Sunday, November 30, 2008

Non-top ten five list

Excuse me in advance for any incoherence on my part. I'm in pain, running a fever, have a headache, and am on medication. I shouldn't be writing, but when I saw I hadn't for three days (!) I figured I'd give it a try.

Here's a list of ten five things that I've done or thought while I haven't been blogging (and I'm not up to thinking of ten):

1. I just used up the last of my Serge Lutens' Un Bois Vanille sample. I've noticed that whenever I want to feel comforted, I reach for this scent. Boo hoo! No more comfort left. However, even if I could afford to buy a bottle, I doubt I would. Un Bois Vanille smells like burnt sugar to me, which is a classier way of saying it smells like cotton candy. I have a suspicion that I could find a similar scent from Bath and Body Works. But, I could be wrong.

2. Tomorrow evening the seven day Rohatsu retreat begins at Treetop Zen Center. I think it's unlikely I will be well enough to go. I've been looking forward to this for months. It's something of an exercise in non-attachment not to be depressed about my health keeping me participating. Aw, to heck with that, I am just plain ol' disappointed.

3. I bought a new bra. Now, normally I wouldn't mention this, but someone who designs bras at Maidenform is a total sadist. I wore this nice-fitting, pretty black bra on Thanksgiving and when I got home, the first thing I did was take that thing off. I had little perforation marks on my skin in the shape of a bra. I inspected the culprit, and noticed that there was what I can only describe as little teeth in the elastic (which should have been covered). First, I was angry at myself for not looking at the bra more closely before I purchased it, but then I sat down and wrote the company a letter of complaint. Will I ever hear from them? I doubt it. I did, in fact, write that whoever designed the offending undergarment must be a sadist.

4. I uploaded a photograph of myself onto a site that shows you what you'd look like with a new hairstyle and hair color. I'm not linking to this site, because you have so few choices if you don't pay for it, and it was frustrating. I did learn that my suspicion that the way I've been wearing my hair is not flattering is correct. And I should lighten it up a little. I'd love to go to hair salon and have them give me the full treatment, but why on earth would I waste my money on this activity? It's not like anyone around here cares what I look like!

5. TMC's latest blog post, the Seven Layer Meme, reminded me of something from my past. It's a really long list of self-disclosing prompts. One of them is "number of times your name has appeared in a newspaper." I'd guess that the answer to this is at least ten, but that's not the point. I sure wish I'd saved this, but I've never saved personal memorabilia; there was once a big photograph of me in a Lubbock Texas paper. It showed me on stage, looking like a complete and utter degenerate nutcase. The caption, in big bold letters was this: "Would you take this girl home to meet your mother?" Oh, how'd I love to get my hands on that article. Google searches have come up empty handed. Yes, I have looked.

Images:1. Heating pad, 2. mattress stack, 3. Wool Batts, 4. the gift of the moose
1. I don't know what I'd without my heating pad. 2.My mattress is truly awful and I'd love it if it was forceably taken away from me. 3.I'd love a wool mattress, but they aren't cheap. I hear they are fantastic for people with Fibromyalgia. Maybe next year (or when I win the lottery). 4. We saw a dead moose at the store, just about to be weighed. It didn't have a rack, and looked pretty much like a cow. Shooting one of these trusting, huge animals doesn't seem very sporting to me.

Addendum: I received an e-mail this morning from someone claiming to be the CEO of Maidenform. I find it hard to believe any CEO would write a personal e-mail to one disgruntled customer, but stranger things have happened. I'll keep you posted.

Update: The e-mail from Maidenform was indeed legit. Now, let's see if they send me a comfortable brassiere. Brassiere is a word that you don't hear much nowadays.Come to think of it, I can't think of anyone ever uttering the word brassiere in my presence. I imagine it spoken with a tremendous rolling of the first R. But really, how can one say brassiere with a straight face? It's a word that now lays firmly in the realm of comedy about old ladies.

But seriously, if Maidenform sends me a nice, new and comfortable bra, without any offending tooth-like elastic edgings, I will write about it. It's the least I can do in return.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A trip back in time, prompted by cigarettes

A forty-six year old man takes up smoking, just to see what it's like, and, to write about it.

When I was fourteen or so, a friend of mine's mother took up smoking. She was thirty six, and I thought she was pretty old. I also knew enough to think that there was something profoundly wrong with an adult taking up smoking. Us teenagers, I thought, we're prone to peer pressure and all that, and we're kind of dumb, even though we don't think so, but mothers, well, they ought to know better.

I often wondered about what was really going on in that household. The house looked perfectly normal and nice from the outside; the lawn was mowed, the shrubbery was clipped and the azaleas bloomed in bright colors. But once I stepped inside their doorway, the world suddenly seemed gray and listless. My memory of that home looks like an photo with all the color drained out of it.

My friend's mother seemed to always have an apron on, which was unusual in my neighborhood, unless you were a maid or a grandmother. I don't remember her cooking. I do remember her standing at the kitchen sink, staring out the window or sitting at the kitchen table, smoking. She was pale, overly thin and tired looking. Her husband was distant, and I took his wearing a pocket protector and always having a slide rule on him as evidence of an emotionless nature.

I wanted to know why my friend's mother was unhappy. She had to be unhappy, taking up smoking as an adult, and doing all that quiet staring.

Their son sat in his room, smoking pot by himself. The house was a haze of smoke. When the kitchen was dark, as it always seemed to be, the ray of light that filtered in through the window was filled with dust.

My friend was a happy, bubbly and seemingly well-adjusted girl, and so, our friendship faltered. I was neither happy, bubbly or well-adjusted. I was far more interested in the boy who stayed up in his room, the listless mother and even her husband. What did he do at work? Was he ever affectionate with her? I suspected the answer to that was no, and so, she took up smoking.

I have no idea what happened to any of these people. I wonder if the parents are still together. Perhaps, today, they are all together, for it's Thanksgiving. Maybe they're in the same house that I visited as a kid. Now I'm terribly curious if this may be so. Is my friend's mother still smoking? Perhaps these days she stands in her backyard to do it. If that street is anything like it used to be, standing in front would be a social faux pas of the highest order.

A quick google search gave me some answers. It appears that both the mother, father and son still live in the same town. The daughter, my old friend, lives about twenty minutes away (two more stops on the Long Island Railroad). Seeing their names (and one photograph) made me feel very strange. I left the town of my childhood behind me a long time ago. Maybe they are having Thanksgiving together and perhaps their house is not so gray today, but I doubt it, judging from the profiles I have just read.

Image note: Lots of old smoking ads here.

Ten things I'm thankful for

1. My partner, Dick, who can fix anything. Our oven broken down just in time for Thanksgiving. Being me, I was perusing the web for cheap ovens. He figured out what was wrong with it in five minutes and fixed it in about an hour. I wondered what the difference is between a four thousand dollar oven and one for 250 bucks. Do the high end ones produce genies that clean it out and poop truffles while you're sleeping?
2. Dick (again), who cuts down dead trees, even if it's pitch black out, chops 'em up, and provides our home with heat.
3. The fact that, even though the government says we are poor, we have more than enough to eat.
4. Barack Hussein Obama will be the next president of the United States.
5. The wonderful Quaker meeting that I was a member of in New York.
6. Treetop Zen Center.
7. The Web, for both its wealth of information and the chance of interacting with strangers all over the world. According to Sitemeter, my blog has had visits from 32 different countries in the past week, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Croatia. Nice to meet you!
8. Sheep. My life would be far less rich without yarn. I also think they are beautiful (and terribly cute).
9. Wild birds. I'm sorry we are destroying your habitat.
10. That I was lucky enough to be born with a fairly well functioning brain.

That's it. I know the graphic has nine images, but I couldn't figure out how to display ten. The list could go on for pages. Happy Thanksgiving.

Heifer International ("Ending Hunger. Preserving the earth") is one of the few charitable organizations that doesn't include proselytizing a religion.Sponsor a sheep or a share in a flock of sheep and llamas for wool production here.

