Sunday, December 30, 2007

77; Annoyance

Sometimes our family gets on our nerves. We should expect that they would. After all, few people know us better our family.

Annoyance is a funny thing. Oftentimes people annoy one another without being aware of it. You could bring it to their attention, but then if they were annoying you by accident they’ll likely be hurt. There is an interaction in Jane Austen’s Emma, between the young Emma and her friend Miss Bates which struck me as just this sort of thing. The two of them, amongst other friends, agree to play a game where one must say three things, or something like that. Miss Bates inquires if dull things are permitted; stating that if that is the case then she’ll be alright in the game. Emma counters by saying that her difficulty will be limiting herself to just three.

“Ah!—well—to be sure. Yes, I see what she means, (turning to Mr. Knightley,) and I will try to hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or she would not have said such a thing to an old friend."

Emma was certainly in bad form to have voiced her opinion of the dull Miss Bates to her face. Should she have, instead, saved it for behind her back?

Let’s get hypothetical. You know someone who annoys you, who you do not get on well with. There may be no specific incident that sticks out, there’s just something about them, how they talk, their mannerisms, their interactions, what have you, which sets you off. You find yourself often in their presence, and that presence is irritable.

Would you be comfortable voicing your complaints to them, your annoyance? Would it do more harm or ill to gripe and bitch behind their backs? Yet, people do not seek confrontation. Instead they stew as prunes in a pot do, often feeling as though an analogous reaction was affecting them. There is something unhealthy in such a decision. We may consider the utility or health of turning ourselves into prunes over other people.

I do believe that we can make the world a better place. Should we start on the annoying people? Is such a problem solvable? Of course not. Some people get on your nerves, but not your friends. Others get on only some people’s nerves, but not everyone’s. You know, like certain Presidents. We must also remember that in all likelihood you get on someone’s nerves.

Some wisdom from Jane Wagner: “I think we developed language because of our deep down need to complain.” People, most of the time, can think of ways their lives could be better. Curse that highly developed reasoning brain of ours, it can come up with ideas of a better life. If people wonder why rich people still feel unfulfilled, my guess is this is why. So, to pass time while we choose what card to throw down, we complain. We may call it small talk, if like. Small talk, if you look at it long enough, appears to be a very civil argument. Most conversations wouldn’t exist without disagreements or comparisons. That’s the other branch of the fork: we like to argue and complain, and then we discuss the differences that lead us to do so. All part of our ability to judge situations we think are better than our own.

Okay, this one’s getting long, so I better wrap her up. Here’s the point. People are unhappy, have been, and most likely will always be unhappy. Since they are unhappy they complain, for reasons that may range from the notion ‘misery loves company’ to the biological fact that when young creatures are upset they voice it so as to get things to change. Complaining, and I’m going out on a limb on this, is some attempt to affect change of situation.

If you are going to complain about someone annoying you, then, you are voicing the fact that you want to affect change in your situation. And, since your situation is dependent upon another person’s autonomy you will need to get your point across to them is you wish the change to occur. Were you ever upset about something and not voice it as a child? If your parents were like mine when you finally did let it all out, as people must do, they probably countered with the facts: they are not a mind-reader.

Sadly, they were right (I hope, jury’s still out on some of my family members). Most people aren’t hyper-sensitive to other people. In fact, most are just kinda thick, since, hey, we’re busy thinking about ourselves. So if someone annoys you, family or otherwise, my only recommendation is to approach them about it. Try not to be snarky or sarcastic, anything demeaning won’t get you anywhere, and is more likely to lead to those hurtful cases. No, just be blunt and honest. Let them know how you feel, tell them what it is, specifically, that annoys you.

Who knows how they’ll react. They may blow up in your face. They may not speak to you for a while, or throw out accusations of your own. Hopefully you’ll get the latter, since the best-case scenario is sitting down and talking it out with them. If they have had issues with you as well that makes the process a lot easier. That way the conversation doesn’t feel like a one-sided blame-fest. And, as I said before, most likely, you’re annoying too.

We won’t rid the world of annoying people anytime soon, but we can improve our lives by letting others know and having them let us know when we all get on each other’s nerves. Rather than draw this column out any longer I’ll kill it here; my annoyance having taken two pages to work out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

76; Documents

How does one prepare flamingo?

