The whole story was posted by my loving spouse over at Bitter Dregs, so I wasn't going to say anything here about my little Monday night incident on Minnehaha Parkway, but I find that I just have to say something. So, to the guy who decided it was worth his while to harrass me as I biked home from Lake Harriet, a few points:
Most drivers don't treat cyclists like this guy did. When I drive, I certainly don't act like this guy. Most of my fellow human beings are decent people who, no matter how annoyed they may be with having to pass bicyclists while driving, just do it and go on with their lives. I'm just sorry I had to encounter such an unfortunate example of the species on what was otherwise a very pleasant evening ride.
So here, at last, is a picture of the new bike, resting in front of the garage after Saturday's 25-mile ride (she was ready for 25 more, but I definitely wasn't):
The rack and small panniers are definitely not typical road-bike accoutrements, but I'm far too attached to the convenience and utility of being able to carry a lot of stuff not to have them. My penchant for carrying too much junk has already come in handy: after our lunch stop during Saturday's ride, I was able to run into Whole Foods, pick up the few items we needed to make dinner, and stash them in my panniers for the ride home. That saved us a trip later.
So far, I love just about everything about this bike, but I'm particularly enamored with a mere cosmetic feature: the color. While it was not a factor in my decision to buy this bike, I do love the pale blue brushed aluminum. It reminds me of the color of the sky just before dusk, when I'm often heading home following an after-work ride. Coincidentally, one of my favorite Peter Gabriel songs, "Sky Blue," has lyrics which are surprisingly descriptive of the psychological and spirtual elements of bicycling:
Lost my time lost my place in sky blue
Those two blue eyes light your face in sky blue
I know how to fly, I know how to drown in sky blue
Warm wind blowing over the earth, sky blue
I sing through the land, the land sings through me, sky blue
Reaching into the deepest shade of sky blue
So tired of all this travelling
So many miles away from home
I keep moving to be stable
Free to wander, free to roam
Well, Dr. Dregs and I took the plunge and spent way too much of our hard-earned cash on a couple of road bikes. I won't speak for Dregs, but I am quite thrilled with mine so far. It's a Specialized Sequoia Elite (I can't seem to get a link to work, so you'll have to go look it up yourself if you want details), a "comfort" road bike with a more upright riding position. It's also just a little bit practical: a rear rack and fenders can be added to it. So it is not a racing bike -- but I'm not a racer, and I see no reason to torture myself on one of those things when I could have something so much more comfortable. And it is comfortable -- surprisingly, it is nearly as comfortable as my much-beloved hybrid. It is also fast -- much, much faster than my other bike (I'm not going to call it "my old bike," because I plan to keep it and continue riding it when the weather's bad or I need to go off-road a bit). Maintaining a certain speed is infinitely easier, and climbing hills is also much easier.
How much faster and easier has been a bit of a revelation to me, and also (so far) a source of pure joy. I am a cautious rider under any circumstances, so while I expected certain things to be easier on a road bike, I thought that my instinctive reticence would temper how much difference I perceived compared to my hybrid bike. I was wrong. The road bike provides me with more of everything that I love about cycling, everything that makes cycling virtually the only form of exercise I've ever really enjoyed. I didn't expect my enjoyment to so intensify solely because of my equipment, and naturally, I'm delighted.
The things I love about cycling (and that I just don't get from other activities) are not unique to me and have been well documented and eloquently described by many, many other people: the sense of freedom and possibility, the sense of accomplishment achieved from traveling under one's own power, the deeper connection to one's environment that riding safely requires, the increased opportunities to appreciate the beauty of one's surroundings, whether the landscape is urban or rural. The spiritual "benefit" of cycling was almost immediately apparent to me in a way that it never has been for other athletic endeavor (I know that others find spiritual benefit in different sports/physical activities, but it has never worked that way for me). There is a particular kind of magic in bicycling that makes me a happier and better person -- mind, body, and soul.
I hope the magic lasts, because the Sequoia will be my last new bike for a long while -- I already feel a bit guilty and overly extravagant for having bought it. But I can't really regret the cost or think too much of ways the money might have been better spent (or saved). To others, the cost-benefit might seem wildly out of whack. But for me, it's just right.
Twin Cities types are aware that whatever the calendar may say, the last week hasn't exactly been full of springlike outdoor-activity inducing weather, what with the foot and a half of snow and all. But it is mid-March, and as we discovered when we ventured out today for some errands, people who've been cooped up all winter are going to go outside, even if we're currently experiencing something less than ideal spring conditions. We were surpised to see that our neighborhood Dairy Queen had re-opened after its winter hiatus -- and it was busy, with customers lined up for their tasty frozen treats. This particularly DQ is one of the old-fashioned kind: you walk up to a window, and eat your ice cream outside (or in the warmth of your car, if you can't hack the cold). There is no indoor seating.
This touching scene inspired Dr. Dregs, so when we got home, we leashed up Dog Dregs and took a walk toward the DQ, about a 2-mile round trip (this particular DQ hands out dog biscuits to its canine visitors, so it's a favored summer destination for Dog Dregs). The walk was pleasant, despite some slushy and icy stretches of sidewalk. But as I sat at a picnic table surrounded by several inches of snow eating my ice cream, it occurred to me that only Minnesotans could treat such behavior as unremarkable, neither misguided nor aberrant. Doc Dregs, who had neglected to wear gloves, finished his Blizzard and commented with some surprise that he was cold, even though it was sunny and a balmy 36 degrees.
Today has actually been quite a pleasant day; the snow is busily melting under the intense March sun. But yeah, there's still a whole lot of frozen stuff out there, and it's still cold, by my standards. Yet neither we -- nor anyone who saw us sitting at a snow-surrounded picnic table eating ice cream with our dog -- seemed to think there was anything odd about the scene. And the DQ continued to do a healthy business, as others in cars, on foot, and on bicycles stopped by for a treat.
Salon.com's advice columnist Cary Tennis answered a letter today from a woman who refused a friend who asked to come over during a blizzard when he was without power. Although my initial reaction was fairly judgmental toward the letter writer ("how could she be so selfish?"), it made me think about the limits of what we will do for our friends.
I like to think of myself as a generous person, but I have an uncomfortable suspicion that much of my generosity falls into the category of what is easy. By "easy," I mean that which doesn't require a lot of sacrifice or work on my part. I think that I have good intentions, but I also know I am lazy. How does this play out? Well, for example, if I were in the position of the Salon letter writer, I would never even consider turning my friend down (even if it wasn't a particularly good friend). I would welcome my friend with open arms, and invite them to stay as long as they wished. But it's easy for me to share my home; I am happy to do it, and I enjoy it. Similarly, I am always glad to lend a sympathetic ear, and offer advice (if I think I have something useful to say), or comfort (if I have nothing constructive to offer). But I enjoy that kind of interaction with people, especially people I care about. In both of these hypothetical situations, I am getting something out of being generous and supportive, so my actions are not totally selfless.
There is one thing that holds my laziness in check, however, and makes me more inclined to offer help even when I would really rather not: the deeply ingrained "golden rule." Raised by a bunch of liberal Catholics deeply concerned with social justice, I was always taught to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I learned at an early age to imagine myself on the other end of requests for help, and so am inclined to do what I can when a friend needs something, regardless of my own discomfort. This helps to moderate my basic selfishness: it means that if a friend requests help which requires minor to moderate inconveniences on my part, I will still say "yes, of course," without thinking, and help them cheerfully.
But I still struggle with larger sacrifices, as well as with sacrifices for people I don't know or don't like. Up to now, my friends mostly have not asked for anything that would entail a serious inconvenience. I assume that this is partly because most of us have relatively substantial resources at our disposal and so rarely need to ask for significant help, and partly because we as a larger society are less and less likely to ask people outside our families (and sometimes not even them) for that kind of help. What this means is that I don't really know where my limits are. But I worry about learning something I don't want to know about myself if and when I am asked to make a big sacrifice.
Last weekend was a perfect fall weekend -- and I have the pictures to prove it. I'm not a picture-taking type (and hence, also not much of a photographer), but pointing and shooting randomly can yield some pretty good results when the day is as gorgeous as Saturday was.
As planned, we made a trip down to Red Wing to spend some time on the Cannon Valley Trail. A good time was had by all. Here's the photographic evidence:
The lazy river
The Cannon River again, looking less brown than usual
Resting at Welch Station
Andy and John engaging in ... vandalism?
Ahh...barbed wire evokes Slate Creek Memories
Just a little proof of why fall is the best time of year in Minnesota.
Mostly we spent the weekend running errands and doing chores around the house, but we did manage a little outing on Saturday to the Lake Wobegon Trail. We got a late-ish start, so we only had time for about a 20 mile ride. We started in Avon and rode west to a point a few miles past Albany before turning back. I'm guessing the fall colors were probably about a week short of their peak, but the scenery was still quite spectacular, enhanced by Saturday's clear, beautiful weather. We kicked ourselves repeatedly for having forgotten the camera, as we passed by gorgeous foliage, lovely little lakes and ponds, picturesque farms, and woodland critters. In Albany, the trail passes right by the impressive Seven Dolors Catholic Church, built in 1889 and apparently very well cared for over the decades. It's pretty astonishing how well the area around the trail evokes its Keillor-invented namesake. Even the Dairy Queen in Albany, where we stopped for a little treat, lives up to the Lake Wobegon mythology.
One of the things we really enjoyed about the trail was its relatively low use, compared to what we're used to on Metro area trails. There were other people on the trail, but much of the time, we had it to ourselves. All in all, it was an extremely pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and we were sorry we didn't have time to ride further.
Since September hit, we haven't had much time for this kind of thing (or, really, any kind of recreational activity). It did me a lot of good to do something as purely enjoyable as spending a pretty afternoon away from the city on my bike -- a much-needed dose of that sort of thing, which will be in short supply all too soon as the weather gets colder.
Next weekend, with any luck, we'll make it back to the Cannon Valley Trail, where we last visited in late July. Then, on the 16th, we're hoping for good Black Hills weather so we can do a little hiking while we visit South Dakota. I'm looking forward to experiencing the contrast between terrain and foliage in western South Dakota and eastern Minnesota. If we're smart enough, we'll even remember the camera so we can snap a few pictures.
Well, not exactly. But my week and a half in the Black Hills with assorted friends, family, and critters was a welcome break from my usual quotidian concerns. I'm still catching up, though, which is why Shades has been silent. There's more to come soon, but here's something to ponder in the meantime:
"Meat makers may one day sit next to bread makers on the kitchen counter."
So says Jason Matheny, one of the scientists involved in research that could lead to the synthetic production of meat (yes, that's right, meat) for human consumption. Reading this description of their work makes me a little queasy. On the other hand, if their optimistic visions prove true, engineered meat could provide a satisfactory response to a lot of the troubling moral and ethical issues tied up in meat consumption. I bet they'll need some insanely great marketing to sell the stuff, though...
