Tag Archives: random

A shotgun blast of Things


I turn 40 in a week, and I can’t form a coherent thought.

We can put some of that down to the usual summer doldrums — being a teacher, the summer months sort of naturally take on an empty quality, to be drifted through until, in the Fall, the students return, and with them purpose. But I think it’d be a foolish proposal to pretend that the bulk of my ennui isn’t due to all, well, this.

You know. *Gestures around non-specifically*

So instead of trying to put together a big comeback post exploring the vast depths of some weighty topic, I’m gonna dip my toes in lots of pools that have occupied my thoughts over the past month or so since I peeked out of my cave.

In no particular order, then:

We have a new cat. To be specific, we have a new kitten, which is different from having a cat. A cat lies around the house, looks for sunny patches, and generally ignores you. A kitten is a terror in the household: it attacks anything that moves, including but not limited to: the other animals, the kids, the edge of a blanket stirred by the lazy breeze from the oscillating fan, or the piece of fuzz caught in my scalp stubble. All of us have suffered scratches, some of us have lost blood. In particular, the cat loves to lurk under our bed and to pounce on my toes as I walk past, a habit I cannot endorse but which I seem unable to break the little bugger of.

Adorable, but vicious.

My wife has had back surgery. This is not a sudden development; it’s something she’s (and we’ve) been thinking about for years. The surgery repaired a chronic issue she’s had, possibly for her entire life, but which in the last five years or so began to cause her immense pain and discomfort. So they replaced a spinal disc with a composite of stem cells and fused her vertebrae with screws, an operation both staggeringly high-tech and low-tech at the same time, and I reiterate my oft-invoked refrain that modern medicine is magic. During her stay in the hospital, thanks to COVID-19, I was unable to visit her. This was very strange and unsettling for us both; we are rarely out of each other’s company like that. But she’s home, and recovering, and hopefully she will bounce back better than she’s been in years.

Apparently my Harry Potter tattoo is problematic now. JK Rowling just keeps getting herself in hot water, apparently not familiar with the old adage that sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Generally I’m of the opinion that art can and should be considered as independent from its creator, and thusly whatever reprehensible comments a creator makes or thoughts a creator has should not retroactively damage the warm feeling one may have derived from their works, especially when those works were consumed in childhood and well before said creator said or thought such things or even knew they thought them. But Rowling is sort of unique in that she is so hands-on, and keeps reinventing the canon after the works are long finished. I hate cancel culture as much as anybody, but at the same time, Rowling has had a hell of a time in the spotlight, and maybe it’s time we moved on from her and her too-loud, too-political, too-problematic presence. There are other authors writing similar — and in many cases better — stories after all, she just happened to catch the cultural wave at the right time to become something of a god-emperor to so many. And now I have to have mixed feelings about the fact that I have what I thought was a relatively benign symbol from her books permanently affixed to my skin.

I guess I should have waited until she was dead and thus incapable of opening her mouth and polluting the discourse. I feel decidedly less conflicted about my Hitchhiker’s Guide ink.

I donated blood a few weeks ago. This is something I enjoy doing, as — in the words of Christopher Hitchens — somebody else gets something, and I don’t lose anything; and goodness knows, the time may come when I need to drink from the pool, if you’ll pardon the gruesome metaphor. Giving blood is one of the most immediate and visceral ways to remind oneself that we’re all ultimately the same, and giving blood is in the communal interest.

Into the bargain, though, they tested me for COVID-19 antibodies. My wife and I are teachers, and our kids are both in elementary school, and both of our kids were very sick (cough, fever and general malaise lasting for several days) back in February, with my wife and I getting a whiff of what they had. Never diagnosed exactly what we had, but it wasn’t the flu, and it wasn’t strep, so we just assumed that, with all the time we spent in schools (aka simmering petri dishes on a good day), that was our brush with COVID, and we came through it more or less unscathed. But my antibody test was negative. Which means we either haven’t been exposed or the test was faulty, though I like to think that the Red Cross is using reliable testing. Point is, I had been navigating all of this with the back-of-my-mind consolation that we’d already had it and didn’t need to worry very much, and now, that’s taken away.

On that subject, I’m wearing a mask almost everywhere. Even when I pick up food — even going to a drive-thru (yes I know if I have concerns I shouldn’t be going to drive thrus, I get it, sometimes I just don’t want to cook) — I will put on a mask. No matter how short the interaction (unless some door-to-door salesman deposits himself on my doorstep — that’s his lookout) I put on the mask. Why? Because having all this time at home the past several months, and watching so much news (bad idea, I know, let’s not talk about it), I can’t help but take the global view, the communal view. And I try hard to be internally consistent. If wearing the mask is about protecting everybody else, then I feel I ought to protect everybody else all the time, and not fall victim to thinking “oh I’m only going to share space with this person for a few seconds, no need for a mask”. No, if you’re going to wear the mask when you go out, you should be wearing the mask every time you go out. I don’t think there’s a lot of wiggle room here.

