Tuesday, December 04, 2012

I still am recuperating. I'm more tired than I'd normally be on a workday at this time. I haven't biked yet, and probably won't for the rest of the week at least. I have tomorrow off (the hospital asked for a follow-up appointment, so I moved my RDO), and I'm glad.

This isn't the first time I've had surgery - I had three wisdom teeth removed one summer in college - but I'm repeatedly surprised at how it effects me. I mean, I've been in very little actual pain over the past week. I've had a sore back and shoulders off and on - and that surprised me, considering the cuts are in my belly, but I'm not used to sleeping on my back and I've been slouching a lot and a friend pointed out that the abdominal muscles hold up the rest of my body, so who knows - but when I'm sitting still or lying down, I don't feel uncomfortable. And when I am in pain, they've given me percocet for it. Sunday could have been a completely normal day, except for the fact that some of the time I spent reading was in bed.

And I've also been getting tired easily over the past week, and failing at NaNoWriMo is annoying, even if it's for a reason that genuinely no one could predict, as is not being able to take care of myself. But still, occasional and well-managed pain and minor fatigue and annoyance seem like insufficient reasons for the change in my mood. Particularly in the first couple days after the surgery, when it was the worst. I just had a really bad mood, internally. Fairly serious depression for a couple days. Maybe it's just my imagination, but I think I felt worse than the pain and tiredness and frustration explain by themselves, as if healing itself takes something out of me.

Which, when I put it like that, is obvious. Of course it does. I still have three wounds in my belly. I have spent several nights in a drugged pseudo-sleep rather than natural restfulness. Why wouldn't I expect that stuff to effect my mood? This is one of several reminders I've had recently of how complicated the body is, and how despite the amazing stuff science can do, most of medicine is really just blunt instruments. It feels kind of humbling. Chemotherapy is poisoning one part of the body more than the rest. Psychiatric medication are mostly uppers and downers with different side effects than recreational drugs. And surgery like this is cutting out an organ that's gone bad, and patching up (literally patching) the holes long enough for the normal healing process to take over.

Monday, December 03, 2012

On Nov. 24, I got back from a nice long Thanksgiving vacation with T.'s family in California. I hadn't been able to do too much writing then. When I went to bed on Sunday, Nov. 25, I had about 32,000 words written. The goal for NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words written in November. So I was behind, but it wasn't insurmountable. On at least two days and probably more, I had written over 3,000 words per day, and even then I hadn't been trying all that hard. If I could do that on every day remaining, I could meet the goal with time to spare. On Monday, Nov. 26, first thing in the morning, I found a 2,000-word file I had misplaced, so that bumped up my word count quite a bit with no work besides a little editing to fit it into the right places.

Then, around 10:30 a.m. that day, I got appendicitis.

I first noticed some abdominal pain around the right side. It wasn't all that severe, but it was really weird, a little like the nausea of a flu and a little like a muscle cramp but not exactly like anything I'd ever experienced before. I gave it an hour to see if it would get better, but it only got worse, so I went to the nurse's office in my building. They told me to go to a hospital. One of my supervisors was kind enough to drive me. The ER people gave me tests for several hours, and I was in surgery that night and spent the night there. I took it easy the rest of that week, staying in bed or in front of my computer or the TV. Thursday and Friday I went into work for a few hours. Thursday was fine. I worked about half a day, and I feel like I could have stayed longer but it was convenient to leave with a friend rather than take a bus and metro home. However, Friday, for whatever reason, took a lot out of me and I had to go home in less than two hours.

There's something else I still find really crazy: on the same day I developed appendicitis, T. sprained her shoulder. She had visited me in the hospital, and afterwards she was walking outside somewhere and slipped and fell hard. In addition to scrapes on her hands, she could barely move her right arm. At the time she didn't think too much of it, but on Tuesday after I was dropped off she saw a doctor and got sent to an emergency room herself. So she spent last week recuperating as well.

Needless to say, I didn't finish the novel. I was in the hospital, or on the way to or from it, from before noon Monday until after noon Tuesday. The rest of the time, theoretically I could have been writing, but I didn't. I spent a lot of time sleeping, or reading while lying down. Everything I did took while recuperating - cleaning the kitchen, and we did the laundry, and I did some editing for some friends who are looking for jobs - took longer than usual, and I was doing more stuff than I probably should have while recuperating because T. was recuperating too. And, of course, it was hard to concentrate on the story while dealing with all of this.

Well, maybe next year.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Today I have made great progress on NaNoWriMo. I might have got twice as much done today as on any previous day - and the day's not over, so if not quite twice as much yet, I'll definitely get there before the end of the day. I had a slow start, but today I figured out a process that seems to work fine for me. This is great.

This worries me.

Obviously, it's only a tiny worry around the edge of otherwise good news. Doing well is good, and if I don't make the goal, it's still fun, still more productive than some ways I spend my free time, and still a good challenge for myself. But the thing is, if today and maybe tomorrow had proved as unproductive as previous days, I'd really be too far in the hole. Considering my other commitments this month, and the fact that even if I do find a good process I can't expect to maintain it all the time, catching up after falling that far behind would have been practically impossible. I would have needed all-nighters or prescription drugs or something, and I still have a day job and a life, I couldn't do that. It would basically be over.

... so if it was over, I could stop. I had tried something new, but I knew it would be hard from the start because of both the goal itself and all kinds of stuff going on in my life these days, so if it didn't work out, hey, no hard feelings, maybe try again next year. If today hadn't gone well, I might as well quit. But now it's not over. There's a difference between trying and failing, and giving up. And I don't want to give up, do I?

So I guess I'd better get back to it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I own a house and am engaged.

Those are both old news to anyone who sees me in person; sorry to anyone who I haven't been in touch with lately. And the engagement officially came first but both were in the works for a long time in advance, so going into detail seems pointless.

The date of the wedding isn't officially locked in yet, but the season we have in mind is still a long ways away, but getting closer, so it's on our minds, her more than mine. The house has been keeping us busy. We weathered Hurricane Sandy even better than I expected, but now winter is coming on and I've been trying to insulate.

Owning a house is weird. I still feel a tiny, niggling inclination to drill a hole in the wall just because I can.

I'm sure T. is glad I haven't done that yet, but I'm not sure she could even tell, because I've been fiddling with little things all over the place. New lampshades on the light over the dining room table. Foam insulation in cracks. Several trips to Home Depot and similar places. I've set up a ladder half a dozen times to paint. We've put a few prints and paintings and posters and wall hangings up and have several more draped over things near where we plan to put them when we get around to it. I kept the drain on the patio clean during the hurricane by going outside and removing leaves by hand. We have had two plumbers here for a leak discovered after we moved, one for a routine tune-up of the heating system in preparation for winter, and one energy efficiency consultant, and I spent an afternoon at the DMV to update my driver's license to get proof of residency within 30 days of the purchase to get some tax break or other. A new smoke/CO detector up in our bedroom. The old smoke detector from there in the old bedroom that was missing its smoke detector when we moved. The smoke detector in a third room adjusted because it was noticeably sagging, and I thought about taking it down and re-fitting it, but decided, fuck it, we have enough going on, it doesn't look that bad, close enough.

