Archive for November, 2012

Problems With Stairs

I slipped down the stairs yesterday morning as I was rushing from one class to the next, they were a cement staircase, and it hurt my bum a bit.  I say ‘slipped’ because I didn’t so much fall as just kind of slid down a few steps onto my butt.

Only one person, a gentleman I didn’t even give a precursory glance to, was kind enough to falter in his own descent down the staircase and ask of my well-being.  I told him I was fine, cursed in German under my breath, because I do that when I’m distressed…curse in languages I don’t otherwise speak, then I picked myself up and kept walking.

As I walked hastily to my next class (I only have about fifteen minutes to get to a class that’s at least ten minutes from my first class, and I want to get there sooner if I want a good seat), I thought, I should be embarrassed right now, shouldn’t I?

I tumbled down the stairs in front of a flock of people.  Isn’t this what most people attest to be one of their most embarrassing foibles?  Falling.

I should probably interject here and explain: I fall a lot.  Stairs have been my downfall (pun intended, because I’m a dork) for many decades…well, the couple decades I’ve been alive anyhow.  If you ask one of my best friends, she will gleefully tell you of the time I fell down a flight of stairs not once, not twice, but three times in succession.  No, I was not drunk.  I was actually ten at the time.  I’ve fallen up stairs almost as many times as I’ve fallen down.

But I don’t just have trouble with stairs, oh no.  Rugs like to latch on to my legs, any obstacle in my path — be it an inconspicuous trash bin, a bit of rubbish, electrical cords, maybe even an innocuous box of office supplies — if it can be tripped over, I will trip over it.  I swear to you, the walls jump out at me, I try to dodge but they ram right into me all the same.

There doesn’t even have to be anything in the way, I will flip and flop over my own feet.  In fact, I did that this morning walking to my car, my foot folded under itself and I stumbled a few steps before managing to regain my balance.  Actually, I don’t even have to be moving.  I’ll stand in one place and slowly teeter over, prompting wary bystanders or my boss who should know better to wonder, “Are you drunk?”

Drinking, by the way, seems to cure me of my klutzy disposition.  I am the most graceful drunk you will ever meet.  Friends and family alike have watched in awe as inebriation takes over and I glide effortlessly like a dainty angel through the room.

Anyhow, the point I wanted to eventually get to was about embarrassment.  I don’t get embarrassed when I fall over because I do it so often, I’m too used to picking myself up and moving onward as though nothing happened that even the most obnoxious asshole that pointed and cried ridicule couldn’t get more of a rise out of me than, “Oh…hey!  Yeah, I totally did just fall, didn’t I?”

This isn’t to say, however, that I don’t embarrassed.  So I got to thinking, what does embarrass me.  I fluster, but some might think not easily, because the things that mortify me, I suppose, aren’t commonly humiliating.  I’m not going to confess what embarrasses me, because I’d rather you not know my weaknesses should you turn out to be my arch-nemesis.

It got me thinking.  There are people out there — I know you’ve met them, hell, you might be one of them — that just don’t ruffle easily.  They’re utterly fearless, they’ll stand buck-naked in front of a crowd and proudly sing Yankee-Doodle Dandy.  At least, they seem fearless.  But what if the reality is that the things that embarrass them just aren’t readily evident.  I know, this sounds like a “uh…duh?” moment, but stick with me, I think I’m going somewhere.

Embarrassment is a learned behavior.   Just like anything else in our social environment, we learn to be embarrassed by situations because of past negative experiences with them.  Because embarrassment is a learned behavior, of course it stands to reason that everyone has learned it differently.  And just like any learned behavior, it can be unlearned or relearned.

Embarrassment and being embarrassed isn’t a bad thing.  Embarrassment allows you to learn proper conduct in a given social situation.  For instance, in my society, in most situations wearing clothes in front of strangers and acquaintances is considered proper and polite behavior, likewise, being naked or improperly exposing yourself is not only considered impolite, it can also be illegal, and it will definitely turn away most prospective friends.

Because we (the vast majority of people) know this behavior, we are embarrassed at the thought of finding ourselves naked or exposed in front of someone with whom we aren’t intimately familiar — hence, the prevalence of naked-in-front-of-class dreams/nightmares.  If you don’t feel embarrassed standing naked in front of strangers and acquaintances then you might not feel overly compelled to clothe yourself fully or at all.  Now, this could have one of two effects.  You could be charming enough to pull it off, maybe found your own cult or get your own stupid-stunts television show on MTV.  Or, more likely, you’ll alienate people.

However, embarrassment can be an extreme hindrance as well.

One of my biggest fears used to be finding out that I wasn’t the smartest person in the room.  Yeah, I know, it’s a little bit of a strange — if not incredibly arrogant — fear, but like I said, the things that embarrass me aren’t common.  I grew up in a household where a lot of value was placed in intellect.  To make matters worse, I was always made to feel like the stupidest member of my household, and while my sisters may argue that they felt the same, I was the only one who had the grades to prove it.

Sadly, I learned late in life, that my grades were a product of my fear.  I was so paralyzed by my embarrassment of possibly learning I wasn’t a smart person, that I refused to ask for help when I couldn’t understand the material.  I wouldn’t do my homework out of fear I would get the answers wrong.  I couldn’t write essays because what if the things I wrote were completely off-base, what if I turned out nothing more than idiotic dribbles.  I was so afraid to raise my hand to answer questions or, even worse, ask questions that I hid in the back of the room and let my grades suffer.  All because it was better to silently hold on to the hope that I might be smart than to die from the embarrassment of finding out I’m really just plain stupid.

