Tales From an Irish Gypsy

With miles to go before I sleep

(no subject)
Kitty issues
milestogo13
On December 25th, before any meals were eaten, before any excuses could be made, I found my way to a scale and boldly stepped forward into discovery. And creaking metal. And a little bit of "You've got to be kidding me..."

Let's take it back a day or two, to begin at the beginning. Which is usually a good place to begin, as I understand. But I'm stalling, because this is kind of a personal entry.

I've never been scrawny, but I've never really been obese, either. I have a lot of lower body muscle mass from my track runner/marching band/drill team/football/soccer/field hockey legs of old, and my chest and shoulders have always been broad enough that I have to buy extra large shirts just to let the fabric reach my waist. I'm built like an Irish dude, I guess. I don't really know how else to describe it. I am equally easy to imagine wearing a kilt and swinging a claymore over my head whilst running toward you, screaming, or slumped over a bar stool with a spiral pattern of slain Guinness around me, enabling you to count how many hours I had been there by how many rings there were. The world's most inebriated tree.

Body image has never been a terrible problem with me, which is probably how I let it get away from me a little. In New York I was walking constantly. I had a five to ten mile a day route mapped out to relieve stress after I got out of work. During the itinerant gypsy phases I bartended, bounced, did odd jobs, stayed active, you know? Even once I settled down for Georgia, Take 1, I ended up as a stocker at a grocery store, which is more physical than you'd realize. Lately though...I mean, the writing is great for stretching the creative muscles, but it tends to involve a lot of consuming vast amounts of soda and sitting still for hours on end, staring at your prey until your eyes bleed and your bladder threatens to explode. Really, if you replaced the soda with beer, you could be a deer hunter. Or Ernest Hemingway.

As a result, the pounds slowly, steadily, quietly snuck up on me. I am reminded of the old story about the frog in a pot of water. You drop a frog straight in after it's already boiling, he's going to hop right back out. You slowly heat the water up once he's already there, he'll think he's found the world's first froggy day spa right up until he croaks. *drum fill* Sorry, sorry, I wouldn't blame you if you stopped reading after that, really I wouldn't.

Anyway, my shirts and pants had been getting a little tight lately. I tried to rationalize it away, starting with vaguely plausible things (this is the first time I've worn it since it was washed, I just need to stretch it back out a bit) and slowly sliding down the spectrum to the sorts of things the Mythbusters wouldn't touch (it's cold outside, fabric isn't as flexible in the cold!). I knew it was crap, but it's easier to explain away than it is to actually do anything about. Then I saw my family's Christmas Eve pictures and was a little...well, terrified. I was starting to get downright fluffy! This shouldn't have been a surprise, and it really wasn't to my subconscious mind, but having my conscious mind drug into the harsh light of reality was a little traumatic. Then, Christmas morning, getting ready to trek over for Christmas 2.0 with my girl's family, my pants, which are the same size I have been wearing essentially since high school, barely buttoned. I mean, I had to do the "suck in and lift and lay down a bit and stretch and hope something doesn't explode out of a seam" maneuver. I knew there'd been less and less real estate inside the waistband for awhile now, but this was absolutely unacceptable. Not having a scale in my own house, I waited until we arrived at her grandmother's place and...well, Da Capo al coda(1).

I weighed 230 pounds. In high school, I capped out around 190, but there was muscle on that frame. And I'm 6'1", with no aspirations to boxing in a featherweight division. I am never going to be a light dude. With a large frame and decent muscle mass, I'm SUPPOSED to weigh about 189. But that was the heaviest I had ever seen myself, and I knew, with my current habits and lifestyle, I was moving nowhere but in the wrong direction. Now there's a chance, because this happened even within my own family, that some of you are going to look at that 230 number and think I'm overreacting. I realize that's not exactly out of hand yet, but the point is that I wanted to hit it now, and KEEP it from GETTING out of hand. I come from a family with a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, adult onset diabetes...weight is not something I need to be messing around with. Plus, lately, my energy levels have been in the crapper and even simple activities had begun seeming taxing. I was, quite simply, carrying too much of me around to be happy.

On December 26th, I woke up with a plan. I quit sodas, cold turkey. I didn't realize that Coke I had the previous evening was going to be the last one for a good long while, but maybe it's better that way. Rip it off fast, like a band-aid. I had been drinking about four a day for...um...ever. That's about 800 empty calories a day, plus ungodly amounts of acids and, of course, the great Satan of high fructose corn syrup. I may as well have kept smoking, right? Seriously, look into HFCS sometime(2). Your body doesn't know what to do with it, it screws with insulin, contributes directly to diabetes in almost every credible study on the subject, and the only defense, the only defense that the corn industry can come up with in their commercials is, "It's fine in moderation!"

It's fine in moderation?! Christ, opium is technically fine in moderation! Absinthe is fine in moderation! You don't see me dumping either into my nephew's breakfast cereals(3)! You're really going to have to do better than, "Well, it probably won't kill you right away!" I hate that we live in one of the only developed countries in the world where the corn industry ended up being more powerful and more subsidized than the sugar industry. I mean, I'm sure the latter comes with certain evils, too, like the all-powerful dentist lobby or...something. But seriously, the studies are there, the knowledge is there, the corn people just have enough money and lobbyists to keep throwing at lawmakers to prevent anything from being done about it. And since the last vote we truly have left is with our wallets, and these are still multi-billion dollar industries, nothing is going to change anytime soon. So it's down to personal choice. I chose to replace soda with water and real fruit juices, and use Crystal Light to offset my "I really can't take how bland water is oh god please kill me now" reflex.

