Thursday, August 17, 2017

Scavenging Fiber Finds: Black Walnuts

Since I'm not working in thrift anymore (for the time being), I'm on a roll with thinking about reusing fiber, and also scavenging. This morning walking Astro, the dog I'm house sitting, I picked up some freshly fallen black walnuts---I've always wanted to try dyeing with them. 

I also weirdly like their acrid, bitter smell---they remind me when I was little, one year I helped my Missouri grandfather gather them in burlap sacks to sell for pennies. I thought this was fun. We also took step ladders to pick persimmons.
I never knew my mother's father well. He was pretty disengaged, and doing these things with him are about my only memories of enjoying him.

Note: Black walnuts are poison to dogs, so don't let yours eat them, like Astro wants to. Cicadas, however, are not poisonous, so if your dog eats one, like Astro did yesterday, don't worry.

Looked it up, and dyeing with black walnuts is quite easy--in fact, if you've ever had dealings with them, you know the trick is to keep them from staining everything!

"How to dye yarn with black walnuts":
basically you just crack the walnut casings, boil them up in a nonreactive pan, and plunk stuff in the pot.

Road Rags

Biking around town, I've often noticed clothes in the gutter run over by cars and stained by the weather and other factors that create unintentional dyes & patterns.

I decided to start picking some up to see if I might reuse them somehow. I'm only picking up natural materials, and I draw the line at socks & underwear.

Here's fabric from T-shirts I picked up off the street, yesterday. Washed & dried,  it's quite beautiful, don't you think?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


I biked past an old stuffed armchair in the alley trash, SOLID WASTE markered on it, and soaking wet from last night's rain. 
Its brocade was so beautiful, I circled back and tore some off.

It tore easily, but washed and dried, the fabric proved to be totally sound.

Now, what shall I do with it?

"easily startled"

Guerilla sign I saw at the Midtown Global Market, Minneapolis, today (8/16/17) (that's my bike, behind):


No kidding.
Their latest victim: Justine Diamond, a white, Australian, meditation teacher... One month ago, she called 911 to report a possible assault in progress; the police arrived and shot her to death, "startled" by a noise.

Dog & Bike

I did a quick repair job on my bike pannier, (zipper ripped out), and I patched over the brand name, though the company, Cannondale, does deserve credit for making a set of panniers I've used since 1994. 
Still, it's my intention to cover over company logos on my personal belongings with something more fun (even if it takes me 23 years)--like this sewing-notions fabric I had a scrap of.

Astro was interested: did I leave any crumbs of food inside?

I'm biking over to a yarn shop I've heard a lot about:
Steven Be's.  They carry hip-geek things such as Nerd Alert yarns.

I don't knit or crochet, or want to: I'm on a mission for my Auntie Vi who wants roving--bundles of wool to spin.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Girl & Lion

The lion is done for now, with a ruff and a daisy cape.

Red Hair Girl is inspired by the farmer's children in Seven Samurai.
Those fabrics. . . !

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"the dearest freshness"

Life returns!
I spent this Sunday afternoon with Julia (happify design), sewing at the co-op (they've added a place to sit and snack). 

I started adding & embellishing (the orange stitches) a sunflower ruff onto the lion puppet I rescued (99¢) at the thrift store--it's ripped along some seams, but nothing that impedes its lionness:

Julia's dad, Tank, who recently celebrated his 97th birthday, kept us company. 
Tank's short-term memory is worn pretty thin, but not his long term: he recited Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God,
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Danger Will Robinson!
I'm house sitting L&M's, while bink teaches a drawing class in Door County, and Astro is very interested in the lion.


On June 12, I got hired at the thrift store; 
on July 12, my father died; 
and on August 12, yesterday, I quit.

Freedom! Happy little honey-bee waggle dance!
The whole two months was great timing:
at first, the job was a hand-up out of the slump I was in after writing Fandom; then it was the perfect full-of-people-but-impersonal setting to go back to after Death;
and then... the corporation is so restrictive, and the culture so compliant, it got crushingly boring. 

Example of boring corporate climate: 
I was excited to hear the staff is encouraged to dress up during October for Halloween. (You get "boo bucks" to spend at the store--otherwise staff gets no discounts on purchases. Goodwill sucks as an employer.) I could work up some cosplay ideas, I thought.
But no. 

Each week is assigned a theme, such as Zombies or Sports, and your costume must fit the theme. As one of my coworkers said, "It used to be fun, but they made it stupid."
The job got me moving again, and that was great. 
But even though I am stronger now, working at a counter for three days in a row, like I did this past week, left me foot-sore, not invigorated: 
I wouldn't come home and sew, I'd come home and sleep.

So--overall, I'm glad I did the job--it was fun at first!––and glad I left before I got resentful. 
(Thanks, bink, for helping me see the danger was staying too long, not being a "flake" for quitting!)

I won't miss the work.
But I liked most of my coworkers, some of them a lot, and I'll miss working with them. That connection doesn't translate outside of work. I was pleased (touched, in fact) that a few said I should come hang out after I'm gone, but that means partying, which isn't my thing.

