Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The pros and cons of having a system

The other day, I had a day where I felt like I got nothing done.  I kept falling down the internet rabbit hole and getting caught up in gaming and dawdling and procrastinating, and shit just didn't get done.  (Yes, I realize the irony of blogging this not long after a post about how I get shit done.)

As it happened, as part of the internet rabbit hole I fell into, I read no more zero days.  And I realized that, despite feeling like I hadn't gotten anything done, it wasn't a zero day.  I'd done a bit of yoga, showered and done my scheduled beauty routine, read two newspapers, flipped my mattress, taken care of a couple of minor errands, and prepared myself a hot dinner that happened to be reasonably healthy (and ate an assortment of other food that  didn't require preparation, much of which also happened to be reasonably healthy).  Oh, and I worked a full eight-hour workday where I exceeded my quota and promptly responded to all my emails.  Definitely not a zero day!

So why did it feel like I got nothing done?

At the root of all this is my last period of unemployment. I woke up one morning realizing I was teetering on the brink of depression.  My job search thus far had been disheartening, I didn't know how long this period of unemployment would last for, I didn't have the fact of being in school to fall back upon as I had in other periods of unemployment, and I knew that I could very easily fall into despair or inadvertently become fully nocturnal or waste days and days playing computer games without achieving anything.

So I made a system.  I had to spend certain amounts of time each day on certain tasks, or do certain tasks until they got done and/or I accomplished a certain amount.  Many of the tasks were related to my job search, but others were things like exercising, cooking, reading newspapers, reading books, blogging - things that are objectively productive and that I either want to do or I like the idea of being a person who does. (e.g. I don't actually like exercising, but when I tried to think of all the things that an ideal person does, it was on the list.)   Then, once I finished every daily task in my system, I was fully entitled to veg out and game and internet and indulge in all the other sloth I'm naturally inclined towards.

But, in a plot twist that led me to stop and check that this is in fact real life, as I was lying in bed that morning inventing my system, I was interrupted by a phone call offering me my current job!  But I went with the system anyway, adapting it to employment rather than job search, and I've been using it (with some tweaks) ever since.

But, because the system was originally designed for unemployment, it's rather ambitious for a workday. I don't always finish everything, and if I get dawdley I only finish a small fraction.

So the advantage of having a system is that I don't have zero days.  I just mindlessly work  through the system.

But the disadvantage of having a system is that sometimes perfectly adequate days feel like a zero day, because I haven't completed the whole system.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Weird Al

From a New Yorker profile of Weird Al:
With his parodic versions of hit songs, this somehow ageless fifty-four-year-old has become popular not because he is immensely clever—though he can be—but because he embodies how many people feel when confronted with pop music: slightly too old and slightly too square. That feeling never goes away, and neither has Al, who has sold more than twelve million albums since 1979.
Anxiety starts early for pop audiences. For decades, I have had twenty-somethings tell me that they don’t know what’s on the charts, haven’t listened to any new artists since college, and don’t “know anything about music.” They feel confused by how quickly the value of their knowledge of what’s current fades. Weird Al’s songwriting process, almost without exception, is to confront that anxiety and to celebrate it. Yankovic will take a mysterious and masterful song and turn it into something mundane and universal. He makes the grand aspirational concerns of teen-agers in Lorde’s “Royals” into a story that includes a lesson about the hygienic advantage of taking food home in aluminum foil. (You’ll see the rhyme there.) Charli XCX’s boast of being “classic, expensive, you don’t get to touch,” in Azalea’s “Fancy,” becomes an ad for a handyman who can resurface your patio in Yankovic’s “Handy.”
The opening lyrics of “Smells Like Nirvana,” Yankovic’s 1992 version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” are as close to a mission statement as he has: “What is this song all about? Can’t figure any lyrics out. How do the words to it go? I wish you’d tell me, I don’t know.” Weird Al has been cool for so long because pop makes everybody feel uncool; that he is the only one to admit it has made him a pop star.
If I'd seen this theory written about anyone or anything else I'd assume it's bullshit, but that's actually an accurate description of how my Weird Al fandom began, with Smell Like Nirvana.