I also woke up that morning determined to use the power of one of my Christmas presents for awesome. My family gave me a new XBox 360 with a Kinect, the new super-creepy yet really quite fun motion sensor attachment dealie. The first two games I acquired for it? The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout and Dance Central. Goodbye sedentary lifestyle, hello clinging to the side of my computer chair trying to remember how to breathe! Seriously, I was skeptical of the former at first, seeing as I hate all forms of reality TV and have never watched an episode of the actual show in my life. But the reviews were positive, with several sign-offs from nutritionists and fitness specialists. I gave it a try, and it proceeded to beat the everloving piss out of me.

Not only was I getting fluffy, my body had forgotten what this whole "movement" thing was like. Curse you, occupation that rewards sitting in a chair all day! Even on the moderate workout setting, after 20 minutes, I was doing my best Fred Sanford impression and fogging my glasses up from sweat and exuded body heat alone. I was literally steaming in my own juices. The next morning, I honestly wondered if I had somehow transferred my brain into the body of James Caan in the movie Misery, right after Kathy Bates did her best Gallagher impression on his ankles. My legs were sore to the point that I had to completely waive off my second day's exercise routine, along with anything that involved moving with any more urgency than a recently unearthed mummy. I was losing foot races with glaciers. It was horrible. And they were still sore the third day, but I decided at that point the best thing to do was to push onward and work through it.

Amazingly, that helped. My muscles, realizing I wasn't listening to reason, ended their 48 hour hostage standoff with my calves and relaxed a bit. Then a little more. After the first five routines, my breathing was becoming more regular. Exercises that had been death sentences early on were becoming a little more natural. And between the lack of soda and the return to physical activity, I dropped 11 pounds in seven days. In the next seven, I threw another 5 pounds on the pile. From December 26th to January 9th, I've gone from 230 and heading in all the wrong directions to 214 and really enjoying myself. I set the game up as an 8 week program(4) with a target weight of 198 pounds. Getting back below 200 would be a major psychological victory, and I can build on it from there. I can't even really begin to describe how much better I feel, too. Energy levels are up, fitness levels are higher than they've probably been since I was actively participating in sports, it's just...yeah. I'm feeling good about this.

Dietary changes have got to be contributing somewhat to that as well. I used to eat one meal a day, carb load at that meal, then snack right before bed, and wonder why my metabolism was shot all to hell. That's not entirely true, I KNEW why my metabolism was shot all to hell, I just didn't care. Self-preservation has never been my strong suit. Now I'm eating three meals a day, healthy stuff, there's lots of Newman's Own brand finding its way into the house, and I'm trying to be conscious of calories. That's difficult, because nutritional value labels use more spin than your average Fox News broadcast. I really wish we would regulate serving sizes to a more realistic standard. One can of soda is not two servings. I have no way, on the fly, of knowing how many chips weigh 23 grams. And one oven-bake pizza is not six servings. I can put that away, by myself, in one sitting. Again, built like an Irishman, eat like an Irishman.

So...why? I mean, other than the clichéd need to lose weight as a New Year's Resolution, why would I suddenly make this many changes to a lifestyle plan that has been in place for nigh on a decade and a half? It's really quite simple. I have a future I can really see now. A plan in place, things I definitively want to accomplish, and someone I want to spend as much time with as I can. I see all the problems other members of my family have had to wade through because they didn't get on this while there was still time, saw how many quality years it really robbed a few people of, and decided I didn't want that to be me. I can be a burden on myself now, or a burden on everyone else later. I choose the former. Although I promise to try really, really hard to never become one of those super smug and pretentious people in the really tight jogging shorts that act like they are god's gift to fitness and everyone else just isn't trying hard enough. I'm never going to tell anyone else how to live their lives, period.

If hearing about me doing this or seeing me do this helps you convince yourself that you can make some changes, too, that's great, I'm here if you need anything. If hearing about me doing this or seeing me do this convinces you I'm a ponce who needs to fall into a pit of broken glass and die, then...well, maybe you have some anger issues, but you're entitled to it. I just knew that I wanted my own life to go in a different direction, a healthier direction, because the road traveled longer that way, and gave me more time to see the sights.

I'd say this must be me growing up, except I'm about to make a peanut butter sandwich then spend a few hours playing video games in my boxer shorts. You pick your battles.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1 - Which is pretentious music speak for "read that thing at the beginning, then carry it forward but keep going past this point next time," but that was may more letters, and I'm tired(P1).

P1 - And yes, I'm aware that I spent even more time and letters explaining that fact than I would have just typing that in the first place. I don't feel the need to explain my art to you, Warren.

2 - Oh, excuse me corn growers' associations, "corn sugar."

3 - Although I have to be honest, that would be endlessly entertaining.

4 - The game really makes regular exercise palatable, especially if you have a hyper-competitive streak like I do. It basically drops you INTO the show. You have to do regular exercise routines, along with seven other NPCs (it's probably higher if you opt for the 12 week program), and at the end of each week there is an exercise challenge that you get points for winning, and a weigh in, at which you get points for percentage of total body mass lost. Once the scores are tallied, the two contestants who had the least successful week are put up for elimination, and you and the other safe contestants vote on who deserves to go home. I just finished week 2, have won both physical challenges, and have been the biggest loser both weeks. Take that, imaginary peers!