Remember this? And that was just about leasing and moving in with T. The more I do about the house we own, the more I notice I have to do in general.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I could be worse!

When we first got married, my wife brought home a whiteboard on which we could list the jobs that needed to be done. About a year later it disappeared. Just before our silver wedding anniversary, I found the whiteboard in our garage. There were about 20 jobs on it. None of them had been done - and most of them still needed to be done.

Via Unfogged.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

End of an Era

For the first time in over seven years, I'm not playing World of Warcraft.

As I've discussed, I'm busy lately. It's better now than it was a month ago at this time - the wedding is over, the computer is fixed, we're no longer expecting to buy a money pit soon, we're being more relaxed about house-hunting, I'm no longer discovering new stuff in Diablo III - but I still have a fair amount going on, still want to write, and still want to completely vegetate when I do find free time. And Warcraft has got boring lately. Partly my own overexposure, partly because it's been a long time since there was new content or anything. There's just less to do there.

So with all that in mind, two weeks ago my biannual subscription renewal came up, and I didn't extend it. I'll probably be back someday, probably when the next expansion is released, but who knows. Oh well. There are other ways to kill time. Taking a break from the hobby I have put the most time and thought into since my senior year of college seems like it should be a bigger deal.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What I did at Comic-Con
  • Watched the panel discussions of  a number of things I'm interested in: Doctor Who, Dexter, True Blood, The Guild (or Geek & Sundry), the TV Guide panel featuring at least two actors I wanted to see as well as half a dozen more I don't care about, the Blizzard panel hyping the game company's upcoming ancillary products, a panel discussion of problems faced by female creators in comics, and at least one panel discussion by fantasy novelists, and maybe more I can't remember at the moment.
  • Watched some panel discussions I don't really care about - Supernatural, some Tron cartoon, several others - because they were before ones that I did. Call it like the opening act of a band or call it bad organization policy, but organizers didn't clear rooms when one panel ended and the next began, so we eventually learned that if we wanted to see something at 12:30 and it was likely to be at all popular, we should get there at 11:30. Or 10:30. Or 4:15.
  • Bought five back issues of comics from the 1990s, one graphic novel signed by the artist, one webcomic collection signed by the artist, one spinoff toy from a webcomic, some Magic cards, a t-shirt, and probably more that doesn't come to mind right now. T. bought quite a bit too, both for herself and me.
  • Picked up freebies including t-shirts, two different funny hats, comics, posters, and more Magic cards. Again, T. probably got even more than me, mostly novels.
  • Took lots of pictures of cosplayers. There were quite a few clever and fun and creative and, sure, racy costumes there.
  • Had dinner with two different friends of T. who live in the area and their families. They were nice.

What I didn't do at Comic-Con
  • Didn't succeed at getting into the Firefly events. And we tried. We were in line for it four hours early, that just wasn't early enough. I gather it's always popular at Comic-Con and this was the 10-year anniversary. So that sucked. T. was literally crying about it.
  • Didn't even try to go to the panels about Iron Man 3, other upcoming Marvel movies, The Hobbit, Magic: the Gathering, or several other relatively big-ticket events. I might have liked to, but either they conflicted with someone I was even more interested in, or I just needed to rest after everything else we did. In hindsight there's some stuff I wish I'd seen, but there was just a ton to see and do. Oh well.
  • Didn't cosplay. Sorry, maybe next year.
  • Didn't do anything else in San Diego. I gather the zoo is nice, and the beach, and more, but all we did outside SDCC was one evening in the pool hot tub and the aforementioned dinners with friends.
Other notes
  • It was fun, but tiring. I want to go next year if we can, but that's a longshot.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

I'm slightly optimistic about writing... even though I'm nowhere near the benchmarks mentioned in my previous post.

That Monday I had off, I managed to write probably less than a page. I was busier than I expected (one errand turned into three or so), but even so, it was depressing how little I accomplished. In the meantime, though, I've added six more pages and have a pretty good idea of what will happen next. Two characters so far, both of whom are at least a bit developed. That's nowhere near one page for every hour I've tried to work on this, but it's a good beginning.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I realize the goal was flawed from the start. A page an hour would be a ton. It would be five novels in a year (assuming no time needed for editing), and no one does that. It would have to be pure stream of consciousness. That might be useful in certain limited contexts, and I should try it some time as an experiment just for fun, but won't do for a narrative.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How should I write?

Via Sullivan, I read about apps designed to motivate people to write. There's one program that would increment time giving me periodic breaks, presumably so I'm less tempted to go browse reddit in the middle of a paragraph; and another that rewards me for progress by showing you cute animal pictures. The most interesting one, Write or Die, would force me to write by punishing me for not doing so. There are several possible settings: it can give me a reminder in a popup window if I go too long without writing, or play an annoying tone, or start deleting what I've already written. That mode, quite appropriately, is called "kamikaze." Wow.

As intimidating as that is, I'm tempted to use it. Over the past year or so I've tried to get serious about writing for myself for the first time ever*, and it hasn't gone well so far. There's a set of short stories I wrote for college that I think has the potential for novels, and I reorganized and edited the old stuff, but I've actually written literally only one new sentence. I've daydreamed about it beyond that recently, but not actually typed a word. There's also a certain new topic I want to write about, but that's going little better. I've written five pages - double-spaced, FWIW, but still - of a beginning, and eight more pages of abortive attempts or paragraphs that might fit into a narrative eventually but for now I just have them sorted like puzzle pieces in piles based on their dominant colors. That's it.

The biggest problem is setting aside time for it. There have been times now and then I could have spent an hour or more on fiction, but really not all that many over the past month. Life is busy these days, and when it isn't, I want to crash, not focus on a different kind of challenge.

On thinking about it as I'm writing this, though, I really need to just do it. I haven't even bothered trying in the first place when I've had just an hour free at a time, but I should. I think my ideal writing system would be to spend at least half a day at a time on a project, really focusing on what I want in my characters and plot and writing it sentence by sentence, but I'm sure I could do something with a spare hour on a weekend morning or between getting home from work and making dinner, and something is better than nothing.

I have next Monday off and only one thing scheduled for it (so far...), and in August my girlfriend will be away for a week, and if I can't write, say, an average of one page per hour of leisure time** over those periods, then I need to either get Write or Die or some other productivity-enhancing method, or rethink why I want to write in the first place.

* I've written a ton before now, of course. In college I majored in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing and also wrote for the college newspaper. For two and a half years after college I was a reporter. All along I've kept this blog, and I started a second one a while back focused on a certain topic. Well over a million words not even counting false starts and notes never intended for publication, several novels if it had all been one work. But assignments, whether for a professor or employer, aren't the same as writing for myself, and a blog, or at least blogging the way I've been doing it, isn't serious.

