Out-Of-My-League Fatigue

I’ve been working on an assignment for the past year that requires reading massive amounts of text. I search for new words, senses, usage, or terminology on specific subjects, and when found, record the citation. Sometimes I’m assigned reading, and some subjects are covered by other readers, but in general I’m on my own. The point of the job is collecting ‘evidence,’ or instances of our language evolving in ways that may or may not mainstream. The citations are entered into a database that helps create testimony to the year the term first began appearing in print. No one can predict what terms are passing trends and which ones may someday become very relevant. A good example is the ‘prepper’ movement. A few years ago most people had never heard of a ‘bug-out bag,’ now, this 72-hour survival kit seems almost essential.

My favorite reading is magazines or books about subcultures, which could be anything. Mixed martial arts, extreme skydiving, low-riders, scrapbooking—even meth addiction—all have their own vocabulary. I’m always on the lookout for new or used magazines on subjects that may not have full coverage in a dictionary (who knew bull riding had such a devoted following?). The citations have to exist in print (rather than solely online) so they can be documented. It’s not my job to have an opinion on the reading material—but since there’s so little in the world I feel neutral about…

My least favorite magazines are the plush glossies catering to pursuit of the good life. These upscale manifestos extol food cruises, guided adventure tours, $5000 bicycles, BMWs. Full-page ads hawk plastic-surgery centers and financial advisors. They’re selling a fantasy that most folks can never have. Or can they? I’m so far removed from luxury that I’m bewildered by anyone who’s not in debt—but somebody’s buying this stuff. Who are you people?

Upscale cooking magazines are the most distasteful to me. Though they serve their purpose as sources for new food words, haute cuisine is to me the most boring, smug, and unappealing subject in the world. (You know why these meals are ‘fast’? Because they’re raw.) My diet is so simple it’s hard for me to understand the histrionics behind an out-of-season tomato.

salmon-donburi-620x500

From the time on Star Trek when Neelix had to serve dinner to the visiting Romulan dignitaries? Nope. Photo from Bon Appetit.

Today, the most popular cuisine is Asian and Latin American, so it’s assumed everyone wants their food at least 100K on the Scoville scale. Restaurant reviews have titles like Go for the Burn and key words are fiery, blistering, blazing, scorching, tongue-searing, combustible, code red. Begin your dinner with a jalapeño gimlet or Grey Goose martini with serrano chile and finish with Sichuan pepper ice cream and a chipotle latte. I feel like the only person in the world who just doesn’t get off on swallowing lava. But what do I know—I  was raised on fifty shades of cabbage.

Recipes center on beef, pork, or sea creatures. What goes unmentioned is overfishing, inhumane slaughterhouse practices, and the ever-expanding environmental destruction caused by the meat industry. Larger than life food-porn, shellacked with glycerin or beaded with Rain-X, has the opposite effect on me than what was intended—rather than inspiring flesh-lust, it makes me a little sick. A bite of meat comes with guilt that’s just not worth the taste. Read a Nature Conservancy right after a Bon Appétit and it’ll happen to you too.

And what’s with the word ‘slurp’? A word that evokes onomatopoeic visions of wet chins and icky sucking noises now cheerfully describes how to eat Asian food. It’s like a slurp-pride movement. Office workers happily slurp their pho ga; try the slurpworthy ginger broth with soba noodles; slurp your way through a brimming bowlful of yukgaejang.  And this: ‘Lush pork and heady broth you can’t stop slurping—it’s no wonder ramen joints are drawing droves of diners, chefs, and everyone on your Instagram feed.’ I’m not exactly sure what an Instagram is but I hope it doesn’t have audio.