(no subject)
Kitty issues
milestogo13
"Has this ever happened to you? You go to type on your computer keyboard and then realize too late, UH-OH, that's actually the surface of a ridiculously hot hibachi grill! Then you need HeadLight, the world's first halogen light insulated well enough to be affixed directly to your forehead! Experience visibility like never before!"

Ridiculous, right? I mean, absurd past the point where it can even really be funny, because the cognitive dissonance between these two images is, in any sane person, probably too much to reconcile into the world of "reasonable but amusing misunderstanding." Yet I'm betting, with the right connections, I could turn that into a legitimate infomercial.

I know I've railed against infomercials here in the past, but I can't help it. I'm nocturnal. They are my constant companions, even if their omnipresence was diminished somewhat by the invention and proliferation of DVR technology. Now, instead of watching Ron Popeil violate a turkey with a syringe big enough to give Keith Richards wet dreams, I watch Craig Ferguson discuss sexual euphemisms with a robot. But I think they sense that their habitat is disappearing, and like any life form, they are evolving. They've begun flinging spores into other time slots in the guise of regular length commercials that contain the same absurd premises and the same level of production values and acting, for the same kind of products that alien archaeologists will one day unearth and wonder how we, as a species, even flirted with space travel(1).

These spores have really begun to take root in the intellectually barren wasteland of daytime talk shows, because as we all know, rational thought is the herbicide of impulse TV buying. After the ladies of The View, or The Talk, or The Conversation, or The Discussion, or The Semi-Rational Debate About Largely Irrelevant Topics Taking Place Between Four Completely Irrelevant Personalities From Comically Far Reaches of the Political and Philosophical Spectrum are done numbing your brain while trying to figure out if the Earth is round or flat(2), they strike.

"Has this ever happened to you?"

That's their mating call. The siren song that brings the shopaholic to their treacherous rocks. The formula is quite simple. You create a problem, you convince people they have that problem, then you offer a solution to that problem ABSOLUTELY FREE(3)! And it's a pretty tried and true formula, the pharmaceutical companies(4) have been using it for years. What bothers me so much about it is their apparent target audience, based on the "problems" they create, and the terrifying implications involved if these people actually exist. Let's take a look at a couple of examples, only mildly exaggerated.

The Product: The Ove Glove

What It Is: A glorified pot holder

How the Commercial Begins: "Has this ever happened to you?" Woman attempts to get a hot pan out of her oven (where the heating elements aren't even glowing, but that's just me being a picky bastard), stands still for a moment, and proceeds to slam her lasagna down on the floor as though it had pulled a gun on her, or Garfield had just slit her throat from behind. The implication is basically that standard pot holders will immediately burst into flames on contact with hot surfaces(5). It goes on to show people wearing Ove Gloves changing light bulbs while they're still on, proving that the product is also good for people with no understanding of the properties of electricity.

I cook a lot, and yeah, after years of service you'll occasionally get a pot holder that's all, "You know what, screw this noise," and you'll get about two inches from the oven before pain receptors start having a rave. But this product isn't accomplishing anything that you couldn't ask a regular pot holder or a good dish towel to do. If you're looking for something that's good for both retrieving your meatloaf and extracting plutonium rods from a nuclear reactor, your priorities may not be in order. But at least the lady in this commercial was operating somewhat inside the parameters of competence, unlike...

The Product: The Chef Basket

What It Is: A mutant deep fat fryer cage

How the Commercial Begins: "Has this ever happened to you?" A woman has just finished boiling some pasta(6), which is ready to be moved to the sink to be drained. Undaunted by the laws of thermodynamics, the woman grasps the handles of the pot -- which has been living over high heat for 20 some odd minutes now -- with her bare hands. Carnage ensues. As the metal begins melding with her flesh, she screams, flinging the pot directly into the air, where it dumps onto her head. Now blinded by scalding water and covered in noodles and blistered flesh, she staggers, screaming, into the living room, where her children are watching Sesame Street. At the sound of her voice they turn, only to see this wet, bubbling, noodly monster shrieking, arms outstretched in their direction. Decades later, while in a court mandated therapy program, this is the moment her eldest son will describe as the turning point on his path to becoming "The Boiler," a serial killer that terrorized the tri-state area by boiling his victims alive in an industrial cauldron.

...okay, I may have made most of that up. But the woman really does grab the pot with her bare hands, and then has the nerve to act surprised when it burns. Then she tries again, from a different angle in a different shot, doing everything but trying to pick the pot up with her teeth. Then the basket appears in the pot, and suddenly the world is made only of marshmallow peeps and rainbows because its handles, which have no direct line of conduction to the heat source, are somehow cool enough to touch! So this is a product which is, by all appearances, marketed toward people who don't realize that hot things burn. Maybe they should all buy Ove Gloves instead! I hear you can paddle through magma with those things! I'm not saying it isn't a good idea, draining pasta and such is a pain in the ass and a basket like that would probably be handy. Just maybe sell it on the clever parts, and not like your target audience was Frankenstein's monster. "Heat baaaad! FIRE BAAAAAD!" Because colanders already exist, so you might wanna market against that. Just sayin'.

But the incompetence doesn't stop in the kitchen, oh no, because there's always...