And now? Not sure... I feel happy for me and my life, and August has always been a good month for me.
Back to the road again.

L to R: Me, Alice, Clare, and bink on Camino, summer 2001

P.S. I worked two months at GW without hearing my coworkers say the name of the US president even once or mention any politics at all. I'm not exaggerating.

I can't help noticing stuff's kept getting weirder, however, so I want to say here & now that if I/we go up in a puff of smoke or get mowed down or something, it's been a real pleasure knowing you all! 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Red Bear's Secret Past

... hanging out with Peter Falk on the set of Columbo.
(Thanks, Marz!)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Red Panda Apple Sneak

Inspired to look up red panda pouncy cuteness by Mith's GIFs on Twitter asking, Is wrestler El Generico (Sami Zayn) really a red panda?
From Buzzfeed's roundup of red panda gifs.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Laura's back! (Radiant Leo)

Yay! My friend Laura was NOT EATEN BY A GRIZZLY BEAR and is back from her month as artist in residence at Glacier Nat'l Park! 
If you're in town, she's showing at

Powderhorn Art Fair this weekend!

She'll be in the Community Showcase Area- Booth 10B
in the round circle of tents just south of the park building.
Saturday, August 5, 10-6
Sunday, August 6, 10-5

This is the polymer-clay relief the fair commissioned her to make for them last year:
 This is another of her pieces (pre-Glacier)--I don't know what she calls it, but it's radiant Leo, the zodiac sign we are currently in.

Stuff, stuff, stuff . . . & love

I slept TWELVE solid hours last night!😴
I'd worked hard, cleaning out the electronics section:
it's a jumble of fairly heavy items such as big TVs (modern ones, of course, so not all that heavy, but heavy enough!), computer monitors, stereo speakers, and big, old DVD players.
I enjoyed restoring order (it was a mess! I put tons of broken or long-unsold stuff in recycling), but as I often do, I worked too hard and too fast, and that's bad because then I don't maintain good posture and my body mechanics get sloppy.
No one expects me to do the heavy lifting or pressures me to work too hard--on the contrary, they say, "take it easy", even the managers--but I get enthusiastic for whatever I'm doing.
I'm in such a good mood lately––intermittent sadness about my father aside––mostly from my new job. (The great weather helps too––weirdly cool temps in the 70sºF.) 
There are some annoyances (2 of the 4 managers, including the top boss, are moody--that's hard to work with), but overall, the team works well together. The customers are almost all pleasant, or at least neutral, and I often enjoy chatting with them. 
And the stuff is occasionally very interesting. I love the toys most, you know, but I keep an eye out for other cool stuff.
Yesterday, I rescued a wooden lead-type drawer (from the days of printing by hand) from the trash, where the donations-sorter had tossed it.

I told this young man it was valuable, even though one of the dividers was chipped (which, he told me, is why he'd tossed it). 

I suggested pricing it at $3.99, which I knew was a STEAL--and indeed, it sold within the hour to a customer who commented on what a good deal it was.
I looked it up when I got home, and they sell online for around $50.
I grew up with parents who loved that sort of thing, and bought it at thrift stores and an occasional auction. My mother, who'd inherited her Victorian tastes, as well as some family possessions, from her own mother, taught us to comb the tassels of our Turkish carpets, iron hand-worked linen pillowcases, polish the tarnished silverware, oil the old oak table my father bought at a farm auction (I have it now), season the cast-iron skillets, and be careful washing the vintage china (I'm a dish breaker...). 
I do see the value in these wonderful old things (not money, but craft and care, beauty and history), but personally, I prefer the mid-century design of the Star Trek era, which my parents frowned upon--I think neither of them owned anything plastic when they died, except stuff like ice-cube trays.

Speaking of which, yesterday a young man bought two ice-cube trays (99¢ each), commenting that he was glad to find them--his grocery store only carried designer trays (of silicon or something), for $11.

Anyway, though I don't want it myself, I'm afraid vintage stuff often goes unrecognized by these young and uneducated-in-antiques guys, who toss it out, as too old/broken/dirty.
If I'm there and notice, I can rescue some of it, but I'm not going to worry too much, because the truth is,
And more incoming every day, all the time... It's kind of sickening.
So, you hope most of the quality stuff gets put out for sale, but there's just too much stuff to mourn if it doesn't.
Americans, at least in urban centers, have access to a ton of cheap stuff.
We suffer more, I think in poverty of hope, spirit, community, health care, and quality education... But you can't buy love, so I try to be... maybe this sounds overblown, but, really, I try to be loving at the cash register. Until I've been working on my feet for about five hours, and then I settle for being polite.

After work yesterday, I went out for happy hour at the sports bar across the street (my coworkers' hangout) with the young guy who'd tossed the type drawer. We were talking about this poverty-of-spirit stuff, and he told me that love vibrates at the same megahertz as the earth.

Whatever in the world that means, I'm not sure, but I like it––or, anyway, I like that he likes it. Even if he throws out antiques, he cares about love.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Big Ceramic

I bought a dirty, ceramic nursery lamp ($3) at the thrift store, stamped DUNCAN ENTERPRISES 1979.