1. Dixsons Stove polish, 2. Stacked firewood, 3. Progress, 4. Interior Light, 5. Untitled, 6. World Wide Web?, 7. Mountain view with sheep, 8. Cardinal at Feeder, 9. My Brain on MRI

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The night before Thanksgiving

For the last few years, Dick and I have spent Thanksgiving with friends. It's fun. We eat too much and then complain about how full we are. We might play some music. It's laid back, not at all like the family Thanksgivings of my childhood.

I really love this holiday. I do give thanks, much to the dismay of most people I know, who act like I'm trying to give them an overly long hug. I suppose it's rather mushy, giving thanks. Sometimes I even try to get everyone to hold hands before the meal starts, but I'll try to restrain myself this year.

I am just too darned sincere.

I like Thanksgiving because anyone can celebrate it. It's not like Christmas, where if you're not a Christian, you have to come up with justifications for celebrating, like "it's an American holiday" and "let's pretend it's a solstice thing with presents" or some such. And it's not like, when I was a kid, celebrating Passover, where we'd make matzoh ball soup and I'd ask "what is this holiday about?" My parents would shrug their shoulders and mumble something incomprehensible.

I enjoyed my family's Thanksgivings when I was young. We ate ourselves silly. Some people would predictably fall asleep ten minutes after the meal was over, and the rest of us would play board games.

There was the usual weird stuff, the kind one sees in movies about crazy families. Near the end of his life, my grandfather developed kleptomania. The last Thanksgiving before both he and my mother died, she had to frisk him before he left her apartment. He had filled every pocket he had. Out came candlesticks, cutlery and small knick-knacks.

Another time someone decided that politely passing dishes around was too much bother and they (who did it?!) threw a small chicken across the table like a football.

The same stories and jokes were told, every single year. I'll end here, with the not-very-funny joke that was told, with great gusto, by my father, and that I feel obligated to tell, even if it's not at all funny, because it'll be Thanksgiving in about forty minutes:

A woman asks her son to take care of things while she goes on vacation. It's the usual; water the plants, make sure there isn't a gas leak and feed the cat. He's a dutiful son, and so, he does a good job. But the cat gets sick, and before he can get the poor animal to a vet, the cat dies.

He calls his mother in Florida and says, "Ma, I got bad news. The cat's dead." After she gets over the shock, his mother chastizes him; "What's wrong with you? Couldn't you have given me the news in a more charitable way?" "Like what?", asks the son. "Oh, you could called me and said that the cat was on the roof and you didn't know what to do. Then I would have told you to call the fire department. You'd hang up, pretend to call them, call me back and say that they're running a bit late but the cat's okay. You'd tell me that you'd call back as soon as they got there.Then, after about twenty minutes or so, you'd call and tell me the cat fell off the roof. See? Then, I would have been prepared for the worst!"

The son tells his mother that indeed he was insensitive by delivering the news to her in such a sudden way.

The next year, the man's mother goes to Florida again, but this time it's an all-girls thing. Being the dutiful son, he spends time with his father, who isn't used to being alone. His father is not a well man, and sadly, one night, after a particularly rich meal, he keels over and has a heart attack.

Of course, the son has to call his mother and tell her the news. So, he makes the call. "Having fun down in Florida?", he asks his mother when she picks up the phone. She replies, "Why wouldn't I? What's wrong with you? And so, how are things down in New York?" The son pauses for a moment and says,"Well, Ma, Dad went up to the roof earlier tonight."

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Painting note: I have never liked Norman Rockwell.
This painting is called "Freedom from Want" and is from a series he painted in 1943 entitled the "Four Freedoms."

I am fickle

It wasn't exactly summer when I wrote about my indifferent response to Annick Goutal's Encens Flamboyant, but we did have an unusally warm Fall until about a week ago.

I've gone from indifference to true love. A lovely woman was, well, lovely enough to send me a 1ml vial of the Annick Goutal scent, which I have enough left of for one day's wearing. I am nearly bereft!

Note: Hyperbole is essential when writing about perfume.

A perfume I had truly loved, L'artisan Parfumeur's Passage D'enfer has fallen off my adoration list, replaced by Encens Flamboyant. They are quiet similar, but what I once loved about the former, I now find flat.

I had previously said it was dry without being dusty. Now I smell dust. I had thought, "Oh, I liked it when it was warm out, but now it's cold." Not true! Just read this post, and you'll see how fickle I can be.

Really, I was positive that my change of heart had to do with the weather. It makes sense. Passage D'enfer is such a dry fragrance, without any warmth. So, it would stand to reason that as the weather gets colder, I'd not want to wear it. But the truth is exposed in old posts (many of them, in fact). My taste has changed. Pure and simple.

I had hoped that I'd be able to obtain some Encens Flamboyant on Ebay by 9:00pm today, but the expert bidders will outdo me by a penny every time. I have never won any auction on that site. Maybe someday this particular Annick Goutal will wind up on one of the big perfume discounter's sites, but I suspect that by then, I'll have moved on to loving some other incense fragrance.

Painting note: Giovanni Bellini
Naked Young Woman in Front of a Mirror 1515

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I am not a commodity

Every once in a while, I get a fawning e-mail from someone who wants something from me because of something I did a long time ago. These folks are usually tripping all over themselves saying they don't want to "bother me." But I never have what they want (memorabilia), and so, I send them a polite response saying so, and tell them that they did not bother me. Not once have I ever received a response afterwards.

I realized the other day that this bothers me. Once these people find out that I have nothing tangible, of monetary worth, to give them, that's it. All that fawning is a crock, not that I like fawning in the first place. I find it creepy.

On one of those silly quizzes I took the other night, there was this question: "Do you ever worry that if you became rich, you wouldn't be able to tell whether people really loved you?" I'm not sure if that's verbatim, but it's close enough. No, I've never worried about that.

You can replace the word "rich" with the word "famous" and ask the same question. The answer is still no. However, I do know that if one is famous, just from my tiny brush with notoriety, that people do in fact want to be with you, not for who you are, but for what you are. Does that worry me? Not in the least. But I think it's rather sad, mostly for them.

Of course, it doesn't worry me now, for fame and fortune don't look to be in the cards.

Now, for some Marilyn Manson:

Photo note: For the record, Marilyn Manson was the only person in Bowling for Columbine who had anything remotely intelligent to say. Okay, that's hyperbole, but it's pretty close to the truth.

Good days, bad days

I woke up at 3:00am in terrible pain. It was one of those "I feel like I've been thrown out of a moving car" nights.

I may sound a bit blithe about this, but that's because I have fibromyalgia, a syndrome/disease/something that I am not sure I "believe" in. At 3:00am this morning, I believed.

Today is ruined, at least as far as plans go, of which I had a few, and one was fairly important.

Why am I writing this? Why am I typing, anyway, when all my fingers hurt so much?

Perhaps it's only to say that I have fibromyalgia, right in the midst of a flare-up, to remind myself that it's real, and to tell anyone reading this that if they know anyone who has it, that it's exhausting and causes most people to miss appointments, obligations and occasionally be dead tired and cranky. That person, like myself, may have stopped mentioning it years ago. Unfortunately, others tend to think I'm just somewhat flakey about appointments, obligations and my house cleaning. Or just think I'm flakey.

Actually, I'm one of those people who's a bit neurotic about always being on time, always meeting deadlines early and what I call "chore equity" around the household. Having fibromyalgia has been a challenge to my attachment to being so "good". I sometimes wonder if there's some correlation. I feel guilt-ridden and self-judging on days like this. I wind up acting like a bad mother to myself with messages like "You really don't feel that bad. Just get out of bed". Well, I did, and I can say with certainty, I'm no good for anything but going back to bed or some light reading.

But,I felt like writing a bit. Now, I will put my hands under the faucet and let cold water run over them, pick a graphic for this post, and be done.

Image note: I thought, "yeah, good day for some dark, brooding image." Nah. I love fabric. Why not cheer myself up? See more here. And, it's a good day for "Good Day":

Monday, November 24, 2008

The modern market place

I shopped at Walmart today. You can give me grief about this. Go ahead. I'd like to hear it. I have mixed feelings about shopping there and feel somewhat ignorant about the issues.