The Product: Micro Touch Max Personal Trimmer

What It Is: A small piece of plastic that buzzes and occasionally removes hair

How the Commercial Begins: "Has this ever happened to you?" A man stands before a bathroom mirror, pondering the futility of his existence while attempting to remove hair from his already inexplicably clean-shaven face. Clearly suffering from some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, he reaches for a pair of full-sized scissors. Eyes darkening with the thoughts of his impending messy divorce, the scissors raise, slowly, every so slowly, until the gleaming tip of the razor-sharp rear blade rests gently against the base of one nostril. With one thrust, it could all be over. He knows this. He's thought about this moment ever since the papers were filed...but he decides to try and trim his nose hair instead. Even that goes awry, as one snip too close results in a flash of pain, and a mild abrasion that will surely be a minor inconvenience for days to come. A look of supreme anguish flashes across the man's face, frozen in monochromatic still frame, as he realizes that even in this, a basic hygienic function, he has failed...

Alright, fine, I'm embellishing again. But dude really does come at his own nostril with gigantic scissors and gets this horrible look on his face, which has some kind of weird Jim Carrey-esque elasticity to it, when things don't go as planned. This shot is followed by him attacking the back of his neck with a straight razor, more grimacing, him shoving some kind of sharp implement into his ear, more grimacing...you get the idea. A man with the motor skills of a doped up chimpanzee has been given a tray of grooming implements and proceeded to injure himself in ways that I'm certain Amnesty International would be interested in hearing about.

Another flash add, this time of the trimmer, and suddenly he's completely hairless! An alopecia areata patient on the rampage with a tray of sharp objects he somehow acquired! Not really, but I can't stand this commercial so I'm trying to spice it up a bit! He uses the trimmer to fix his (nonexistent) unibrow, shave his (nonexistent) sideburns, and even shave his (nonexistent) beard before flashing a smug, shit-eating grin at the camera while a random woman paid to stroke his face earns her keep. It goes on to show him shaving his arms, his legs, and (I kid you not) his glory trail right on down past his waistband. The basic idea is unconditional "LOL hair removal." Provided, of course, that like the man in the commercial you didn't have any hair in these areas to begin with. Oh, also, it has a light! For...you know...night shaving. Except the light points straight out, on a product designed to hover above the surface that it's working on, so...good luck with that.

Look, fine, it seems to show SOME hair that looks to have been previously affixed falling away after a pass with the trimmer, albeit one square centimeter at a time. But every review you find online says that it binds up every few seconds on even the finest of hair textures. I take this personally, because I grow steel wool. You can get the tarnish off the bumpers of classic cars just by having me rub my face against them. I can get the grease out of a casserole dish by rubbing Dawn into my beard and motor-boating the sink. I can't even get more than two shaves out of the Gillette razors that are lined with the same industrial-grade diamonds they use to edge band saws with. My beard would yank this trimmer out of my hands and break it apart while I looked on in horror, just to send me a message.

I guess this commercial offends me more than the other two because the Ove Glove is ostensibly an improvement over a product that was shown being used properly, and the Chef Basket was a decent idea even if it was meant to replace the behavior of someone who apparently should never have been allowed in the kitchen, much less near a heat source. This thing is a downgrade from the options that already exist, with its artificial need being produced by a man all but ramming his face into an upturned lawn mower as a point of comparison. It's hard to argue with that logic, right? "Micro Touch Max, it's better than brutal decapitation!" Really this all comes down to my hatred of out of touch marketing, much less piss poor out of touch marketing. As previously mentioned, that's why these offshoots of old school infomercials seem to be much more prevalent during the day. Soap operas and shrieking harpies disable your defenses enough that this might, MIGHT just seem like a good idea.

What was the point of this post? Well, I'd be glad to tell you. Just send $14.95 to the address on your screen now, the first 500 customers will receive an extra moral lesson at absolutely no extra cost, you only pay e-shipping, act now and we'll throw in a tote bag, all this could be yours, your life is devoid of purpose without it, all your neighbors have one! Consume! CONSUME!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1 - DVD box sets of the Jersey Shore and the decaying but still relatively intact husk of an As Seen on TV store will be all they need to justify having annihilated us to their media.

2 - Not making that part up...

3 - Just pay shipping and handling and processing on each separate unit, purchase implies user has agreed to continue to receive products on a 10 day billing cycle which their credit card will be charged for on an automatically renewing basis unless all products, UPC codes, packaging, materials, receipts, shipping invoices, and a lollipop are returned to Telebrands Plaza 48 hours prior to their arriving at your home, offer not good in any state containing an S, allow 6-24 months for delivery, do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

4 - I try not to stack footnotes too often, but those assholes get a blog of their own soon enough. Which may cause fainting, nausea, diarrhea, anti-social behavior, thoughts of suicide, thoughts of homicide, thoughts of regicide, thoughts of pesticide, grazing, narcoleptic fits, and uncontrollable flatulence.

5 - And provide little protection against homicidal pasta-addicted cats that are struggling to get by after ceasing to be funny about 20 years ago.

6 - Do we really still live in an age where every cooking product commercial must include only women, usually operating in an "Aww shucks, I'm barely competent enough to do that!" manner? Are we really still deluded enough to think it's only housewives in floral print dresses who are home in the middle of the day? Why can't a man cut his finger on a raggedy old knife, or look on despondently as the stains in his favorite shirt just won't come out? Huh?! Equality! Equality! Yeah, I'm not sure which side of the fence this footnote was supposed to be on, either.

Motivational Evolution
Kitty issues
milestogo13
The wheel is moving again. I suppose it's only a matter of time now until we find out if I'm pushing it, or tied to the front of it.

