot entirely.

" . . You were turning 'round looking to see who was behind you and I took your childish laughter by surprise. . . "

” . . You were turning ’round looking to see who was behind you and I took your childish laughter by surprise. . . “

The story of how we came to know one another, and for only that few days,  is rather tangled and hard to follow. He and his teenage son and a friend were stopping over in DC on their way from their home in Europe to a vacation home in the Bahamas. I ended up showing them around on behalf of a shared acquaintance who was unexpectedly called away. Of the three, the photographer was the only one fluent in English. He acted as translator during our adventures.

That morning we’d done some sightseeing and brunch in town and had gone swimming in the afternoon. They tried to teach me to juggle, much to all our amusement, and after a full day, we met up again for an evening outdoor concert.

Although I didn’t speak their language, I was at that time quite fluent in Teenager, and I’d heard “Coca Cola” coming through in the brooding tone of a boy who was not enjoying his summer holiday.

Just out of frame in this picture is that brooding teenage boy. I was laying out a picnic for us and had just opened the cooler and handed him a Coca Cola to a receptive and enthusiastic “Thank you!”

Just at that moment, his dad called my name, and I turned to the camera’s click, without a chance to think about how much I hate having my picture taken.

That evening is one of my favorite memories, free from everyday worries — except for the fact that I will never be able to juggle, listening to good music under a beautiful starlit sky after a picnic dinner and a busy day with friends that I didn’t really know.

At the end of our visit, we exchanged gifts — I gave them one of my prized personal possessions — ironically enough, a limited edition book of photographs —  and they gave me a set of juggling balls with a note tucked in that read, “Anything is possible.”

Making good memories with people I didn’t really know. That seems fitting for a personal blog profile.







Somewhere between the worlds of men and make-believe: thoughts on ‘flogging’ and interactive fiction

16 Feb What if I told you I'm not really a hippie?

I’ve been preoccupied with duality of late, particularly that of reality versus illusion and what has seemed to me to be a rapid blending of the two.  Recently my son started a thread on Facebook about the glitch in The Matrix, a thread that I can barely understand, except that it proves that our DNA and wavelengths are sufficiently entwined so as to transcend the 5585 miles between us.

" . . .like the songs that the darkness composes to worship the light. . . "

” . . .like the songs that the darkness composes to worship the light. . . “

I went to bed with all this on my mind and when I awoke this morning, the line, “Qui peut dire le faux et le réel?” (“Who can tell illusion from reality?”) from Dan Fogelberg’s “Dancing Shoes” was in my head, reminding me that questions about the blending of reality and illusion are not new, not even to me. I realized it has been years since listening to the album Nether Lands was part of my Sunday ritual.

I dug out one of the three copies I have ( I don’t know why I have three copies. Have I ever claimed to make sense? No, I have not.) and remembered again how fascinated I always was with the dualities that permeate everything from the album art — the dark and light of the chiaroscuro cover photograph – reflected in the self-portrait on the inside cover, the references to night and day, sun and moon, darkness and light, winter and summer, earth and sky, and most of all to reality and illusion.

Some of the reality versus illusion imagery is evoked even in song titles, “Nether Lands” (not Netherlands, but instead an in-between place that is not real and is not a dream); “Once Upon A Time” (the classic fairy tale opening); “Scarecrow’s Dream” (Scarecrows aren’t real; neither are dreams; the song is dedicated to Don Quixote (the dreamer), Walt Disney, and the Wizard of Oz); “Sketches” (depictions of actual things and people); and “False Faces.”

Visionaries and dreamers freely flow between reality and illusion. That's the point of having visionaries and dreamers.

Visionaries and dreamers freely flow between reality and illusion. That’s the point of having visionaries and dreamers.

There are frequent lyrical references to confusion, being lost “between the worlds of men and make-believe,”  to not knowing “what is real and what’s illusion,” with “pleasure . . . a thin disguise,” to being “certain of nothing,” not to mention plenty of references to faces reflected in water, including streams which appear to be frozen that “thirst for the thaw but they’re running still.”  (I love that conceit.)