After taking care of a few things yesterday morning, Dr. Dregs and I decided to load up the bikes and venture out to Plymouth for a short afternoon ride on the Luce Line Trail, since we wanted to see how our bikes would do on a crushed-limestone surface with their skinnier tires (this is because we're planning to do some riding on the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills in a couple of weeks, and we wanted to make sure our tires were up to it). Dregs is still recovering from an ankle sprain, so the plan was to take it slow and easy, and not go very far.
Despite the heat, it was a spectacularly gorgeous day for a ride, and as a bonus, the trail was not that crowded. The bikes seemed to be performing very well on the unpaved surface, and we were pretty happy. After a few miles, Doc Dregs decided to forge ahead a little way. I didn't think he should push it with his ankle, but he wanted to, so he took off while I continued at my leisurely pace. A couple more miles down the trail, I noticed that something felt weird, so I stopped, and sure enough, my rear tire was flat.
I was a little annoyed, but I had tools, a new tube, and a mini pump, so I knew I could fix the tire, given enough time. I took out my cell phone and called John, who didn't answer (he couldn't hear his phone's ringer). I left him a message to let him know why I wouldn't be catching up with him, removed the rear wheel, and got to work. I was in a nice shady spot, but had to work on the edge of the trail, since the vegetation was too tall and thick off the trail.
So here I am, a single woman, sitting on the edge of the trail, bike in pieces next to me. Other cyclists pass me, obviously note my presence, and say nothing. What's up with that? I didn't really need any help, but it seems to me like it's common courtesy to ask. I don't think I look threatening at all -- it just isn't possible they thought I was a thug or a serial killer trying to lure them in (also, this is in the western suburbs a stone's throw from Lake Minnetonka -- not exactly a high-crime area). A family out walking passed, me too -- father and three kids -- without so much as a "Hey, are you okay?" I just don't get it. Finally, a couple of serious-looking cyclists on road bikes did stop and ask me if I needed any help. I didn't, but it was nice for someone finally to ask.
Eventually, John got my message and came back, and helped me finish fixing the tire. We set off for the car, but a couple of miles in, my tire was flat again. That really did annoy me, since I thought I had checked the tire pretty carefully for whatever caused the first flat. Fortunately, we were near a road and only a few miles from the car, so I waited at the intersection while John went back for the car and came to pick me up. Although it wasn't how I intended to spend my afternoon, it was pretty pleasant waiting for him -- it was one of those spots on the trail where if you don't look at the golf course (of the Wayzata Country Club), you can't tell you're surrounded by suburbia.
So anyway, the ride was nice while it lasted, and it was good just being out on such a pretty day, though I could have done without the tire fixing (especially since it didn't work). But why is it that my fellow trail users couldn't be bothered to inquire after my well-being? That's a pretty sad commentary on the state of the world.
As I've mentioned on a couple of occasions, I've been having a great time lately riding my bike (and have just started riding to work -- today is the second day I've done so). But a more recent discovery for me is that part of the fun of having a bike is modifying it and personalizing it. My bike is nothing special: a pretty basic hybrid bike. But as I've spent more time on it, it's become clear that some changes were necessary for my comfort over long distances. To that end, I replaced the saddle, pedals, and tires, and did a couple of practical things, like adding a rack so I can carry some stuff with me.
But the basic hybrid handlebar -- calculated to allow an upright riding position, with a pretty extreme rise and sweep -- actually doesn't work well for me over distances of more than a few miles becaus I can't change the position of my hands. I needed something that would let me grip the bars in different places. So I decided to experiment with a "trekking" handlebar, which has a shape that allows multiple grip options. I was a bit wary of making this change myself, but thanks to the wonders of the internet and my firm belief that a bicycle just isn't that complicated a machine, I took the plunge. Here are the results:
These have helped my wrists immensely so far, which is just what I wanted. But the other thing I love about these bars is how unique they make my bike look. I love the dorky, slightly alien look of the trekking bars, all tricked out in their funky bar tape. The bike is really mine now, tailored specifically to me in a visible way.
Today, finally, as those of you in the Twin Cities know, was a gorgeous, sunny, rain-free, not-too-humid day -- one of the few we've had in the last few weeks. I was determined not to waste the weather and get out on my bike. Dr. Dregs couldn't join me, since he had to work at Lake Harriet (also, he just gave himself a nasty ankle sprain by falling down the stairs. It could have been a lot worse, but he's definitely off the bike for a while).
So I thought I'd give Andy a call, so I'd have someone to ride with. He was already out riding with Danielle, but luckily, he had his cell phone, and they were headed in my general direction. They stopped by to pick me up, and we rode down to Fort Snelling. We stopped for a while at the swimming beach, which was mysteriously almost abandoned despite the unbelievably gorgeous day. We had a nice wade, and enjoyed watching the flora and fauna of the lake. After riding to the "end" of the trail through the park, we turned around and headed north. Andy had to head home, since he was on a temporary reprieve from housecleaning out of the goodness of Becka's heart, so I left them at 38th and Hiawatha and returned home to take care of a few things and have some lunch.
By this time, John had already been at Lake Harriet for a couple of hours, and I had planned to head over there to keep him company. So I got back on the bike and made my way south to the Minnehaha Creek trail, and rode over to Lake Harriet. After a short rest and a bit of chitchat with John, I moved on, over to the west side of Lake Calhoun, and then onto the far western end of the Midtown Greenway.
I decided to head west. The Greenway turns into another trail that runs all the way through St. Louis Park and Hopkins, where it joins up with the north and south corridors of the Southwest LRT Trail. Through the inner 'burbs, the trail is not exciting: it's flat and not especially scenic. But the asphalt is super-smooth, and because of the lower crowd level, it's a lot easier to get a little speed going (when I say "little," I mean little -- anything more than about 10 MPH is speedy for me. But around the Lakes, it's tough to go even that fast because of the crowds).
I decided I had had enough when I got to The Depot, on the trail at 169 and Excelsior Boulevard. I took advantage of a nice shady picnic shelter, where I took a break before heading back east to the Lakes. I got back to the Lake Harriet Bandshell in time to hear most of the Minneapolis Police Band's concert. The crowd was very appreciative.
Today's ride wasn't that exciting in and of itself (though the jaunt down to Fort Snelling with Andy and Danielle was pretty fun, if brief), but it's a bit of a landmark for me, since I rode about 36 miles today. That's the first time I've done more than about 25 in a day. This is nothing compared to what other cyclists do, but it's a personal milestone that I'm happy to have reached. I'm tired and a little sore, and I may be stiff tomorrow, but I feel pretty good otherwise.
Last night was a big thunderstorm night in Minnesota. I'm no good at sleeping through storms (I have major storm phobia due to childhood tornado trauma), so as soon as it really started in, I couldn't sleep. Shortly after 4 AM, wind, torrential rain, and thunder woke me, and I noticed in a moment of panic that the power was out. Now, since I also have a mild fear of the dark (I like to attribute this to the fact that I have terrible nightvision and really can't see at all in the dark), this freaked me out. I dragged John, the battery-operated lantern, and the weather radio to the basement, where we sat for about half an hour waiting for the worst of the storm to pass. The power and the phone line were both still out. After a round of calls to Xcel and Qwest to report problems they no doubt already knew about, we went back upstairs to bed. Xcel's automated message cheerfully informed us that our power should be back on by 8:55 AM.
So we weren't too suprised to find the power still out when we woke up. We were both exhausted, and since I've been recovering from a cold, we knew we needed to sleep longer. Got up shortly after 9 AM, and still no electricity. Qwest called to inform us that a tree was down in our alley, and had taken a power pole with it. Sure enough, a tree was blocking a large chunk of the alley, and power, phone, and cable lines were strewn across the alley and the nearby street. While walking the dog, I watched a Qwest technician move the phone and cable lines so a neighbor could back out of her garage without running over the lines, which had come down directly on her garage roof. Fortunately, the power lines weren't in her way, since the Qwest tech wasn't about to move them.
Trees and branches are down all around the neighborhood. Our neighbors across the street lost a large willow tree in their front yard, the trunk of which had snapped in two. The top of the tree occupied most of their front yard and part of the street, and took a big section of their picket fence with it when it fell.
The helpful Qwest tech also let us know that Xcel estimated it would be "a day or two" before power was restored to our block, since they were so backed up. So we spent a chunk of the morning trying to rescue some of our perishables, getting milk and juice into a cooler and making arrangements to stash frozen food at a friend's house. And all of this without coffee!
Fortunately, Xcel now estimates that our power will be back on sometime this afternoon. Here's hoping that's accurate...
A short (?) list:
So there you have it. In case you were wondering. Which you weren't, but now you know anyway.
So poor Shades has spent the last week and a half in a semi-abandoned state. Mostly this is because I just haven't been inspired to post, but of course I have all of the usual reasons: I'm too busy, I'm too lazy, yada, yada yada.
I've been feeling seriously burned out on work the last couple of weeks, and I can't quite put my finger on the reason. I'm in one of those phases where it's really difficult to concentrate sustainedly on just about anything, and the minutes of each day seem to crawl by. I'd like to say that it's because I'm longing to be outside, but the weather's been so icky that that certainly isn't it. I need a vacation -- but vacation is still several weeks away.
I want to do some summer activities, like plant flowers and ride my bike, but because of the seemingly constant rain, I've mostly been thinking about doing those things. Instead, we stay inside and watch movies. Oh, yeah -- and we just got an Xbox along with Jade Empire. More ways to waste time...but stay tuned. I promise I'll get back into the blogging groove.
Finally came down with the nasty cold Doc Dregs has had for the last couple of weeks. I hoped that I wouldn't get sick, and tried hard to get enough sleep, eat right, wash my hands frequently, and all of the other things we're supposed to do to keep our resistance up, but in the end I couldn't outlast this virus. Well, I'm not complaining. I've had a couple of mild colds this winter, and even though one did cause me to lose my voice for a couple of days at a most inconvenient time, I haven't been really down-and-out sick since last August.
So, like I said, I'm not complaining. Instead, I want to ruminate a little bit on the weirdness of sleep when I'm sick. Everyone seems to recognize that the experience of sleep changes when one is ill. Does how it changes depend on the individual? You tell me...
The typical cold virus makes me feel almost constantly exhausted, not to mention uncomfortable, and just generally out of sorts. So sleep is a welcome respite from the discomfort, and it often comes easily. The amount of time that the illness lingers seems to pass more quickly when I sleep a lot, and supposedly extra sleep helps the body fight the virus more efficiently.
