Monday, January 31, 2005

workin' it

A friend and I joined a gym a couple of weeks ago to help us get into better shape. (That's right--not only do I have mundane hobbies, I also make cliched New Year resolutions!) I would be content to spend my half-hour there each day riding on a stationary bicycle or working on the elliptical machine, but my friend coaxed me into going to an open Pilates class on Saturday.

I'd never tried Pilates or yoga before--it's so trendy, isn't it?--but my friend was persistent, so we went. We got there a few minutes early and hung around watching the other attendees arrive, hoping we weren't the only beginners there. A few other early birds seemed to cast a few surreptitious sizing-up glances in our direction too, so we figured others were trying to keep their New Year's resolutions as well.

The class was surprisingly challenging. I knew it would be an effort--I'm not as flexible as I used to be--but it was nicely difficult to maintain some of the positions and moves. One of the more memorable, if not one of the more difficult, positions was called the "Swan Dive;" to do it, lie down on your stomach with your arms extended above your head. Raise your arms, head, and shoulders up, then rock forward while lifting your legs together a few inches. Rock back and forth slowly. Feel it in your abs!

Later that afternoon my husband asked if they offer Tai Chi at the gym I joined. "I'd be interested in that," he said; "you know, all those slow moves can be used as defensive or offensive moves if you speed them up."

"Pilates is the same way," I said.

He looked surprised. "Really?" he asked.

"Oh yeah," I said. "I mean, if anybody were ever to attack me and then happen to fall over, I could Swan Dive on them until they were crying for mercy!"

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Saturday ramblings

One of my New Year's resolutions is to learn how to knit this year, and thinking about that made me realize--GOD, what a boring person I am. Not only do I dabble in several hobbies without excelling at a single one of them, they aren't even exciting. Look:

playing the recorder
writing (Oh, shall we include this one? We shall. We are pretentious that way. You can tell by the way we throw the royal "we" about.)
hiking (Yes, if you can count doing something two or three times a year as a hobby...well, that does count as a "dabbling," I suppose.)
photography (now that I have the digital camera)

But this is the point at which I got defensive. Why should I be embarrassed because my favorite thing to do is read a book? I am letting the quarter century of self-conscious nerdery and its corollary, shame, dictate my feelings about what I do with my own life?


I started this blog so I could have a place where I didn't let those inhibitions and learned behaviors control me. This is supposed to be the place where Ican let my hair down and fling it about wildly. Hell, this is supposed to be the place I can even let my virtual hair collect in the virtual drain without lifting a finger to remove it. (Ew...what a disgusting metaphor.)

Look how this entry has already helped me recognize my automatic tendency to question and disparage the very things I enjoy, based on the way my enjoyment of such things has always marked my place in the social order as....low. THAT is what this hobby is supposed to be for: HELPING ME. I don't need to climb El Capitan, go skydiving, or learn to pilot a plane in order to justify the less thrilling aspects of my existence.

There is an article in the New York Times today (username & password: gorevidal) about parenting blogs, and the author, David Hochman, sounds incredulous throughout the article. He expresses surprise that people have so much to say about parenting--and is even more astonished that so many people are interested in reading such things. "Exposing the dark underbelly of parenthood is not exactly new," he declares. "What is remarkable is that being a parent has inspired so much text and that so many people seem eager to read it."

He goes on to marvel at the uncritical loquacity of bloggers: "For the generation that begat reality television it seems that there is not a tale from the crib (no matter how mundane or scatological) that is unworthy of narration."

Granted, the author eventually admits that "perhaps all the online venting and hand-wringing is actually helping the bloggers become better parents and better human beings"(though the tone still has a whiff of disdain for the "hand-wringing"). He doesn't seem convinced that it's a real possibility, though. Maybe he's one of the lucky folks who never struggled with his own identity. Perhaps he has always been secure in his choices.

