Dec 31, 2014

A real exit interview

So, you've had a good run here. We're sorry to see you go. I've got just a few things to cover before we're done.

First, did you get my email about where to leave your things? Ok great. You don't have to leave your shoes, those will be hard to find a new owner for. Undies and socks go in the trash.

Now, how many of your coworkers know you're leaving? All of them? Good good.

Where did you put the flower pot? George has been following the treasure map you tried to throw away two weeks ago, but he hasn't been able to locate it.

Do you have a forwarding address for us to send the data we've been collecting on you? I think you'll take particular interest in the germ count on your tea mugs.

Are there any unresolved office romances that we need to clean up? Jenny and the cleaning crew are going to do a sweep next Monday. I'll add yours to the list.

Is there anything that you'd like to confess?

No?

Are you sure?

Well then, that about wraps it up. It's been a real pleasure. Best of luck in your future endeavors!

Dec 29, 2014

Tips for Myself, version 2010

Don't use a big knife where a small one will do.

Buy delightful, colorful, impractical, mundane things. Its literally investing in a brighter future.

Toothpaste makes a great souvenir. Ditto for deodorant. When you run out, you know it's time for the next trip.

Dec 28, 2014

Sam

I loved his bed more than him. It was a luxurious bed, musky smelling. The mattress sagged. The sheets were often knotted in hot, sweaty lumps. He had propped it up on risers, such that you were above the chaos that existed outside its sheeted edges.

The room itself, like the rest of the old clapboard house, was dusty, inhospitable. The ancient floorboards creaked when anyone in the whole two story affair headed to the toilet, which with four roommates, was often. The ceiling rattled when someone climbed the stairs.

The floor was often strewn with clothes. There wasn't much of one - a dilapidated corner sofa occupied much of the open space. In the corner was a clapboard white, now more grayish with grime, door  that led directly to his roommates' equally dusty, darker room. It was, as far as I could tell, never used.

He had a small desk in the corner, where I'd watch him play internet poker well into the afternoon, luxuriating beneath the covers as the sun snuck its way through the cracks in the dusty blackout curtains and across the body hiding there - me. He teased me for being lazy, but didn't seem to mind my woozy hungover presence.

I always wondered who else he had in that bed, if anyone. Who else it belonged to when I was not there, to fill a small corner of it. Time sharing, my love.

There wasn't much outside that bed. We talked sometimes, but of what I don't know. We went out for dinner once, at a fancy Italian place south of town. At parties, he smoked cigarettes, sometimes, when he drank. His kisses were heady, smoky then, wet and rich as my own drunken haze.  

Even now, I'm not sure how or why really, but without fail, every Friday for one long, sunny spring semester I would find my way back into that lovely, lonely bed.

Dec 27, 2014

Dear Abby, Fuck Endorphins

Dear Abby,

I need to preface this letter with a disclaimer.  I'm planning to complain about something that I feel guilty about complaining about.  I find it kind of fascinating though, so I'm going to ignore that guilt and write you about it anyways, mostly because it's become a serious problem in an otherwise great current state of being.

I ran the New York City marathon about 2 months ago.  I finished.  My time was solid, respectable, but nowhere near Boston quality marathon time.  The race was all kinds of terrible and I'm pretty proud of finishing it.

From August until race date (Nov 2nd) I invested an enormous amount of time and effort into training.  In three months, I logged over 238 miles, or about 40 hours of running[1][2].

All that investment paid off, and has continued to pay off.  I'm in great shape.  My recovery time from the marathon was about 4 days.

To put this into perspective, I ran my first marathon in Toronto in October 2012, a little over two years ago now.  After the Toronto marathon, I was totally broken.  My legs ached for days.   Two weeks passed before I wanted to run again.  I eventually ended up in acupuncture to help with a debilitatingly tight tendon in my left heel[3].  It took about a month and a half of semi-weekly sessions to fix the tendon.  I went through this then, but the injury and lasting physical exhaustion made it less noticeable.