But sometimes the sleep of sickness is almost more of a torment than a relief. Frequently, my sleep is both deep and shallow. It's deep in that I have vivid dreams, all my limbs feel too heavy to move, and upon awakening, I'm ridiculously groggy, unable to function normally for more than an hour after waking. But my sleep is often also shallow, in that I retain a distant awareness of my physical discomfort, some of which is only worsened by sleep (particularly a sore throat, which is aggravated by breathing). Also, I sleep hot when I'm sick (whether or not I'm actually feverish), and often have a vague sense of trying to kick the blankets off, even though I feel unable to move my limbs.
My dreams when I'm ill are almost frighteningly vivid, although I usually remember nothing of them beyond a few images and very strong emotions. They aren't necessarily nightmares, but they don't tend to be happy dreams either. Mostly, they seem strange, even stranger than "normal" dreams, if there is such a thing. The concept of "fever dreams" is a powerful cross-cultural trope that almost everyone seems to understand, but these are not exactly fever dreams, since I have them whether I'm feverish or not. Does illness -- even something as mild as a cold virus -- alter brain chemistry in a way that produces bizarre dreams?
Finally, there is the mystery of why sleep sometimes refuses to come. I've been through periods of terrible, draining insomnia in my life, though not recently -- a slight effort to get a bit more exercise seemed to cure that completely. But last night, I woke up at 4 AM. I felt relatively good, rested and alert. I felt none of the sleepiness or exhaustion that I usually feel at all times when I'm sick. But since it was four in the morning, and I'd only been asleep for about five hours, I tried to go back to sleep, knowing that if I were going to go into work today, I would need more rest. But it wouldn't happen. I couldn't get back to sleep. I took a warm bath, hoping it would relax me enough to ease me into slumber. No dice. So I picked up a book, thinking that I would nod off after a few pages. Still no luck. I kept reading, and finally, at some point after 6 AM, I started to feel the exhaustion creep back in, and went back to sleep. But needless to say, I was not prepared to rise at 7 and go to work. When I did wake again, I felt awful -- stuffy nose, sinus headache, raw throat -- and like I needed to sleep more. So I did.
Will I be able to sleep tonight? I hope so, since I really need to go to work tomorrow. After two days out, I don't want to contemplate how far behind I am. Even if I do sleep, I wonder if I will sleep comfortably or restlessly. There seems to be no way to predict, and no way to guarantee a good sleep. It's a mystery.
I've always loved Legos, and one of the major disappointments of my childhood was that my brother had Legos while I did not -- and for some reason, no amount of asking for them ever resulted in my receiving my very own Legos. So I had to beg for permission to play with the Legos -- and permission was frequently refused. When my beloved sibling did deign to allow me to handle his brightly-colored, clicky plastic building blocks, there were always a host of conditions and limitations to which I had to agree to before he would let me touch them: restrictions on what I could build, which colors I could put together, how many of the blocks I could use at a time, and of course, a time limit. This was almost worse than if I had had no access to Legos at all, and my childhood sense of Lego deprivation has manifested itself in my adulthood as a continued fascination with all things Lego. (As proof, I offer my reaction to Dr. Dregs's birthday gift to me a couple of years ago: the Lego Hogwarts Express. Doc Dregs was a little taken aback by my enthusiasm for the gift, and a little bemused by my need to assemble it immediately. It is now proudly displayed in our dining room.)
So I had to post this, just for those of you who may be curious about the outcome of Legos meeting M.C. Escher. Enjoy...and not that I'm fishing for presents, but should you want to buy me one, I'd love to have the Knight Bus.
I have a long history of being, shall we say, less than completely on top of keeping my space tidy. As a child (especially as a teenager), I was particularly awful: getting from the door of my bedroom to my bed usually involved wading through knee-deep piles of clothes, books, and papers. Whether and when I would clean my room was a perennial topic of negotiation between my mother and me.
When I went off to college and had my own dorm room (or at least, half of a dorm room), I became much neater. Something about having a space of which I felt more the "owner" than my room in my mother's house caused me to change my cluttered ways. The necessity of spending so much time in my little room also encouraged a higher level of cleanliness on my part.
But as I have moved through a series of apartments and finally to my own home post-college, the urge to keep my space neat has not stayed with me. The problem has been especially acute over the last four or so years since we bought our house. Sure, I would like my house to be clean all the time, but I just don't seem capable of keeping it that way. First, I'm easily overwhelmed (and frequently discouraged) by the sheer amount of space there is to keep clean. It isn't as if my 1700 square-foot house is so cavernous. I'm not trying to maintain a mansion, after all. But still it's frequently too much.
Part of my problem is also that I can't overcome a sense of futility in cleaning. No matter how much junk mail I sort and recycle, another huge pile of catalogs and credit card offers will appear within days. I may dust and vacuum, but floors, tables, and furniture will have reacquired their usual coating of pet hair within mere hours. I may put the clean laundry away, but there's always another load that's just come out of the dryer. So instead, I tend to do these things only occasionally -- and then I hate myself because it takes an entire weekend to do them.
We are pretty good about keeping the kitchen clean. Both of us have high enough standards that we can't long tolerate a filthy kitchen. The thought of rotting food growing new and exciting life forms in the sink just gives me the willies. But beyond the realm of food preparation areas, I'm ashamed to admit that we tend to let things go for far too long in between cleanings.
The irony is that actually having cleaned the house is a very rewarding experience for me. I may not enjoy the actual labor, but I surely do appreciate the results. Upon dusting the last table, or vacuuming the last stair, I feel a real sense of accomplishment, and frequently resolve to do better, clean more often, keep things neat. I always fail.
In the end, like everything else, it's simply a matter of priorities and limited time. When it comes right down to it, I'd rather spend my precious free doing any number of other things: reading, listening to music, watching TV or movies, cooking, playing with the critters, blogging -- I could go on. I like having a clean house, but it isn't quite important enough for me to choose cleaning over other activities most of the time.
Of course, I could pay someone to clean my house -- I toy with the idea of doing so all the time. But having determined that it isn't usually worth my time to maintain a satisfyingly high level of neatness around the house, I also find when I really examine things that I also don't think it's worth the money. Just another way in which life really comes down to making decisions about how to distribute the too-finite resources of time and money.
Dr. Dregs finally got to enjoy one of his Christmas gifts last night -- concert tickets to a show featuring Guy Clark, Joe Ely, John Hiatt, and Lyle Lovett at the State Theater. We weren't sure what to expect, having bought the tickets because Dr. Dregs is a huge Lyle Lovett fan (both of us are only moderately interested in the other three). It turned out to be well worth the money: the show was mellow and funny -- just four guys with their acoustic guitars, playing together because they thought it would be fun.
The stage was set very simply: four chairs in a row, with small tables holding water bottles behind the chairs. All four musicians came onstage together and took their seats. They took turns performing (in "alphabetical order," they claimed, with Clark first and Lovett last), moving through six sets with a song by each musician, with one or two of the others occasionally dropping in with a vocal harmony or a guitar solo. At the end of the show, all four did a couple of Woody Guthrie tunes together: "Ain't Gonna Be Treated This Way," and "This Land is Your Land."
The simplicity of the presentation -- just the performers and their guitars -- put the focus strongly on the quality of the songs and performances. All four showed how accomplished they are as solo peformers, with Lovett and especially Hiatt turning in particularly fabulous interpretations of their songs. But the pure emphasis on the songs really turned the evening into a celebration of great (and often underappreciated) songwriting. Lovett mentioned early in the show that he considered Clark, Ely, and Hiatt to be his "songwriting heroes," and there was a special complementarity among all of the songs that enriched the whole performance even further.
In my experience, this kind of thing happens all too rarely in concerts by big name stars. While the performances may be dazzling in both production and execution, such concerts are often infused with a sense of fatigue for the material -- if not for performing itself. There was none of that last night; Clark, Ely, Hiatt, and Lovett all seemed genuinely glad to be performing, and the crowd knew it. The Strib reviewer called the show a love-in between performers and audience, which strikes me as just about right. It's proof that audiences can be trusted to appreciate substance over flash.
Sorry about the relatively protracted silence, but Dr. Dregs and I just spent a few days in fabulous Rapid City, SD, our hometown, where we traveled to visit the Dregs ancestral home and play in a wind ensemble concert sponsored by the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra.
We make the 600-mile pilgrimage to Rapid City several times a year, usually traveling there and returning in the space of three days. As a result, we are bored, bored, bored with our usual route (I-90 from Rapid City to Worthington, MN, then MN 60 to Mankato, and finally US 169 into the Twin Cities). So on Monday, about 180 miles into our trip, with the whole day to get home and new roadmaps in hand, we decided to venture off the beaten path and see some new sights.
We exited I-90 at the tiny town of Reliance, about twelve miles west of the Missouri River. From there, we took SD 47 a bit north and across the Missouri at the Big Bend Dam. After passing through Fort Thompson, we picked up SD 34 to about 20 miles south of Huron, SD where we turned north on SD 37 toward Huron. At Huron, we headed east on US 14, which took us to St. Peter, MN, where we joined US 169, our usual final leg.
Over the course of our drive (which ended up taking not much longer than our normal route), we passed through many small farm towns in both states. The experience of travel on a deserted two-lane highway across the prairie always makes me feel especially desolate and alone, and this trip was no different. The combination of the sparse population with the vastness of the land brings home how alien rural life is to me. Even though I lived my early years in a small Nebraska farm town (pop. 5,600), I have no sense for what it is like to live in a town of just a few hundred souls, miles (perhaps even hours) from the nearest town of any real size. It's nearly unimaginable to me, and while I'm not likely to leave my comfortable urban existence behind to find out what it's like living out there on the plains, I am curious enough to wish I could get closer to the experience than simply reading about it.
Another thing we noticed with wonder as we passed from South Dakota into Minnesota on US 14 was how suddenly different the towns and the land are once you have crossed the border. The flat, open prairie is mostly left behind, replaced with gentle hills, small lakes, and many more trees. The towns are also different: in Minnesota, they are just as small, but there are more of them, and they are closer together. The Minnesota towns also seem somehow prouder: cleaner, better maintained, and generally just more attractive. Many of the South Dakota towns have a sad, half-abandoned, ramshackle quality, as if the inhabitants are simply too few and too tired to do more than they must. I suspect the reality is that these differences demonstrate the two states' divergent approaches to government services and taxation over the decades: South Dakotans have one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation, and their towns and highways show the neglect that comes of necessity from smaller state revenues.
Traveling on the billboard-littered interstate, it's just about impossible to get a sense for what the original white settlers of the Great Plains must have felt upon first encountering this vast, open space. An inkling of that can be had once you leave the well-traveled routes. Yes, even away from the main roads, you are surrounded by modern infrastructure: the paved highway, the endless power lines, the satellite dishes on every farmhouse. But it's easier to imagine how terrifying yet exciting the prairie must have been for the pioneers. To me, this is proof that as exhilirating as travel to distant, foreign places can be, it's hardly necessary to venture so far to realize how much I don't know and haven't experienced.
