Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I had to do this at some point, right?

List courtesy of TMC's Return to Rural blog:

My favourite age: Like the stone age or something? Nah. 38 was a good one.
My best friend(s): The rose-breasted grosbeaks that return to my garden year after year.
My celebrity crush: Matthew Gray Gubler (Dr. Reid on Criminal Minds)
My defining characteristic: I have no idea.
My most evil moment: In the 11th grade, I convinced a cheerful girl that life was meaningless and she started to cry.
My favourite food: A really good charbroiled hamburger with bacon, cheese, lettuce and mayonnaise.
My grossest injury: I kneeled on an upholstery needle and it got sucked into my knee, broke into three pieces and one piece was holding my skin up like a tent. Wasn't so much gross as weird.
My biggest hatred: I'm mostly sad over things or people that might be "hated".
My most illegal activity: Recently? We lit a roman candle. And the sheriff showed up! We are big time criminals over here.
My need for justice: Do I ever think of justice? Nope. Good topic for discussion!
My most knowledgeable field: I'm the poster child for the expression "Jack of all trades, master of none."
My life’s goal: Um.
My mother’s influence: Enjoying picking out clothes for other people.
My nerdiest point: Going to the first Star Trek convention.
My oldest memory: My mother bathing me in the kitchen sink.
My perfect date: It's too late for this to ever happen (sniffle sniffle) but I would have liked a man to meet me at the door with a bouquet of roses, just once in this lifetime! And y'know what? I would have liked to have been given jewelry during the dessert course. Yep, I have some unmet old-fashioned "Hollywood" chick flick desires.
My unanswered question: What is the purpose of life?
My random fact: Loons can't take off from anything but water.
My stupidest decision: In retrospect, all my decisions look stupid.
My favourite television show: Past or present? Hmmm. Star Trek Voyager may be the winner.
My style of underwear: Grandma style, but in black.
My favourite vegetable: Asparagus.
My weakest trait: Sloth.
My X-Men Power: Never mind the X-Men. I want: immortality, perfect health, the ability to change gender at will and a metabolism that allows me to eat anything without gaining weight.
My strongest yearning: To see the world.
My moment of Zen: Realizing that there is no such thing as a moment of Zen.

Photo note: I love kitsch signs. This one is from Austin, Texas, and I hear the restaurant is quite good (if you like that type of thing). I do.

Baby teeth

Did you know that baby teeth are called "deciduous teeth"? I didn't. I asked Dick, "why do we have baby teeth?" and he googled it. The answer to this question is not known for sure. I suppose it's not that important to know why. What is important? Brushing and flossing!

After discovering that this blog received the lowest amount of visitors ever today, I figured I'd start a new entry with an incredibly exciting piece of useless information. After all, "everything is interesting", isn't it?

I did want to know why we have baby teeth. I remember the exact places where I lost some of my baby teeth and how it felt. I loved worrying those loose teeth with my tongue. It hurt, but it felt interesting, too. It's interesting to have such a strong memory of a sensation - where does one feel the memory? I can feel the sensation in my mind of a tooth ripping from the gum, just slightly, and the taste of blood in my mouth. My mother told me not to play with those teeth, and that I should let them fall out in their own good time, but it was just too tempting, just like when I've chipped a tooth as an adult, my tongue tip always wants to poke itself into that new space. What exactly is that urge?

Memories are fascinating things. They can be elusive or vivid, accurate or just plain wrong. They can be ever present in our minds or forgotten.

I remember losing a tooth at the Heinz pavilion of the World's Fair in Queens, New York. I was given a whistle in the shape of a pickle by a woman who was there. Wow!

I don't remember much of the years that I was in the 8th, 9th or 10th grades. Did nothing happen? I doubt that highly. Unfortunately, I suspect that those years were so awful that they are just a haze. It isn't that they were so long ago (which they were), for if I can recall perfectly losing a tooth in 1964, it would stand to reason I'd remember something that happened ten years later. But, no.

I bet you can remember losing at least one of your baby teeth, no matter how old you are. Anyone have a good story? Hardly anyone is reading this today, so I have a feeling there will be no responses, but I'm asking anyway.

The stats tell me that if I write about McCain, Palin, a celebrity,or Salvador Dali (who people seem to google quite frequently, for reasons I don't understand and should look into), I will get more hits. They also tell me that if I don't stay on topic, the people who've arrived here will bounce away quickly.

Oh well. I can't conform to the standards of good web traffic. It figures. I can't seem to conform to anything properly! More on that another time.

Image note: I didn't know there was a movie called "The Tooth Fairy". Looks pretty scary! I never thought the tooth fairy was anyone but my mother. I got twenty five cents for a tooth. I have no idea what they are going for these days.

Note: If you want to read a solid editorial on McCain, I suggest this. As I have criticism of the Palin pick, because I do not think she is qualified to hold so high an office in government, I will hold myself to the same standards and stick to writing about things like memories of losing baby teeth.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Once upon a time, with sheep

Once upon a time, I had this fantasy: I would move to Northern New England, raise sheep, spin their wool and weave blankets on a 19th century loom (and I'd make a living at it).

Well, I did all of that, except for the part in parentheses.

It's been quite a while, but I miss those sheep. Getting up with the sunrise and tending to the animals, though sometimes a chore, was mostly a pleasure. I'm not looking back with rose-colored glasses. I loved raising sheep.

The second year that I had sheep, we saw a crazy cold winter. One month (I forget which one) the temperature never rose above zero. One morning, I looked at the thermometer and saw it read minus 28. I bundled up for my trip to the barn. In one hand I had a bucket of grain and in the other, water. A part of me wondered if those sheep would be frozen to death.

They acted like it was any other day. Some of them were in the barn and others were out sitting in the snow. They all had mustaches of ice. As I entered the barn, I sloshed the water around and got one of my mittens wet. Stupidly, I put my hand on the metal handle of the door to steady myself. Thankfully, that was one tough mitten I had knit. It immediately froze to the door, but my hand was hot inside of it, and I didn't lose any skin. I would have, most certainly. There were "freezing flesh warnings" on the radio. I had never heard of such a thing before.

It felt warm in that barn. The smell of hay was strong. I sat down on a hay bale and remember wondering if I'd knit a replacement for that mitten. It was a scallopman's mitten, designed to be worn by hands that got wet in the cold waters off the coast of Maine. For you knitters out there, these mittens were 90 plus inches around, knit with worsted weight yarn on size 2 needles and to top it off, they were lined with loops of wool (thank you "Homespun Handknit") I knit them before I even moved to Maine, while I was dreaming up this fantasy. I could not wait until I moved to a place cold enough to warrant wearing such things.

But no, I never knit a replacement.

I really miss those mornings with my sheep. I don't miss the anxiety I sometimes had after I started hearing coyotes on a regular basis. I once saw one at the edge of the woods. The sheep knew it was there before I did. I was wondering why all of them were standing at the edge of the electric fence, all turning their heads in the same direction. I looked where they looked and saw a coyote, its head down low to the ground.

Thankfully, no coyote ever got one of my sheep. I think they would have outrun any coyote, actually. The first time I had these sheep sheared, the fellow who did it came with two sheep dogs. Those sheep bolted right out of the shearing pen. I am not exaggerating when I say that the dogs chased them for two hours before the fellow called them off. He was afraid his dogs would drop dead from exhaustion. He came back the next day and did it my way, which was pretty funny, for I was a city girl who didn't know much. But I knew my wild sheep. They'd be cooperative for a bucket of grain with molasses in the middle of summer, when all they usually got was grass.

I remember these as lazy days. I'd spend time sitting in the barn or up in the pasture. I'd sit on the picnic table near the vegetable garden and shoot the shit with the fellow who owned the property. We'd talk for hours and then go back to whatever we were doing, me weaving or spinning or moving the fences around. There was a lot of work, with the sheep or in the garden, or with something or other, but I just remember a sort of langorousness, as if the days were longer than any days that preceded it or days that have come since.

I really miss that piece of property. It was a quarter of a mile down a dirt road and had acres and acres of rolling pasture, surrounded by a woods with a meandering path that lead to a large pond with an active beaver dam. It was perfection. Unfortunately, it wasn't my own property.

I feel like I live in suburbia these days, but that surely is a joke, for if I wanted a few sheep in my backyard, I could have them. There's no zoning against it, as far as I know. I'd be surprised if there were. I thought perhaps we should get some chickens, at the least. Somehow I don't think any of these things are going to happen on my little half an acre, but who knows?

Tonight I started spinning again after so many years. A wonderful woman lent me a wheel and it felt great to practice the simple art of spinning wool. I wonder why I ever stopped.

