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Thursday, September 30, 2004

An Interesting Idea...
...Even if probably nobody agrees on the results.

Yes, I'm Late. Blame the Zoo.
Today's title does not refer to the National Zoo this time. It refers to the Smith Zoo - Simon, MacIntosh, and Dash. We took the entire megillah to the vet's this morning for their annual checkups and shots. (No, two adults are not necessary for this operation, but it is very helpful when you're dealing with all three critters at once). I had, of course, forgotten about this quasi-military maneuver until John bounced on the bed this morning, mewing like a kitten and acting entirely too energetic for 7:00 AM.

But, it was a lovely misty morning, and despite a suboptimal level of caffeine in my system, we did get the zoo boxed up (in the case of the cats) and loaded up and off to the establishment of the Drs. Scott and Nessim with relatively little fuss and fanfare. The elder Dr. Scott, as usual, complimented our lovely menagerie on their bright eyes and handsome coats (it is such a pleasure to have your animals cared for by one who obviously likes and is gentle with all of the animal kingdom), shots were given and everyone was loaded into the Zoo Bus and brought home.

So, now I am home and I apologize for the lateness. Best to all this Thursday morning.

Metro Me Out to the Ball Game
DC's getting a baseball team. I'm looking forward to this - it will be great to be able to go to a ball game on a weeknight without taking the whole day off to do it.

Predictably, Peter Angelos, the Orioles' owner, has played hardball and gotten some concessions from Major League Baseball. I've found this more than a bit irritating, personally. Chicago has two teams, New York has two teams. He doesn't think that Baltimore and the entire DC Metropolitan area can support two teams? If he doesn't, he's ignored the region's growth. If he does, he's being disingenuous and greedy. I like his ball field - we've seen some great games at Camden Yards and had some really good times. But I'm not sure I'm crazy about supporting him after the hissy-fits he's thrown over this issue.

Now, one of the big controversies is picking a new name for what will have been the Montreal Expos. Thirty-three years ago, the Senators left DC for Texas. So, many want to see the new team take the field as the Senators once more. Others probably feel that readopting the old name might be some sort of bad luck or bad karma for keeping a ball team here. In this NPR essay (audio link), Ohio Congressman Sherrod Brown suggests a name that really reflects the "heart" of the region - not the Presidents, the Senators, or any other legislative name. He proposes the Lobbyists.

Hm. Ick. Other ideas?

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A Deep and Abiding Loathe
Anyone who knows of my ongoing battle with and hatred for the "package delivery service" known as UPS will know why I find this funny. Also sad.

"Simultaneously Overwhelming and Trivial"
In the comments to yesterday's post, Yami complimented me on the construction now used as today's title. She thought it was a "cleverly succinct" description of blogging (thanks, Yami!). She then went on to say, "Blogging as an eclectic and inclusive medium doesn't fit in such a [pre-existing, traditional] narrative, ergo the wider blogging field isn't considered newsworthy."

No, it doesn't. And that is really the point. Yes, the larger world of blogging is "overwhelming and trivial." In other words, it's like the rest of real life. Cf: Mimi Smartypants, on "The Small and the Big:"

I was reading a story in the latest Brain, Child that had a few paragraphs about how motherhood is a head-spinning combination of the Small and the Big. You are cleaning up poop and teaching someone how to talk. You are stuffing small arms into sleeves, filling sippy cups with diluted apple juice, pointing out the Big! Dog!, and also being responsible for another person's health, nutrition, and emotional well-being. I read that passage several times. In fact, I read that passage over and over and over.

It doesn't matter if you call it a "narrative," or a "category" or a "box." My beef with the major media is that they decide what is the Big, and in my opinion, they often get it wrong, wrong, wrong. My continued reference to the Washington Post's unnatural obsession with cicadas may be tired, but it's entirely on point. The Washington Post decided that the Brood X cicada story was big, Big, BIG. Therefore, they ran at least one cicada story every day during the cicada season (which was several weeks long). The sheer repetition of headlines about cicadas was enough to make you think that Something Was Wrong. Perhaps cicadas eat small children, steal your car, or cheat on their taxes? No. This particular brood just only comes every seventeen years. They don't bite, they don't sting, they don't even eat a lot. They were less of an inconvenience than the deer that eat my hostas. In other words, they were not of the Big. Yet the WaPo treated them as if they were the Biggest! Story! Ever!

A second example. My father is a pilot. For years, from the time I was a small child, people would ask me, "Don't you worry about your father getting into a plane crash?" (Yes, people say really stupid things to little kids sometimes.) These people saw plane crashes on the news and thought that my father had a very dangerous career. I finally learned to say, "If I were going to worry about him, I would do it while he's on the way to the airport. He's far more statistically likely to get into a car crash than a plane crash."

But car crashes occur every single day, so therefore are not newsworthy. I do understand that part of the lack of proportionality is what readers/viewers/listeners choose to filter, what their confirmation bias is, and how they get cranked up over things without thinking about them. But the news media does not help. Reporting on large-scale, relatively rare occurrences without providing context does not help. Focusing on the medium (the Internet) as if it causes rather than enables the crime (child pornography, financial scams, you name it) helps people to the idea that something neutral is in fact something Bad. Because such tactics work (all of those people, concerned with their own Small and Big issues don't always have the time or the resources to fact-check what should be a trusted source), we get news media that concern themselves with what will grab people's attention, not what will inform them. I am not looking for a list of the droning minutiae of the day - I am looking for some sense of proportion and context. Instead, I get the Small blown out of proportion and represented as a true example of the Big.