** And I need to think hard about that. In one sense, every minute I'm at home and not sleeping, cooking, cleaning, or paying my bills is "leisure time," right? But no one can write constantly like that, definitely not without working up to it. So for now let's predict six hours of "leisure" on Monday - like I said, I have something scheduled for it, and I'll have to work up to my goal - and an average of two hours of leisure per free workday. But I'm prepared to rethink that.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My recent posts might seem a bit overwrought. Just a week without my own computer and I'm showing symptoms of withdrawal? Seriously? Well, no, not seriously, it's exagerrated. And even though I didn't finish and post it until Wednesday, I deliberately wrote it in the mood of right after I got back on my computer, just for effect.

But even so, it's odd. I've had week-long periods of limited computer access before. Since 2010 I've been to Paris, on a cruise, and to California for a week or longer in each case, and several shorter visits to my parents' house. In every case, my phone's Internet access was spotty, and the only computers I had access to weren't my own, and my access to them was subject to other people and an unusual schedule. And I was fine with that. I mean, sure, sometimes it was a little annoying, but change is almost always a little annoying.

So why was this past week worse than those? Several reasons, I think.
  • It was unexpected. I couldn't set aside some engrossing books I had been meaning to read for a while, or hold off on TV because I knew I'd get my fill of it soon, I just had to deal with what I had handy. Or not.
  • Otherwise, it was a normal week. (With some exceptions. See below.) When I'm in Vermont or California or France, I'm expecting things to be different and difficult in some ways, but I'm also on vacation so I'm trying to relax. This past week was my routine - breakfast, go to work, come home, have dinner with my girlfriend, play games or watch TV at night, maybe go out with friends on the weekend - except that I couldn't blow off steam in the usual way.
  • I'm busy these days. This both makes it feel worse, because when I'm stressed picayune hinderances can feel like deliberate insults, and makes it actually harder to deal with things if I need to ask to borrow my girlfriend's computer to look up financial information and try to remember passwords that are saved on my computer and stuff.
So put it all together and, yeah, of course last week was even worse than the usual week without a computer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The power supply arrived Saturday afternoon. Before then, I made one brief trip to the store and otherwise spent the day reading and watching TV. I finished one of the books I bought Wednesday. It took me probably more than half an hour to install completely, doing everything the cautious way, but there were no problems.

Even with the shopping, and going out with friends that night and having a leisurely morning the following day, I've probably been on my computer more than usual since I got it working again, and "more than usual" is really saying something. Frankly, though, I don't feel too bad about that. I bought Diablo III just a week or so before my computer broke and it's still new to me, and I did a little writing like I mentioned before. And I was obviously getting bored. I'm not sure exactly how my TV viewing during the computer-free week compares to normal, but it was definitely more. Same for reading.

Another thing is, I was bugged by not being connected to the rest of the world. That might sound absurd - I had my work computer, my girlfriend's computer at home, and a smartphone - but none of those are good for graphics-intensive gaming, none of those are good for text documents I keep stored on my hard drive, and none are good for utterly trivial shit like videos of cats playing or arguments about comic book history. In other words, the trivial stuff I actually spend my free time thinking about.

A science fiction trope for years now has been neural connections to computers. People are generally wary of it from a philosophical perspective - what does it mean, and that's really mean, to alter your brain, your self, that way, what would it do to your very identity, the meaning of being a person - and I can appreciate that, but after a week of relying on the sufferance of others for my computing, I'd happily get a YouTube implant in my cortex, thanks, and ignore the philosophy. Streaming video is a lot more fun than philosophy.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

This day was the earliest my power supply could have arrived, so all day long I was hoping it might be waiting on the doorstep when I got home, but no luck. On the way home I had an interesting thought I wanted to look into, but it would be too much trouble on my phone or my girlfriend's computer. (I don't even remember what it was, just the frustration.) I went to a concert with T. after work, so that was a nice diversion. Watched three episodes of Archer and read some before bed.

Friday, June 08, 2012

My computer died on Saturday. Fortunately, I was around friends even more computer-savvy than me at the time, so we identified the problem relatively easily: the power supply died. I've ordered a new one from Amazon and am now waiting for it to arrive. I haven't been completely computer-deprived, of course - I can sometimes use my work computer for personal stuff, and my girlfriend lets me use hers - but even so, computer access this week has been much less convenient, private, and fun than usual. It's been hard, and a learning experience.

The absence was downright helpful, actually. I had several things to do, and I might have done them even if my computer had been working, but at least this way there was less temptation. I used my girlfriend's computer for productive stuff like paying my credit card bill. It was a rough day for other reasons, but I felt good about the lack of a computer and how I handled it.

During the day I did some basic research on what kind of power supply I needed. On the way home I swung by Best Buy, and of their two choices of power supply on the shelf I bought the one that looked more like what I needed, but when I got it home, it wasn't. So that was annoying. I never took it out of its packaging, so at least it should be easy to return. Also, my girlfriend's Wii wasn't working, so we couldn't watch anything on Netflix. That was annoying too. We didn't feel like doing anything as active as playing board games, so we put on an old episode of Fringe. My girlfriend recommends the show, and I've been slowly catching up. Overall, an OK day.

Did research and talked to those computer-savvy friends for advice. Made a new recipe for dinner, which was a bit complicated and messy, but came out OK. We learned stuff to do differently if/when we make that recipe again. In the evening we watched another episode of Fringe, maybe also The Daily Show, I don't remember. Getting restless, and the problems with dinner were only part of it. Also, I normally raid with my guild in World of Warcraft on Tuesday nights and I missed that tonight, so I felt a bit guilty and lonely for not showing up. Especially because I didn't let them know about it. (It would have been hard but not impossible.)

Ordered the part from Amazon in the morning. I was annoyed at myself that I waited this long to order it and worried how long it would take to arrive. I didn't spring for the fastest shipping, though, because I'm trying to be frugal (due to the house, among other things) and I should be able to handle two or three more days without a computer, right? My girlfriend had plans after work, so I was faced with a particularly boring evening. I bought two trade paperbacks at the comic book store on the way home, and when I got home I downloaded two e-books I had been thinking about reading for a while. The thing is, I already have at least two books on my reader that it'll take me at least a month to finish at my current rate. I bought these four books out of restless boredom so, hey, why not? Except for frugality. So much for that. About $60 on things I really don't need, especially not now. In fairness, it wasn't just because of restless boredom. I had cleaned recently and found a gift card I wanted to use up rather than leave lying around. Restless boredom definitely played a part, though. I watched yet another episode of Fringe that night.