 

So who am I supposed to text again?

anwering machine

Remember when you could just be, like, not home?
(thanks to ebay seller shopdontdrop2010)

About a month ago I purchased an overly-sensitive, overpriced, needy, demanding, uncomfortable piece of baggage otherwise known as a smartphone. I don’t think I’ve ever hated any gadget this much. This phone is so irrelevant to me that I’ve stopped carrying it out of sheer rebellion. I miss my little black cellphone which fit perfectly into my jeans pocket. This unwieldy 3 x 5 ½ slab of hardware is annoying in my pocket when I bend down to pick up litter every few feet on my walks, a time it seems wise to have a phone. It doesn’t fit into the side pocket of my purse either.

Once a year when our contracts are up we holdouts have to decide whether we can tolerate another year of shame. Of not looking smart. (I saw what I’ve always thought was a homeless guy with one the other day—I guess he couldn’t take it either). I’ve never seen such pressure to conform in my lifetime. I feel like a sellout. I’m more ashamed that we’re now paying double what the cellphones cost per month than I was about pulling out the little black antique in public.

I hate texting, hate seeing people’s heads always pointed down, or seeing phones poised over steering wheels. I work two jobs, alone, and the people I do communicate with deserve a phone call or email. I found out I don’t need to check my email when I’m not home, don’t like screen games, don’t need GPS (I love maps—the journey, ya know?), and, it’s a pain in the ass always digging around for my reading glasses to see the screen. How do all you middle-aged presbyopics deal with this?

This month the must-have apps promise success of your new year’s resolutions. Well first of all new year’s resolutions are lame—you don’t really take them seriously, you just think you have to proclaim them because everybody else does. Why wait until January 1? We all needed to drop twenty pounds last August, but we get a free five-month fat pass? Here’s a great app for you—self-control.

I’m amazed at the cultural pressure to have an active social life whether you want it or not. And in between girls-night-out and guys-over-to-watch-the-game, you’re supposed to stay connected. There’s a not-so-subtle discrimination against people not on Facebook or other social media. Are people that terrified of being alone with their thoughts, their job, a book, a movie, a pet? Do modern humans need to report in every time two neurons complete a synapse?

My cell phone was one tough little simpleton, it could go days without a charge. This one is a whiny little wuss. Every time I look at it it’s down another 20%. It’s harder to use than is necessary. Emergency or not, I’d still have to find a pair of reading glasses. The screen is always flipping around, the keypad disappears, it nags me with updates, it’s always filthy. It tells me I’ve entered my password incorrectly or have done something that makes it impossible to retrieve a voice mail. So I hold the phone like it’s a turd, careful not to touch anything.

People say once you have one, you won’t be able to live without it. Anything’s possible I guess. Why just the other day I saw my dogs out in the yard with plastic bags and little shovels picking up their own poop. Now that’s smart.

A Plethora of Hysteria

My last boyfriend had many sisters, half sisters, and stepsisters. He insisted on a family reunion which I was against from the start. What a pack of misfits. Cicada wouldn’t shut up, Rotunda broke my porch swing, and it was really hard to get rid of Remora. Neuralgia and Miasma gave me a headache and Candida and Chlamydia weren’t too appealing either. Rodentia, though cute, managed to gnaw through the main power cable, plunging us all into darkness. Hyena kept everyone up at night, and so did Ephedra. Not to mention that dimwit Cupola up there straddling the roof at 3 a.m.

Fistula, Influenza, and Trauma made extra work for everybody while Deliria and Phobia were needy and annoying. I could say the same for Coma, but at least she was quiet. Alfalfa, Chakra, and Yoga complained about Ganja, Hookah, and Tequila, provoking longstanding lifestyle differences (though I saw them slip into Sambuca’s room on several occasions). Urethra, Enema, and Bulimia hogged the bathroom which led to an abrasive altercation with Loofah. Tempura, Polenta, Tostada, and Lasagna joined forces with Spatula but even they were not safe from Granola’s snippy barbs.