“Pluck, clean and dress a flamingo (sized according to how many relatives you really expect to take part in this feast.) Place the flamingo, head first, in a very tall pot (if you place it feet first, it may never get done). Add water, salt, dill and a splash of wine vinegar and bring to a slow boil. Toss a bundle of leeks and coriander leaves into the pot when the bird is about half done. While simmering, prepare a sauce with fresh corns of pepper, caraway and coriander, ground together with laza roots, mint and rue. Moisten the mixture with vinegar before adding Jericho dates and some broth from the flamingo pot. Remove the flamingo from the pot when done and place it on a very long platter. Add the sauce to the flamingo-less pot and thicken with starch. When finished, pour sauce over flamingo and serve.”

Okay, better question: Where does one find a flamingo for the recipe? Or perhaps better still: Why do I care?

Antiquity is full of documents. Many were lost at Alexandria, and lesser known but just as devastatingly at Ephesus. Still, quite a few are still around, like, for example, Roman cookbooks with instructions on preparing a tasty flamingo pot.

In culinary value these books are lacking (although you can apparently easily replace the flamingo with parrot). As books they would generally be considered curiosities. However this view may in fact be changing, and would warrant the cookbook another glance.

When Roman antiquity pops into my mind I think of a few great authors: Virgil, Ovid, Seneca, Plutarch, Livy, Tacitus. The question would be how many Romans do we think tackled The Metamorphoses and The Aeneid? Heck, if you asked most people today whether they read Cicero or The Joy of Cooking how many would of us would place bets on the Roman? Sure they might have a copy on their shelves, yellowing and slumping in the corner.

Which text, we may question, provides greater insight into the people we are supposedly interested in? We can claim, and many do, that we don’t care about the regular people of a society, merely that we are interested in their great products. That is, it is not the Romans that interest us, but their epic poetry and still-standing aqueducts. We must admit, though, that this gives us little insight into the lives of the average Roman. For that we are much better off reading on the preparation of flamingo.

In Other News: Time Magazine has selected Vladimir Putin as their Man of the Year. I’d say ‘told you so’, but Time did for me. Really, Putin isn’t that big of a surprise. Russia has reasserted itself as a figure to be reckoned with. Putin is stepping down as President, but no doubt he is going to continue to make an impact in the years to come (most likely as Prime Minister). After all, it is the largest country in the world. Kind of hard to forget its there, no matter how hard we may try.

Of course there are other uses for flamingos and steely-eyed Russians. One of them, I hear, makes a fantastic croquet mallet. And the other we can put in the zoo!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

75; Christmas

I have feared this moment since I made the decision to write columns. There have been some major obstacles over the last half-year, some which I have surmounted, and others which I have said I’ll try again later. But none of them come close to Christmas.

How do you write about Christmas? Everyone writes on Christmas. People who don’t write get inspired to write. People who do write face competition and a legacy so overwhelming it makes originality near-impossible. You could try reinterpreting something, like the bald kid, or the gift-bearing dudes, or the miserly Londoner. You could comment on personal experiences, Virginia, or looking beyond the world to see the spirit of the season. The latter comes up every year, yet never seems to make an impact.

Of course the tried and true writings are all out there: anti-commercialism; predictions, dire and placid; anti-political and anti-fanatical. Ecumenical and non-. Writings on families, friends, miracles, and civilizations. Anything the day is supposed to represent has been written on. I say day because I feel the notion of a Christmas season is a bunch of baloney. I’d elaborate, but I’m sure someone already has.

I could write an anti-nostalgic piece, lambaste Jimmy Stewart, Edmund Gwenn’s Kris Kringle, Macy*s, and the rest of it. But, honestly, I don’t want this column to be a downer.

Like everyone else writing about Christmas I want my writing to say something important. To get out a message. If I have an option between broadcasting a positive or a negative message, I’ll choose positive.

This past year has been a doozy. I assume that’s true for everyone. Looking back on those scant few years which comprise the totality of my mortal time I cannot but help feel as if each has been extraordinary. Each year has helped form who I am, even the boring years. 2007 was not a boring year, for me, but if it was for you, do not fret. I have no doubt that there were elements, accidents, happenings and developments which had profound consequences on you. Whether you recognize them now or not is immaterial.

You know, (of course you don’t, but I’ll tell you anyway) I find it interesting to see which children’s books we latch on to. In my household my sister and I read and were read to quite a deal when we were young. I must have consumed literally thousands of children’s books by the age of twelve. Certain ones, however, stick out in my mind, for their pictures, or story, or who knows why.

We had no way of knowing, as children, which books were going to leave an impression on us. We just read them. We just read them, and enjoyed them, or disliked them, and moved on to the next one. Never did I stop and wonder if this book or that would be worth remembering. For remembering is an active part of aging, and I was generally unconcerned about it.