Writing progress. Storyboarding, plotboarding, outlining, rummaging through Duotropes, setting up an Amazon Author Central page, showering multiple times a day because it seems to be the only place I can think sometimes, abusing the crap out of an unsuspecting Keurig one cup coffee maker(1), the signs are all there.

I even finally broke down and joined this century by asking for a laptop for Christmas. I try not to ask for seriously expensive things from my family, I'm one of the lowest maintenance holiday types you could hope for(2). But with the goals I've set for myself this year, if I don't get an occasional change of scenery, my brain is going to begin oozing out of my ears like toothpaste.

The main problem is motivation. As I've stated many times before, often to a completely empty room, I hate writing. I love the process of creating, I love seeing worlds and stories and characters come to life in my mind, and the moment they develop a firewire cable that runs from your brain stem to a USB port on your computer and allows you to mentally dictate, I am going to put Stephen King's prolific nature to shame. But until that day comes, there is a major bottleneck somewhere between my brain and my hands. I have no greater nemesis than an empty, white Word document screen(3).

I believe we learn from history, so I began analyzing my past. My most creative period, volume wise, was during my stint in New York. As far as I can tell, this could be attributed to any combination of three factors. First, I was stuck in a cubicle all day. Without exaggeration, I wrote a book on company time. Underworld University, the first volume at least, was crafted entirely from my desk. A monthly magazine's production schedule, after all, is two weeks of run-up, one week of unadulterated terror during the publishing window, and then a week of everyone eating free lunches on the company card and pretending they're working. It would have been harder for me to NOT write something, hence my LJ daily post average that was pushing 4 or 5 during some months.

The second and third factors were anger and spite, kind of intertwined and capable of being boiled down a la Carlin and the Ten Commandments to "Angst." I hit New York in a very dark place and decided to see how far down that particular rabbit hole I could go, throwing in a healthy dose of sleep deprivation to act as an emotional random number generator. I felt like I had something to prove, I felt like there were people that needed to feel sorry for discarding me, I felt like if I didn't get certain concepts out of my head via the written word, they were likely to chew their way through my sinus cavities and burst out of my eye sockets a la Aliens in the middle of a Scholastic staff meeting. Writing was survival, a necessary regulator, the safety valve on my pressure cooker.

But age and wisdom and perspective have diminished that to nothingness. Now I don't understand people who hold on to anger, wielding it with the expectation of hurting anyone but themselves in the long run. My emotional empathy has become attuned to the point that I can't even be near those people anymore for the intense discomfort the roiling in their minds provides me. And I've stuck around long enough now to realize that all the people who tried to make me cynical have done nothing but wallow in their own ineffectualness as human beings in all the intervening years. I have progressed and grown and achieved and failed and loved and lost and explored and found home. They have...um...been angry and...and yelled at people...and animals. Or themselves. Or coffee tables. Or abused themselves to the point of breaking down, then blamed their infirmity for not accomplishing anything more than they have. The ultimate retro-active self-fulfilling prophecy(4).

So it was an effective writing fuel, but it was a finite one, and one that tainted everything that came from that era with a fine, dusty layer of hateful fallout. Recently someone else read New York Minutes for the first time, someone who didn't even know I existed back when the experiences that formed that book were taking place. Their appraisal was that it was very honest, fairly brutal, definitely angry, and a portrait of someone that was really only marginally recognizable as me. Which is kind of the point here, I guess. My formative writing years were kind of the fossil fuel age for my creativity. Cheap, readily available fuels that polluted the crap out of everything, but during which all the basic principles for transportation as we know it were laid down. Just like our cars now transition to hybrids, complex fuels refining the concept to make it better for everyone involved, so too must my motivation. But how?

I wish I could tell you. I'm still figuring that part out. But what I do know is that the laptop and a good cup of coffee seem to be helping already.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1 - Thanks to the name Keurig gave to their one-serving cartridges, you can now Google "K Cup" and get almost safe for work results. Almost.

2 - My father used to joke that if I didn't tell them what I wanted for Christmas, I'd end up with nothing but a box of coal, which I told him was fine, because mom kept the house unreasonably cold anyway, which got both of us in trouble. Threats have been kept to non-flammable objects since.

3 - Before any writing elitists jump on me, yes, I do most of my writing in Word, not any of the fancy designer programs floating around out there, although I do have something of a fondness for Liquid Story Binder for light work. Why am I like this, when Word is such a dubious program at best? Scan through Duotropes or the Writer's Market, pick any 10 markets at random that accept electronic submissions, and tell me what extension they're looking for. There's almost always going to be a .doc floating there. Have you ever tried converting from Word to another program, or from another program to Word, or heaven help you tried to take something in both directions? The formatting ends up looking like something you ran through Babelfish. And don't even get me started on OpenOffice. If you've ever submitted something to a market using OpenOffice's interpretation of a .doc file, my condolences.

4 - I invite you to perform this same thought exercise. Think of the five most toxic people you have known in your past, be it directly to you, or just a general area of effect malaise and cynicism that followed them around. Now find out what they're doing with themselves. I'm willing to bet at least 4 of them are exactly where you left them, no better off than if only a day had passed. People like that try to break the world down because it's easier than building themselves up, and they don't have the will or the ability to put forth the effort to do that. Or, generally, the stones.

(no subject)
Kitty issues
milestogo13
I think Facebook may be killing my brain. And not because of the relentless Farmville spam, either, although I seem to have finally locked that down Cuban trade embargo style. People can feed their own damn chickens, it doesn't seem like the sort of activity that would require neighbors.