Unlearning this embarrassment took me years and years, a great deal of soul searching, and the wonderful discovery of Plato’s Dialogues, wherein I met Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher who was considered the most intelligent man of his time mainly because he knew and accepted that his knowledge was limited,  that there would always be others with knowledge he did not possess, and therefore, he should always be in a perpetual state of learning.

I still struggle with this fear.  Sometimes I refuse to raise my hand in class even when I know that I know the answer.   Asking questions is still one of the hardest things for me to do, and I have to fight the urge to chastise myself for being stupid after I’ve been brave enough to ask a question.  But I remind myself everyday that I am learning, before and after classes, I look in the mirror and say, “You’re not the smartest person in the room and there’s nothing wrong with that”.

It takes time.  Effort.  Persistence.  You have to fall a lot before you get to the point where picking yourself back up becomes so natural you don’t even realize you fell anymore.

Anyhow, I guess the point I wanted to make with this post is that: Everyone is embarrassed by something  — so when you see that person standing buck-naked in front of the crowd and want to believe they’re fearless, don’t, maybe their greatest embarrassment is to be caught wearing pants, embarrassment has its purpose in life — everyone should have a healthy dose of humility, but when it exceeds that purpose, it can be overcome.

I’m drunk right now, if the meandering nature of this post were any indication, so I think I’m going to glide gracefully to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and then go pass out for the night.  I’m hoping you learned something from this post, but I’ll be glad if you at least found it mildly amusing.

Stress Test

Today I finally got my midterm returned for my Ancient Cultures of the Near East Anthropology class.  It was a take home essay question, five pages long, and we turned them in at the beginning of October, so I’ve been waiting almost two months to find out what grade I received, and stressing the entire time.

I hadn’t proofed the paper because I literally had a few hours to write it.  In my opinion, my thoughts were all over the place, I rambled, spoke a lot in the first person — it was meant to be an opinion essay but I know in general first person POV in any formal essay is frowned upon, and as if the cherry on top of this disastrous sundae, I spelled my teacher’s name wrong.  I was convinced I failed, prayed for a “C” at least, but couldn’t bring myself to hope for much better.

When the paper was handed back, I tucked it quickly into my backpack to avoid looking at the grade…I know, I know, I waited so long and now I had the grade in my hand and I wasn’t even going to look at it, what the hell is wrong with me, but I have a very simple philosophy when it comes to grades: I’d rather cry at home.

So what did I receive for all my stress and pessimism?

Did I mention I’d rather dance at home too?

This isn’t the first time I’d worried myself sick over a grade, only to be pleasantly surprised that all my worry was for naught, it’s not even the first time this semester.  But my grades aren’t all beautiful perfect scores, in fact, when I was a little one, way back in my high school and middle school years, I was best  known for my perfect flops — straight “F’s” and “D’s”, every so often a “C”, I was lucky to graduate.

The difference between now and then?  I never stressed over my grades before.

In fact, I find that I do far better on the assignments and tests I stress most over than the assignments and tests I don’t stress over at all.

In contemporary life, we’re often told not to stress.  A lot of the negative aspects of too much stressing are constantly being propagated in the media.  We’re told that it leads to ulcers, heartburn, heart attacks, insomnia, and early death, just to name a few and while all of this is true, we overlook the qualifier in these statements: too much.

But is stress, in minimal amounts, really all that bad for you?  

All of this emphasis on the negative impact of stress really just causes us to stress about stress, I’m stressed so does that mean I’m too stressed.  However, in some ways, not stressing enough can be almost as detrimental as stressing too much.  It can lead to low motivation, low self-esteem, unhealthy habits — like overeating and not exercising, even depression, and of course, bad grades.

So what is stress?

Looking at this picture causes both stress *and* seizures.

Personally, I think the answer to that question might be better understood by addressing this other question:

“Why do I stress in the first place?”

I stress over things I care about.  I stress over assignments because I now care about my grades, whereas in high school, I cared about the bell ringing so I could go home and watch television.  No stress there.  I also stress over my writing and my art (because they are a direct access point into my heart and soul, and if you don’t care about your heart and soul, then you’ve got way more problems then stress), my job (because I like money and I care about paying my rent), my blog (because I care about whether people will “Like” my posts, otherwise, what am I posting them for?), my family, my pets, my…so on and so forth.

So perhaps stress is intrinsically tied to caring.  Then how about this as a definition of stress: stress is a reaction to the action, inaction, or eventual action, current or future well-being of something or someone with which a person has an emotional investment in.

Using this as a definition of stress, then stress can be used to serve a crucial function in your everyday life.  It can help you to identify when you care about something or when you’re not caring about something enough and that maybe you need to change something.

In this sense, stress can be good for you.

If I’m not stressing over my grades, then that could very well mean that I don’t care about my grades, and that might be a warning sign that either I need to start caring (and stressing) or I need to drop out of school.  If I’m not stressing over my writing, well then, maybe I don’t care about my writing as much as I should, and if you don’t care about your writing, trust me, it shows through in what you write.

Then when does stress become bad?  

Using this same definition, when you start stressing over things you don’t care about or don’t need to care about, then you might be stressing too much.  I’m actually very familiar with this concept, for instance, stressing that a person you work with whom you hate with a fiery passion, because they’re only…oh, I don’t know…incredibly incompetent at their job,  might also hate you too?  Probably pushing the needle a little far into the danger zone on the stress-o-meter.

Knowing how to identify when you are suffering from a good amount of stress or a bad amount is key to helping you manage your stress level and eventually achieve a state of stress balance — ie., I stress over my writing, I write to de-stress…ah, balance.

