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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Sunday (2/29/04)
On the seventh day, blog rested.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Speaking of Dreams
This will do the dream job for you...

Dream Jobs
Occasionally, some enterprising soul asks "what kind of work are you looking for?" Some will even ask, "what is your dream job?" I used to answer, "Pop Star" as my dream job, but recent events have caused that job to be far less than ideal. I'll have to fall back on "Country Star" for a dream job in the music category.

Because that's the problem, isn't it? So many jobs look so intensely glamorous from the outside: who is to know what kind of a slog or pressure-cooker it is on the inside? But we can all dream, so here are three of my dream jobs by category:

Cosmetics and Beauty: OPI Nail Polish Color Namer. It can probably be heard in any manicurist's shop on any given day - women saying silly things like, "Do you have Maine-iac Mauve?" or "We did Chick Flick Cherry last time, but I think it was too red." In a masterstroke of marketing, the OPI cosmetics company has the absolute goofiest nail polish names on the planet, and yet they also possess a sort of loony poetry. Each season, OPI releases a new collection of colors under a single, central theme (mostly travel-related). Some colors are easier to visualize from the name than others - for instance, their "Greek Isles" collection contains the easy-to-imagine "Aphrodite's Pink Nightie" and my personal favorite "Oedipus Redipus." Less easy to figure are "To Eros is Human" and "Calling all Goddesses." The names are probably picked by committee, but in my fantasy I would get the joy of defining the categories and the names, with the extra added bonus of being able to get manicures and listen to the giggles caused by my invention.

Radio: Foley artist. Foley artists add sound effects - they work in movies too (think the squishy "guts" sound in most horror movies - I understand it's created by eviscerating squashes and pumpkins), but I would love to work in radio where the sound really makes the scene - without visuals, you've really got to be good. As far as I know, there is only one foley guy working in radio today and that is Tom Keith of A Prairie Home Companion. He gets to do character voices as well - does this guy's fun never stop? Tom, need an apprentice?

Television and Film: Muppeteer. I envision a new star in the muppet firmament: a blue furry alien with green, feathery fronds and a long, bent snout. Sort of like a cross between Gonzo and the Yip-Yips. She would have a high, scratchy voice and think she is a dog, much to the consternation of Rowlf, of whom she would be enamored. In a crazy, love-triangle-like twist, Beaker would harbor a secret crush on her.

Or I would settle for animating an anonymous chicken.

Friday, February 27, 2004

You're on your own with Mom and Apple Pie
Here's a baseball glossary for all you other baby fans.

More Signs of Spring
It is sunny again and the weekend is nearly upon us. On Monday it will be March. Again, I am thinking of spring - but I am going to have to share something deep and dark with my Dear Readers in order to write today's entry. I started an FAQ yesterday, and one of my rules is that I don't discuss religion or politics on WoT?. Warning: this essay is going to skate as near as possible to that limitation - actually, both of those limitations. Here it is, I confess: having grown up in New England and never giving much thought to it until recent years, somehow I have in me the beginnings of a Red Sox fan.

Anyone who has met a real, rabid Red Sox fan (call me "Sox Lite") knows that my comment about politics and religion is not funny because it is flip: it is funny because it is true. Being a Red Sox fan is probably closer to belonging to a religion than a political party: those who have sent many prayers to St. Jude can surely sympathize with our plight year after year. But Sox fandom does have its political side: the ideology of the Sox is generally considered to be diametrically opposed to their wealthy, Series-Winning neighbors. Religion and politics mix when some Sox fans, in a sort of possessed fit, seem to find it necessary to denigrate those neighbors with a slightly profane (and factually untrue) chant. But religion teaches us to love the sinner and hate the sin, while politics teaches us we must endure those strange, babbling bedfellows.

So, there are a few things that are puzzling to me about the nature of this nascent Sox fan stuff. The first is the nature of competition and fandom itself. When I don't play, know nobody on the team, don't live in the area any more, and will get nothing out of a win (even bragging rights: as far as I'm concerned, if I didn't win it, I shouldn't go on about it), why do I care? Perhaps, in fact, it is because I don't live in New England any more. I get to connect with a genuine New England tradition without battling the Big Dig, worrying about parking, or shoveling New England snow in the off season.

The second thing that puzzles me is televised baseball itself. Going to creaky old Fenway, with its Green Monster, wooden seats and vendors screaming "Pop-CAHN!" is an experience. In contrast, I used to find watching baseball on TV only slightly more involving than watching golf - or grass grow. Take your pick - I find them to be remarkably similar. Growing up, I avidly watched Bird, Parrish & McHale (and whichever other two guys might have been on the court) blast the Celtics past their rivals with artistry, teamwork and speed. It seems about five percent of the game of baseball is about speed. Perhaps it's just me that is slowing down. Pro basketball's lament for the past 20 years or so has been that it is so much about speed that artistry and teamwork are completely gone. As I get slower, basketball gets faster and finally the game might just as well be gone, it's so far off on the horizon.