Remembering and concern do go hand in hand. The act of remembering is carried out because we are concerned about ourselves. That we will be forgotten, or that we will forget others. We switch our focus from engaging to preserving as we get older. Rather than reading books and finding new ones we shelve our books, and make space for old memories.

Christmas, perhaps, should not be a time of remembering. Or, to give the message a positive spin: Christmas should be a day for engaging. Creating, doing, acting, and being, all the positive ‘carpe diem’ verbs should be used. Rather than dwell in the unchangeable past create your own future, and celebrate not the old year or new prematurely. Revel in the day as a day, and you may create a memory that, years from now when you do feel like reminiscing, will undoubtedly be seen as a formative day. Keep it up throughout the year and the years to come and you need never worry about having an uneventful year to look back on.

Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

74; Flow

Paranoia is a subject very dear to me. It’s granted that neuroses are, by in large, Bad Things. Neuroses don’t, after all, do anything for you, do they? Some people might argue that phobias are useful since heights, spiders, ducks and doctors all are potential threats. The likelihood of them having any dangerous impact on your life, however, is kind of slim. And yet no one has phobias of heart disease, or bathtubs, which are responsible for…

Flow interruption. Writing, painting, ceramics, data entry, conversation, cooking: whatever it is you like to do or find yourself doing frequently you develop a flow to your work or art or pleasure. There’s just as much flow on the slopes or fly-fishing as there is reading or writing.

I wonder, at times, what is the goal of humanity. At other times, however, the more appropriate question is what is most important for humans. Is our goal, as so many have postulated, personal happiness? Is it achieving our true potential? Think back on the moments in your life when you felt you were living up to your fullest potential, as whomever it is you wish to be. Compare those memories to the times when you were happiest. Is there one that is of greater value than the other, or would talking about the value of such things be meaningless?

Perhaps our greatest moments are when we have our flow. Certainly when we achieve flow we are doing something we are good at. Often our flow corresponds with activities we enjoy doing: exercising, sex, cooking, gardening, coding, working, playing.

(Aside. Why do we not say ‘sexing’? Sex should be treated as a verb, shouldn’t it? It’s something you do, after all. Heck, ‘doing it’ has been code for sex since third grade. Yet we render it passive as something you have. Like a houseplant, or a good dinner. But you don’t say “I’m having a good dinner.” You say “I’m eating.” People wonder why the F word is overused, it’s because the F word’s coital implications actually act like a verb. It conjugates when ‘sex’ loafs about, totally dependent on the already overused ‘have’ to conjugate for it. And people wonder why ‘sex’ is treated with such disrespect.)

So I throw forth my theory that humans are supposed to flow for their living. It doesn’t much matter what your flow is, unless murdering, so long as you feel fulfilled while doing it. Of course culture will fall apart, followed by society, and then all of civilization. But we’d all just be in our groove and not minding it.

That is, until trash collection day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

73; Library Shift

Often I've spoken about librarians as pillars of society, and not, perhaps, without some conciet. For it is with great daring that I reveal that I am, in point of fact, a librarian.

So many burning questions. How do you know where to shelve the books? How do you desensistize the movies? Are librarians really better lovers? Can I get your autograph? Well settle down my children, and I'll explain to you what a library shift is really like.

4:25. Arrive early to shift, to the joy of those currently on duty.
4:26. Explain that I'll be right back to now despondent workers; flee.
4:30. Show up for my shift and stand around awkwardly while workers close out their shift.
4:32. Put the desk in order, straighten things, and tidy up.
4:33. Sit down.
4:35. Get up and start organizing the books to be shelved.
4:40. Check out book to patron.
4:41. Return to rearranging.
4:46. Finish rearranging, and sit back down.
4:47-5:00. Try and look busy as bosses leave for the day.
5:00-5:14. Internet.
5:15. Refill printer paper at computer station.
5:16. Internet.
5:17. See how many spins I can get in on my chair without using my feet.
5:20. Stop the room spinning.
5:22. Put out the bell and go into the back room to look at new purchases and books to be discarded.
5:25. Retun to desk and put bell away. Sit down.
5:27. Start to fill out time sheet.
5:29. Check watch.
5:30. Put on coat, crouch to sprinting position.
5:31. Relieved by next shift. Bolt out the front door amid whoops and hollers.

There you have it! I hope that helps to clarify what a regular library shift is like when you're doing desk duty. Surely there are more secrets to the business of being a librarian? Yes indeed, there are. But those are trade secrets.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

72; Sociopaths Part 2

Act 2 of 2

Where were we? Adbusters, Diogenes the cynic, and sociopaths, yes?

