Sunday, February 7, 2016

Boldy Go! [Edit Wikipedia]

"Be Bold" is the Star Trek–tinged invitation from the Wikipedia community to us to help write the encyclopedia.

Communications officer Uhura ^ takes the helm after the navigator is knocked out.

design by Oile 11
This week I started to edit Wikipedia because:

1.  I use Wikipedia all the time.

2. Stone Soup is my religion, and Wikipedia illustrates my credo:
With checks and balances, humans can work together for the common good. 
Even with no money in the pot.

3. Editing Wikipedia provides a fix for my "put things in order" jones, 
now I'm not thrift herding (or working in a library,  or, for the moment, editing anything else).

4. And because I just learned that only about 10% of Wikipedia editors are women. [see Gender Bias] [A-ha! That explains why its Starsky and Hutch subheading Cars is longer than the entire entry on author Sarah Vowell. ]

I can represent.
Everyone on the bridge is able to operate the vessel, even the young yeoman [Janice Rand, in the episode "The Naked Time"]:

A New York Times article "Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia's Contributor List" (2011) "cited as possibly discouraging women from editing included the "obsessive fact-loving realm", associations with the "hard-driving hacker crowd," and the necessity to be "open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists"." 

Unfortunately I have met the type before...

But what are you going to do? It reminds me of something Benjamin Franklin said:
"When you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their error of opinions, their local interests, and their selfish views."
I read that last night in Sarah Vowell's latest book, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.

This morning I edited Sarah Vowell's page because it still said the book was "due out in October 2015."
I updated it:

Wanna give it a go?
It's easy to edit a page: click "edit" tab along the top. (You don't even have to log in, though I did create an account.)
The tab leads you to a composition box familiar to any blogger.

I prefer to just jump in and figure stuff out by feel, but the Help:Editing page takes you through the steps, if you like that better.

Friday, February 5, 2016

"I never like to admit that I was wrong"

 I'm happy, in these cases, to admit that I was wrong:

1. I never though Bernie Sanders would never make it to Iowa.

2. And  I thought Justin Bieber would never make it––as a singer––across the bridge to adulthood.
So, I'm happy that I love his latest, "Love Yourself,"
written by someone else, and danced/choreographed by someone else (Keone and Mari Madrid) = great idea!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What I'm Reading

Rice Pudding Bear looks over my pile of [mostly] library books
1. Love Imagined: A Mixed Race Memoir, Sherry Quan Lee, 2014
A memoir about growing up in Scandinavian Minneapolis, the daughter of a Chinese American man and an African American/white mother who passes for white. 
Some interesting possibilities, but Lee's writing is so cumbersome, I kept editing it in my head.  
The book would be stronger if Lee'd followed Verlyn Klinkenborg's advice to write short sentences.

How 'bout if instead of, "How disassociated do we become from the beauty of who we are, based on myth?"
she'd written, "How does myth separate us from our beauty?"

VERDICT: Needs work. .

2. New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families, Colm Toibin, 2012
Deceptively cute title.
This reads as if it is [but nowhere says it is] a collection of previously published academic articles.
"If the heroine and the narrative itself are seeking completion in her marriage, then the journey there involves either the searching for figures outside the immediate family for support, of the breaking free from member of the family who seek to confine or dictate." 

VERDICT: Would shorter sentences help?

3. The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015
I got the Large Print ed. from the library because there was a waiting list for the regular print, and my old eyes like it.

The fictional confession of a Communist Vietnamese mole who escapes the fall of Saigan and becomes a refugee in the USA,
it starts well:
  • "I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingy, I am also a man of two minds."
 Nice short sentences, Nguyen!
But the view from inside a man who is "able to see any issue from both sides" starts to feel featureless. 

I felt as if my head was inside a box, like this Japanese head furniture for private time with your electronics [links to article in the Economist]:

VERDICT: Not bad, but I skimmed the second half. Movie material?

4. Romance Is My Day Job: A Memoir of Finding Love at Last, Patience Bloom, 2014
Hated it.
Bloom edits romance novels for Harlequin, and I thought this might be an insider's view of the business, but no; she compares romance plots with her own love life. 
(Omg. Though I give it to her, she does have command of her sentences.) 

Finally, at forty-one, she finds true love.
Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing would approve of how she describes her happy married life,
"I love folding laundry when he brings it upstairs." 
 VERDICT: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

5. Several Short Sentences About Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg, 2012
I already blogged about how VK is kind of pompous, but reading so much bad writing lately myself, I start to sympathize.
He teaches writing...imagine the manuscripts he's subjected to.

He could collaborate with Marie Kondo:
Please people! Fold your sentences and arrange them horizontally, by color.

Also, nostalgia is not your friend. 