So perhaps, in my Jilly-come-lately way, I am just finally seeking connections: connections to those I love and left behind in New England, connections to a vast and long tradition in a grand old stadium (which unfortunately will probably go the same way the Boston Garden did), and connection to a quirky legend.

Or maybe I'm just glad we're not quite as nuts as those folks in Chicago.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Imagination - Don't Leave Home Without It
Down, and then Out, in Paris
I used to be terrified of public transportation. Growing up in the woods of New Hampshire, "public transport" is getting your friend's mom to organize a carpool. So as a result, when I started spending time in cities I was at a distinct disadvantage. I have a theory that beyond a certain age you lose the ability to learn to read a bus schedule. I still cannot decipher the timetables, and the route maps tend to lack the most basic landmarks and other context. Besides, buses are prone to any of the ills that cars are (traffic, detours, etc.), so I've never really thought they were a good solution.

I like metros much better, although the occasional long stop underground is enough to make the hardiest soul into a confirmed claustrophobic. I have, however, traveled on some of the best (and less-than-best) metro/underground/subway systems in the world and I generally like them quite well. They don't detour, they are generally unhampered by traffic and they tend to be speedy. Also, they don't tend to have schedules for me to peer at in puzzlement.

My hatred of buses was cemented many years ago in Paris. I was a college student, studying in London and taking my semester break. I was traveling with one set of school friends and staying with another set of family friends who were living in Paris at the time. I had gone off for dinner and a walk around the city with one of my traveling friends. After dinner we had walked until we stopped in front of a bank (when you live abroad but still have all your fiscal ties to the motherland, you check exchange rates constantly). Our American voices attracted the attention of another pair of American tourists, and we stopped to chat. Our group also unfortunately attracted the attention of a sinister-looking, very drunk Frenchman who informed us that he had just emerged from prison. Since they had shaved his head in prison, he objected to one of our new friends' long hair and he was getting more agitated by the second. Our situation seemed similar to being handed a grenade with the pin out - we didn't know how to get rid of him without setting him off. After a few moments, a kind Frenchman intervened and managed to steer the sinister man away.

We managed to stay out too late that night, and we all had to scatter to get to the various places we were staying. I managed to get about halfway to my friends' house on the metro when it abruptly closed. I was told to go upstairs and catch a bus. It had been an unusual and at times a frightening evening, but now I had real terror. A bus? Great. I would never get home. I am hopeless with bus schedules in English. If I tried to cope in French? They would find my skeleton leaning against the bus shelter, hollow eye-sockets still staring at the laminated timetable.

The bus stop above the Metro was in front of a seedy-looking bar in a part of town I wouldn't have chosen to frequent. As I peered at the bus schedule with an utter lack of comprehension, various men entering the bar called out to me to join them. Ignoring them and anxiously continuing to scan the schedule for some semblance of a clue, I was directly approached by someone who growled the French equivalent of, "Don't I know you?"

It was our friend, the shaven-headed ex-con from earlier in the evening. He was considerably less drunk than the last time I had seen him, and looking at me the way I look at bus schedules, searching for recognition. In another couple of seconds he might remember - I took refuge in a speedy assumption. Hoping he mistook my fright for bovine vacuity, I said in a flat, loud voice, "What? Sorry. I don't understand. American. I'm A-MER-I-CAN. Nuh comprenny pah. I... don't... speak... French."

Success! He looked at me with the disgust of a Frenchman faced with a foreigner who has the temerity to visit his country and not learn the language. Turning on his heel, he walked away, muttering under his breath.

I abandoned any idea of taking the bus. "Taxi" is part of the universal language.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Spring is Always Here
Weather Report
There were smatterings of snow yesterday.

For those of us who have spent the greater portion of our lives in the snow belt, this should not necessarily come as a surprise. The calendar hasn't even flipped to March, though some of you (you know who you are) have surreptitiously peeked to see the hope of spring that March's calendar page coyly hints at. In New England, March's coy hints run to mud and the occasional blizzard, just to keep you on your toes. In Minnesota, mostly they skip the mud and stick to blizzards.

But in Maryland we've had temperatures in the fifties recently. Here, close to the Tidal Basin, warm weather brings thoughts of cherry trees fluffing out their branches in frivolous pink blooms and daffodils in huge yellow drifts along the Potomac. On Sunday, with sunny skies and a brisk wind we walked around Clopper Lake. True, there was still plenty of ice and clinging mud in the shaded areas of the path, but the last leg of our journey found us in sunshine bright and warm enough to make me wish my fleece jacket wasn't quite so cozy.