I started comparing the timelines earlier and it really seems like the rise of my Facebook existed in inverse relation to the fall of my blogging. It's so much easier to just shoot off a status update and look for some instant gratification from other people trolling through their news feeds (incidentally also much easier than going through a blogging f-list) than it is to put together something well-constructed enough that you feel alright putting your name on it. Because contrary to all available evidence, some of us do still believe in sentence structure and punctuation.

Life just kept getting busier and busier. Facebook's design kept getting more and more streamlined...then less...then more again...then less again...then Martian for a brief moment...then finally more again. LiveJournal, or any blog really, began to feel out of the way. Like your favorite mom and pop store three miles off after a SuperMegaLoMart has opened next door. On the surface, I felt I was really accomplishing more or less the same thing through FB that I was through the blogosphere, and the entries died off to a trickle.

This is not the case though. Facebook, to me, the more I analyze it here during my annual year-end blowout clearance sale on introspection, is the worst kind of faux interpersonal relationship. I'm not saying it doesn't serve its purpose. When it comes to the most basic acts of keeping in touch with far away people and disseminating news to distant relatives and whatnot, it's all well and good. When things are crazy and you are consumed by other projects, it's a very convenient way to let people know you're still alive, or thinking about them, or plotting their deaths, everyone's mileage may vary. And lord knows I barely remember my own birthday each year, much less anyone else's, so those reminders are nice.

But over the long term, Facebook is to friendship what Twitter is to journalism. Bullet points, a press release, sound bytes, still frame photos of what was much more impactful as a moving picture. It's easy, but that's not how it was supposed to be. The effort is what made it a friendship, isn't it?

And the effort, the thought, the conversations that were sparked as a result are what I miss the most about the blog. Reading back through some of the comment threads that occurred when I was...ahem...working at Scholastic, there were moments of hilarity and sheer genius rising like the pillars of Hercules from the sea of our banter. The most I think I've ever managed on Facebook was a sandbar in a tidal shelf. Not because the people there are any less clever, but because there isn't as much material to work with. The water can never get as deep in 450 characters.

So part of my 2011 plans is to get back to the blogging. Yeah, I know, I say that a lot, but there's a new found resoluteness to these 2011 plans, collectively referred to as Operation Pummel 2011 Mercilessly. I want to come home. To get back to my LiveJournal's friend page, although I can't promise to try and catch up, because I literally wouldn't know where to begin. Mostly, I want to stretch that writing muscle again. To have it become habit and not chore. To return to where I felt antsy if I didn't get a good hour at a keyboard on any given day. Because that feeds into other parts of this operation. Good times ahead.

The moral of the story: Don't rely on Facebook to keep track of your friends, if they're nearby hug them, and don't let a social networking website train you to think with a character limit.

(no subject)
Kitty issues
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I need to force myself to write in this thing more often. Even if it's just inane babbling. I mean, christ, I've re-read what I wrote from my cubicle in New York. Did the world really need to know the only reason I wear pants is so I can have pockets? Probably not. But there it was anyway. I need to find that liberated way of thinking about this blog again. I've become too inhibited with what I share, based solely on the self-biased point of view that nobody wants to hear it. Even if that's true, the focus of my writing has shifted away from what it should be (writing for myself). Attempts to remedy this continue.

(no subject)
Kitty issues
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I am a gaming whore. I readily admit that. I will go just about anywhere and put up with just about anyone for a good night of gaming. But don't let that give you the impression that I'm cheap. No sir, I'm not one of those gussied up UNO players or, heaven forbid, one of the Go Fish types. I require some sophistication to my games. The more complicated it is, the more I enjoy it. The problem for my gaming libido becomes that the rest of the general populace seems to work in the opposite direction.

First off, the majority of people seem to only be into casual gaming. They'll get together with someone, maybe even a group of people if they're feeling adventurous, have a few drinks, then experiment with some simple little games. Like Scattergories, Pictionary, maybe some Boggle. Occasionally someone will get brave and break out a Scrabble board, but generally things have got to stay pretty tame, or people start to get a little self-conscious of their gaming aptitude, and that just brings down the whole evening. You never want anyone just sitting around worried that their word isn't long enough.

Out past that is the fringe element. People who are into role-playing, messing around with Munchkins, maybe even Fluxxing a time or two. Closer to my kind of people, but rarer, and hard to get together in one room very often. A lot of them are concerned about the social stigma that comes with being into hardcore gaming. They're afraid people will look at them differently, that their friends and family will shun them and their level 18 half-elf bard girlfriend. It's understandable, I suppose. There are a lot of negative stereotypes out there, most of them untrue, established and believed by people who are just too prudish to get out there and try these games themselves. The uninformed are always afraid of what they don't understand. You try and explain to them that no one ever got hurt by playing a wish ring card to make themselves strong enough to fight the Angry Lawyers card that their friend just played on them, and they look at you like you just punched a nun. But that's neither here nor there right now, because to get to me, we have to go a little bit further. Out past the fringe, on the ragged edge of sanity.