6. I Remember Nothing, and Other Reflections, Nora Ephron, 2010 
This book wouldn't have been published in this era if Nora Ephron hadn't written the screenplays for When Harry Met Sally and Julie and Julia.
Not because it's bad––it's not––but because now you can read this pithy neurotic-but-knows-it self-reflection on a million blogs, for free.

I like Ephron's movies (except for You've Got Mail, which is the stupidest movie ever), and I liked these quick-reads. 
Of no importance, but a funny coincidence: I'd forgotten she had been married to Carl Bernstein, who I'd seen in person last year and portrayed in film two nights ago.
I was sad to see she this was her last book; she died in 2012, at seventy-one. 

VERDICT: Ideal for reading in the bathroom, where you don't want to take your electronics.

7. The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats & Ex-Countries, Jessa Crispin, 2015

I actually bought this book, new, the library line for it was so long, and I don't resent spending the money, which is saying something.
But I was a little disappointed that none of the essays were as good as the one that made me buy the book in the first place (thanks, Julia!):
Crispin's "St. Teresa and the Single Ladies" (NYT, 1-9-16):

I am not Catholic, and yet I find myself drawn to the women saints. There is something about them that I admire. Maybe it is simply the lengths to which they went to avoid marrying. When St. Catherine’s mother said her hair would surely attract a good suitor, she cut all of it off. When St. Lucia’s pursuer said she had lovely eyes, she cut them out and presented them to him.
What I really like about Crispin is that she writes about herself, like modern memoirists do, but uses her life and location as a take-off point to talk about other writers and other places, not as an end in themselves, like so many memoirists. 
What's missing: humor.
But I'll keep checking in sometimes at Crispin's blog Bookslut.

VERDICT: Worth reading. I'll lend you my copy.

8. All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found, Philip Connors, 2015
Connors wrote Fire Season about being a fire lookout in New Mexico. This is about what happened before: 
his brother committed suicide.  Also, 9/11.

As someone whose mother committed suicide, I'm wary about this sort of memoir––not sure why I even checked it out–– but he gets it right in sentences like this:
"I lurked in AA meetings in order to hear people talk honestly about terrible things."
Mr. Connors, you have got your socks in order.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I edited Wikipedia!

I am the hero [-of-the-moment] of my own life!
I just edited a Wikipedia article for the first time.

I am now a Wikipedian.

A couple hours ago, I'd started blogging here about the Jackson book I've been editing forever, and how it now has a cool photo

of Catharine Beecher >
(sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe).

Then I wrote:
I've mentioned before that CB started a women's letter-writing campaign to protest Jackson's Indian Removal policy.

Hm---that's not mentioned in her Wikipedia article
If I were a better person, I'd figure out how to add it...

And then I thought, 
Wait… I am a better person than to leave it at that; I can do this.

So I did.

Have you edited Wikipedia?
It was pretty easy:
I went to Beecher's page, selected the "edit" tab along the top, and it prompted me to "create an account".

Editing is pretty straightforward, though it took me a couple tries to add links to external sources. Also, I should have composed my entry beforehand, using more short sentences à la Verlyn Klinkenborg. Oh well, I was too excited.

Beecher's page now has a subheading "Opposition to Indian Removal Bill":
There's a lot more that could be said, of course, but this at least points readers to a more complete source (footnote 2), the article "Mobilizing Women, Anticipating Abolition: The Struggle against Indian Removal in the 1830s". 
For editing work, I often use Wikipedia for exactly that-- to find citeable sources. I sometimes follow up links for my own interest too.

Will my addition just… stay there? Do you know?
Oh, never mind--I looked it up--according to Wikipeida's editing Tutorial, other editors can "revert" your edit if they want. I guess I'll see if anyone does.

Wikipedia, you could get to be a habit with me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Deep Focus

I've been thinking––mostly idly––about the 70s ever since Marz started watching Starsky & Hutch (1975–1979) last year. 
The show is in shades of brown, sometimes orange, including its mood: funky, depressed, anxious, energetic.
Last night I rewatched All the President's Men (1976) to remind myself of the era.
When I was a teenager in 1975, I happened to see the movie being filmed across the street from the White House. I watched Dustin Hoffman (Bernstein) sit on a park bench for about an hour, waiting for his take, before I got bored and went away.
I learned something about film making:
being on set is like standing around while a plumber works.

All the President's Men is the political backdrop to Starsky & Hutch, and there are some similarities.
The Guardian's review from 2006 said, 
"Redford and Hoffman, [as] Woodward and Bernstein, blond and brown-haired, [WASP] and Jew: 
it was almost as if Nixon and his minions had been brought low by Starsky and Hutch."