So when the snow arrived yesterday, plopping wetly down amongst the rain and melting immediately, I retreated into a clinically perfect state of denial. I, who pride myself on my New England stoicism in the face of cold, seem to have turned into a Mid-Atlantic type, eagerly awaiting the return of the warm weather months. Even the dog, who usually turns himself inside out if he doesn't get his daily exercise, seemed happy to stay inside by the fire yesterday. It's been a long, frigid winter for the DC area and I believe we've all just about had enough.

This morning, the temperature is in the twenties, but the sun is shining brightly and a glance at the forecast for the next few days shows the daily highs undulating through the forties, fifties, and even sixty on Sunday. No more snow is due.

I might just make it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

If You are Afraid of Flying...
...then do not look at this.

FAA Preliminary Accident and Incident Data.

Flights of Fantasy
I used to fly a lot - approximately once a week, twice if you count the outbound and returning legs of the journey. Aside from a lot of frequent flyer miles (artistically scattered among so many airlines as to make most of them virtually useless), an uncomfortable familiarity with airport concession food (those of you who complain about airline food have not flown in a long time - it doesn't exist any more), and a stunning ability to pack anything I might need for several days into a single wheelie carry-on, the experience left me virtually untouched either by special knowledge or insight.

You thought I was going to say something profound there, right? Trust me, commercial airline travel is a deeply shallow experience.

One thing I also never acquired was a fear of flying. I observed plenty of frightened passengers coping with their fear (white knuckles and prayer were commonly employed remedies), and I was startled plenty of times by a sudden drop or lurch, but I was never afraid in a sustained way. Little puddle-jumpers with their 22-year-old pilots didn't frighten me any more than massive passenger jets with an experienced, efficient crew. This may not argue for my intelligence, but at least I didn't spend hours in terror.

I may not have been afraid, but I was certainly uncomfortable plenty of times. At 5'7" I am not exactly a skyscraper, but I am surprised that my kneecaps still function, as they were jammed so often by passengers in front of me who reclined a degree or two. Seat cushions flattened by innumerable fluffy, junk-food fannies astonishingly didn't give me permanent spinal damage. Small children who sat behind me and rhythmically kicked my seat somehow survived the encounter. All of these tiny irritations made travel on commercial airlines uncomfortable enough for me to want to give up my job, but I had colleagues who were actively frightened by the experience, and they stayed.

What is it that causes a person to stay in something that frightens them? Are they looking for increased finger strength and spiritual uplift by constant, white-knuckled prayer? Or is the fear of leaving the job stronger than the fear of flying?

It seems that modern magazine articles (which you might think I have more time to read now, but that is one thing airplane travel is good for: consumption of disposable literature) advocate a policy of compromise in just about every troublesome situation. So, for those who want to keep those traveling jobs but hate the thought of being flung into the air in a giant metal tube, how about alternative transportation?

I'd offer to lend you my pony, but I still don't have one....

Monday, February 23, 2004

Never Be Stumped for Trivia Again
Welcome to the Year of the Wood Monkey
Losar, the Tibetan New Year, started on Saturday. We have Buddhist neighbors who informed me of this, and of its significance.

From the little I have been told and read, it seems like Losar represents the spring cleaning of the soul - not only are rituals performed to celebrate and encourage harmony and prosperity in the New Year, but apologies are made, good deeds are done and people try to start off on the right foot in every way. One passage regarding the activities surrounding Losar describes:

"The celebration of Losar begins in the days leading up to the actual new year's day. During this time, debts are settled, quarrels are resolved, new clothes are made, houses and monasteries alike are cleaned from top to bottom, walls are painted, stone steps are rubbed and oiled, and dozens and dozens of kapse (fried Losar twists) are made. The family's best carpets and finest silver are brought out. Good luck signs are placed in strategic locations. Butter lamps are lit. Flowers are placed on altars. Piles of juniper, cedar, rhododendron, and other fragrant branches are prepared for burning as incense."

This sounds about right to me: a literal and psychic house-cleaning seem to be the cure for what ails me. "Get your house in order," is the advice before embarking on a big endeavor. Our house normally feels like a happy haven: recent troubles have made it feel more like a tense, unhappy place.

So, pardon me while I celebrate my own belated Losar: I intend to clean, pay bills, throw the windows wide and let fresh, clean air run through our stuffy rooms. Let there be flowers, music, and sunshine. Today I will lose that worried frown that cannot help me in any new endeavor - such as finding a new job.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Sunday (2/22/04)
On the seventh day, blog rested.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Seventies Sesame-Street meets 2004 Technology
How wonderful - you can have your cell phone and Yip-Yip too....

Dispatches from the Feline Front
All is not quite well in the Smith Zoo today. Ben attacked Simon again yesterday, this time right in front of me. I was privileged to witness the fact that there was no provocation: just a random, violent outburst.

Ben ended up quarantined in the guest bathroom like Mr. Rochester's mad wife for the rest of the afternoon and evening. At night, we decided to pull the inoffensive critters into our bedroom and let Ben wander the rest of the house. Suddenly we're the Marshall family hiding in some Sid & Marty Krofft-created papier mache cave while the potentially murderous sleestacks roam about.