Why do some people hate Walmart but shop at Target? Is there a difference? Target has hip ads. Walmart doesn't. Target has some hot designers working for them. Walmart might, but they aren't talking.

Supposedly Walmart treats it's employees badly. I've read that. I know there are lawsuits. But, the people I've known who work at Walmart say they like it. In fact, a number of people have told me they are treated far better at Walmart than the local Food Coop.

What about the people who make the goods for Walmart? Yes, they are certainly paid badly, but what would they be doing if they didn't have those jobs? If you can illuminate me, please do.

I am hurting for money. I'd love to shop locally, but when I have a choice of paying nearly thirty bucks for a roasting pan at the hardware store, over a hundred dollars at the housewares store (!), or nine dollars at Walmart, well, there's really no choice there. I promise, when I have more money, I will shop at Walmart less. Or even stop. Who knows?

I do buy many things locally, but I realize they're not local items: Japanese and Himalayan rice. Irish steel cut oats and Italian cheese. The only truly local things we buy are eggs, milk and vegetables during the season. I also buy local yarn and fleece. But that's about it.

Living here in the countryside, there is less opportunity for local shopping than when I lived in New York City. I miss going to the green grocer, the bakery, the butcher, the pharmacy and the little newspaper shops. But even in New York City, those places are going by the wayside. That's not only a loss of local shopping, but a loss of community.

Another word about pay: Walmart pays its employees poorly. So does every other retailer employer. But, so does the school system, and that's criminal. There's enough inequity to go around in so many spheres, I don't know where to begin. This is too large for me, so I'm being more terse than I usually am.

Some days I wish I had succeeded in living a subsistence lifestyle, but I did not. And on my present half acre of land, with a mortgage, that's not going to happen.

I will say this, however, I did not buy a turkey at Walmart. For some reason (and maybe it was all that talk about factory farming), the idea of doing so was abhorent to me.

Painting note: Vincenzo Campi
The Fruit Seller 1580
Ah, that looks simply wonderful.

My favorite comics artist: KAZ

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wasting time (and time is money!)

Yes, staying up into the wee hours of the night didn't do me much good. I kept waking up and saying to myself, "Oh no, I've only been asleep two hours", "Oh, why'd I have to pee? I've only been asleep three hours" and so on. And today, I'm still obsessed with taking tests. I really don't feel like doing anything.

I thought I'd read my "novel" (okay, I did say I wouldn't put quotes around that word, but I can't help myself). I can't do it. I had hoped I'd edit it to the point where major revisions wouldn't be needed by the end of the month. But, that isn't going to happen. What needs to be changed is too complicated to rush, and I don't think that it's required in order to "win" NaNoWriMo. If I'm wrong, please, someone correct me!

So, more tests:

Evidentally, only 2% of the people taking this test are not afraid of confinement. I'm one of them.

96% of the people who took this test consider themselves cunning. I'm not one of them.

Evidentally, my self-assessment does indicate I am a tyrant. The "What Leader are You?" test told me that "People who like you better like chemical weapons" because I am most like Saddam Hussein. Huh? Did it ask me if I liked killing people? No.

To make me feel better, I took the Verbal Intelligence Test, which basically is a vocabulary test. I scored better than 89% of the people who have previously taken this test on Similarminds. Do I feel better? Not particularly. I didn't know quite a few of those words!

The Word Association Test says I have "issues" (whatever that means) with the following words: Forget. Religion. Future. Forever. Mirror. It has something to do with reaction time. Maybe I have a problem with words starting with F.

And lastly, the Career Test:

You are an Executive, possible professions include - program designer, attorney, administrator, office manager, chemical engineer, sales manager, logistics consultant, franchise owner, new business developer, personnel manager, investment banker, labor relations, management trainer, credit investigator, mortgage broker, corporate team trainer, environmental engineer, biomedical engineer, business consultant, educational consultant, personal financial planner, network integration specialist, media planner/buyer.

Who are they kidding? Me, an investment banker?

Maybe I was getting lazy in my answers, considering I've been taking tests for two hours, or perhaps it was just a bad test. C'mon - what kind of question is "Are you are brainiac?"

Painting note: Quentin Massys
The Moneylender and his Wife 1514
Why? It was time for an old painting, I like Massys (except for that hideous "A Grotesque Old Woman" (which you can see on the above link), and it's about a profession.

Quantity over quality

If you made it through the last post, I congratulate you on your perserverance.

In the somewhat clear light of day, I thought of deleting it, but it's staying. I do sometimes go on late night quiz taking sprees, though not often (thankfully). Only this time, I tell the tale.

When I started this blog, I didn't want it to be a diary of my daily life. I did want to write about my life, but only if it related in some way to the topic at hand, or illustrated some point. Fragrance reviews spawned memories. Politics triggered forgotten ideals. Having trouble zipping up my jeans got me thinking about the beauty standard.

You get the picture.

The blogging bug hit me hard. I started reading other personal blogs, which I admit, I hadn't done much, as I mostly read big popular political ones like Andrew Sullivan's (which I spent an inordinate amount of time doing during the election season).

His readership is so large that he doesn't allow comments. Sure, I'd e-mail him once in a while, but why I bothered is beyond me. We weren't having a conversation. He's a superstar in the blogosphere.

Now, I'm enjoying blogging even more, though perhaps my original intent has been blunted. See, what I'm writing right now is off my original base. This post is about blogging, and my thoughts about it. Why should I bother? Why should you bother reading it, for that matter?

I go back and forth about this. I like that I'm normalizing my blog, on the one hand, for occasionally filling out some set of meme questions or taking silly tests and posting their results is just plain ol' fun. On the other hand, I wonder, why aren't I writing about something important?

Well, I'm just not up to it every day. I'd prefer to post often, instead of waiting until I have a good idea. I love blogs that update frequently, but that's me. I suppose that's why I could do NaNoWriMo: "It's all about quantity, not quality!"

If you had told me that I'd come to see the value of that statement in this lifetime, I'd have said it's not possible. I once was a perfectionist, and as I've gotten older, I've let that fall away. Chris Baty says "The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations. . ." High expectations have always been the bane of my existence.

Now, I'm a firm adherent of process over product. If this sounds contradictory to the idea of quantity over quality, it's not. By freeing myself completely from attachment to an outcome, I'm learning, having fun and doing things I would have never thought possible. That's process. The freedom produces quantity.

Painting note: Pablo Picasso "The Dream" 1932
Picasso was the world's second most prolific painter.Morris Katz holds the Guinness World record for #1. But, I couldn't bring myself to post one of his paintings.

A night for analysis (my brain is fried)

Over at BitterGrace Notes, the blog is subjected to Typealyzer (that's not a typo) and GenderAnalyzer. I haven't been up to writing, reading or doing much of anything today, so I, too, merely typed in my blog's url into these site's boxes and let their mysterious analyzers work their magic. This blog appears to be written by a woman (63% certainty) and by an "Entertainer", Myers-Briggs personality type ESFP:
The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

They enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.

Moi? The bad drawing of a woman leaning against a bar with a bubbly drink in her hand didn't do much to help me see how I just might have some of these characteristics.

Then, I strolled over to Monkey Mind, where, lo and behold, I thought he'd subjected his blog to the same analyzer. But no, he took the Enneagram Test.

Still, it was an odd coincidence. Of course, I had to take this test, too, but it's much more involved than simply typing in my url. I had to answer 108 questions.

The results?
Main Type
Overall Self
Take Free Enneagram Personality Test

A potential tyrant? I suppose it's possible. I have no idea what the second box means, and so, I took yet another test. Yes, this is exactly the kind of nonsense I engage in when my eyes hurt, my head aches, and I should be asleep. But no, I went ahead and took the Jung Preference Exploration text, which is even longer.

I tried to post the results of this test, but it's html causes my entire blog to rearrange itself. Not good. What were the results, now that I've wasted almost an hour trying to correct the coding problem (and failing)? I am a "persuader", who wishes she could be a persuader, and is attracted to peruaders. But wait - I had to take the same test on a different site, so I could find out what my four letter analysis was (because I'd forgotten it in the space of about two minutes), but it had slightly different questions and told me I am a "strategist" (INTJ). I looked up their definition of a persuader and those four letters didn't look familiar. I comtemplated taking the other test again, all 140-odd questions of it.Oh dear, it's now two in the morning! Have I lost my mind? This is the kind of web activity that can be a problem.