I guess you could call us fetishists, and you may be one of us if you know what a Meeple is. Or the fastest train route from Seattle to Los Angeles. Or how much ore it takes to upgrade a settlement on the island of Catan. We want rulebooks to hurt if you hit us with them, because they're the size of small novels. We want our gaming sessions to last at least an hour, maybe two, maybe longer. We're inexhaustible, insatiable, and we want our money's worth. We also tend to import a lot of our toys from Europe, where they are much less inhibited with their gaming habits. Ticket to Ride, Power Grid, Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, Carcassonne, these are just a few of the games you'll find us drooling over. But once again, exponentially more so than with the previous fringe dwellers, there is a problem of population. Finding like-minded people to play with is difficult in the most culturally diverse of locales, and downright impossible if you're off the beaten path. Which brings me to my problem.

I am currently a very frustrated gamer. And so few of my gaming friends live within a three state radius of me. So I have turned to the glory of the interwebs.

I have already found places to play the following online (though I have not necessarily tested them yet):

Ticket to Ride - www.boardgamegeek.com/onlinegames
Settlers of Catan (basic game free, Cities & Knights and Seafarers with subscription) - www.playcatan.com
Carcassonne (called Toulouse) and Catan (basic and Cities & Knights) - games.asobrain.com

I am looking for more sites, and for people to play them with me. So if you're experienced and looking for a partner, or just a little curious, let me know, and maybe we can get an online gaming group together. I promise we won't bite. Unless you play the bandit on us. Then all bets are off.

(no subject)
Kitty issues
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You play the therapist for your friends because you want to help people. You get established in your role, you get comfortable, they get comfortable with you. Then something serious goes down, and you're the only person everyone feels like they can talk to. Everyone begs you to keep their secrets, and you do, because that's in the job description. Except when the fecal matter finally makes contact with the rotary oscillator, and everything comes out, it's time to point blame. Somehow, you end up being the only person everyone in the situation feels they can be legitimately mad at. Because you knew everything, and did nothing to stop it.

But really, how is that fair? If you're trusting me with information, begging me to keep it secret, keep it safe, where do you get off being pissed at me for doing the same for someone else? Just because their information would have been useful to you doesn't somehow make it public domain. And I've had people try to throw the seniority card at me. "I've been your friend three days longer, so I should get consideration!" Screw that. A friend is a friend, I'm not here to prioritize my loyalties.

This has happened to me. A lot. I get put into situations where I simply know too much to be any good to anyone anymore. Because while my love for my friends is deep, it is not unconditional. You do something screwed up enough, especially to another friend of mine, and while I will honor the confidentiality agreement, that doesn't necessarily mean I feel comfortable being there anymore. There was a time, in my idealistic youth, when I would try to play the diplomat. I would keep the information to myself, but try to use it in an indirect way to broker peace. This generally worked about as well as similar efforts in the middle east over the past century or so, and left me with nothing but sleepless nights and nervous breakdowns.

As I got older, I transitioned into a more priestly role. I would take the confession, and do nothing with it. I would sit in my booth, listen to the words, dispense my advice, and then watch through the window as everything went to hell anyway. And the watching was always the worst. Watching people trust others who had already betrayed them, they just didn't know it. Watching people make what would be truly destructive long-term decisions despite my urgings to the contrary because I was just being "paranoid." Wondering the whole time if maybe my policy really was doing more harm than good.

Except who am I to decide who gets to know what? That's not my place. I'm not an arbitrator. I don't recall buying robes and a gavel at any point. Surely I would have used the latter to bludgeon someone by now. This sort of information is the kind that should only come from the people involved. That's the only line dividing a confidant and a gossip. But I've never really decided which side of that fence it's better to be on. At least a gossip gets credited with being a "good friend" to whichever side they chose to go with. Until the next inevitable round of drama begins and they bifurcate their friend pool once again. Still, at least they get to keep half the friends involved, as opposed to this scorched earth policy of "Hey, that guy knew everything, let's all project and avoid our own problems by getting pissed at him!"

There was a dark period, brief but destructive, where I decided that if I was going to be blamed for being part of the problem, I was going to become part of the problem. I used the information to manipulate situations and get precisely what I wanted out of life. I considered it a tax on these people who were putting me through the same cycle over and over again, never learning from it themselves. Me? I learned two things. One, it's remarkably easy to do, far too easy to control situations like that from the inside if people are willing to divulge every gritty detail to you. And two, the only person who got pissed at me for doing it was me. Because when shit got real, everyone felt like I had been working for them all along. They were able to rationalize my actions away before I even had a chance to. It was one of the more disillusioning moments of my life. The only time I ever avoided a blast radius was by being the bad guy with the detonator. I'm not sure what the moral of that tale is.

Since then, I haven't gone out of my way to listen so much anymore. I'll let one or two people have a shoulder and unlimited storage space at a time, as long as I trust them and I'm sufficiently removed from the situation at hand. But when proximity drama erupts now...*shrug* I don't have the heart for it. On the whole, people think that they want someone they can tell anything to, until they get to the deep end. Then a lot of them realize that it's hard to look someone in the eyes when they know what's going on behind your own. They will talk themselves right out of the comfort zone. And disappear. That, or the bombs will drop, and you will have officially lived long enough to become the villain.

I didn't open this page intending to be so down. I recently found a box of pictures of friends from high school and college and realized I only maintain steady, meaningful contact with two people from that whole time period. Everyone always told me that the friends you made in that window would be the most important to you throughout life. I feel like I kinda got robbed of that because people couldn't keep their transgressions to themselves and this was, in the end, somehow my fault. But now, sufficient time has passed. I think it's time to begin putting feelers out to see if bridges are really burnt, or just charred beyond recognition and highly unstable.