As Dennis Miller has said, "Stop me before I sub-reference again." (Poor Mac - yesterday he was Chewbacca and today Cha-Ka?).

Apologies - a night with little sleep has left Our Heroine puffy, tired and without too many coherent thoughts.

See you Monday.

Friday, February 20, 2004

File Not Found
A sidenote, perhaps to the art of nothing.

Something Tells Me It's all Happening At the Zoo
We have been accused of running a zoo. Indeed, a dog and three cats are more than we really intended, but until yesterday, there was an easygoing dynamic within the animal kingdom here. Simon, going on eight years old, is wise, calm and even-tempered: the Obi-Wan of the household. Dash, the baby, is the brash, cute, dumb-but-means-well Luke. For the cats, the large, furry dog is undoubtedly Chewbacca, roaring and growling in a different language, but game to enter into their adventures all the same.

And Ben, at six, is Darth Vader.

Before last night, Ben was simply a pain. When Simon was two and I started traveling quite a bit, I gave in to the "cat needs a companion" argument and got Ben. From the outset, Ben proved to be antisocial to humans and Simon hid from him in my tiny house for two weeks. I had hoped that a loving environment would penetrate Ben's armor at some point, but it never has. My husband John refers to Ben as "Catzilla," partly because of his personality (which resembles a warthog with a particularly bad case of piles) and partly because of his breath. We have both tried to rehabilitate Ben - it's not hard to try, as Ben is a beautiful-looking cat, but it is easy to finally give up, as Ben has never shown a marked affection for anything except his dinner.

Ben's irritating habits (yowling early in the morning for breakfast, swatting at the hand that feeds him, etc.) have caused us to try and find another home for him - preferably on a hobby farm where he's the only cat and doesn't have to interact much with any other critters - but so far we have had no luck. The local 'no-kill" shelter also has a waiting list that is months long. The natural ebb and flow of Ben's demanding nature made relocating him less urgent in recent weeks, but last night everything changed.

We had just come in from dinner out when I heard the blood-freezing sound of cats fighting in the basement. I launched off the couch and raced toward the noise, reminding myself as I pelted down the stairs not to do anything stupid - like put my hand in a cat fight. I found Simon hiding under the couch, and Ben in a hostile posture a few feet away. After I coaxed Simon out, he spent the next hour on my lap, growling and muttering to himself until he finally fell into an exhausted sleep. John found tufts of Simon's fur all over the ground floor, and while there was no blood, he had definite sore spots and had almost certainly been bitten. Dash, normally the most adaptable and affectionate of cats, had a bottle-brush tail all evening and would not allow himself to be held. Simon, having spent the night safely in our room (generally off-limits to felines), still starts and growls when the other cats go by.

I don't know what finally set Ben off, and if we can't find another home for him I really don't know what we're going to do. I feel as if we - as if I - have failed the zoo, either by not figuring out and giving Ben what he needs to be a gentle cat, or by not removing him from the house soon enough. If Ben were a human, I doubt he would be found competent to stand his trial, but there are no state homes for lunatic cats.

Somehow, I don't think The Force is going to help me with this one....

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Take a Number
Apparently, I am worth $7.08.

Create your own Bar Code!

Know Thyself
I went to a high school that was very keen on the concept of individuality. Of course, when you get a group of teenagers together you usually get one of two things: rampant conformity or rampant oddity. We had both: a common joke was, "Go to C.A. and be an individual just like everybody else."

Individuality as a concept is something of an oddity itself. Organic creatures can't help being different. We're all spun out of the same four little DNA bricks, but limitless combinations ensure we all end up unique. And yet there is something in most humans that aspires to a herky-jerky Stepford sameness at many points in our lives. In times of stress or upheaval, conformity looks like a safe haven. People will accept you for what you look like or sound like, rather than questioning who you are. Snuggle back into the values and priorities of the society you have chosen - be it a school, a family, a corporation, or a town - and disappear.

So, in adolescence (is there a time of greater stress and upheaval?), we found ourselves "conforming" to the priority of individuality. And yet, as different as we all started out, there was a startling sameness to our attempts at expressing difference. Small children have vivid imaginations, but teenagers seem to have very little. We splashed out in the most boring ways imaginable, mostly having to do with clothing and appearance. Since it was the mid-eighties, the results were both horrifyingly predictable and grotesque.

Both adolescence and the 1980's make for cheap jokes. But have we changed much as adults?

It seems that in adulthood, despite the potential for greater choice and latitude, the requirements for conformity seem to grow greater. Workplaces require a certain type of dress, political parties seek consensus, families have expectations based on history and tradition. Each departure from these requirements and expectations entails trade-offs, compromise and consequence. Conformity is often easier. It's appalling to me how often I seem to match my demographic profile. Despite a unique weaving of DNA, an offbeat education, and a somewhat random career path, I still find myself liking things from the Pottery Barn. Horrifyingly predictable and grotesque, indeed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

...And They Will Rule the World
I'm convinced that these guys know everything.