So what's the problem?  I have no plans of running another marathon in the immediate future, but I'm still in great shape.  The maintenance on this great shape has gotten expensive, but I can't quit.  I'm addicted to the endorphins.

The great shape part is great, if you're using it.  If I spend a few days without a jog, my legs start aching from the lack of exercise.  I've got too much energy.  When I do go for a run, the miles I put in are never enough.  The endorphin rush that used to kick in after a quick 3 miles now takes at least an hour.  As a result, my attitude and overall well-being depends on logging bigger numbers of miles.

Running is great, but it's a huge time suck.  I don't want to be spending hours on the pavement in the middle of winter.  Is there some magic pill that I can take that would dial my endorphin dependence[4] down from "Marathon level" to "Half-Marathon level"?  I'm interested.  I may be talked into taking the "5K level" pill if you're selling one.

- Frustratedly Antsy


[1] This math works out -- that's just under 6 miles per hour.

[2]  Using the maths further, 40 hours divided by 12 weeks is about 3.33 hours per week.  This isn't exactly right, as with tapering up and down, some weeks were definitely busier than others.  Even so, in retrospect, this doesn't seem like *such* a huge time investment.

[3] I'm not sure why I eschewed normal physical therapy and jumped straight to eastern medicine.  Living right next door to Chinatown at the time may have been an influence.  Whatever the reason, it worked out for the best.  My foot was back to normal in about 6 weeks, and I've never had a relapse.  Also a plus, there were zero 'homework' stretches or exercises associated with treatment.  All the 'work' took place in the clinic.  They also took my insurance; I didn't pay anything more than a co-pay.  #winning

[4] I went on a 'short run' today.  It'd been 3-4 days since my last jog and the jitters were reaching a fever pitch.  I ran on a route that I'm really familiar with but had never done before (linking up old and new hoods), and at what felt like a leisurely pace.  I didn't bring a watch or a phone, so I had no idea how much time I was running for. Based on intuition, it felt like a 6-7 mile run.  When I mapped it out, the truth was almost double, closer to 11.5mi.[4a]

[4a] I'm still jittery.

new new new new new

The new year bears down with a slow creeping insistence.  It moves closer, one day at a time, the same pace as always, but closer such that you can feel the wind from the void of 2015 just beyond the bend.

I met a talented woodworker in Nashville but a few weeks ago, and in the way that full hearted artistry does, I've been inspired. Everyday there's a new photo in my Instagram feed of a spoon he carved that day. We're but 5 spoons from the end of his project. I wonder if the time passes the same for him now as it did in the first five. (How much of mastery is of yourself, not your craft?)

I've been thinking about year long projects for a while now. What would I dedicate a year to studying? Julia Childs dedicated six months to learning French cooking (which became a lifetime). A Nashville carver made spoons. An artist and dear colleague at Etsy drew cats.

It's not a resolution. It's a project. I've had much success in the past by throwing myself into new things. The 5 day a week veganism. Portuguese. 750 words of writing a day, for a month (I made it 40 days straight before quitting, cold turkey one hungover morning in July.) Taking singing lessons.

But what to dedicate myself to? There are many things that I'm interested in getting better at, or exploring more deeply. Picking just one and sticking to it for a year is daunting.

Commitment is a hard problem.

I've already narrowed the list of options a bit. I'd like it to be an output project, such that by the end of the day I have something that didn't exist at the beginning of that day. That leaves out any "consumption" projects - read an article a day, listen to a lesson in French a day,  eat an apple a day... et cetera.

It also needs to be tractable. Something that no matter where I find myself in 2015, I can do this thing. Nothing that requires an inordinate amount of equipment or tools. If need be, Id be willing to take a break during a trip (backpacking, rafting). It needs to be doable within the time frame of a single day. Repeatable, but with room for improvisation.

Current ideas include:
- sew a pocket a day
- bread making
- short story writing
- a photo of the sunrise or sunset
- a problem from SICP
- a new knitting stitch
- ???

Dec 26, 2014

Feedback loops

A few years ago, more or less with the prodding of my mother and paleo sister, I made some life style changes.