Painting note: This is a first - I had another image gracing the top of this post that I disliked so much I had to remove it. Instead, I offer up:
Gerard Dou's "Woman Eating Porridge" 1637
Beautiful spinning wheel - Dou was a stickler for detail, and probably would be diagnosed with something (OCD, perhaps) in this day and age. He made his own brushes in order to work with such precision on a small scale.

Addendum: I am quite smitten with Dou's paintings. His use of light and attention to detail are spectacular. I highly enjoyed the paintings I saw on line. I'd love to see some in person. Once upon a time, I lived in a place where I could go to a museum and see great art. Ah, there are tradeoffs in this life, aren't there? At least, now, I've got the Web. If I didn't, I doubt I could managed to have lived in Maine so long.

Negative messages, positive messages

Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Monthly asks people to find someone named Jeffrey Goldberg on the Web who isn't either a.)him b.)a lawyer or c.)a doctor.

Out of curiosity, I tried, by putting the State of Maine in the search parameters. I figured there must be some Jeffrey Goldberg who was an underachiever somewhere in this State. But if there is, he's not advertising himself on line.

This brings me to a subject I was thinking about last night. I was watching (yes, another violent) movie last night, "American Gangster". It was a surprisingly slow, but fascinating movie about Frank Lucas, the biggest heroin dealer in Harlem during the late 60's and 70's and the cop who brought him down.

While watching this film, I found myself feeling quite sad. As I've mentioned, I watch a lot of disturbing movies, but I soon realized that it wasn't the movie, per se, that was bothering me. It was the soundtrack and the recreation of New York past. I was not watching this film as a person who is living in 2008, but a person who was alive in 1968, and that person was one very unhappy child.

Music can have that effect upon a person. It brings us back to times past much in the same way as smell - no thoughts, just raw bodily feelings that we may not even be aware of (no wonder couples pick such awful songs for their weddings).

I've been skimming the book, "The Mindful Way Through Depression" in the last two days, and now understand a bit more about why I can slip into a depression so easily. And yes, this does relate to watching the film.

When I hear the music of my early childhood, a part of me is still there, fixed in time. It doesn't matter how much I talk about it and think I've "resolved those issues". In some way, they are unresolvable. They can only be managed. It's like having post traumatic stress disorder (which, to tell you the truth, I've been diagnosed with, though I don't quite buy it).

One can't undo the past. One can only learn to live with it better.

In last night's thoughts, I had a silent wish for all parents: tell your kids that they can be anything they want. Tell your kids that they are beautiful. Tell them they are smart. Tell them they are special.

I was thinking on Obama and his smile. During the debate on Friday, in the midst of such seriousness, he would occasionally smile. His smile is dazzling and open. His eyes gleam merrily. Dick and I went to a small Chinese restaurant on Saturday night, where our waiter was a young man from China who was obviously just starting to master English. I asked him to read us the words on the back of the fortune cookie slips. This seemed to make this kid so happy! Someone wanted his expertise, and he laughed as I pathetically tried to pronounce the Chinese word for "today". I enjoyed his open laugh and smile, and then I thought about Obama.

How in the world did this man develop into someone so open and so full of optimism? He was born to a white single mother. His father left him. Just those three facts alone would, I'd imagine, statistically set him up for failure. But no, he grew up to be who we see now, a smart, self-assured and positive person.

We now know that genetics do play a role in these things, but nurture is still winning over nature in this debate. One thing we know about Obama is that his mother and grandparents gave him absolutely unconditional love and a deep, abiding respect for others. They also told him that he could be anything, with no reservations. They also gave him a deep trust in the power of education. And so, here he is today. Like him or not, one has to see that ones' upbringing can make all the difference in the world.

Obama could have been a deeply alienated and angry young man.

When I hear the music of the sixties, I am filled with a sense of creeping dread. That's because I have so few happy memories from that time. What kind of messages was I brought up with? They certainly weren't the ones that Obama's family gave him!

I learned these: There will probably be a nuclear disaster of major propertions in my lifetime. People are mean and stupid. There may be another Holocaust for the Jews. It's doubtful that you'll succeed in anything. The cards are stacked against you. Love is an illusion. Life is essentially meaningless. . .

I could go on, ad nauseum. It's a wonder I made it to the age of 16 with these ideas burned into my brain. I've spent my lifetime fighting the weight of all these negative messages. It takes up a lot of my energy and that energy could have been used for so many better things.

What has this to do with Jeffrey Goldberg? Give a bit of thought.

Painting note: Brueghel a detail of "Children's Games" 1560
According to the Elliott Avendon Museum and Archive of Games, there are over 200 children childen playing 80 different games in this painting.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Just nice

In a recent post, "Perfume lust", I was practically moaning with, well, lust, for Annick Goutal's Encens Flamboyant. Here's the description from the Annick Goutal website:

A mystical, arousing and intense scent.
An ode to frankincense, masterfully blended in three formats: Frankincense essence emerges first, a distillation of tears of frankincense, whose ethereal and mineral freshness evoke cold stone. Black pepper and rose berry bring a pungency and edginess.

Then comes frankincense resinoid, a warm and balmy scent, steeped in precious spices, cardamom and nutmeg. Finally, "Vieille église" frankincense deliciously burnt and warmed by woody balsam fir, welcoming and sweet, and pure extract of lentisque. Drawn from arid vegetation, it is also used in Kiphi, the prized Pharaonic perfume.

Now, I'm not usually swayed by ad copy, but this caused me to feel weak in the knees. I wanted some and wanted it badly. It's hard to find a good incense smell. I love L'artisan's Passage D'enfer, but wouldn't mind a change now and again. But at $175 for a bottle of this stuff, I could only yearn and hope that it would wind up on Ebay or some discount perfume store sometime in the future.

As I write this, I am now wearing some of this precious stuff, the supposedly flamboyant incense. It is a nice scent. That's it. Nice.

Don't you think for one hundred and seventy five bucks it should be a bit better than nice?

But I'm not rich, so what do I know? One hundred and seventy five bucks is chump change to one of the CEOs of Lehman Brothers, even if they've just lost their business. Perhaps some discouraged banker bought a bottle of this stuff for his wife on his way home from work -"Here, honey. Things aren't as bad as they seem. I got you a bottle of perfume!"

Hell, one hundred and seventy five bucks doesn't even get two people a good meal at the kind of restaurant a person who worked at Lehman Brothers would go to after a day of work. (Oh, I keep forgetting that someone who is middle-class makes 250K).

And you thought this was a perfume review?

Well, it is.

Encens Flamboyant is nice, and I'd certainly wear it. It is to my taste. It certainly is an incense fragrance. It lacks any hint of head shop (and at that price, it darn well better). I can smell the "burnt" frankincense and that is, again, nice.

Now that I've tried it, I can see why it doesn't come in smaller bottles. It is pretty weak. I needed to use half the vial (.5ml) to really smell the stuff, and I don't think I'm suffering from any anosmia.

So, there it is, folks. The big letdown. I'm glad for it. What if I had fallen in love?

Painting note: Edouard Manet Nana 1877
Would this woman wear something Flamboyant? I think not. She'd wear something nice.

Addendum: Thank you, Nika, for sending me a sample.
Also: I realize it was sexist of me to assume that a businessman might buy some of this for his wife, so I'll add: Perhaps at the end of the day, after hearing that she'd lost her job, some businesswoman at Lehman Brothers decided to walk uptown from Wall Street and stopped in at Aedes de Venustas on Christopher Street to cheer herself up with a new scent. It would be a shame if this is what she had settled on.
And no, I don't get anything for consistently linking to this wonderful store (sigh). And I presume I won't get anything for giving this scent such a pathetic review, will I?

Addendum II: Last night, the Encens Flamboyant seemed to fade away to near nothing. As I'm having a lazy Sunday morning and haven't had a shower yet, I notice its lingering scent. I would have bet good money that this scent would only be a memory the next day (and I would have lost). So, what did I do? Put some more on. It seems fitting on this terribly gray and rainy Autumn day.

Usually, I wake up with a stuffy nose. This morning my sense of smell seems more acute than normal. Was I indeed suffering from a bit of anosmia last night? Or perhaps one needs even more of this juice to really smell it. I didn't quite apply an entire .5 ml of the stuff yesterday - it was just an estimate - but now the vial is indeed half empty (or half full, as the happier person would say). Still, after one more application, it shall be gone, and it will not be replaced.

Addendum III: 4:10pm Uh oh. I felt a strong desire to apply more (and I did). This morning, while I was meditating, I felt keenly aware of the scent. This is not a good thing! Now I associate it with meditation, so I find it calming. Maybe I should ask my doctor for a prescription. I don't know how much street drugs cost, but what can one buy for around 60 dollars an ounce?

