Sunday, August 31, 2014

Books read in August 2014


1. Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story by Robyn Doolittle
2. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling)
3. The Unquiet (short story anthology) by Robb, Blaney, Gaffney, Ryan and McComas
4. The Corpse with the Golden Nose by Cathy Ace
5. Celebrity in Death by J.D. Robb


1. Strangers in Death
2. Salvation in Death
3. Ritual in Death

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The pros and cons of having a system

The other day, I had a day where I felt like I got nothing done.  I kept falling down the internet rabbit hole and getting caught up in gaming and dawdling and procrastinating, and shit just didn't get done.  (Yes, I realize the irony of blogging this not long after a post about how I get shit done.)

As it happened, as part of the internet rabbit hole I fell into, I read no more zero days.  And I realized that, despite feeling like I hadn't gotten anything done, it wasn't a zero day.  I'd done a bit of yoga, showered and done my scheduled beauty routine, read two newspapers, flipped my mattress, taken care of a couple of minor errands, and prepared myself a hot dinner that happened to be reasonably healthy (and ate an assortment of other food that  didn't require preparation, much of which also happened to be reasonably healthy).  Oh, and I worked a full eight-hour workday where I exceeded my quota and promptly responded to all my emails.  Definitely not a zero day!

So why did it feel like I got nothing done?

At the root of all this is my last period of unemployment. I woke up one morning realizing I was teetering on the brink of depression.  My job search thus far had been disheartening, I didn't know how long this period of unemployment would last for, I didn't have the fact of being in school to fall back upon as I had in other periods of unemployment, and I knew that I could very easily fall into despair or inadvertently become fully nocturnal or waste days and days playing computer games without achieving anything.

So I made a system.  I had to spend certain amounts of time each day on certain tasks, or do certain tasks until they got done and/or I accomplished a certain amount.  Many of the tasks were related to my job search, but others were things like exercising, cooking, reading newspapers, reading books, blogging - things that are objectively productive and that I either want to do or I like the idea of being a person who does. (e.g. I don't actually like exercising, but when I tried to think of all the things that an ideal person does, it was on the list.)   Then, once I finished every daily task in my system, I was fully entitled to veg out and game and internet and indulge in all the other sloth I'm naturally inclined towards.

But, in a plot twist that led me to stop and check that this is in fact real life, as I was lying in bed that morning inventing my system, I was interrupted by a phone call offering me my current job!  But I went with the system anyway, adapting it to employment rather than job search, and I've been using it (with some tweaks) ever since.

But, because the system was originally designed for unemployment, it's rather ambitious for a workday. I don't always finish everything, and if I get dawdley I only finish a small fraction.

So the advantage of having a system is that I don't have zero days.  I just mindlessly work  through the system.

But the disadvantage of having a system is that sometimes perfectly adequate days feel like a zero day, because I haven't completed the whole system.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Weird Al

From a New Yorker profile of Weird Al:
With his parodic versions of hit songs, this somehow ageless fifty-four-year-old has become popular not because he is immensely clever—though he can be—but because he embodies how many people feel when confronted with pop music: slightly too old and slightly too square. That feeling never goes away, and neither has Al, who has sold more than twelve million albums since 1979.
Anxiety starts early for pop audiences. For decades, I have had twenty-somethings tell me that they don’t know what’s on the charts, haven’t listened to any new artists since college, and don’t “know anything about music.” They feel confused by how quickly the value of their knowledge of what’s current fades. Weird Al’s songwriting process, almost without exception, is to confront that anxiety and to celebrate it. Yankovic will take a mysterious and masterful song and turn it into something mundane and universal. He makes the grand aspirational concerns of teen-agers in Lorde’s “Royals” into a story that includes a lesson about the hygienic advantage of taking food home in aluminum foil. (You’ll see the rhyme there.) Charli XCX’s boast of being “classic, expensive, you don’t get to touch,” in Azalea’s “Fancy,” becomes an ad for a handyman who can resurface your patio in Yankovic’s “Handy.”
The opening lyrics of “Smells Like Nirvana,” Yankovic’s 1992 version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” are as close to a mission statement as he has: “What is this song all about? Can’t figure any lyrics out. How do the words to it go? I wish you’d tell me, I don’t know.” Weird Al has been cool for so long because pop makes everybody feel uncool; that he is the only one to admit it has made him a pop star.
If I'd seen this theory written about anyone or anything else I'd assume it's bullshit, but that's actually an accurate description of how my Weird Al fandom began, with Smell Like Nirvana.

I was 10 years old when Smells Like Teen Spirit was released and 11 years old when Smells Like Nirvana was released.  I was attending a middle school at the time (Grades 6-8) so I was surrounded by people who were into teen pop culture, but I wasn't quite ready for it myself.  I had absorbed the message from the adults around me that being into teen pop culture was Bad, it was giving in to Peer Pressure, and I wanted to prove to them that I'm Better Than That.