I was 10 years old when Smells Like Teen Spirit was released and 11 years old when Smells Like Nirvana was released.  I was attending a middle school at the time (Grades 6-8) so I was surrounded by people who were into teen pop culture, but I wasn't quite ready for it myself.  I had absorbed the message from the adults around me that being into teen pop culture was Bad, it was giving in to Peer Pressure, and I wanted to prove to them that I'm Better Than That.

But, at the same time, it was problematic on a social-survival level to be completely unfamiliar with teen pop culture.  You couldn't just walk around having never heard of stuff.

Weird Al provided the perfect solution.  With Smells Like Nirvana, I could be familiar with Nirvana and enjoy how the music rocks without claiming to be a fan.  In fact, I was mocking it - surely something that could be used to demonstrate I'm Better Than That when necessary! But, at the same time, enjoying parody certainly suggests enough familiarity with the original, so I didn't come across as never having heard of stuff. Weird Al allowed me to save face without having to commit to anything (in the bizarre preteen landscape where such things demanded commitment.)

In the years that followed, I would grow into pop culture, and then into the ability to take it or leave it as I pleased, without regard for the opinions of peers and grownups.  But in those few awkward years when I was still muddling through and wasn't quite ready for the pop culture environment inhabited by my peers, Weird Al helped ease the transition for my awkward preteen self.  And, because of that, he will always have a place in my adult self's ipod.

Friday, August 15, 2014

What do you do if someone decides to Talk To you?

With Robin Williams's death in the news, we're seeing a reinvigoration of the notion that if you're feeling depressed or suicidal, you should talk to someone, tell someone.

But what do you do if you're the someone the depressed or suicidal person chooses to talk to?

I totally understand that it's a big deal for the person to work up the nerve to Talk To you, and based on the combination of their impaired state and the cultural/media representation of the importance of Talking To Someone, they'd totally expect the act of Talking To you to trigger the solution.

But I genuinely have no idea what the next step is.  Get Them Help?  How?  I never learned this stuff. They issued my grownup card just because I can translate well and pay my rent on time.  I don't know how to solve real problems.

They really should publicize this information!  If they're going to tell people to Talk To Someone, they also need to tell all the Someones out there what the next couple of steps are!


This also reminds me of when I was a kid, they'd tell you that if you ever find a needle (drug needle, not sewing needle) in the street or the playground, you should tell a grownup.  Fair enough.  But when I got my grownup card, they never told me what to do if someone finds a needle.  I seriously have no idea.


Also, what are you supposed to do when someone comes out to you?  My emotional response is "duly noted" (and perhaps reconsidering any romantic pursuit strategy, as applicable), but what kind of response is actually useful?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams

Normally when someone commits suicide and the people left behind say "He had so much to live for," they mean normal regular everyday people stuff.  He wasn't a total fuck-up and had a moderate amount of success or potential in one or two areas of life and maybe a handful of people who truly loved him and another couple dozen who'd miss him when he's gone.

I'm not going to presume to rule on how much another person does or doesn't have to live for, but what's kind of mindblowing about Robin Williams is he was at a point in his life where he could do whatever he wanted. His status as one of the greats was established and he was, literally, beloved by millions.  He could produce crap for the rest of his career. (Apparently he did produce some crap recently. No one remembers it, and his status as a great is intact.) He could produce nothing ever again. He'd still be one of the greats and beloved by millions.  I'm not even a fan of his (I'm not not a fan, but I've never sought out his work. I've enjoyed my fair share of it, but I've never sought it out.) and, even if he hadn't just died, it wouldn't even occur to me to question his place in the pantheon.

If he'd cheated on his wife or relapsed back into drug use or engaged in various Rob Ford-style antics, the general public would say "Meh, Hollywood. It happens." His place in the pantheon would still be secure.  