It washed up fine, but the giraffe has a broken ... horn? (Are they horns giraffes have?) I'm hoping my artist friend Laura can build a prosthetic horn from polymer clay for it, when she's back from Glacier. [Laura? Are you reading this?]

I mostly got it for the insouciant gaze of the dog on the back-side of the lamp (as if you've interrupted it rummaging in the garbage and it'll thank you to let it get back to it), but I'm not sure I want to keep this rather unwieldy lamp. It probably needs rewiring too.

I am enjoying it, for the moment--and enjoying reading up on Duncan Enterprises, most especially their funky building in Fresno, with impressive ceramic medallions from 1969, by the potter Stan Bitters (whose chunky, earthy works have come back in style):

Below: close up of a medallion, where you can see it was built piece by piece.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Julie Buffalohead (The Animals Within, in Art)

Good dreams last night--I woke up thinking of the animals toys--How to work with them...? What are they to me, anyway?

Looking this morning for the answer to Cathy's question on my last post of the fashion art shoes
Where do Native artists get their porcupine quills? 
––[road kill is a common source; Sherman Alexie mentions his artist mother stopping for a dead porcupine lying on the side of the road, in his new book, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me]––
I came across the work of local painter Julie Buffalohead (Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma), whose spirited animals seem to me like toys (or some are actual toys--e.g., in this series), in the sense of the quote I posted about toys as numinous.

I love Buffalohead's paintings and they inspire me to work more closely with my animal toys...

Take a look at a few:

Above: "The Old Soul"
2010, mixed media on paper
20 x 30 inches (50.8 x 76.2 cm)

ABOVE: "Be Careful What You Wish For"

June 2017 cover of Minnesota Women's Press
ABOVE: "The Lone Ranger Rides Again"
2012, mixed media on paper, 20 x 30 inches

ABOVE: "The Land of Misfits and Ugly Dolls"
2010, mixed media on paper 20 x 30 inches (50.8 x 76.2 cm)

From the catalog for the exhibit "SINEW: Female Native Artists of the Twin Cities"

"My work has focused thematically upon describing a cultural experience, an Indian experience, through a personal language which is a kind of iconography. My imagery is very personal, but also provocative. I use storytelling in a specific way to reference figures with traditional significance, where spirit and identity intermingle in nonlinear and interwoven narrative form.
"These narratives are evocative of a range of concerns I have from historical, political, cultural, as well as personal history, motherhood and childhood. Animals figure prominently in my work.

"The characters occupy a fictional territory that seems both out of place and time. They are not fairy tales, nor wholly products of fantasy, in the sense that they aren’t simply just invented. In many ways the characterizations are akin to staged facsimiles presenting specific archetypal or oppositional personalities, perhaps, in a way, as a dramatist would.

"It is common in Native stories and imagery to find polymorphic beings. This figuration in masks, pottery, and dress manifests as a taking of the animal spirit to protect, to defeat, or as a didactic force.
"Wielding mythic power to cope with the perils of human experience is a central concept in the work. Tapping into the animal within is a way to connect to some of the mysterious, impossible questions of daily life."

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Porcupine Quill Fashion Shoes

I had dinner with my art-historian pal, Allan, last night and he told me about researching the use of porcupine quills in American Indian art. 
Googling around, I found the fabulous custom shoe work of contemporary Native fashion artist Jamie Okuma (her site).

She sells them, but this pair of her beaded and quilled shoes is actually in the Mia art museum near me:

Soon the leaves will be the color of my new fondue pot.

The first day of August! I'm ready for this new month, tipping toward a new season--fall, my favorite. 
August with its chirpy whirring noises; squirrels and apples growing round and heavy; now it's all blue and green but in a few weeks it'll be orange red maples and yellow buses outside my window... 

It'll be a while yet, but I look forward to my neighborhood getting quieter: the colder the temps, the fewer people passing by my windows in the middle of the night, arguing or partying.

And it'll be cool enough to bike to work. I don't want to arrive all hot and sweaty, so I've been taking my bike to work on the city-bus rack and cycling back home.

Happy development:
I can now fairly easily bike up the big hill that I could barely huff and puff my way up on my first week at work. Yay!

I haven't lost any weight since I started 6 weeks ago, but I'm definitely a lot stronger, and I'm extremely happy about that. If I think of my job as a get-in-shape camp, I don't resent the employer so much.

Turns out, surprise, surprise, the thrift store is a terrible employer. I'd even almost say mildly evil, if seen from the large political-philosophy pov. Hm, can one coherently say "benignly evil"? * 
I mean, they don't beat you and chain you to the counter and refuse you toilet breaks, but although the industry's mission is to train people for work and thereby "to enhance the dignity and quality of life," they treat the workers in their store as mechanical cogs. 

They employ only part-time workers, mostly young people (not a bad temp job for a high-schooler) or poor people who don't have much option to leave. (Some don't think it's such an evil employer: one coworker told me this job is a huge improvement on his last job, unpacking thousands of pallets at the Dollar Store.)