But, at the same time, it was problematic on a social-survival level to be completely unfamiliar with teen pop culture.  You couldn't just walk around having never heard of stuff.

Weird Al provided the perfect solution.  With Smells Like Nirvana, I could be familiar with Nirvana and enjoy how the music rocks without claiming to be a fan.  In fact, I was mocking it - surely something that could be used to demonstrate I'm Better Than That when necessary! But, at the same time, enjoying parody certainly suggests enough familiarity with the original, so I didn't come across as never having heard of stuff. Weird Al allowed me to save face without having to commit to anything (in the bizarre preteen landscape where such things demanded commitment.)

In the years that followed, I would grow into pop culture, and then into the ability to take it or leave it as I pleased, without regard for the opinions of peers and grownups.  But in those few awkward years when I was still muddling through and wasn't quite ready for the pop culture environment inhabited by my peers, Weird Al helped ease the transition for my awkward preteen self.  And, because of that, he will always have a place in my adult self's ipod.

Friday, August 15, 2014

What do you do if someone decides to Talk To you?

With Robin Williams's death in the news, we're seeing a reinvigoration of the notion that if you're feeling depressed or suicidal, you should talk to someone, tell someone.

But what do you do if you're the someone the depressed or suicidal person chooses to talk to?

I totally understand that it's a big deal for the person to work up the nerve to Talk To you, and based on the combination of their impaired state and the cultural/media representation of the importance of Talking To Someone, they'd totally expect the act of Talking To you to trigger the solution.

But I genuinely have no idea what the next step is.  Get Them Help?  How?  I never learned this stuff. They issued my grownup card just because I can translate well and pay my rent on time.  I don't know how to solve real problems.

They really should publicize this information!  If they're going to tell people to Talk To Someone, they also need to tell all the Someones out there what the next couple of steps are!


This also reminds me of when I was a kid, they'd tell you that if you ever find a needle (drug needle, not sewing needle) in the street or the playground, you should tell a grownup.  Fair enough.  But when I got my grownup card, they never told me what to do if someone finds a needle.  I seriously have no idea.


Also, what are you supposed to do when someone comes out to you?  My emotional response is "duly noted" (and perhaps reconsidering any romantic pursuit strategy, as applicable), but what kind of response is actually useful?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams

Normally when someone commits suicide and the people left behind say "He had so much to live for," they mean normal regular everyday people stuff.  He wasn't a total fuck-up and had a moderate amount of success or potential in one or two areas of life and maybe a handful of people who truly loved him and another couple dozen who'd miss him when he's gone.

I'm not going to presume to rule on how much another person does or doesn't have to live for, but what's kind of mindblowing about Robin Williams is he was at a point in his life where he could do whatever he wanted. His status as one of the greats was established and he was, literally, beloved by millions.  He could produce crap for the rest of his career. (Apparently he did produce some crap recently. No one remembers it, and his status as a great is intact.) He could produce nothing ever again. He'd still be one of the greats and beloved by millions.  I'm not even a fan of his (I'm not not a fan, but I've never sought out his work. I've enjoyed my fair share of it, but I've never sought it out.) and, even if he hadn't just died, it wouldn't even occur to me to question his place in the pantheon.

If he'd cheated on his wife or relapsed back into drug use or engaged in various Rob Ford-style antics, the general public would say "Meh, Hollywood. It happens." His place in the pantheon would still be secure.  

If he'd been hard up for money, he could have thrown together a standup tour (it wouldn't even have to be good to make him enough money - then, if necessary, he could made a good tour and have a comeback in a few years) or had his agent call up Disney or Pixar and ask if they wanted Robin Williams to voice the wacky comic relief character in their next movie. He could have made a guest appearance on a sitcom or Whose Line and earned enough to keep body and soul together.  If he'd written a book (or had one ghost-written), people would have bought it. If he'd made a movie, people would have gone to see it. If he'd appeared in a Broadway musical or run for public office or joined Cirque du Soleil, people would tune in to see what happens, and a good number of them would be cheering for him.

People would, quite literally, pay him good money to simply be himself in their presence or on cue. He had secured the love of more people than he could possibly imagine (some of whom, I'm sure, actually cared about him as a person even if the feeling was unrequited) and the respect of exponentially more.  He had more leeway and flexibility and options than most of us can even dream of.

And still, the poor man couldn't find peace.

I hope he's free.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Things They Should Invent Words For: "I don't actually think it's a conspiracy, but it looks exactly like one"

I have contacted Rob Ford in my capacity as a citizen and his capacity as mayor, and not only did he not address the issues I raised, he did the exact opposite.  When, for example, I urged him to save a planned program that was at risk - even presenting my position in his preferred idiom of tax dollars, quantifying the cost to myself monetarily and demonstrating how the cost to me is more than I pay the city in taxes - he cancelled the program in question at literally the first available opportunity.