As usual, there was bad blood between Piranha and Scuba. Polka aggravated Rumba, Magma and Tundra bickered, Siesta detested Tuba and who could blame her. Vanilla was a bore. Barista was so bloody perky that she finally woke up Inertia, causing second-degree burns to poor Stigma who was standing nearby. Amnesia was useless. Sepia looked so old! Academia and Diploma were always bragging and Replica was a complete phony. Pagoda was OK but Dogma, Myopia, and Propaganda were nothing but trouble. I do not wish to speak of Placenta. I was jealous of Lycra, distrustful of Nirvana, and mystified by Enigma. Only Charisma and Stamina didn’t attend—claimed they were out of the country. I should’ve done the same.

It didn’t end well. Junta, Militia, and Armada finally settled the conflicts—with Beretta. I am so done with reunions.

Fueling the Cult of Resentment

The Racial Politics of Grammar Correction
The Week—December 1, 2013
A minority student group at the University of California, Los Angeles, is accusing a professor of racism for correcting grammar and punctuation in minority students’ assignments. The group, Students of Color, says ‘the grammar lessons are acts of micro-aggression’ that have created ‘a hostile class climate.’ Professor Val Rust said he was just trying to help students, but conceded they ‘don’t feel that is appropriate.’

I’ve been seeing signs of proper spelling and grammar being politically incorrect all over the Internet for a couple of years now. It’s not really surprising considering the war between liberal and conservative fundamentalists. Political fundamentalists will grab at anything, no matter how graceless or unproductive, to preserve their identity. If I showed this article to the very liberal community here, they would have no choice but to agree that correcting minority students’ grammar truly is hostile and aggressive and inappropriate, because they are the enablers who make claims like this possible.

True believers of either party are parodies of themselves. Blind-faith liberalism must be a gene just like religious zealotry–I don’t think followers can help it. I want to be one too, to lift this shame of not belonging, to fit in, to be able to sleep at night because I’m so damn right. I want to be convinced—but it’s as impossible to have a discussion with a devout liberal as it is asking a Jehovah’s Witness to explain their fervor. I’ve tried.

Last week one of my cleaning customers referred me to her neighbors, two feminist ladies. After my customer gave them my name and number, the two women said: She’s not a Christian, is she? No, my customer said, she’s an atheist. But what if my name were Juanita? Those women wouldn’t have dared ask if I was a Christian, they would’ve assumed and accepted it without a bleat.

In the very liberal LGBT community in this town, huddled together in colorful houses, everyone has intricate metal crosses and Our Lady of Guadalupe artwork all over their walls both inside and out. So, uh, the strong Christian faith of Latin America is what, quaint? Artsy? Adorable? Are the artifacts of the religion 90% of Latinos embrace just trendy, whimsical knickknacks? Doesn’t that seem kind of insulting, as if implying that nonwhite Christians are not smart enough to know any better? Why are they not held to the same intolerance shown to white Christians?

The voices of quietly questioning individuals who despise politics are not welcome here. It’s not enough that I support gay marriage (or, more honestly, whatever), and have been an atheist since I was a tween, the liberals here want all of my devotion. It’s assumed I feel exactly like they do about everything–that’s made clear by the political proclamations they make within the first five minutes of meeting me, without knowing anything about me. It’s my nature to ask questions, but if you dare admit you don’t believe the exact same thing they do, they’ll either shun you or yell at you. Both have happened to me here on numerous occasions, to the point where honestly I’d rather hang out with the rednecks. They’re a lot more fun, especially when drinking and eating carbs.

Is this what ‘belonging’ is all about? The word ‘conservative’ is now an obscenity, and everyone is encouraged to blame them loudly for all that is evil—in conversation (which is kind of joke these days), in TV shows, movies, stand-up comedy, social media (where it’s mandatory for all hip people to pass along link after link to news articles where conservatives have committed some imagined atrocity), and even in dictionary examples (that’s where they use the word in a sentence). It’s the worst thing you can be, and it’s saturated every layer of our society. Strangely though, I don’t know many people here who are raging conservatives, but I know an awful lot of angry liberals. Both are unpleasant and scary and convinced of their superiority.