The relationships between the pairs are different: 
Woodward and Bernstein worked together, but they didn't love (or even particularly like) each other, unlike Starsky and Hutch.
The reporters wear a lot of browns, but the Washington Post newsroom looks more like Star Trek: brightly lit with primary colored office furniture.
The furniture is too low to see in this shot, but you can see the movie's deep focus, which makes an asset of the room's open flatness, like a prairie, to show layers of complexity:
to either side of the pillar to the right of Nixon on TV, Woodward and Bernstein are typing at their desks–– 

––on manual typewriters. 
Politics, color schemes, and personalities aside, what's fascinating in both shows is seeing people work without computers or cellphones--or even answering machines. 

At one point, as Bernstein leaves his desk, he turns to the reporter at the next desk and says, "Pick up my phone."
Cops and reporters are always writing in little notebooks.
W & B go to the library to check records and this is what the librarian gives them to sort:
And they do. We see them going through them all. 
They find nothing, which is, of course, the story––two reporters doing the work to find out what's been removed, erased, covered up, and who did it. 

It feels less shocking now that the president did it than that the reporters did their work without computers.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Are we done yet?

I just sent back my fourth review of the preliminary layout of my last president book: 
3x more than I should have seen it at this stage.
The designer is new, and I suppose I don't mind helping, but I'm ready to be DONE with these presidents.

I e-mailed a page of the pdf to my auntie, to show her what I'm working on.

It happened to be a page about Andrew Jackson killing a man in a duel,
and I commented on how weird it is that dueling was popular among politicians in his era.

[meme from pinterest >]

 She wrote back--my good natured, ninety-year-old auntie--saying maybe our current presidential hopefuls should duel one another.

Such is the mood of the electorate.
Can't we be done already???

What's that you say?

Nine more months?

There's time to grow a whole new human before the elections.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hair by Hair

This morning my hair is still as sproingy as it was yesterday afternoon after I'd cut it in front of the bathroom mirror.

It's weird: in the three years I've had long hair, its texture has changed. It became grayer, and while I'd heard that gray hair is coarser, I'd never much noticed. 
A little, I had:
My hair feels crunchy is not something I'd thought in my first fifty years.

Now I'm like a chicken with a horsehair crest. 
It's OK--it's even kind of cute. It's just a small shock.

These small(ish) physical changes that come with age feel like gentle preparation for the Big Change, like pop quizzes forewarn of the final exam:
when I'm dying, I can't say, "Wait! I had no inkling this was coming!"
My body is shutting down in all sorts of little ways. (Some of them are even welcome: I never minded much, but I sure don't miss bleeding every month.)

I woke up thinking that Verlyn Klinkenborg and Anne Lamott, authors of otherwise different books on writing, both agree that writing is the act of putting down one sentence, and then another. 
And so on.
That's even the idea behind the name of Lamott's book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, as you may know: 
her little brother was freaking out about writing a report on birds due the next day, and her father said, "take it bird by bird." 

I haven't read Bird in years, but I thank it and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within for encouraging me to write.

                                 Goldberg, via [Her hair… it's supple.]

Bones was important to me in my twenties. 
Now I wonder if I'd find it annoying in the opposite way from VK's Several Short Sentences about Writing:
she assuming you are wounded and writing is healing; 
he assuming you can tough out his Princeton condescension.

He's crunchy gray hair, she's crunchy granola. 
Neither is funny, much--it's serious business.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Homemade Hair

I had some complications with my haircut. 
It was fine if I tucked my hair behind my ears, but if it came loose, I looked like a spaniel.

I went in for a re-do and came out looking like a chicken with a crazy feather crest,
for instance, this Laced Polish. >>

Not wanting to go in a third time, 
I trimmed it myself today, 
and now I look like a chicken that has taken a scissor to its crest.

I read Verlyn Klinkenborg's Several Short Sentences About Writing the other night, on the recommendation of Orange Crate Art.
VK suggests marking up some favorite sentences with colors, to teach yourself the parts of speech. (Also he suggests rewriting some sentences of authors you like.)
"Don't just imagine doing this someday," he writes.
"Do it. It's interesting."
I know how the parts of speech work, but not their names.
("Verb clumpage" is not a technical term.) It was interesting to look them up as I colored in David Copperfield.
                                       (See what I mean about my hair? v)

I liked reading Short Sentences a lot, and if you're the sort of person who thinks this exercise looks like fun, you'd probably like it.

VK has some great points and I appreciated how he blows up a lot of old prescriptions: Go ahead, start sentences with "and"! 
He writes:
Here's an experiment.
Pay attention to all the noise in your head as you go about writing. 

The voices of former teachers, usually uttering rules.
The things that make you wonder, "Am I allowed to …?"
                      (Yes, you're allowed to. Not forever and always, but until you decide for yourself what works and what doesn't.)
But he writes in prescriptive language himself, and he's the sort of guy who assumes other brains work like his does. 
Sentences such as, "You need to know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs" annoyed me. 
"You need…" How off-putting. (As an editor, I've never encountered a problem with people getting these verbs wrong.)

