Wednesday, March 15, 2017

63 and counting

Today would have been my father's 63rd birthday. I would have sent him a card, called him with my fingers crossed that it would go to voicemail, and felt badly about being a bad daughter. But instead I silently stewed at my desk as I considered calling my mother or my sister, but realizing that I just didn't want to talk to them. I just wanted to remember.
I want to remember how he taught me to tie my shoelaces. I want to remember how he would print off chain emails for me to read. I want to remember that time he nearly hit a bear in Yellowstone Park and the Pepsi in his lap went flying so that there was sticky residue in mysterious places in that minivan for the remainder of its lifespan. I want to remember how he would finish an Asimov novel and then rate it for me (his ratings were never the same as mine).

So I will remember those things and take solace in the fact that those memories are still here.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater

I read Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater because TJC told me to after I should in my discussion about what Devil in the White City was nonsense.

And, frankly, I thought this book was nonsense, too. Why was it shelved in non-fiction when the narrator starts by telling us she's a total unreliable narrator? In 2017, a time when we use the term "alternative facts" like that's a fucking thing, this entire thing made me want to scream.

Let me back up. Slater writes this "memoir" about her experiences as a person who may or may not have epilepsy or other health conditions, but certainly has a problem with truth telling. She uses the frame that many patients with epilepsy are compulsive liars (which explains so much of my childhood, my friends) to get you to walk with her through a chronology of her life in which she shares many tales and embellishments and you, as the reader, are supposed to glean from this something. I don't know what. In the end, it turns out she may or may not have epilepsy, but for sure she lies.

Look, I get it. I get creative non-fiction and that there are stories that blur lines. But then shelve it under fiction.  Yes, there are times when you can experience the same event at the same time as someone else and have a different rendering of that event. Yes, we went to that Garth Brooks concert and you thought the "Shameless" performance was better than the "That Summer" performance and I disagree. That's fine. Your opinion can be different from mine. But Brooks played both those songs. That's a FACT that can't be changed.  And shit like this just keeps blurring the line between fact and opinion and I am just not on board with that in the political climate of 2017.

Did she have a seizure? Did she get diagnosed as an epileptic? Those are facts I'd like to know.

How did she feel when she had a seizure? How did she interpret her parents' reactions to the seizures and how their treatment of her changed? Those are thoughts and emotions that have no right or wrong answer. And I get that memoirs can include both fact and emotions/reactions, but this was not a memoir. It was a story based on the novelist's life without actually being the novelist's life.

And the writing was clumsy and awkward and full of someone winkingly breaking the rules of grammar to be cute and it just wasn't cute at all.


I finished this book weeks ago and I keep thinking about it. Yes, I get hepped up whenever I think about it, but isn't the point of literature to rouse you? 

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Our book club book this month was Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  I've attempted to read Patchett before (apparently there was an aborted attempt to finish State of Wonder), but there are a couple of Patchett fangirls in my club who really lobbied hard for us to read this one, so I waited and waited and waited and my request finally came in at the library.

I spent a couple of pleasant afternoons reading this book on the couch. The writing was fine, the plot was interesting enough, and the characters were diverse and entertaining.  That said, our last book club book was Moonglow and it was just so brilliant and memorable that this Pathcett book was just not as exciting.  I finished Commonwealth about a week before we were all meeting and I had to brush up on it before I went to see everyone because the details were already lost to me after only a week.  The novel was fine. It was an enjoyable read and we had a great discussion about familial relationships at book club based off of it.  But it won't stick with me and I doubt I'll put any more Patchett on my list of books to read.

It won't hurt to read this book, but with so many great books out there to read, including the entire Chabon catalog, I think you could spend your time better elsewhere.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Exclamation Point!

At some point in my life, I just gave up editing my tendency toward exclamation points in my personal life. In my work emails, I frequently edit them out, reserving one exclamation point per email. I understand that a large number of these punctuation marks can make you look insincere and mocking, but the truth is that I am just that enthusiastic about just about everything, so in my personal life I tend to write notes like this:
Going for a walk! Love! D!
We need cumin!
Happy birthday!  Can't wait to see you this weekend!
Don't forget to take your keys!