It's getting late. Very late. Okay, so not really that late for someone who normally goes to bed sometime after midnight, but late enough in light of how much work I have yet to do tonight. By some fateful morning hour (preferably no later than 9:00), I must submit a draft of the training manual that I've only been trying to write for the last month to the editors and prettifiers. (Is that a word? I guess it is now.) If they can rush through it, that will only just leave time to have it printed in time to hand out in next Monday afternoon's class, the first one on this topic.
It's as if I'm an undergrad again, staying up all night (or even two nights in a row) to finish a paper I put off for days, weeks, months, because there was always something more pressing or more entertaining to do. Why do I find myself in this horrific position? I swear it's not my fault this time.
Well, it's a little bit my fault, but circumstances really have conspired against me. First, I'm documenting and preparing to train functions that are only tangentially related to my job. I don't have a thorough understanding of many of the tasks I'm charged with teaching in the sessions I have to do next week, which means that writing painfully detailed step-by-step procedures and explanations is a real uphill struggle. Second, the limited building hours of my place of employment over the semester break put a serious cramp in my work style. I have sometimes been able to borrow a laptop, but not all the time.
Third, the new system I'm trying to document is not really 100% functional yet. Those who are charged with making it work right in time for our switchover at the end of the month have been giving their all to make it happen. But it's pretty hard to explain features and functions when all you can do is guess how they'll work once they're actually configured and behaving properly.
The crushing blow for my ability to complete this particular project in a timely fashion, though, has been the completely unforseen (by me, anyway) interruptions to my network connection at work by the Gopher Giganet upgrade project. Last Friday, my area was "upgraded." As of Friday afternoon, the technician had departed for the weekend along with all of his cohorts, and I and many of my co-workers in the library trenches were left with completely non-functional network connections. No email, no Internet, no library system. No way to work on my project. And no hope of repair until Tuesday morning, because of the holiday weekend.
So I did what I could over the weekend at home, but without system access, progress was difficult. Yesterday morning, back at work, panic was setting in, but all seemed to be well with the network, and I buckled down and wrote.
By yesterday afternoon, it was clear that whatever network problems had developed as a result of the "upgrade" had not been completely resolved. My connection was erratic, which slowed me down a lot. At the end of the day, I checked out a laptop and took it home (where access to the Net continues unimpeded). Worked late into the night last night, and planned to finish my training materials at work today. Arrived at work this morning only to discover that my erratic network connection was now a non-functional network connection. Waited around all morning and part of the afternoon for the problem to be fixed (all the while accomplishing nothing), and finally gave up and took the laptop home again around 3:00 this afternoon.
I have been working intermittently since then, but I'm so far behind now that it's going to be a long night. So I'm stuck, staying up until this is finished. I'm so not paid well enough for this!
...thus spake the witty and decidedly unfoolish Thomas Fuller. But in this of all seasons, a Minnesotan (even an adopted one) must indulge her weather obsession:
It's January, so this was inevitable. In order to prepare myself to maintain a positive outlook during the impending episode of inhumanly low temperatures, I'm going to reflect for a few moments on the things I look forward to when the weather outside is frightful:
I could make a similar list (longer, perhaps?) of the various trials and indignities brought on by the bitter cold. But today I'm an optimist, determined to enjoy one of the extremes of this awesomely variable climate.
That is, as long as it only lasts a few days...
So I may have finally come around to a decision to apply to a new graduate program and pursue another master's degree, this time in Higher Ed Policy & Administration. Why do I want to do this? Well, because I'm interested in the subject matter, it's almost free (there are a few relatively minor tax implications), and having another advanced degree could help me professionally. Sounds like a pretty good idea, no?
Unfortunately, my original GRE scores hail from 1994, the fall of my last year of college. That means they have long since expired (they do so after a paltry five years), and the only way I might be admitted to the graduate program of my choice is to (shudder) take the GRE again.
I don't exactly fear the GRE; standardized tests of all kinds have always been good to me, and I did very well on the GRE ten years ago without studying so much as a single vocabulary word, geometry figure, or logic problem. But things have changed since then, and not necessarily for the better. First, the analytical section of the GRE has been replaced by a writing section. This doesn't really worry me, since I'm fairly confident in my ability to write passably well off the top of my head (evidence of this blog aside), but it is something new that I haven't done before. Second, my math studies (such as they were) are now ten years further in my past than when I last attempted the GRE. This means I will have to prepare at least a little bit, or risk an extremely embarassing result on the math section. Finally -- and this is my biggest objection -- the GRE costs $115. It really rubs me the wrong way that I will have to cough up a hundred bucks in order to prove that I am capable of graduate-level work when I already have one master's degree and have previously been admitted to the University of Minnesota Graduate School.
And then there's always the possibility that I will take the GRE and discover that I've killed even more brain cells in the last decade than I think I have. How much did my mental capacity decrease over the course of my twenties? Taking the GRE now will give me proof in hard numbers. Yikes.
Well, I can rant about it, entertain whatever crazy fears I want, and bemoan the injustice of the situation, but the fact remains: I have to take the GRE if I want the privilege of spending more time in school. And I do want that -- I'm hard-wired to want it. So I'll pay my hundred bucks, study my math, and do what I have to do. Wish me luck.
So, another extended period of silence has elasped while the holidays passed. Here are some highlights from my last week and a half:
Of course, I was also lucky enough to receive an assortment of thoughtful gifts from friends and family while enjoying the company of all. After the last week or so, I'm starting to think I just might survive January after all. Happy new year!
So, as of this evening, fall semester finals are over. Since I am a behind-the-scenes librarian type whose work is not much affected by the progress of the academic year and I'm not taking any classes right now, you'd think this wouldn't matter to me. If only it were so. As it happens (and as I've reminded my faithful readers in nearly every post over the past month or so), I've been putting in a lot of time evenings and weekends since I'm among the fortunate group that is preparing documentation and training materials for our major system upgrade, coming January 30. Why does the end of fall semester matter? Because starting tomorrow and continuing right up through MLK Day on January 17th, my fabulous workplace is never open past 6 PM -- and we must be out of the building when it closes.
When classes are in session, the building is typically open until midnight, so it's never a problem during the semester. I fully understand that without students and (most) faculty around, there's no reason to keep library buildings open long hours -- especially in a time of, to embrace the euphemism, "constrained resources." But having the building open only between 8 AM and 6 PM puts a serious cramp in my style when the work I have to do simply can't be accomplished in a 40-hour workweek.
So right now, it appears there is basically no chance that I will have enough hours of access to the system, since I can only use it while I'm at my work computer. I wouldn't have this problem if I had a laptop, but I don't (ironically, I'm on the list for a laptop -- I just won't have it until some time after this round of training is completed).
I may be able to borrow a laptop, and I'll be looking into that option tomorrow. But unless that works out, I don't know what I'll do. Panic ensues.
Thanks for listening.
So, it's been more than a week since I last posted -- by far the longest I've neglected Shades since its beginning. I guess that between the craziness of work and holiday preparations, I just haven't had the time or inclination to share my little thoughts and insights with the rest of you. Anyway, I won't let this happen again, barring bizarre and unforeseen circumstances. Not that I really have that much to say after all of that, but I will comment on one of the things I've been up to for the last week or so: Christmas shopping.
I got an early start (before Thanksgiving), and so was lulled into a false sense of security, thinking I was almost done and could finish easily. I began to panic in the middle of last week, when I realized the weekend before Christmas was nearly upon us, and I hadn't made any progress. My shopping list was not long, but I would rather have lost the use of several essential body parts than been forced to brave the malls or big box stores last Saturday, so I decided to get going on Thursday evening last week.
Kristi accompanied me, since she also needed to do a little shopping. Although we didn't even get going until after 6, we were already punchy, unfocused, and more than a little silly by 8:30, when we stopped for a snack in Marshall Fields. It was all downhill from there, as mall glaze overcame us. We moved on to Best Buy, where we stood in line for an eternity while the cashier tried at length to talk the three people in front of us into buying extended warranties on whatever disposable electronic devices they were buying. Standing in line, I remembered that I had promised Doc Dregs I would pick up some cat food before I came home. So in the interest of saving a little time, after I paid for my things, I handed my car keys and my purchases to Kristi, and said, "Take these. I'm going to Rainbow to get cat food. I'll see you over there." Thinking nothing else of it, I jogged over to the grocery store, got the cat food, and found Kristi helpfully waiting in the car right outside the store.
Kristi, no less punchy for having spent half an hour waiting in line, had to share with me that the Best Buy cashier had assumed based on our earlier exchange that she and I were, as she put it, "co-parents of a cat." We were both so amused by this that in a momentary lapse of sanity, we decided to prolong our shopping trip by dropping into Kohl's for a few minutes.
We knew it was time to get out of there when we found ourselves in hysterics over a talking Puss-in-Boots toy (you know, from Shrek 2. It was 11:00 and we had had as much shopping fun and holiday cheer as we could take.
What is it about malls and large stores that causes mall glaze, a condition which for me is worse than usual this time of the year? Is it the hyperstimulation caused by the combination of bright lights, bad music, and overstuffed, artfully arranged displays of merchandise? Is it some mind-altering substance given off by the finish on the clothing for sale, or an odorless chemical coming through the HVAC system? Combine all of that with the odd, fevered quality unique to Christmas shopping, the result of toting heavy packages through a 68-degree environment while dressed in full winter regalia. I don't know what causes it, but its ability to alter perception and reaction is as potent as that of any drug I've tried.
The odd thing is, I like shopping. I was raised by an inveterate hobbyist shopper (hi, Mom!), and though I did not inherit the patience my mother has to methodically work my way through every store to find what I want, I do enjoy the hunt, even when it doesn't result in a purchase. But holiday shopping is something else again. Partly it's the crowds, which are enough to turn even the most optimistic extrovert into a bitter misanthrope. But even during off times, I find holiday shopping exhausting and not very personally rewarding. Internet shopping is not the answer for me -- I really need to see and handle what I'm buying. I love that moment of discovery, when you find just the right thing for someone you care about. But the process itself is tiresome and increasingly annoying.
What happens to Juilliard graduates? Do they all turn out to be famous, or at least successful, professional musicians? Not by a long shot, according to this New York Times article, which describes the lives and careers of several members of Juilliard's class of 1994. This is of special interest to me, since I am also ten years past graduation from a famous conservatory (though not quite as famous as Juilliard).