Worried you might be over-stressed, or not stressing enough?  Read more about stress here, here, and here.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get back to doing homework and stressing just the right amount over my assignments.

Am I Here Yet?

You invite the daylight,

Like you invite the setting sun.

And clasp loosely in your hands

this tiny drop of hopeless dreamers’ dreams,

that slinks through the cracks

at first sign of fragility delight.

As if.

You had the tenaciousness to hold it

clenched betwixt your trembling, bone thin fingers.

                                                                                                      Bared teeth,

                                                                                 fangs and all

dripping with salacious yet sardonic sneers

and now you have the foolish notion

to stand in front of the

breaking storm

with its torrential winds ripping through this porcelain carved house

and demand it hand over

                             your last pennies,

                                                       and the nickel,

                                                                         five safety-pins,

sharp rusted over point to be made,

belly-button lint,

and four-poster bed that you so casually

dropped on my head.

Because some days things are better left unsaid.

Weekend Trip to La Quinta, CA

As I posted the other day (…drunk), I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to California with family.  We spent two days (one night) there, and saw a few sights.  On the first day, as I mentioned last time, we checked out this place called the Living Desert and it actually proved to be an incredible experience.

I’m not generally one to promote zoos, I have more than a few qualms with their methods, but the purpose of the Living Desert is conservation of and education about the deserts of the world, from their environment, to their wildlife (plants and animals), to the people who call them home (they had a couple exhibits about a number of ancient and current tribal peoples living in various deserts around the world).

They had some beautiful animals on display, many of whom were rescued and being rehabilitated but deemed un-releasable for numerous reasons.  They had a significant number of exotic birds on display, and I was most impressed by their two golden eagles and their Eurasian Black vultures.  They had a pair of cheetahs on display, which my brother-in-law noted their enclosure for the cheetahs was much larger and nicer than the one at the San Diego Zoo (which he’d visited this past summer with my sister and father).  They had giraffe, ostriches, some reptile, etc., and they also had an area for hiking!  Sadly, I didn’t have my camera with me for this trip (couldn’t and still can’t find it!) and my phone was knocking on death’s door, so I couldn’t take any pictures, so I can’t visually prove how amazing the place is but I do highly recommend visiting it if you’re ever in the area.

The next (and last) day we went out to visit the Palm Springs Air Museum.  I might chalk it up to coming from a family with a lot of former air-force, or maybe just a touch of humanities innate lust for flight which drove aeronautics for centuries to design and test out machines for flight, but I love airplanes.  If there is an air museum in town, I will visit it.  Luckily, I had my phone fully charged for this site, and snapped as many pictures as I could of the gorgeous planes they had on display.

They had 27 serviceable warplanes from WWII, split between three hangars — with one dedicated to the Tuskagee airmen, one dedicated to planes flown in the Pacific, and one housing a gigantic plane with four engines.  There were also to-scale models of navy boats, a small theater that played documentaries hourly, the ‘tiny plane’ pictured in the gallery below was an old flight simulator.  They had old uniforms from the WWII era, I read up on Kennedy’s service aboard a PT190 boat, we climbed aboard and walked through a C-47 Dakota+ plane, and then spent nearly an hour in the museum’s piece d’resistance, a massive library complete with LIFE Magazines dating all the way back to the very first one.

Perhaps the best part of this little museum was that it was entirely run by volunteers, many of whom were veterans of WWII.  You were able to talk to these older men, get their first-person accounts of the war, and of how those various flying machines and naval boats worked and operated.  One of the men spoke of joining the navy at 17, starkly putting into perspective the pampered lives of our current youth, another flipped through an old LIFE Magazine with us in the library and excitedly pointed out a sketched rendition of his old commanding officer.  Another told us of his time serving on the PT190 boat, and that, while he’d never spoken of the war prior, working at the museum had proven almost therapeutic for him and now he spoke regularly and readily of it.

The museum itself was entirely funded by private donors, and for being completely operated without any federal aid, was incredibly impressive.  Another highly recommended site should you pass through the area.

Afterwards, we got a late lunch at a place called Lamppost Pizza.  We ordered a large, on one half is chicken/avocado/tomato on white, and the other half is pepperoni/ham/mushrooms/onions/green peppers.

Yes, that is my finger in the shot. No, I couldn’t wait until the picture was done to start reaching for the pizza…but look at the thing, can you blame me?

Overall, it was a good trip.  I got absolutely no writing done (I know, very sad), but I had a great time, some great experiences, and learned about new things and new people — which are all the foundations for great writing.

Never pass up on an opportunity to experience the world.  It’s advice I’ve gotten time and again, it has never failed me, and I now pass it on to all of you.

Went on an impromptu weekend roadtrip to sister’s boyfriend’s father’s place in La Quinta, CA. 

We drove out this morning, it’s only like three/four hours outside of where l live, so not bad for a quick, long overdue vacation.  We went to visit the Living Desert zoo-preservation thing they got out here, and I highly suggest visiting it if you’re ever out this way.  It’s a nice (and cheap alternative) to the San Diego Zoo (it’s about an hour outside of San Diego, so keep it in mind if you ever think to head out this way). Most all  of the exhibits are a lot friendlier to the animals.  Plus, it showcases my natural habitat, the desert.  They had some incredible animals, including: golden eagles, zebra, cheetahs, tunisian black vultures, meerkats, and giraffes.  Did I mention the habitats were much nicer than those at any other zoo I’d ever been to.

Great place, check it out if you have the opportunity.

Anyhow, I’m drunk right now and trying to sober up  for steak and potatoes so l’ll try to write more later and post some pictures of this trip.

Otherwise, hope everyone stateside is having a good holiday and everyone not, a good weekend!