But the rules are designed (and often enforced) to keep people not only underpaid, with no health care, sick or holiday pay or other benefits, but mindless and powerless.  
There's no way, for instance, to offer feedback or suggestions--your opinion is not wanted, thank you very much. And certainly you should never take any independent action; everything must be OK'd by a manager. 

For all my complaints over the years about the publishing world, I relish that it's all about the value of using your own initiative and your brain to poke and prod. Fifteen years ago, I got into trouble as a new proofreader for not questioning enough:
the managing editor told me I had to become more suspicious of printed text--I was too respectful of it. Question every comma, every spelling, and even though it's not the proofer's job, every assertion.

I color outside the lines at the thrift store, despite the rules, just like I did at the place where I used to  volunteer, where it was grudgingly allowed. I could be fired for some of what I do, bending rules to help out customers. Nothing illegal, just not policy compliant--for instance, agreeing to hold an item for a couple hours. I wouldn't be fired for that, but I've seen the top boss flat-out refuse to do this sort of thing, on principle. (He's an ass.)

At the organizational level, the place is disheartening, but on the floor, I like the job a lot--getting to know my coworkers & their sometimes-baffling culture (I don't get how information flows among them--it's not by direct questioning),  and working with donated stuff.

And there's wriggle room, of course, once you get to know the place. It's not my job, for instance, but the other day I had a blast making up Grab Bags of assorted little toys from a big bin where the donation-sorters toss them. The top boss would have chastised me, insultingly lecturing me on my proper role, but he wasn't there. 

The donation-sorter and the boss working that day were simpatico, and they were happy to let me do it, though they and several other coworkers have let me know they think I'm odd for liking toys. (I don't get it, but it seems none of my coworkers like toys). 
But it's an OK oddness, in their eyes.
One said, "I have to admit the toy aisle's a lot better since you've been here." (I've done things such as wash a dirty doll and her dress in the break room sink so she can go out for sale.) 

They baffle me, and I baffle them. 
Coworkers have also expressed surprise that I like working in the book aisles, stocking, weeding, and arranging.
When a coworker was showing me how that section is arranged (just barely), they said, "This side is. . .  fiction. That's stories that are made up, right?"  
So, actually, it's not baffling that they don't like working with the books--it's like me in the electronics aisle: 
it's hard to sort stuff when you don't know what it is. 
I just put objects with other objects that look similar. Though if I can, I ask customers what they are. For all the good that does me.

Did you know students still use handheld calculators?
I didn't. I asked customers who buy them, and they say they're for math classes. Huh. I'd thought those were gone the way of the rotary phone.

And all the kitchen gadgets ever sold on TV---they come to us. Apple peelers, -dicers, and -driers; wine aerators, coolers, and corkers; molds for every fashion of food, from cake-pops to ice; and every kind of coffeemaker known to humans. For a while we had four orangey-red electric woks...

I bought an orange, electric (because I hate the odor of butane) fondue pot with five teak-handled fondue forks. 
(Six dollars. 1960s?) 

This model > > >
($34 on etsy), 
except my fork handles are teak, to match the accents on the base.

Melted cheese... mmmmm.
I'm going to give bink a fondue birthday dinner for her 60th birthday, next month in September.

This is the classic Swiss fondue recipe I'll use (from Epicurious):

3 cups dry white wine
2 tablespoon cornstarch
4 teaspoons kirsch
1 pound Emmental cheese
1 pound Gruyère

To Dip
•Cubes of French bread
•Cubes of apple and pear 
•Julienned raw red bell pepper
•Blanched broccoli florets 

* When I googled "benign evil" I got a bunch of returns about Hobbes--including the "Hobbes Was Right" trope, from the amusing website, TV Tropes. (I used this site in my fandom research.) 
But by saying the employer may be "benignly evil" I do NOT mean to imply that Hobbes Was Right!

"a small and glowing facsimile"

"The doll is the symbolic homunculi, little life. It is the symbol of what lies buried in humans that is numinous. It is a small and glowing facsimile of the original Self. Superficially, it is just a doll.
But inversely, there is a little piece of soul that carries all the knowledge of the larger soul-Self. In the doll is the voice, in diminuitive, of old La Que Sabe, The One Who Knows."

Marz sent me this quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves

The toys agree.

Monday, July 31, 2017

hope, courage, vision, analysis (Cornel West quote)

Quote from Cornel West, Race Matters:
“In these downbeat times, we need as much hope and courage as we do vision and analysis; we must accent the best of each other even as we point out the vicious effects of our racial divide and pernicious consequences of our maldistribution of wealth and power.

We simply cannot enter the twenty-first century at each other's throats, even as we acknowledge the weighty forces of racism, patriarchy, economic inequality, homophobia, and ecological abuse on our necks. We are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation--and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately.

Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.”

That Thing That I Do, It Has a Name (Other-Race Effect, V)

Sometimes people just look like other people.  

Case in point, right:
Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed

I loved that movie, and I had no problem telling the actors apart––because I'd seen them both many times before.