So, to bring it back to yesterday's example, blogs and blogging are full of more than partisan politics and tediously misspelt teenage self-exposure. There is literature, commentary, music, and humor. There are people out there worth reading and ideas out there worth hearing and debating. But these worthy things are so commonplace, they are obviously not worth a reporter's time.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Good, Geeky Fun
Essentially, a Monster's Manual for message-board readers.

More Thought, Less Process
In the wake of yesterday's crise de blog, I present some more thoughts on blogging today. I promise neither organized thought nor new ideas, but hey - I write a BLOG! Accordingly, I am supposed to be either: a.) a teenage girl who thinks fashion is "kewl," teenage boys are "hott," and exposes every tiny corner of her psyche to the reading public at large (preferably in bombastic poetry that boils down to, "nobody understands me"), or b.) a sarcastic, sneering political malcontent.

Blogging has received a lot of "play" lately in the mass media. The latest is a NY Times Magazine piece about bloggers at the national political conventions. As John Scalzi notes, the political bloggers seem to be the ones getting most of the press lately, but I would guess one reason is because only in politics do blogs impinge so much on the traditional media's turf (John's piece, as usual, is well-thought-out and presents interesting ideas - I highly recommend him). The other side of blogging that the media is aware of is type a.) covered above - blog as textual webcam, with the constant spectre of the Innocent exposing herself to the Bad World. This is the most current version of the Cautionary Tale, another favorite story of the traditional media, and one that often seems to give the general public the idea that Something On The Internet is more dangerous than it really is.

After yesterday's bashing of shrill blather, why is it I'm even shriller today? I suppose I am tired of seeing one corner of this massive enterprise represented as the whole. In point of fact, I don't read any blogs of type a.) and I rarely read blogs of type b.). I find the former painful and tedious, and I find the latter pompous and tedious (often even when I agree with them). Boiling blogging down to a choice between a.) and b.) is a bit like saying, "There are two types of literature: comic books and War and Peace." There are specific blogs about any interest you can imagine. Then, there are catchall blogs like this one - confined only by the rudimentary "rules" in my FAQ and my ability to string words together.

I have to note that there is the occasional fling at in-depth coverage, when a reporter in print, radio, or television files a story about blogging and makes a throwaway comment about how blogs also represent vast numbers of topics such as every hobby under the sun. It is then that the reporter essentially throws up his or her hands and notes that it is just "too much" to go into. "Blogging! Simultaneously overwhelming and trivial! Now over to Bob with the weather."

Yes, it is hard to represent the vast, human stew of experience that blogging represents (and in many cases represents in thoughtful detail and outstanding prose). Yes, many blogs get started and abandoned. Yes, Technorati tracks over four million blogs. Is finding quality hard? Surprisingly, it isn't. Bloggers themselves have their own measures of what is worthwhile: the blogroll or links sidebar. It's frighteningly easy to find good-quality blogging when you start picking up the breadcrumbs left to you by bloggers you appreciate. Will these be easy to file into nice, neat category-boxes? No. Would reporting on the wider blogging field bring some deserving writers to a larger audience? Perhaps. Will it be a more realistic perspective for those who haven't read blogs because they think blogging is a choice between teenage angst or bare-knuckled political partisanship? Definitely.

So, journalists - get cracking! Bring the rest of the world some depth and perspective on this. After all, we already know more than we need to about things like cicadas.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Successories? Bleah.
You know those obnoxious "Successories" (vile pseudo-word, that) some offices seem peppered with? I much prefer this version.

Shrill Blather
Every blogger comes to this point. Most bloggers write about it. Why should I be any different?

"What point is that?" I hear you cry. (Well, of course, I don't actually hear you. But I just love putting words into your mouth, dear Reader. I'm evil that way). The point in question is where the blogger wonders whether it's really worth it - why they're doing what they're doing, if they really have anything new to say. If, as the title indicates, what they're really doing is perpetrating shrill blather on the Internet.

Being the (mostly) rational being that I am, I know that there are several answers to this:

1. You do have a core of regular Readers, no matter how small. At the very least, Tim might just have to come down from New England and open up a can of Superfriends whoop-ass on you.
2. It's Monday. You're always like this on Monday.
3. For every echo-chamber-of-the-Blogosphere post you put up, there is probably something more original, and possibly even humorous.
4. It's a cheap shot to use this as a post - you may have little to say, but you've said it more creatively before.

Fear the meta-narrative. It is taking over.

Friday, September 24, 2004

This Will Not Be Me...
...but for anyone else who is interested in doing naked Yoga in public, San Francisco's your scene.

Never Kick A Skunk
Disclaimer: I've never liked Anne Rice's work much. I have read two and a half of her books (admittedly, a small sample of her prolific output), and found her to be simultaneously overwrought and tedious. I don't get why she inspires such passionate devotion in her fans, but hey - de gustibus. There are obviously a lot of people out there who thinks she's just peachy, as her books sell masses of copies.