Got to go, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is on.

Because Nice People Pay It Forward

Guten tag everybody!

Yesterday, I was delighted…surprised…startled…intrigued, going with intrigued, intrigued to find I’d been nominated for something called a Leibster Award?  What the heck is a Leibster Award, you may ask…well, I asked, maybe you all know, I don’t know?  I thought it was a lobster or something.

And the award for best blog in the sea goes to….Gold Lobster!  YAY!!
Wow, look how happy he is!  He kind of reminds me of a ninja turtle…aww…I want one.

Apparently, it is not related to the crustacean family at all, disappointing a little…I was hungry for lobster…but, as it turns out, liebster is a German term of endearment, kind of like, “dearest” or “beloved”.  (See here for more possible “translations”).  “Dearest” Award…you know, I changed my mind, I kind of like that better than a lobster…as tasty scrumptious as lobsters are…little red roaches of the sea…fine, I’ll let it go…

Little less happy looking than the lobster, but LOOK, polka dots! Festive!

Anyhow, the more I read about this award (I didn’t actually read all that much, just skimmed a few lines, but it makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about, so roll with it), the more I came to realize it’s sort of like this: “Welcome to the Blog-o-Sphere” type of deal.  A nice way for up-and-coming bloggers to pat one another on the head and, more importantly, give one another a bit of a leg up by passing their blog name onto others and helping them build a bit of a readership, and round and round it goes, where it stops…well, let’s hope it never stops, because it’s kind of an awesome deal.

Right, so first and foremost; a HUGE thank you to the guy that nominated me, wonderful mister AdrianCharlesHoran.  Please visit his blog, I’ve giggled at more than a few of the things he’s written – the one about clucking!  Ah, so true.  He’s funny, charming, verbose, updates regularly (unlike some people I know…yes, I mean me…), and he liked my blog…so…yeah, go visit him and click on his stuff.  Somehow, that sounds wrong…

Now, rules of the award: I have to answer 11 questions provided to me by my nominator, I have to nominate 11 more blogs (these blogs must have less than 200 followers which happily reminds me I have 17 whole followers — no half or quarter followers here, whoot-whoot!  Go me!), then I have to provide my nominees with 11 new questions to answer and they have to nominate 11 more blogs and…see how this becomes an infectious cycle?

Here are the 11 questions AdrianCharlesHoran left for me — I got to be honest, I really just accepted this nomination because I love answering questions…yes, I am the person who sits in the front of the classroom and raises her hand eagerly every time the teacher asks something…don’t hate, you know you’re just jealous:

1. Scone (S gone) or Scone? (Sc own)

I don’t understand this question.  I’m not hearing the difference…oh well.  I like them both.  They’re tasty…with my coffee…reminds me, I need coffee.  Be right back!  Ah…coffee…no, got to use my Japanese (because I ditched class yesterday, who the hell holds class the day before Thanksgiving?  They’re just asking to have their class skipped): KooHee O Nomimasu!  Right…moving on.

2. What is the most adventerous thing you have ever done?

Ran the streets of Barcelona naked.  No, wait, that wasn’t me.  Um…climbed to the top of Mount Everest with only the clothes on my back…nope, not me again.  Adventurous…hm…well…no…uh…hm…I did once cross the street without looking both ways.  At a busy cross section.  Ah…yes, that was daring.

3. You’re stranded on a desert island which, funnily enough, has a portable music player on it. What are your five albums of choice?

Sweet, I love desert island questions.  Well, first would be Queen: Night At the Opera, because…duh, if I’m going to be stranded for days on end, I’m doing it to Bohemian Rhapsody.  Second, Johnny Cash: Live At Folsom Prison, because it reminds me of that time I shot a man in Reno…just to watch him die, and you know, when you’re on a desert island all alone, all you’ll have to keep sane is your memories.  Third, anything from the early nineties, because I’ll need something to melt down and make a shiv out of; practicality people!  Fourth, anything Tom Waits, because his music feels me with incomparable joy and, as a bonus, his voice will most certainly scare away any beasties at night.  Fifth and Final, Flogging Molly: Swagger, mainly, but I’ll take most anything by them because when I string together drift wood with rope made from vines and palm leaves I cut down with my campfire-made shiv, I’ll need the fierce Irish punk to play me off as I sail into the sunset.

4. Who is your favourite celebrity?

Neil Gaiman.  I know he’s just a writer, but does he count?  His publishing company refers to him as the “rockstar of the writing world”, that screams celebrity to me.

5. What do you consider to be your biggest flaw?

My inability to admit I have any flaws.  It’s a huge problem.  I mean, but come on, I’m perfect.   I never make mistakes…like typos, or putting my foot in my mouth or…once I mistook a boy for a girl, he was not thrilled…

6. If you regret doing one thing, what would it be?

Mistaking that boy for a girl.

7. We all have one – what is your hidden talent?

I  try not to keep my talents hidden.  I wave them in everyone’s face while chanting, “Look what I can do and you can’t!  Bwahahahaha!”  Sorry.  See, this is what coffee does to me.  Seriously though, my hidden talent is…uh…oh hey, apparently I can do the splits.  I learned this drunk.  Which reminds me, real quick lesson for you kiddies, if you’re going to play a drinking game to a Muppet’s movie, don’t make one of the rules: take a shot every time someone says Muppet!  You’ll remember maybe the first twenty minutes of the movie and if you’re lucky, very lucky, the credits.  But you may learn new and interesting things about yourself, like that you can do the splits.