So, if you are my husband, you encounter these types of notes on a nearly daily basis.  I don't actually know how he interprets them in his mind, but I imagine he sort of pictures me going manic about cumin or something.

So last week he needed to the CD drive in my laptop (PC for the win!) and I diligently wrote the password on a sticky note for him so he'd be able to access it.

Him: I had to type your password a couple of times because I thought the exclamation point at the end was just you being you.
Me: ...
Him: Eventually I figured it out.

I changed my password the next day.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Legoland Discovery Center (Chicago)

Last weekend Dr. BB and I went with my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and seven-year-old nephew (let's call them TRL) to the Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg, Illinois. The advertising materials call the location "Chicago," but it's 30 miles away from Chicago, so it's a bit of a stretch to pretend it's in the city. It's in a mall right next to a Jamba Juice. 
My sister-in-law ordered us tickets online ($20.93 each) and that got us admission into the Center and a "free" Lego minifigure (ours were R3-M2, which is a droid that pretty much looks exactly like R2-D2, although my nephew detailed the differences to me, so talk to a kid if you want to know more about this). 

The place opens with three rooms filled with builds by Lego Masters. The first room was a Chicago room and it was pretty amazing. They dimmed the lights in a sunrise, daytime, nighttime sequence that really made the experience feel magical.  Then there was a jungle room which, I'm not going to lie, kind of freaked out my nephew (not much for snakes, that one), although I appreciated the monkeys, hippo, and lizards.  There was a Star Wars room that was also pretty well done. And that was the best part of our visit to this place.
At the end of the Star Wars room, we came to a halt. It was a Saturday, so it was busy, of course, but we weren't moving at all. We didn't have a map, there were no employees to tell us what was going on, and my nephew was not pleased.  Eventually we learned that there was a ride and we were in line for that ride. We waited in line for about half an hour for the ride. The ride was one that involved shooting at targets and I sighed heavily at the violence of the whole thing (KIDS!) and refused to shoot anything, although I did ride it.

Then we went upstairs. There was another ride (my nephew enjoyed this one way more) that involved going in circles and up and down. My nephew was able to meet Lego Batman and there was a play area with a jungle gym. He enjoyed all this, but the space was quite cramped (this is a mall-sized store after all).  There was a place where kids could build cars and send them down a ramp, but the area was so tiny and there were already dozens of kids there that my nephew flat out refused. There's a super expensive cafe that took forever for us to get our Diet Cokes and waters and there was a "4D" movie that almost sent me into sensory overload with the screaming children and strange smelling liquid that got dumped on us.

Of course the thing spits you out into a store where my nephew happily received a giant box of Legos, as is his due, of course.

After the showrooms, the entire place was understaffed, cramped, and disorganized. The movie ran fifteen minutes late, the staff that was there was composed mostly of surly teens who clearly wanted to be anywhere but where they were, and, it was one of the most unpleasant experiences I've had in recent memory.  The bathrooms were disgusting, the floors were a thing of my nightmares, and I don't even want to talk about the state of the walls. For the price of the place and the number of people who were there, I'd think that this place should be spotless and much better staffed.  Honestly, even my nephew was excited to get out of there and he is totally in the target audience!

I would NOT recommend this place until some serious upgrades are made. They could use a space three times larger and they could use a staff of about four times what they had.  Even if you're going with a kid who loves Legos, I can't promise you that he or she will love Legoland Discovery Center.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Random Thoughts (And Slight Spoilers for La La Land)

1) I took this photo yesterday. It was in the high 60s and sunny and I didn't wear so much as a jacket. Today we had a high of 43 and it rained. Weather of the Midwest is in its full mercurial nature right now.

2) I recently purchased a bag of potato chips. Okay, fine, I purchased the chips to watch the Super Bowl which was one of the saddest non-Lions football games I have ever had the displeasure of watching. I buy chips once a year and it's for my private Super Bowl party with the sole invitees of me, Dr. BB, and Zelda. ANYWAY. I ate a handful of chips while watching the game and then I puzzled over the remaining chips.