Since the time I stopped reading her, I have found snippets of her personality more intriguing than her books. Take, for instance, this "Message from the Beach," where she explains why she does not allow her editor to comment on her work. I'm not sure what her editor actually does, if she's not allowed to comment, other than perhaps to sign for the package containing the latest manuscript and call Anne and tell her how overjoyed she is to receive such a work of monumental perfection.

I am really not sure what to make of the newest Rice debacle, however. Having garnered a bunch of negative amazon.com reviews for her latest book, "Blood Canticle," Ms. Rice apparently went off the rails and posted a lengthy rant in response to those who dared criticize her. Amazon has since removed the rant itself, but it can be found here in all of its paragraph break-less glory. She accuses the negative reviewers of "slander" (where have we heard that before?) and says that the negative reviewers "have strained [her] Dickensean principles to the max." If it were written as a satire, it would be quite funny. As it is, well, I invite you to come to your own conclusions.

Naturally, the rant has garnered much more attention than all of the negative reviews combined might have done. Which brings me to the title I chose for today's essay. I really think that says it all. So don't you dare edit it.

Update: Apparently, some are questioning whether or not the Rice rant was, in fact, penned by Ms. Rice herself. She confirms it here.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Secret Law?
Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Ever seen the show "Dream House" on HGTV? Oy. It's rather like watching a very expensive train wreck in slow motion. The house currently under consideration is a one-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath bachelor pad set into a steep hillside, right next to a highway. I know a lot of these "reality" shows are cut for impact, but even allowing for dramatic editing, this seems to be one of the worst-organized projects I have ever seen.

Inspectors fail various parts of the construction, inform the general contractor of the specific issues, come back, and the things they have noted have not been done. Guess who complains? The general contractor! If the architect says "communication problems" one more time, I think I'm going to have to institute a drinking game.

The house itself is... not something I would choose to live in. It looks like a Mondrian-inspired chunk of Lego, painted in garishly primary yellow, red and blue. Interior surfaces include steel and rubber. Curtains for the bedroom are proposed in neoprene. Can a climbing wall be too far behind? After all, it sort of sounds like an outdoor equipment store already, doesn't it?

The young owner of this delightful confection is also apparently a class act. The house, we are repeatedly told, is being built with "family money" (his father is -- wait for it -- a real estate developer). Young Owner's "artistic flair" and "unique taste" are complimented at every turn. It kind of reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode where everyone has to keep telling the little boy that everything he does is wonderful, else he will wish horrible things upon them. After drywall has been installed and mudded, Young Owner has a Feng Shui expert come and tell him what he should have done. More bad planning (the house is a Feng Shui nightmare), or just random trendiness and too much cash? You be the judge.

The net effect? I feel really together about my own life, chaotic though it might be.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Thanks, Rana!!!
She gave me the idea for this. (I have to say, I just love " WHAAAA??? Whuzzat? Mouvement? Vous devez plaisanter.")

Prefer WoT? auf Deutsch? (Why is September 20th's entry so funny to me in other languages? "Eek. Es ist Montag, nicht ist es?")

Use Your Words
Why is it that the words we remember best in foreign languages are invariably the most useless? Occasionally, I have dreams of polishing the rust off of my French, of expanding my understanding of German beyond it's current 30-word limit. Sometimes, I even think it would be nice to finally learn Norwegian.

Then I contemplate the actual content of the words I currently possess. In French, it is conceivable that I could still creditably embarrass myself in style. After all, I studied the language for about six years (though those six years were many, many eons ago now). I used to brush up my French by reading advanced children's books like the Le Petit Nicolas series. Then I found the first two Harry Potter books in French translation. It took me ages to get through the first two chapters of the first book, but as a result I now have the perfectly useless word "perceuse" stuck fast in my head. It means drill. Harry's nasty uncle is a drill salesman - reading the book in English, I was never aware of the repetition of the word. But in French, oh - I frustrated myself with how often I looked it up. The first time or two I read it and looked it up, my helpfully discriminating brain said, "You won't need that," and promptly forgot it. That was a mistake. Having had to look it up a few more times, now I will never forget it. So - if you go to Paris with me, be sure to take me to a hardware store.

I visited Germany in Christmas in 1996. So, if you say, "Fro Weihnachten" to me while offering me gluwein, we're good. I can say "please" and "thank you." I can even say "excuse me." I can count to ten. I'm like Sesame Street auf Deutsch! While in a train station, I can tell the Eingang (entrance) from the Ausfahrt (exit). (Upon arrival at one of many train stations during that trip, one of my companions said, "I forget - do we gang or fahrt?") So obviously, I'm a terror in German. Hold me back.

My Norwegian is the most laughable. Thanks to my late Norwegian grandmother, I can tell you I love you. Of far less utility, I can say "bread" and "butter." I have no verbs with which to ask for the bread and butter, nor can I tell you where to shove the bread and butter. But then again, I can say "thank you very much" after being offered bread and butter. It's not that useless after all - I can write a little Viking monologue: "Brot! Smur!! Tusen takk." Applause...