If he'd been hard up for money, he could have thrown together a standup tour (it wouldn't even have to be good to make him enough money - then, if necessary, he could made a good tour and have a comeback in a few years) or had his agent call up Disney or Pixar and ask if they wanted Robin Williams to voice the wacky comic relief character in their next movie. He could have made a guest appearance on a sitcom or Whose Line and earned enough to keep body and soul together.  If he'd written a book (or had one ghost-written), people would have bought it. If he'd made a movie, people would have gone to see it. If he'd appeared in a Broadway musical or run for public office or joined Cirque du Soleil, people would tune in to see what happens, and a good number of them would be cheering for him.

People would, quite literally, pay him good money to simply be himself in their presence or on cue. He had secured the love of more people than he could possibly imagine (some of whom, I'm sure, actually cared about him as a person even if the feeling was unrequited) and the respect of exponentially more.  He had more leeway and flexibility and options than most of us can even dream of.

And still, the poor man couldn't find peace.

I hope he's free.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Things They Should Invent Words For: "I don't actually think it's a conspiracy, but it looks exactly like one"

I have contacted Rob Ford in my capacity as a citizen and his capacity as mayor, and not only did he not address the issues I raised, he did the exact opposite.  When, for example, I urged him to save a planned program that was at risk - even presenting my position in his preferred idiom of tax dollars, quantifying the cost to myself monetarily and demonstrating how the cost to me is more than I pay the city in taxes - he cancelled the program in question at literally the first available opportunity.

I am not under the impression that Rob Ford is out to get me.  I know full well that a simple person like me can't possibly be of interest to someone with wealth and influence and a complex life like Rob Ford. However, if Rob Ford did receive my message and said "I want to hurt this lady.  How can I use the information provided here to hurt her as much as possible?", the outcome would have been exactly what it actually was in reality.

They need to invent a word for this concept - when you genuinely don't think it's a conspiracy, but if it were a conspiracy the outcome would be exactly the same as it was in real life.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Why working from home makes me blog less

I have an excellent productivity system when I'm working at home: after producing a certain quantity of work (the quantity depends on the nature of the work) I take a break.  I use these breaks to do things on my non-work to-do list for the day, like reading the newspaper or cleaning the bathtub or putting on makeup. Because the things I do in my break are closed-ended (e.g. I read the newspaper until I'm done reading the newspaper, and I know I'm done because there are no more pages of newspaper) I don't end up procrastinating.  I do my designated quantity of work, I do my defined break task, and then I go straight back to the next designated quantity of work so I can get to my next break.

I respond really well to quantitative objectives tied to rewards like that (i.e. "When you finish X you get to Y"), so I most often stay absolutely on task, briskly and efficiently knocking off my work to-do list and my personal to-do list with no stress.

But, as you've probably noticed, it affects my blogging.

When I was working in the office, I couldn't take productive breaks like that, so I often found myself at my computer trying to get myself to focus again. I'd allow myself a break, but I'd fall down an internet rabbit hole and read something and think of ideas and then my mind would be spinning through all these ideas and they'd produce blog entries.  I'd be trying to buckle down and get myself back to work, but the ideas would just keep spinning through my head so I'd end up having to write them down to copy into my blog when I get home, just to get them out of my head so I'd have room for my work.

Now that I'm working at home and I can effortlessly stay focused and on task, these ideas are no longer in the way.  They're still present (often in the form of bookmarks in my "to blog" folder and half-written notes to self in my blogger drafts), but they sit quietly in the background while I'm working rather than getting in the way and forcing me to get them out of my brain when I really should be doing something else.

Friday, August 01, 2014

High waists and tucked-in shirts

This year I've seen quite a few young women, especially teenagers,wearing high-waisted pants with loose shirts tucked in.  This surprised me because the first fashion I ever became aware of was a move away from high waists and from tucking in shirts.  When I was a child I wore waistbands at my waist because they're called waistbands and tucked my shirt into my pants because I thought that's what people do, but as early as Grade 4 people would make fun of people for doing that, saying it made you look like an old man with hiked-up pants.

I was wondering what people wearing this look think they look like (for instance, I think my untucked shirt and lower waist elongates my torso), and I recently had an opportunity to ask when the topic came up in an online community.  To my utter shock, Kids Today seem to think it's a 90s retro look!