I think I should go to sleep now, don't you?

Image note: An "official" Rorschach test. What do you see? Leave your comments. If I get at least three responses, I'll tell you my mine (in all its ridiculous detail).

Addendum: And now I find out that TMC's done a quiz tonight, too. I'm afraid to look at any more blogs. This is the sort of synchronicity that makes me think astrology isn't a crock. I have enough trouble with reality as it is. I can't start thinking about the possibility of unproveable things. Next thing you know, I might start thinking I've been abducted by aliens, implanted with probes, and am sending signals back to the mothership for real analysis.

Addendum II: It's now 3:03am. I took the How British are You quiz (45%, just like Over-Thinker). After seeing the results of that illuminating quiz, I took the "What Tattoo Should You Get?" quiz, and the answer was "The all over your body kind!" I've already got that. I was rather expecting the answer to be "A tattoo? Not for you!."

Addendum III: Obviously, I'm aiming on feeling awful tomorrow. It's 3:19 and I keep taking these stupid quizzes. Who writes these things? Evidentally, I should live in Barcelona but my "inner European" is Dutch.

Addendum IV: I had to take that test again. I misread them the first (or was it second?) time round, and didn't see that my results created a "tie", where I could be either a ENTJ ("Field Marshall". The basic driving force and need is to lead. Tend to seek a position of responsibility and enjoys being an executive. 1.8% of total population) or a ENFJ ("Persuader". Outstanding leader of groups. Can be aggressive at helping others to be the best that they can be. 2.5% of total population). Sheesh, you'd think I'd be rich and successful, considering these results. Grrr.

PS.I don't blame you if you've forgotten about the ink blot test. Now, what do you see?

PPS. As I'm supposed to be a persuader, a tyrant or a field marshall, I suggest not only leaving a comment about the inkblot, but taking this test.Karmadillo did. `

Friday, November 21, 2008

Big announcement, small post

I finished writing my novel. Well, that's not exactly true. It needs editing, editing, and more editing. And maybe it is so awful that it's not worth editing. But, I'm done, as far as the challenge goes. Today, I passed the 50,000 word mark. I wrote what seemed like a good last sentence, just as Dick got home, looked at the bottom of my computer screen, and saw that my word count was 50,131. Wow. I am amazed. Now, the hard part starts.

Image note: On the 25th, I get some sort of graphic from NaNoWriMo that says I WON!

Addendum: There it is, my winner badge, right on the sidebar. I think it's attractive. Does it mean I wrote a novel? No, I wrote 50,126 words of a rough draft.

Sidebar changes

I woke up at 3:00am and couldn't fall back asleep, so I did some blog housekeeping. I've eliminated my self-effacing "About me" dilletante description. I miss it, but all things must change. Self-effacing comments are a habit that I've been trying to rid myself of for years.

I noticed that I had a ridiculous amount of tags. I've consolidated. These new tags aren't that descriptive, so use the search box. It's quite effective.

My links are now divided into blogs and not-blogs. Keep your eye on these, if it interests you. I will be adding much, I expect, in the days to come.

And thanks for dropping by.

Painting note: If anyone knows who painted this, please leave a comment. I used this image for a post I deleted quite a while back and the file has no attribution. Why is it at the top of this post? I've been wanting to use it, 'cause I just like it, and this is the blog housekeeping post. Geez, do I have to have a reason for everything?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

You might not want to get too close to me

The discussion about eating meat (or not) got me thinking about other choices we make in our daily lives.

I've written about body odor, or lack thereof, before, in the entries Not Smelling American and the linked post, Smelling American. These posts were mainly about some crazy family history and perfume. Right now, I want to discuss something else about this subject.

Though I was traumatized (not kidding, read that post above) by my parents' rejection of the American standards of cleanliness, I have started to come around to their point of view, after many years. Even though most public spaces now have their "no perfume" rules, they also have an unstated "no smelling like a human being" rule. We may not be able to wear perfume, but we are obligated to be scented or unscented with products. The selection of scented shampoos, conditioners, hair styling products, deodorants and antiperspirants, body lotions, soap and specialized cleansers, toners, shaving creams and gels, and who knows what else, is staggering.

I used to feel like I couldn't leave the house without a shower. I showered every single morning without fail. In that shower, I would use a shampoo, a conditioner, a facial scrub, a bar of scented soap and a body scrub. When I got out, I would apply an anti-perspirant. I just had a shower, and I did use every one of these products, but here's the thing: I haven't had a shower for a week. You heard me correctly.

You may be horrified, I'm sure. I was a little embarassed writing the words.

Not taking a shower daily flaunts many societal norms. I hadn't realized just how many there were until I sat down and gave it some thought. I can't shave my legs or my armpits. I suppose I could do that in the sink, but then I'd be using quite a bit of water, so I might as well take a shower.

Actually, I haven't shaved my armpits since I was a teenager. I've done it at most three times. I think it feels horrible. I think it looks horrible, too. Most of my fellow Americans would disagree, especially men, but I don't care. When I was in a band, my fellow band members wanted me to shave my pit hair, or at least clip it. They thought it was disgusting. Pretty funny, considering they were supposedly punks and the name of my first band was, well, um, Disgusting.

I remember when a video came out for some German band, who did a song with the word "Luftballoons" in it, people complained about having to see the singer's pit hair. What an insult to our sensibilities!

What do you think armpit hair is for, anyway? It's there to keep our sweat from running down the sides of our bodies, amongst other things, but we don't need that (at least us women), 'cause we've got so much antiperspirant on.

I don't know how things are in France these days, but when I was young, I knew some French people and they thought that Americans were insane about their hygiene. We are. In fact, studies have started to show that our outrageously clean bodies and homes have created a society full of people with allergies. It's not other peoples' perfumes that are making you sick - it's that we're not exposed to enough germs!

Now, there's some days that I don't smell like nothing or like a zillion cleansing products. Those days I'm at home, sitting at my computer. Why should I waste water, and the electricity to make it hot, by showering?

What about most American's habits of washing their clothes after wearing them once? Unless you are a plumber or work in some other job where you are immersed in manure or other truly smelly stuff, you can't possibly need to wash your clothes after one wearing. Even your socks. Okay, maybe your socks stink, but at least make a judgment about it. Do they or not? If so, wash them. Or, you could leave them hanging outside over night and discover that they smell perfectly fine the next day. You think I'm kidding? I'm not.

Another thing I've started doing (as opposed to not doing) is sleeping in my clothes. I don't do this every night. If I know that what I'm wearing is going to be laundered the next day, I figure I might as well sleep in it. I keep my house cold, and sleeping in my clothes is a pretty good idea. Sure, I could put on some specialized sleeping garb, but that would create extra things to clean.

Sound extreme or crazy? Perhaps. But, as we are worrying about energy costs in America, we ought to be thinking about more than hybrid cars and windmills. I've heard not one person say a thing about the wastefulness of heating so much water for the daily shower most of us partake in.

We are humans and we smell. I don't appreciate it when someone smells bad, and I've been in more than one work situation where I've had to have a discussion with someone about their hygiene. So, I'm not "for" stinking to high heaven. But, as in everything, moderation is the key. Right now, I may be engaging in a bit of extreme behavior, for it's damned cold in my house and I'm home alone most of the time.

I assure you, if we get together, I will not offend you (at least not by my smell).

Photo courtesy of stirwise.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

File under "wow"

Buddhist monks from Thailand's Sisaket collected a million bottles to build the Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple. See more photos and read about it here.

Warning: long post with some gruesome bits (and a bonus curse word)

In my last post, which was a harmless piece of fluff about cooking dinner, a commentor wrote:
"Ahem, I had no idea lamb legs could so peacefully coexist with being a buddhist. . ."

Quite a spirited conversation about vegetarianism followed. I commend all involved for their seemingly good spirits and courtesy. As Obama has said, "We can disagree without being disagreeable."