Thank you, thank you - you're beautiful - I'm here all week. Try the bread and butter.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Random Ammunition
Just in case you run into someone who thinks that Earth is only 6,000 years old.

Honor and Access
The Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian opens today. It will be a while before the crowds ebb away, and rightly so, as it looks tremendous. The architecture, the site (it is the last building to line the National Mall), the approach (from the tribes' viewpoint, not an anthropologist's), and the cooperation of various nations make it something I want to experience; however, that experience is one that I will willingly delay.

I really love museums. There is something that seems to expand within me when I go into one: a sense of possibility, achievement, history, and creativity. It gives me a thrill to know that such things are honored. I especially love many of the Smithsonian museums: living here in the DC area, I am able to visit them a few times a year, and I don't feel as if I have to "do" the entire thing in one sitting (as if you could). Best of all, there is no admission charge, so if you just want to visit a favorite object, you can. It gives me a wonderful sense of both honoring the things and people inside the building, and yet the immediate access give the feeling that they are also a part of everyday life. When my in-laws were here, we visited Julia Childs' kitchen in the American History museum, and on our way to see the Buddhas at the Sackler, we made a side trip into the West Building of the National Gallery. I was able to show my mother-in-law a quick glimpse of some of her favorite Impressionist masterworks - paintings she has only seen as reproductions - and it was fantastic fun to see her face light up as she recognized some of the pieces.

All of that casual dropping-in can only occur during off-peak hours and days, though. On weekends, or immediately post-opening are not my favorite times to go to museums. All the thrill of possibility that occurs when you see the product of great culture and talent can be all-too-easily interrupted when you can't see anything due to a massive tide of humanity blocking the view.

So, we will go to visit the Mall's new addition someday. When the thrill of the new has worn a bit, I look forward to moving quietly into its soaring atrium and experiencing the people and objects that this place honors.

Monday, September 20, 2004

News for Other Whedon Geeks
A while back, I mentioned that "Serenity," the "Firefly" movie, was in production and that it has a blog. Oh, woe - they rarely updated (what the heck? I mean - they're just making a movie fer cry-eye. You'd think they would update the blog more often! Priorities, people). Well, at long last, there is an update - it is from Joss himself, at end-of-shoot. Sounds like things have been going well....

Where Did My Weekend Go??
Eek. It is Monday, isn't it?

I don't exactly have laser-like focus this morning, so apologies Dear Readers. Today's entry is going to be even more self-indulgent than usual. I spent eight hours over the course of the weekend with 100 other great people in a workshop with John Friend, and my brain is still trying to pull in all of the little bits of information and wisdom I can remember and file them so I can continue to access them down the road.

Also, my muscles are going, "WHAAAA??? Whuzzat? Move? You have got to be joking." Because, when I say "workshop," I mean eight hours of Yoga, and some of it was stuff I had never tried before and didn't think I was capable of.

So, my brain is a confused jumble of sensory images: the black woman in a very colorful, fancy dress and elaborate hat, climbing the stairs of the church where our class was held, contrasted with casually-dressed Yoga students carrying mat bags and woven Indian blankets; the way the weather turned from lashing rain to cool sunshine over the course of two days; the joyful, muted sound of the choir upstairs during the opening meditation on Sunday; and the sound of laughter - wry, giddy, and cathartic - from people in deep stretching poses (the best Yoga teachers are often funny, funny people).

What did I learn? The thing that sticks most deeply in my head is the concept of perfection, and the idea that perfection is not a static point of achievement. A perfect pose or perfect practice (or perfect day) is one you live fully - you do the best you can, 100%, and that is perfect. Perfection is a day-to-day thing, not something "out there" in the future. So therefore, no procrastination, no excuses, no reserving energy because you think you know how much you have - just go and do, and whatever you do fully and to the best of your ability is perfect.

That's a lot to work on right there.

I had the honor of helping someone whose car was towed or stolen on Sunday - if she happens to check the URL on the card I gave her, I would be very grateful to know what happened and to make sure she is okay.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Sort of Like The Onion...
...only not (and British).

WoT? Google Searches, Vol. 3
Hey Readers - what time is it? That's right! It's "I have nothing to say this morning, and I have enough silly Google searches amassed to bring you WoT? Google Searches Vol. 3 Time!" Yes, WoT? is not even a year old, and we're already up to the third installment of Google searches that tickled my fancy or my funny bone. What can I say - I'm easily amused. So, with no more ado, here are some of the random things that brought folks to WoT? (In case you're curious, here are installments one and two of the Google searches,).

martha jill smith - This one caught my eye because of some odd history. When I was in kindergarten, for some reason I decided I didn't want to be called Jill, I wanted to be called Martha. Lots of little kids play-act, but I did it so thoroughly at this particular stage that when my mother went for her parent-teacher conference, my kindergarten teacher asked her, "Why do you call her Jill if her name is Martha?" Obviously, I have missed my calling. I would have made a terrific grifter. Anyway, this little Google search was like a message to me from me, age five.

jill camera yoga - I have not (as yet) had my photo taken while practicing yoga. I think I might be disturbed by the results.

humorous writing cities - I've always thought "Saskatoon" looked pretty humorous. Any other nominees?

typing clubs - Ack. Can you imagine?