In my experience as a teenager in the 90s, while high waists and tucked in shirts did exist, they weren't a deliberate look that people wore for fashion purposes.  They were something that people wore because they weren't super fashionable or that's what they were used to or that's what they had in their closet or the dress code required tucking your shirt in.  Before shirts got narrow, we'd tuck just the very very hem of our baggy 80s-style t-shirts into our waistband and pull as much of it out as possible in an attempt to emulate the look of an untucked shirt.  (The only reason why we didn't just untuck completely was either because baggy 80s-style t-shirts sometimes completely concealed the fact that you're wearing shorts, making it look like you're walking around in just a t-shirt, or because the shirt simply didn't drape well and made you look disproportionately fat.  But since the 90s narrowing of shirts, a reasonable proportion of shirts - even looser styles - have draped well enough that they don't need tucking.)  And even before hiphuggers arrived in the mid-90s, we'd wear our jeans (tailored for the waist) as low as physically possible.  A waistband that rose above your belly button was considered a major faux pas!

Basically, if someone was wearing high-waisted jeans with a tucked-in shirt, they either failed at their fashion attempt or weren't trying at all.  It certainly wasn't an on-trend fashion statement!

Analogy: I'm walking around in the year 2014 in boot-cut jeans because I don't feel good in skinny jeans.  But that doesn't mean that boot-cut jeans are representative of 2014 fashion.  They're a deliberate opt-out of the current trend, a throwback to my high-school days that I retain because I feel that it's more flattering to my figure, and I'd never expect a teenager finding their way into fashion for the first time to wear them.  So if 20 years from now someone wore boot cut jeans in an attempt to be early-2010s retro, they'd be doin' in wrong.

This makes me wonder if any of my various attempts to be retro have so egregiously misfired.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Books read in July 2014


1. Love and Forgetting: A husband and wife's journey through dementia by Julie Macfie Sobol & Ken Sobol
2. The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen's Childhood by Marion Crawford (the Queen's former governess!)
3. Miss Manners Minds Your Business by Judith Martin and Nicholas Ivor Martin
4. Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain by Lucy Lethbridge


1. Eternity in Death
2. Creation in Death

Monday, July 28, 2014

Journalism Wanted: why don't doctors who don't want to prescribe contraception join another field of medicine?

There was recently a story in the news where a walk-in clinic doctor wouldn't prescribe birth control because he had moral objections to it.

All this coverage would have benefited from an interview with the doctor in question, or others like him, shedding light on their internal reasoning for choosing this medical specialty.

As we've discussed before, approximately one third of all Canadians use prescription contraception.  That means that any given doctor working in family practice or a clinic can expect one third of all their patients to come in at least once a year asking for contraception.

If you're morally opposed to providing contraception, why would you pursue a line of work where one third of your clientele is going to ask for something you're morally opposed to?

There are many fields of medicine where contraception is not going to come up at all. Gerontology, podiatry, oncology, pediatrics, palliative care, otolaryngology, gastroenterology, cardiology, pulmonology, hematology, and I'm sure many other kinds of medicine whose existence I've never thought about.  Contraception is only going to come up in general practice, walk-in clinics, and gynecology/urology, with occasional appearances in emergency medicine, dermatology, and possibly endocrinology.

Why doesn't this doctor and other like him choose one of the many other fields of medicine, or work in a children's hospital or a long-term care home or somewhere similar where they simply won't be called upon to provide contraception?

I also wonder if medical schools and colleges of physicians and whatever other organizations might be involved take any measures to discourage future doctors from studying to practise in fields in which they're morally opposed to very common and medically-accepted treatments.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Things I'm sure they've invented a word for, but I can't think what it is

I'm looking for a word or phrase to express the concept of going straight to boldly/almost-but-not-quite aggressively asserting your rights when asking nicely would have the same effect.

Example: rather than emailing your landlord with "My toilet's been dripping lately, could you have a look at it?", you go straight to citing chapter and verse of the Residential Tenancies Act about the need to maintain a state of good repair and emphasizing the importance of a functioning toilet to basic quality of life.

Part of the notion this word or phrase encompasses is not giving your interlocutor the opportunity to say "Yes, of course!" and demonstrate goodwill and reasonableness. 