If you’re a fan of The Eagles and you don’t know Nether Lands, it features appearances by Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and John David (JD) Souther, and the liner notes also thank Irv Azoff, who(m) you might remember from the recent “History of The Eagles.” Azoff and Fogelberg started out together, striking out from Peoria and heading to California, where the rest is, well, the history of The Eagles.

If you’re an Elvis fan or a Jimmy Buffett fan or just a music fan, Norb Putnam is also featured.  When I went looking for a link, I saw that he has an autobiography either pending or recently published. In December, Oxford American Magazine featured an excerpt about his relationship with Elvis, which you can read by clicking here.

All that got me to thinking . . .

The lyric from “Dancing Shoes” first came to mind during a long walk in the snow where my thoughts meandered to the hypothetical idea of a fictional “flog.”

A flog (the blending of “fake” and “blog,” which in turn is a blending of “web” and “log,” which just underscores my notion that blending is all the rage), also known as a “flack blog,” is defined as  “. . . an electronic communication form that appears to originate from a credible, non-biased source, but which in fact is created by a company or organization for the purpose of marketing a product, service, or political viewpoint. The purpose of a fake blog is to inspire viral marketing or create an internet meme that generates traffic and interest in a product, much the same as astroturfing (a “fake grassroots” campaign),” (Wikipedia).

Flogs are considered by the public relations status quo to be less than ethical means of promoting products or services, but what if your product is a novel or your service is fiction writing?

It has been said, and I agree, that all memoir is fiction. Every personal blog is the telling of a person’s life story as she or he experienced it.

Sometimes I come across a blog that has a “Choose Your Own Adventure,” interactive  feel to it, where the blogger feels like a main character and the commenters seem unwittingly to suggest the next course of action. The blogs are well-written, so much so that they could be the work of a professional writer.  Some storylines are so dramatic and entertaining it’s as if the blogger is a protagonist ripped from the cover of a romance novel or from the screen of a Lifetime movie event.

It’s just a thought. That happens when I walk.

Most memoir writers — which by extension can include personal bloggers — embellish or to some degree reconstruct or reconfigure reality in telling their stories.

But what if, in this boundary-pushing age, there were writers who created blog characters from pure fiction based very little on reality  — or perhaps on a composite reality gleaned from the stories told by the personal bloggers in their following.  What if the blog itself were  really more a novel-in-progress?

This led to my wondering how folks would feel if they found out a really fantastic blogger was in fact a fictional creation.

What if I told you I'm not really a hippie?

What if I told you I’m not really a hippie?

What if, say six months or a year into following someone’s wildly entertaining stories, a writer stepped forward to say that you’d been reading  the narrative of the protagonist to his or her new novel, thanked you for helping guide the plot, and invited you to buy the final work to see how it ends?

Would there be a sense of betrayal? Would you applaud the performance art? Would you feel honored to be part of some sort of pre-fan fiction experience?

Would it make a difference if the blogger/character endured life challenges similar to your own and the plot details were drawn from your experience?

Would it make a difference if, instead of a commercial endeavor, the flog were an academic project for a sociology class? For a creative writing class? For a marketing class?

Would the time that you’d followed the blog before the revelation make a difference?

Would the contrast between the blogger/character’s identity and the writer’s identity make a difference. That is to say, might your reaction to the revelation be different  if you were following a young, vibrant heroine who turned out to be the fictional creation of a young, vibrant female author versus finding out she was the fictional creation of David Shields (who advocates for blurring the lines and pushing the boundaries and co-author of the recent biography with “new revelations” about J.D. Salinger, the recluse who craved privacy) or James Frey (notable for having written a memoir that wasn’t entirely fact-based, duping Oprah Winfrey) ?

Would the experience change your own writing or your approach to blogging? Your interaction with other bloggers?