And, "It's never hard to work when you're interested in what you're working on."
Oh, really? That's not true for me. (Though I might say, "It's easier to work when you're interested…".)

I recommend his book, with a heads-up about his tendency to make such pronouncements.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Being Afraid of the Whale

Moby-Dick: "I will have no man in my boat," said Starbuck, "who is not afraid of a whale."

I was e-mailing with the friend who'd recommended the TV show Transparent (which I've yet to watch because it's on Amazon and I've got Netflix---oh, the complexities). 

She told me about a trans pal who leads trainings in which, my friend wrote, 
"he allows people to feel safe enough to ask questions, trusting that he will be respectful in his answers. I think safety is such a key piece in human interactions, don't you?"

Do I think safety is a key piece in human interactions?

No, I don't.

"I know what you mean," I wrote back, 
"and I agree with the idea of creating places where people can ask questions freely,
but I like respect so much more than safety.

Mutual respect. 
Also, sympathy (kindness/compassion)."
safety, from Latin salvus = "uninjured, in good health"
respect, from Latin specere = "to look at" 
sympathy, from Latin sympathia = "community of feeling"
I thinking "looking with fellow feeling" is a better key to human interactions than safety
I'm not a big fan of the phrase "safe spaces".
Safety tends to be an illusion, or stagnant.

How does a person stay uninjured? 
By not playing, not leaving their comfort zone, by staying silent––or by requiring other people to stay silent. I.e., stagnant.

Creating is not safe. Risk is the opposite of safe.

risk, from riscare = "to run into danger" (of uncertain origin)

I do see the value of someone doing the political work of educating people about difference, and to do that, yeah, it's probably smart to create a "safe space".

But who is it safe for?
Not for the teacher. 

The teacher is taking the risk for the team--for their future safety:
"If I can make the students understand, they will be less dangerous to us."

It's the teacher in the boat with Starbuck. 

                              Starbuck Leaning Against the Mainmast, ca. 1930 --by Rockwell Kent, via

Taking a risk to build mutual respect. That's what I think is key in human interactions. 
It's not safe. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Tell me more."

This morning I read an NPR interview with Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent, the TV series she based on one of her own parents coming out as trans late in life. (I haven't seen it yet.)

She said when her parent came out to her, she was relieved because it filled in so many missing pieces: "Ohh, this is what I have not known." 

Right away she let her parent know these four things:
"I love you unconditionally," and, "I'm so proud of you," and, "This is so brave of you," and "Tell me more."
Isn't that a good list of things parents could tell their kids too?  
And in dealing with other people, while the first three might not fit, Tell me more almost always fits.

It's huge in scope, and yet it's short to say.  :)
What's not to like?
And yet, we don't always feel free to say it. Or maybe that's just the case here in the Midwest USA? where asking any questions can seem terribly rude...

When I was twenty-five years old, living in Chicago, and asking people far more ––and far more probing–– questions than I do now,* a friend said, "You are the Bill Moyers of Chicago", which pleased me a lot.

But Moyers's secret isn't that he asks probing questions. I listened closely and realized mostly he says, "tell me more", over and over. And then he listens. (Or looks like he's listening. These aren't extemporaneous interviews, they're researched and crafted ahead of time. Still.)

I must have shown real interest, but I wasn't a good interviewer. When I saw a video of me doing an interview, I was shocked at how much I interrupted.  *cringes*
(Oprah does that, and it drives me nuts--her interviews are more about her than her subject.)

Interruptions are fine for free-wheeling conversations with friends, but bad for interviews where you want to give the person space (or, to put it in the negative, you want to give them rope...), 
and interruptions are terrible for conversing with people whose thoughts are easily derailed. 
Like people who live with dementia. 

Making art weekly with Tim, I try very hard not to interrupt him. He's a very funny and verbal guy, but Mr. Alzheimer has sunk holes in his conversational abilities, and he doesn't need more holes from my interruptions.
I find myself saying, "tell me more" a lot.

Our art-partnership went well again yesterday. 
I love putting words on/in pictures (like those of Maira Kalman --links to And the Pursuit of Happiness), and Tim is quoteable. 
We were drawing a breadboard with a piece of toast on it when he got a phone call. 
My toast here looks like a meat chop, but I love what he said to the caller, 
which I wrote on my watercolor:

* I ask less probing questions now, not because I've learned not to interrupt but because at midlife I'm not as confused by (or even curious about) random individuals. 
I start to feel at midlife that "I have met the type before."

That's a line I always loved in Room with a View, or anyway, I love how Maggie Smith as Cousin Charlotte delivers her judgement, 
"Unfortunately, I have met the type before." 