The best I can come up with is "unnecessary assertiveness", but I don't want to use the word "assertiveness" because it isn't a bad thing, and in the thing I'm trying to write I'm trying to differentiate this phenomenon from regular, appropriate assertiveness.

Any ideas?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jockey underwear seems to fit differently depending on where it was made

I recently bought two packages of Jockey Elance French Cut panties, which is the closest I've been able to find to my late lamented old version of the Victoria's Secret cotton panties.

I threw them all in the wash before I wore them, then yesterday I took a pair out of the dryer, put them on, and was surprised to notice that the fit was different from the ones I already owned, so I originally planned for today's blog post to be about how Jockey had changed the fit of these panties and the pros and cons of this change.

Then, this morning, I took another of the new pairs out of the dryer, and was shocked to discover that it fit like the ones I already owned! 

I looked more carefully at the label, and I discovered that one was made in Costa Rica and one was made in Honduras.  Here are the differences, at least as they apply to my body:

- Made in Honduras is roomier than Made in Costa Rica
- Made in Costa Rica has tighter elastics than Made in Honduras
-  As a result, Made in Honduras seems to be less prone to panty lines than Made in Costa Rica.
- And, despite the less-tight elastics, Made in Honduras seems to stay in place better.  Neither version is a wedgie machine, but the combination of the fuller coverage and the different elastics seems to leave all the elastics right where I put them without any drift whatsoever.
- However, the roominess of Made in Honduras includes a higher rise, which makes it look frumpier if you're standing around in just your underwear. It kind of emphasizes that your stomach isn't perfectly flat and makes your bum look a bit saggy, similar to how high-waisted short shorts look particularly frumpy on some people compared to shorts with unremarkable waistlines and hemlines.
- The fabric of Made in Honduras is stretchier.
- However, the fabric of Made in Honduras also appears to my amateur eye to be flimsier.  I wouldn't be surprised if Made in Honduras develops holes long before Made in Costa Rica.

Overall, I prefer Made in Honduras as a functional and comfortable garment under clothes, and Made in Costa Rica when I care about what I look like when I'm sitting around in my underwear.

My next mission is to see if I can find Jockey Elance hiphuggers or bikini panties that were made in Honduras.  When I tried on these styles originally I found them unflatteringly low (I didn't notice where they were made when I tried them on), but if they were in fact the Costa Rica version and there's also a Honduras version floating around out there that's similarly roomier, a Honduras version of the hiphuggers or bikini might be just what I was looking for!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Things They Should Invent: follow-up online reviews, with automatic reminder emails

Just over a year ago, I bought a paper shredder. (Brand name Rosewill, from Newegg.)  Just days after the one-year warranty expired, the shredder's motor died, in a rather terrifying puff of smoke and sparks.

When I was buying the shredder, there were online reviews from people who had problems, with follow-up comments from the manufacturer saying to contact them and they'd replace it under warranty, and there were reviews from people saying "I don't know what you're talking about, I didn't have problems."

But I wonder how many people had problems after the warranty period expired, but never thought to write a review because who goes back to the site you bought it from a year later to write a review?

Online review sites, including retailers, should fix this by standardizing the idea of follow-up reviews.  You write a review after you get the product, and then after a certain period of time you get an automatic email asking you to write a follow-up review.

The period of time for a follow-up review would depend on the product.  A week or two would be plenty for something like nail polish, but maybe six weeks would be good for moisturizers and stuff that are supposed to produce longer-term results.  I think 110% of the warranty period would be very informative for electronics.

This would be far more useful than one-time reviews of newly-purchased products, and would significantly increase traffic to the websites.  (At a minimum, you'll double the number of visits by people writing reviews, so you can show them recommended products etc.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Do police normally photograph the genitals of child pornography victims?

There was recently a story in the news about a 17-year-old boy who sent sexually explicit photos to his 15-year-old girlfriend, and as a result faces child pornography charges.  And, in order to prosecute these charges, police wanted to photograph this young man's erect penis.