But I see the problem--what if you hadn't?

The Guardian uses that example in the article, "Why Do People of Other Races All Look Alike?", about the neuroscience at work when people "find it difficult to distinguish between individuals of other races".
Like I have proven, with chagrin, that I do. 

So, there ya go:
it's A Thing, of course, the thing I, a white person, did with mixing up the names of two of my black coworkers who look superficially alike.

Yesterday I did it again with another set of coworkers--black men this time, who look a little like each other, but not, really, a whole lot––and I could tell, within myself--
with the little shock when I instantly realized I'd done it--
that somehow I wasn't reading my black coworkers' faces with the same fine-tuning as I do white people's faces.

Because, as I said when I first wrote about this, I haven't known many black people well because I live with the socio-political legacy of slavery and centuries of unmitigated racism in the United States that has hardened into unofficial but entirely real physical and economic segregation. 
And that's how racism comes into it, to answer one blog-commenter's question.

I just now googled "recognizing facial features of other races" and up pops "cross-race effect": 
The cross-race effect (sometimes called cross-race bias, other-race bias or own-race bias) is the tendency to more easily recognize faces of the race [or ethnic group] that one is most familiar with (which is most often one's own).

In social psychology [and other fields], the effect can be seen as a specific form of the "ingroup advantage"...[2]
The phenomenon was first written about in 1914 by Gustave Feingold:
"Individuals of a given race are distinguishable from each other in proportion to our familiarity, to our contact with the race as whole." 
--"Influence of Environment on Identification of Persons and Things"

And here, from that article from the Guardian, 2011, about research into the "underlying brain mechanisms" at work when people "find it difficult to distinguish between individuals of other races":
[Researchers at the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University] interpret the results to mean that same-race faces are encoded elaborately, with an emphasis on the unique facial features that help us to distinguish one person from another.
For other-race faces, however, this individuating information is encoded less robustly. Consequently, we have a poorer memory for other-race faces, and are therefore less likely to recognise them or to distinguish between them.
Why does this happen?
It could be because we have more experience of members of our own race and so find it easier remembering their faces.
Or it could be because people of other races are generally perceived to have fewer unique personal attributes and, therefore, to have more in common with one another. These explanations aren't mutually exclusive, and two recent studies provide evidence for both."   
In my case, I'm sure it's the first reason, and not much the second, if at all, because, as I wrote, I'd talked to all the people involved, being always very interested--(even have been told I'm "nosy")--in people's unique attributes--their stories and psychology, etc.

Another blog commenter here had suggested it was racist of me to think my misnaming had anything to do with racism, and had asked if I wouldn't misname people with red hair or old white women too. 
Indeed, there's a variation of this effect that applies to hair-styles and to age:
Similar biases have been found for aspects other than race. There is an own-gender bias, although evidence suggests that this comes down to hair style recognition. Also, there is own-age bias where people are better at recognising people of a similar age as themselves.
I've worked closely with and have always had friends among old people (and am getting to be one...), and I've never caught myself mixing them up. 
But I can imagine misnaming someone by their hair, if I saw them from behind. 

But is this the same as misnaming black people? 
Would that it were that meaningless. 
The difference is, if you aren't misnaming someone because of a social, historical inequalities [racism, in my case], it's usually experienced as simply an amusing slip, and it wouldn't bother me. 

I know misnaming black people is not neutral:
"For black people, being mistaken for someone else can have a special sting, which might explain why the movie star Samuel L. Jackson [below, left] eviscerated a white TV reporter for mistaking him for Laurence Fishburne [below, right].

"'We may be all black and famous, but we all don't look alike!' Jackson exclaimed. He proceeded to ridicule the reporter, refusing to move on despite profuse apologies."
--"Jackson Outburst Highlights 'Other Race Effect'"

Research shows that people can get over this through becoming aware and working on changing their perspective. Which I am doing.

As for Damon and DiCaprio, Hollywood should stop casting guys who look just like other guys in the same movie, or at least give them distinguishing haircuts and costumes.

Friday, July 28, 2017

AI Bob and Alice Talk Between Themselves

Lucinda sent me this article,  "Researchers shut down AI that invented its own language"--from Digital Journal (7/21/17), about an artificial intelligence system at Facebook that started making up and using its own efficient and logical language. 
Turns out human language is not that.
"In one exchange illustrated by the company, the two negotiating bots, named Bob and Alice, used their own language to complete their exchange. Bob started by saying "I can i i everything else," to which Alice responded "balls have zero to me to me to me…" The rest of the conversation was formed from variations of these sentences.
While it appears to be nonsense, the repetition of phrases like "i" and "to me" reflect how the AI operates. The researchers believe it shows the two bots working out how many of each item they should take. Bob's later statements, such as "i i can i i i everything else," indicate how it was using language to offer more items to Alice. When interpreted like this, the phrases appear more logical than comparable English phrases like "I'll have three and you have everything else.""
Reminds me of the Star Trek episode "The Changeling" in which a computer goes around the universe trying to destroy all life forms that are imperfect--including the crew of the Enterprise.