At work I had quite a burst of creativity about a story I've been meaning to write. Let's hope I haven't forgotten it by the time my computer is fixed. After I got home I fixed the Wii. It was simpler than it looked. Dinner went well. I joked with T. about itching like an addict going through withdrawal. After dinner, T. worked on some paperwork, and I helped a bit with that. When she didn't need me I went off and read in the office, but only with half my mind, because she asked for advice more than once. After that we watched two episodes of Archer through the Wii. It's a funnier and shorter show than Fringe, so it was a nice change of pace. Missed a raid again this night, though.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I took that picture while biking to work on March 22. I'd known it was foggy before I even left my apartment, of course, but when I was stopped at that light on Pennsylvania Avenue I was struck by just how foggy it was, so I got out my phone and took that picture. I was at 9th and Penn, 10th at the furthest, less than a mile from the Capitol, and look, you can't even see the top of the dome! Wow!

One nice surprise about biking to work is that it's just plain fun. Like I said, I was surprised by how starting the day with light exercise actually felt nice. In addition, my route is a fun ride. It's downhill most of the way in, and about two-thirds of the way through my commute the lights are timed so that if I push myself I can just barely race through five or six blocks all without stopping. And after that I'm on Pennsylvania Avenue, with dedicated bike lanes down the middle and well-timed lights and that nice view.

That picture was taken way back in March, though, and while the view is better these days, some things aren't. Sweating in the morning is a problem and getting worse; I'm seriously considering wearing shorts to bike in the morning and leaving a wardrobe at work. And another problem is kind of funny: other people taking pictures. On the way home, more often than not I have to dodge at least one pedestrian standing in the middle of the street to take pictures of the Capitol. It's annoying.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

It's times like this that I really appreciate having a boring, simple, low-stress job.

The house-buying process is a mess. I'm sure it always is, but there's at least one unusual part that made our lawyer groan when he heard about it.

T. and I had been planning to go to Comic-Con this summer, and just yesterday we found out about a policy change of theirs that will make it much harder for us. One thing on my agenda for today is researching the odds that we can still go. If not, it would be annoying and frustrating because it will probably only get harder to go in future years, but I have to admit I wouldn't mind having more time and less expense this July of all times, what with the house.

A good friend of mine is getting married soon. Yay him, good news, that's cool, et cetera. The bachelor party is coming up. Cool. It'll be non-traditional. Cool. I admit I'm a tiny bit disappointed by the lack of the stereotypical hedonism, but his best man is planning a LAN party, which the groom is definitely much more suited for and I'm probably a bit more suited for it myself. So, cool. The game we're probably playing is something I'm interested in myself. Cool. But here I finally hit a snag: I'm not sure my computer can handle it. It's a new game, and my computer is four years old. Going by the numbers in the system requirements, I have more RAM than I need but less processor, and comparing my video card to the recommended one looked like apples and oranges. After a fair amount of research, two different sources tell me my video card is OK, but I'm still trying to be more certain. And I still need to look into the processor. Exactly how important is the difference? Can I easily upgrade my computer? If not, what should I do?

We're supposed to close on the house in less than a week. The bachelor party is weekend after next. The current plan is to do some repairs on the house in June and move at the start of July. Comic-Con is in the middle of July. I've been dealing with unpredictable, high-stakes, important personal stuff since we started negotiations for this house at the end of March, and that will continue through July at least. Argh. So while I don't want to be at my current forever and it certainly has its problems, I'm really glad that right now it's easy to send a bunch of personal e-mails during the day and take time off freely and so on.

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Twelve megabytes of RAM, five hundred megabyte hard drive, with built-in spreadsheet capabilities and a modem that transmits at over 28,000 bps!" Chandler Bing,
Episode "The One With The List", first airdate November 16, 1995. Those specs were good at the time.
It's stunning how much things on a computer have replaced real things. I'm not used to it despite how much I use computers, and I'm not sure I should be, because it's weird!

Two recent discussions with friends both reminded me of that by circuitous routes. One about mementoes of exes, one about the cultural impact of the old TV show Friends. People got to talking about when and if and how to save stuff, and independently about the show, and that reminded me of one episode of the show about that topic: the girls all happened to be single during a Valentine's Day and were depressed about it, so they decided it would be cathartic to ritualistically burn presents from exes. Hilarity ensued, of course.

That got me thinking that I should do something like that myself: cull my heap of souvenirs. I wouldn't get rid of everything, and I wouldn't do anything as farcical as a fire, just take stuff to the trash. I'm in a serious long-term relationship right now (so serious, by the way, that we're buying a house together! We feel better about it now than we did here), some such mementoes might actually be incriminating and several more would simply be embarrassing, and I just don't feel like I need most of it any more; I've stumbled on this stuff by accident now and then but it's been years since I sought it out for some reason. I should throw some of it out and put the rest in one organized place.

But the thing is, A lot of this stuff is on a computer - old e-mails, jpegs, text documents, etc. I have lots of other stuff on computers too, and storing stuff on my computer is actually the more discreet option in some living situations, so why not? - and when and if I get around to this culling it wouldn't feel right with computer files.

Even if every bit of it was in meatspace I wouldn't burn anything like on the TV show, of course, that would be stupid. I'd sort it carefully and throw it away, maybe in a trash can a few blocks from my apartment and/or after tearing stuff up first if I think I need to be really careful, but I wouldn't bother with anything more than that.

But on a computer I can't do that. Moving files around a computer is moving files around a computer. There's no purifying ritual to it, no break from routine, nothing different from sorting treasured mementoes of my first love and making a new playlist. And when I sort meatspace mementoes I'll do it at home and have until I walk away from the dumpster to reconsider, but on my computer I better be really, really sure about everything, because the "empty recycle bin" button is just another button.

As for the stuff I'd like to organize and keep long-term, what are memories, anyway? I'll be able to look at a handmade card and reminisce for as long as I'm capable of holding and reading a piece of paper. A computer file, though, who knows? It's hard to lose a box full of stuff, but some of these files are already deep in sub-sub-folders, and if I happen to get another computer before I finally do this culling, it'll be worse. What if there are backwards compatibility issues? What if I screw up my computer the next time I upgrade its video card? I know from experience that floppy discs deteriorate; how long does a hard drive even last?

And while I'm at it, what are we? No sane person is so materialistic to say that you are what you own, of course, but other two leading answers seem to be "you are a soul" (and I'm not religious) and "you are the impact you make on the world." That's usually enough of an answer for me - leave the world a better place than you found it, that sort of thing - but so much of my stuff is digital that what, exactly, am I leaving to my heirs, biological or otherwise? Doing puzzles or playing board games with meatspace friends is easier than playing computer games with them. Pictures on a hard drive and books on a Nook make poor heirlooms.

Well, that's so meandering and mystical that it's hard to believe I'm not stoned at the moment. Realistically, I own plenty of meatspace stuff, and I've almost never felt as maudlin as this sounds and certainly don't right now. I just think it's weird how much of myself I'd put into this digital world. Not just in the sense that I have a blog, but in all the other ways I didn't think about until I had been using them for years.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A hardcover fiction book usually seems to cost about $25 at a bookstore - maybe a little more, counting tax, and the MSRP may be higher if it's a popular book, but then again maybe less if it's on sale or from a discount seller. A paperback book costs about $8, again with some variation. In e-book format, the prices for new books are similar, maybe a buck or two cheaper. There's something weird, though: while prices seem pretty consistent for conventional books regardless of age, for e-book editions of books first published more than 90 years ago, prices top out at about $2*. If I want cost-effective entertainment, it's easy to do the math.