If I prayed, I would pray for a warrior to rise up out of the ruins of America with brilliant ideas on how to get us working again. Not a Democrat, not a Republican, not someone whose master is a political party. An inventive, wise prodigy who wouldn’t make me feel ashamed of proofreading my work. No chance of that happening, so let the hate mail begin.

 

To Whom It May Concern

Sometimes having a blog with your name plastered all over it can hold you back from what’s really on your mind. When personal crises hit, you desperately want to write about them, but you can’t because you feel watched, like anything you say may be used against you. The same holds true for political opinions.

I’ve been a dimsel in damstress. The curl of smoke over my head rises from an existential blast zone that craves discussion, but I stand stupidly speechless. My honesty, phrased as diplomatically as a seasoned observer of crazy can express, has cost me. When a relationship—whether it work, family, friend, or love—demands more of your soul than you are able to give, we have the right to bow out. Wouldn’t someone want to know why? Not if the parties you’re dealing with are controlling, narcissistic, or immature, and you find yourself the target of blame-laced, ego-driven invective. These true colors, in shades of infection, necrosis, and death, cannot be countered. It’s like trying to respond rationally to an internet troll. I make my choices and take my beatdowns. But I will never, ever respond—that’s exactly what they want.

But frankly, this self-imposed whining freeze is getting old.  Thought I’d start with a few minor rants and work my way up.

Clicking around the blogosphere can be painful. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at one blogger’s About page which read ‘I’m a journalist and shit.’ It hit me hard that it’s a different world now, and helps explain the following sparklers seen on my home page…

By journalist who wants to be a pulp fiction writer:
The mayor has journeyed into swamp-like depths to help people stranded in buildings overlooking the murky waters that flooded their homes and their lives.

By journalist assigned the end of the world story:
World survives Maya apocalypse

By journalist covering the NYC subway beat:
Man faints in NYC subway, not struck by train

We have these ‘After 5’ walks in my town where the shops stay open late. Here’s a press release that showed up in my inbox a few months ago:

Xxxx Originals Gallery is having a Spring Fling and tossing out artwork at incredible prices! New artwork is on the way so we’re flinging out anything that’s been just sitting around. This is a great time to pick up fabulous deals on really spectacular artwork. So come in to the gallery and catch the deals we’re flinging out the door!

So where’s the What Not to Say to Starving Artists article?

I don’t agree with people who insist that humankind doesn’t have choices. If it is the custom of a culture to beat women, and for the acceptance of this to be passed down to sons and daughters, that may make them good citizens, but not good humans. Your culture is not an excuse for your cruelty. If beating, burning, cutting, raping, or murdering your wife or daughters, or the wife or daughters of your neighbors is the custom, and people defend it as that, then we may as well throw the words good and bad right out of the dictionary.

We saw these three beautiful babies on Carr Canyon Road about two weeks ago and stopped to let them cross. The mother had already crossed—but there must be several.

My yard’s been full of cactus wrens this year. They’re not usually so gregarious. Look at this silly nest they built on the tip of a branch—it barely contained them.

I’m fascinated by what people have in their refrigerators, especially when I’m asked to clean them. I arranged this little composition that I think covers all the food groups.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a ghost bike, on a nearby rural road.

My town recently got its first pot dispensary. Some people with medical marijuana cards are annoyed though, because they’re no longer allowed to grow a few plants in their yard, but must patronize this place and pay big bucks. If you live within 25 miles of a dispensary, you have to do business there.

Our precious hardwoods are being defoliated by caterpillars. I think they’re webworms but please correct me because it’s hard to find pictures that look exactly like this. Plus, there are about three different kinds eating the trees—green, yellow, and black.

Check out their suction-cup feet, perfectly designed to climb trees and eat them. They’re everywhere, in house, driveway, yard, laundry shed. At first I thought they were cute—until there were thousands.

Caterpillars in driveway with their scat, which is also everywhere.

This enormous western polyphemus moth was found already dead in a customer’s garage on Carr Canyon Road, a Coronado Nat’l Forest road near Sierra Vista.