One more thing (and then, hopefully, I'll be done with this!): It does smell quite a bit like the super cheap incense I burn in my meditation room - Nippon Kodo's Morning Star Pine ($7.50 for 200 sticks). The Goutal doesn't smell like balsam fir and the real incense doesn't smell like pine. . .maybe it is me (and my poor untrained nose).

Addendum IV! I do smell the balsam. Last night, as I was falling asleep, with my hand pressed up against my face, I realized I was wondering "What ever happened to the little bag of balsam needles that I used to have?" Sniff. Sniff. It was my wrist sending me that thought. When the incense finally fades, there it is: balsam.

The end.

Can we disagree without being jerks? (and that includes me)

My internet service was down for the duration of the debate last night, so I didn't live-blog, which I was considering. Probably a good thing.

About one month ago, I made a decision to not elevate myself by speaking ill of others. I removed my posts about Sarah Palin when I made this decision, and finally (finally!) those cached posts are not being read.

I found the debate quite painful to watch. I also kept wondering how other people were reacting to it, as Dick and I both had a similar reaction to McCain's behavior. We thought he was creepy. I'd go further than that - I found his smirking and grimacing, not to mention his refusal to even look in Obama's direction - downright offensive. His behavior was not gentlemenly, and it made me realize just how refreshing I find Obama's demeanor. Obama addressed McCain as "John" and disagreed with McCain without condescension.

I do not think either of them "won" the debate. I doubt anyone's mind has been changed by last night. What we saw were two candidates with completely different world views - one sees the world through the lens of war and the other does not. One seems passionate because of honor and fear, while the other is cool. This last part reminds me of Kerry and Dukakis (though Obama is certainly not either of them). For some people, his cool demeanor may appear as though he doesn't care enough, but for me, it shows that he's not an over-reactor.

This week, we saw McCain's tendency towards drama unfold on two fronts. He considers the economic situation so dire that he must close down his campaign. He announces he may not attend the debate. Of course, neither thing occurred. Obama, on the other hand, may seem to be under-reacting, but my preference is always for over-analysis, so there's my particular prejudice.

My sense is that, once again, there are two types of Americans, and very few in the mid ground of opinion about these two governing styles. One side sees quick reactions and hyperbolic responses as "strong". The other sees measured thinking as "weak". In regards to the economy, last night Obain said to McCain, "The problem is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel." This may have seemed like a throwaway line, but I think it's telling. In order to use a scalpel, one needs to be calm and collected, and see both the large picture and the smallest details. Just imagining McCain as a brain surgeon gives me the willies. He seems ready to explode at any minute, barely unable to control himself, wildly impatient.

This is the style of a man steeped in battle. To me, this hypervigilant, the-world-as-a-potential-powderkeg filled with "enemies" worldview is one I'd rather not live in. McCain would call me naive, as he called Obama naive last night. Additionally, McCain kept talking about "winning" the war in Iraq. What are we actually winning? Noone asked that question. I wish Obama had asked him that pointedly. Perhaps this has become an untouchable question, for it reminds people old enough to remember of Vietnam, where we finally realized that there was indeed nothing to win. Unfortunately, this idea wound up doing the people fighting the war a big disservice, and I believe that's the reason noone's bringing this up.

I won't analyze this any further. I must say that I found Obama's willingness to say "I agree. . ." to be a breath of fresh air. The Republican pundits are spinning this to show how the inexperienced Obama is piggy-backing on the experience of McCain, but don't we all use the experience of others? That is how we all learn, and besides, it shows respect. It saddened me to see McCain treat Obama with such condescension. Is that how McCain is going to "reach across the aisle?"

I wondered why it bothered me so much that McCain's behavior was so nasty. Again, I think of the respect I once had for this man. The more I see and hear of him lately, the less I like him. Now, I do not base my voting decisions on whether I like or dislike a candidate - I've held my nose many a time while voting. However, the particular type of dismissive behavior that McCain showed last night scares me (coupled with the hasty and dramatic decisions he's made since picking Palin as his veep). We are in precarious times and our standing in the world is not good. I want a gentleman (or woman) in the White House, for once. We need to build alliances and not make more enemies.

Painting note: This image has absolutely nothing to do with this post. I'm in a hurry, is all, and I do like this artist's work quite a bit. His portraits are wonderful. Does the fact that I like this stuff make me an elite?
Antonello de Messina Hieronymus im Gehäus 1474

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Animal postcards

Preface: I wrote this yesterday and then thought, "My writing has become too breezy. This is filled with memories that could be delved into with more insight and humor. Rewrite it!" Well, to heck with that! Another time, perhaps.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I collected cats-dressed-as-people postcards when I was a kid. I don't know what happened to that collection, which was quite large. Too bad, both because I'd like to look at the postcards in person, and because they are worth something.

It took very little time to find information about these cards, information that I never knew. You can read about them here, if you are interested. There's no reason for me to regurgitate this fine website's information. And I did not copy the image above from them (as they expressively asked not to!)

Oddly, even though the publishing company was in New York, I remember buying these cards in Gloucester, Massachusetts, when I was ten years old. I only visited there once, so I must have gotten them elsewhere, but I have no memory of where specifically. They were not easy to find and I do remember the joy of discovering a new place to purchase them!

I liked to collect things when I was a kid. My first collection was of "nice" rocks, which is a pretty common thing for kids to collect. I still do collect what I consider to be nice rocks. The other things that I collected when I was quite young were old portrait postcards and silver spoons. I would go to antiques fairs and play up my being a cute little girl. I used to marvel at my ability to dicker with people, for in every other situation, I was completely shy. I must have wanted these things badly to transcend my normal self, or perhaps I thought it was an interesting game. It's not like I'd ever see these people again, and, they were adults, which is an important distinction. I had very little idea of how to act like a child. It was not "natural" for me.

I loved these cat postcards so much way back when. They had all the qualities that hooked me: lots of detail, no people (very important), not modern. I still remember how much I did not like picture books that had people in them when I was still young enough to read picture books. But I didn't like my animals au naturelle - they had to be wearing clothing! I recall a favorite book, one where there was an apartment building of squirrels inside a tree.

I was a weird kid, of course. And now, to one of the children next door to me, I am a weird adult.

The shoutbox

Newsflash: My shoutbox has a limit of sixty posts an hour, which was not exceeded, but who am I to argue with its programmer? I will not be upgrading any time soon. Perhaps I should get a groupboard instead for the few times that there is convergence of real humans in real time.

My favorite scents, so far

I feel like I'm stuck on a selection of fragrances and that I can't find anything that compares to these. I thought I'd list them. As we say in Maine, "It's something to do."

Undying Passion:

L'artisan Passage D'enfer
L'artisan Dzongkha
Serge Lutens Chergui


L'artisan Safran Troublant
Serge Lutens Douce Amere
Serge Lutens Chypre Rouge
Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille
Guerlain Jicky
Bulgari Black

Fickle Love:

Hermes Un Jardin sur le Nil
Guerlain Shalimar Light
Yves Rocher Rose Absolue
Chanel Les Exclusifs Eau de Cologne
CB I Hate Perfume Memories of Kindness
Diptyque Philosykos
Annick Goutal Neroli

Lost loves:
Chanel No. 19
Chanel Cristalle
An old bottle of White Shoulders
Hermes Caleche

There's many CB I Hate Perfume fragrances that I truly admire and find fascinating, but don't want to wear. I just like sniffing them.

Truthfully, there isn't anything by Lutens or L'artisan that I don't like to some extent. I wonder what it is about these two that appeals to me so uniformly. Any ideas?

Painting note: Francois Boucher La Toilette 1742
What to do for an image? Find something French. Well, that's done. I've never been one for the Roccoco period, but I find this absolutely charming. It reminds me of the paintings of cats dressed as people postcards that I collected when I was a child.


I've never had a big problem with procrastination. Sure, there are plenty of things that I've put off doing, but in this area, I think I'm in the "normal range" (whatever that means). Oh, what does that mean? I suppose I rate normalcy as not being overly one way or another. In the case of procrastination, there are some things that I put off and other things that I get to right away. Thus, normal.

However, I am having a big problem with my schoolwork. It has been so boring to me that I find it nearly impossible to engage with it. And since most of the work is online, it's quite easy to navigate away from the page (as I'm doing right now).

This is interesting: I realize that if there was a textbook, I'd probably be more engaged. This is the second "class" in a row without a textbook, and I had a problem with that course material, too.

Textbook or no, the course material is painfully dull. How much can one read about filing systems? I took an exam yesterday and encountered questions like how many filer drawers are needed for x amount of files. I did the math, but my answer was wrong. Of course, I didn't use the "official" numbers that were in the course, for I never wrote them down. I couldn't bring myself to take notes. . .I skimmed, over and over again.