Terra Incognita
Setting yourself to a daily task is like starting a long journey: you know where your initial steps are going to take you, but in fairly short order, your map reads, "Beyond Here Be Dragons," and you are on your own. In my case, I knew I wanted to write: I have always said I wanted to write, so looking for work gave me a good opportunity to put my laptop where my mouth is.

The mapped, known part of my journey probably only lasted for about three days. Faithful readers have probably already figured that out, because on the fourth day of writing I started to write about nothing. And later on, when I was completely stuck for a subject, I got self-referential on the subject of nothing.

It has turned out that the writing itself is only one element of the journey. Because of technology, suddenly my map has three dimensions instead of two. Deciding to make the leap from the safe, shrink-wrapped world of an off-the-shelf solution to my publishing desires and go to a self-hosted one has changed things. The dragons are not flat, decorative line drawings on a bit of tattered parchment. Rather, they're looming, 3-D critters who rumble and snap. They may even be learning to breathe fire (I could swear I heard one say, "Just wait: if she thinks she's going to get her logo up and running on every page, she's going to end up crispier than a briquette!")

I have a brave knight or two who can help me with some of my problems - but I am a Modern Heroine and I do try and help myself as much as I can. I eschewed long, flowing skirts for sturdy jeans on this journey. My friend Mark gave me a fencing lesson with Netscape Composer and my husband lent me a few wicked-looking HTML books to shield me from cranky dragons. With some help, I am standing on my own two feet, ready for battle.

Now, if I only had a trusty steed....

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Recycled Commerce
Support recycling - this group does!

The Third Bird Carnival
I heard a piece on NPR yesterday in which a Filipino poet explained the premise of his new book. He had apparently mis-heard the lyrics of the Johnny Rivers song, "Secret Agent Man" for years. He thought it was "Secret Asian Man," and it struck him as particularly apt, even after he learned he was mistaken.

There is something inevitably human in misunderstanding song lyrics - especially when it comes to rock. It is a universal story - just about everyone seems to have their own reconstruction of some popular song and usually the misunderstood lyrics are ridiculous to the point of absurdity. Somehow our brains seek to come up with some string of words that fit the sounds you can pick out, no matter how ludicrous. I was once given an anthology of misunderstood song lyrics, appropriately entitled, "'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy."

In my own story of misunderstood lyrics, I don't even have the excuse of thumping bass or yowling electric guitars to explain the misunderstanding: instead, I have to blame two factors: youth and context. I was about three years old and it was Christmas time. Those who know me know that I sing - in the car, around the house, to the animals - but those who have known me for a very long time know that I sang long before I could read. My mother couldn't sing me lullabies - she has a beautiful voice, it wasn't that I was a baby music critic - the problem was, as soon as she would begin singing, I would join in and delay going to sleep.

So, Christmas 1972. I was in church with Mom, and I was singing with all my heart along with the rest of the congregation. Suddenly, my mother started laughing. I was worried: had I hit a wrong note? What was so funny? She was finally able to explain to me in soft whispers that the lyrics to the song were, "Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel..." My misconstruction made as much sense to me as "Secret Asian Man" did to the Filipino poet. I had been singing, "Free toys, free toys, Emmanuel..." I believe I thought Emmanuel might be a different name for Santa Claus.

Later on yesterday, after I had breakfasted with a friend and told her about the Secret Asian Man, we went into a Barnes & Noble. Another friend had reminded me of the existence of an omnibus edition of the works of James Thurber, and I wanted my own copy. Since I didn't find it right away, I sought out an employee - eager to help, but not familiar with the works of early/middle twentieth-century humorists. I explained what I wanted - I told him the title and added that it was a collection of works by the humorist, James Thurber. I spoke slowly and carefully. There was no musical accompaniment, rock or otherwise. He retreated to his inventory computer and typed swiftly. Perhaps he's a Secret Asian Man, because his search was for "The Third Bird Carnival."

Monday, February 16, 2004

The Zen of Line Art
I love this. This one is my favorite.

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous
As it is President's Day, a holiday for some and not others, Our Heroine is also splitting the difference: giving you a cheap cop-out of links, rather than an essay. Fear not, she will post the latest real work tomorrow by nine A.M.

Roses at Costco - 24 stems for $12

My stepbrother's photography

The wings at Hard Times in Bethesda

The Axelle Gallery - most specifically the works of Albert Hadjiganev

Art Nouveau

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston

Zabar's - especially their French Italian coffee.... "I'm awake!!!"

Hollis, NH (technically a place, not a thing, but who is quibbling?)