Now, when I discuss "issues", I always try to use myself as an example. I may read, and read quite a bit, but I tend not to intellectualize. I speak from my experience in the world, and hope that by doing so, I present a jumping off point for others to respond as they wish. I try not to push any dogma at others. I have my opinions, and some of them are pretty extreme, but these are mostly about aesthetics, so I care not a whit if anyone agrees with me.

That being said, I realized that as far as eating goes, I've become almost totally mindless.

So, I'll tell my story, and you can take away from it what you will (not like I could stop you from doing otherwise):

Many long years ago, I bought chickens from a Buddhist farm outside of New York City. They raised their chickens well, but did not cut them up and put them into nice clean packages for sale. You got your chicken whole, wrapped in brown paper, and had to deal with the fact that in order to eat it, you needed to cut off it's head, feet and pull out all the internal organs. Thinking back, I'm surprised they didn't ask you to kill your own chickens. Thinking now, I'm surprised they were doing this at all, but it was a good way to get city people to think about the food they eat, so it does make sense.

I remember struggling with those chickens. In order to cut off the chickens' heads, I needed to place a cloth over them. I did it anyway and always felt badly about it. That was a big red flag that I didn't feel right about it.

And so, I stopped eating meat after a while, only for the fact that I felt if I couldn't kill the animal or even cut it's head off after it was killed for me, I had no business eating it.

At that time, I worked at a historical museum where I lead children's field trips. When we gathered around in the kitchen, I'd always ask the children what they thought people ate in the 1700's. They'd usually yell out "Chicken!" and perhaps a few would say "Hot Dogs! Hamburgers!" but that was essentially it. I asked them, "Do you think people went to the store and bought their chicken wrapped up in plastic?" Plastic was the give-away word, and kids are smart, so they'd all yell "No!" What did they eat? Squirrels. Rabbits. Pigeons were very popular, and still can be bought in stores in England. The kids would squirm and say "Ew!" when I gave them a list of cute little animals that people could eat (and still do).

I wasn't trying to turn them into vegetarians, but I was telling them the truth.

So, I couldn't face up to the idea of even cutting up my dead chickens, and then I read John Robbins' "Diet for a New America", which goes into enormous detail about the horrors of factory farming. No more meat for me. That was that.

Then two things happened. I moved to a rural Maine and started raising sheep. I also spent some time at a Buddhist monastery. Now, you'd think neither of these things would do anything to make me stop being a vegetarian, but they did.

I knew nothing about raising animals, and had a number of mentors. All of these people raised animals in the most humane ways possible. I was raising my sheep for their fleece, but others were raising their animals for meat. If they had sheep, fleece was secondary, except for the few people I knew who had very expensive pure breds, and those folks, most of them, were not trying to make a living. Nor were they trying to feed famillies. I knew people who made their own bacon and sausages, smoked turkey and all sorts of meat specialties. I never touched any of that stuff, even though it smelled great, and I insulted quite a few people by not at least sampling their delicacies.

One day I was hanging around at this fellow's house while he was cooking up some bacon. I've always loved bacon. I kept saying "that smells great", over and over again. Fakin' Bacon just never cut it, but I didn't really care. That day, I was salivating. This fellow was one of those Mainers who doesn't say much. He helped me out so much when I needed help with great straightforward advice, such as the day I found one of my ewes walking around with a couple of hoofs hanging out her back end. I called him up and said "What do I do?" He said, "Just reach in there and pull out that lamb!" That was the longest sentence I'd ever heard him utter. Anyway, he got quite tired of hearing me moan about how good that bacon smelled and stuck a plate under my note and said, "Eat the fucking bacon." When a person like that curses, you do what they say. So I ate it, and it was delicious.

Still, I was a vegan. I had a slip. That's all.

That winter, I stayed at a monastery and almost everyone was ill for months. I heard that they decided later that a little bit of meat in the diet was okay, though not mandatory for all, but it was decided that us Northerners needed it to stay healthy and active during the winter. I didn't think that made that much sense, but at this well-respected monastery, people also smoked cigarettes and drank quite a bit, both things that this new-to-Buddhism person just assumed were things good Buddhists did not do.

Combine that with missing bacon, sausage, cigarettes and booze and I was fired up and ready to return to my past hedonistic ways.

And so, here I am. I don't smoke cigarettes any more, barely drink, and I do eat meat, but not every day. I feel comfortable with what I think of, if I think of it at all, as "moderation". But the thing is, until today, I haven't been thinking about how I feel about eating meat for years.

The comments I read today, along with some Buddhist reading I did earlier, got me thinking. I have no idea what I feel about this subject. Do I even care? I'm going to be brutally honest. I don't even know the answer to that.

So, you've read this far (perhaps) and I have no conclusion for you. I'm glad that I posted yesterday's fluff, for it banged open a window that's been shut for years. Will I stop eating meat? Just thinking about not doing so makes me anxious. Since returned to being an omnivore, I've developed quite the taste for meat, and besides, Dick is an amazing barbecue guy. It would be quite a blow to him if I stopped eating his outrageously delicious locust cooked ribs.

This is the end of the post. A history. Some questions. For me. And if you want to lay it on me, have a spirited argument with me, bring it on! I'm not defending myself. I have no defense. And, I've gotten quite attached to eating meat. The idea of glazed duck makes my mouth water. I'm thinking, "Is this another red flag?"

Photo note: Glazed Duck with Clementine Sauce

Addendum: I re-read this hours later and found that in editing, I had garbled some sentences. What I accidentally wrote is quite funny: . . .I've developed quite the taste for the truth, and besides, Dick is an amazing barbecue guy.

Well, I can't deny that one, though facing the truth is quite another thing.
I know that there are people who are male-gendered who read this blog. How come none of you ever leave comments?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Curry du jour - a recipe from a lazy cook

I used to love to cook. When I was a freelance artist, I was very disciplined. I worked at home, but I kept to a schedule and didn't break it unless there was an emergency. I worked from 9am to noon, took an hour break, and worked until 5pm. If there's wasn't an art director screaming for an inhumane deadline, I'd stop dead, no matter where I was in the day's work.

Cooking has something to do with this, I promise.

At noon, I would have a quick bite to eat. Then, I'd do whatever preparations were in order for dinner. Back then, this could mean anything from making pasta from scratch to deboning a whole cornish game hen, stuffing it, and sewing it back together (a very impressive feat, believe me). Vegetables were chopped, vinaigrettes were left to develop their flavors, and little bowls of ingrediants were filled if I was going to cook Chinese food. I was quite orderly, and I knew that by the time dinner rolled around, I'd never have the energy for any of this.

This cooking mania was prompted by a show on PBS about the "Great Chefs of New Orleans." I bought the accompanying book and both volumes of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

One memorable meal was that crazy deboned game hen, with a tri-color vegetable pate starter, and petit peas wrapped in steamed lettuce leaves. Another one was a white bean pate with whole vegetables. It looked beautiful. Each slice had circles of orange carrots, purple beets, green peas and red peppers. It tasted like school paste and was dumped in the garbage. We had a pizza that night.

For years now, I haven't enjoyed cooking all that much. I'm certainly not the uber-disciplined person I used to be. I tend to cook the same things over and over again. It's usually tofu and broccoli or string beans in black bean sauce, pasta with chicken or turkey sausage in marinara sauce, white pizza with red peppers and mushrooms, or a spinach and cheese omelette. I eat lots of Boca Burgers and ramen.

I was planning on making a curry last night but was feeling lazy (and had yet another night of ramen, tofu and egg). Dick couldn't find a can of tomatoes at the store, so he bought a pound of tomatoes, and knowing I would have to cook something from scratch was too much to deal with. Seriously, this is how I've come to think of cooking - too much to deal with. If I lived in a city, I'd be looking at takeaway menus every night, but where I live there's only one choice in that arena - a pretty lousy pizza from the General Store.

So, today was curry day. It was now or never, for we had a big leftover leg of lamb and I didn't want it to go to waste (sorry to all you vegetarians for subjecting you to images of deboned capons and legs of lamb).