The question of the appropriateness of the charges and police action have already received extensive coverage, but there's actually a bigger, more serious issue here:  do they routinely take photographs of the genitals of actual child pornography victims, i.e. minors who were forced or coerced or manipulated or tricked or exploited by adults into appearing in pornography?

In other words, if a grown adult had taken a picture of this teenager's penis for prurient purposes, would the police still be trying to take a picture of his penis for evidence purposes?

According to the article, the only things this kid is charged with are possession and manufacturing of child pornography (i.e. pictures of his own penis).  And it says that the police want to take pictures of his penis "for comparison to the evidence from the teen’s cell phone", which suggests that they intend to prove that the pictures on the teen's cell phone are child pornography by proving that they are in fact pictures of the teen's penis, as determined by official comparison with the official pictures of the teen's penis taken by the police.

It's certainly not implausible that there may have been, or may be in the future, a situation of actual child pornography (i.e. where a minor was forced or coerced or manipulated or tricked or exploited by adults into being photographed or filmed for prurient purposes) where the minor victim's face is not shown.  In cases like this, do the police also take nude photos of the minor victim for the purpose of official comparison with the pornography they've seized as evidence, in order to prove that the materials they've seized as evidence is in fact child pornography?

If so, this is a much larger problem that needs to be solved!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

How to illustrate articles about dying bees

Lately, there have been quite a few articles in the media saying that bees are dying out because of pesticide use, with the general thesis that this is a bad thing.

Problem: some articles are illustrated with giant zoomed-in pictures of bees, far larger than life, where you can see all the yucky details like hairs and antennae.

And, given my phobias, my immediate visceral reaction is "AAAAH!!!! KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT!!!!!!"

Which isn't quite the reaction the article is going for!

I do understand how ecosystems work so I know on an intellectual level why bees dying is a bad thing.  But the visceral phobia-based reaction is faster and louder, so the "KILL IT KILL IT!!!!!!" comes to mind before I even notice what the article is about.  And then, if I can bear to look at the headline, it's telling me about how this thing is being killed.

I know my reaction is not within the range of normal, but the fact remains that, in the culture of these articles' target audience, bugs are culturally considered yucky.  If I see a bug and I say "Eww, gross!" more people would think that's a "normal" reaction than if I see a bug and I say "Aww, isn't it cute!"  Bigger bugs are considered yuckier, and the details like legs and hairs and antennae are seen as grotesque. Fear of bugs is one of the most common specific phobias, many people are afraid of bees because they sting, and it's culturally considered normal and a valid choice to kill bugs because they're yucky (c.f. the existence of flyswatters and Raid).

In short, even among non-phobic readers, these enormous, grotesque pictures of the bees are far more likely to inspire revulsion than sympathy, which is contrary to the intention of the article.

A far better strategy would be to illustrate these articles with pictures of honey looking delicious and flowers looking beautiful - which is, in fact, the end result that you want people thinking about. If it is in fact necessary to portray bees, they should under no circumstances be zoomed in on so they appear larger than life! Features like legs and hair and antennae should be de-emphasized, and the image positions and camera angles should be such that people don't even for a second think there's an actual bee on their paper or screen. In appropriate contexts, perhaps cartoons of anthropomorphic bees could be used - more of a friendly food brand mascot and less of a creature that escaped from the gates of hell.

Zoomed-in pictures of bees are not going to change anyone's opinion from "meh" to "Save the bees!" People who think bees are fascinating up close already want to save the bees, people who are indifferent will react with indifference, and people who are grossed out will, even if only briefly, react with "Kill it!"  But pictures of honey and flowers might turn a "meh" into "Wait, I like honey and flowers, this is important!"  And, in any case, they're far less likely to inspire "Kill it!"

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Dementia brings back the monsters under the bed?

I've been reading Love and Forgetting: A husband and wife's journey through dementia by Julie Macfie Sobol & Ken Sobol, which tell the story of Ken Sobol's dementia (Lewy Body Disease) both in the first person and from his wife's (Julie's) perspective.