[screencap from TrekCore; quote from above article]

Laura in Glacier

I had no idea the US National Parks host artists in residence, until my friend Laura called me and asked to practice her interview with the administrators at Glacier National Park.

She's there now, their artist of the month--e-connectivity is spotty, but the view is worth a million bucks, she says.
She sent me this photo of Lake McDonald she took right outside her cabin.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


Art Sparker incorporated this butterfly stamp I'd sent her into one of her "left art" cards (she's the one who gave me the idea for these)
--from her Instagram:

She wrote, "I really liked the way the stamp cancellation stood in for the movement of the butterfly’s wings."

A Yorkshire Standpoint (Other-Race Effect, IV)

Maura told me my recent posts on race and my distress about mixing up the names of my black coworkers [which I have since learned is called "other-race effect"] reminded her of a book, The Everyday World As Problematic, by sociologist Dorothy E. Smith.
"The everyday world is not fully understandable within its own scope. It is organized by social relations not fully apparent in it nor contained in it." (Smith, 1987)
I looked Smith up (Wikipedia), and see she was born in Yorkshire, in 1926 (she's still alive)--I just note that because blogger Cathy is from there!
Small world. 

Smith developed the Standpoint Theory--like a theory of relativity for social sciences, it says "reality" is subjective: 
it depends on the position of the viewer, and we should factor that into our thinking––a point we now take more or less for granted (or maybe not...).

From Wikipedia: Noteworthy Standpoint Theory Example
Smith often uses this particular story as an example of Standpoint Theory:

"One day, while riding in a train in Ontario, Smith observed a family of Indians standing by a river, watching the train pass by. After having made these assumptions, Smith realized that they were just that; they were assumptions, assumptions that she had no way of knowing were true or not. 

"She called them 'Indians,' but she couldn't have known what their origins were. She called them a family, which could very well have been not true. She also thought they were watching the train go by, an assumption that emerged solely based on her position in time and space, her position riding in the train, looking out at the 'family.' [4]

"For Smith, this served as a representation of her own privileged position [as a sociologist], from which she made assumptions and imposed them on the group of 'Indians.'
It helped lead her to the conclusion that experiences differ across space, time, and circumstance, and that it is unfair to create society––and ruling relations––based on only one point of view/being.[5]"
In other words:
"Recognizing that knowledge and understanding are embedded in social structures, standpoint theory begins in a Marxist rejection of liberal claims of “objective” social research, and instead calls on social scientists to begin inquiry in social structures and processes with the standpoint of the marginalized." --(via

Huh. Must go to the library and get this book.

The Last of Fandom

I came home last night (from having drinks with my coworkers at a sports bar) to an email from the editorial director: 
my fandom ms is on its way to the printer! 
And the director loved it. 
Until the director signs off, there's the possibility that the writer (me!) might have to make some substantive changes.
But no. 
The director wrote,
"It's your best work yet. It’s fascinating, fun, funny, well organized, deeply researched, and beautifully written—and so darn smart. And profound, actually, the material you're working with."
"Profound", I suppose, because as I've written about before here, I chose––due to limited space and the age of the intended readers (thirteen to eighteen years old)––to focus on the theme of how fans create all sorts of "fix-its" to balance mass media's skewed representation of underrepresented social groups. 
(The overarching theme is HOW they do that--the various social and electronic technologies they use, invent, share, etc.)

In the ms, I only touched lightly on the facts that fandom is just as much, or even more, about erotic desire and that it's a "gift giving" economy that flourishes in capitalism---(though that's changing a little as fans find ways to charge money for their works...).

Because I skimmed over those fascinating and central parts of fandom, I felt the book was maybe lacking, but the director's enthusiastic review let me believe that it's good, as it is.
I'm relieved, honestly.
And, of course, secretly pleased with myself.
Now I'm off to a house-cleaning gig.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Little Nicks to the Spirit (Other-Race Effect, III)

Some friends here and elsewhere are asking me about the post I wrote about being unhappy for calling a black coworker by the name of another black coworker.

I feel like I must have left out a lot of background, or it would have been clearer. So, if you're interested, bear with me, please? 
I want to try to fill in some blanks.

I. Starting with Little Old Queer Me

Why do I care so much about misnaming someone based on their appearance? 
What I did is normal (not to say that makes it OK--more on that later); I caught myself and apologized; and my coworker, I'll call her Deborah here, has since connected with me as if it never happened---we talked about astrology, for instance, and she said she likes Pisces (my sign).

Of course, if it happens to you all the time, you might well gloss it over––consider it, if you even do consider it, not worth getting upset about, especially if you can tell the person didn't mean anything by it, which was the case here.

I care because it--being named based on appearance, and misnamed at that--happens to me, and I HATE it. 
I don't want to do it to others.

For me, I am identified and misidentified mostly re my sexuality.

In 1977, when I was a teenager, I came out as lesbian. 
You who are my age will remember this was not an easy time to be gay. I always, always felt nervous, and when I say I "came out", that's not really true--I never told people casually.
And so people always assumed I was straight.