Last time was Diogenes, so let's move up the timescale to the French court of Louis XIV, within which dwelled La Rochefoucauld, who describes himself thusly:

"I am melancholy, and I have hardly been seen for the last three or four years to laugh above three or four times. It seems to me that my melancholy would be even endurable and pleasant if I had none but what be- longed to me constitutionally; but it arises from so many other causes, fills my imagination in such a way, and possesses my mind so strongly that for the greater part of my time I remain without speaking a word, or give no meaning to what I say. I am ex- tremely reserved to those I do not know, and I am not very open with the greater part of those I do."

His epitaph to his work 'The Maxims' is : 'Our virtues are most frequently but vices disguised.' This is followed by the first two maxims: 'What we term virtue is often but a mass of various actions and divers interests, which fortune, or our own industry, manage to arrange; and it is not always from valour or from chastity that men are brave, and women chaste.' And secondly, 'Self-love is the greatest of flatterers.'

Pleasant character. Sociopath? Probably. He, and Diogenes, Dostoevsky's Underground Man, Shakespeare's Jaques in 'As You Like It' ("All the world's a stage...") and so many other people and characters who resist society. Who care neither for the rights nor trappings of society, and seem to have some desire to remove themselves from the whole nasty business. Or make a point of showing the flaws. Or ridiculing them.

Are these excercises useful? Do these people do anything useful? Social commentary is fine, no doubt. It is needed for liberal democracies, sure. But to what extent do we wish Diogenes or La Rochefoucauld to exist in our society? Is it not that they point out the flaws in our socieities, (and all socieities must admit to their share) but rather they point out the flaw of society at all?

Why do we put up with society? Often society is not in our favor, and this is the argument we've come to hear, that while it may not be individually rewarding it is for the collective. The collective, the crowd, comes first, and by extension so do you, as a member of said crowd. Yet our relation as a member of the crowd is not the same as our agency.

I've brought up Adbusters, with some humorous intent, to highlight that this sort of commentary still exists. It is within the framework of the society, of course. Diogenes could only have been Athenian and La Rochefoucauld got on well in the salons. Adbusters is a magazine, which requires subscription, and also advertises a number of other products, such as $100 shoes made of hemp and old tires. They also feature a 'Media Empowerment Kit' described as such:

'Teachers - Adbusters Media Empowerment Kit will inspire your students to break out of the media consumer trance! Designed as a flexible teacher's aid, the kit features 43 lesson ideas, including personal challenges, group activities, discussion starters and eye-opening readings. Lessons are divided into three areas: Explore Your Mental Environment, Explore Your Physical Environment, and Create Your Own Meaning.

'Each kit includes: a lesson binder with photocopy-friendly removable sleeves, a DVD chock full of images and video clips, five full-color posters, Adbusters special media literacy issue: "The Game of Life". USD: $125.00'

Should I buy it? When I become a teacher is it my duty to have students question their society? Will I be fired if I do? Should that matter to me?

Empowerment is a funny concept. Should we empower people to resist the negative emlements of our society? Seems like a good idea. How about empowering them to rethink the usefulness of society as a whole? That's a horse of a different color.

No answers here. Oh! But yes I do! Last time I left a riddle to be pondered that revolved on sociopathic logic. The answer: The woman killed her sister because it would mean another family funeral, and so the man would show up again.

Hopefully there were no cheaters. How quickly did it come to you?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

71; Sociopaths, Part 1

According to some the following riddle is easily answered by sociopaths. The wording is, to my knowledge, my own.

A woman is at her mother's funeral. At the service she meets this guy, and really falls for him. However she doesn't get his number, address, or even his name. A week later she kills her sister. Why?

No 'albatross' answers, please. All of the information you need to solve it is provided. I'll provide the answer in the next column.

'Anti Social Personality Disorder' is the politically correct name to replace 'sociopath'. Recently I've been reading about an amusing fellow named Diogenes of Sinope, who sounds like a sociopath to me, although he's cited as a cynic. Here's a laundry list of his exploits, courtesy another Diogenes:

"On one occasion a man was reading some long passages, and when he came to the end of the book and showed that there was nothing more written, 'Be of good cheer, my friends,' exclaimed Diogenes, 'I see land.' A man once proved to him syllogistically that he had horns, so he put his hand to his forehead and said, 'I do not see them.' And in a similar manner he replied to one who had been asserting that there was no such thing as motion, by getting up and walking away.