Unsurprisingly, almost half of the class of '94 are not making their livings as professional musicians, and several more, while still in music, are teaching or involved in other activities that are not full-time performance. Those who have left music entirely (including one who recently bit the bullet and sold his bassoon to pay off some debts) have often followed complicated paths through the classical music world and out the other side. Their stories speak to the ludicrousness of expecting 17 and 18-year-olds to be equipped to choose a path as demanding and unforgiving as classical music performance.
The experiences of these musicians resonate with my own path away from performance (though unlike them, I had already decided not to pursue that path before graduation). Studying music performance at such a high level forces most who do it to define themselves primarily by what they do: your conception of self becomes inextricably tied to your instrument. Coming to an understanding of who you are when you move away from performance as the paramount reason for your existence can be a difficult and painful process. It certainly was for me.
The article also makes me curious about the number of my classmates who are now playing professionally. I know that some are, but I also know many who are not. My best guess is that it's an even smaller percentage than the Juilliard class's. Part of this is surely because Oberlin is a very different kind of place than Juilliard; although it's possible at Oberlin to focus intensively on music to the exclusion of everything else (and many do), the fact that the Conservatory shares the campus with a good and serious liberal arts college means that music students are forced to interact extensively with people studying other things. So Oberlin Conservatory graduates may be more open to possible careers beyond music. Of course, the fact that about 25% of Conservatory graduates receive a B.A. in a liberal arts discipline in addition to their B.M.'s in performance (as I and several of my close friends did) must also make a difference.
This piece should be required reading for all undergraduate music performance majors, many of whom could benefit from a reality check before they complete their Bachelor's degrees. I think most responsible music faculty stress that it's worth thinking hard about the combination of talent, discipline, determination, and luck it takes to make it as a professional musician. But learning that not everyone from Juilliard (of all places!) makes it might help emphasize a point that doesn't really sink in for a lot of performers until some time after graduation.
I'll close with a quotation from the article that is an excellent summation of what it's like to study music at this level, an experience that is simultaneously exhilirating and painful for many students:
In the end, maybe going to a conservatory is like being a compulsive gambler: It is one big bet, but the drive to study music is so blinding, and doing anything else so inconceivable, that young players are oblivious to the risk. Sometimes it is hard to determine whether they are driven by single-mindedness or they live in self-denial.
Once at Juilliard, they discover the inherent paradox of being a classical musician. You are called on to be expressive, imaginative, creative, somehow in touch with the mystical reaches of art, an individual. But you are also called on to ply a craft with exceeding skill, meshing a complex of minute physical activities in the service of black markings on a page and the composers who wrote them, often submerging yourself in the crowd. And you do it all with the purpose of making a living.
My very smart and determined friend Danielle was officially awarded her Ph.D. in English today, after many years of suffering (and maybe just a little bit of joy and enlightenment here and there).
Danielle, I wish you many happy years of grousing about being overeducated and underpaid. Congratulations!
It just can't bode well when I feel compelled to choose a title shared by a bad 80s Heart song, but here we are. As I've been reporting, I'm currently singlemindedly focused on one particular project at work. At the moment, the project involves creating documentation and training materials for a major upgrade to our catalog system, in which all of the user interfaces will be totally revamped. The upgrade includes a lot of new features, and major changes to a lot of the features (or known problems) we're already used to.
Anyway, working on this so obsessively has finally started to take its toll on me. The last couple of nights, my dreams have featured the system -- and me trapped in it, like some sort of bad TRON remake (I'm happy to report that at least I don't recall wearing any neon-glowy bodysuits or headgear). Popup windows and dropdown menus appear out of nowhere, menacing me, while I worry about whether I'm in the right MARC field on a bibliographic record. Last night, I actually woke up in the middle of the night completely terrified, because I had been dreaming that I was trapped in the system when it went down, and there was no way to bring it back up. Weird.
I've frequently dreamed of games, especially videogames, that I've played obsessively at one point or another. I'll never forget the particularly alarming period during my junior year of college when every time I closed my eyes, I saw Tetris pieces falling, falling, falling. Bridge hands and crossword puzzles have also figured largely into my nocturnal imaginings at certain times. More recently, I've dreamed of The Sims and Neverwinter Nights (both of which at least have a plot, of sorts) -- but until now, I've never been part of it.
My co-workers joke about achieving a zen state where you are one with the system. I really hope this isn't what they meant, because it's freaking me out.
I have a deadline coming up at work next week, so I've just put in a couple of 12+-hour days. I've known for a while that work-things would be in a range anywhere from slightly overwhelming to completely unmanageable starting after Thanksgiving, but because of circumstances completely beyond my control (no, really!), I couldn't do anything but just watch it coming and dread its arrival. Not that I'm generally anything less than a world-class procrastinator, but this time, I really couldn't have made things any easier on myself. The necessary tools were just not in place.
Now the dark time is here, and while the workload is just as staggering as I had expected, I'm coping well, even feeling strangely optimistic. I'm reminded of the 1999 holiday season, which I spent working a second job at a Calendar Club store in an attempt to save up for wedding expenses. Though not particulary onerous, the work was not exactly enjoyable. But I happily spent three or four evenings a week plus weekends at it, because I was working toward an important goal. I feel the same way now: I don't mind working long hours, and in fact, I'm invigorated because I know how important my work is (within its context), and because I know it must get done.
(As an aside, this is also how I've completed nearly every paper I've ever written -- which must explain why I've never managed to sustain anything longer than about 25-30 pages. I could never find the necessary spark to motivate myself to write hard when something absolutely critical wasn't riding on it. That, my friends, is why I'd never be able to finish a dissertation.)
So I hope this odd obsession/euphoria lasts, because the worst of this is not going to be over for me until mid-January. Clearly, I'm going to need something more to keep me going than my usual stimulants: caffeine and fear of failure.
You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.
What's the use of a blog if I can't announce my own birthday? No content here to speak of, just a big pile of thanks to those who turned what I thought was going to be an icky, unmemorable birthday into a rather nice one:
And finally, of course, John, who has been even sweeter and more charming than usual this week. He's probably feeling guilty about something, but I love him just the same. I'm a lucky, lucky girl.
Someone needs to tell my brother-in-law Bob that he isn't alone, despite those who might claim he ought to have his permanent residency revoked because he doesn't like the stuff.
I'm good with pumpkin pie. And pecan pie. And apple pie, yum. What I don't much like is cherry pie. Is that an offense for which one should lose one's citizenship?
I've been neglecting the Shades a bit lately, due to a combination of factors: the usual laziness, an especially mentally draining period at work, and an unhealthy obsession with Hordes of the Underdark. I've saved up plenty of things to blog about, though, so all of my loyal readers can rest assured that sooner or later, Shades will return to its normal level of activity.
Until then, I have another question. I dropped the daily questions thing without any fanfare, because for a while, I ran out of questions. Also, in light of the whole election thing, my questions started to seem intolerably trivial rather than just quirky and silly.
I'm over that now (though my media blackout continues, more or less), and ready to go back to my usual navel-gazing. (See? All it took was a little Valium spritzer! Thanks, Kristi!) And what do you know, I still have the occasional question. So from now on, these will be occasional questions rather than daily questions. They will appear approximately weekly, but it could be more or less often depending on when they occur to me.
Like you care. Anyway, for the three of you who've managed to overcome your skull-crushing boredom with this entry to get this far, here's the question:
Why do so many people find it necessary to back into parking spaces?
Last Friday night, John and I went to Orchestra Hall to hear the Minnesota Orchestra play Mahler's 7th Symphony (nicely done, by the way). We sat for nearly five minutes in a parking ramp traffic jam, because the four, yes, four cars directly in front of us all had to back into their parking spaces. What is the advantage to this practice? If you understand it, please enlighten me.
As I wrote last week, I began a news and media boycott after the election. It was necessary so I could maintain my sanity and not succumb to an overwhelming sense of fear and despair. Although the immediate pain and worry have mostly passed along with the violent spasms of postmortem commentary (self-flagellating or self-satisfied, depending on which side the pundit is on), I find that I'm still reluctant to re-engage with news, television, and the blogosphere.
The result is that I'm feeling calmer and more focused than I have in a while. This is not to say that I'm focused on the right things: I've been spending a lot of time reading (What I Loved, linked over there on the left, which is turning out to be a beautifully written and mind-expanding, though melancholy novel), and playing Hordes of the Underdark -- pure escapism, on both fronts.
But losing myself in fantasy and staying out of touch with the events of the moment is therapeutic, especially after the stress and excitement of election season. It's good to take a little break from the burden of keeping myself informed. Although it's constantly under siege by my sense of futility, the civic ideal of the well-informed citizen is too deeply ingrained for me to give up on it entirely. I'll come back to politics, following the news, and thinking about the issues eventually. But for now, I'm going to continue my little news blackout.
...something to write about besides the news of the week. I'm trying to get back to life as I knew it before Wednesday, but it's not easy. I'm used to focusing on minutiae rather than big issues (especially in this blog), but right now, that seems pointless at best, irresponsible at worst.
But let's forge ahead anyway. Today it occurred to me how fortunate I am to be swamped with work right now. I need to focus and be productive for the next few weeks, else I will disappoint myself and a lot of other people. I won't have a lot of time to read, watch, or listen to news, which means I may be able to avoid stewing over it and making myself generally miserable. Yesterday, I imposed a complete news blackout on myself. Today, I gingerly approached a few sympathetic sources: AM 950 (Air America, et al.), Salon.com, a few blogs.
I couldn't take it, though -- it was too much like picking at a scab that hasn't healed -- and so I quickly re-entered my coccoon of work and music. Work is fairly therapeutic; as I catalog, I have the satisfying sense of imposing order on a piece of the universe. It's a minuscule and insignificant piece, but still...it's something I have control over, and being productive feels good.
As I discovered while listening to my iPod during a lunch-hour walk, though, even listening to music can pose a problem. The first two songs I heard were The Honeydogs' "10,000 Years," and Paul Hardcastle's sublime piece of 80s cheese "19." My fellow Gen-Xers surely recall "19," Hardcastle's dance-pop-electronica-lite tribute to Vietnam veterans. Usually, I'm amused by the disconnect between its seriousness and its style, but today it made me shudder. You may not know "10,000 Years," from last spring's album of the same title. It's the best song on a good (if slightly pretentious) album, with lyrics that are at once full of both near-apocalyptic earnestness and wry gallows humor:
Ticker tape comes down
Selling war bonds in every town
They're melting their toys down for the war effort
All the kids are standing in line to enlist
Can we please say goodnight to the last 10,000 years?
Can you hear the cold blowing down hell's door?
Can we please say goodnight to the last 10,000 years?
Please wake me up when it's over.
Good stuff, but not what I needed to hear today. I had to switch back to Schubert and Brahms.