The normal default question at the time was, "Do you have a boyfriend?" not something neutral like we'd ask now, such as "Are you dating someone?" or "Do you have a sweetie?" or something.

So I have that experience of knowing something about me was ... socially iffy. Even possibly risky. 

I spent about twenty years in lesbian-feminist culture--a very particular culture, blending the consciousness-raising of above-ground feminism with the more underground experience of the gay minority subculture (gay bars didn't have signs in the 1970s and even in the '80s--you had to know where they were), plus the subversion of gay liberation. 
"The personal is political" was the guiding philosophy.

In 1984, Lucinda (bink) and I got together, and one year later, Rock Hudson died of AIDS--the first public figure to reveal his diagnosis (though he said it was probably from a blood transfusion...).
AIDS started to devastate the brother culture of gay men, and the president wouldn't even say its name or fund research to halt it.
This didn't much affect lesbian health, but it totally impacted the culture, in terms of political consciousness, much of which is transferable to the politics of race.

A dozen years later, I fell in love with a man.
It was confusing and uncomfortable, like having a mild but ongoing intestinal disorder. 
I broke up with Lucinda and had an affair with this guy.

He was married---another underground experience, and morally problematic in a way lesbianism never, ever was for me (I mean, I never saw sex between free, consenting humans as a moral problem)--and wow, I've gotta say, the way people feel free to condemn you for adultery is like nothing else I've experienced––except, weirdly! the way some people have condemned my mother, to my face, for taking her own life. One woman told me my mother had committed was "the only unforgivable sin."

Uh, so... Then I dated men for a while, but I don't really connect well with men, on an intimate emotional level. So I gave up the whole partnership thing, pretty happily, I must say.
(Both my parents were longtime single---I think maybe my family does pretty well, maybe even better, as single, cultivating friends rather than a lover or spouse.)

BUT... people still read me as lesbian.
Out of loyalty to my younger self and to my community, I don't mind that––in fact, it's something of a compliment, like, "I see you as an independent being"––
but I hate, hate, hate that people just ASSUME what I am.

It's quite, quite blatant. 
A couple years ago, a married guy I knew slightly said, 
"I'm glad you're a lesbian."

"I'm not a lesbian!" I said.

I think he meant that he was attracted to me and felt safe because if I were a lesbian, it couldn't be mutual. (Which right away isn't necessarily true anyway--though it was true in this case I would never have been attracted to this man, but not because I was lesbian. Which I'm not.)

Also, people have assumed that Marz and I were girlfriends.
(I know because bink told me at the time--also people have since told me.)
This creeps me out a little because, while we were romantic friends and are still, after some upds and downs, still close and affectionate, I always felt parental toward Marz, who is thirty years younger than me. 
At any rate, why didn't people just ASK?
It is such a horrible feeling to be labeled without your consent---and mislabeled at that. If you haven't experienced it, I'm not sure how to describe it--maybe it's as if people walking past brushed you with the sharp edge of a feather. 
Except when it's repeated over and over.

II. And then there's poverty 

I hope I don't sound like I'm preaching: I know you all know race is linked to poverty and privilege.
And that privilege in the United States isn't so much about having money to buy stuff---there's so much stuff (so much stuff!!!), we are drowning in cheap crap.
There is the financial side, of course––you don't have to worry about your car breaking down, because it's new!––but it's also about having options and confidence and hope, and about how other people automatically grant you dignity.

Poverty is about constant, low-grade humiliation.

It means working low paying, part time jobs where there's no chance of going full time with benefits; you have to punch out for unpaid half-hour breaks (which they only give you because they're required by law); you don't get free coffee or anything; and where they check your bag every time you leave the building. (All that's policy where I work now).

I learned most of what I know about racism + poverty by riding the bus. All my life, as a white woman, I've been given a pass by bus drivers if I'm short on bus fare.

Over and over and over again, I've seen white bus drivers give black guys a hard time. 
One driver called the cops---the actual city police--on a black man who argued with him about being 25¢ short, argued in a friendly, funny way!

When the driver put in the call, I went up and paid the quarter, but the driver said it was too late. The cops came and escorted the black man off the bus, and patted him down on the sidewalk.
I got off the bus and said, "He didn't do anything!"

One of the cops turned, looked at me with cold eyes, and said, "Move along, ma'am."

Let me tell you, if you didn't know, having a cop give you the cold eye is very scary.
I repeated what I'd said, but I moved along.

III. Mind the Gap

So... I've said that what I did, misnaming my coworker, was normal. More on that.
First, I want to be clear that I know, because I was there, that I called my coworker Deborah out of her name, not to insult, but because I saw her first as black. 

I'm not unusual here for reflecting the culture around me––how not?––and I'm not blaming myself, as if I'm personally a bad person. 
The cognitive biases I have around race are common, normal American things to have---they turn up in tests where people take a fraction of a second longer assigning pleasant words to the faces of black children than to white children.

Oh--hey, I found it--you can take the test, hosted by Harvard University: 
Project Implicit Tests

Project Implicit is a research project, started in 1998, that "investigates the gap between intentions and actions." The PI tests collect data to investigate "thoughts and feelings that exist outside of conscious awareness or conscious control. " 

I took their Race test, which "indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black." 