Of course the problem is not only can that be icky and dismissive, but you can be quite wrong about people! 
Charlotte's talking about George, whom she fears will brag about having kissed her ward, Lucy, and damage Lucy's reputation. But he doesn't; it's Charlotte herself who can't resist spreading the news...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


I went to Target yesterday specifically to buy a BB8 toy, and they  were terrible! Too fake-real. 
I don't want a remote-control droid for $79.99, I want a squishy ping-pong ball on a key chain kind of thing.
I'll have to make my own toy.
Disappointed, I bought a $1 sheet of stickers that included three acceptable BB8s, one of which I'm wearing below. 
And then I went and got my hair cut. BB8 says, thumbs up!

My head is lighter.

Seems I've been pruning some dead weight from my life lately. (The Thrift Store management, my hair, even some tchotchke.)
Could this be the effects of reading about the "life-changing magic of tidying up"? Or possibly the upside of being around dementia and death? Or the uplift from the slow but now noticeable return of light to the northern hemisphere?
The exit from the heavy sign of Capricorn into airy Aquarius?
Or even the buoyancy of realizing Bernie Sanders continues to do well (and even better)? (I'm not counting on anything, but I'm enjoying the moment.) 

Whatever, it's welcome after a leaden winter.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Three Movies

Michael at Orange Crate Art posted mini-reviews of twelve movies today.
Blogger envy strikes! I must write some too. (Also see more movies, I'm way behind.)

1. STAR WARS: The Force Awakens   

NO SPOILERS . . . though if I told you the entire story, there'd still be no spoilers because you already know it, unless you've paid no attention to pop culture since the '70s (BCE).

Last night, feeling emotionally worn out, I went to the new Star Wars, to sit in the dark and be filled with something that wasn't me. 
I hadn't particularly wanted to see this movie, but it was the only one at the nearby theater I hadn't already seen or could stand to see. (The Room? No, thanks. The comic Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is as close as I can come to the topic of plucky women trapped and raped by men in small spaces.)

Anyway... I totally enjoyed the Force Awakens––even though I'd walked in 30 minutes after it started. You could walk in halfway through and still pick it up because... 

a) There's no plot!  Hooray! Who needs plot in mythic sagas? 
Naturally there's a little mcguffin of a plot: some folks are looking for someone.
But you can time when to get up to go get candy (I did) or leave to go to the bathroom (I did), because you know how the movie's paced and, pretty much, exactly what's going to happen. 

b) You already know the characters too! Double hooray! As full of emotion as John Williams's famous score, I teared up when some of the old ones appeared. 
But you know the new ones too, cause they're just like the old ones. And you can tell by their costumes who plays which role.

Yes, this is fan fiction, done right. 

(Director J. J. Abrams is a Star Wars fan, and, mercifully, the original creator George Lucas is not involved. As with Star Trek, the franchises improve when the ham-handed creators [Gene Roddenbery in ST] aren't involved.)

Everything is something old, borrowed, or blue... plus something a wee bit new (but not very)--people of color, and more females, and females of color, sort of, and one character who is Conflicted with a capital C! In true fanfic fashion, this character swans about in a way perfectly suited for fanvidding to the emo classic "My Immortal" (by Evanescence) like-- *random search*---this Harry Potter one.
Probably someone's already done it? (I'm not going to even search.)

I liked the new Skywalker-colored (tan, that is) hero Rey (links to article in the Atlantic about what a real hero she is). She could be (probably is) set to another done-to-death-but-still-perfect-song, "Looking for a Hero".

A quick google reveals more than ten Harry Potter vids to that song.
And why not?
Fan productions are like fairy tales or Greek classics---there are endless variations. 

And the comic sidekick (there's always a comic sidekick) is adorable. BB8! The child of Baymax + a soccer ball!
I want a toy of it. [Gee, I wonder if such a toy exists...]

Below: BB8 and Rey looking all samurai. Lucas always said he borrowed a lot from Kurosawa (expecially his movie with a great girl hero with comic sidekicks, The Hidden Fortress---watch it!) 

Verdict: Totally predictable, totally enjoyable, if you like that sort of thing.

2. The Big Short
 Same theater, same motivation (to get out of my brain), different day.
NO SPOILERS, though you know the story--you were there [2007- 2008 housing market...].

If you can give economics personality, you have my vote, and the guy who wrote Big Short (Michael Lewis, also wrote Moneyball), does that.

[John Maynard Keynes, anyone? 
Portrait, right, by JMK's sometime-lover Duncan Grant, who had a child with fellow painter Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf's sister), etc....]

The topic of Big Short is depressing (the persistence and destructiveness of human stupidity + cupidity), but the presentation is energizing:
the characters are full of smarts and drive--the movie reminded me a little of the similarly zippy Social Network.
If you could harness that intelligence and drive to something good, imagine that...