When Lysias, the drug-seller, asked him whether he thought that there there any Gods: 'How,' said he, 'can I help thinking so, when I consider you to be so god-forsaken?'

He was greatly beloved by the Athenians; accordingly, when a youth had broken his tub they beat him, and gave Diogenes another. (Editor - Apparently the fellow slept in a large bowl, or tub, at one of the temples. And doesn't this tell you something about the ways of Athenians?)

When a man said to him once, 'Most people laugh at you;' 'And very likely,' he replied, 'the asses laugh at them; but they do not regard the asses, neither do I regard them.' He was begging once of a very ill-tempered man, and as he said to him, 'If you can persuade me, I will give you something;' he replied, 'If I could persuade you, I would beg you to hang yourself.'

Once, while he was sitting in the sun in the Craneum, Alexander the Great came and stood by him, and said to him, 'Ask any favour you choose of me.' And he replied, 'Cease to shade me from the sun.' Alexander said, 'I am Alexander, the great king.' ' And I,' said he, 'am Diogenes the dog.' And when he was asked to what actions of his it was owing that he was called a dog, he said, 'Because I fawn upon those who give me anything, and bark at those who give me nothing, and bite the rogues.' When Alexander was once standing by him, and saying, 'Do not you fear me?' He replied, 'What are you, a good or an evil?' And as he said that he was good, 'Who, then,' said Diogenes, 'fears the good?'

They also relate that Alexander said that if he had not been Alexander, he should have liked to be Diogenes."

Plato described him as "A Socrates gone mad." And so forth. He's a fun character in the Greek world, and one of the last. Sociopath? Perhaps. He didn't care for the rights of others particularly. Once at a banquet the guests threw him bones, playing off the common derision of his being called a dog. He responded in true form by urinating upon them.

Perhaps today's culturejammers and those who subscribe to the magazine Adbusters are like Diogenes. Fed up with the useless, trite and shallow they scorn society. Yet they are dependent upon it for their scorn, their magazines, and thier counter-culture. Diogenes could not have existed were it not for Athens, after all.

End Act 1 of 2

Sunday, December 2, 2007

70; Self-refferential

A long time ago, at least a month, I wrote about the atypical Disney film 'The Three Caballeros'. Good movie, still reccomend it. The movie sticks out in my mind due to it's unique animation and surrealist quality.

Just the other day a firend showed me on YouTube a clip from 'Life on Mars', an informative segment done in 1957, part 5 of which hypothesizes on what martian life may look like. View it here:

This was a response to my showing them 'Willy the Operatic Whale', also on Youtube in two parts. Not nearly as amazing as the clip above, but perhaps more likeable. Then another friend and I had a squeal over that cartoon, Lambert the Sheepish Lion and Ferdinand the Bull. And Coupling.

Media is increasinly important. Off-the-cuff references are increasingly part of our narratives, and almost always with pop and childhood ties. Cartoon shows, certain escapdes of Donald Duck, Homer, Cartman, or Phil Ken Sebbens become moments of shared nostalgia. There is a theory held by folks who are now in their young twenties that in the 90's children's television may have peaked. Those memories can always be shared, or often be shared, with the aid of sites like YouTube. Then the reference isn't personal, of your enjoyment of the show, but instead becomes a communal good time to be remembered. There are many groups on this very campus dedicated to getting together to watch things like Pete and Pete, Degrassi, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and other staples of growing up.

Another columnal reference ties into this. I'd posted a link to watch Senator Byrd's speech on dog fighting, citing it as one of the least-intended yet hysterically funny things I've sene in a long time. However some folks had apparently not taken the time to watch it, so when I showed it to them one evening it became a communal experience. A day or so later at dinner, I made reference to the epic part of the speech condemning barbarism. A few people laughed, others gave odd glances, universally translatable to "Excuse me, I'm lost. Will a sales spokesman come over here and help me find what I'm looking for?/answer my question/cite your reference?"

So it spreads. Now the joy of Byrd's speech has reached more people, more laughter when we reference him, and the media has become a part of our group's consciousness.

The stories behind references don' have to relate to media, I suppose. Any good story can be referenced. Some people, reading this, may find the following lines amusing:

"We're on a bench!"

"That's what I do."

"Eggum Nogguum."

"I feel sick, and Mike feels sick, and Jackson feels sick..."

"That would be some scary foreplay!"

"Hands up, Wediko!"

"Tomatoes are"

"There he is!"

Etc. In jokes? References? Shared social-cultural exchanges of identity and belonging in the politics of personal geography? Yes to the first two, no to the last.