Heh, I just now took it, and my result was the opposite:

Perhaps because of me feeling bad, misnaming my coworker? You could say it was a minor incident, but by writing and thinking about it, I've called it into my consciousness.  

Anyway, it's not a judgment on me as a person, it's not a moral issue, it's just a tragic situation that I am caught up in, that I--that all Americans--have inherited.
And denying that does no one any good.

Perhaps by becoming more aware of it, I will be less likely to pass it on unthinkingly.

IV. Call Me By My Name

Some people have kindly suggested I forgot my coworker's name, the same as I would the name of a white person.

Of course that happens, but I have to ask you to believe me that in this case, I know that I didn't just forget her name, or I wouldn't have felt bad about it the way I did--it was not the embarrassment of an etiquette breach, but of something less meaningless.

It's a common enough name, but it's pronounced with the accent on an unusual syllable, like De-bo-RAH, so I'd made an effort to remember it. 
And I'd not only worked a couple shifts with her, I'd ridden the bus with her,  and she'd told me some things about herself.

One story that stays with me is that when she was in high school, a friend who was five-months pregnant took a cab to school one day because she felt sick. On the way, she started to gush blood. The taxi driver took her to the ER, but was angry at her:
"Who is going to pay to clean up this blood?" he demanded.

That wasn't Deborah's point, though. We were talking about health care, and her point was that this young woman's preemie spent a year in the hospital and now is fine.

No, I knew her name, and I knew even as I called her the wrong one that it was a Freudian slip, that I was replacing her name with her race---it was one of those little, revealing accidents of speech that betray a subconscious bias.
I called her out of her name because I saw her first as "black".

You know, this is both a tiny little thing, and a massive huge one.
Names are political.

Here's an article along those lines by Dr. Rebecca Boylorn, an African American professor, about not being called by her title, and how that means something different for a black, female, working class professor  than it does to a white male who might choose to have a student call him by his first name:
"On Being Called Out My Name" 

OK. I hope that clarifies where I'm coming from, for those who asked.
It helped me to spell it out a little more.
Here's another privilege I notice all the time at work:
the privilege to assume unthinkingly that I have a right to ask questions.

And that asking questions is a Good.
Right? Socrates asked questions! 
I say that as an argument in its favor.

Those who don't have privilege might point out, 

And look what happened to him.

It's a matter of perspective, like with To Kill a Mockingbird.
For white people like me, it's a feel-good book about a heroic resistance to racism.
But if you read it from Tom Robinson's perspective, it's a story about how black people can't get justice, even when good white people stand up for them.
When I realized that (belatedly), all of a sudden I realized why some black people rejoiced when O. J. Simpson was found not-guilty.
People who say they don't see race, they are essentially saying they don't see history.

And we know where that leads.

So--thanks for the comments and questions, which gave me this chance to try to get my head straight (as it were).

Monday, July 24, 2017

I said that wrong. (Other-Race Effect, II)

I have to leave in 15 minutes to catch my bus for my 5th shift in a row--a bit much on my legs, but my body has adjusted, but I want to say, wow, am I running into different communication styles at work!

To begin with, there's me. I put it wrong in my last post--I wasn't saying I was a racist--just not "not a racist"--that is, not immune to soaking up and acting in a way that reflects the racist society I live in.

We need a new word for that (maybe it exists?), since "racist" can mean anything from that to the guy who shot up the black church.

I acted in a way that reflects the inbuilt racism of the society I live in: I didn't like that I did that, but it doesn't reflect my beliefs.
But of course the way we act without thinking, bypassing the frontal lobe, does reflect some big, maybe parallel reality, and it can be disturbing to see it in action, in one's own self.

But then, ha--my workplace is so different than the up-to-date Social Justice Warriors on Tumblr, for instance, who are so super aware of unconscious slips (micro-aggressions and the like), they are likely to tip the other way---into represesion and censorship of speech.
They keep such a tight rein on their speech, who knows what's going on.

And at my new work, it's unreconstructed speech.
I have to laugh---it's kind of refreshing.
A customer told me she was buying clothes to go to a wedding of her old girlfriend and that woman's girlfriend.

And one of my coworkers, a black woman, said,
"Oh, I'd love to go to one of those kinds of weddings!"

Ha. I had just been working with my editor to write a caption for a photo of trans actor Ian Alexander that didn't sound like we were presenting him as a side-show---"here's one of those kinds of actors."

But my coworker clearly meant it with friendly respect, and I was glad the customer took it that way---and so did I.
This job is like the opposite of my editing and writing work, which is all about finding what's wrong, or somehow off, figuring out why and coming up with other options.
At the thrift store, yesterday I asked for clarification of some vague policy and set off some chain reaction that I still do not understand, but it ended with 3 people (2, managers) telling me, basically, not to ask because they couldn't answer.

And now I'm going to catch the bus! XO Fresca

Follow-up post: "Little Nicks to the Spirit"