8. What is your guiltiest of guilty pleasures?

Chocolate…no wait, cake…no, wait, cupcakes, no, no, PIE!  Pudding?  Candy, candy, candy?  Er…sweets.

9. What would you say is the world’s coolest job occupation?

Hands down: Lego Master Builder.  I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to be paid to sit around all day and build this:

And now we see the man behind the sponge…I mean literally, look at the man behind the sponge.

I found this picture on this blog, they’ve got an interview with Lego Master Builder Stephen Gerling…er…the guy in the picture.

10. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Oh I love this question!  Everyone should know — if you don’t, shame on you — that I love superpowers.  Already wrote one article on it, hoping to finish writing the next one soon, and then I have a third planned.  We’ll see how that all goes, but back to the question…if I could have one superpower…hm…I changed my mind, I don’t like this question, it’s too hard.  Okay, wait, I got it…I think I would love most to have the gift of tongues, to be able to instantly speak or read any language I came across, and in that, be able to communicate and ultimately have the means to understand anyone in the world, and through that, learn their stories.

11. James Bond or Harry Potter?

I’m going to pretend this question is asking me who would win in a death match.  Now, let’s look at the contenders.  James Bond is a dashing secret agent.  He’s British, wears a suit, takes his martini “shaken not stirred”, was once portrayed by Sean Connery (always awesome), Pierce Brosnan (little less awesome) but is now being portrayed by Daniel Craig (oh so shmexy), has a tech expert called Q, and his weapon of choice: Walther PPK handgun.  Harry Potter is an awkward teenage wizard.  He’s also British, wears a school uniform and…robe, is underage so he doesn’t drink, has only ever been portrayed by Daniel Radcliff (battle of the Daniels…), has a frizzy haired expert called Hermione, and his weapon of choice: a wand with a Phoenix feather core purchased at Ollivander’s in his first year.

While Bond can charm the panties off any lady, and easily defeat blade-rimmed hat throwing lackeys, Harry ended up with his best friend’s sister and can easily outwit your stereotypical stupid lackeys…though just barely.  It almost seems as though Bond has everything going for him, heck, he’s saved the world from countless monologue-ing villains, compared to Harry saving the world countless times from the same monologue-ing villain, and Bond always gets the girl in the end, it took Harry seven books to finally get a girl, but we mustn’t forget, Harry’s a wizard.  All the dash and daring do a secret agent can muster is always going to have a bit of difficulty against magic, especially when a flick of a wand can add warts and buckteeth (Not Daniel Craig’s face, nooooooo!), another flick takes away the Walther PPK, and a final flick, can transmute Bond into a teacup.

So, I guess in this death match, Harry wins by a wand flick.  Not as exciting a rumble as I hoped it would be.

And now that that is over and done with, on to the nominees.  I had a lot of trouble finding blogs with less than 200 followers, mainly because most blogs I checked didn’t have their number of followers listed anywhere, so if I nominated you and you have more than 200 followers, just accept the award anyway and pay it forward, because no one will know except you that you weren’t actually eligible.  Unless your conscience can’t take it.  Damn you, Jiminy!

My nominees:

Smoke Ring Collisions

On Becoming a Wordsmith

Danielle Bukowski 

Wake Up Tired   — blog name too awesome to resist….

On The Wings of the Hummingbird

Skeleton Road

Richard Bowker

Jamie Stokes 

hic sunt verba

havecakewithit  — because of the cake…ah…guilty pleasures…

A Comfortable Silence

There they are…gosh, I hope that’s 11.  Welcome to the blogging world people!  (Even though many of you have probably been blogging much longer than me…) Onto their questions:

1.  Think of three things you can’t live without.  What are they, why, and how would your life be different if you had to live without them?

2.  If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

3.  What is your least favorite book and why?

4.  If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

5.  You’re having a dinner party and can invite three people, dead or alive, who do you invite?

6.  You die, and are given the choice to be reincarnated into any organism in the world except human, what do you choose?

7.  What is the Golden Ratio?

8.  You’re in a good relationship with someone, but randomly stumble across your first love, who confesses he/she believes you’re their soulmate and proposes on the spot, what do you do?

9.  You’ve finished painting your masterpiece, what does it look like?

10.  You’re given the option to change the pigment of your skin any color of the rainbow, so long as it’s not a natural skin color, what color do you choose?

11.  Which is the movie you’ve watched more times than any other movie?

And there they all are.  I hope I didn’t make my questions too hard…and that my nominees realize they’ve been nominated and answer them.

Right, now I have breakfast to go eat.

On Writing Like the Greats

I know that some of us more egotistical writers like to believe that our voice is entirely unique, and our style is above and beyond and far removed from anyone else’s, but I saw this “Find out what famous writer you write like…” on someone else’s blog and couldn’t resist stroking my ego in a different way.  I decided to throw in a few various samples of my writing to see what I turned up.

I write like
Kurt Vonnegut

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

I write like
Margaret Atwood

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

I write like
Arthur Clarke

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

I was a little surprised that my first badge turned out to be Kurt Vonnegut, I haven’t yet read any of his books yet. I know, I know, shame on me (Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle are high on my ‘To Read’ list, I swear)…but I will say this, ever since watching this Youtube Clip of Kurt Vonnegut giving a creative writing lecture, I’ve been smitten with the man.  Believe it or not, last year I asked everyone in my family (and I mean everyone) to get me a book by Kurt Vonnegut for Christmas last year and, damn them all, I did not get a single one.  I must have been very naughty that year…

In retrospect, typing ‘naughty’ into the Google Image search, probably not my brightest of ideas…as I hit enter, my mind screamed, “NOOOOOOOOO!”