I need to knuckle down, but I can't seem to. One thing I've never been was a diligent drudge. I've never been big on taking notes, for one thing. In the past, I've found that taking notes gets in the way of paying attention to what I'm listening to or reading. Now, I must take notes, for I've no textbook to refer to.

How do you push yourself to do something that you can't stand doing? Right now, I'm feeling like I'd rather subject myself to various forms of torture than do this work. Maybe I am subjecting myself to torture by doing this work. That's what it feels like.

Any suggestions would be truly appreciated!

Painting note: Henry Fuseli The Nightmare 1781
While searching for a painting of someone asleep, I found this. An artist I have never heard of, or seen (or if I did, I don't remember it).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The 161st post

Earlier today I was thinking "maybe I should stop blogging. . .perhaps I've run out of things to write about. . ." As faithful readers well know, I think this from time to time. Usually, this promotes a flurry of writing! When I noticed that I'd posted 160 entries since March, I was rather surprised. Considering how long most of my blog entries are (and the fact that there are many that I have taken down or never posted), I've done quite a bit of writing.

So, there was the preface to my 161st post.

Many thoughts are swirling around in my mind this evening.

I just watched a new television show, "The Mentalist", and while I enjoyed it somewhat, I wondered why I was wasting an hour of my time watching it. I also wondered why I like watching tv shows and movies about murder. I have always liked mysteries. When I was in elementary school, I read every single book Agatha Christie ever wrote (and that's quite a few). I used to read true crime books, but decided they were terrible for my mental health, especially as I was living in New York City when I was consuming these loathesome pieces of writing. I lived in quite a bit of fear and generally slept during the day time. I will say, (in defense of my neurosis), that New York was much more dangerous back then.

This past week, I've watched a quite a few violent movies (as per usual). Watching these movies feels particularly awful right now because I'm quite aware of the state of affairs in the real world, and they are not good. Some people watch fake violence, I would guess, to distract themselves from the real violence around them. When analyzing why I tend to like murder mysteries, suspence thrillers and the like, I think it's because I have always been fascinated with extremes of human behavior. But these days, it just feels like a bad habit.

The fact that the polar ice caps are melting, we are in the midst of an energy and financial crisis, I'm unemployed and worried about getting work, the winter is coming up here in Maine, the outcome of the presidential election is uncertain, a state trooper in my town had a nervous breakdown after witnessing a particularly gruesome accident, and all the rest of it, what some call the "full catastrophe", well, adding insult to injury by watching irrelevant violent movies just seems wrong. If I insist upon wasting my hours consuming entertainment, I think I'd be far better off watching comedies that make me laugh or documentaries about inspiring people or anything that's more healthy than murder and mayhem.

I suggested to others that they go out and look at the beauty of the world and what do I do? I sit in my living room watching crap. I didn't even own a television set for well over ten years. Now, the damned thing is on every night. On top of that, I almost obsessively read political blogs.

I would like to read Bruce E. Levine's book "Surviving America's Depression: How to Find Morale, Energy and Community in a World Gone Crazy". The only criticism I've heard of it is that the suggestions about community are a bit hard for those who live in rural America (sigh). Otherwise, it sounds like it'll be a great read. There: another book plug for a book I haven't read. I'll get back to you on it, I promise (sort of).

The tv show that I watched earlier must have been well written, for I just realized that I feel rather creeped out, and considering how frightening a lot of the stuff I watch is, I'm surprised anything can get to me. I've been watching Wire in the Blood, where Robson Green plays the completely crazy criminal profiler Tony Hill. I had always thought the British were more subtle than the Americans in their television fare, but this show is more gruesome than anything on this side of the pond. And in spite of my continued avowal to stop watching this stuff, I keep on doing it.

Now I've forgotten everything else that I meant to write about. This blog is becoming too much of a daily journal, I'd say. I need to get myself in line.

I also am well aware that people like to read short things. I am in deep trouble. You probably didn't even get this far. And I can't say I don't blame you.

If you did get this far, the last paragraph was a good example of the kind of self-deprecating remark that I always point out to others when they give voice to their self-dislike (I hesitate to say self-hatred). What good can it possibly serve? Is it a plea for a "oh, no, that's not true!" response or yet another bad habit? Probably both. I'll watch for it. And no, I am not depressed. Just pensive. It's not like twelve hours of meditation is going to completely overhaul my personality. . .

Painting note: Francis Bacon - Head I 1948
I've always found Bacon's work to be quite disturbing. For some reason, I was given the impression in art school that he was an artist not to be taken seriously. I realize I know nothing at all about him, so I should probably go read the link I've supplied here. I fear this will not be uplifting.


Oy vay. The word "zaftig" is an American word. Here's the etymology: Yiddish zaftik, literally, juicy, succulent. Zaft, juice: Middle High German: saft, earlier saf, juice, sap + -ig, -y.

Well, now I know that I've been called "juicy" by relatives. Ick! But I'm guessing they hadn't a clue. They just thought they were using a nicer word than the American "chubby", which is slightly better than saying one has a lot of baby fat (and no one over six years of age can still have the cute form of that).

Last night, when I stayed up late (with one eye open) after mistakenly drinking a large cup of dark roast coffee thinking it wouldn't affect me (ha), I was thinking about how I used to be heckled by guys when I was young. I found it annoying and threatening, especially when I was hissed at.

Some years back, a friend mentioned how much she enjoyed going to Spain and Italy, where men would verbally harass her on the street all the time. She didn't use the word "harass", but I don't remember what word she used because I was so surprised. She actually enjoyed this attention?! Yes, indeed. In fact, she bemoaned the fact that now that she was in her thirties, she didn't get as much attention on the street as she used to. This perspective was a surprise to me. For the first time in my life, I thought "I might be a puritanical American".

Since I haven't lived in New York City for over twenty years, I hadn't noticed that I was no longer being harassed (or paid attention to) by strange men on the street. After hearing my friend talk about it, the next time I was in a city, I did in fact notice that noone said a word to me. I had become an invisible woman. And frankly, even though I may have felt less harassed, I realized that I had missed something terribly important. I had missed that I had once been a beautiful young woman. How sad.

Though I don't advocate yelling at women on the street (not in the least), I realize that I miss being wanted. Not by those strangers, no, not that. It's more of a general thing. When I look in the mirror these days, I think, "Who would desire that?" I sure wouldn't (and don't). Just as they say you need to love oneself before others can love you fully, I think one needs to find themselves their own sex object before one can be truly wanted. And if you think feeling desired is of no consequence, just wait until you're not and see how it feels.

Of course, in this society we do put too much emphasis on physical desirability. And people who are in long term relationships can see each other in ways that others do not. The elderly woman who's been married for fifty years, well, in the best of worlds, her husband still sees the young beauty he fell in love with long ago. At least that is what we all hope for, isn't it?

Last night I was also thinking about my mother. She had a full face lift in 1984, before it was all that common for middle class women to do this. She spend all her savings on that face lift, which I found most disturbing. The odd thing is that I do not recall if I saw her afterwards. She died that year due to a car accident. When I had to settle her accounts, she had less than five hundred dollars in the bank, not even enough to buy a plain casket. All that surgery had been for nothing, but how was she to know?

I judged her quite a bit for that face lift. I wondered why she couldn't accept getting old. And when she died, I thought that she was spared the business of becoming elderly, which I could not imagine her doing. My mother cared so much about the externals - clothing and weight. She regularly took people under her wing and gave them complete makeovers. She'd take dorky guys shopping, oversee their haircuts, give them advice on making witty conversation. And if they wound up with more dates, hooray!

I feel badly now, thinking that I felt my mother was spared, for I am moving into the same territory of age that she was having difficulty with. My mother looked far better than I at the age I am now, but that's because I haven't cared all that much about these things.

I have also harbored a delusion of pretty big proportions: Thinking that I was an unattractive woman, I figured I wouldn't notice the changes that middle age would bring. I figured there would be no sense of lost. Oh, how wrong I was!

Painting Note: Peter Paul Rubens (again). A portrait of his zaftig wife, Hélène Fourment.

Addendum: I don't know if it'll change by the time you get there, but if you click on the link for yourdictionary.com's definition of zaftig (not the one I used above), you will find something I found rather disturbing. There's ads for shoes, shoes and more shoes plus lots of pink ads for the movie "Sex in the City" and shoes, shoes and more shoes. There's got to be a diet link on there somewhere, but all that pink made me want to go away fairly quickly. And I do like pink, but just not in such large quantities.