And the movie is funny. Among other things, it takes mini-breaks to have pop culture stars explain economic terms, including Selena Gomez (Justin Bieber's ex: synthetic CDOs are "like if a guy bets that I'm going to win this hand at cards, and then people bet on his bet on my hand, and...") and Anthony Bourdain (celebrity chef: bundling bad mortgages is like presenting three-day-old halibut recooked as seafood stew).

Verdict: Great story, great storytelling. (Well, maybe not great, but good value.)  Also, invest in water.

3. I enjoyed reading about movies Michael hated as much as those he loved, so...
Trainwreck. I hated it.

Utter dreck.

What can I say? It's like three-day-old halibut presented as seafood stew . . .  with no salt.

Have we heard this before: 
Women are sluts because they fear intimacy. We really want to settle down with nice, monogamous guys. And by the way, don't dis cheerleaders--they are incredibly hardworking athletes!

OK, yeah, I'd eat that if it was amusing and I was starving. 
But this warmed-over slop wasn't smart and it wasn't funny and it made me queasy. 

Verdict: And don't eat old fish, even if it's free.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"That raving slut who keeps the till..."

Well, that went badly. My resignation as a volunteer cashier and thrift herder at the Thrift Store led to a series of e-mails that ended in the manager dismissing my social and environmental concerns by saying the store's 
"one and only mission is to make money to give to social service organizations."
I don't believe he even believes that, based on our past conversations. 

What I heard was, 
"You are making me bloody uncomfortable, and I'm not going to talk to you anymore." 

I have heard this before.

The two managers (both men) treated me as if they see me as Yeat's 
"raving slut who keeps the till... at the foul rag and bone shop."

[Snake charmer, right>
 from Sideshow World]
  On the other hand, 
I could say my resignation went very well because I didn't slink away, as I have plenty of times in the past in order to avoid just such uncomfortable conversations or accusations of hysteria.

I spoke up, and I maintained my cool.

If what I said wasn't well received, that's not something I can control.

I don't like conflict, but I didn't want to disappear from the store without saying something on behalf of the ideals in the store's mission statement [to create community, to keep material out of the waste stream], which has been overlooked by some. 

Overlooked because it's hard to do.
ART SPARKER's comment on yesterday's post, which I read this morning, sums it up. She wrote,
"It takes some kind of organizational equivalent of self-awareness for the powers that be to appreciate volunteers sometimes, it's easier to go along with the enshrinement of capital as a measure of of, well, value."
Yes, thank you!

I don't like conflict . . . and neither did Thomas Jefferson. 
I felt better when I learned that recently. Not like he's a model of ideal behavior, but I could relate to this guy, Mr. Founder of His Country, slinking around trying to avoid conflict (and to avoid public speaking too). 

I think his efforts to avoid conflict factored into some his less-than-noble actions.
He trumpeted the common man's right to and innate capacity for  self-determination, but when it came down to it, it was a lot easier to rule with a heavy hand (or, in the case of his slaves, to leave it to his heavy-handed overseer).

It is incredibly hard to determine what's right and good for yourself and to respect other people's determinations (or lack thereof) for themselves.

Conflict shares its Latin root "fligere" ('to strike') with flail, flagellate, and flog.

I certainly felt like I was flailing around, flogging a dead horse trying to discuss respecting volunteers and exploring ways to recycle dangerous materials with the Thrift Store manager
I've run into this "pass the moral buck" attitude at the store before:
it's OK to treat people in front of you poorly because we're raising money for organizations that treat people well.

And the dangerous materials issue has come up because costs of recycling electronics have gone way up--and the store has to recycle the many unsaleable electronics that get dumped on them

The management's solution?
Stop accepting electronics.

Brilliant. Now more people will now throw their clock-radios and coffee pots and––worst of all––cell phones in the trash.
I suggested that instead of blocking electronics, we use some of our profits, which the store donates to community organizations to pay for recycling. This would be in keeping with the mission statement.
I was told this was unimportant.

So, I'm done. 
You never know what seeds you might have planted. Maybe the manager is so pissed off, he will reject everything I said. Or, maybe down the road some funny little plant will have sprouted.
I've done what I could, and I'm glad of that.
I can walk, not slink, away with a clear conscience. 

As of now, the Thrift Store? As the Polish saying goes, 
Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Note: The circus image is from Pinterest, where I could not find its origins. (I hate that.) I'll google-image search it later, but now I'm going out for coffee. 
UPDATE: Found it along with other cool images at Sideshow World: Snake Charmers.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Another Spark of Joy

Julia made this blanket I've thrown over my chair from felted sweaters---yesterday she lent it to me for the rest of the winter because I love it sooooo much and it inspires me to make one too. [note bears to the left]

This morning I came to clarity, finally, and officially resigned from volunteering at the Thrift Store. 
I'd reached a level of distress over the politics there that all of a sudden made me notice I was working for free [not how I had felt previously], and also, I seriously need to look for paying work, and I serious want to spend my free time making things that don't deplete me.  
I want to write more personal stuff, for instance, as well as sew more! 
So I feel relieved. The time is right.