Joss Whedon's oeuvre (he would, no doubt, insist upon calling it an "oeuvre")

The books of Jane Austen - and since there are only six of those, also Georgette Heyer

Dyson vacuum cleaners

Rhymes With Orange - Hilary Price's dead-on observational comic strip

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Sunday (2/15/04)
On the seventh day, blog rested.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

A Card - just for You, dear "Writing, or Just Typing?" Reader....

Ode to a Hallmark Holiday
I used to be the self-styled Grinch of Valentine's Day. I was, of course, single at the time. I told myself that my bitterness was rooted in the commercialization of love, the artificiality of singling out one day out of one month (and my least favorite month at that) for celebrating relationships.

I also hated the fact that Valentine's Day made me feel like a spare part in the machine of society. There was no use for a single person in this day of couple-ness. Work colleagues received flowers, talked about how they would celebrate. They had flowers and dinner out: I had my normal routine. I resented that my normal single-person routine, my life and all of the choices I had made, were somehow considered tragic on this day devoted to non-singles.

Worst of all, my single state on this day made me feel like a wallflower at a high school dance: alone, unchosen and unwanted, standing on the sidelines and watching the more fortunate pairs. I reminded myself from sunup to sundown on February 14 that this was my life, these were my choices and I was fortunate in many ways. It helped, but not completely.

Now that I am happily married, I am still in some ways the Grinch. I still dislike the holiday for every reason I outlined. Additionally, like so many experiences which are stretched too far, Valentine's Day in all of its glory is too much for the senses. Too many clashing pinks and reds mixed with an overdose of sugar, tawdry love songs and the heavy scent of hothouse-forced flowers can overwhelm the the senses of the hardiest romantic.

But I have also found a small corner of the experience to like and appreciate, especially for those in long-term love. You can be reminded of the small things you once did when love was new and you treated one another as precious. The cup of coffee, brought without asking. Helping with a coat. The small ritual of holding a door. Even with the best of intentions, these small gestures fall away over time, as new love becomes the enduring love of the workaday world.

So, Valentine's Day doesn't need to be a big, commercial holiday. A grand gesture once a year is easy. Small, daily observances of consideration are more difficult, but they can begin again on February 14.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Get out and explore!
More Nothing
Varied responses have come back on my essay on "nothing." One apartment-dwelling friend has offered me "far more than $50" for aural nothing (he has a noisy upstairs neighbor). Another points out that Nothing was a very successful branding campaign in New Zealand. Additionally, there was a follow-up from the Kiwis: Buy Nothing Day. There is a nothing-inspired Christmas push underway as well.

Interestingly enough, much of this nothing-ness is consumer related. But literature has had its fair share of nothing. Truly, there is Nothing New under the sun. And, "Much Ado" included, much has been said in quotes about nothing. Television had a show about nothing. Many works of fine art have been derided as nothing.

Philosophy has its nothing. As does religion. In mathematics, nothing is a powerful concept.

The Internet also, of course, has plenty of nothing.

Some who have read to this point might suspect that Our Heroine is suffering a bit from that malaise known as Writer's Block. They would, unfortunately, be correct.

But - if one has writer's block, what is one to do except be clever about nothing?

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Over Here!
This is what you get when you use Google to find "Weapons of Mass Destruction" and use the "I'm Feeling Lucky" Button. Read carefully!

Thanks, Mel!

Courting Rejection
There are certain things in life that are regular, linear processes with definable results. You work through a progression from point A to point Z, and if a colleague stops you along the way you are instantly able to give him or her a GPS-perfect specification for where you are. "I'm at M," you might say. "I'm halfway through."

Then there are processes where the outcome is less certain, where progress is difficult to measure, where for all your efforts, the results have a certain randomness, an "I've won the lottery," kind of feel to them. When colleagues ask you for a progress report, you can certainly outline how much you have done, but that doesn't really tell you or anyone else how close you are to your goal. This type of endeavor leads many (if not most) human beings to experience stress, anxiety, and a certain feeling of futility.

Job-hunting and dating are both in the latter category. Both projects meander on until the stars line up in your favor. Both require you to spend some time on your own. Both will entail requests for status reports: "Found anything/one yet?" or the more vague, "How's it going?"

Worst of all, there is a whole cottage industry out there that insists you can turn both of these processes into a measurable, definable project. They insist if you only use their method, you will find a job or a mate in a defined period of time. Some even combine both. Using their "system," you will allegedly be able to tell those well-meaning folks in your life, "Well, I'm at mate finding step 3: you should be receiving the wedding invitation in four to six months."

Needless to say, this sounds rather suspect. You may be doing all you can to land that job or that mate, but the X factor is this: there is at least one other person in this equation who has to make a decision, and make it in your favor. The best salespeople in the world will tell you that things don't always go your way. So where does the certainty of these book-writers come from? Have they (perish the thought) made it up? Are they in fact authors of fiction?