the real reason for a 7 1/2th floor - Because Charlie Kaufman has the same sorts of screwy dreams I do?

stick figure skier - He was cute, wasn't he?

i depressed over a boy wot shall i do - Well, first of all, forget about him and do something productive. I would suggest you work harder in school. Grammar and spelling would be a good start.

carmen orange - Shriek!

typing for idiots - Sorry. Go see Mavis Beacon.

weird ways of typing - Sometimes you just have to wonder what people are really after when they do a Google search. What did this person want to find? Double amputees who type with their toes? Acrobats blogging while swinging from trapezes? The mind boggles.

picture of really tired person typing - That would be me, every morning. I'm too vain to have John photograph me in this state, though. You're just going to have to imagine the bed-head and the "Life is Good" jammies for yourself.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

And the Winner for Best Use of a Cell Phone in a Public Place is.....
Cellular Division
Among the various things that tick me off (gross grammatical gaffes, un-Snopesed scare-mail, hiding behind "belief" when your argument is factually deficient, and blindingly oblivious people), cell phone misuse doesn't generally make the list. Generally speaking, someone braying their personal life into a handset while walking down the street is not going to send me into a tooth-grinding, smoldering rage. Good thing, too.

Sometimes people's cell phone (mis)use is just funny. I was waiting for a DC to New York flight recently. Inevitably, summer thunderstorms were closing down LaGuardia, and all sorts of lobbyists and business folk were getting their drawers in several types of complicated origami bundles over the situation. I was in the enviable position of being a tourist - I had no meetings I was going to miss, so I was reasonably relaxed and into the people-watching. (Granted, I would have liked to get to New York on schedule, because I did miss out on some quality time with Mom, but as someone who achieved elite flyer status on Delta solely via a metric bazillion DC-NY shuttle flights, I know better than to get tense over this situation, as there is nothing that can be done about it except sprint for Amtrak). Inevitably, as cancellation after cancellation was announced, the cell phones got whipped out, meetings were adjusted and assistants were deployed to get tickets in that aforementioned Amtrak sprint.

One gentleman with a bad connection was apparently getting his assistant to drag his luggage over to Union Station so he could catch the Amtrak (? No, I don't know why he didn't have his bags either). His connection was apparently bad, so the hapless Lisa (we all knew the poor dear's name by the end of his travails) was called approximately seventeen times, and as the connection wavered, our friend sans luggage resorted to a little-known cellular telecommunications bypass technique: the tin-can-and-string method. This method relies on the purely unscientific theory that all telecommunications boil down to the type of technology we all used at age six to talk to a friend a few yards away, and the solution to a poor connection is volume. I am sure that Lisa over on K Street or Georgetown or wherever she was could hear him just fine if she just put the phone down and pointed her ear towards National Airport. At any rate, it made a nice change from my book to watch this pompous gentleman with his undies in a bunch loudly try to direct his assistant to bring him more (and hopefully bunch-less) ones.

Much less funny (aha! you knew there was a rant in here somewhere, didn't you?) was the woman who appeared to be stalking me through Barnes & Noble yesterday. I was on a quest for a particular book when I noticed that this woman was striding about the store and talking quite constantly into her phone. Okay, fine - I don't confuse B&N with a library, though I probably wouldn't choose it as a place to have a long confab. As time went on, though, it got a little disturbing on two levels. First of all, I had to search several sections in order to (not) find the book I was looking for. Every time I moved to a different section, I passed her, and then was treated to her marching up and down past the aisle where I was looking for my book, jabbering all the while. Secondly (and more disturbing) was the content of her conversation - she was some sort of therapist or counselor and she was talking about one of her patients' issues as she marched up and down past the various aisles where I searched in vain for the right book. Whoa, lady - I don't want or need to hear about some kid's ADD issues, but his parents might like to know that you're blabbing them for all the world to hear. While I waited to check out, she stood just outside the roped-off checkout area and complained to her auditor (who didn't appear to say anything during the course of this "conversation" as the cell-phone woman never paused to draw breath) about how she needed to move out of her current living situation and find another job (yes, preferably one where you are not privy to people's personal lives). I paid for the book (not the one I went into the store to buy), scooted out of the store as quickly as my legs could take me, and saw her marching down the street as I pulled out of the parking garage.

She was finally off the phone.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Humour Across the Pond
Fast Forward
The Busy Times are upon us. John has started school, and homework claims much of his after-work, at-home time. This weekend, I am going to be attending a two-day Yoga workshop. Come January, I hope to be ensconced in my Yoga teacher training program (one weekend a month for a year). Long before that, I hope to have landed a full-time job.

I believe the next two years may start to whiz by in something of a blur. John and I have been lucky to this point: even when I was traveling a great deal for my previous job, my office was close to home and we had many evening and weekend hours to spend together. We didn't have to make plans or schedule time to spend together. I suspect our habits and expectations will have to change over the next few months. When we first moved in together, we both made a radical transition from spending almost all our home-time alone to spending almost all of it together. At the time, it seemed rough. In retrospect, it was probably remarkably easy. Now we almost have to make the opposite transition - I find things to occupy myself so I don't disturb his study time. After so many solitary years, I would think it would be easy. I would be wrong.