Several of my writing samples, however, turned up Margaret Atwood.  That was a little less surprising, very flattering, but not altogether surprising.  Her book The Handmaid’s Tale did change my life — I’m only being slightly dramatic.  I read the book shortly before voting for the first time in the 2004 election.  When Bush Jr. won, I spiraled into a completely irrational panic that the fanatical Right-Wing was taking over and soon I would be stripped of my identity, forced to dress in red with a funny white cap — I do not look good in white caps, and given the new name ‘Ofconservativerichman’, who I would be forced to sleep with in hopes I’d bear his child.  But no worries, I would totally carve “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” under my bed to give me strength.  Yeah…I was eighteen and naive.  Since then, I’ve become jaded about politics, and come to realize, there is no fanatical Right-Wing with any actual power in government, they’re all moderates, which means, they say and do whatever will line their pockets and get them re-elected next year.  This is good, though, because now I don’t have to worry about wearing a funny white cap.

But duuude…just think of all the things I could do with this kind of hat: hide candy, play basketball…as the net, carry water to thirsty villagers…

I also got Arthur Clark a few times and, sadly, had to look him up because I had no clue who he was…yes, you are allowed to throw things at me if you so choose, I seriously kicked myself when I pulled up his profile.  Really.  Honestly.  Dying happy now.  As a sci-fi writer, getting an “I write like…” badge for an author previously hailed as being one of the ‘Big Three’ of science fiction alongside Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov  is like getting a candy cane on any day that’s not Christmas.  (Oh, oh!  I knew who those last two were!  See, I’m not completely outside the loop of my own genre…and, you know, one of these days I will definitely finish Starship Troopers.)

Arthur Clark is like…

…candy?

So, all in all, it was a fun little game.  Now, I’m going to get back to writing like Atwood, Vonnegut and Clark, (See?  Ego sufficiently stroked) so that maybe one day I can enjoy the same…similar…close to…perhaps, possibly…a fraction of their acclaim.

If you decide to get your writing ‘analyzed’, please, let me know what famous writer you turned up and what it meant, or didn’t mean, to you!

What Is Art?

This morning in my class “Ancient Cultures of the Near East”, we were talking about artifacts excavated from various archaeological sites in the Fertile Crescent from the Neolithic: stone tools, bronze tools, figurines, etc.; and my professor mentioned that’d seen similar artifacts on display in art museums, scoffing that they weren’t art.  It jettisoned my brain onto a topic that, as a recovering art student, I have often contemplated.

What is art?

Now, if you’ve ever taken an art class, or maybe once drawn a picture that’s been laughed at and made to feel ashamed, then you may have come across this question or wondered about it yourself.  What qualifies something as art?  What defines art?  What is the meaning of art?  Or more importantly, how does art come to have meaning.

My professor was of the mind that those artifacts on display had not originally been produced as “art” and therefore had no place in any edifice dedicated to art.  He likened the artifacts to his shoes being put on display in a similar fashion centuries after the fact; claiming that his shoes are only tools that serve a practical function, and not designed to be put on display.  However, this analogy fails on a number of levels, most poignantly because the person who designed the shoes probably would like to think of them as art.  Also, because in our society, or most all societies for that matter, garments and auxiliary items like shoes, can be a form of art, otherwise, why would we have ‘fashion shows’ (aka, gallery displays?), why would we spend so much time picking out color, weighing design?  Why would we match our shirt to our pants?  Because we care about how our clothes cause others to perceive us.

Does this make shoes art?

No, no, these are totally practical…

What is art?

Sitting in class listening to my professor rant about the ludicrousness of these Neolithic tools being in an art gallery, I thought immediately of my favorite example of “what is art”: Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”.

Marcel Duchamp was a famous French artist in the early 1900s.  He’s been associated with such movements as Dada and Surrealism, but to try and pigeon-hole him into a particular genre would be like trying to screw in a light bulb without a socket.  He is often cited one of the most prominent artists of the past century, his work openly challenged the art scene, and often dealt with the very question which I’m posing today: what is art?

“Fountain” is one of his most acclaimed works.  It was a ready-made sculpture, which consisted of an old urinal found in a scrapyard, cleaned up, and signed R. Mutt.  Submitted anonymously to a prominent gallery, it was originally rejected entry because…well…it was a urinal.  But when Duchamp stepped forward to claim the piece as his own, the gallery quickly recanted its initial rejection and put “Fountain” on display.

“Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp

Over the decades, many have debated the intended meaning behind “Fountain”.  My sculpture professor suggested Duchamp, ever at odds with the art community that venerated him so, was attempting to demonstrate how elitist and cosmopolitan the art scene had become: they no longer cared about what was actually art, they only cared about what names were attached to the work.  My own interpretation of “Fountain” is a little less aggressive, more idealistic, dreamy-eyed notion, and that is that art is everything and anything we let or decide, determine or define it to be.

Art can be a painting or a sculpture pieced together for the very purpose of being put on display.  It can be a gourmet dish meant to be appreciated from the moment it arrives, plated beautifully, to the moment it is completely devoured.  It can be a song strung from an instrument or sung by a vocalist.  It can be a story, a paragraph, a sentence, or a single word written across a page.  It can be an action; a carefully choreographed ballet or an impulsive rhythmic gyration to a pulsing beat.  Or, it can be a centuries old milling stone from the Upper Neolithic.

Given this wide array of applications for ‘art’, my first instinct is to think of art as being a social construct – an abstract idea which society attaches all meaning to, shaping and influencing it with the changing ideologies of our society.  However, a piece of art does not change its meaning over time.  Decades, centuries and millennia later, Leonardo de Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” still enthralls and captivates us, Vincent Von Gogh’s “Starry Night” mesmerizing and haunt us, we are still dwarfed and humbled by Michelangelo’s mural on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, we are still awestruck and moved by the cave paintings in Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc caves.  Which draws my mind to my Linguistic Anthropology class.