There are whole government programs which exist to protect people from losing their life savings to scammers who prey upon their targets' fears. Perhaps a warning-label program would be in order here: "Warning: Thinking This Book is a Magic Bullet for your Problems Can be Hazardous. Cessation of Brain Function and Use of Buzzwords May Result."

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Dog or Pony Show
Glad to see the Westminster Kennel Club's Best in Show of this year isn't some silly little poofball....

Efficiency Expert
I was recently on an airplane. It's been a long time since I was on an airplane, though I used to be on one about every week. It reminded me of a few things about passenger life: for instance, passengers always complain about airline food, but they complain even more if it's not forthcoming. It also reminded me of something that used to make my shoulders tense up and my teeth grind together: the absolutely excessive and rampant use of entirely meaningless, superfluous syllables by cabin crew.

The cabin crew of an airplane is terribly fond of this phrase: "Please place all cell phones in the 'off' position." Now I ask you, what in the name of all that's holy does that really mean? First of all, notwithstanding Sprint's sometimes sketchy definition of "service area," there is no "off position" for my phone or any other phone I have ever seen. Moreover, cell phones have buttons, not switches (though a cell phone with a switch somewhere on it might have a retro-cool Lost in Space look to it), so even saying, "Please switch your cell phone off," would be technically incorrect. If you are currently rolling your eyes and saying, "You know what they mean," I ask you to bear with me for another, less grammatically compulsive question: where did this strange, tortured syntax come from?

I have publicly aired this rant before, and some have noted that the phrase in question sounds like, "Please assume crash positions," a time-honored bit of cabin crew script. But how can one phrase hijack an entire profession's use of the English language? When these people go home do they tell their significant others, "In order to achieve minimum negative emotional content from other inhabitors of this household, please place all food preparation utensils in their stowed positions"?

I have to admit that my outrage over this sort of language is not just a function of its grammatical faults, but also that it is an absolute waste of energy to produce and to hear. I not only understand the phrase, "Please turn your cell phones off," (5 fewer syllables), but it also leaves me unmoved. It doesn't make me want to ignore the TSA's warnings, unbuckle my seat belt, get up and inform the offender that their brain is not in the "engaged position."

You can get in trouble for that these days. Or so I have been informed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Four percent of the world is not enough
Money for Nothing and Your Kicks for Free
Recently, As The Apple Turns had an article about several tracks, each of which could be bought at iTunes for $0.99. All together, these tracks entail 6+ minutes of total and utter silence, worth $8.91 US. If you also get the "clean" versions (three of the soundless tracks are, apparently, marked "EXPLICIT"), you can pay another $2.97 for Pat Robertson and Tipper Gore-approved silence.

In and of itself, that's an amusing little nugget - but it got me considering how many other "nothings" we pay for day to day. We've gotten used to paying more for water than for water with sugar in it. You can pay a mint for shoes that look like they're not there. Cell phones are getting small to the point where they hardly exist, yet somehow they cost more and more. Probably because they keep including services nobody wants. You can even go to a bar where the bartender slings air instead of cocktails.

The audio "nothings" don't end with tracks filled with sonic absence - "noise canceling" headphones cost a mint compared to regular headphones.

Years ago, "nobody" would pay for television. Now, if you're not paying at least $40 a month for 100 cable channels (most of which are broadcasting nothing at any given time), you are definitely not keeping up with the Joneses.

It's not particularly amazing that people are asked to pay for these things: marketers have been successfully selling nothing to the public since long before the pet rock. But has there ever been a time before where so much of the world shelled out so much so regularly for nothing at all?

What a privileged life I'm leading - aside from the dog occasionally tearing around the house, there's plenty of silence here. Come on over - hits of live acoustic absence are only $50 for five minutes....

Monday, February 09, 2004

Disturbing Advertisements
Apparently, the idea for the Quiznos singing hamsters came from this (be patient - takes a while to load). And he has done a lot more.

I Am Much More than my Job
There is a concept in art called negative space. It entails looking at the area around an object in order to see the outline of an object more clearly. The concept has been described as what happens when Bugs Bunny runs through a wall: Bugs leaves an outline of his body (ears and all) as a hole in the wall. The wall is the negative space - you can recognize Bugs by what he leaves behind.

Negative space is both visually interesting and aesthetically appealing when done well, but it has its limitations. Basic recognition of shapes can be achieved, but many details are lost.

When someone asks me "what do you do?" I feel as if they are asking me to define myself via negative space. When I had an answer for "what do you do?" that answer provided an outline of what I was (and also a vast space around that outline - what I was not). But while that answer might have provided the answer to what I was, it never really addressed who I was. In addition, a person's career is often one of the least interesting facts about them.

I would like to propose a new list of questions we can ask as a follow-up to, "What do you do?" that strike a nice balance between seeking interesting information and being noninvasive. It would be too much to ask to actually replace that question, as it has become one of the approved polite initial inquiries, but after those preliminaries have been cleared away what else should we ask one another? What will fill in the details of that outline?