Everything is political and I hate it. This is not a new phenomenon, but it does seem worse over the past, oh I dunno, three and a half years. You can barely express a view on something without being assumed to be a mindless soldier for some cause or another. Every day you wake up and read on social media about how some prominent person has said some questionable thing — now or even in the past — and we all have to hate them now. (See JK Rowling, above.) Even the fact that I wear the mask in public is seen by some, I have no doubt, that I’m a brainless libtard. And I admit I harbor equally unsavory thoughts about the people in grocery stores not wearing masks. And that’s just one issue. In a better society, wearing a mask or not would only be a sign of how informed you are on an issue and how you feel about that particular issue. Unfortunately, that’s not the society we’re living in. It’s exhausting and I hate it.

Work on the novel is spotty. When all this started, I was secretly happy for the extra time at home: extra time to work on the novel! That lasted for maybe a month. Since then I’ve been stalled, coming back to the project in fits and starts, working for a while then losing hope and conviction and abandoning it for great stretches of time, then feeling guilty about not making use of the time and forcing myself back to it. Part of the problem is the super-prevalent feeling of overwhelm. Part of it is that my little superhero story seems downright silly in the face of everything going on right now and to work on it seems somehow, I dunno, disrespectful to the real issues that are happening. I don’t know how to fix that feeling.

I’ll close today with this. I just listened to a podcast from Malcolm Gladwell (anything by Malcolm Gladwell is basically guaranteed to challenge your beliefs in one way or another), and it is worth your time. Especially if you are one of those who thinks, of all the people in the country, we have to choose one of THESE TWO for president? The central conceit is one I live by: nobody really knows anything.

I mean, what he talks about isn’t going to happen, but it sure is interesting to think about.

Anyway, it’s Friday, and that’s good for something, I guess.

tom hiddleston friday GIF

Hammer Time (or: a Scientific Study in How Dumb You Can Be)


You never fully realize quite how dumb you are as when you’re unintentionally inflicting bodily harm on yourself. Needless to say, after I hit my hand with a hammer yesterday, I’ve been spinning out inside my own head.

I mean, we’re not exactly talking about a difficult job here. I was building a set of stairs for our upcoming production, and *bam*. A straight shot to the karate-chop end of my hand right below the pinky. Didn’t glance the nail, didn’t take my eye off the target; just took a bad swing. Whammo.

And I feel *so, so dumb*. Here’s a task where you know people make mistakes all the time. Carpenters — good ones, ones good enough to build a career on it! — hit their thumbs with hammers, maybe not every day, but at least often enough that if you see one with a blackened thumbnail, you don’t have to ask them what happened. You know! Driving nails is a task where the mistake is not only possible, but given enough time and enough reps, *inescapable*. So if anything, extra care should be given to the task.

Worse still: consider the location of the injury. I wasn’t holding the nail between thumb and forefinger, the classic position for the smashing of a thumb. The nail was already partly driven; I was leaning over the lumber, my hand twisted around to keep the whole wobbling structure steady. Trying to assert leverage where leverage was not leverageable. A dangerous activity in a precarious position: that calls for over-the-top ultimate doubletime caution.

Worst of all: I was demonstrating to a student who had never attempted the task how to drive nails. (Why, at 17 years old in a drama class, a student was having his first brush with driving nails is an issue I’ll leave for another time.) The “teachable moment”, a moment where I know the pressure is on and a student is more likely to remember things that happen than usual, when I’m taking on the aforementioned delicate task. A situation which demands unyielding, double-bagged-for-your-protection caution.

In other words, I looked like an idiot (to my student) while looking like an idiot (attempting the job with, let’s just say, sub-optimal methodology) while looking like an idiot (screwing up the job in the first place).

That’s stupidity cubed. That’s dumb as the proverbial bag of hammers (a cliched simile that hurts me particularly, today, to employ) to the 3rd power.

That, in other words, is very, very dumb.

And if I can be so very dumb in a situation that calls so explicitly for care, caution and attention to detail three levels deep, then how dumb am I acting in other areas of my life, where I don’t give a second thought to the possible consequences?

It’s something to think about; something to feel seriously humble about. And it’s something I’ll be reminded of again and again in the coming days, every time I reach my hand into my pocket (ouch) or try to lift anything with my left hand (yikes) or even lightly rest my hand on a tabletop (yep that hurts too). Or, y’know, when I return to the shop to finish building the aforementioned set of stairs, cuz THAT AIN’T DONE EITHER.

So now I’m curious: what acts of stupidity have made your own idiocy fully apparent to you? What deeds of dumbness have dropped the drapes of false confidence from your eyes? (I’d say I’m doing research but mostly I just want to feel better about myself.)

Related reading: the “You Are Not So Smart” Podcast.


You Might Be an English Teacher If…


Does anything contribute to sudden discomfort and fits of blinking into the middle distance than a poorly-placed bit of punctuation?