Jeans update: This morning I realized the absurdity of a 5'1" woman wearing a pair of 38 inch jeans. I am not morbidly obese. If I think I'm actually hiding my fat by wearing these, I'm mistaken. Well, maybe I am, 'cause my neighbor said to me reccently after I declined a size 8 pair of pants someone gave her, "I can't tell what size you are - everything you wear is so baggy!" But the gals at What Not to Wear would have a field day with me (and I wish they would!) so I'm giving these jeans to Dick. Hope he likes them. (Note: I put the link to the show there, but I don't know if it's still any good: Trinny and Susannah are gone!)

Monday, September 22, 2008


I have steadily gained weight over the last few years. Not being happy with this, I came up with a strategy, not a diet: I decided to eat like I was living alone Monday through Friday and share meals with Dick and friends on the weekends (unless something special came up). I instituted this new eating policy in the late Spring and assumed it would work well, for I've always been thin when I've lived alone.

I'm a social eater. I don't sit alone and nibble on food while watching TV. I like eating meals. I'm not a grazer. Though I often get cravings for iced cream or popcorn (especially while watching movies), I can live without either. As far as eating goes, my greatest pleasure is eating with others while engaging in lively conversation. The second biggest pleasure is eating in silence and savoring each bite of food for all it is worth.

So, the plan made all the sense in the world. But, it did not work. I have gained at least ten pounds since I changed my eating habits. I went from being chubby to being big, and it's a shock.

I have never stayed the same size for too long. Three years is probably the maximum time limit I've had on any one size. But going from a size 0 to a size 6 is not such a big deal. I was way too thin when I was a 0 (though I didn't think so at the time). Size 6 was nice. It was this past Spring when I hit the double digit number of 10 and decided to do something about it.

And now I'm even bigger. Who is this person? I am unrecognizable to myself.

I needed to buy a new pair of jeans today. Nothing fit. Looking in the dressing room mirror (which I tried to avoid) was frightening. Not only am I fat, but everything is sagging. My extremely white skin makes it all the worse looking. I tried to look and not think such self-loathing thoughts. It can't possibly be good for my mental health to think such things as "you are disgusting." But I could not turn off these sorts of thoughts.

I wound up buying a pair of men's carpenter jeans that are insanely huge. I need to use a belt pulled up tight in order to keep the jeans from falling down. I may be big, but I'm nowhere near a size 38! I've always liked the look of too-big pants and a tiny waist, but now I'm missing that all important component (the tiny waist). And when I cinch in the waistline of the jeans, they ride up so high that there's only a few inches to go before one hits my boob line.

I am a short, fat and middle-aged woman. And I have limp brown shoulder length hair. Ugh.

I loved it when I was really skinny and had a shaved head. I was androgynous. I felt strong. Now I look an awful lot like my grandmother. No one in their right mind would mistake me for a boy. And for someone like me, who doesn't feel all that gendered, this feels almost as strange as wearing a frou-frou dress (actually - it's far worse). Unfortunately, unlike a dress, I can't just remove the excess fat from my body in one fell swoop and throw it on the floor in disgust.

I don't know what to do. I don't eat all that much, and I eat healthy food. I haven't been as active as I used to be, but that doesn't account for it all. I know that I am on medication that can put on the pounds, and that may account for quite a bit. Plus, I am no longer a young woman. No woman in my family was thin in their older years (and I remember none of them overeating).

I may have to resign myself to this. I realize that being okay with it, and with myself just the way I am, is far harder than any diet I've ever been on. And there may be a lot more merit to achieving that kind of self-acceptance and love than being my "ideal size".

Painting note: Rubens "Venus Before the Mirror" 1615 I always turn to Rubens when I feel gross. When I was a kid, folks called overweight women "zaftig". I am typing with one eye open (yep, that's how tired I am), so I'm too lazy to look up what the exact meaning of the word (German, I presume) means. Anyone like to inform me?

Addendum: I tossed off this post in a hurry while fighting sleep. I think this is an important topic. Weight and size are huge issues for women, and theses issues, in my opinion, are far larger than the amount of energy they use up. I may wind up taking down this post and re-writing it when I can think more clearly, and if I do not, this surely won't be the end of the topic.

As an aside, I notice that I write about myself instead of writing theoretically. This, I've discovered, is quite "feminine" of me. I assume that by your reading of my experiences and feelings, you'll think about your own experiences and feelings. I may be making a wrong assumption. But, I suspect not.

Side project

This morning a woman called me at 8:30am to ask about tattoos. I have decided to start a side project blog - Tattoo Help Desk. The link is now, obviously, in the links list. Don't bother visiting today, unless you have a tattoo related question that you'd like answered, for the only thing there is the "Welcome" post. More to come, but not here!

Addendum: I wound up staying up late to write some posts for this probably-not-so-side project, so if it's tattoos that interest you, check it out.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thoughts on this Sunday night

Well, folks, I'm back from my retreat. I feel like I've had a brain-cleaning. I sure needed to clear my mind, as anyone who's been reading this blog recently can attest to.

Some folks may bristle. Maybe I won't be cranky! Maybe I'll proselytize: "Get thee to a meditation retreat!" Well, I might proselytize a wee bit. Heck, I might proselytize a lot. Here's why:

Zen is not a religion. If I "proselytize", I'm not trying to get you to believe in anything. I'm not trying to get you to not believe in anything, either. Okay, I'm not trying to get you to do anything, for that matter.

It's just this - nothing, and how hard can I stress this? - NOTHING - has ever really helped with my depression. That is, nothing except Zen. Or perhaps I should be clearer about this, nothing except meditation. I won't pretend that I know enough about Zen Buddhism to tell you anything about it. Sure, I know something, but I am not a Zen teacher, not by a long shot. I meditate. That's all.

My experience has taught me that by engaging in long periods of meditation (and this was a short one, comparatively), I seem to be able to break the cycle of depression.

It's doesn't have to be "Zen". Jon Kabat-Zinn writes at length about meditation as a tool for easing physical and emotional pain. Meditation as medicine. It's powerful stuff, indeed. I just now discovered, when finding a link to his name, that there's a book that I wasn't aware of that he's co-authored called "The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness".

Today's post will be brief (for me). Just saying "hello" again. Even though I've only been away from this blog for barely a few days, it feels like it was a few months ago that I was sitting in this very seat, writing my bleak missives. The last two days have been beautiful. The sky has been intensely blue. The air feels crisp but it's not cold yet. I haven't noticed a beautiful day in quite a while. Saturday was spectacular, but I know that if it had occurred the Saturday before, I would not have noticed it at all.

Depression is like wearing a heavy shroud. It seems as if it would be easy to throw it off at any time, but it is not. It takes work. And for all I know, I may wake up tomorrow once again covered in that gray cloth. At least I've had a few beautiful days.

How was Saturday for you? What was the weather like, both inside and out?

Photo note: Here's an assignment (though I believe I gave my readers an assignment for while I was away and that didn't work out too well. . .) Go outside and look at something.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A respite

I've just read a review of a film I hadn't planned on seeing, "The Women", and now I plan to see it even less (if that's possible). This reminds me that I had started a post last week about the paucity (or complete lack) of women in films that I relate to even a whit.

When I watched (the awful) film, "I'm Not There", (supposedly) about Bob Dylan, and observed Cate Blanchett as she sat and moved like a man is supposed to, I thought "why don't we ever see women sitting with their legs apart?" Leaving porn out of this, the only time we ever see a woman in pants who sits with her legs splayed is when when that woman is a lesbian.

This week Newsweek has a picture of a tube of lipstick and Freud's question "What do women want?" Y'know, I'm getting awfully sick of being part of a demographic group. I am reminded of the awkward times in my childhood when my parents would bring me to an adult party with the promise that there would be another 10 year old there, as if all 10 year olds were the same. I remember sighing in the back seat of the family car.

Well, I am officially exhausted by politics. I'm also exhausted by everything else in life at the moment, even as I think "Oh, there's so much to write and think about!" In the Shoutbox, the subject of whether humans are essentially good or bad came up, and I'd sure love to tackle that one. I'd like to write more on what this post started with - how women are portrayed in movies and television.

But, yeah, I'm tired. In spite of this, I will be on a meditative retreat until Saturday night (which, contrary to the way it sounds, is truly exhausting). Hopefully, I will clean out my brain some and come back to the blogosphere with a sharper mind (and perhaps less depressive thinking). Let's hope so.

I'm not supposed to have any expectations, but I'm only human.

So, folks, I will leave you to it for a few days. Please leave some comments and suggestions and I will happily respond. This was never meant to be all about me, me and more me.

Image note: The first post without one! Here's an assignment: find something totally new to you that is thought provoking or beautiful and figure out why it is.

What makes for a happy life?