If you are a fiction writer or an aspiring one, would you yourself consider creating a fictional blog for one of your characters?

As with many questions I ponder while walking, I don’t know what my own answers to these questions would be. Certainly, the comments section is space-limited for sharing your answers to all of them.  If you’re interested in writing a related post, feel free to post a link here.

Meantime, I have more walking to do and perhaps a marathon viewing of The Matrix before calling my son.

Omedeto, Oma and domo arigato, all y’all!

3 Feb

It occurs to me that of the 1700-plus followers of this blog, subtracting out the 1650 that came by way of click-farm, there might be one or two of you who are confused about the  “OmaMania” post I re-blogged or the  #oma-ha media blitz on Twitter yesterday  In short, the video is a celebration of fellow blogger Omawarisan’s recent retirement.

Cheers, from #Oma-ha Girl, aka SusieLindau. Thanks, Susie! Chair-lift incoming - duck!!

Cheers, from #Oma-ha Girl, aka SusieLindau.
Thanks, Susie! Chair-lift incoming – duck!!

Here’s the longer version.

Searching for a place to put the thoughts inside my head, I decided to check out WordPress. Wandering through “Freshly Pressed,” I came across a funny piece recounting an experience with Target’s customer service, very similar to an encounter I had just endured, but presented in a much more entertaining manner.

Reading through the blog was like reading a Dave Barry book or a series of Gene Weingarten articles, or like eating a bag of Lay’s potato chips.  When I stumbled on his interview with the legendary Goat Man, I learned that we’d attended the same university at about the same time. It was like being a tourist in a foreign land and meeting someone from your neighborhood back home.

His was the first blog I followed. He kindly reciprocated and a small following of nice folks followed.  Because I was riding his coattails, readers responded to silly posts, but I’m sure many of you will agree that I’m not really a humor writer.  I’m forever grateful that he brought his humor and swagger and good people over here. I never expected to write such silliness — I’m often uncomfortable when I look back at posts — and I never intended to make “friends” here, but I have and I did and I blame him.

He started a fun project, sending an Angelina Jolie action figure to visit his blog followers around the world.

The Jolie rubs the nose of Testudo, the mascot of the University of Maryland. It's a Terp thing.

The Jolie rubs the nose of Testudo, the mascot of the University of Maryland. It’s a Terp thing.

At that time his gravatar was a headshot of the Japanese action figure, Gigantor. As a joke that would take too long to explain, I launched a counter-project, sending a Gigantor action figure around the world.

Last year he retired from a distinguished career in law enforcement. To celebrate that, we created a music video to raise a toast to Omawarisan, who has since shed his Gigantor image (and grown a lot of facial hair). If there’s even one real person reading this who hasn’t experienced a Blurt blog read, you should do that post haste.

Thank you, again.

The process of making the video was delayed several times, most recently when I was *this close* to getting it together and I lost everything when a virus attacked my computer.  I pieced what I hope was everything back together. If your picture was somehow excluded, please know that was not intentional and I apologize.

I’ve thanked them repeatedly but I can’t say it enough that the stars of the video are actually mega-stars. So, thank you, again, for rocking the Ray Bans.

I haven’t thanked Edward Hotspur, who without knowing it was my deus ex machina, in that he wrote a post about a sign-maker program that provided just what I needed to work out some final issues and provided publicity materials for the media blitz on Twitter. Thanks, Hotspur.

But, wait, there’s more!

This is a fitting time for the robot to retire, too.  The action figure is packed up, along with his very own globe with adjustable equator, a signature element of the coming Oma Administration (really, you have to read his Policies page. It’s impossible to explain what goes on in his mind).

As the robot has traveled, he’s carried a notebook. It contains retirement greetings from those who’ve kindly shown him around their own towns or taken him on vacation.  The robot and the notebook are on their way to you, Omawarisan.

Congratulations on your retirement and very best wishes for your new horizons. And as they say, write on.

