Monthly Archives: July 2007

7/21/07 07/22/07 – Weekend wrap-up

As usual, this was a busy weekend. The constant battle between man and weed continues with the weeds winning ‘fronds’ down. Despite the loss on that front I did manage to clean up the refuse that was drug into my yard (as it always is) when the nephews visit the in-laws. More poorly behaved children I have never seen.

The Japanese Barberry’s on the west side of the house are dying I’m afraid. Even the one specimen that survived the winter now shows signs of decline. I can only guess that the somewhat shady side of the house where they reside has caused them to be vulnerable to fungus. I suppose it’s time to move them out into the yard somewhere proper. The kitchen is officially marked for tile and ready for my attention. I’m afraid that nothing but the most strictly quotidian attention to the area will satisfy my wife on this point and rightly so. She’s been waiting for the tile to be done for what seems like ages so nothing sort of a couple weeks of devoted attention will likely pacify her about certain other unrelated points that cause this to be less diurnal than she’d prefer.

Our eldest today bought a Harry Potter book (though she’s forced to remain 3-books behind the current one due to issues with content) and it almost made me wonder if I should bother myself to read the stupid things and be done with it. I hate to break with my tradition and read something inane and modern but one does sometimes wonder what the plebeians are doing with their time. Well, that is except read People magazine and watch television.

My wife once again placed an order at Snapfish to have a few dozen pictures printed. Just like last time she ordered a couple of postcards for my parents. One for my father who hands them to my stepmother and one for my real mother who tears them up as quickly as she can and throws them away. (Or at least we assume so. Some of them get mailed back to us.)

Oh, one item of interest from the news. Apparently someone retyped the first few chapters from a Jane Austen novel and submitted them to several publishers. Along with the one who recognized it and sent back a witty response the rest were rejections stating simply that the novel wouldn’t sell or that it was an ‘original idea’ but not something people would want to read. Anyway, here’s the whole story. It just goes to show where modern fiction has gone.

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7/20/07 – Greek to Me; Duckpin Bowling; "How to Work a Room"

Friday night we went out to dinner. Not an unusual happening to be sure but we went somewhere relatively fancy but at least the menu was sorted by price which I have to admit was pretty handy but it would have been nice if they’d drawn a big, bold line with a skull in the middle between $19 and $20. Regardless of the price, the food at Santorini’s was pretty good and my wife seems to have agreed that Greek food is not something to run away from so that, despite the price, is worth the price of admission.

After that we found our way to Fountain Square for that most heinous variation on an otherwise good game, duckpin bowling. If the filth doesn’t get you, the evilly sloping alleys will. I’d consider this pastime passable but conversation is very nearly impossible in such loud conditions and it would have been nice to have been able to hear the people around me talk to each other.

Speaking of speaking… I started reading a book in the vicinity of this day. It’s completely out of character as it’s called, “How to work a Room.” Yeah, yeah. Get back on your chair. After 50 pages I’d gleaned a couple of useful facts. By 100 pages I was just about ready to tear the book in half just to guarantee that one copy of this bullshit out of the millions available would not poison another impressionable mind. Anyway, let’s start with the good and useful things I was told. Yes, I know, they’re obvious but I’m not sure anyone had told me these things specifically:

* If you go to a party and you’re uncomfortable, then other people are too. When I mentioned this to my wife she reminded me of the July 4th party I ‘ruined’ about 13 months ago. It went something like this. We went to some distant friend’s house where we were in company of several other people who were good friends with the hostess. They all sat about drinking heavily, talking about nothing and I sat quietly and waited for the party to end. This, apparently, was enough to ruin the party and it certainly ruined my attitude for the rest of the day. The lesson learned here is a simple one I think. If you’re not enjoying yourself then just leave so you don’t screw it up for everyone else. Fair enough.

* 93% of people in the world consider themselves shy. I think most of the time that I consider myself shy but really I’m not. If you wander into a topic that I know something about, I will talk incessantly and I’m always blabbering on about my innermost thoughts on here so I’m certainly not shy about talking when I have something to say. The important bit here though is that the hard part for most people is approaching others. So, if you approach them then you’ve done 90% of the work and you can go about the conversation. Amusingly, evidence for this was right at hand. I often talk to people at random in stores or whatever and people almost always react positively to what I have to say so people want to talk to you. People are, in general, ready to have a conversation. The key is getting over that initial hurdle and breaking down the initial barrier between people. Now that, I think I can try to do more effectively. At this point, I can’t imagine people will think me any MORE of an ass no matter what I say so I have that going for me. The down side here is that I typically just DON’T have anything to say on most of the common topics of conversation. You want to talk about the science or mathematics or literature or computing or religion then I’m your man. Let’s set a date. You want to talk about what diet Cher’s on or what happened on American Idol last night…. um, no, not so much.