I see that it's almost 10:30 and I'm still "waking up". I'm also not doing my schoolwork. A few days ago I would have chalked this up to depression. While I'm going about my business (or not, as the case would seem), I'm thinking, "Am I really depressed?" The answer is both yes and no.

In some post that I'd have to dig around for (and you're welcome to find, if you have time), I wrote about the idea that much of depression is actually a normal response to difficult times and lousy situations. Of course, people have wildly different responses to negative environments and bad life experiences, but until recently, researchers have mainly studied the "unhealthy" people (probably because there's more money in that, since remedies usually come in the form of a pill).

My psychiatrist is of the opinion that much of what we call depression could be remedied quickly with making healthier choices about how we live. I agree with him, but suspect that he doesn't get how difficult this is to do. He has said that most psychiatrists don't ask the so-called easy questions, like "How's your relationship with your husband?" or "Do you enjoy your job?" Well, one reason they might not ask these simple questions is that there are usually no simple answers to these supposedly simple questions. And so, it's far easier to chalk problems up to childhood damage and psychiatric "illness".

For instance, I know that it's psychologically (and physically) unhealthy for me to be living in a no-man's land of a town where I can't get up and walk to a library or any other place where people congregate (and no, I'm not counting the General Store, for even though there are a bunch of stools there upon which people can sit, I don't chat about shooting deer and felling trees).

So, what do I do with this knowledge? Nothing. There is nothing I can do. The real estate market is flat (or worse). I can't afford to live somewhere else, even if I could sell my house. The only thing I can do is deal with the fallout from living somewhere that isn't good for me (see "The Geographical Cure May Be Real".

This is true of so many people. Whether it's an inner city ghetto or a house in the hinterlands, they are ground down on a daily basis with no hopes of getting out. To make matters worse, in America, where we are taught that anyone can make something of themselves, we do see (and know) people who beat all the odds and extricate themselves from ghettos and rural poverty. They go on to persue their big dreams. Some succeed spectacularly and others, well, I don't know about the others, for we don't hear much from them. But there's an awful message in the American dream: if you aren't able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you are a failure. There's something wrong with you.

The truth is, I think it's fair to assume there's far more people who are not able to rise above their circumstances than people who do. But we don't look at that. If we did, we'd have to start wondering how useful this American dream is. And in my opinion, this dream is more of a delusion (or a bludgeon) than some great idea.

But getting back to depression (whilst pulling myself away from one of my favorite subjects, the danger of the American dream), what do we do when we realize that what ails us is our lives? What if there is no remedy?

And though this is tangential, another danger of the American dream is the belief that anyone can become anything. We're watching this in action right now. I wrote that I was tired of hearing her name and we should stop talking and writing about her, but Palin is a great example of the American dream gone awry. The idea that anyone can grow up to be President of the United States is a powerful one. But, even if you do love Palin, it is clearly obvious that she doesn't have a heck of a lot more knowledge about economics or foreign policy than the above average informed citizen. I agree that it's great that "anyone" can aspire to the Presidency, but somewhere we lost the collective agreement that that includes any solid credentials and education.

Maybe this is an outgrowth of the American gambling mentality. A poor person can win millions of dollars in the lottery,by suing someone for being served an overly hot cup of coffee, or by playing the stock market (notice the word playing). When one gets a lucky break, they think they deserve it in some way. You can get something for nothing in America. Oh, the mixed messages are incredible! On one hand, we're told that if we work hard enough, we'll get everything we want. On the other hand, we're told that if we pray hard enough, we'll get everything we want. Which is it, prayer or work? Though the obvious answer is "both", I rather think it's just another bunch of crazy-making messages that keep the bulk of Americans unhappy. And if you think we are a happy lot, think again.

Then again, I may be totally wrong. I just spent some time perusing statistics charts, and the recent coverage in the newsmedia that Americans aren't so happy after all is not all that accurate. We're just not in the top ten, where a superpower ought to be (right?)

I realize the post title seems to have nothing to do with the post. It's a question that I do not even touch upon. So, what do you think? What makes for a happy life?

Painting note: James Ensor. (Belgian, 1860-1949). Masks Confronting Death. 1888.
I was looking for a happy painting of some kind of festival, found this first, and well, it does seem a bit odd with the title above it. I don't even particularly like this painting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is everything falling apart?

I am still fascinated with the data about where my readers (or those who bounce off this site quickly) come from and what they do when they land here. However, I now realize that by not writing about politics, or giving my posts punchy topical titles like "Rouge Cou" (which is still getting hits)the amount of traffic this blog gets has dropped. But, that makes sense, for I was never out to write about politics, as I've said.

But. . .

Avoiding the topic is difficult. What's political is indeed personal. I also spend a good deal of time reading and watching coverage of the news.

And. . .

I don't want to harp upon Palin. The blogosphere is giving this woman way more attention than she deserves. One thing I was taught when I was young that still holds up today is that one should just ignore bullies. It's like dealing with angry dogs. If you don't show fear, they won't bite. If you yell, they'll bark even louder. Just walk on by. Do not respond. I repeat: do not respond.

And really, the same goes for McCain at this point. Pointing out that he's "just more of the same" or calling him out on his lies and distortions is starting to be a waste of time. People who like him, well, they just like him. No blogger is going to change their minds.

Oddly enough, in this new small world, where people in Japan are as close to me on the web as someone down the road is, I think the way anyone is going to sway voters is the most old fashioned way: talking to your neighbors. In person.

Here's a good topic starter, which I discovered by accident the other day while going grocery shopping with (an actual neighbor, no less): "Did you know that the price of a barrel of oil is back down to around a hundred dollars?"

This question, which was posed innocently while we were passing a gas station, was answered with, "Yes, I heard that. Why haven't gas prices gone down more?" The conversation then turned to how gas prices seemed to shoot up every day as the price of crude oil went up, but now that it's going down, there isn't the same level of volatility (and no, the world volatility was not uttered).

Of course there is a lot more nuance to the reasons why the price of oil at the pump fluctuates, escalates (or plummets, like that'll ever happen again). However, this simple observation is thought provoking. It causes a sense of suspicion that there is more going on they we are being told.

This is the way to raise some doubts. Here in rural Maine, a good amount of people do not like so-called liberals, but they dislike being taken for fools even more. And if it starts to look like the entire Republican party is to blame for the economic mess we're in, people will change their minds about McCain. The thing is, and it's something the pundits don't seem to get, is that even though folks have a fairly low opinion of Bush, they don't think it has anything to do with the Republican party as a whole.

Right now, today, we can point to a whole host of problems that are very real that McCain doesn't think we should be concerned with. These things are on peoples' minds. Huge companies are filing for bankruptcy while their CEOs stay rich. The price of gas at the pump is not going down. The price of groceries seems to go up every week.

So much of this stuff is just not talked about by the pundits. They point to McCain (as did Obama) and say he must be out of touch because he doesn't even know how many houses he has. This may be true, but I think all of them are out of touch, including the analysts and reporters.

What do average people think when a large credit company fails? If the average person can't pay a credit card bill on a given month, they have to pay all sorts of late fees that make it even harder to pay, and if this happens more than once, their interest rates can go as high as nearly 35% (which is basically legal loan sharking). But when the credit companies have a bad month, they just write it off (until things get so bad they have to bail).

None of what I'm writing is nuanced in the least, and I mean that to be so, for this is what people are thinking about and the way they're thinking it (and that includes me). Y'know, putting aside my feelings about any of the candidates, it strikes me that none of them know how to find the right balance between BSing people with empty promises and wonky political talk. This seems absurd. What is the problem?

As you probably guessed, I'm neither a political or economic analyst, so I still feel I should try to stay away from these issues. I think, "I'm trying to write things that are relevant to depression, though in a tangential way." Okay, I admit that I usually don't think in such complete sentences, but you get the idea.

But. . .

I am sure that this political season is affecting all of our moods, and so, if for that alone, it is relevant.

Painting note: Robert Rauschenberg, Darryl Pottorf,
A Quattro Mani IV, 1996
Sometimes I have no idea why I choose what I do top off these posts. Other times I do, but don't want to explain. I actually believe I'm doing some sort of service by posting images that aren't generally in popular culture - am I kidding myself?

Btw, the post title is another good conversation starter, if you need suggestions.
And the Japanese writing is a little surprise that hopefully we'll see a response to.

The geographical cure may be real

A quick perusal of "A Theory of the Emergence, Persistence, and Expression of Geographic Variation in Psychological Characteristics", found here (along with the demographic maps I mentioned in the last post), gives credence to my feeling that living here in rural Maine is not good for my mental health. But, it may be perfectly fine for someone else's.