Hey, it's better than nothing, right?

Because no one was being malicious. I really don't believe they were. It's just human nature. You get cornered, you try to find a distraction that will allow you to escape. You get desperate, you try to find a scapegoat. People get so easily hurt at the concept that a friend would withhold information from them, even if they've asked that friend to do that very same thing, that the shock value of that alone is usually enough to draw everyone's fire.

And if all else fails, I'll just wait for one of them to become famous and write a tell-all book. It's the American way.

An Honest Resume
Kitty issues
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Name: Richard *****
Position Applied For: Something mildly demeaning because there's nothing in my field for 400 miles and I need the work

Education: Two 4-year degrees from the University of Mississippi, automatically moving me below several other applicants who did not attend college, because you won't have to pay them as much.

Employment Experience:

Tier 2 Technical Support, AT&T, Ocean Springs, MS

Job requirements and duties: Being able to absorb large amounts of hatred from complete strangers, being able to withstand the speakers of my headset rattling from the screaming of angry men who don't understand why not paying their bill resulted in their service being cut off, explaining to the elderly why their phone won't "Do the Google," explaining why it is not in the company's best interest to warranty the fifth phone you've dropped in your manicure bath this month, upholding draconian company policies I don't believe in or agree with in the slightest, describing tech support procedures to people that are diagrammed out in the phone's instruction book complete with pictures, trying to teach your grandfather where the on key is, wasting mine and my customer's time on what should be a five minute fix to do twenty minutes of unnecessary steps to please vengeful QA gods that may or may not even be listening, keeping low to the ground to avoid Machiavellian inter-office sniping, and data entry.

Assistant Department Manager (frozen foods), Kroger, Warner Robins, GA

Job requirements and duties: Being naturally resistant to cold, subsequently standing in the -20 freezer for half an hour at a shot to avoid people who I know won't come in there, answering the questions of customers who automatically assume they must be smarter than me since I work in a grocery store, answering the questions of employees who automatically assume they're smarter than me because all managers are idiots, following the orders and initiatives of upper managers who automatically assume they're smarter than me because they outrank me, being one of the magical restocking fairies that is responsible for your five gallon jug of butter brickle ice cream being on the shelf in the first place (you're WELCOME!), working the ordering gun because no one else can really figure out how, assisting every other department in the store because mine is the only one that actually gets their work done, being rewarded for my efforts by that act of charity becoming the expectation, deriving my only job satisfaction from using my authority to write up assholes, and scheduling.

Receiving Associate/Asst. Department Head (frozen foods), Wal-Mart, Warner Robins, GA

Job requirements and duties: Ability to compartmentalize soul so as not to interfere with Wal-Mart corporate policy, ability to go long periods of time without getting sick and being replaced by a small Taiwanese child, ability to operate a pallet jack with only minimal civilian casualties, back capable of withstanding regular flogging, understanding of spatial relationships capable of fitting twenty three pallets of unnecessary goods that we didn't need in the first place and we don't really understand why the manager ordered into a freezer only designed to hold fifteen pallets in the first place and oh god I think we left Justin against the back wall oh well it's too late for him now we will remember his sacrifice at the next pep rally, and cashiering.

Associate Editor, Magazine Group, Scholastic Inc., New York City, NY

Job requirements and duties: Ability to sit in a cubicle and look busy for nine hours when only three hours of work is ever on your desk at any given time except for shipping week, the ability to get through shipping week without heroin, a sleeping bag or a manslaughter trial, being the only male on a floor where at least half of the residents hate men on principle, being the only male on a floor where the other half decidedly don't, understanding corporate initiative memos without hemorrhaging internally, understanding that Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling own your ass and anything she asks of you must be done, explaining to freelance authors that misspellings and poor grammar do not qualify as stylistic choices, putting all their misspellings and poor grammar back in after being informed they only have the gig because they're my boss' BFF, slowly but surely password protecting all of my layouts and templates on the server because no one understands the "Save As..." function and I'm tired of redoing all my work, keeping those passwords to myself to improve my "not expendable" rating, resisting the urge to hide subliminal messages to the children in the art and page layouts they keep forcing me to do, taking over the duties of so many other people that when I left the company it took me three pages to list my job description, using my "bathroom breaks" to figure out where all the best coffee in the building is, and copy editing.

Special Skills:

- 110 WPM typing speed
- Over a decade of computer, network, IT, and tech support work as both private hobby and corollary to other jobs which has left me capable of running almost any OS, any program, and fixing almost any problem short of really deep diving, none of which qualified to be listed on my employment experience as a job of its own and none of which I own certificates for, essentially meaning that you are guaranteed to give the job to someone who knows less about computers than I do and has half the experience, just because they were able to produce a shiny piece of paper
- Can hold my breath for nearly a minute
- TSR Certified Dungeon Master
- Horseback riding

(no subject)
Kitty issues
milestogo13
*taps the microphone*

Is this...is this thing on?

Okay, so here's the thing. I've just killed the stupid Twitter feed to my LJ because LoudTwitter finally fixed their OpenID bug.

I'd like to make this place active again.

I miss you people.

Hopefully more to come.

Chirp
Kitty issues
milestogo13
Oh the pointlessness you've been missing!

  • 12:18 First family bowling day in forever. Time for the schooling! Going up to a 16/13 combo today. Death to the pins! #
  • 16:07 Phone death at the beginning of an evening out = fail. The iPhone's battery meter lies. Vicious lies! #
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