I wound up making a mean curry. It's simmering now. Here's the recipe:

1 lb of tomatoes, de-seeded
2 tablespoons of good curry powder
3-5 cloves of garlic, your choice
1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth or bouillion
1 onion
Meat optional
Green peas
Chickpeas would probably be good in this, but I don't have any

Put the tomatoes, curry powder, garlic and liquid into a blender and blend until almost totally liquid. This stuff tastes great cold, like gazpacho, but spicier.

Cook the onions lightly in olive or canola oil. Then pour the curry liquid in the pan.

If you're using meat, throw it in about 1 to 1 1/2 hours before you want to eat. Cook the cauliflower for about a half an hour. Throw the peas in for five minutes at the end.

Serve with basmati rice. If you've got some Indian bread, great. This is really tasty, so having something to sop it up with is good.

Not a big deal of a recipe, but it's easy. I didn't bother to tell you how to cut up the cauliflower or how much to put in. That kind of detail is just silly. Cut it up however you want. You want lots of peas? Throw 'em in.

Tip for de-seeding tomatoes: Just cup them in half and scoop the seeds out with your thumbs. De-seeding always sounds like it's going to be a chore, but it isn't.

I'm annoyed because I'm out of basmati rice. I wonder what my Japanese brown rice is going to taste like with butter in it. Sticky and buttery, I'd guess.

Now it's time for me to cook the cauliflower. See ya. Don't expect another recipe too soon.

Photo note: Looking at this makes me think it's summer.

Addendum: I put too much lamb in it. Would you read a cookbook like this? Actually, I think it's not a bad idea. If recipes were less rigid, people would be creative. And, I'd like to see some famous chef write "I put too much lamb in it" instead of telling me that I need to put 1/8th of a teaspoon of cumin in something. Cooking is not that exacting! And failures are inevitable.

Also, Japanese brown rice cooked with butter is quite delicious. It wound up being my favorite part of the meal.

Ten reasons why I'm probably a nerd

1. I watch the Big Bang Theory. I thought "Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock" was funny, even if I didn't get Sheldon's reasoning, but I'm not a theorectical physicist. Note: After I just watched the clip (with it's overly loud laugh track), I actually get it.

2. I went to one of the first Star Trek Conventions. I always thought I went to the first one, but after a quick google search, I apologize for my ignorance. That convention was at the Hilton Hotel in New York City, where a bunch of my friends and I rented a room. I don't remember us being die-hard Trekkies, but it was more of a science fiction convention, and besides, it was an opportunity to rent a hotel room in the city.

Sadly, this is my biggest memory of the convention: I was walking in the lobby of the hotel, smoking a cigarette (yes, you could smoke inside then). A man passed me, and as he did, he said, "Don't you know smoking is bad for your health?" I said, "Oh, f*ck off, old man." Then I realized he was Isaac Asimov. Isaac Asimov! He was one of my heroes! I may have been a nerd, but I was also a rebellious jerk teenager. I also had no idea how to employ snappy comeback lines. If I was going to be a jerk, I wish I had been more clever.

3. I wish there were more science fiction movies. Also, I wish there were more well-written science fiction books.

4. I read the New Yorker mainly for their science articles and wish there was a magazine devoted to science writing for the jargon-impaired.

5. I was fascinated with cryptology when I was a kid and actually fantacized about working for the CIA (or whoever hired cryptologists), but my family's politics made me think that I'd never pass the background check and that the CIA was probably evil. Early interest in codes is a dead giveaway for nerdism.

6. I love Scrabble. One of my favorite books is "Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players."

7. I like British (aka cryptic) crossword puzzles. What I like even more is to make my own, and one of the "100 things I'd like to do before I die" is get a crossword puzzles published in the New York Times. Somehow, I think this is not going to happen, but one can always dream.

8. Buying the Oxford English Dictionary was one of the most happy moments in my life. I love reading it. Unfortunately, it's too heavy and using that magnifying glass drives me crazy. I wish I had it on DVD, but it's three hundred bucks, and besides, I hear people have complained it doesn't run well on their computers.

9. I am one of those annoying people who tell complete strangers, in the course of conversation, what the origins of an interesting word is or how some idiomatic expression came to be. I also inquire of others, "Did you know that __________?" about obscure factoids, when they probably neither know nor care.

10. I would be lost without the interlibrary loan service.

Bonus: I have a crush on Dr. Reid on Criminal Minds, but I suspect that even non-nerds do. He was a model once (which disappoints me greatly).

Photo note: And, I have a soft spot for "GI Joel" Sherman, a professional Scrabble player and prototypical New York-style nerd. While googling his name, I discovered there is a documentary about called "Scrabylon". Why didn't I know this? I'm going to see if it's on Netflix right now.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Floris China Rose

You may be thinking, "What does that image have to do with something that has the word rose in it? And isn't she writing about a perfume?" I'll get to that shortly.

I woke up bleary and knew that I wouldn't be able to take a shower for a few hours, so I reached into my nightstand for a packet of new samples I have. I figured I'd just pick something at random. Not my usual modus operandi, and not the best of ideas when one has a bit of a headache.

When I have a plan, even if it's very small, I stick to it, so I opened the vial of Floris China Rose and sniffed it. My first reaction was "this smells like acetone." Great. I put some on in spite of my reaction. After all, I was bleary.

The card the vial is attached to was something of an alert. It's a bit too pink and pretty, suggesting something innocent and rather straightforward. Yet, the description promises a good deal of richness: "Top notes of rose, jasmine, violet and hyacinth lead to middle notes of peach, clary sage, clove, ylang ylang and geranium. Base notes include patchouli, tonka bean, vanilla, honey, amber and vetiver."

I sniffed my left wrist and the acetone smell was gone. In its wake was violet, a sweet and cloying violet, one that reminded me of something long past, but I couldn't put my finger on it. By the time I got myself to my pot of coffee I realized what it was - the violet candies and gum I used to adore when I lived in New York.

It took a few seconds of googling to find them. Choward's? I had no idea that was the name of the company, even though I've chewed their gum and eaten their candy since I was in grade school. I've never seen these candies sold in Maine, but when I'm in New York City, if I think of it, I buy a few packs. They still sell for under a buck.

Both the gum and the candy are just plain weird, but they truly are wonderful, once you get past the idea of eating violets. Now, that once was not unusual. In the Victorian era eating candied violets and other flowers was quite popular.

Getting back to the China Rose, it is truly awful. The sweet violet is pretty much all I can smell, though I am always a bit stuffed up in the morning. And that acetone scent? It's back and hovering around me. Where's all those other notes? I've had the stuff on for close to an hour and, well, perhaps I can smell a bit of amber, but it's just sweet, fake-smelling violets and chemicals. It doesn't deserve all this analysis.

I'm glad for one thing, however. It reminded me of those candies and gum. I will keep a keen eye out for them here in Maine. And if I don't find them, I'll be in New York in December. Those violet candies do sweeten one's breath. They do a better job of it than any icey-cold breath freshiener gum does. Curious? You can buy them on-line at the Victory Old-Time Candy Store.

And if you're also wondering why I have to wait to have my shower, I have a well. No city water for me (and I sure do miss it). That well fills slowly and if I'm doing laundry (as I am now), if I do something else that takes a good amount of water, like having a shower, the pump will start sucking air. Then poor Dick has to go into the cellar and do a lot of dirty and annoying work. So, I'm careful.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I'm bad at doing ______ (fill in the blank)

Earlier this evening, our power was out. I sat at the kitchen table and ate my ramen noodles with tofu and egg by candlelight. When I was done, I thought, what shall I do? I only had these little tea lights and they aren't good for reading, no matter how many one uses. So, I used my chopsticks as drumsticks and sang a bunch of songs. I'm not very good at either of these things, but I was having fun.

I used to be self-conscious about my lousy singing. Nowadays, I seem to care little about the things I'm not all that good at. If I enjoy them, I do them. Maybe that's why the nanowrimo is coming fairly easily to me. I'm not judging it. If I wasn't having fun, I'd quit, and I'd say "oh well."

When I told a writing professor I know that I'd been writing 2-4000 words a day, he was impressed. I said, "I didn't say they were good words." And they probably aren't.