I stopped eating most forms of sugarcane. And I stopped using aluminum based* deodorant.

These are hard things to do. Assuming that you're stopping from a normal American lifestyle, chances are your system is used to being chock full of sugar, and ditto for aluminum under your arms.

There's a detox period. It's horrible. If you're giving up aluminum, something in your body overcompensates for the sudden lack of the metal. The result is a terrible personal stench. It goes away after a few weeks as the microbe ecosystem that is your sweat glands recalibrates itself. But the in the meantime, you're standing 10 feet away from everyone and avoiding all stressful situations. I used to try to time this with spring break or winter holiday when I was in college. It took more than one try to drop it completely.

For sugar, it's also a few week adjustment period of insatiable cravings and irritability.

But! Once your over both of these and your body has recalibrated to be sugar cane / aluminum free, strange cool science shit happens. You can smell when you eat sugar!! My BO changes, not in a good or bad way, it just smells a bit sweeter the day after having a slice of cake. Same goes with veganism and meat. My diet makes me smell different. I find this amazingly cool.

The smell changes, to me, are a bigger indication of the impact diet has on your body composition. What I eat matters for more than how I feel, or how much the scale says I weigh**. It also matters for the dude sitting next to me on the bus.

What a sweet feedback loop!

*Aluminum is an antiperspirant. You can buy deodorant that doesn't contain aluminum.
**Weighing yourself is a sloppy proxy measuring health.

Dec 22, 2014

"Jesus Christ It's Cold Outside, Is That a Savoy Cabbage? How Hard Could Soup Be?" soup recipe

I made this for the first time a few days ago; it's delicious.  It lasted me for three days, and tasted as good on the third day as it did on the first.  It'd work well for a hearty starter or as the main attraction.

Ingredients:
- 1 head of savoy cabbage
- 2 Idaho Potatoes
- 1 bunch of green onions
- 8 cloves of garlic
- Heaps of freshly ground black pepper (~2 tbs?)
- 1 1/2 tbs flakey sea salt (+/- a bit to taste)
- 2 tbs Olive Oil
- ~2L water*

Directions:
In a large pot, add the water and olive oil.  Bring to a boil.  Add the salt. 

While the water is boiling, remove the two outer leaves from the cabbage, and chop cabbage and potatoes into chunks, no bigger than an inch thick.  De-paper the garlic cloves, and chop up just the white parts of the green onions.  Leave the green tops for garnish later.

Once the water is boiling, add the cabbage, potatoes, green onion whites, and garlic cloves to the pot.  Pepper heavily.

Lower to a hair above a simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are mashable with a spoon on the side of a pot, checking in every 5-10 minutes.

Season to taste.  If it needs more salt, add it.  Note that using table salt will probably result in needing less of it than large flake sea salt.  Ditto for black pepper.

Chop and sprinkle on the green tops of the green onions.  Serve piping hot, with day-old french bread.

Serves 2 - 4


* I used a shallow pot called a rondeau to cook this in.  With the potatoes and cabbage, it about came up to the top of the pot.  That's how much water I put in.  I've since measured, it was about 2L of water.  I'm not sure if having everything that close together was a hindrance or a help to the soup, but it came out fucking delicious, so who cares.  A bigger pot's probably easier to stir.

Dec 21, 2014

A Bitchy Perspective on Audience and Sin

Some perspectives are hard to write from.  Take for example, that of being a beautiful woman with problems.  Let's say that you wanted to write about a problem that, in your experience, seems to stem from being a pretty female.

First, you commit the sin of calling yourself beautiful.  Not just pretty, but mind-blowingly beautiful.  This is a cardinal sin, one of the Seven.  It goes by the name vanity.  All of us have sinned, but usually in some empathy building way, like gluttony or sloth.  These are sins that we can all work on being better at, together.  Vanity is a consensus destroying sin -- it's the sin that we'd all be committing if we weren't all gluttonous and lazy.  Since we are all not able to be vain, the sin of vanity engenders the sin of envy.

What a terrible sin vanity is.