‘Art’ is believed to come hand-in-hand with language.  Popular theory is you cannot have one without the other.  You need the cognitive ability to attach symbolic meaning to otherwise meaningless images, actions, or sounds in order to have art and/or language.  In this sense, one can connect art with communication.

Duchamp’s interests in the philosophies of art were in the intrinsic nature of its dichotomy: the artist versus the observer.  He states that, “The creative act is not performed by the artist alone…”  The artist is only the creator, it is the observer of the art who gives it meaning, context, definition.

In linguistics, participants in a system of communication are referred to as the sender and the receiver.  The sender is the speaker in a conversation, they are said to be ‘encoding the message’.    But the receiver is the one listening, ‘decoding the message’, and it is in the receiver’s ability to understand and interpret meaning in those gestures or words that the line is drawn between the sender’s message being communication or just plain old noise.

One day I’d like to see these in person, I understand photographs don’t do these cave paintings justice. (Cave Paintings from Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Caves)

Producing art is not a solo action, it may be created by the artist, but it is made art by the spectator.

As a writer, I have had moments where a story I’ve shared with others was transformed before my very eyes into this masterwork of art by my readers.  I could not take credit, at least not in whole, for what those writings became.  I maybe have put the words on paper, but the emotions and the life they breathed into those words were entirely and completely manifested by the readers.

I would propose this as a definition of art: anything created by one being which stirs emotion in another.

I know this opens a dangerous door, inviting everything to be labeled ‘art’, but considering I have always been an advocate that ‘everything is art and art is everything’, I’m strangely comfortable with this.

Going back to my professor’s comments, applying this definition of art, then it is easy to argue that those Neolithic tools most indubitably belong in that art museum.  When I look at those artifacts, I’m sure when most people look at them; it arouses this immensely powerful emotion.  It sweeps you away to another place, another time.  Who held this in their hands, shaped it for the appropriate function, used it to their own or their group’s benefit?  This person, tens of thousands of years now dead, how did they look, live, speak, think, feel?  This person, far removed from me by time and distance, but connected to me in their innate humanity.

Tools found at Chatal Huyuk.

(Quick message: I fully intend to finish writing those 50K words for NaNoWriMo.  I have exactly twelve short story ideas written down, and I’m aiming to make them each roughly 4000 words long, which’ll just about reach my goal.  I no longer care if I go past November, I intend to finish writing these short stories.  I’m currently working on one that’s roughly half-way finished entitled “Mermaid”, the story of a young girl trying to sort out the events leading up to and following her failed attempt at suicide.  I’ll post it as soon as it’s finished.  Otherwise, I have to go back cookies for the potluck at my workplace tomorrow…)

Thanks for reading.  Any insights on what you think defines ‘art’, please feel free to share!

As Another Door Closes…

(Found this in my ‘drafts’, forgot I had started writing it a long time ago – June 13th to be exact.  Decided to wrap it up a bit and figured I’d post it.)

On Wednesdays I’ve been “working” at a print shop called the Sign Experts.  It’s a nice little start-up business, the owner aims to make it a completely eco-friendly venture, printing with vegetable-based inks, on sustainable paper, etc.  Anyhow, today is my last day working for him, as my other (real) job wants me to work Wednesdays now, which’ll be irrelevant in about two months when I start school anyhow, because then I’ll be in classes all Wednesday and can’t work anywhere.

So, on my last day, I’m kind of just sitting here reflecting.  I don’t actually have much else to do…it’s a little slow today.  I’ve only worked here about six months, but I do feel I’ve learned a few things; about myself and about the graphic design industry, and maybe about life in general.  Since I have nothing to do, I figured I’d jot some of these “lessons” down and share them with all you lovely people out there in cyberspace.

Things I’ve learned about the Graphic Design Industry (also applicable to all aspects of life):

“Good Design” is a matter of opinion – I actually have a long background in art and design.  I went to school for four years studying computer graphic design, and I did six years in art.  I’ve gone to school and worked with a lot of different “graphic designers”, some really incredibly talented, some not so much.  I know that, as far as design goes, everyone has their own style.  But I also thought I knew that, at the very least, there were rules about what made “good design”.  Until I started working at Sign Experts.  I have seen some of the most aesthetically insulting things receive approval from the client, get printed, and sent out.  When I taught arts&crafts at a YMCA camp a few summers ago, I pinned up a little story on the wall: If you put an apple in front of twenty people and ask them to draw it, you will get twenty very different pictures.  It was meant to encourage the kids to think outside the box and to embrace their own and each other’s very different perspectives.  I thought I understood the story’s meaning before but now it’s taken on a very new meaning: there are no rules of design, there is only what “I” like.

What the customer wants and what the customer says he wants are very rarely the same thing – I had a customer come in.  He wanted a poster printed for an event he was promoting at one of the casinos (I live in Vegas, that may never have been mentioned….).  He told me he needed a background image to show to the venue in order to receive approval.  The background needed to be of the mixed martial arts octagon fighting cage, he wanted it to be like a fight setting, lights, etc.  I asked him at least five times to verify that he just wanted the background image at that juncture, octagon fighting cage, fight setting, lights, etc.  Yes, yes, yes.  So I found a picture, octagon cage, fight setting, bright lights, and sent it off to him.  The response I received was very unpleasant and basically summed up to “this is not what I wanted”.  Apparently this customer was difficult from the start, and I was just last in line to (futilely) attempt appeasing him.  I knew from years of graphics training that the most important part of graphic design was to give the customer exactly what they say they want.  I did not know that there were customers (and lots of them) that would not be able to say what the fuck it is they want.