The concept of "selective migration" is of particular interest:

"Selective migration may not only cause geographic differences
in personality to emerge . . . , it may also cause
such differences to persist over time. For instance, individuals
. . . may try to escape the ennui experienced in small-town
environments by relocating to metropolitan areas where their
needs for social contact and stimulation are more easily met.
Members of particular groups (e.g., gay people, Mormons) may
also choose to live in regions where residents are believed to be
tolerant of their lifestyles or where other members of their group
live (e.g., Massachusetts, Utah). Specifically, members of certain
groups may choose to live near similar group members because
they are more likely to understand and share the same languages,
cultures, and ways of life. Furthermore, individuals may
selectively relocate in search of financial gain and job security.
For example, highly open individuals may flock to places where
artistic abilities have the potential for generating sustainable
incomes (e.g., California, New York). Thus, as individuals selectively
migrate to regions where certain psychological and
behavioral tendencies are common, the prevalence of the relevant
personality traits in those regions should persist over time.
Furthermore, selective-migration processes could also inspire
people with particular traits to flee certain regions, which would
eventually result in a shortfall of those traits in the regions."

Rather a sober entry after last night's rambling (and I have a few more rambling posts sitting in my drafts folder). I will return to reading this research paper, for there is much in it that is relevant, not only to my life, but to the divisions we are increasingly seeing in our culture (and after reading this, I have to revise that to say "our culture?")

So, check it out if you like reading some dense material and/or find this country a cipher, as I do, that you want to understand better. Someone like Malcolm Gladwell should write a book about this (and hey, Malcolm, if you do, please send me a few cents of your bestseller royalties, okay?).

Image note: The Appalachian Trail. See how it extends from Georgia to Maine? Visitors to "Vacationland" see a quiant series of coastal villages. But most of Maine is more like "Deliverance" than "Murder She Wrote".

Monday, September 15, 2008

In which I own my crankiness and give you some background

Warning: This post may be offensive.

I'm getting so much vicarious pleasure out of reading various things about Kenny Shopsin and his restaurant. If you care to join me in this, read Calvin Trillin's article in the New Yorker. Then take a stroll over to Serious Eats and read one person's account of being thrown out of the restaurant and told to eat at McDonald's instead. You can also read a quasi-review of the book, "Eat Me", on the same site, where there's a photograph of the inscription, "F*ck You Ed - Ken". Of course, I've already recommended the movie, "I Like Killing Flies" in a recent post.

The book comes out on September 23rd. I wish I had a copy right now.

I feel completely frustrated that I'm not in New York City tonight (well, I am a bit tired). The best I can do is visit Shopsin's on the Web. Cool site, with homey links to some good drawings and other things, though I'm not so sure I feel good about the slick looking Essex Street Market, but I miss the bad old days of the Lower East Side (which is easy for me to do, given as I live in the boondocks). Kenny, if you happen to land on this site, here's a suggestion for your website: have your web designer program it to kick people off who navigate there from webpages you don't like (or randomize it). Then, for extra added realism, they can get some message about why they shouldn't be able to access the information.

I know one web designer who has worked it out so that people who are rude are shut down. I haven't tested it, so I don't know if they get a message telling them what's going on, and I won't, but I may ask if they do (stay tuned).

I thought to myself, "Why are you so fascinated with this?" Why do I want that book right now? Well, for one thing, it exonerates me in some way. I want to own my crankiness (even as I loathe the expression - yeah, yeah, I own my feelings, blah blah blah).

I've been pulling down cranky and offensive posts, trying to take the high road, as if I'm running for office or something. Who do I think I am, Obama? Even he's not taking such a high road!

Look, just because McCain has fallen off the straight talk express doesn't mean I have to become a jerk, but I am allowed to be the curmudgeon that I am once in a while. So what if I'm a Buddhist? Some of the biggest jerks around have been Buddhists! Trungpa Rimpoche? He was a drunk and a womanizer (and no, I don't approve, but he wrote some good books and started the Naropa Institute).

How 'bout Allen Ginsburg? He seemed like a happy, fat Jewish Buddhist fellow, but I know he wasn't always dancing and singing. My father thought he was an ass (though my father thinks that of everyone). Oh, Ginsburg thought my father was an ass, too, and, I discovered this bit of craziness when I was with him at an Apple Store, innocently googling his name in front of a huge monitor. Oy vay!
And no, I'm not giving away the story - if you're really curious, click the link!

Well, I suppose I'm sick of pretending that I'm so nice. I am nice, a good deal of the time. But, I'm also totally opinionated, somewhat bitter in spite of having a crazily optimistic streak, angry, tired and cranky. And if I own it (grrr), it's a-okay. It's fine! I feel oh-so-much better, thank you very much.

Expending energy worrying about hurting others feelings or being misconstrued is a big waste of my time. I am bound to hurt other people's feelings and be misunderstood. That's the nature of being a human.

As a woman (and yes, I am a feminist, and not some newly minted Republican version), I was raised to be deferential, accomodating, smiling, a good hostess, a housecleaner, and a mender, and all this I was taught by someone who held consciousness raising meetings in the living room of my family's house once a week. What kind of crazy making message is that?

Here's some more insane messages I was taught, as a girl:

If a boy hits you, it means he likes you.
Love hurts. Get used to it.

If you're unattractive, develop an interesting personality (but don't let on if you're smarter than the man you're having dinner with).
Tell an interesting story while keeping your mouth shut.

Don't masturbate in public.
Oh, that one is a good piece of advice.

There's more where that came from, I assure you, but I just ran out of steam. It was the last one that did it. Yes, I did receive that piece of advice from my mother. Why, I can't tell you. She told me lots of very good things about sex, as a matter of fact, but I wasn't particularly interested in hearing them from her.

How in the world did I get from Kenny Shopsin to my mother's nuggets of advice? Well, perhaps it's just a neurotic New York Jew thing. Realizing that Gilbert Gottfried(see note at bottom of post) is my favorite comic has caused me to start owning my, ahem, "Jewish heritage" (a topic which deserves at least half a dozen self-deprecating and/or thoughtful posts, but not tonight). Speaking of which, I had forgotten to post this earlier:

The States of Personality

This is absolutely fascinating. Check out how your personality relates to the State in which you reside. I live in Maine and therefore, statistically, I should be neurotic, extraverted, not particularly conscientious, agreeable or open-minded.

I'm originally from New York, so I started out (statistically speaking) neurotic, only vaguely extraverted, conscientious and quite disagreeable, but very open-minded.

I'm thinking "New Yorkers are less extraverted than people in Maine?!" No way. I must look into this further.

What do you think, and are you State-normative? Find out here.

(I believe the correct spelling of "extravert" is "extrovert" but I'm only copying what's on the link above.)

Okay, this long and semi-coherent post is now drawing to a close. What picture will I use to sum it all up? I have no idea. Be back in a few minutes with my conclusion.

Image note: Why? Why not? I was bound to use it sometime. Find a reason. I have mine, and I'm not telling.

The Gilbert Gottfried video is old, and not the infamous Aristocrats one. If you don't know who Kurt Waldheim is, click here before watching the clip.


Preface that is really an addendum: I posted this less than an hour ago, have come back and added an addendum, but still feel what I can only call guilt. How dare I criticize something that is so essentially good (especially when there is much on the Web that is essentially bad that needs criticism)? Well, I think the topic is the issue here, the idea of "groupspeak", and it is not a criticism of the website I specify in particular. It is the nature of groups, and something that I feel is worth at least thinking about. Besides, I'm a grouch (and you should always take what I write with a grain of salt - an expression I should devote an entire post to). Thus:

I recently joined Ravelry, a huge site that's primarily for knitters and crocheters. Unlike signing up with any other site that I know of, there's a "waiting list" to become a member of Ravelry. They say it's because they've grown so quickly and have trouble handling all the traffic, but there's a part of me that thinks the reason for the waiting list is more psychological.

I didn't think this at first, but since I've joined, there's been things about this site that have bothered me. At first, I was rather excited about Ravelry, and the opportunity to see the work of so many talented fiber enthusiasts. The amount of beautiful knitting being done right now is extraordinary.

But, I started to feel a bit uncomfortable quickly. I attributed this to the fact that it's a networking site, both for social and marketplace purposes. With this comes some things reminiscent of high school, like adding friends, gaining hearts for work admired by others and other indicators of how "popular" you are. I find this aspect of the Web to be a total turn-off and try to stay away from it. And here's a tip for anyone who's depressed and was unpopular as a kid: don't get sucked into the social networking sites. Unless you're really good at social networking, they'll bring up all the issues you thought were long dead and buried.

So I figured that was all that troubled me, and well, big deal. I'm a grown-up. I can handle the vague feelings of out-of-it-ness that the site was stirring up. But still, I felt uncomfortable. Was there more to it?