The world is yours now, complete with adjustable equator.

The world is yours, complete with adjustable equator.

You can call me Meatball ™.

14 Nov tm

Recently I may have inadvertently offended another blogger in a casual comment. I have a special knack for doing that, especially these days when I’m peeking in on the fly and want to pay my respects by leaving a thought, without thinking through how that thought might be construed by someone who doesn’t know that I mean well.

All of this is to say to that person and anyone else to whom it applies, I apologize.

Yesterday I saw the story of Meatball on the news. Meatball’s story is just one example of what I was trying to convey in my comment on the topic of making money through blogging.

In the comment thread, I eventually I went, as I often do, to song lyrics, this time from perennial favorite, David Wilcox (the American one).  I quoted the following lines from “Sacred Ground,” which compares music to sex. I was extending that to writing, particularly this new trend of blog magazines, group blogs, many of which have the intent of becoming profit-making:

First, you do it for love/Then you do it with friends/But when you do it for money/Right there’s where the innocence ends.

I want to emphasize that I  wish everyone and anyone all the success they desire and deserve.

My point is that the game changes — and it’s no longer a game, or it can be an expensive one — when you turn just about any hobby or recreational activity into a profit-making venture.

Admittedly, I’m painting this with extremely broad strokes, but personal bloggers tend to get away with what could be construed (wow, that must be my word-of-the-day) as intellectual property violations that commercial enterprises would not.

Meatball’s story illustrates that point. Here’s how I understand it, based on the story on the CBS Morning News, which you can watch by clicking here.

What's not to love?  Photo from Lions and Tigers and Bears' website:

Pardon me, could you pass the parmesan?     Photo from Lions and Tigers and Bears’ website:

A 400-pound bear was seen meandering around Los Angeles and in at least one video he was seen eating meatballs, which earned him the nickname, “Meatball.”

A creative Meatball fan named Sarah Aujero set up a Twitter account in Meatball’s name and “gave him a personality.”  Meatball’s personality, courtesy of Sarah’s creativity, earned him a reprieve from being euthanized by the Fish and Wildlife Service.  Meatball Awareness (no tm, yet) earned Meatball a home at a San Diego wildlife sanctuary, Lions and Tigers and Bears.

Oh, my.

Then things took a turn. (If I had time, I’d insert a “ka-ching” sound, but I’d need to research the copyright issues involved.)

According to the CBS news feed . . .

“Aujero came to visit as much as she could and donated more than $2,000 to build Meatball a new enclosure through the sale of special t-shirts and tote bags. She eventually decided to copyright Meatball’s name, in hopes of a children’s book in the future, but that’s when it got ugly.

The animal sanctuary already had a book in the works and wanted Aujero to sign over the legal rights to the Meatball name.   ‘We didn’t want to get in a position where we’ve sold merchandize(sic) and then we owe somebody proceeds from it,’ said Brink.

Aujero told “CBS This Morning”: ‘It was never my attention to profit from Meatball. All I wanted to do was help save his life and share his story.’”

I’m not trying to squash anyone’s dreams, nor am I offering legal advice.  I’m not saying Aujero wouldn’t have been sitting across from Charlie, Nora, and Gayle humbly sharing her story of “just a simple Twitter feed that became a bestselling children’s book” while on tour promoting her children’s book. I’m not saying that the two sides won’t work it out to be mutually profitable between them, and the bear? Well, he doesn’t get euthanized. So there’s that.

I’m just pointing out that a group of folks entertaining each other on social media is one thing. Potential intellectual property violations seem to be overlooked all the time. But when money comes into the picture, things can take a turn pretty quickly.

Hopefully, creativity and fun and a passion for what you’re doing will sustain you. I just think it helps to go into it knowing that the issues can become complicated and expensive.

So, to you whom I offended, I apologize.  I truly meant well, and I wish you the best. I promise to be the first one to buy your t-shirt or children’s book or whatever comes from your dream coming true.


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