But here's the thing: even though I use words like "good" and "bad", it is not a judgment. At least it's not a judgment in the sense of feeling bad about it (there's that word again). I've gotten to this point lately where I feel pretty comfortable with mediocrity or even downright lousiness. When we're kids and we're learning to do new things, we not "good at" the things we do. It's acceptable (to some people). We're kids and we are learning. You don't go from not knowing how to read on day one and being able to read Tolstoy on day two. That is reserved for some very unusual geniuses.

Unfortunately, when I was a child, I was given the message that if one wasn't very good at something, you shouldn't do it. I've written about this before.

I was fortunate to have gone to an Elementary School where, when we were in the fourth grade, we were all asked if we wanted to learn an instrument. It was optional, but in my memory everyone did, though it seemed quite a number of kids picked the triangle. The school gave us an instrument, for free, and also provided free group lessons. Some kids did have lessons at home, which would have to be paid for, but the lessons at school were quite good.

I wanted to learn to play the bass, but I was steered away from that because I was so short, and so I picked the cello. I loved to play. Noone ever had to tell me "Julie, it's time to practice." If it was up to me, I would have played until bedtime and beyond, but my parents didn't want me to play at night.

I loved Bach and struggled hard to try to learn some of his Cello Suites. But I just loved to practice. If it was scales, fine. It didn't matter. The sound of a bowed instrument, a deep one, thrilled me. I was transported. I would completely merge with that cello and its sound. Years after I stopped playing, my childhood friend told me that one time my mother let her in our house and she saw me in my room, playing the cello, and that it scared her. She said I didn't look like a child while I was playing. I was lost in what I was doing and my face was so serious that she left my house without saying a word.

If you were reading carefully, you'd have noticed I said that I stopped playing. There were a few reasons and they aren't happy ones. For one thing, my parents didn't seem to like that I played. I never once heard a thing about my playing from them (except to quit playing at night). Neither of them ever said, "You've improved" or "that sounded good" or anything.

In the orchestra, one was seated according to how good you were. There was 1st, 2nd and 3d cello and all the rest. Well, only three kids played the cello, so I was 3rd. I didn't care. Celloist #1 was a child prodigy who spent half her day out of school studying with someone we heard was famous. She didn't look very happy. And besides, her sister was Violinist #1 and was already playing concerts, so everyone rather thought she was in a tough spot. The second celloist was a gifted young boy, and besides, he was a friend of mine, who seemed to enjoying playing with me at home, even if I wasn't as good as he was. So, I was quite content.

Now, I have to admit I have no memory of my parents saying any particular words, but I knew they thought I was wasting my time. If I couldn't be the best, I shouldn't be doing it. Besides, I had a talent for drawing and I ought to have been doing that. This was the one thing that they were proud of, but they could understand it, because they were both visual artists. Maybe I'd grow up to be more successful then they had been. That's the message I got.

But drawing never gave me the pleasure that playing music did. I loved to draw, but it didn't transport me beyond myself. Sometimes I felt like a peforming monkey because I was talented, and I hated it. When I played music, there were no thoughts of good or bad or talented or not. I was just playing music.

Unfortunately, when grade school was done, the free instruments and lessons ended. That's when the anvil dropped. I was told that I had to choose between renting an instrument and taking lessons. Now, that's not a choice. You can't take lessons if you don't have an instrument, and you can't teach yourself the cello without an instructor (not unless you're a genius, which I plainly was not). So, that was that.

I was given a cheap guitar at the end of the year to make up for things, but classical guitar just didn't cut it for me. It sounded plunky and even when I listened to a master play, it still sounded plunky. So, I wound up being a punk rock guitarist who thought she sucked. Well, that's making a long story short there (which is unusual for me, I know), but you get the idea.

So, these days I'm reveling in doing things badly and enjoying them. There are others who say I shouldn't say I do these things "badly" because I'm putting myself down. I don't agree. I'm being honest. I'm not a novelist and I'm not some genius in the rough. I thought I'd give writing a novel a try and it's good fun. Will I ever get published and get on the best seller list?

I doubt it highly.

I know people have trouble reading my long blog posts. But I'm having a good time and that's what counts. I'm learning a lot, expressing myself freely and even, at times, reveling in doing something I'm not all that good at. So, please, let me say I'm bad at stuff. It feels really good. It feels freeing. There are no expectations when you aren't good.

But I wouldn't mind a little pat on the back once in a while. I wished I had gotten it from my parents when I played the cello. I wouldn't have minded one bit if I grew up to be the very last celloist in some small city somewhere. But no, if I couldn't make it to Carnegie Hall, it was no go. Well, that's a sure fire way to create an underachiever, if you ask me.

Image note: Apocalyptica. Four cellists cover Metallica songs. Once, I was listening to this in my tat shop, when a guy I knew came in. He said, "Turn that classical crap off!" Then he stopped dead, "Is that Enter Sandman?!", he said. The first time I heard it, I couldn't stop laughing. That sounds like a bad review, but it was the cognitive dissonance that got me. Check it out for yourself:

I found the album cover on a sweet little web site made by a young kid (I think). Take a look.

Addendum: Just in case you think I'm a whiner who's still all upset about what my parents did to me (oh, the pain!) I'm not. One remedy for childhood hurts like this is to do them over and be your own parent. Some years ago, I rented a cello and took a lesson. It was fantastic. At the end of the first lesson, I played the first four measures of one of the Bach Suites. And here comes that word: I played it badly. Of course I did! I didn't care a whit. I was in heaven. Unfortunately, my hands were pretty shot from tattooing and I had to leave it at that one lesson. But that was enough. I had parented myself, gave myself permission to try it once again before I dropped dead, and any resentments I still harbored were gone. Well, maybe there's a wee bit. . .

I do feel the need to say this: If you are a parent, if your child is lousy at something and loves it, be happy for them and encourage them with everything you've got.

Closing one shop

The Tattoo Help Desk is now officially closed. In spite of putting up this side project, all the tattoo questions still wound up being directed to this blog. If you do have any tattoo questions, feel free to ask away. I may not tattoo any more, but I still like talking and writing about it.

And the answer to the most frequently googled question about tattoos is this: No, it's not the best idea to get a tattoo when you are sick!

I also need to watch how I use my time. I'm not done with the novel (oh, it's so hard not to put that word in quotes!), but I'm already thinking about novel number two. Plus, I'm going to be getting free books to review from Amazon. I have no idea why I was solicited for this, but I'm pretty happy about it. I'm not going to turn down free books, even if there are some strings attached, like having to read them. I could fake a review, but that wouldn't be right.

Any other business to attend to tonight? I don't think so. Now, I'm going to write a real post.

Knitting class update, with some music on the side

I feel badly, but I've cancelled tomorrow's knitting classes because so few people signed up. I hope if you are one of the two people who did, you will sign up for the one that will be after the holidays.

I am also mulling over teaching a lace knitting class at Treetop Zen Center. Knitting complex lace is basically meditation with yarn. Mindfulness and concentration are essential.

Knitting is so rich with meaning. Come to think of it, is there anything that isn't? How could I be so foolish as to think that?

A friend asked me last night if I thought that "spiritually evolved" people might have different taste in music. I am not exactly big on the idea of "spiritually evolved people", but we'll leave that matter aside.

As for music, like what you like! Sure, some people think they are more evolved because they listen to John Adams instead everything that Justin Broadrick's done, but I think they're deluded. So there.

But I sure can't knit lace and listen to anything by Broadrick. Well, perhaps I could listen to Jesu and knit.

I had thought I'd failed miserably in trying to find an embed, but here it is, thanks to stumbling onto a new blog today (not that the writer of said blog likes Jesu or anything. He just had a lot of music embeds). Be forewarned - this is not the happiest music:

Image note: The cover of Jesu's Silver (linked above), which looks just about like what I see out my window today.

The big confession

When I was fifteen, I started smoking cigarettes. It was my first day at a new school. I still remember what I was wearing, because I tortured myself for hours over it; Black jeans, a white t-shirt and dirty white boat shoes. I remember thinking all black would be too much. A plain white t-shirt didn't say anything at all (at least not that I was aware of). I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I didn't want anyone to make any assumptions about me.