Communication is the key to a lock no one can find – So a lot of these titillating revelations are, surprise surprise, communication related.  Being a writer, an artist, and an anthropology major, perhaps, aiming to focus her studies on linguistics (still not fully decided…), I should be able to tell you better than anyone how important communication is — not just in personal relationships but in business relationships, or life in general.  However, before working at Sign Experts, I honestly can say, I had no clue how important and how lacking communication skills were in the general public.  Majority of the complaints that came in were due to a breakdown in communication.  I was sort of familiar with this effect, but I wasn’t familiar to such an intimate extent.  I filled in on Wednesdays for my friend who was the main graphic designer of the company and, by law, entitled to at least one day off.  Hence, me being there.  She was usually the one who spoke with the clients, gathered their information, and jotted it down for reference when actually compiling the project.  When I came in, she would set some of these references aside for me to work on.  This involved deciphering her scribbles, sometimes rifling through emails back and forth with the customer (typically in net-speak, of course), and eventually,  throwing my hands up in despair and giving her a call.  What was the point of her having a day off anyway?  (**Look for a possible future article further exploring the topic of communication and, most importantly, is implications for writers later**)

Money Always Comes First/People Suck – At the time I left, Sign Experts wasn’t doing well.  Not because of lack of clients, or inability to appease clients…no…no…but because the vast majority of clients are assholes who will do anything to stiff on the check.  Despite myself and my friend (the main graphic designer) constantly telling the owner he needed to collect money up-front on many of the very big, very costly projects – such as the vehicle wraps where your product could literally drive off without being paid for – for whatever reason, he was determined to deliver a quality product before being paid.  I know, it’s very noble of him, wanting the customer to be able to hold in their hands and look over with approval exactly what they are paying an exorbitant amount of cash for, but the problem is this: what if the customer decides they don’t approve or just back out altogether with no reason or simply decide to take the product and run (drive)?  Well, you’ve just spent countless hours, and wasted valuable – expensive – materials on pro bono work.  Don’t get me wrong, the owner of Sign Experts is an amazingly awesome person and should certainly be commended for his valiant effort to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and, more importantly, wanting to stress customer service.  Unfortunately, people suck.  Do yourself a favor, and always get your money first.  (I know, for the most part, this is backwards advice to writers.  Typically, we have to do all the work upfront and then we attempt to sell the finished (or near finished) product but that leads me to the next “revelation”)

Never Sell Yourself Short.  The owner of Sign Experts has a great special on business cards (500 for 30 bucks – full color, two-sided, glossy, and they would even design it for you), it was his ‘hook’.  It brought the customers in, and once inside, they could look at all the other shiny products he sold and consider purchasing some of them as well.  For a start-up company in an already over-saturated market, this was an essential ploy for building a reputation and bringing business in.  A lot of the people interested in business cards would presumably be business people, often business owners themselves, that would need other types of prints as well (wraps, signs, banners, postcards, etc.).  Problem was, majority of the people that came in only wanted the business cards.  Either they already had a printer they knew and trusted for all those other things, went through a megastore printer (Kinkos or Wal-Mart) which could set its prices ridiculously low or they weren’t business people….just people looking for cards to put their names on.   The cards themselves brought in no profit whatsoever, but some of those customers required days of back and forth on design work (read as: free labor).  For me, the solution should have been simple, charge for design at a 2 hour minimum, but maybe this situation had no solution, online business card sellers have thousands of template designs customers can choose from at no additional cost.  Regardless, my takeaway was simple: know what you and your time are worth, and never let them go for less.

Passion Perseveres So Keep Dreaming.  Most of these ‘revelations’ have been so tragic and dismal, but I’d like to end on a positive note.  The owner of Sign Experts, as I’ve already said, is an amazing person.  He lives as a vegan and is committed to building a name for himself in an industry known for being extremely unfriendly to the environment as a green printer.  His most important interest in this goal is proving to the naysayers out there who claim green printing processes can’t match non-eco-friendly quality or cost that they are wrong.  He wants to incorporate his healthy and eco-conscious lifestyle into his products, to use his company to advocate his personal ideologies of protecting the environment, establishing more humane treatment of animals, and essentially being happy, healthy, and wise.  However, most important, he’s doing it all for his son.  He wants to show his son that hard work pays off and that dreams are attainable.  His passion is evident in all that he does, and although the world seems intent on pushing him down and breaking his spirit, he persists, and that has, at least, inspired me to keep working on my own dreams.

— A few last words, every opportunity, no matter how trivial is may seem, is a new experience and in every new experience there is a lesson or two to be learned.  Working at Sign Experts didn’t line my pockets with riches – I was paid at least enough to cover the gas it took driving to the place and back home again, but every day there taught me something new, and that, in and of itself, is invaluable. —

Still Writing

Currently working…or not.  I thought it might be prudent to check in.  At first glance, it may seem I’ve fallen tragically behind on my NaNoWriMo goal, just want to let it be known, I have been writing every night…just not anything postworthy as of yet. So, I’ve only partially failed my goal.

I have four days off Thanksgiving weekend and anticipate using that time writing a much longer piece to upload, so we’ll see how that goes.

Meanwhile, here’s a quick few lines:

My dainty little darling dear,

Your bones so bent and queer

Your brittle back is broken

And raspy voice softspoken

How I’d love to lift you high

Spread your wings

And watch you fly.

kgbethlehem

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