The following passage is a first-person description of the hallucinations he'd have.  As usual, any typos are my own:
Moving day was October 1, 2007. When I got up the first night at the new place to use the washroom, I was startled to find that the stacks of boxes, floor lamps and other scattered leftover from the move were providing material for new kinds of bizarre shapes. The forms were back again the next night. In fact, it got to so that virtually every evening I would find waiting for me outside the bedroom door a troupe of odd, inexplicable creatures doing their best to shake my grip on reality.

These were not like the alarming nighttime apparitions I'd seen in the hospital after the TURP procedure. the new ones came in two basic guises: animals of various sorts - mostly small, skittering creatures - and tall, thin types. Sometimes they ignored me. Sometimes, but only if I turned toward them and started, they became animated. Then, for example, the low rectangular radiator in the hallway might suddenly convert itself into a small sheep; a cluster of scarves on the coat hook might become a high fashion hat; an Inuit print could spring to live as a circle of wolves following me with their eyes. (A litho resembling such a wolf scene hangs on the wall of our home office.) Some of the more feminine figures, if that is the proper designation for them, carried what appeared to be small creatures in their arms.

At first, I freaked. No surprise there.But then I noticed that whenever I approached them, they would immediately rise and move off in a slow motion down the hallway, or simply disintegrate on the spot, before reforming into normal lamps, jackets and whatever other objects in the darkness had led me to imagine their existence.

On the nights that followed, some of the forms even entered our bedroom and then at times, I had to waken Julie to make sure they went away. (Not that she eve saw them, of course, but her voice was reassuring to me and commanding to the apparitions.) Ultimately, it seemed clear to me they meant no harm nor presented any real danger. All the same, when I later came across a reference book that called them "benign visions," I was relieved.

I rarely got a glimpse of the hall dwellers' faces; I wasn't even sure they had any. They never spoke, and except for one accidental instance, they always managed to fade away before I made physical contact. The incident where I touched one took place as I came out of the bathroom one evening and tripped on something (a shoe, I think,), losing my balance. As I thrust out my arm toward the wall to catch myself, so did a vaguely alpaca-like creature. We met and touched at a corner - Julie's terrycloth bathrobe and my shaggy Irish wool sweater hanging on the coat rack. The creature and I both sprang back in alarm. When I looked again it had disappeared, fading into the woodwork.

I didn't know what to make of this tactile experience; I still don't. But as time passed, I grew so accustomed to the apparitions that I began looking forward, albeit in a slightly uneasy way, to seeing what form they would take each night.

Then there were those other apparitions, the ones that could come at any time and that manifested themselves not as things I see, but as things watching me. They lurked just outside the corner of my eye; if I glanced their way, they also would run away, as if they didn't like being seen. (Of course, maybe they were just getting old and cranky, like the rest of us when we reach a certain age.) A few times I found myself addressing one of them, momentarily forgetting that I was asking for an opinion from a pile of clothing or perhaps quarreling with something as vague as a wisp or memory.
What struck me about this passage is the extent to which his apparitions resembled the monsters that haunted me when I was a very small child.

My monsters very rarely moved around, instead preferring to stand around menacingly.  I was never brave enough to engage with them so I don't know what would have happened. But his description of how everyday objects would turn into apparitions really reminds me of my childhood monsters.

In the past few years, with my grandmothers declining and various people around me having babies, I've been thinking that old age in some ways resembles a reversion to early childhood.  But it never occurred to me that that could apply to cognitive processes as well.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Books read in June 2014


1. The Master of All Desires by Judith Merkle Riley
2. Mary Poppins, She Wrote by Valerie Lawson
3. Life Below Stairs: Domestic Servants in England from Victorian Times by Frank Edward Huggett
4. She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
5. New York to Dallas by J.D. Robb


1. Innocent in Death

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Open letter to "No Acronym Here" in this week's Savage Love

From this week's Savage Love:

My husband and I have been happy swingers for four years. Our issue? I'm pregnant. My husband had a vasectomy two years ago, and neither of us has wavered in our desire to remain childfree. We know the "father" is the male of a couple we play with regularly. We used protection, of course, but we know these things are never foolproof. We consider ourselves good friends with this couple, but we are not in any sort of "poly" relationship with them. Our question is this: Do we need to tell the couple about what happened and our decision to terminate the pregnancy? We wouldn't ask them to help pay for the procedure, and their feelings on the matter wouldn't change our course of action. We're just unsure about the "swinger etiquette" in this situation.
The part of Dan Savage's answer that discusses how this man might feel or react:
On the off chance that your play buddy is one of those guys who either is against abortion or hasn't given the issue much thought—because he's never needed one—you should let him know that your freedom to choose has directly benefited him and his family. You should also let him know that there's a small chance your husband impregnated you. Either way, you're terminating this pregnancy.
But there's another possibility Dan Savage didn't mention: what if LW's play buddy is one of those guys who is against abortion because he wouldn't want a child he fathered to be aborted?  If this is the case, he might get very angry at you, and, if you tell him before the abortion happens, he might try to stop you. (And, from a political point of view, he'd cite this as a perfect example of why abortion should be criminalized.)

Unless you know him (or his feelings towards reproduction) well enough to be certain he wouldn't react this way, you and your husband should make a plan that includes what you would do if your play buddy reacts this way.  It is a thing that exists in the world, and you could be in for a bad time if you announce the abortion as good news when he'd take it as bad.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How the library can improve its automatic return system

I should be happy about my library's automatic return system, since it's yet another example of one of my inventions materializing in real life, but I'm seeing some problems that can make it very inconvenient from time to time.  Here's how I'd improve it:

1. Let it accept more than one item at once. The self checkout and scan multiple items at once (my personal record is six large hardcover books), but the return slot can only handle one at a time.  This is irritating when the person in front of you is returning a lot of things at once.  The other day I was behind a lady with two small children who were returning a total of 20 items.  This is a reasonable number of children's picture books to check out for two children over a 3-week loan period, but it takes for-fricking-ever to scan them all in one at a time. A massive line formed behind this family, and there was nothing that could be done to expedite the process.

2. Continue to have a manual return slot. I've seen manual return slots at other libraries that have automatic returns, but mine doesn't have one.  So if there's a line for the automatic return or the automatic return is malfunctioning, there doesn't appear to be any alternative.  (I recently learned that you can also hand the book to the person at the circulation desk, but there's no signage or anything to that effect. And if the automatic return is malfunctioning, the circulation desk person is probably in the back room trying to fix it.)  If we could just pop books into a manual slot, we wouldn't be getting stressed and frustrated when the automatic return malfunctions or the person in front of us has 20 items.  (Or maybe they wouldn't even be in front of us because they'd just pop their 20 items into the  manual slot and be out of there in 30 seconds.)  I think most people would continue to use the automatic returns because they verify that your item has in fact been checked in - plus, they're fun! - but simply making them optional would vastly reduce frustration.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My farmer's market dilemma

There is a farmer's market in my neighbourhood.  I'm glad there is, because it's only a very recent development.  For most of the time I've lived here, we haven't had a farmer's market.

However, most of the booths aren't really farmers.  They're selling baguettes or macrons or local organic vegan lunch.  I prefer the few booths that are farmers - I want to be able to buy fresh produce from someone who can have an informed conversation about the quality of the produce and the realities of growing it.

The problem: the quality of produce available from the actual farmers at the farmer's market isn't as good as the quality of produce available from small neighbourhood stores like Summer's Best, or sometimes even the quality of produce available from the local Metro supermarket.

The asparagus at the market is wimpy and skinny, whereas Summer's Best and its peers have nice fat asparagus. The varieties of apples at the market are non-yummy, whereas the greengrocers and the supermarkets at least have McIntosh.  And the farmer's market is never cheaper, and is often more expensive.

I'm torn.  I want to support the farmer's market so there will continue to be a farmer's market right in my neighbourhood.  I want to support the farmers selling fresh produce so farmers will continue to sell fresh produce at a farmer's market right in my neighbourhood.  But I also want the better produce.  I want to buy the better produce in order to create demand for the better produce and incentivize produce sellers to sell the stuff that I like right in my neighbourhood. Plus, of course, I want to eat the yummiest possible food.

I do get that the farmer's market might need some time and TLC to take off, and I want to give it the opportunity it needs.  But where's the threshold?