This javelina came right up to our car, then stalked off when we didn’t feed it. I think javelinas are beautiful and mysterious, like all wild animals, but I just read there is an aggressive pack in Tucson that is slated to be shot. This is what happens when animals’ habitat is destroyed by humans.

I saw this regal horned lizard in my yard just a few weeks ago. Kind of a rare sighting, they’re only found in southeastern AZ and Mexico.

We’ve had a incredible monsoon this year, in fact it’s not quite over. I’ve never seen this many tiny frogs, toads, snakes, lizards, bats, birds, rabbits. There was even a huge barn owl couple who sat on the street wires all summer and made these funny shrieking sounds. The hummingbirds go to bed at nightfall, then the Mexican long-tongued bats shift takes over and drains the feeder, which I refill in morning. Every night I stepped closer and closer to the bats, to where I can stand within a few feet of them. It’s awesome.

We’ve had a incredible monsoon this year. I’ve never seen this many frogs, toads, snakes, lizards, bats, birds, rabbits. There were even two huge barn owls who sat on the street wires every night all summer and made these funny shrieking sounds. The hummingbirds go to bed at nightfall, then the Mexican long-tongued bats take over and drain the feeder, which I refill in morning. Every night I stepped closer and closer to the bats, to where I can stand within a few feet of them. It’s so awesome.

Adjust the Mask

I love convenience store people and gas station people and the person in line in front of me. I love the meter reader and the mail lady and the man who came to empty the septic tank. What sound relationships I have formed with these strangers! How fresh my mask is, how centered, how taut, in brief banter with a bank teller.

Any longer and sometimes the mask slides down under one ear but I don’t notice. Sometimes in my compartmentalized world I forget that my true confessions do not have clearance. I divulge too much, forgetting that beige is the color of acceptance, and neglecting to seal emotional efflux and stick to the script. When will I learn that people don’t find my negativity as refreshing as I would in them? Once again I have failed to measure my words but let them fly unfettered into self-reproach. One of these days I’m going to ditch this mask. But for now I straighten it and make a note to replace the elastic band.

Thanks to Be Kind Rewrite for the prompt ‘Adjust the Mask’
Inspiration Monday

Don’t Self-Help, Just Help

Self-help books should come with disclaimers: Western civilization only. Restrictions may apply. May be illegal in some countries. Not responsible for maiming or death caused by applying exercises in this book. Self-help books promote the assumption that anyone can be happy and successful if they just believe it enough. If you really believe that, you don’t need a book.

First, you need to be born in a free country. And even then it takes a lot more than belief. Circumstances must be considered and compromises must be made, no matter what they tell you in the book. Throw health, intellect, insight, environment, ability, and a huge amount of luck into the mix too. So what about the millions of people trapped in unimaginable circumstances all over the world, especially women? Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India, the Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia, Haiti…the list goes on and on. Clearly these books are not meant for them. Maybe those women are just being too negative. Maybe they’re not taking action. Maybe they need to work on forgiveness. Be thankful you’re not getting your nose and ears cut off for running away from the men you were sold to, acid thrown in your face for disobeying your abusive family, poisoned for trying to learn to read, or raped on a daily basis.

Unfulfilled Americans spend over $11 billion each year on self-help books, products, services, speakers, and seminars—a testament in itself to the argument that they’re not working. Many people, after buying one, become disillusioned and try another, and then another. Someone’s getting rich, but it isn’t you. If you want to be happy, you’re going to have to dump some of those meddlesome human traits, like compassion. This compassion crap will just make you sad or angry, and you’ll lose your focus on personal perfection.

It’s not all about you. Stop trying to make your self more successful and start trying to make your world a better place. Be polite but stand up for yourself and those weaker than you. Not everybody is going to like you—embrace it. Sometimes pain, anger, or distress is what you’re supposed to feel. Try to get over bad stuff and move on. Try to get through the day. Consider yourself one lucky bastard to be here.

And if you feel the need to rant, go for it.

What do you think?