It does't happen often, but every great once in a while, I read a letter in an advice column that I really identify with. Today's question in Salon's "Since You Asked" column is from a woman about my age who, although she is obviously very bright, feels stupid because she didn't attain the level of academic success she expected, planned for, and worked for throughout most of her life.
Having successfully completed only one of the two graduate programs I've undertaken, I know where she's coming from. I have not had the same experiences as the writer, in that I never flunked out of anything (instead, I washed out as a result of my own lack of direction and motivation, not to mention laziness), but the feelings are much the same. Many (if not most) of my friends and acquaintances have completed terminal degrees in their fields of choice; many are now teaching, or pursuing other exciting careers. I always intended to do those things, too, and though I have been mostly successful in letting those dreams go, sometimes I can't help but feel like I just wasn't smart enough to make it happen.
I don't mean to imply that I don't like what I do, or that I have any regrets about pursuing librarianship. It's just that I've always placed such a high value on academic achievement that not having managed to get that Ph.D. is still painful sometimes, even though I'm pretty certain that when it came right down to it, that wasn't really the right path for me.
Of course, I could go back to grad school full-time. I could go back to musicology, or I could start fresh in a new field. I could go on in library and information science, where the job picture is quite a bit rosier than it is for humanities Ph.Ds. But in some inexpressible way, I feel like I've passed a point of no return in my life, beyond which certain things -- like being a grad student again -- are impossible.
At the same time, I long for the constant discovery and palpable sensation of my mind expanding that I felt during my best moments in graduate school. As this blog amply demonstrates, I don't really have the focus or discipline to concentrate on a single area. But grad school forced me to have that focus, and it made my thinking much less lazy and more efficient. I miss that.
This whole thing is also closely tied to the larger truth that non-choices in life rapidly become de facto choices: the longer one puts off a decision, the fewer the options that will be left when the decision is finally made. I more and more often experience a (paranoid?) sense of doors closing behind me, as days, weeks, and years pass and I can't decide whether to go back to school or not. In the end, I'm too content where I am to be goaded into action. But that's a choice, too.
Although I didn't love the novel enough to re-read it, there are a few passages from Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (winner of the 2001 National Book Award) that have stuck with me. One of my favorites follows:
It had started as a family joke: Dad always orders the mixed grill in restaurants, Dad only wants to go to restaurants with mixed grill on the menu. To Gary there was indeed something endlessly delicious, something irresistibly luxurious, about a bit of lamb, a bit of pork, a bit of veal, and a lean and tender modern-style sausage or two -- a classic mixed grill, in short. It was such a treat that he began to do his own mixed grills at home. Along with pizza and Chinese takeout and one-pot pasta meals, mixed grill became a family staple. ... before long, Gary was doing mixed grill two or even three times a week, braving all but the foulest weather on the deck, and loving it. ... He loved it and loved it and loved it and then all at once he didn't. ...
On the deck, in the radiant heat, as he blackened the prawns and seared the swordfish, a weariness overtook him. The aspects of his life not related to grilling now seemed like mere blips of extraneity between the poundingly recurrent moments when he ignited the mesquite and paced the deck, avoiding smoke. Shutting his eyes, he saw twisted boogers of browning meats on a grilled of chrome and hellish coals. The eternal broiling, broiling of the damned. The parching torments of compulsive repetition. On the inner walls of the grill a deep-pile carpet of phenolic black greases had accumulated. The ground behind the garage where he dumped the ashes resembled a moonscape or the yard of a cement plant. He was very, very, very sick of mixed grill.
In the book, this passage is a not especially subtle symbol for Gary's marriage and family life, which is falling apart. But what I've always loved about the passage (aside from the hilarious phrase "broiling of the damned") is how effectively it captures the counterintutive truth that excessive indulgence in something almost always leads to loathing of that thing.
I've experienced this in my own life with food, music, books, movies, and games. It happens so mysteriously: one day, I love a certain song or piece of music more than anything else. I want to hear it constantly. I listen to it over and over again. Then, suddenly, without warning, its appeal is gone. I might listen to it again after some time has passed. I might even appreciate it. But I will never again experience that intense, almost obsessive, craving to hear it.
What causes us to reach that saturation point? I haven't noticed any pattern to how long it takes the object of my devotion -- whether it be edible, musical, or otherwise -- to lose its magic. But it always happens eventually, and without warning. Maybe it's some sort of instinctive regulation, an enforced moderation, for the purpose of self-preservation. I can't explain it. But I do know I have to mourn a little each time this happens to me.
Over the last couple of weeks we've been enjoying a gorgeous stretch of fall weather: warm, breezy days with clear sky and air, minus all the haze of summer, and perfectly cool and crisp nights. But tonight will be the last night we sleep with the windows open until probably next April. Change is coming, and soon: starting Wednesday, temperatures will plunge, with daytime highs in the upper 40s expected Thursday and Friday.
As much as I have enjoyed this extended period of sun and mild temperatures, I feel ready for the arrival of colder weather. I can sense my habitual early fall period of hyperactivity gradually subsiding, to be replaced with the lethargy and melancholy of winter. The shorter days have something to do with it, too; longer periods of darkness always reduce my energy level.
This isn't entirely a bad thing. Most of the time, it just means that what I really want to do, instead of anything active, is hole up with a nice thick blanket, a cat or two, and a good book or movie. Pleasant enough, at least until I've fallen behind with all my household chores and all of the projects I planned to do. I usually have a burst of activity around the holidays, but aside from that, the months fly by without my notice until spring.
This is pretty dull stuff, I know, but it's such a mystery and a wonder to me how connected my mental and physical states of being are to the seasons -- even though (like all of us lucky enough to have such a high standard of living) nature's extremes don't seriously impact my comfort and safety. Maybe this is why I'm so obsessed with the weather?
Well, Montreal was lovely: the weather was mostly gorgeous, the conference was worthwhile, and the city itself is a great place to spend a couple of days -- especially if you want to practice your French! Since I spent most of my time in meetings, I didn't have a chance to see many of the sights, but we did have enough free time to do a few things:
This was my first trip to Montreal, but I hope it won't be my last. I have to take Dr. Dregs there, at the very least, so he can experience the CineRobotheque for himself.
My department reorganized in July. Since then, most of us have been figuring out workflows, negotiating relationships with new supervisors and teammates, and learning how our jobs have and haven't changed. We've also been under a directive from our department head to make a concentrated effort to clean up and empty out our workspaces, since a plan is in the works to reconfigure our little warren of cubicles to reflect our new organizational structure. The idea is that everyone should expect to have to move to a new location within the next six months or so.
The master plan for reconfiguring our space was finally unveiled today. Some of the changes are fairly radical, so it's a bit of a challenge to envision what it will be like once the upheaval is finished. My co-workers are greeting the news with either cautious optimism or trepidation, depending on how much they like their current location and what they think of their proposed relocation. I am cautiously optimistic: if the plan is executed as advertised, I will finally have adequate space for the materials I work with. I am also one of those lucky enough to be moving to a space where I will have fewer distractions to cope with.
But others are not so happy, worried that they'll lose necessary storage space, a quiet enough location to work without constant distractions, or simple creature comforts they've had to fight for in their current locations. It seems like it shouldn't be a big deal, but it is: most of us are deskbound upwards of 80% of the time. For many of my co-workers, that proportion approaches 95%. So it's critical to our productivity and mental well-being that we're as comfortable as possible in our workspaces (which, of course, have always been far from ideal). It's always been an uphill battle: few of us feel like we have enough space, we constantly fight filth (our floors are cleaned on a roughly biennial schedule), and it has often been hard to come by small things like a filing cabinet or an extra bookshelf. In other words, resources are scarce, so people tend to guard what they have with some vehemence. We also tend to be suspicious of anything that might upset our hard-won control over our workspaces, so a big move like this is bound to be especially traumatic, even for those of us who are satisfied with what is proposed.
Of course, one of the overarching purposes of such a major move is to uproot people from their zones of comfort (both physically and mentally), thereby forcing them to rethink how the organization does things (and, with any luck, encourage innovation). Another huge benefit will be the cleaning and reorganization of all of the stuff that surrounds us in our current drab (I would even say depressing) environment. The "shiny and new" character of the reconfigured workspace is pretty exciting, and is hopefully something that everyone can be enthusiastic about. It all makes for a complicated dynamic, and points up how risky and difficult change can be.
(Skip to the end for the capsule version, if you don't want the whole saga.)
Today has not been my best day ever. My day at work began with the usual leisurely jaunt through the morning's email, when due to a scrolling gesture somehow gone horribly awry, I managed to spill my coffee all over my keyboard, trackpad, barcode scanner, chair, rug, and clothing. On the plus side, the keyboard and its friends appear to be suffering no ill effects from their unexpected bath in hot, caffeinated liquid. On the negative side, my workspace now smells strongly of aging, cold coffee. Also, because of my coffee-soaked shirt -- which began the day a nice pale green, but ended up a rather sickening combination of pale green with mottled brown spots -- I had to go home for lunch to change my clothes.
This in itself is not such a big deal. We live near work, and frequently run home for lunch (not to mention, I'm not exactly a stranger to dumping hot coffee all over myself). I wasn't planning to do so today, but it wasn't a big problem. Dr. Dregs came home for lunch, too, and all was well.
Or so I thought. Before we returned to work, Dr. Dregs took Dog Dregs (a.k.a Lando) out to the yard for a little relief. Since we were about to leave, Dr. Dregs simply left the garage door open while he went back in the house to gather his things. When we went to the garage to get in the car, we noticed that my bicycle was suddenly missing. During the perhaps five minutes that the garage was open and unattended, some rude, antisocial ... passerby had the nerve to steal my bicycle.
The worst thing about this is that I bought the bike all of about six weeks ago. I was just starting to really bond with my pretty silver Specialized Crossroads Sport. It wasn't a fancy bike, but it was by far the best bike I've ever owned, and I certainly can't afford to buy another just at the moment. We've reported it to the police -- and since we had the serial number, there's a tiny chance we'll see the bike again -- but there isn't really much hope. So sad.
Morning coffee plus
Insufficient fine motor skills equals
Stained shirt requiring
Lunch at home resulting in
Open garage door causing
Bicycle theft and
John and I made a flying trip to Chicago this weekend to visit Wendy and David. Here are some highlights and observations from the trip:
It was a very enjoyable trip, however brief!
the Cat who could Drive a Car? Well, apparently, driving is a skill also possessed by certain canines, including a Canadian black lab. It seems that the dog accidentally threw the truck into gear, and coasted down a hill sitting at the wheel. An astonished passerby called the police, who discovered both dog and truck unharmed in the middle of an intersection.
But it's a little-known fact that many black labs know how to drive. Here's our dog, Lando, preparing to take a little evening jaunt:
Next time, he's going to have to ask permission before he gets the keys!