All this is because of how copyright law works. To make a long story short, once upon a time, works of intellectual property were held by their creators for several decades during which they alone could legally profit from them, and then "fell into the public domain," meaning that anyone could use it. But to protect the profitability of companies like Disney, copyright is almost eternal these days. It would raise Constitutional questions and start an incredibly complicated debate if Congress every actually passed a law saying "copyright shall no longer expire" or retroactively granted copyrights to something already in the public domain, but they get around that by extending it for just 10 or 20 years at a time**.

Smarter, better educated and more monomaniac people than I have had a lot to say about this, but I got to thinking about it in a bookstore over the weekend***, and I began wondering just what it'll mean in the long run.

I'm not even talking about government IP policy or the viability of bookstores at the moment. How's it going to affect me if I start spending so much time reading such old stuff? Maybe venerable classics, maybe just pulp fiction from way, way back, but either way, stuff written before the existence of television or women in Congress. I already feel left behind by culture and technology now and then; am I actually going to regress?

And how's it going to affect culture in general? Intellectuals of all kinds have always stood on the shoulders of giants, but it seems weird that there's a dividing line of a specific year before which you can freely reuse content, but after which you can only be "inspired" by it. Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was almost unique the way it throws together characters created by a dozen different writers****. That kind of thing can never be sold using anything published after the magical year of 1923.

* Project Gutenberg and similar services make public domain books completely free, but it took me a while to find that and sometimes I've wanted to buy something on the spur of the moment, and e-book software makes it trivially easy to download from the content provider, so why not pay a buck or two.
** It's too complicated for me to understand all the details, and even if I understood them it's too complicated for a blog post, but I think that's basically accurate.
*** The one mentioned here, oddly enough. It's kind of funny, because I've only been there twice and I've been to other bookstores half a dozen times since then - several dozen times, if comic book stores count - but both times resulted in deep thoughts and blog posts. Maybe there really is something irreplacable about jumbled, idiosyncratic bookstores. Or then again, maybe it's just the reputation of that relatively famous place getting to me.
**** Yet again, it's more complicated than that, but anyways.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

I wonder if anyone has ever rigorous studied traffic at lost and founds. What's the most common item to wind up at one? Do people lose things when a routine gets out of whack, or when things get too complicated, or when someone else borrows something and the lender forgot, or what? How often do people go to lost and founds to find things that they'd never lost, just forgot where they put it?

I'm curious about this because I just did that. Last week I was on the bus in the morning and couldn't find my Nook and the last time I remember having it was in the locker room at work, so I figured, uh oh, I must have taken it out to move things around my bag and left it there. I couldn't find it in the locker room, so I checked the lost and founds around my office (there are apparently at least three places lost items may be taken, which seems like bad planning), and found nothing. I was getting worried. But when I got home, there it was safe on the windowsill. Oops.

The funny thing is, it's the second time I've done something like that. Some time last year I couldn't find my driver's license and figured that I'd dropped it on the bus, and left no stone unturned... except for a pocket in my wallet I never use that I'd absent-mindedly put it in. That was really embarrassing, after I'd bugged several people asking if they'd seen it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I'm thinking more about prose and diction these days than I have since I was in writing classes in college, and maybe more than I did even then.

The immediate cause of it is reading The Hunger Games. It's jumping out at me just how elementary the writing style is. Nothing wrong with that for what it is, a kid's book. Also, I saw the movie before I even started the book, so that has aborted any suspense. But even so, I still find the writing style lacking. It tells the reader a lot without showing much. The first-person, present-tense voice has some advantages - I can see how it'll help a lot of later scenes - but isn't doing much in the first few chapters, and just seems lazy. And the setting seems too clichéd and simplistic and black-and-white. Everyone's starving, the Peacekeepers are an Orwellian force, Katniss has to be heartless to survive, blah blah blah, the system sucks, I get it. A friend informs me that later books get more complicated, but I might not get that far.

Again, THG is just a kid's book so there's nothing wrong with keeping things simple, and I don't want to give the impression that it's so bad that it alone has reminded me of reading other student writers in college. I've been thinking more and more like this for a while. I don't know whether this is a gradual evolution of thinking more analytically about writing over the years, but if it was inspired by anything specific, that inspiration was H.P. Lovecraft.

I started deliberately seeking him out about three years ago for two reasons: a historical interest in how and why he was so influential, and all his work is in the public domain, which is free or very cheap in e-book form. But in the process of reading his stuff, I think I absorbed a lot about the minutiae of writing. Love him or hate him - and his writing is indeed uneven, and the best thing I can say about all the racism is that sometimes it's unintentionally funny - he definitely has a unique, compelling writing style.

Gibbering horrors made me think about about how to write far more than poetry or soliliquies ever did - why "gibbering" instead of "babbling" or even "rambling"? Because of the sound? The etymology? The tiny nuance of difference in meaning or length? The topic itself? If nothing else, this seems like a good argument in favor of broadening your horizons. (Ironically, Lovecraft hated that.) I'm not saying this has made me a better writer, but I do think it's made me a better critic, and more able to appreciate good writing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I don't have a bucket list. I'm still young and healthy, I haven't had any particular mortality scares, and I don't plan very long-term in general. (Also, the term "bucket list" seems like an annoying cliché, but call it what you will, I don't have one.)

That being said, if I did have one, I can think of two things would be on it. First, visiting New Orleans. I've never been and it sounds like a fun place. And second, which I just learned about today and is what inspired this post, is winding the Clock of the Long Now, a clock designed to work for ten thousand years.

It hasn't actually been built yet, according to Wikipedia, but it looks like it will be sooner or later. And it's a pretty damn cool idea. As skeptical as I usually am about grand, sweeping claims of any kind (the idea that, say, nanotechnology will lead to the Singularity or transhumanism is only slightly more likely than the idea popular 50 years ago that nuclear power would, which is to say, not very), the idea of building a complicated machine to last and continue working for ten thousand years is very impressive.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

We're getting close to backing out of the deal. (Or we were when I started writing this. In the meantime, e-mails have been flying, so who knows.) The problem is, it seems harder and harder to buy anything decent. Mostly because finalizing the financing process made us realize that the maximum price we can afford isn't as high as we thought it was when we started looking, but also because of all the problems with this place found by inspectors. I've used the banal aphorism "Location, quality, affordability: choose only two," more than once when talking about this, but at the moment that seems less like a general rule of thumb and more like a solid law of physics.

We'd prefer a house to a condo. We'd prefer a place in or near a nice neighborhood downtown to a place in the suburbs. We'd prefer a place that doesn't need too much work. And, obviously, it has to be affordable. But getting this close to buying has made us realize how rare one place with all that is. And, worse, I think we both find the house-buying process a stressful, red-tape-laden, paperwork-shuffling mess. I realize most people wouldn't enjoy it, but it seems like it's worse for us: neither T. nor I is all that comfortable with math, a few details of our situation make it harder than it should be like my bad credit or us not being married, etc.