"What are you reading these days?"

"Do you have any pets?"

"What do you plan on doing when you retire?" (a potentially interesting question for those who are nowhere near retirement)

As a side note, for college students, "What is your major?" is the college-age version of, "What do you do?" however; finding out what someone did major in in college might be an interesting question. It's amazing how many people majored in things that bear no resemblance to what they are doing now.

What are you good at?

What do you enjoy?

If you think of interesting questions, send them to me (via the Feedback link below). If I get a good list of them going, I will post them later on.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Sunday (2/8/04)
On the seventh day, blog rested.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Deep Freeze
I found out by accident that my Alma Mater is involved in a rather cool project. It got me thinking about a few things: slippery slopes, the rush to stop people from "infringing" upon something that you created, and a general lack of proportionality in our reactions to a lot of things (and no, I'm not going to talk about the Super Bowl).

It's His Fault
Mark was the one who encouraged me in this habit. Blame him.

My Husband Owes Me a Pony
I played soccer last year. I was hit in the face, at close range, by a soccer ball. Twice.

The first time, the ball was kicked by an opposing team member 2 weeks before my wedding. Thanks to the quick action of my friend (and de facto team doctor) Alicia, I had a small bruise that was gone long before The Big Day.

The second time, I had been married for a few months and the kicker was my husband. Luckily, Alicia was again on the scene with the ice. As John was the offender, Alicia suggested I could have "any piece of jewelry" I wanted (now that I think of it, Alicia's Indian - in India, they measure jewelry by the gram: I wonder how many grams she was thinking of?). As I was led off to our car, I muttered, "I don't want jewelry. I want a pony." You have to mutter when you have an ice pack on your eye. It's mandatory.

My mutterings were met with the sort of amused acceptance you give to a tired, cranky child - especially if you're the one who kept the kid up too long in the first place. Nonetheless, my husband acknowledged that a pony was an acceptable price to pay for making your wife look like a boxer who went down in the second round (even inadvertantly).

I still got a great, big black eye, ice pack or no ice pack.

I still have no pony.

I could use a pony right now - I have a lot of free time.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Musings on Massachusetts
I found this Washington Post editorial interesting and a good challenge to intellectual laziness.

"Oh, that would be great - but I'm so busy."

"I feel terrible that I haven't called you back - I've been incredibly busy."

I do believe busy is the most overused, and possibly misused, word of our time. And yet, sadly underused as well - if you check the dictionary definition of the word, we almost exclusively use definitions 1 and 2. Four is occasionally used, but mostly by people describing tacky wedding dresses. And 3 is almost never used.

"Busy" is the centerpiece of most modern Americans' personal marketing campaigns. Telling someone you are busy (especially in the context of your work) instantly elevates you, especially if the person you are talking to is less busy. Busy can mean many things: I am in demand, important, productive, exhausted, giving, on the go. Its subtext to the listener is often more sinister. It can mean: you are not important, unproductive, a slacker. Every thing that the busy person is, you, in contrast, are not. Anyone with a personal life is definitely suspect: they are surely not busy enough.

The fact is, and we all know it, many of these claims of being "busy" are just so much bull. I know of several companies where the business plan is very likely, "Tell everyone how busy you are, do a lot of nothing." But it is somehow the height of rudeness to say, "Busy how? What have you been doing?"

It is a fact that some protestations of "busy" are legitimate. At certain times in our lives, we are so overloaded, so stressed, have so many demands placed on us, we really are too busy. It's at those times in my life when I hear "busy" come out of my mouth and I feel like a liar, even though I know what I am saying is in fact the truth.

Is "busy" the new "it's not you - it's me"?

Self-discovery: be careful what you wish for
Right off the bat, let's get one thing straight: I asked to be laid off. I'm not on a humorous victimization trip like OddTodd (though I do think his work is inspired), I'm not bitter about my former employer. Having gone into this with my eyes open, I made plans: I would ensure that the dog's training was complete. I would do yoga every day. I would ensure I made real, visible progress towards getting a job every day. I would brush up my rusty French. I would spend this precious, paid-for time in noble, honorable - well, at least productive - pursuits.

A fact about self-discovery: it rarely arrives in the abrupt manner of an after-school special ("Gee, Trixie - I see now that I was wrong to [fill in the blank]!"). Rather, it catches up with you slowly, in the manner of a cautious friend who wants to point something out to you but doesn't want to piss you off. "Er, Jill - do you realize that you used that rationalization yesterday?" Enough of those mild, seemingly innocuous questions and the dawning realization that you are a slacker slowly nudges itself into your conscious.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. In expecting to fill every precious moment with self-improvement, I burned myself out and now fill too many of those moments with the daytime programming on BBC America.

I suspect that's a rationalization, too.