I know lots of couples - some with children - who have busy lives and little time to spend with one another. They find ways to make it work, and work well. So will we. It's the adjustment that is difficult.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

House Lust
It seems that the mass market might be slowly inching away from the Arts and Crafts movement. We can all let out a sigh of relief now. Can we hope Yoga might be next?

I am not "cool," particularly. I have no aspirations to "hip," either. I never moaned things like, "The Replacements will never be good again now that 'everybody else' has discovered them." But sometimes things - especially simple yet difficult things - can get swamped by the market, run over and flattened by commerce, until they are unrecognizable and their names become synonyms for "cheap crap," "trendy silliness," or "pretension."

And so, two things I love have been subject to that treatment over the last several years: Yoga and Arts and Crafts homes. I do well and truly welcome any and all who want to try Yoga. Some of the byproducts of its popularity have benefited me in little ways - it is easier to find appropriate clothing, for instance ("aha! shallow!" --snicker away - but try to do inversions in a tee-shirt without exposing yourself to the world and get back to me). But then I hear about people who have tried yoga and been injured because their teacher encouraged them to "push" (or didn't discourage them from strain). The popularity of Yoga has led people with poor training and a "feel the burn" mindset to flood the ranks of instructors. For Americans who were raised on the President's physical fitness scores and have a "more = better" attitude inculcated in them, this seems right and good. But it's a recipe for disaster (or at least injury and frustration) in Yoga.

Obviously, the popularity of bungalows and Stickley-style furniture doesn't lead to injury. But the iconic images of solid wood married with densely textured fabric has achieved a kind of enervating sameness in the mass marketplace. When it has mediocre or poor quality, it is downright depressing. William Morris dreamed of mass-marketing, but his pipe dream included a high quality that is not necessarily the hallmark of the machine-milled knockoffs. The purveyors of "Home Fashions" seem to have gone on to retro, Tiki, and kitsch in their quest for getting people to buy yet another coffee table. That is fine - let the cheap Tiffany imitations sink into history, and let the tides of fashion run on to the next design fad.

I, for one, hope it means I can someday afford a real Stickley chair.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Nantucket, anyone?
The "Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form." Yes. The entire OED expressed in limericks.

There is no "We" in "Team" Either.
I apparently have a hard time letting go of associations. In interviews, it is not uncommon for me to refer to my former colleagues/employer as "we" in the present tense, as if I am still affiliated with them. Similarly, though I no longer play soccer, I sometimes refer to the team as if I am still a player.

But I am not employed any longer, so there is no "we" when I speak of my former job and colleagues. And I am now a sideline-sitter when it comes to soccer - one of the spouses, not one of the players (not that I ever contributed a vast amount when I did play). MacIntosh and I spectate, we give kisses and water to tired players coming off of the field (Mac gives the kisses - I give the water), we play with the other players' children. I cheer. Mac barks. We enjoy. We play with the camera phone (well, I don't let Mac play with the camera phone, but I do take his picture with it).

We enjoy.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Can You Ever Have Enough Kitties?
Circadian Tipping Point
Summer is clearly on its way out. In some ways, this is cause for celebration: the air is getting cooler and drier, and for me that is a terribly good thing. There are many things I love about living in the D.C. area. Hot, humid summers are not among those things (but you, Regular Reader, you know that already).

This morning I am up extra early. As I mentioned yesterday, I have an interview this morning (and I am far too good a friend to you, Dear Reader, to let you down just because I have to be somewhere). I am sipping coffee, John is singing the Spongemonkey Song to Dash (but with special lyrics composed just for the morning kitchen-begging that goes on while John makes his lunch: "You like the cheeeese, 'Cause it is goood tooo eaaaat.... You like the CHEEEEESE.....). It is a happy, domestic scene.

It is also very, very dark outside. And yesterday's sunset was around 7:30. We have entered the annual slide into the darkness. John minds this terribly every year. It doesn't bother me as much - in fact, it is one of those human foibles I find kind of amusing. "It's getting so dark/cold/etc." people say. Yes, it is - just as it has done every year. What is so surprising? Yet every year you will hear people exclaiming incredulously at the phenomenon of seasonal change.

The one thing that does kind of surprise me every year is the tipping point where you actually notice the change. Two days ago, sunset seemed to be happening around the same time as it did for the entire summer. Last night, it suddenly seemed very, very early.

Fall is coming.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Irony! Next Slide...
Ideal? Hah.
I have had a few first interviews lately, and they all contained what I consider to be the worst interview question I have ever heard, and the one which invariably nets the asker the least valuable information: "What is your ideal job?" When I hear people ask that, I truly would like to either scream and rend my garments (not going to help in the job-getting unless you are interviewing for the position of professional mourner), or say something flip like, "Well - in my ideal job, I would like to be paid scads of cash for lolling about whilst being fed Oreos by Alan Rickman."

I have come up with a fairly typical (for me) answer. It is earnest and helpful in tone (hello, I'm Little Mary Sunshine, and I will be your interviewee today!), while completely avoiding the actual question entirely (thank you, Juris Doctor). [Wow - three parentheses in one sentence. Eeek.] I generally say that what I do isn't so important - what is important is that I work with fun people who are intelligent and enjoy working together. It seems to satisfy the HR-bots. For the few who catch that I didn't really answer the question, I tell them what I'm good at. That generally kills two birds with one stone, as they were usually going to ask that anyway, and it moves the conversation off of that particular square.