* People can sense what your real intentions are so you can’t schmooze just to get something. Now this, I thought, was a damn interesting little tidbit and hopefully true. The author tells bits about how she’s gotten all sorts of random perquisites from her smoozing. Tickets to shows, free crap, discounts, etc because of some incident she had in an elevator. That’s all well and good and a nice thing to look forward to I suppose but really just random gravy. What I guess pisses me off most is that there are people out there who have to be told, “just don’t do this to take advantage of people” while I sit here on my own with absolutely nothing going on. It’s damn frustrating to try to put yourself out there for people and get blank stares in return. I take cookies across the street to the old couple at Christmas but I’m not even sure they eat them. I’d be happy to help the neighbors get their yard in order so maybe they could sell their house but they won’t even acknowledge my greetings. We’re just such isolationists in this country. Either that or I’m just too damn scary. Whatever the case it’s annoying. It’s not that I WANT to get a call at 4 a.m. from some friend who has a major problem but it would at least be nice if that were a possibility.

So the first 50 pages went about like that. I was relatively upbeat on the whole process but it was clear that the book was geared for sales types which I most definitely am NOT a sales type. Then we start getting into the ‘how’ phase. How to make contacts and break the ice and get the free flow of information going. Sounds good doesn’t it?

* The book recommends practicing a self-introduction. OK. Here’s the best one I could think of:

**** Hi! I’m Rob! Now, I’m only here as part of a court-order. ‘Socialization re-adjustment phase’ of my parole they call it. Anyway, when we gone done talking there are some forms the judge would like you to fill out if you could…. Ma’am? Where are you…

* Practice your smalltalk. Look through the news and find 2 or 3 interesting stories and read them so you’ll be prepared. Read People magazine so you can be aware of all the latest goings on.

It was at this point, that I measured the book to see if it could fit down the toilet. So basically, the key to successful smalltalk is to go read something you wouldn’t ordinarily so that perhaps you’ll have something to say that people might find interesting. Well I’m sorry but that’s just a bunch of horse shit. If the idea of socializing with other people requires me to read fvcking People magazine then I’ll just sit quietly and leave when I think it’s no longer rude to do so. What the hell kind of lasting relationship is based on that sort of? Am I going to have to read People magazine every week/month/whatever for the rest of my life to sustain such a relationship? I’m looking for people to be friends with, to have interesting conversations with. Not sell them stool softener and rubber cane tips.

The first person to express a desire for this book gets it. Assuming, of course, that they can catch it as I hurl it at them.

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7/19/07 – No Post for you

The post that would normally appear on 7/19 was eaten I’m afraid. Eaten by my desire to do a bit of extra work to make sure that 7/20 went a bit more smoothly. Yes, I realize that such behavior as ‘overtime’ is in pointed contradiction to everything I proselytize both on this thing and in real life. Yes, I realize that I’ve said countless time that working overtime leads only to the expectation of more overtime. Yes, I realize that success from conditions that are not conducive to success only cause those conditions to recur. All that said, Friday was much more pleasant given a small boost from Thursday night. Don’t worry, I don’t intend to make it a habit.

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7/18/07 – Promoting Weeds; More about Smalltalk

Since I was a child I’ve had a special thing for plants. Their sheer diversity and vigor just astonishes me. Animals are unevolved when compared with their greener cousins. Because of this I’ve always had a plant or two around and some I’ve had for almost 20 years (not bad when you consider I’m only 34). Anyway, one of the sidebars in this interest has been a fascination with those plants that despite all our best efforts still manage to find a place our yards. I’ve spent a lot of time in the yard for the 10 years we’ve had a house and I’ve become familiar with a lot of these invaders. At least enough to refer to them by consistent names that I’m about 90% sure are completely wrong: “Bay Tree”, “That thing that I think is a Cornflower”, “That little tiny thing that looks a lot like a raspberry bush.” Yesterday for the first time since in a LONG time I actually bothered to do something to try to familiarize myself with these with a bit more intimacy. I’ve officially promoted several specimens out of the status of ‘weeds.’ This is relatively simple since the moniker of weed is a somewhat arbitrary one and all one need to it dig a weed from the ground and put in a pot to make this simple transition. I’m all atwitter to see what these tiny and durable gnomes grow into with all the care I can give them. Most interesting perhaps to the general populous will be just HOW BIG will a dandelion get if you give it optimal growing conditions? Ironically, I think I may have accidentally killed my first attempt to transplant a dandelion. Those taproots are just too long to make them easily adopted.