But many people haven't been so impervious to the slings and arrows of those who would dictate which personalities, preferences, and lifestyles are worthwhile and which are just "hand-wringing." Look--I still cringe a little to admit that my favorite activities include reading and crocheting, because that is SO NOT COOL. Interesting girls don't sit around reading and fiddling with yarn, I think. Interesting girls go sailing, or salsa dancing, or play drums, or at least write for the New York Times.

Being bold and forthright about who I am, whether I feel bold or not, is the best way I've found to dispel my own cloud of insecurity. I can't begin to speak for the writers mentioned in that NYT article, but this is my outlet--this is my flagged mountaintop, my declaration that I may not be one of the cool kids, I may not like any of the right music or hobbies, but that I also no longer feel obliged to feel inferior. Only by examining myself, by being one of the jabbering masses which astonish David Hochman so much, have I become more willing to just BE who I am, and stop trying to gain approval by posing as a cooler person. It really has made me a better person, if by "better" I can substitute "more confident" and "more honest."

And that makes me happier than I was before I started polluting the internets with my self-absorbed hand-wringing. So as the mighty mighty dooce might say, the sneering, smug cool kids who never felt defensive and insecure can GO SUCK IT.

Monday, January 24, 2005


The receptionist at work is on vacation this week, so I'll be covering the front desk for part of the day. This afternoon I enjoyed one caller's expressive nonverbal communication. At first she was verbal; she asked to speak with an employee, and I put her on hold while trying to reach that person. Upon finding that they were not in their office, I picked up her call again and we had the following exchange.

Me: I'm sorry, she's not in her office right now.
Her: Mmmmm...[disappointed tone]
Me: Would you like me to give her a message?
Her: Hmm...[thoughtfully]
Me: Or I can put you through to her voice mail if you'd like.
Her: Mm, mm-hmm![brightly]
Me: Okay, just one moment.
Her: MMM-hmm!

It made me wish I could answer the phone that way, without actually having to open my mouth. It would certainly solve the problem I ran into far too many times today, that of popping a mint or a bite of food into my mouth (what?--I was at the front desk almost all day with just a lunch break, I had to take my quick morning snack up there) and then having to chew chew chew so I could answer the phone. If I could just say, "Mmm mm mm-hmm, mm mm mm mm hmm?" when answering...well! wouldn't that be the height of convenience.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Today's Favorites

7:15 am: Eighteen coffee shops within walking distance of my bed. I decide it's going to be a caffeinated day, so I pull myself out the door a few minutes early and walk two blocks to the cafe. The barista knows me well enough to rattle off what I want without prompting as I approach the counter.

7:28 am: Mostly stress-free commuting. I slide my bus ticket into the slot and sit down; this is only the second stop on the 44's route, so I have my pick of seats. I pull my novel out of my bag as the bus pulls away, and read for the 45-minute trip to work. True, that's twice as long as the trip would take by car--but this way I get to immerse myself in Jane Lindskold's Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart all the way to work; I skip the frustration of asshole drivers; and the caffeine has had time to take effect by the time I stroll to my office, meaning I start my work day more awake, calm, and happy. Gramps would say it sure beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

4:45 pm: Shops, gyms, and parks within blocks. Home for the evening, I change clothes and head to the gym. It's a warm day (let's pause to notice the understated nature of that phrase. In fact, it was 62 degrees in Seattle today--the same temperature as Tampa, Florida. That's one week after we were freezing and expecting snow. Tomorrow I'm wearing short sleeves. In January. IN SEATTLE. There are some days in July that I'm not warm enough to wear short sleeves, for crying out loud.), and not raining, so I walk slowly the six blocks, enjoying the warm sunset.

5:30 pm: Conversations with random strangers. Sweating from my workout, I take a detour on the walk home to cool off and stop by the grocery store. My husband had a tooth pulled by the dentist today, so I buy only ice cream, pudding, yogurt, and bananas. One cashier is shouting "BAM!" every time he scans an item, conversing loudly and jovially with his customer. When I exit the store, a man standing outside is selling the Real Change newspaper. I buy one from him and we chat for a minute about the weather and the articles in this new issue before I walk away with my no-teeth-necessary groceries and go home for dinner.