I wasn't going to say anything about 9/11 until I saw that Selling Sno Cones at the Beach felt the same way I did: what is there to add to what has already been said? But I did have kind of an odd experience yesterday, so I'll share it.
I was at the 9/11 tribute at Lake Harriet last night, not because of some overwhelming sense of patriotism, but because John was playing in the orchestra. I missed the beginning of the concert since I was out on my bike having a lovely ride around Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, and Lake of the Isles, so when I sat down to listen to the concert, I couldn't get anywhere near the bandshell. So I chose a spot at the edge of the lawn where I could still hear and settled in, alternately listening and reading a book until the light went completely.
About an hour into the concert, I was approached by a guy toting a camera and a bunch of other equipment. He said he was from Channel 5, and would I be willing to say a few words on camera about my thoughts and feelings on the day? I turned him away, since I didn't think I really had any thoughts -- profound or mundane -- on the day (besides, I looked terrible, having just been on the bike for over an hour). So TV guy moved on to the people sitting next to me, an attractive family with two young children who were happy to speak their minds on camera.
I thought about it, though, after the TV guy left. The weirdest thing about it was how normal everything was. It was concert in the park on a beautiful night, just like any other summer Saturday at Lake Harriet. As usual, passing bikers, skaters, and dog walkers would pause to listen for a little while before going on. Kids ran and played in whatever bits of space they could find around the outskirts of the crowd, occasionally shushed by their parents when the music got quiet. Strangest of all, jets passed overhead on their landing approaches every couple of minutes, and nobody took the slightest notice. Suddenly I became hyper-aware of those jets -- what if one suddenly crashed into the bandshell? I knew that one wouldn't, but I kept imagining it over and over, trying to force myself to comprehend in any real way what it must have been like three years ago for those people in New York and Washington.
I remember being terrified three years ago, even way out here in the middle of the country. I remember agreeing with the conventional wisdom that nothing could ever be the same, because it seemed so obvious at the time. But here we are, the horrors of 2001 having receded (at least for those of us who only saw them on television), and things are the same. Our daily lives haven't substantially changed because of what happened. Sure, it takes a little longer to get on an airplane, but that's minor. We have to go on as we always have, partly because we haven't been given a reasonable alternative, and partly because to do anything else is almost as unthinkable as another attack the magnitude of 2001's.
I had these thoughts, and felt guilty and unpatriotic for having them. But then after the concert, John and I grabbed some food at Famous Dave's in Linden Hills. The server noticed John's t-shirt, emblazoned with the 9/11 tribute logo. She asked him what that was all about, and she said, "You know, it's so weird how far away that feels. Everything seems so normal now, you can't even remember what it was like that day." And I felt better, because I realized that I wasn't the only one experiencing that sense of disconnection from how I felt that day and during the weeks afterward. Is it just the passing of time that causes these rifts, or is there something else going on here?
I am what you'd call a night owl. Always have been. My internal clock defaults to sleeping between about 2 AM and and 9 AM. So here it is, quarter of eleven, and I'm wiiiiide awake. At this time every weeknight, I sit in front of my computer, or with my book, or in front of the TV, and think, hey, it's almost 11. I should go to bed.
Intellectually, I want to go to bed at 11. I imagine 11 to be the ideal bedtime. I fantasize about how much better my life would be if I always went to sleep at 11. Then I could bound happily out of bed at 7, and be cheerfully at work and feeling awake by 8. Perfect! Or if I were feeling ambitious and well-rested enough at 6:30, I could take a long walk with the dog, or have a nice leisurely breakfast with the morning news and still make it to work by 8. I would be a happier, more well-rounded and productive member of society. I would get so much more done: papers would be completed, reading for both work and pleasure would go more quickly, I'd have time to practice the clarinet, and I'd finally get down to finishing our wedding album. My weeks would fly by in a blur of constructive regimen, and I would turn into a hyper-organized, well-rested superwoman.
But can I ever sleep at 11? No way. I lie in bed, tossing and turning, imagining scary noises and shapes in the dark, my mind suddenly and uncontrollably having gone hyperactive. I've tried everything to make it happen: evening exercise, under the theory that if I wear myself out, I'll fall asleep easily at 11. Hot baths, warm milk, and relaxation exercises. No go. I just don't sleep at 11. I can sometimes sleep at midnight, but more typically, sleep comes at 12:30 or 1. When the alarm goes off at 6:45, I feel like I need to sleep for another week. Or more typically, I wake at 5:30, desperately tired, knowing only a little more than an hour of rest remains, mentally shaking my fist at the powers that be for not granting me more sleep.
But here's the thing. Once I find the superhuman energy necessary to get me up and going in the morning, I'm usually just fine. Sure, I have a midday post-lunch slump, when I stare slack-jawed into space for a little while, and I'm often sleepy for a short time after work. Still, I do okay on 6 or 6 and a half hours of sleep. So the situation is not desperate. But how can I reprogram that crazy internal clock? My kingdom for a normal sleep schedule!
So we've known for some time that our upstairs bathroom needs more work than what we did to it to make it tolerable when we moved in four years ago. At that time, we installed a shower and a new sink and vanity (with help), tore down some truly frightening wallpaper (pink and lavender with metallic silver butterflies), painted the walls and the ceiling, and replaced the old mirror, medicine cabinet, and light fixture (all 1946 originals). Click to see before and after pics--you really must see the wallpaper to believe it. So the bathroom was still a little bit ugly, but everything worked more or less as it should.
That is until the summer just past, when many of the unattractive but previously serviceable floor tiles came loose. We knew for some time that this was inevitable, since little bits of grout continually flaked away, but we held off on replacing the floor due to lack of time, money, and energy. All summer, we kept saying, "Let's do the bathroom floor next weekend." All summer, we found something else to do when the weekend rolled around. Why did we put it off? Because we are weak! Because we are lazy! But most of all, because we are afraid -- afraid that this would happen to us!
I feel sorry for Scott and Danielle, though it seems their saga ended happily. But this is all just a symptom of my larger frustration with what I perceive as my helplessness when it comes to home repair and improvement projects. It's not that I can't figure things out -- it's just that I'm really afraid to try, since I might a)make things worse (i.e., uglier or less functional) than they were to begin with, and/or b)screw things up beyond my ability to repair, thereby necessitating the hiring of someone who actually knows what they're doing to come make up for my ineptitude.
Part of my anxiety comes from living in an older house that has obviously been subjected to its share of goofy, barely-functional do-it-yourself projects by former owners. You wonder what you will find, buried under layers of tile, wallpaper, and paint. You wonder if you will discover some horrible problem, concealed for years if not decades that you can't in good conscience just cover up again and hope for the best. These scenarios are all too likely. I suppose I should just face up to my fears and dive in. What's the worst that can happen? We can always try to bribe our resourceful and knowledgeable friend Andy into bailing us out yet again!
No posts over the last few days -- sorry about that, but I hope you all had something better to do with your Labor Day weekend than read my blog. We had family in town for a few days, which was good but exhausting. The best part of the holiday weekend for me came after most everyone had gone home, though -- Dr. Dregs and I spent Monday afternoon biking.
I must explain that neither of us is particularly athletic, nor do we spend a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities. Dr. Dregs is unquestionably tougher than I (having spent many of his formative years as a Boy Scout), but that really isn't saying much. I like my nature exposure in small doses, preferably within easy reach of civilized amenities like running water. Outdoor adventure is just not my thing. So although our ride yesterday was leisurely and tame by most standards, it was a pretty big deal for us.
Anyway, we are both biking novices, but we recently purchased bikes to take some advantage of the great trails in the Twin Cities area. Biking in the Cities is perfect for us, since you are never too far from civilization. Our goal yesterday was to bike to West St. Paul -- we needed to take care of Phil and Jody's cats while they are out of town.
We could have started at home, but in the interest of time (and knowing how out of shape we are), we drove down to Minnehaha Park to start. From there, we connected to the paved bike path through Fort Snelling State Park, which passes through a lovely, quiet wooded area that makes it hard to believe you're still in the heart of the Cities. After a very windy crossing of the Mendota Bridge, we took the Big Rivers Regional Trail through Mendota along the eastern banks of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. The river, which we could see for the entire route, was a gorgeous deep blue in yesterday's beautiful weather, and the bluffs towered impressively over the boaters in the water.
We missed our planned connection at the end of the Big Rivers Trail, which was supposed to be to the trail through Valley Park in Mendota Heights, and ended up continuing on through Lilydale Regional Park, which has a shady, cool trail on which brilliantly colored autumn leaves were already falling. There were many fewer bikers and skaters on this portion of the ride, so we really took our time. Even though we knew we were off of our planned route, the ride was so lovely that we made it almost all the way to downtown St. Paul before we decided to turn back.
We went back the way we had come --- hard work for us, since the Big Rivers Trail is a long, gradual uphill if you are traveling south-southwest. Since it was starting to get late, we decided to split up when we got back to the eastern edge of the Mendota Bridge. I returned to Minnehaha Park to get the car, while John continued along another branch of the Dakota County bike trail system along Highway 110. He was able to stay on bike trails as he passed through Mendota Heights, and didn't have too far to travel on the streets to Phil and Jody's house once he made it to West St. Paul.
The whole trip took about three hours. We had a great time doing it, and look forward to exploring further when we have more time (and stamina!) It's great to live in a city where trails like this are free and plentiful. I'm just sorry it took me nine years before I looked beyond the Minneapolis Lakes, wonderful though they are.
As long as we're on the topic of food, I have to say something about this Strib piece on why so many newly-introduced foods and beverages fail. Apparently, anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of new food products don't manage to attract enough market share, and wind up on the ash heap of supermarket history, as it were.
Two things made me want to comment on this. First, Dr. Dregs and I have a running joke about how any food product he likes ends up discontinued. I have always maintained that it's because he has an affinity for bizarre (if not downright disgusting) foods and beverages, but it seems that I should instead blame the great mass of consumers who are so habit-bound that they never try new products. Apparently, Dr. Dregs is to be commended for his culinary adventurousness. Or at least the processed-food manufacturers should hold him up as a model consumer!
Second, the Strib article specifically mentions that the new reduced-carb colas introduced by Coke and Pepsi (C2 and Pepsi Edge) are not selling as well as anticipated. This sets me off on something that has been a pet peeve of mine since these sodas first appeared in stores: they cost too much!
Allow me to explain (if you can stand it). I've tried C2, and like it. When I drink soda, it's almost always diet, to spare the calories and sugar. But on those rare occasions that I mix soda with alcohol, I splurge and drink the regular stuff. Captain Morgan and Diet Coke just doesn't work for me. So when C2 became available, it seemed like the perfect compromise as a mixer: tastes pretty much like regular Coke, but with fewer calories and much less sugar. Perfect! Or so I thought until I shopped for it: C2's price for an 8-pack of cans was the same as the 12-pack price for any other soda. Infuriating! And Pepsi, of course, prices Pepsi Edge at exactly the same premium over "regular" Pepsi and Diet Pepsi!