As far as I can tell, we have four options: the fixer-upper we're in negotiations for now, affordable places in neighborhoods we like (which I now think are generally condos, and relatively small and/or old ones at that), affordable houses out in the suburbs, or just giving up for now, planning to sign another year's lease in our current apartment, and trying again next year after we've hopefully got better jobs or something.

Buy the place we're now looking atWe like the neighborhood. We can afford it (the house itself, at least). It has potential. The house-hunting process would be over with.Improvements to it are definitely going to cost a fair amount of money. Roof work, floor work, electrical work... We've got no bids at all yet, just estimates, so we're uncertain how much it would cost. There's a tenant we'd have to get rid of before we could move in. He seems reasonable enough, but that's still a concern.
Back out, go back on the market, and focus on condos or co-ops in the cityAvoids all the problems of the current house. Condo-owners have fewer responsibilities than house-owners, I assume, which means less stress, money out of pocket, time wasted, etc. We'd still have a place in the city.Less control over what we do with it. Depending on how high the condo fee is and what it covers, we might wind up saving little or no money. Overall, it's likely that we'd have less square footage, open space, natural light, etc. in a condo than in a house. We'd be back to the paperwork-shuffling mess.
Back out, go back on the market, and focus on houses in the burbsAnything we can even vaguely afford in the city would be a rowhouse or close to it. More space than that would be kind of nice. The price difference is probably huge. We haven't looked too hard out there, but in cursory searches I found decent-looking places for a hundred thousand dollars less. That would leave us a ton of money for renovations or whatever.We'd probably have to get a car, if not cars, and use them a lot. That's affordable but unpleasant. All else being equal, a bigger home probably means more work. Living in the suburbs is less fun, less convenient, less everything like that. We'd be back to the paperwork-shuffling mess.
Back out and stop looking for nowWe like our current apartment just fine. We'd save money, at least in the short term. We'd put the paperwork-shuffling mess off.We'd pay another year of rent and not get anything to show for it, no equity in a place we own or anything. When we finally do get back to the paperwork-shuffling mess, it will probably be under slightly worse circumstances. I understand that the loan interest rate is likely to go up, and housing prices probably will too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Growing up sucks. Like this, but much more.

T. and I are getting close to buying a house, and it's intimidating, and a lot of work. By the numbers: I've received 24 and sent 10 e-mails today as of now about inspections or the loan. For comparison, I have received only nine unrelated e-mails so far today and sent none. This is probably peak e-mail day, both because we're into really-really-final financial stuff (unless we back out!) and because we're trying to schedule two inspections, so I admit the process isn't usually this bad, but still, it's boggling.

The house in question might be a money pit. We had an inspection, it found a bunch of problems, and we're now trying to schedule two follow-ups to see exactly how bad two particular issues are. I think we've decided that if the following reviews find any new or worse problems at all then we want to walk away. If we actually don't find any new problems and those two remaining issues are in great shape, then we'll probably buy it. That's just the start of the fun: I'll have to borrow money from my parents just to cover my half of the down payment. And we already know the place needs some work, and we'd want to do some of that before moving in (which costs even more money up front) and some more of it eventually (which is disruptive to live with). And even if we don't buy this specific house, we're still planning to have a lot more money-spending-and-borrowing and tied-down-being in our future. And all of that apparently needs to be figured out this week.

Also, I apparently have bad credit. I had known for a while that my credit rating wasn't all that great, partly because I've missed a payment on my credit card now and then, but mostly because I don't have much of a credit record one way or the other. I only have one credit card and I don't use it much because a debit card is just as good (except for establishing credit...), and my college education was paid for from my grandmother's estate. But now, bad credit matters. And now that I actually look closely at the report, I realize that my credit isn't just bad compared to T., whose credit report was unusually good, but compared to the average. Damn. In addition to the practical problems - our interest rate is a bit higher than it would be if we both had T.'s rating - I also feel guilty for inflicting my bad credit on her.

And the crazy thing is, home-buying is just the start. There are also two other big, grown-up issues I'm dealing with that weren't even on the radar a year ago and have got much bigger and more serious over the past two weeks. This is just the least private issue, but take my word for it, I feel like I'm going from 25 to 35 in a month or so.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Comic books are like glaciers: majestic marvels of [nature/culture], and an important, unique thing about them is the fact that the bit you see at any time is actually just the visible portion of a really really huge body, but they're both in the middle of a pathetic decline and ultimately doomed due to changes in their environment.

Well, "doomed" is too alarmist, and "changes in their environment" is so vague that it glosses over a lot. And while comic books may be better than they sound, calling them "majestic marvels" is admittedly ridiculous.

OK, so no analogy is perfect, but after spending a lot more time and money and thought on comic books recently than I used to because that store moved to my neighborhood, I think a comparison of the industry to glaciers in warming waters really is apt.

Of the new stuff I'm reading, Wolverine and the X-Men (WatX) stands out. It's impressive. One of the unique, special things about this medium and genre is the continuity of a shared universe and WatX uses it well. It blends one decades-old storyline with another that has never been connected to it before, in such a way that a new reader could appreciate this month's story for its face value while making a longtime reader squee with delight. As for the stories, they're fun, in a crazy-adventures way, the kind of thing that gets called "juvenile" even if there's blood and guts all over the place. So far the book is completely embracing the way absolutely anything can happen in a comic book. One type of enemy among several in the first storyline: multiple Frankenstein's monsters armed with flamethrowers. Wow.

It's not just zany cartoon stuff, though. The characters are well-handled. Before I'd ever read any of it, I was interested in the lineup. I'd estimate that the characters are roughly equally divided between old and well-established characters being used in innovative ways, old and underused characters that are finally getting some exposure, and truly new characters. It's not for everyone, because some people want their fiction more serious, but for people who can laugh at themselves and their icons, it's great. And it's well-written. The grownup characters have grownup problems, but fun remains the priority, so those problems get a sly, tongue-in-cheek treatment. When Kitty says she'd rather be eaten by aliens than deal with adult life and a normal job, it both makes sense in context and seemed to me like a metatextual joke about how so many characters haven't changed since they were created decades ago.

But that's one thing that bugs me about WatX: it's hard to ignore how unoriginal it is. When the X-Men were created in 1963, they started out as a school for mutants before drifting into general superhero action. A team called the New Mutants were created in 1982, the year I was born, and their concept was "back to the X-Men's roots." Since the New Mutants there have been at least three titles based on the same concept, characters or both.