See, there are plenty of days when I hate being right in the middle of everything. It gets claustrophobic, and the smell of exhaust gives me a headache, and when three sets of neighbors are having raucous late-night parties all on the same night I am fully ready to move back to the boonies.

But most days aren't like that. Mostly I love being able to walk a block to the corner store if I have a random craving for peanut butter M&M's one night. I like covertly watching the people around me on the bus every morning. I adore the fact that the owners of Turtle Press live close enough down the street that we were in the same caucus precinct last February. (The fact that we were supporting the same candidate only cemented my admiration of them.) It's convenient and healthy to be able to just walk a few minutes if I want to get a milkshake, or a beer, or visit friends, or work out.

I lived in the middle of Nowhere, Oregon for seventeen long years. At some point I think we'll probably move away from the city--buy a house, get a big dog, and sit in our rockers on the front porch every night listening to the quiet. It sounds nice, especially on nights when the VFW has rented out their hall and two hundred people are shouting and dancing to an extra-loud band at 2 am just outside our bedroom window.

But today the VFW was quiet, and I enjoyed my city. Boonies--not yet.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Short on sunshine? Time for moonshine!

This is when winter gets difficult.

It's not that the cold becomes any more unbearable. Hey, I'd rather walk to the bus stop every morning swaddled in seven layers of coat, scarf, and hat than slog through standing water, tussle with an umbrella, and endure damp toes all day. My feet stay icy all day even when it's dry outside, but at least they're not wet!

No, winter gets hard now because I start to resent it. Sometimes it happens in December, sometimes it's in February, but I seem to always hit a wall of seasonal resentment after I've been teased with the possibility of snow, only to find--once again--that living at 13 feet above sea level does not provide one with the ideal circumstances for good snowfall. I feel inordinately let down when, after a week of freezing and expecting snow, we get a skiff of snow one night that melts before ten o'clock the next morning.

Come to think of it, though, I feel hugely let down even in winters when it does snow a few inches. After I do my merry SNOW! dance, walk around marvelling at the stillness, catch a few flakes on my tongue, throw some snowballs, build a snowman, drink a mug of cocoa, and take pictures...well, then it melts. And that's usually the end of our yearly snow allotment.

Either way, whether I've had snow or just the dream of snow, it feels like the best part of winter is over. Like all that remains between me and spring is a season of grey skies and rain puddles, fifteen-odd weeks of umbrella wrestling, damp toes, and soggy trouser hems. Okay, it's cold outside, it's winter, I get it. Can I please drink a smoothie without shivering yet?

What's my solution to all this mind-numbing gloominess? Booze and music, to warm me through and through! My husband's band is playing at the Tractor Tavern tomorrow night, so me and my friends are gonna be havin' us some liquor and doin' us some toe-tappin'. That oughta lick the mid-winter crankiness for at least a couple of hours--at least until the alcohol buzz wears off, I guess.

So if anyone happens to google for Tractor Tavern and Murderer's Accordion (or Murderer's Accordian, as I keep seeing it spelled on their flyers...Steven, I really have to know which it's going to be), come on down at 9. Oh, it's a Thursday and you have to get to bed early? Well, I'm bringing my hot single lady friends--so come for the hotties, stay for the music. Or vice versa. Anything to keep you from whining about your cold feet for a few hours.

Oh, wait, that was me whining about the cold feet. Well, I stand by my advice: liquor and dancing!

I'm not actually advocating alcoholism here, you understand. My dad's an alcoholic, after all. I don't think I've even had any alcoholic beverages in over a month, actually. Let's not mistake the so-called "blogiverse" for the real world, okay? Boozing it up as a response to seasonal depression--funny to write, stupid to do. Just so we're clear. I'm consistently amazed at people's apparently endless capacity to take literally someone's idle online hyperbole.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Mother Nature, I need to have a word with you

And that word is GODDAMMIT, of course!