Via the mirificent Rana, I was led to this quote by Dorotha over at Caveat Lector, though, and it far more eloquently describes one aspect of why I have such an issue with these questions:

...I also figured out why I hate the “describe your ideal job” question. The emphasis is all in the wrong place. I don’t get job satisfaction from a job description, which is what this question expects me to spit back. Sure, there are things I like to do, but that’s the least of what makes me happy in a job. Truly, the least. I’m the chick who left a cushy sinecure for a vastly-lower-paying data-entry job that was murder on my hands, remember? And I was still far happier in the latter job than the former. That’s me. You can’t make me happy with a job description.

Besides, I’ve never, not once, had a job description that I didn’t change. Not once. Not even my first job ever: at sixteen, I started as busgirl and was speedily “promoted” to stockroom factotum. That’s just the cold truth, the way the universe deforms itself around me. I don’t sit around waiting for somebody to hand me interesting things to do. I go and find them. I don’t accept a job as handed to me; I figure out how to do it more accurately and efficiently. I don’t reject a new thing with “that’s not in my job description;” I invariably say, “well, I don’t actually know how to do this, but if you give me some time I’ll take a whack at figuring it out.”

That describes me pretty well.

Here's another reason why I don't like the question: it produces a useless answer. If what one really wants is a job (any job), they are going to basically spit back the job description you have posted. If they're artful about it, they are going to shift some of the details and rearrange the wording, but their goal is to get a job, because job = paycheck. Also, the question is invariably worded in a silly, pie-in-the-sky, idealized sort of way. It uses words like "ideal" or "perfect." Even allowing for hyperbole, the number of people who would consider their day "perfect" or "ideal" if it contained 8+ hours of standard office work (in standard office attire) has got to be vanishingly small.

So, I have another interview tomorrow - here's hoping I get some good questions.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Flo Control
The heartwarming story of a cat, her victims, and the high-tech solution created to keep them out of a house....

Puppy Love
Our dog MacIntosh has allergies. The poor guy has been chewing on his paws since spring. The diagnosis was somewhat convoluted due to an infection of mites last year - our regular vet worried that he might have a chronic mite problem, and diagnosis of this condition can be somewhat fraught, so poor Toshie has had test after test, and we have endured vet bill after vet bill.

Finally, though, his allergist (yes, the dog has a specialist) ruled out the mites and the possibility of a food allergy (sorry, pup - that expensive hypoallergenic food you like so much is going away as soon as this bag is done!) and did a battery of tests yesterday. I read the paper and filled out my application for Yoga teacher training for an hour, then got my dog back. He was blinking and yawning from the doggie-valium that they had given him, and when he rolled over onto his side, I could see where they had conducted the test.

Okay - I'm an idiot. I hadn't really thought about what the test would entail, and I hadn't asked enough questions. When Tosh is standing, his yeti-like fur drapes over the shaved bit and he looks pretty normal. But when he flops on his back for belly rubs, you can see the test site clearly and it was something of a shock. It looked like a regiment of OCD-afflicted bees armed with a Sharpie and a Norelco had gone over him but good. In the 8" x 4" shaved patch are tidy rows of about 60 black dots, some of them with angry red reactions. He didn't seem to mind in the least, especially as he was still dopey from the sedative, yawning and blinking. But I just about fell apart, feeling horribly guilty that I had put him through this.

The logic? None. I would have put him through it anyway - in the long run, it is better to know what he's allergic to and to be able to cope with it. But I blame myself for allowing the situation to shock me so much. I should have been better informed.

So, what is he allergic to? Well, here's the list: house dust, 2 types of mold, white poplar, three types of grass, dandelion, pigweed, and cat dander. Yes. One of our pets is allergic to the other two. No, we don't have to choose between our pets (or step up our housekeeping) - we just get to inject him with allergy vaccine that covers the cats and everything else he's allergic to for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

No, not the mythical critter. It's a tiger growl in Bengali.

Saturday was spent doing big fun things - time with our friends Maria and Pat, and baby tigers at the National Zoo. I have written before about how the zoo is John's "kid place ," so despite the fact that the otters were hiding or napping, John had a great time. Similarly, my friend Maria has a major thing for tigers, so out of the four zoo attendees, we had two happily ensconced in their kid places and two significant others having a great time watching them do the kid-place bliss-out. Not to mention, baby animals.

The tiger photos I shot are not exactly grrr-eat, but I share a few anyway.

Mom tiger had to take to the moat occasionally to escape their exuberance.

Yeah. You deal with dragging your brother out of the moat. Momma's got a headache.

All three were in constant motion.

Hope everyone else had a wonderful holiday weekend.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Spend the Weekend Here...
...Get really freaked out!

Will Blog for Food
Which would you prefer? A lot of little things happening continuously or fewer, larger things happening at widely spaced intervals?