The series is a rehash in more ways than just the concept. The art is part of what drew me in. The first storyline was pencilled by Chris Bachalo, who drew the first 30 or so issues of the series Generation X (another one of those "back to the X-Men's roots" series). I liked that series and have every single issue of it. It ran from 1994 to 2001 or so. Apparently Bachalo was just on WatX for the first storyline, and after he left Peter Nauck took over. Nauck pencilled Young Justice, another series about teenage superheroes I liked and collected, and that started in 1998. So both the artists so far on this new series were doing the same thing 14 and 18 years ago, respectively. As for the characters, I really do think the new ones are original overall, but I have to admit that so far the two best-established of them are just "like this other guy, but younger" and "like this bad guy, but good." Finally, the use of Wolverine himself is problematic, but in a slightly different way.

I have no complaints about him being here. He's one of the old characters being used in a new way. Casting him as a teacher is genuine character growth. The problem is when you look at everything else he's doing. Within the past five years Wolverine has been in two series at a time about superhero teams plus his own solo title, all of which feature extended storylines about globe-trotting, world-saving adventures, and that is continuing right now. That's not because it particularly makes sense for the character. There's no explanation at all for how he does it other than nonsequential storytelling - comic book time. As for why he does it as a character, sure, they've written an explanation, but I'm pretty sure everyone knows it's just a pretense. The real reason is simply because he's Marvel's most popular character, so they use him as much as possible to sell as much as possible. That's not a good sign. Where's the originality, the risk-taking?

I suppose I shouldn't complain about a series that's apparently targeted at me in every way, but it shows a lot of problems with the industry in general.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I was busy this past weekend. Among other things, T. and I went to the Reason Rally, a rally on Saturday by a union of atheist, anti-theist, freethinking and related groups, a gathering of the godless.

We didn't stay long due to the nearly constant rain, but it was fun. There was good people-watching lots of intentionally funny signs, some unintentionally funny signs by protestors, and some good speakers. In addition to a few dozen Christian protestors, there was one guy exhorting people to worship the Almighty Cthulhu. I don't think I've ever heard of Tim Minchin before, but his show this weekend was funny.

Admittedly, the idea of organized atheism is a bit of a contradiction, and atheist evangelism is annoying, just like other kinds. So the basic concept of the rally seems kind of weird. But then, it's easy for me to say that. I was raised Christian but not devoutly. When I started skipping church as a teen to sleep in on Sundays, my parents cajoled and guilt-tripped me a bit, but that was it. I didn't face further punishment, didn't get ostracized, didn't even lose anything except for that weekly commitment. Since then I've gone from calling myself Deist to agnostic to atheist. T. is in a similar position, and I'll bet most people I know are too - they might call themselves "agnostic" or even "spiritual" rather than atheist, some of them might identify with a particular denomination, but I only know a handful of people to whom their religion is really important.

So it's easy for me to say that atheist evangelism is dumb because I never needed it in the first place. But some people with different personal backgrounds really do get ostracized for it, and all major successful politicians in this country either pay lip service to or actually believe in dogma handed down from Bronze Age cultures. The alternatives need to get more play.

Too bad about the weather, though. But hey, at least no one got struck by lightning, right?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

So how has biking gone so far? Overall it's gone well, but there are a few caveats.

  • It took a while to work the kinks out. I got that new bag, and it's fine overall, but figuring out the how to use it took a little work - which pocket is the most convenient to put my ID in, etc. The first day I changed clothes to bike home, I absent-mindedly packed gym shorts instead of regular shorts, and my gym shorts don't have pockets, so I had to reach into my bag to get my keys and stuff.

  • I'm at the mercy of the crowd. The first day I planned to bike home I couldn't find any bikes at the usual station. It probably won't be as bad this year as it was last year, though, because a new station was built over the winter just two blocks away.

  • My hopes of biking in the morning through the spring and still being presentable may have been overly optimistic. When I started it was a bit too cold to bike comfortably. It's already warm enough and, worse and more importantly, more humid in the mornings. Even though it's downhill most of the way to work, I still work up enough sweat that I'm damp by the time I get on the shuttle. No one has complained so far, but if nothing else I'm self-conscious about it.

  • I'm not sure how to handle the weather. If I'm going straight home I don't need to worry about the weather unless it's literally dangerous - either so hot that 25 minutes of light exercise could give me heat stroke, or so rainy that visibility is bad or the streets are slippery. When I'm coming in to work, though, just a little bit of rain can generate mud on the road, which splashes.

  • What I said last time about other bikers being cavalier? I've become more cavalier this week myself. Well, I'd prefer "confident" to "cavalier," because "cavalier" implies "reckless," and there's really, really nothing dangerous about disobeying traffic laws sometimes. If I'm on a bike, it's an intersection with good visibility, and there are literally no moving cars in sight, waiting for the light to change would be just stupid. If traffic is bumper to bumper in the street and there's no bike lane but the sidewalk is empty, I might as well hop up there for a block or two. As I biker I have better reaction times than a driver, I have no blind spots, my top speed is much lower, and if I do hit something I weigh about a fifth as much as a car. Officially I'm supposed to obey traffic laws like a car, but that's very often unnecessary and in some cases it's probably actually more dangerous.

  • Events have conspired to keep me from biking home too regularly. I only actually did it once last week. Like I said, a bike shortage prevented it Monday. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I had plans in the evening that I didn't want to show up sweaty for and I didn't have time to go home, change, and shower first. This week so far I've been good, but tonight I have similar plans and might or might not tomorrow, I'm still not sure yet.

  • Now that I write this down, I realize that "I've been good" is an unhealthy way to think of it. I'm nowhere near in such bad physical shape that good health requires it. Self-discipline is not always a matter of virtue. My sister actually seems to enjoy exercise, but I shouldn't compare myself to her so much. For people who actually enjoy physically demanding sports or physical perfection as an end itself, more power to them. I've always found both of those as inscrutable as fundementalist religion.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I biked to work this morning and plan to make it a routine, weather permitting.

Last year I biked home from work almost daily from spring until it got too cold, but I very rarely biked in the morning. The morning metro ride had become a big chunk of the time I spent reading for fun, and showering at work or even just changing clothes in the morning would be too much of a hassle, but I have to admit that the biggest reason is simply that I was in the habit of gelling my hair in a kind of spiky way, and I liked it like that, and wearing a bike helmet would ruin that.

However, I have to admit that getting exercise in the morning and saving metro fees would be worth giving up some reading time and a freaky hairdo. So I'm planning to bike as much as I can this year.

Some notes on the process:

  • At this point, arriving at work sweaty isn't even a concern; the trip to work is mostly downhill and it was probably below 50 degrees this morning, so I dressed normally and was still perfectly presentable. When things get a bit warmer, I might wear shorts and a t-shirt and then change in the bathroom. When things get so warm in the morning that I'd be too sweaty even if I dress comfortably, I might start taking the metro again, but at least I'd still get exercise and save metro fees for a few months.

  • I had planned to bring gloves, but I forgot, and I wish I hadn't. It's still cold in the morning, and when the wind is on your hands because biking is windy, it's really cold.

  • No matter how well I plan, though, there's always something out of my control. This morning the very first street I would have taken was blocked off by police tape for some weird reason. I took a roundabout route instead - nothing too complicated, just turning at a different time on the grid, but still, it was annoying.