I am not under the impression that Rob Ford is out to get me.  I know full well that a simple person like me can't possibly be of interest to someone with wealth and influence and a complex life like Rob Ford. However, if Rob Ford did receive my message and said "I want to hurt this lady.  How can I use the information provided here to hurt her as much as possible?", the outcome would have been exactly what it actually was in reality.

They need to invent a word for this concept - when you genuinely don't think it's a conspiracy, but if it were a conspiracy the outcome would be exactly the same as it was in real life.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Why working from home makes me blog less

I have an excellent productivity system when I'm working at home: after producing a certain quantity of work (the quantity depends on the nature of the work) I take a break.  I use these breaks to do things on my non-work to-do list for the day, like reading the newspaper or cleaning the bathtub or putting on makeup. Because the things I do in my break are closed-ended (e.g. I read the newspaper until I'm done reading the newspaper, and I know I'm done because there are no more pages of newspaper) I don't end up procrastinating.  I do my designated quantity of work, I do my defined break task, and then I go straight back to the next designated quantity of work so I can get to my next break.

I respond really well to quantitative objectives tied to rewards like that (i.e. "When you finish X you get to Y"), so I most often stay absolutely on task, briskly and efficiently knocking off my work to-do list and my personal to-do list with no stress.

But, as you've probably noticed, it affects my blogging.

When I was working in the office, I couldn't take productive breaks like that, so I often found myself at my computer trying to get myself to focus again. I'd allow myself a break, but I'd fall down an internet rabbit hole and read something and think of ideas and then my mind would be spinning through all these ideas and they'd produce blog entries.  I'd be trying to buckle down and get myself back to work, but the ideas would just keep spinning through my head so I'd end up having to write them down to copy into my blog when I get home, just to get them out of my head so I'd have room for my work.

Now that I'm working at home and I can effortlessly stay focused and on task, these ideas are no longer in the way.  They're still present (often in the form of bookmarks in my "to blog" folder and half-written notes to self in my blogger drafts), but they sit quietly in the background while I'm working rather than getting in the way and forcing me to get them out of my brain when I really should be doing something else.

Friday, August 01, 2014

High waists and tucked-in shirts

This year I've seen quite a few young women, especially teenagers,wearing high-waisted pants with loose shirts tucked in.  This surprised me because the first fashion I ever became aware of was a move away from high waists and from tucking in shirts.  When I was a child I wore waistbands at my waist because they're called waistbands and tucked my shirt into my pants because I thought that's what people do, but as early as Grade 4 people would make fun of people for doing that, saying it made you look like an old man with hiked-up pants.

I was wondering what people wearing this look think they look like (for instance, I think my untucked shirt and lower waist elongates my torso), and I recently had an opportunity to ask when the topic came up in an online community.  To my utter shock, Kids Today seem to think it's a 90s retro look!

In my experience as a teenager in the 90s, while high waists and tucked in shirts did exist, they weren't a deliberate look that people wore for fashion purposes.  They were something that people wore because they weren't super fashionable or that's what they were used to or that's what they had in their closet or the dress code required tucking your shirt in.  Before shirts got narrow, we'd tuck just the very very hem of our baggy 80s-style t-shirts into our waistband and pull as much of it out as possible in an attempt to emulate the look of an untucked shirt.  (The only reason why we didn't just untuck completely was either because baggy 80s-style t-shirts sometimes completely concealed the fact that you're wearing shorts, making it look like you're walking around in just a t-shirt, or because the shirt simply didn't drape well and made you look disproportionately fat.  But since the 90s narrowing of shirts, a reasonable proportion of shirts - even looser styles - have draped well enough that they don't need tucking.)  And even before hiphuggers arrived in the mid-90s, we'd wear our jeans (tailored for the waist) as low as physically possible.  A waistband that rose above your belly button was considered a major faux pas!

Basically, if someone was wearing high-waisted jeans with a tucked-in shirt, they either failed at their fashion attempt or weren't trying at all.  It certainly wasn't an on-trend fashion statement!

Analogy: I'm walking around in the year 2014 in boot-cut jeans because I don't feel good in skinny jeans.  But that doesn't mean that boot-cut jeans are representative of 2014 fashion.  They're a deliberate opt-out of the current trend, a throwback to my high-school days that I retain because I feel that it's more flattering to my figure, and I'd never expect a teenager finding their way into fashion for the first time to wear them.  So if 20 years from now someone wore boot cut jeans in an attempt to be early-2010s retro, they'd be doin' in wrong.

This makes me wonder if any of my various attempts to be retro have so egregiously misfired.