If you are like me (and hoo boy - get some help if you are), you prefer the lots of little things approach. Artificial movement is better than no movement at all! Better to get off the highway moving at 20 and move at 30 on the side roads. It may take longer, but dang it, you'll feel like you're getting somewhere faster.

The seeming non-sequitur? I have been having a few real interviews for real jobs - not "networking" meetings about potential jobs that may or may not be brought into creation by the whim of a capricious being, but real, actual genuine jobs. This morning, in fact, I am meeting with a headhunter (icky word, that) about a real, live gen-yoo-ine job. Somehow, these few big things have felt a lot less productive than the weeks where I have gotten lots and lots of little things done.

The rest of the week? Mostly a washout. Sickness and moping has taken up a bit of it. I tried to stay away from the phone for the early part of the week, because I sounded like an adenoidal squirrel. I have applied for some open positions and accomplished some things, but I have not been as productive as I would have liked. But, an interview! That's real! That's big!

So, as usual, wish me luck (I'm as sick of asking for it as you are of hearing it, trust me).

Thursday, September 02, 2004

It Had to be Said
Kid Stuff
I was waiting in line at BWI earlier this year, doing the cattle-corral shuffle back and forth between the Tensabarriers, just sort of spacing out. In front of me was one of those terribly together-looking little kids - about five, with glasses and good posture. This is a five-year-old who could probably be trusted to do your taxes. Suddenly, he turns to his mom and in a very serious, disapproving voice says, “I’ve never been in such a long line in my whole life.”

I cracked up. How much of a sample size is that, anyway?


Does anyone else remember a freakish bit of stop-action animation on Sesame Street? It showed an bowl of fruit, then the orange pops out of the bowl, rolling around on the counter, picking up facial features made from other household objects along the way. Finally, when it has its face assembled, it starts to belt out an aria from "Carmen."

This orange terrified me like nothing I have seen before or since. I called it the Monna-Monna Orange and I fled the room for years whenever it came on the television.

What was Jim Henson thinking/smoking when he made that?


Many Christmases ago, when my friend Alicia's kid Sierra was about four, I decided to make a Christmastime call to Alicia. When she got on the phone, she sounded just like I imagine a refugee from the Siege of Stalingrad might. Exhausted, yet exasperated. "Is Sierra a little wound up?" I asked.

"You have no idea. You want to talk to her?"

Sierra comes on the phone, fizzing with excitement, "Hi Jill! Mommy says she's about to crack!" In point of fact, Alicia uses this phrase quite a bit, but it was funny to hear it come out of a little kid.

"Hey Si - you excited to see Santa?"

"Yah - Santa's George Clinton!"

Pause to soak in the surreality of it all. "Er... Santa's a black man with multicolored dreadlocks who plays bass in a funk band?"

"Yah! Santa plays funk music!"

God bless that kid. She lives on a planet I would like to vacation on.


Some time in my grade school years, I came home from school and found my mother ironing and watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I objected strenuously to her choice of programming (We live in the middle of the woods! Someone will obviously see you doing something that uncool, Ma! What was I worried about anyway, someone would take away all of my bookish, straight-A-getting, frizzy-haired, insanely small-town street cred and cool points?)

Her reply? "Lay off. He's the only one who likes me just the way I am."

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

How To...
WoT? is all about helpfulness. So, I bring you, "How to Write a Bestselling Fantasy Novel." Enjoy.

Welcome to Smith's House of Pestilence, May I Take Your Order?
John is home today, poor man - after several days of fighting the ick, he has decided it is the better part of valor to stay away from work until the ick passes. Mac has spent the morning in spastic, defensive glee, noisily repelling all intruders, real and imaginary (actually, only the imaginary kind). "BARK!" he says. "Bark, BARK, BARK!!" [Translation: "Take that, imaginary intruders! Someone is trying to sleep in this house, and I won't let you get in to disturb him!]

So, I am giving you an old story, mostly because it's easy to do - I can do this and return to it after I drag the dog away from the front windows for the 36th time. Concentration not necessary.

Several years ago, I spent about nine days in London. I got a Tube Pass, which requires you to get a little ID card to go with the Pass, just in case you are stopped by the Tube Police. I think Tube Passes are one of the reasons why London is simply littered with photo-booths. Certainly you can find a photo-booth in just about any Tube Station. Anyway, the photo-booths had gone all digital since I had last entered one (in 1990 - oy. I am old). It used to be, you got in, you paid your money, you looked like a dork for approximately 30 seconds, you got four photos of said dorkishness for your Pound Sterling.

Now, you go in, you sit, it takes a digiphoto, you check it out, assess whether or not it's good enough to make four of and go on with the process. (They used to take four different shots. Now they only give you four copies of the one shot - it must be hell for those kids who made collages of themselves and their friends all making dorky idiots of themselves in four different ways per trip to the photo booth). Then, a teddibly, teddibly uppah-claaahhs English woman's voice says, "When you are happy, press the green button."

I found myself wondering, "Happy? What does happy have to do with it? If I'm feeling slightly blue or mildly irritated, do I have to sit here until I eventually get happy? What do the clinically depressed do? Never get a photo? Are they forced to get daily return fares whenever they take the Tube? What is the matter with this country?"

I suppose it is appropriate that my Tube pass ID bears a photo of me smirking.