First you got the yippy weather forecasters all hyped up and excited about the possibility of SNOW! in the greater Seattle area. The local channels started bringing us news updates on the likelihood of SNOW IN OUR AREA! every half-hour. They even named it, of course, because what good is a weather event if you can't have a dorky name for your weather segment--something like THE BIG FREEZE or WINTER BLASTS, complete with animated snowflakes or a shivering cartoon snowman. [Nevermind that our "BIG FREEZE" reflects low temperatures somewhere around twenty-five degrees, which is certainly cold, but hardly a BIG FREEZE. Oh my God, early Wednesday it was 24 degrees, which means we are all certainly going to freeze into solid people-popsicles! Run to Florida while your legs are still unfrozen!!]

Then, after you'd whipped them all into a frenzy of expectation, you dumped several inches of SNOW! on Whatcom county, prompting local news teams to descend on the tiny town of Lynden to record the "ALMOST-TOTAL SHUTDOWN OF CITY HALL" (actual quote). I swear to God, last night one of the weather guys actually reported solemnly, on location, that Lynden was almost completely deserted because of the SNOW!--while cars kept driving calmly along the street just behind him. I wonder how many times he tried to get that shot without any cars in it: "Okay, quick, the light down the street is red, let's do this now! 'This is Kent Brockman reporting live in Lynden, where the snow has already shut down this town--' ah, fuck, where'd that truck come from! Okay, okay, let's try again before that car gets into the shot--I'll talk faster this time--"

Fine, I admit that it's amusing that Seattle's lack of snow forced the local stations, desperate for SOME shots of SNOW! to bolster their failing predictions, to send crews two hours north for some money shots. Nice prank. But the lack of SNOW! for ME to play in is no less disappointing for that hilarity, Mother Nature! I know freezing temperatures are not all that apocalyptic, but they're rare enough here that when it freezes, SNOW! SHOULD FOLLOW. I was really looking forward to my trace-to-two inches, and you held it out toward us promisingly, only to snatch it away in the night.

Winter is far from over. You have a chance to redeem yourself. I encourage you to do so.


a disappointed resident of Seattle

P.S. Some Seattleites may be thanking you right now for sparing them the necessity of driving in the SNOW!. DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. What better day for SNOW! could there be than a Saturday? Please ignore them and bring us a good SNOW!fall before March. Thank you.

Monday, January 03, 2005

One "Cool Aunt" Trophy, Coming Right Up!

My sister, her husband, and their nearly-three-year-old daughter, having recently moved to Portland from Alaska, were able to spend Christmas with us for the first time this century. After reaching maturity five years ago they immediately moved to Anchorage to mate and spawn, but now they have made their way back upstream close to their own birthplace, where they will stay only long enough to lay eggs and die. No, wait, my metaphor is collapsing. Help!

Anyway, they live in Portland now, and managed to make the three-hour drive for Christmas. (WE drove for SIX hours! Who's the more devoted offspring NOW, hey? Fie on you, grandchild-begotting sister!) I hadn't seen them in almost a year, and I soon discovered that a nearly-three-year-old niece is even more fun than a nearly-two-year-old niece. She bosses other people around, she talks in complete sentences, she has a budding sense of humor!

Naturally I tried to hog her all weekend, because 1)I haven't seen her in a year, hello! 2)My secret campaign to be her "cool aunt" must now enter its active phase. I bided my time while she lived eight jillion miles north of me because she won't remember much at all of those first three years anyway, right? But NOW, now I can swoop in with the coolness. (Have I mentioned my terrible inabililty to NOT be the best at anything I seriously attempt? It comes with being the oldest child, I'm told. Still, it's pretty chidlish sometimes. Not that I'll be ceasing my quest to be the cool aunt, you understand, but I do acknowledge the pettiness of it.)

I think I renewed the bond we made last Christmas, what with the blowing of bubbles, the opening of presents, and the dancing to Christmas music. Then there was this: Our two families shared my parents' huge camp trailer after all the festivities on Christmas Eve. Just after we got settled and turned the lights out, my niece said plaintively at the other end of the trailer, "I want my Aunt Thel now."

Then of course I had to get up and mop my heart off the floor. What a mess!