A small difference, you say? Nothing to get too excited about? Maybe you're right, but it's the principle of the thing. Coke launches this product, and wants us to buy it. They need to sell a lot of it right off the bat, and build a little brand loyalty. So what do they do? Price the soda attractively, or at least competitively with their other products? No, they figure they can gouge desparate low-carb dieters, who they must assume are so frantic for a taste of sugary cola that they'll pay extra for C2. Well, according to this article, the soda companies were wrong! Wrong! I feel so vindicated.
After a day like today, a complaint about the weather is inevitable. So I apologize, but I simply must. This weather is not right! Today, the Twin Cities set a record low high temperature for August 10: 59 degrees. Summers in Minnesota are so brief; I want the weather to be at least warm (i.e., highs above 70) every day in June, July, and August. Barring that (since early June is often cool and wet), I'd settle for consistent warmth through July and August. Unfortunately, this whole week looks like it will be unseasonably cool and cloudy.
I realize that I sound like just another weather-obsessed Minnesotan, and I'll be the first to admit that there is some truth in that (though my weather obsession long predates my residence in Minnesota). But for better or for worse, I'm one of those people for whom the weather has a profound effect on my mood and general sense of well-being. Silly, I know, but it seems to be hard-wired.
The climate here works well for me, for the most part. There are four distinct seasons. There are reasonable amounts of sun, rain, and snow. Thunderstorms are not too likely to produce tornadoes. But the winters are just a little too long and a little too cold. My ideal climate would have four seasons, but with a shortened winter and a lengthened summer. Yes, I realize I could get that if I lived a few hundred miles south of here, but then the summers become too hot, and the storms too severe.
Anyway, October weather in August does not sit well with me. Let me be clear: I love October weather in October. September and October, in fact, have been my favorite months since childhood, when they signified both the recurrence of cool sunlight and crisper air after the impossibly hot and languid August, and my return to school, which I loved above all things. But September and October can't arrive in proper style unless August prepares us in the right way, and for that to happen, August needs to addle our brains with energy-sapping heat. It can't be 59 degrees and gloomy. I'll wait this week out, but I am not pleased. I'm not pleased at all.
By way of preface, let me note that this post will be the first of what I expect to be several mini-essays on the scintillating issues of my daily life. Basically, if something happens that makes me think, I will write about it if I can find the time. I can't say whether these will have any value, but I think it will be good for me to write some of this stuff down. That said, let's press onward . . .
So a bunch of us were hanging out over the weekend after our semi-usual Dungeons & Dragons game, and someone (I don't remember who) commented that it was odd the way we make fun of friends' hobbies that we don't happen to share. It came up because Matt had mentioned in jest that non-D&D playing spouses of D&D players should come along and bring their "basketweaving, batiking, and macrame" -- in other words, he was mildly mocking the strong interest that Becka and Danielle (among others I know and love) have in various crafts.
This made me think, especially about whether such comments are harmless or whether there's genuine contempt being expressed. Among this group of friends, we do frequently poke fun at the things that others in the group enjoy. The expressed reason is usually the level of geekiness inherent in those activities. I myself am far from innocent in this area; why do I do this? I think when I joke about the hobbies of others, it's usually because I am both amused and proud to have friends that are interested in such diverse, offbeat, and (yes) nerdy things. It's like a grand proof of the intelligence, creativity, and resourcefulness of my friends. It's also extremely reassuring to be surrounded by people whose pursuits are, in the context of the big picture, just as geeky as my own.
But are my hobbies really that geeky? What is it that I spend my time doing when I'm not working? Reading. Listening to, studying, and playing music. Watching TV and movies. Writing. Pets. My home. Cooking and baking. These are pretty normal activities and interests, neither unspeakably bizarre nor inherently amusing, and therefore not good fodder for even the gentle contempt of friends. (Well, maybe my sad little writings constitute a bizarre hobby, but you have all been far too kind to say so.)
Is that all? Well, no. There are a few other things: Computer games. Bridge. Dungeons & Dragons. Science fiction and fantasy. Ah, yes -- these are things that I admit are eminently worthy of ridicule to a greater or lesser degree. There are also diversions that I doubt I would have picked up on my own, but have developed an interest in because of husband or friends: Pinball. Computers and technology. Audiophilia. Yes, we are definitely moving further and further into the realm of the odd, obsessive, even pathetic.
Okay, so my own interests and pursuits are in many cases, stereotypically geeky, weird, and/or pathetic. But valueless? Deserving of true derision? I hope not. All of these activities contain elements of puzzle, of imagination, of plain "gee-whiz-that's-cool"-ness. They are the hobbies of interesting and intelligent people. I say that not because they are my own (well, not only because of that), but because they are the hobbies of my friends, who presumably are my friends because I thought they were interesting and intelligent. I include in this category things I'm not really into, like crafts, politics, and gardening.
Are there conclusions to draw from all of this? Well, first, I don't think it's particularly useful to condemn certain pursuits just because they are typecast as nerdy. Any activity can be geeky if one pursues it obsessively enough. It's just that adherents of all of those typical geek hobbies usually pursue them with such fervor that they naturally end up in that category. Second, the fact that not everyone in a particular group shares the same interests ought not be threatening to anyone. Diversity of interests among friends is a precious quality for any group to have. A little humor at each other's expense is not necessarily a bad thing. But the beautiful, crazy kaleidoscope of stuff we like should be encouraged and celebrated, not scorned.
Here's a way of life that never would have occurred to me: home managing. For a fraction of market rent, attractive people with trendy furniture can live in fabulously expensive homes while their owners are waiting for a buyer to come along. The downsides are that you have to be prepared to move frequently, and you have to keep the house in perfect condition at all times, since a realtor might be dropping by with a potential buyer with only 15 minutes' notice.
I can see the attraction of living this way. A lot of houses have intriguing exteriors, or are in the perfect neighborhood -- or both. Such houses frequently make me wonder what it would be like to live in them, even though I know that I won't ever be able to afford such a lavish dwelling. Home managers get to live in these houses without being independently wealthy.
But, oh, those downsides. No pets. A requirement to be obsessively clean. Having to move three or four times a year. And I assume, no ability to customize or personalize your living space. No way to really put down roots in a place. It might have worked for me ten years ago (if I had had the financial wherewithal to acquire some good furniture), but now I shudder at the thought.
There are those who prefer to live more or less as nomads (hello, Lee and Faith!) This kind of thing is probably especially appealing to them. The catch is that in this version of the nomadic lifestyle, you lose out on one of its primary benefits: simplification, living only with necessities and maybe a few luxuries -- in other words, owning less stuff. Presumably that's not really sustainable when you have to keep enough furniture to make a 5,000 square foot house look good.
I've been suffering since Monday night from a good old common cold: sore throat, congestion, mild fever, minor aches, and exhaustion. It's nothing much to complain about, but I think I'll complain anyway. I hate having a cold in the summer!
Having a cold during fall or winter (or around here, even spring) is unpleasant, but really not so bad as being sick goes. When I have a cold, I usually want to hole up with a blanket, a good book, and a pot of herbal tea. In the dead of winter, that's not too far off from what I'd like to do if I weren't sick. But in the summer, I want to be outside doing something, especially on a beautiful day like today: sunny and not too hot (or sticky). Instead, I'm lying in bed dozing while trying not to let my brain atrophy from exposure to daytime TV, or I'm sitting in front of the computer thinking about how much I'd like to go back to bed and wondering if I can gather the energy to go downstairs and make some tea. Sigh.
Of course, I'd normally be at work today, and therefore not out enjoying the lovely day. But in a way, that almost makes it worse. A day off from work, and I'm stuck in the house. Oh, well -- at least it's not hot and humid. There's nothing like a good tropical airmass to turn a typical summer cold into a bizarre, hallucinatory, nightmarish experience. I guess it could be worse.
Why does any marriage make men healthier, but only happy marriages make women healthier? This article from WebMD examines the question (the study and the article were published nearly a year ago -- I'm a little bit behind).
It makes intuitive sense that a happy marriage (or close partnership of any kind) would benefit the health of both parties. But men's health improves even in unhappy marriages, while such marriages have a negative impact on women's health. A Boston University psychologist speculates that marriage's effect on men and women differs because a) men are less sensitive to trouble in a marriage and b) women are generally more supportive partners, at least in part because women learn from birth that one of their major roles is to be supportive of friends, children, and spouse.
Is it just me, or does that not paint a very attractive portrait of the average man? Anecdotally, I have no sense for how true those suppositions might be. I don't see either a lack of sensitivity or supportiveness in any of my male friends. On the other hand, I've certainly heard a lot of second- and third-hand accounts from friends that tell the same old story of male ill behavior. I wonder if anyone has studied perceived levels of sensitivity/supportivness relative to the health of married people.
I also wonder what the health impact is in marriages/partnerships between men. My sense (I'm totally making this up, so beware) is that one partner or the other is likely to assume what would normally be thought of as the "wife" role. Does that mean that the health of the "wife" partner in a gay marriage suffers if the marriage is unhappy? Or do the observed benefits to men happen regardless of how happy the relationship is, just as in heterosexual marriages?
Finally, I'm curious as to what exactly it takes for a single person, male or female, to receive the same benefits to health as the happily married get. The article suggests that single women with a strong support network and a lot of close friends might benefit in the same ways as happily married women do. Corollary to that is the explanation for why single men are more unhealthy than single women: because they are less likely to have formed extensive support and friendship networks. Lots of food for thought here.
Happy 31st Birthday (yesterday) to my little brother Jeff, the talented and esteemed city manager of Dell Rapids, South Dakota. Okay, so I just mentioned that to get the link in there. But he doesn't have a personal web site (maybe after the baby comes, hint, hint), so City of Dell Rapids it must be.
Hope it was a good one, Jeffo!
Librarian, dilettante, cultural omnivore without enough time and money to see/hear/read everything I would like. Possessed of too short an attention span and too easily distracted by the next nifty idea or activity to focus on any one intellectual pursuit. Failed clarinetist and musicologist, but okay with that. Frequently trivial in the extreme. Lover of dogs and cats, especially my own. Sucker for cute furry animals. Technogeek with very few actual technoskills. Writer of wordy and awkward prose. Plays games, all sorts: board, card, video, RPG. Likes bad fiction a little too much; likes good fiction even more. Lover of food and wine. Tries to get a little exercise, usually on a bicycle, to mitigate epicurean tendencies. Not really qualified to comment on anything, but happy to do so anyway. Needs to get out more.
straill at gmail dot com