When does one eat chips? Not in the morning, right? I'm not going to eat yogurt and granola with a side of chips. So lunch?  Okay, maybe, but my lunch is perfectly portioned to get me through until after my workout and I don't like to mess with it too much. I could eat it as my post-workout snack, but seriously that makes me feel like I'm undoing all my getting buff* work. So maybe with dinner? It seems like a weird side, but I guess maybe people do that. After dinner I don't usually eat, so now I'm out of time in the day to eat them.

In case you can't tell, I threw out about half a bag of chips because they got stale when I couldn't figure out an appropriate eating schedule.

3) We went to the movies to see La La Land a couple of weeks ago. I'm not a movie watching person usually, so this was a big deal.  We planned our entire weekend around it. And I was looking forward to a lighthearted musical with a happy ending that would make me forget, for even a couple of hours, of how crappy everything** is right now. And that. . . is not what I got. As soon as the movie ended and the credits rolled, I said "that is NOT okay" and a woman in front of me said "you are right about that." Even now, WEEKS later, I will occasionally plaintively ask Dr. BB why it had to end that way.  I just wanted it to be HAPPIER. 

* I am definitively not buff. I would have to work out much more and much harder than I do.

**Vagueblogging here: Politics, sick relatives, and a husband whose stress level is so high he might fade away into nothing if he doesn't eat something soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

No Productivity Here

I recently put the Pocket app on my phone because I was hoping I'd be able to use it to find quality longform articles that I could bookmark and read when I'm doing stupid time wasting things I can't avoid like waiting for my tires to be rotated. I gave up on the Longform app because, at least the Android version is crap.  When I first "joined" Pocket, I just clicked on follow all the recommended feeds because, you know, whatever, and I was instantly dismayed to find that about half of all the articles posted are about "productivity." 

Listen, here's the secret to my productivity: put lots of shit on my calendar. If it's on my to-do list and there's a deadline, I'll find a way to get it done. I need to teach three classes, have office hours, drive to Madison, tutor, drive home, work out, and still have time to clean the bathroom?  I will be extra special efficient and everything will get done.  The danger for me is when there's only one thing on my list for the day. In that case, I'll find ways to fritter away the hours until I'm frantic because I'm running out of time to do the thing that I had all day to do.  I'm about a week behind in grading right now because on my two "light" days that I had in mind I would spent big chunks grading, I never actually did the grading because I hate it. So Friday morning I'll have to sit in my office and grade because that's the deadline I set by telling my students the grading would be done by then.

Anyway, this is all buildup to say that I resent all the "productivity" articles that essentially tell me to stop checking my social media and email. Fuck off, I'm a grown ass adult who knows this.

But, just for the record, I AM innately lazy and here are three of my tricks in my own personal war to fighting off procrastination and sloth. Not a single one involves turning off the internet or television.

1) 30 second rule: If it's going to take less than 30 seconds, just do it right now.  I don't WANT to file that stupid bank statement/EOB/tax document, but it doesn't actually take that long, so just do it as soon as it comes in the house. Since I have very little concept of how long 30 seconds actually is, I frequently end up doing chores that actually take minutes because I thought it would be quicker, but overall this prevents the little chores from building up into gargantuan tasks.

2) Write it down: If I really want to prioritize something, I need a written record of it.  This year, I'm focusing on about a dozen items and every evening I sit down with a spreadsheet and record my progress on those items. It really makes me realize that sometimes my priorities don't match how I spend my time and I then have to change my behavior to be the person I want to be. That sounds vaguely self-helpy and dumb, but there you have it. A daily reminder that I'm behind in X, Y, or Z will weigh on me until I address it. 

3) Tell someone else: I'm incredibly externally motivated and, as a people pleaser, I will do my best not to let someone down by missing a deadline. That's why I told my students when the grading would be done in my earlier example.  If I set my own internal deadline, it will probably never get done. But knowing that people are counting on me to get it done means something to me. 

But none of this is news, right? Because this is what adults do? 

Shut up, Pocket.
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