Second, you have enough self-confidence to see that others, particularly those with no stake in your personal well-being, see you as beautiful.  Most people can find at least one person who finds them beautiful, how do you know that you are not falling into a pit of lack of perspective?  In the process of discovering if you are suffering from impostor's syndrome, suddenly you find your physical attributes questioned, and in the process see your original self-confidence destroyed.  What a fugly bitch, the internet will say.  If you're so pretty, come on then, show us your tits, someone else will comment.  I've never seen a face that looks more like a horse, will be a common, and, if you're as beautiful as you say you are, erroneous response.  In science, they call erroneous test results such as these "true negatives".[1]

To summarize, if you come out as a beautiful woman writing about issues in your life, you may as well chalk up "having your self-identity questioned" as the next issue on the list of grievances to write about.

Third, you must commit the sin of complaining about a thing that others pay hideous amounts of money, submit themselves to torture and starvation in order to obtain.  This is not as cardinal of a Sin as Vanity, but it is whining.  Whining is a cardinal sin of the modern world[2].  To that audience that you're relying on to tell your story to, you've just revealed to them what a whining bitch they're spending their time reading the words of.

All this sin and self-questioning can detract from the story you're attempting to tell.

These problems in creating a relatable character or persona undermine your reason for writing about your problems in the first place.  These reasons normally fit into two categories: A) make yourself feel less bad about your problems by opening them up to a public forum, usually accomplished through B) engendering a modicum of either sympathy or empathy from you readers.  Connecting with an audience that probably cannot relate (are they a beautiful woman? If not, what are the chances that they've encountered the problems that you're ascribing to this position?  If they are A) not a beautiful woman and B) have encountered the problems that you're experiencing, then god what an asshole you are for even assuming that only beautiful woman have that problem in the first place).

All of those sins committed, and for what?  The lost goodwill of a once eager, but now disinterested and slightly disgusted audience.


[1] A "true negative" is the inverse of a "false positive".
[2] See #firstworldproblems.

Dec 17, 2014

Superego

And don’t let that superego eat you, he said.

Once about a year ago, I woke up and she stayed sleeping.  That day was the best day I’ve ever had.  She stayed asleep for a week.  That week changed my life.

Whatever the price, I would pay it if it would put her to sleep forever.


Sometimes I worry that I drunkenly made that deal, and every day since that one has been payment.

Dec 11, 2014

Hungover

Somehow it doesn't make sense. A bunch of assholes with a grudge hijack a few planes and terrorize Manhattan and in response we build a culture of fear and loathing. Ten years and change later and we're going to war with ourselves. A bunch of fat, mostly white dudes killing black men and throwing pepper spray at privileged Twittererz.

Dec 9, 2014

Wind of Fortune

She placates herself with mulled wine and well phrased quips that she posts to the micro-forum.  They're well received, by and large.

I'm not sure what she told you about herself but I'm here to set the record straight. She was right about karma.

You know, all too well perhaps, of her paranoia with fortunes. Every time a good thing would happen she'd be walking around with her head down, just waiting for the next thing to drop.

It never really quite worked out that balanced but she couldnt help but worry, all the same, about the misery her own luck was bringing down about the heads of others. Raining it down like hail in the Sierras in the late summer, angry and relentless in its fury.

Like the time she got that promotion at work and then the tsunami struck the East coast of Japan, knocking out a nuclear power plant.

Or when the boy she liked made a reply to one of her oblique posts on the 'forums. Her sister's cats escaped. They were found a few hours later when they returned home for supper. Their fleas wouldn't be discovered for a few days. It took two weeks to rid the house of them.

In the same way, she took a grotesque pleasure in her own misfortunes. She was happy for a week when her driver's license application was denied on the basis of lack of proof of residency. 
Her laughs could be heard echoing throughout her apartment complex when Jake, her new beau, called to break it off.

I asked her once, about her lighthearted approach to misfortune. She replied, at least someone else is making profit from this, my madness of a life.

blank canvas

this canvas is blank. does that mean it's time for me to start afresh? that's one of the side effects of blank canvas -- it brings...