The second bit of wind for this post is yet more crap about smalltalk. I’m pretty sure I’ve covered this in some vague way in the past and acknowledged to myself (if not to the blog) that smalltalk, while completely obnoxious to my sensibilities of not wasting words, sadly required. This all came up again because one of my associates from work sent along an interview with the author of “How to work a Room.” Now, anyone who knows me at ALL knows that I’d sooner eat the entire contents of my ‘sharps jar’ in the garage than ‘work a room.’ Despite that, I’m apparently going to obtain and read this book because it has become apparent that this idea of ‘random socializing’ is really the ONLY way to get what I want out of other people. For my entire life (adult or otherwise) I’ve been looking for that “Fred and Barney” (you know, those guys from the Flintstones) type friendship with someone else. And no, not a “Bert and Ernie” type friendship, I think we all know what was going on there. My wife can call up any one of about 4 or 5 people and ask them to go shopping with her. It’s frigging magic of some sort. If I want someone to go to the bookstore with… well, I can probably BEG someone into going if I have to but even the list of people I’d consider begging would be pretty short and 1 of those 2 candidates is my father-in-law.

In a way, it’s deeply frustrating because I’m not entirely certain what the problem is though there are plenty of candidates.

* Am I simply too nerdy for people in this area? That’s highly doubtful as I’ve met some delightfully nerdy people.

* Am I too much of an ass? That’s probably potentially part of it. I am relatively self-absorbed and tend to neglect people in favor of… well, random blog entries and long lists of dry literature.

* Are people in this country just not friendly as they used to be? Perhaps culture has changed so we don’t seek this out as we used to? Perhaps partly but I cannot believe that this is generally the case. The more I see of other people the more I realize we’re all basically the same except for he bells and whistles.

* Have I simply failed to see the right people in the right places and failed to recognize them when I find them? Most assuredly so. This is at least one problem that the smalltalk bit may help with. As a mechanism for sussing out like-minded people smalltalk has no substitute so perhaps making that work is the right answer. At this point though, there just aren’t a whole lot of people about. I work from home. In an average week I talk to exactly 3 adults and they’re all related to me. This should probably change before I go totally mad.

All that said, there is a VERY small contingent of people that still bother to seek me out on a regular basis. Perhaps I should start by being more attentive to them and perhaps they’ll introduce me to all their friends.

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7/17/07 – Fred Allen; Little Women Concludes

“Man is born for action Not to be occupied, and not to exist, are for him the same thing.” – Voltaire

I completed my perusal of “The American Scholar” for Summer 2007 and I have to admit it’s got a lot of something but I’m not entirely sure what it is. I simply could not wrap my interest around the lengthy article about Alger Hiss that made the cover. Something about such contemporary history doesn’t ring my bell. The Love on Campus article was, frankly, idiotic at best and argued inanely for far too long. The other non-fiction bits I found acceptable though I’m not sure I honestly believe that a stroke victim who lost the entire speech center of his brain recovered well enough to write so well as in the ‘mem, mem, mem’ article. Perhaps I’m being overly cynical but that seems miraculous. The fiction submissions for this quarter were phenomenal and make me remember just how engaging modern fiction has become. Of course it helps that fiction not written 150 years ago is much more personally relatable but the overall quality is much better than one might expect. The icing to the current issue for me though was the article on Fred Allen. It really made me want to go back and start listening to old time radio again. Quite a fascinating personage…

Alright, Little Women is back on the shelf. I’ll admit that I could not take another 200 pages of literary criticism but I did skim enough of it to realize that the opinions on this seemingly simple text are bogglingly complex. Some, of course, laud the book but the majority seem to find some overwhelming fault. A few point out that the book gives young readers completely the wrong idea about how life really works. I can see this argument as, except for the long-foreshadowed death of Beth, the whole work is almost sickeningly sweet. If women of any century expect life to go as described by Alcott then they are in for a rude awakening. More common than this complaint is the gutting of Jo. She goes from an independent and vibrant woman to a simpering wife. Some reviewers go so far as to call this ‘murder’ and in a respect it is. The book does seem to indicate strongly that for women there are only really two choices in life. Either you get married [Meg, Amy, Jo] or you’re dead [Beth] (or as good as). No matter how intelligent or independent you are the eventual destination is marriage at which point you’re considered secondary to your husband. I can see how this would not sit well with any feminists in the crowd. In any case, devilishly complex when you get down to it. Jason and the Golden Fleece stands next in the reading queue.