20180201_055853.jpg

What the hell does “daily” mean? If it’s sliced everyday, you don’t put “daily” in scare-quotes like that!

Who is the guy who writes the copy that goes on the packaging? Where is their copy editor? Do these people realize just how much strife they’ve caused me? It’s 5:45 in the morning, I’m trying to make a sandwich to send my kid off to school, and now my sleep-addled brain is burning out its tires trying to puzzle out just why in the name of all that’s holy the word “daily” isn’t just the word daily there.

Is it more-or-less daily? Like, some days they slice it, some days they don’t, but on the average, they slice it every day? Or is it “daily” as in taking place on a day?

This all could have been so easily avoided.

Just look at the havoc unnecessary punctuation causes.

All I wanted was a sandwich.

Oh, that novel I’m editing?

IT’S GOING “FINE”, WHY DO YOU ASK?

Here’s an experiment: In the next “e-mail” you “write”, just drop random “words” into quotes for no reason and see how badly you can confuse the “person” on the other end.

Let “me” know how that goes for “you”.


Subjective Produce Experience


I opened up a carton of grapes to find this little label on the underside of the lid:

20180122_060807.jpg

But shouldn’t *I* be the one to decide that, carton of grapes? Isn’t it up to ME what flavor these bulbous purple orbs hold?

Am I not master of my own taste buds? Do I not bite into the grape myself and feel it burst like a cow’s eyeball betwixt my molars?

YOU DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO THINK!

(Upon further review, the grapes were actually very tasty. Possibly even delightful-adjacent. I’ll point out, though, for the benefit of the copywriters for these particular grapes, that I don’t know what “fresh” tastes like [and neither, I suspect, do they], nor do I know what a “satisfying flavor” is [and neither, I suspect, do they].)

In fact, since noticing this odd little blurb inside the carton of grapes, I’ve noticed that tons and tons — maybe even most — ad copy is like this. It tells you — brashly, confidently, even arrogantly — what your experience of the product will be. But aren’t these things subjective? Doesn’t every single thing we experience get filtered through our own rose- or mauve- or barf-colored sunglasses? I can’t know, under any current technological parameters, what your experience is when you bite into a juicy, ripe grape. Hell, I can’t even be sure that the color you see is the same purple that I see. Your rods and cones might be all inverted and misshapen, and you actually see a blue, yellow, or (I shudder to think) brown grape. Or maybe it’s MY rods and cones that are all upsey-downsey. All I can do is assume that your experience is pretty darn close to mine and agree that we’ll use the same word to describe it, and go through our lives hoping for the best.

But I can’t know what it’s like to be inside your head.

 

And these grapes, unless they’ve made some truly staggering leaps in sentience, damn sure can’t know what it’s like to be in mine.

Truth be told, I can’t even be sure that you have any experience at all. I can’t even be sure that you’re not a robot. I can’t even be really and truly sure that I’m not a robot.

But let’s not go getting too existential. They’re only grapes after all. (And maybe I took my recent re-viewing of WestWorld too much to heart.)

*eyes the carton of grapes suspiciously*

*chomps one*

*tentatively considers grape sentience, and by extension, grape genocide*

*decides it’s worth it and eats most of the carton*


Sprout Tells Me a Story


“Dad, I have to tell you about this guy.”

20180109_183201.jpg

“Oh, yeah?”

“His name is Rocker Baddo.”

“Wow, that’s pretty cool.”

“Um, it’s cool, but he’s not a nice guy.”

“No?”

“Well, he’s a mean guy with powers. He catches people with his magics and his powers are being mean to animals, and he makes mean animals like dragons catch him. And he makes dragons catch other people, too.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You’re putting this on Facebook?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure yet.”

“Okay, well, you should show someone. Put their name on the website, too.”

“Maybe I’ll do that. What else can you tell me about the guy?”

“Well, he smacks people with bombs. And he sneaks up on people to catch them. And he — you remember what I said about him that he says, when he sneaks up to scare you? He says BRRRRRRAAAARRRRRRR.”

“Wow!”

“Spell that word, too. And do you need me to tell you more?”

“If you like.”

“Okay, well, the worstest part that he does is when his stomach blows up with the little blower, it goes all over the city until everybody gets dooms right in the tower. (It’s just too long for me to sit, daddy.)”

(He gets up and starts monster-stomping around.)

“That’s okay, bud. Anything else?”

“I think there’s a lot more to tell you. Guess what? The other part is when the goats come out. After he does, he gets a lot of mean animals to come out, and after the animals come out, the animals are critters and they walk around like mean monster walkers but they’re robots. And when they blast people, people fall down. And when that happens, they put fire on you and your eyes, and then you don’t wake up anymore.”

(Jesus.)

“That sounds pretty scary.”

“Yeah, very scary.”

(At this point — he was stomping around like a mean monster walker robot, and unplugged the laptop, which distracted him enough to derail the story entirely.)

Oh, to have that amount of creativity, and the total indifference to whether it makes a damned bit of sense.


%d bloggers like this: