Monthly Archives: July 2013

Declaration of Dependence

why it's sometimes a good thing, and what we can learn from being dependent

(Remember to send me your Mad Quotations! So far, song lyrics are well represented. What else have you got up your sleeves?)

American Statue of Liberty from the back

CC image “Statue of Liberty” courtesy of rakkhi on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I’ve begun to think a lot about Dependence recently.

This is a change of pace. Generally speaking, I haven’t thought much about Dependence as a positive trait. I hadn’t considered it a virtue. It mostly surfaced as a counterpoint to a theme I’ve thought a lot about throughout my life thus far, namely Independence.

I’m not just talking about big geopolitical ideas of Repression versus Freedom for groups and in the political arena. I mean personal self-reliance, a sense of individual freedom, the concept that the individual is capable, and therefore responsible, for arranging the circumstances of their life. But before we get into the thorny issue of responsibility, a comment on the idea pair dependence/autonomy. You can take this pair any of a number of ways: physical dependence, which happens when we cannot care for ourselves physically in some way because we are ill or incapacitated, temporarily or for our lives; financial dependence, in which we rely on someone else to supply the money necessary for us to procure the things we need to survive, like food and shelter; emotional dependence; and so forth. So while there are variable permutations of dependence/independence, the root identifying characteristics are the same across all cases.

Generally, I’ve seen dependence as a negative, a burden. Worse yet, I’ve interpreted my own episodes of dependence as pushy neediness and a sign of personal weakness. I didn’t learn this from my immediate family; somehow I taught myself the Stiff Upper Lip principle. I am the oldest child in my family, and (on one side) the oldest of all my cousins, so I got to be a trailblazer by default. I was rewarded with lots of praise whenever I did something well. Perversely, instead of increasing my confidence, throughout my formative years I developed a sustained fear of failure.

An independent personality

Not every aspect of my life was fraught with such deep psychological angst, but if I was unable to do something or figure something out for myself, I got annoyed (with myself). I had something to learn, and pronto.

I don’t like asking people to do things for me. I don’t like owing people.

I can usually figure out how things need to get done. If I don’t know the answer right away, I probably know where I should go to find it. If you give me a task, I’ll take care of it  — and do it well — whether I have to stop at the beginning and sort out a few basic principles or not.

So where does this leave us with our current discussion of Dependence as a virtue?

I’ve gone through a lot of life transitions in the past year and a half. When I embarked on my adventure two thousand miles away across the country, I thought I’d be trailblazing. However, as with any good enterprise, there have been a number of substantial immediate challenges. To my chagrin, I’ve had to accept help, and, more often, ask for it.

I’ve found that Dependence is a great teacher. I’m having to learn — repeatedly, it seems — that it’s OK not to be perfect, and that no one is, overnight, anyway. Also, with each overlapping obstacle, I am learning that there are only certain aspects of my life that I have direct control over or even significant input into. Despite my being fabulous, transition is hard, and it takes time. It takes other people. So I am bumping into my own hubris. I’m learning that the ideal of the Rugged Individualist can be really selfish.

“Collaborator” is a reflexive term: it takes at least two.

Most of all, I’ve had to learn that accepting help can sometimes be a great gift to the giver. Whether it’s time, resources, or an actual physical gift, it’s a blessing to be giving. So I’m learning to accept with grace. Do I still want to be self-reliant? Well, I still would like to know how to fix my car. And I still don’t want to be a secretary. But if I have to learn how to receive now, in order that I can give like crazy later, I’d say that’s a fair trade.

Depend upon it.

What about you? Have you discovered any virtues in Dependence?

Will you play Social Media Mad Libs® with me?

graphic of notebook mad libs page

CC image courtesy of Aaron & Alli on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I have a confession to make.

When I first started on Twitter, I kind of overdid it with the retweeting. I searched for output on writing and inspirational quotes, and fell into a perfect vortex of quotables (how’s this for a QWERTY slip: on my first pass at the foregoing sentence, I typed “vortext” — a vortex of text, yar!).

I have another confession: as a child, I was a Mad Libs junkie. Yes, that Mad Libs. The game of ignorant word substitution, where one person knows the story and the other one supplies words to fill in the blanks. My friend T and I would play for hours, laughing ever more insanely as time went by. We quoted each other our literary outputs for weeks afterwards.

Now I have a mad plan to bring these two dormant fascinations together. But I want help. Will you be my enablers?

Quotations are cool, but they have their limits

As I said, I love quotes.

I’m talking about all kinds of quoted language: brainy quotes from magazine articles, insightful quotes from speeches, inspirational quotes from Zen books and Hallmark cards, cool language displayed in literature or by the literati, snarky quotes from pop culture, TV and movies, quotes about writing, quotes about seizing the moment, quotes about puns and wordplay, quotes about the metaphoric uses of coffee.

Written quotes. Spoken quotes. Scripted quotes and improvised quotes, quotes set to music and quotes a capella.

Before I knew it, most of my time on Twitter was spent obsessively chasing down, favoriting, and retweeting quotes of every description. I feasted on quotes the way other people feast on candy or chocolate or coffee or beer.

Somehow, I got a hold of myself. I pulled myself out of the narcotic haze of brilliant language written by other people, and I asked myself the hard question. Was anyone interested in listening to me quote?


Why was I retweeting the posts of other users which were themselves quotations by some third or fourth party — What was even remotely useful about this behavior?

We laugh better together

Mad Libs is not a game for the solitary. Its genius lies in the knowing collaboration between two people where one has information and the other knows their words will be twisted out of all proportion.

I had a stack of Mad Libs books. T and I re-used them so often, the pages where we filled in the words were divided into columns. Eventually we had to add looseleaf pages with additional columns. Sometimes we were innocuous: chair, clean, surprisingly, jumped. Often we went for the ridiculous, because we knew where this was all heading: toadstools, mutated, unbearably, exploded.

After the list was complete, we read the story results aloud to each other. The ensuing literature was without exception hilarious. (Really.)

Send me your quotes!

What I would like to propose is libbing on a grand scale, using the internet, and plugging into the great human propensity to hurl quotes at each other.

I am going to compose an entire story made up of unrelated quotations. And you’re going to help me. Our roles look like this:

You: send me quotations
Me: rearrange and string together.
Post it here.

What better use of quotations, digital media, and native human wackiness?

Here’s how you submit your quotes:

  • Post your quotes here, in the comments
  • Email [link] them using the contact form
  • Tweet to me @aocwrites using #DigitalMadLibs

Quotation submission cutoff will be the end of July, 2013.

Quotation guidelines:

  1. Quotes will be up to 20 words in length. No longer.
  2. No porn!
  3. No drugs!
  4. No gratuitous foul language! I’ll accept the occasional *$#@! when used for emphasis, and I reserve the right to determine what “occasional” and “emphasis” is.
  5. Topics and sources may include but are not limited to: famous sayings by famous people, inspirational, literary, business, movies, TV, sports, travel, stand-up, food, zombies, and music. Still don’t have any ideas? I’m sorry.
  6. Be as earnest or as silly as you like. The more we have of both category, the better.
  7. Include the source, if you have it. Just because I’m a nerd, and I’d like to have that information.

Maybe some of you will want to make your own Mad Libs stories? I’d love to see those!

Let the quote-libbing begin!