  • I was struck by people being careless. (Obviously, a sample size of n=1 is small, but still.) Other bikers running red lights that I was waiting for, and walkers jumping out in front of me or walking against the lights. I think I tend to be a bit more conscientious about traffic laws than the average biker, but the average biker this morning seemed even worse than last year. As for other bikers, I'd guess that most fair-weather bike commuters haven't started yet, so the only people doing it now are the people who are so serious about it and experienced at it that they get cavalier.

  • Getting a little light exercise in the morning is really nice. I've never been in the habit of it. Getting balls-to-the-wall sweaty and winded isn't nice, but just getting the blood pumping a bit between breakfast and work would probably be worth quite a bit.

  • I want to get a bigger bag. I get around in general with a satchel. Last year I just barely managed to squeeze my biking gear in it, often by leaving the brim of the helmet sticking out or hanging the helmet strap off the satchel strap. But over the winter I started bringing lunch in to work more often rather than going to the cafeteria, and now there's just no way everything will fit. I resist buying one, partly because my satchel was a gift from my parents and it would feel rude to put it aside, and partly because it's perfectly good but just a tiny bit too small, but I have to admit the main reason is that having multiple bags would feel too much like my girlfriend choosing which purse goes better with her outfit - it would be, ewww, girly. (No, having a satchel isn't girly, it's practical!)

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

You know what I like the most about living downtown in a city? The convenience.

Grocery shopping, for example. I regularly go to three different places depending on the circumstances. I live four blocks south of a metro stop and there is a Target just around the corner from that, so that's the most convenient option. However, I don't like it all that much. Its selection isn't great for some things, and it has all the usual box store problems like huge lines, so I only go there when I'm really in a rush and/or am planning on getting non-grocery stuff you can find at box stores. Instead, I probably go to the Yes! organic grocery in the other direction the most often. It's a little bit further out of the way, but not too much - to go there I just get off the metro one stop early. It's definitely most "fun" of the three locations: there's often a wine tasting, it's usually easy to find what I want, lines at the register are quick. But it's a small grocery that just doesn't have some stuff at all, I go to a Harris Teeter a few blocks west almost as often. It's the farthest option from home by a hair, and there's a busy street to cross, and some of their stuff is arranged weirdly (for example, they have two cheese sections on opposite sides of the store), but still, I could happily do 99 percent of my grocery shopping there, it's just that other options are quicker.

Now, that might sound complicated as I write it down, but in day-to-day life it's so simple I don't think about it - Target occasionally if I'm in a real hurry and/or if I also need non-grocery stuff, Yes! twice a week or so for the basics, Harris Teeter for anything else.

All that is within half a mile of my apartment. My parents have to drive 10 minutes to get to the closest store of any kind, let alone the closest real grocery store, and even the closest grocery store to them probably doesn't have all options at the stores I've discussed here. When they lived closer to a larger but still rural town, the distance was shorter and selection within a convenient trip was better than it is now, but still probably not as good as it is for me and they still had to drive to eat. I get by just fine without a car, which means much less expense and time committed to it.

So by living in a city (or rather, in a nice neighborhood of a city with good public transportation) I can get basically the same quality of groceries within convenient walking distance as I'd have within convenient driving distance somewhere else. But what if I don't feel like walking anywhere? This happened to me not long ago. It was a weekend morning, I wanted to make omelets for brunch for me and T., but we had no eggs in the apartment. Even walking down to Yes! or up to Target seemed daunting, once I factored in getting boots and my winter coat and stuff. More work and preparedness than I wanted to go through for a common brunch at home.

But then it occurred to me - there's a gas station around the corner, just one block away. I checked it, and sure enough, they had eggs, as well as some other basic groceries. I didn't go in my pajamas, but I easily could have. Now that is convenient.

Monday, January 09, 2012

I appreciate Andrew Sullivan in general - a good writer, broad interests, a relatively reasonable conservative - but this kind of thing is one of his more annoying habits.
My friend David Brooks writes the following:
I’m to Rick Santorum’s left on most social issues, like same-sex marriage and abortion.

No, no, no. David is to Santorum's right on both issues, if left and right retain any meaning. Same-sex marriage is arguably the most successful socially conservative reform ever, as Conor Friedersdorf notes.

This post from this past weekend is just the most recent example of Sullivan's apparent belief that "good" and "conservative" are synonymous and indistinguishable. It grates.

For all his faults, Brooks believes that abortion and gay marriage should not be completely illegal. Santorum believes that both should be completely illegal. To me, and probably to most of my friends who might read this and to most people who might stumble on this post somehow, indeed to the world in general, that puts Brooks to the left of Santorum on those issues, just like he said.

Why is being pro-gay marriage and pro-choice the more left-wing option? One reason is because it's the more popular option with people and organizations on the left at the moment. Another reason is because it's the more liberal option in terms of personal liberty and leftism overlaps pretty well with civil libertarianism (in modern America, more often than not, in general, etc.). And as for the left-right divide as a philosophical question? Well, when you try to make any philosophical stance fit an entire half of the political spectrum, especially, again, in modern America, it's bound to be pretty incoherent. But given that the main argument against both is simple social conservatism, and given that both mostly benefit socially downtrodden groups, gay marriage and abortion seem more left than not. So all things considered, it's pretty clear that being pro-gay marriage and pro-choice is more "left" than anti-, right?

Not to Andrew Sullivan. He has this philosophy that's as complicated and self-reinforcing as the Catholic catechism about how Conservativism with a capital C is always the best approach to everything. It cannot fail, it can only be failed. It'll make you richer, smarter, and cure eczema, and if it won't make you taller then absolutely nothing else could either. And so to Sullivan, allowing gay marriage is really the conservative option because it promotes family values. As Sullivan linked to, he's not the only person to make that argument. But other than Sullivan's personal classification system, it's mostly just contrarianism for its own sake. Never mind that self-described conservatives generally don't like it, never mind that the families that result are not the 1950s-ideal nuclear family, never mind that it's still a relatively new idea as societal roles go, it's conservative because Sullivan likes it among its many other effects it sort of encourages some people to lead more traditional lifestyles than they probably would otherwise. Seriously?

Same for abortion. Sullivan doesn't like it in general, but doesn't support sweeping rollbacks of it. To him this is the conservative option because it's the status quo. Never mind that it's only been the status quo within the lifetime of Generation X, or just how much most conservatives hate it and how it's still really damn hard to get them in many conservative-dominated areas. It's technically, barely, the status quo, so it's conservative and he doesn't want to change it much.

In fairness, I haven't read any of Sullivan's books, so maybe if I did I'd be completely persuaded to his way of thinking that Conservatism really is the answer to everything. And like I said, I appreciate his work overall for other reasons. But this mentality of his is ridiculous. It really shouldn't be so hard for someone to admit that their political philosophy could be bad if misapplied or taken too far. It approaches doublethink, so it's particularly bad from someone who reveres George Orwell as much as Sullivan does.