Friday, January 22, 2016

People Happy with Things

Someone lent me The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which suggests each pair of socks you own should bring you a Spark of Joy or find somewhere else to live.
At first I scoffed, but as I read on, I realized the book is asking,
Why are you putting up with crap, huh?
Which could be a life-changing question alright, especially if you extend it beyond your socks.

Last night at Snack-n-Chat, I asked people if the things they were working on gave them joy, and in each case, they did. 

Here, below, is Kyle with his smartphone and Maura with her calligraphy pen--its outrigger nib allows you to see what you're writing as you're writing it:

Me with Red Bear (I finally sewed all three buttons on its coat), and Esther with the mohair lap rug she is re-knitting for the third? eighth? time:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sometimes Failing Is the Best We Can Do

I felt a little dread going this morning to make art with Tim [not his real name] who has Alzheimer's because after a few meetings I felt we weren't jelling. I wasn't offering what he needed, and unlike with some people, after a few misses I wasn't even sure what that might be.

Sure enough, he met me at the door saying he didn't want to make art today. Alzheimer's depresses him, he told me, and he feels like even more of a failure than he felt before he got this disease, like he's a fraud to think he could make art . . . or anything. 
He was sorry I'd come all this way, he said, but he was going back to bed.

OK, I said. But could we just sit and have a cup of coffee together, first? He agreed to sit with me, "for a few minutes".

Now, I don't like to jolly people out of feeling sad and bad; there's too much denial of sadness in US culture. 
You have a disease that eats your brain? Forgodsake, why wouldn't you feel awful?

I also don't like to instruct people to do anything. There are plenty of "shoulds" in play when your brain's healthy enough to pick and choose––with Alzheimer's, there are more, and you have less ability to discern among them.

So, I wanted to give Tim's sadness its due, and I wanted to say that of course he gets to choose how we spend our time together; 
but I also didn't want to accede to the dictates of the lying bastard inside his brain telling him, "You're not good enough––don't even bother to try", which, I'm pretty sure, has nothing to do with Alzheimer's.

(I'm pretty sure because so many people who try to create anything, including me, meet that same bastard inside our brains.)

I didn't know what to say that would cover all this ground, but, you know, sometimes you just have to wing it.
What I said was something like this:

"Look, Tim, you don't have to do anything. I'm not going to push you to do anything you don't want to do. 
But here's what I can offer you, here's what I suggest:
I can come over here every week, and together we can make bad art. I can keep you company as your Alzheimer's gets worse, and we can keep making bad art together. And after a while, you'll have a hundred pieces of bad art, and you'll be able to point to them and say, 'Hey! I failed at that!'"

And he laughed! and said, "OK, I don't mind a little history of my mistakes."

"Ohmygod," I said, shoving a piece of paper and a drawing pencil at him, "Write that down!"

He wrote it down on his piece of paper, and I wrote it down on mine, and then we made pictures of wooden game pieces he'd cut out of a tree branch years ago.  
This is mine (watercolored): 

When I left, we were both laughing, and I felt we had finally reached each other. 
I said, I'll see you next week, and we'll fail together again.
This isn't just what he needs, it's what I need.

Economist-Style Obituary for bink's Dad

The obituaries on the last page the Economist are the reason I spent 3,500 frequent flier miles on a subscription: 
they're condensed, insightful, and tend toward amused indulgence, like a fond parent. (Though not always. I remember when the paper summed up Slobodan Milošević as "a bad man.")

 The obituary editor, Ann Wroe, says she constructs them more like novels than nonfiction: the secret is to throw out chronology and focus on what mattered in a person's life.
 As bink's father was taking a long (but peaceful) time to die (lasting one week without water--the nurses kept asking bink if he was a stubborn man (he was))
it dawned on me that I could try writing an obituary like that for him. While I'd tried never to be in the same room with him, I'd admired his pluck for thirty years.
So, with bink's permission(she posted it on FB too) and her editorial help, here's my Economist-style obit of her dad,
 Garrell  "Jerry" Dean, who died on January 17, 2016, one month before his eighty-second birthday.

In his final years, when it was too cold or he was too ill to go out, Jerry liked to watch the History Channel in his subsidized senior high-rise. One evening he learned about Bloody Bill Anderson, the pro-Confederate brute who had terrorized Missouri, Jerry's home state, during the American Civil War. Some of Jerry’s people had been Andersons. He pestered his daughter to find out if they were descendants. 
He hoped they were.