I’m sure you’re ready for your verbal yoga for today… “Fred Allen, that coruscating personality of radio and screen, always noted that the artifice by which Warner Brothers denied the verisimilitude of Foghorn Leghorn and his Senator Claghorn was appalling. Sadly the complex palimpsest of the American legal system never allowed him to gain any recompense for the theft.”

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7/16/07 – Having a Life; Little Women Text Wrap-up

Ah yes, here we are again. Hey, it’s been a solid week and I think and I’ve posted some random rot every single day. Some days twice. While I’d guess that this daily mental excrescence puts any random person who may be reading to sleep I have to admit that it has helped me put the days in focus. I have a horrible memory so I’d have already forgotten the story about the bathroom graffiti if not for the fact that it’s right there in black and white. If I can keep this up for a year this’ll be really cool to look back on. Anyway, more excrescence less meta-excrescence.

As I was pulling up the very last little bit of the linoleum today (you know, the bit in the corner that’s always glued down and REALLY hard to get up) I was thinking about what to write about today. Conveniently, I remembered something that somebody said to me the other day and my mind wandered to how absurd a statement it was. They said that they didn’t write in their blog because if other people at their place of work saw it there would be trouble. Not “I’m ratting out my friend who steals from work” type trouble but “if people at work see that I have free time to write in a blog they’ll wonder why I’m not working more” type trouble. On hearing this initially I was somewhat flabbergasted. So basically, what the speaker was saying was that if he shows signs that he has any sort of a life outside work then that’ll make trouble. Have we really fallen that far in this country? Are we all so addicted to ‘getting ahead’ that we can’t do anything but work at our 104-hour a week jobs for fear others will think we’re slackers?

Well if that’s the case then that’s just sad and I’m going to continue to blog quite inanely and voluminously for exactly the same reason. In fact… Hey! Look at me employer! Yeah, I work for you and look at this. I still have time to read a book EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Yeah. For HOURS and HOURS I do this. And I work in the garden. And, oh yeah, I use some of the money you give me to put new floors in my house. I wasn’t so crazy with work that I couldn’t handle what you give me AND do other things too! So HA to your crazy life-controlling scheme… ( well, or to the interpretation of your workers that in order to be a good employee you have to make trash of the rest of your life…)

And furthermore… you know what this means?!? Do ya? Well, for one thing it means that it’s just possible I’ll not go insane any time soon. It also means that I’ll be a relatively OK employee for a lot longer than if I let you totally control my life with overwork! The funny thing is, that because I’m not constantly working I’ll probably actually work more effectively. Some might even say to the point where you can’t even TELL that I’m not working 102-hour weeks like the other people in the company who are all walking around with stressed-out and zombie-eyed expressions. So take THAT, oh companies who hate to see evidence that their employees have lives, and I’ll see YOU tomorrow morning at 7:30a.m. ready to do whatever you tell me to but right now… I’m sharpening my saw… [the author would like to take this opportunity to wretch violently at this sad but necessary reference to 7-habits of highly effective people.]

“Rob?” you might say. “When you’re not writing directionless missives to people who aren’t really reading and to general concepts like ’employers’ what DO you do with all your time?” I’m glad you asked that. Today marks the end of Little Women (or at least the text proper) and I’ll admit in the realm of happy sugarplum fantasy this is quite a tasty morsel. But, since this little tome is on the ‘Norton Critical Editions’ side of the infinite reading TODO list the real text is only half the story and now we move on to the ‘critical’ part. It is positively FASCINATING to read what Alcott herself thought of the book. If you’ve been reading along you’ll remember the episode in which Jo is writing ‘sensational’ literature to make some extra money and later in a fit of guilt burns her manuscripts. Despite its commercial success, Alcott thought her own novel was a bit of sensational tripe and referred to it as ‘her stupid little book.’ We also hear about some of the fan mail she received from adoring fans begging to know what would happen in the second volume of the novel. It’s all very J.K. Rowling as she describes it. She further laments the need to bow to her publisher’s wishes and ‘marry off’ her characters to close the book but declares categorically, “I won’t marry Joe to Laurie to please anyone” so at least some of her artistic integrity is intact. Lastly, the text illustrates the clear point that you write nothing so well as what you’ve actually lived through and this, for Alcott was largely an autobiographical novel. Nothing else was as close to life or met with such commercial success for her.

And finally, today’s mental yoga for those so inclined… “The good doctor, in spite of his powerful philoprogenitiveness and proclivity for didactic homily, found his children to be sad disappointments. His eldest turned out to be a nerdy hobbledehoy who always played victim to his scrapegrace of a younger brother.”

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Open for "business"

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July 16, 2007 · 6:46 pm