I was early and sitting on some stairs outside when I realized there was another girl sitting a few steps above me. She was smoking. I'm sure she said "hi" first. She asked me if I wanted a cigarette and I said yes. Luckily for me, I didn't cough and gag and generally make a fool of myself. I remember thinking five things: 1. I have finally caved to peer pressure. 2. I liked the way the cigarette made me (and yes, it is a drug). 3. My mother would be so disappointed in me, her being an ex-smoker and all. 4.The feeling of nicotine in my system may have felt good because my mom smoked several packs a day when I was in utero. 5. It seemed so much easier to talk to someone with a cigarette in my hand.

By the end of the week, I was a smoking a pack a day. I smoked for eleven years and then quit. I was smoking two packs a day, had just moved to an apartment in Brooklyn that was a third floor walk up, and I was winded by the time I got to my door. By day six of that quit, I was weeping non-stop. I couldn't imagine a life without a cigarette in my hand and the craving was insane. But I made it through and didn't smoke another cigarette for ten years.

Stupid woman that I can be, I started smoking again when I found myself surrounded by a surprising amount of people who smoked. I knew the dangers of picking up that one cigarette, but I did it anyway. For a year, I kept myself under tight control - one cigarette in the morning, one at noon, one after dinner, and one before I went to sleep. I loved sitting outside at night, gazing up at the stars while smoking.

But, when I started working for someone who only allowed breaks if you needed a smoke, I started to smoke a lot more. And before I knew it, I was working hard to keep myself at one pack of marlboros a day. I quit twice (or maybe more, who can remember?) and went back to it. I hated the fact that I could be seen on streetcorners smoking with 18-year-old kids. I had a notion I should be a decent role model. I bought a box of nicotine gum and it worked well. I'm not sure how long I haven't been smoking at this point. I've quit so many times, I didn't believe that the last time was for good, so I didn't bother to make a mental note of it.

I still chew nicotine gum. Now, I'm a full-fledged addict. But no doctor says it's bad for me, so I chew away.

Last night a friend was over, and she smokes. I smoked two cigarettes, as I've discovered I can do once in a while. Why I bother is beyond me. I always wake up feeling awful, like I do today. My clothing stinks (and it's in the wash) and I feel as if I've got a hangover even though I didn't have a drop to drink.

These days, smoking almost seems worse than professing to a "real" drug addiction. Heroin? Poo! A person who has done that can write a book aftewards (and have you ever seen one book about "My life as a smoker"?). Cocaine? Even Obama has used it. Esctasy? The New York Times published an article about how it might be good for you.

But cigarettes, no. Smokers have become pariahs, being forced to smoke 100 feet from the nearest building.

This reminds me of when I finally told my mother I was a smoker. She was such an anti-smoking zealot that I worked hard to keep my habit a secret from her. By the age of 21, she still did not know I smoked, which was absurd. One part denial (on her part) and a lot of lying on mine ("I just spent the last hour with a heavy smoker").

The day I told her, I was so nervous. I said, "I've got something to tell you that will make you upset. I've been keeping something secret for years." I couldn't get the words out. My poor mother, she was scared. Was I a heroin addict? Was I pregnant? Was I gay (even though that would have been okay with her)? When I finally said, "Oh no! I smoke cigarettes", she laughed and said, "So, you'll quit. It's easy."

What did Mark Twain say? Quitting is easy. I've done it hundreds of times. . .

Image note: A 1920's flapper, back when it was glamorous for a woman to be smoking. I have no idea what this card is for. I found it here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Billy the Kid day

First, I offer you Ry Cooder, singing "Billy the Kid" live:

And now I offer you the trailer for the movie, "Billy the Kid", about a 15-old-boy in Maine. This is a real kid, not fiction. There is a scene in the movie that is so funny that Dick and I watched it three times. I wish I could find a clip of that scene, but I couldn't. Though some reviewers say that scene was staged, one reason that we laughed so hard is that it was so Maine (and not the one the tourists see). Enough from me, here's Billy:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

After watching this, I do not understand why Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield and a few others aren't being charged for war crimes.

As they say, "practice makes perfect"

I've quite a fan of Malcolm Gladwell. I've enjoyed his books and his articles in the New Yorker. I also think he's an interesting character and I'm a sucker for certain types of geeks.

The reason for this quickie post is only this: In his new book, "Outliers", Gladwell writes about success. Gladwell cites a body of research finding that the “magic number for true expertise” is 10,000 hours of practice.

I did some math, which I am not good at (no 10,000 hours there for me). This would require 4.8 years of 40 hours of practice a week. That's no small thing, but it's not outrageous either.

The reason for this post? NaNoWriMo.
Writing a novel in a month is not going to make me a novelist. It might, if I was very lucky and some kind of genius. But I am guessing I am neither. Besides, my novel is truly awful. Maybe that's an overstatement, but it's not exactly good. How could it be? I've written over 30,000 pages in less than twelve days. How much thinking do you think went into writing that fast?

It's practice and practice is what people do to become good at something. Practice is also just good practice. Look: I'm a process vs. product kind of person, so I'm enjoying myself. That doesn't make me rich (or even close) but I'm having a good time. Maybe I'll publish a novel in 4.8 years. No, make that 13.7 years (at fourteen hours a week, not forty). Yikes. I should have started writing a bit earlier in life.

Painting note: Gerard Dou
Old Woman Reading a Lectionary c.1630
No comment.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I don't know much about sticky notes

Every day at least one person winds up on this blog because they've googled the words "sticky notes on my dashboard." I thought it was because of one post. The name of the post? Sticky notes on my dashboard.

If you have a Mac, I suggest you go here to find out about the latest sticky notes on your dashboard. In spite of my post about the subject, I don't know much. I don't even use a Mac these days. Now that I've visited that link, I'm even more miserable sitting here typing on this aesthetically miserable PC.*

I wrote that post back on March 23rd of this year. It was my fourth post. In a way, those sticky notes on my dashboard were the impetus for this blog. I had so many of them that it was becoming a problem. Many were thoughts about a new scent and I had green notes for colognes and all things light and airy, gray for incense, pink for floral and so on. The yellow notes were for ideas about whatever was on my mind at the time, mostly snippets about translating poetry and the vagaries of language.

I had had other blogs, a website for my tat business, and a myspace page where I mostly wrote about music and tattoos, but I never kept up with any of these for long. In spite of all conventional wisdom, I decided that I just had to be who I am and put it out there. I'm a generalist, a dilletante, a jack-of-all trades and master of a few, and someone who flits from one interest to another.

And lastly, I had this crazy idea that being interested in everything was some kind of remedy for depression. I think it is, though my life hasn't proved that to be entirely true. Yet, without this crazy desire to find out more, to continually explore and learn, I am not entirely sure I would have survived. No matter how depressed I've been, if there was a good book to finish, I'd have to read it, even if the demons of depression were screaming at me that life was not worth living. If I had some knitting to do, how could I leave it?

There might be new perfumes in my mailbox on Monday or a moment of pure bliss on the cushion while meditating. There have been days, weeks and even months when the weight of abject misery was crushing and rendered me useless, but still, I was always easily distracted, in a good way.

Driving in my car to see a therapist, lost in delusions and desperate for some relief, I saw a flock of snow buntings, hundreds of them, swirling over a barren field, raising and falling as one undulating mass. Who could be miserable in the face of such beauty? One eye was always open to these things, thankfully.

So, sticky notes, well. . .if you've landed here and wanted to find out about them, I presume you've gone already. And too bad, for both of us, for the other thing that is interesting is stumbling onto new things and starting a conversation with a stranger. Speaking of which, can't you silent people lurkers leave a few comments? Do you need a bribe of some sort? I may be late with the gifts I already owe, but I still have one slot left for a free gift! Speak up!

*I will certainly offend someone by saying that I abhor that little dog who shows up to find my files. Not only is he not cute, but he does a very poor job of finding files. Just this evening I showed this to Dick and he said, "Isn't there some way to turn him off?"

Photo note: Check out the things people have done with post-it notes here.