As was often the case with Jerry, his ill-founded optimism brought a result, if not exactly the one he wanted. His daughter bowed to her father’s faith that she could find out anything on the Internet, though his online use was …less educational. 
The family was not related to Bloody Bill, she found, but there had been a brush with greatness. In 1832 a great-great-great-great uncle, William Berry, had bought a store on credit with the young Abraham Lincoln. While Lincoln had regaled customers with stories, Berry had dispensed––and drunk––the store’s whiskey.

The partners, Lincoln wrote, "did nothing but get deeper and deeper in debt… [and] the store winked out.” Berry bailed, and it took Lincoln fifteen years to pay off their debts, a fact Honest Abe later made political hay out of.

Soldiers in the American Revolution, slave owners, frontier preachers, “Indian killers,” as well as, possibly, an ancestor from the Peoria Indian tribe further filled out Jerry’s family tree. 

Jerry launched plenty of enterprises of his own that winked out. 
Smart but no scholar, he joined the navy as a teenager and upon his return, tall, slim, and handsome, he taught at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio, where he met the only woman he ever married. With her he had five children, one of whom died as a baby. 

Landscaping businesses came (and went), as well as Christmas tree lots he staffed with his children before his wife divorced him. He clerked in a hardware store, offered DJ services for weddings, and held numerous short-lived jobs due to his intolerance for being told what to do.

 Natively creative, at midlife Jerry learned to paint from TV instructor Bill Alexander and, always with an eye on the main chance, schemed to sell prints of the results. His animal paintings retained a naïve charm––a wolf peering between trees stays with this viewer––but the landscapes were little better than paint-by-number. 

Casinos were Jerry’s delight. Like his early American ancestors who crossed the Appalachians (governments be damned), geography posed no impediment. When he could no longer drive a car, he rode his electric scooter down the highway to a bus stop that would start him on a half-day’s journey, via two buses and a train, to his favorite gambling establishment. The Coon Rapids city council showed a video of this risky behavior to demonstrate successfully the need to install a sidewalk. 

As Jerry lay dying, those of his children who would still visit went through his photographs. He looked happiest posing for Polaroids with showgirls. The showgirls were paid, of course. While he fancied himself a Casanova, most women tried to keep a solid object between themselves and him. 

His daughter spoke regretfully of the loss of a baby photo of her that had won a Beautiful Baby contest. It had been among the contents of a storage locker Jerry couldn’t pay for during a time he was living in his car. Jerry had regretted the loss of a riding lawnmower more. 

Alcohol plagued the bloodline. Long before Twelve Step programs, one matriarch in the hills of Missouri, frustrated with her son coming home blind drunk again, sewed the unconscious young man in a sheet and beat him with a stick.
But the family was also long-lived and tough as mules. After a lifetime of drinking and smoking, Jerry developed throat cancer, the treatment of which damaged his ability to swallow. He survived for years largely on bourbon and popsicles.

After his death, his daughter called her father’s sister. Jerry had scorned his only sibling's life as boring, not like the “adventurous” life he’d bragged of leading. The likes of her—spending her retirement years attending Bible study groups and her grandchildrens’ activities––would never make the History Channel. 

“Well,” Jerry’s sister said to her niece, “he may not have been the brother and father we wish he’d been. But,” she summed up, “ he was the only brother and father we had.”

The daughter saved a few things to remember her father by:
A weather thermometer shaped like a horse’s head, from St. Joseph, Missouri, home of the Pony Express and the city where Jerry’s father had spent his working life in a slaughterhouse, stunning cattle with a mallet.  
A copy of a novel, Hannibal’s Elephants, withdrawn from a library in 1956, with a garishly illustrated cover. 
The traveling box of plastic, magnetic chessmen, one split metal edge covered with Scotch tape, that Jerry carried everywhere in hopes of a game. It was the one game he didn’t even need to bet on to enjoy.
Jerry and his dog Jip

Friday, January 15, 2016


A couple days ago, I'd stopped with bink at her dad's apartment, which she's cleaning out, and there I spotted on a chair a shirt  whose color matched that of a ripped jacket I'd volunteered to mend for M., a fellow regular at the coffee shop. 
bink said I was welcome to the shirt.

Even though half the jacket front was shredded, 
M. told me he likes to wear it to do maintenance work and he didn't care at all if the patch matched. 

You can see the plaids are way different sizes >
but the colors are close.

bink's back at hospice with her dying dad again today, and this morning I gave the mended jacket back to M., who declared it "perfect!" (I believe him by his smile.)

Sad to say, one of the things that's so hard about being with bink's dad as he dies is that he was, frankly, one of the most selfish people I've ever encountered.  
His dying, while mercifully peaceful, physically, is rather bleak, emotionally. 

I find it a bit of grace that his shirt, at least, serves to mend a rip.