The answer is yes. The site is filled with people talking in groupspeak. Sure, if you're not a knitter, you don't know the difference between a purl stitch and a knit stitch, but this is not what I'm referring to. It's the adoption of words and phrases that have been made up by someone else and then become the norm. It becomes groupspeak (and starts to feel cult-like) when one gets the feeling that if you don't use the right words, you're doing something wrong, being shunned or any other consequences, however miniscule.

In fact, when I looked up the word (or is it a term?) "groupspeak" on Google, I was directed immedidately to a site about cults! Here's how they describe groupspeak: "Groupspeak” is another feature of all cults. Groups use what Lifton calls "the thought-terminating cliché”. Repetitive phrases, clichés, sayings, platitudes and buzz words are regularly invoked to describe all situations, and prevent further analysis or discussion. . .Lifton argues that the effect of it is critical to mind control “since language is so central to all human experience, .. capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed" Moreover, the “secret vocabulary” reinforces the idea of distance from the outside world."

Let me be clear. I don't think that Ravelry is a cult, but I do find it interesting that there is a subtle push to use phrases, cliches and buzzwords that the group has agreed on. As much as I adore Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's "At Knit's End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much", I object to the adoption of her funny acronyms as substitutes for talking about knitting in our own idiosyncratic ways. And, I am rather sad that my enjoyment of this very funny (and terribly clever) book, which I have turned to again and again to put a smile upon my face, is being eroded by the over-use of her terms.

I used to find SSS (Single Sock syndrome, wherein a knitter stops at one sock and doesn't knit a pair), or SABLE (Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy - owning more yarn than one can ever use) quite funny. I still do, but I'm irked. If I want to say that I have a problem finishing a pair of socks, I really would prefer to use my own words, instead of saying I've got SSS. But no, I need to learn the "lingo".

I suppose I could be harping on the use of common text message acronyms. It has been argued that the mass adoption of slang and other quick and dirty ways of communicating limits precise and individualistic forms of expression. I tend to dismiss these arguments out of hand, but I'm beginning to wonder if they may indeed hold some truth.

Maybe I'm bothered by the knitting thing because knitting has been such an important part of my life. I feel comfortable with other knitters because we share a common interest. We can ooh and aah over each other's projects, but I bristle at finding commonality with other folks because we know some secret acronyms (and maybe there's a secret knitter's handshake by now, for all I know). I don't want to know. Just let me knit in peace! Or shall I say, I just want to KIP?

Photo note: If I find out that Charles Manson is sitting in a prison cell whilst knitting, well. . .um. . .KIP also stands for Knitting in Prison!

Addendum: In spite of what I would call theoretical criticism of Ravelry, I want to add that not everyone who is on the site is "guilty" of what I describe. I also have much gratitude that such a site exists. It is a repository of so much fiber arts knowledge and creativity that it's rather hard to fathom! I suppose, being the curmudgeon that I am, I'm always seeing the dark side. . .

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Now that I have calmed down some. . .

My favorite scent is one that is quite inexpensive: the smell of sheep. I just had my wristers on, along with a fresh spritz of Passage D'enfer. Giacobetti probably never thought of the combination of damp wool, frankincense and myrrh, but to me it is sheer heaven.

I dearly would love to try any of the Annick Goutal fragrances that I waxed imbecilic about in the last post. I did indeed feel lust, covetousness and envy. I could go to Hell for this, couldn't I?

It's interesting to me that in spite of growing up in a wealthy suburb of New York City, I still find it astounding that people can indeed go out and buy 750 bucks worth of perfume on a whim.

When I was in my late twenties, I took over my mother's clothing store in the same suburb (Great Neck) that I grew up in. On Saturdays and late afternoons, girls who were in High School would work at the store. One girl, who didn't last very long, was working because her parents felt it was "good for her". She certainly didn't need the money. I remember nothing physical about her, not her height, nor her hair color or even her name, but I do remember the huge fight she had with her mother one day. During a break, she bought a handbag at the shop down the street. The bag, as I remember, was 450 dollars. When her mother stopped in to see what her daughter had purchased, she went ballistic, right there in the store. The mother was screaming. The daughter was screaming. Mom thought it was crazy that her daughter had spent so much. Honestly, I hadn't thought she had overdone it, for the girl had a BMW or Mercedes convertible or something like that. But Mom went on and on, yelling hysterically. The store was filled with people and we all stood around like innocent bystanders (which I suppose we were). At some point the daughter started in on the mother, saying "You and Dad spent 100,000 dollars in the last month and noone thought it was a big deal!" That's when Mom left the store. I guess the girl was right about the family spending habits. I was left wondering "What did they spent that money on and why did she know about it?"

A few years ago, I remember reading an article about a lawyer who wrote letters to musicians who were spending huge sums of money on overpriced bling. Perhaps it was in New Yorker magazine. I wish I could remember. It was a funny article, though somewhat sad in a way. His sole job was to point out to the newly wealthy that buying a 10,000 dollar watch may not be the smartest of moves if you might wind up being a one hit wonder.

Not having cable TV (and living in one of the poorest places in this country), I'm not generally exposed to ostentatious displays of wealth. I once watched a bit of "Cribs" and gaped as I listened to some (one hit wonder) female rapper show us her shoe and bag collection. She didn't say anything like "Oh, look at these beautiful shoes. I just love them!" She said, "Look at these shoes. They cost 5000 dollars. Wow!"

This is one reason why I always had a bit of a problem with watching "Sex and the City". How many Manolo Blahniks do you think a newspaper columnist can afford in one month? Yes, this is an old question, for the show's been over for years, but it still troubles me.

Ah, well, I notice that a few fragrance discounters sell Annick Goutal scents, and in a few years Encens Flamboyant will be old news and heavily discounted (I hope).

Photo note: One Shetland sheep (which sounds wrong in the singular), courtesy of the North American Sheepbreeders Association. Shetlands are great sheep with lots of personality, colors and, of course, that yummy sheep smell (and I don't mean when cooking 'em).

Perfume lust

If any of you happen to have 750 bucks that you are dying to get rid of, I really would like Annick Goutal's Les Orientalistes, a trio of three new perfumes. If that's a bit steep, I'll settle for the three without the leather gift box. That'll be three times one hundred and seventy five, which is, uh, um. . .well, three times one hundred and seventy five. . .(there's no calculator on this PC). . .here's the way I do it in my head:
150 times 3 is 100 times 3 (300) and 75 times 3, which is 50 times 3 (150) plus 75. . .so we have 300 + 150, which is 450 plus 50 (500) plus 25, which equals 525. Is that right? Okay, I got the calculator and it is indeed correct. Now you have a good idea about why it takes me so long to do math without a pen or paper, if I can even remember what the heck I was trying to calculate (or if you could even follow that or wished to).

Unfortunately for me, I am on the Aedes de Venustas mailing list, and so tonight I get the big announcement that these new Goutal fragrances are out. They sound luscious. Just their names are drool producing (oh, I know that's not a nice image for ya): Ambre Fetiche, Encens Flamboyant (which just reading about almost hurts, it sounds so beautiful), and Myrrhe Ardente. . .oh, please! Why don't they sell them in small sizes? ". . .Frankincense deliciously burnt and warmed by woody balsam fir. . ." Oh, my heart aches! My nostrils are flaring! If this isn't lust, what is?

Yes, this post is incoherent! I know! But it's okay, 'cause I can't go crazy and buy even one. Ha, this makes me think of a movie I saw recently called "Klepto" in which a shoplifting twenty-something girl's mother is a shopaholic. Well, I have neither the opportunity to steal a bottle of Annick Goutal nor buy one, so I will not be acting out any time soon (so don't worry).

I wonder if any of these scents are as good as the ad copy. Go read it. If you are moved by words and you know what any of the notes in these scents actually are, you will be thinking similar thoughts (or perhaps running up your credit card debt).

Photo note: That pink leather box is not worth the extra two hundred and twenty five dollars, so please don't bother with it, whoever my prince or princess may be (hey, I can indulge in absurd fantasies, can't I?)

Addendum: How embarassing! These aren't even new! They're new to Aedes, but not to the rest of the perfume world. There's a review from Bois de Jasmin, from way back on May 28th. I could cover my mistake and delete this post, but I am not ashamed. Okay, I am. Well, shame is a strong word. I'm just out of the loop. . .c'mon, I do live in Maine. I should be out of the loop! That's sounds about right. Even though I'm on line nearly all the time, I shouldn't know the latest in anything! I live in the middle of nowhere!

Okay, I'll calm down and stop putting exclamation marks on the end of my sentences. And yes, I know, they weren't much in the way of sentences half the time. It's been a weird day. I'm entitled to a seriously poorly written and incoherent post once in a while! (oops, there's another exclamation point) Good night.