Still Unwinding

Because the story never ends

Old fart internet

Remember when the internet wasn’t about selling?

I started really using the internet just before Mosaic came along. I remember wasting hours navigating those never-ending numbered lists in Gopher to read text-only content; and waiting several minutes to download an image file via a 14.4 dial-up connection only to open it with Lview — and realize I’d downloaded the wrong file.

Once Mosaic (and then Netscape) came along, webpages displayed graphical content, but navigating most early portals, such as Yahoo, was not that much more elegant than Gopher. But there were no ads! And lots of us built simple little websites to share with people who cared about the same stuff we did.

Usenet was a black hole into which many hours of the day got sucked — especially if you were a doctoral candidate with a dissertation to write. Between rec.arts.tv.soaps.abc, misc.fitness, and alt.drunken.bastards, I’m amazed I graduated on schedule.

No ads there either. Occasionally, someone would use a newsgroup to publicize a project or cause — or even something to sell. But you’d just skip onto the next post in the thread if you weren’t interested. (There were newsgroups where items were bought and sold, such as antiques and collectibles, and used cars — but you visited them rather than them pestering you.)

For a brief little window in history, no one was seriously selling anything online. And it was great.

No annoying ads. No pop-up windows. Only a few passwords to remember — and it was not really that risky to use the same one everywhere you went because your online identity was of no value to anyone. And, no updates every time you turned on your computer.

As if it isn’t bad enough being sold to, the pressure to be always promoting oneself gets tiresome also — as though there’s no reason to be online unless you get someone to notice you. You see, if you aren’t being noticed, then there’s no hope of ever moneytizing anything you do.

Twenty years ago, we didn’t worry about that. We made a website; about a rock band perhaps; or a classic car being restored; passed on the url to a few friends; perhaps mentioned it in a Usenet post; and then were happily surprised to get an email from a stranger in another part of the world.

It’s very gratifying to me to find that spirit still alive in the world of blogging — which is why I am still doing it!

A slower pace

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Back in 2001, I was given a starter calligraphy kit as a present. I’m not sure why it was chosen for me, but I decided to give it a try. I went to an art supply store to buy a pad of paper and a suitable board to work on.

I had something in mind to try and went through a couple of weeks of experimentation. I wasn’t working at the time, and I found this a very wonderful occupation for rainy January afternoons — with a glass of wine at hand — and the sound of daytime TV for company.

I would start by inking the gold spacers. The figure only shows part of the sheet. There are two blocks of 27 rows x 9 columns of these. At first, it took me over an hour to ink just one sheet, but I got faster with time. The gold ink dries to a metallic finish and looks rather striking. Then, I’d take a break to pour the first glass of wine.

I don’t know where I got the characters from. They just came to me spontaneously as I worked. And after a while, I fancied I was starting to know what they meant. I started keeping a “dictionary” as symbols took on meaning and built a crude vocabulary — which I somehow managed to lose — and then forget. I only did this for a few months, but have quite a collection of these pieces.

Some symbols still mean something to me. The one above the “8” (which isn’t the number eight by the way, but just ends the paragraph) is an alternative version of Om and I take it to refer to God. The “V” represents happiness while the upside-down “V” means despair. The lambda symbol means good, while the lambda written backwards means bad.

The thing that looks like a Q represents the soul and the cross means death. Other symbols in this paragraph are to do with weather, agriculture and food — and the importance of them to human well-being. And the liaison that connects two repeating characters is for emphasis — the equivalent of using italics.

Once summer arrived, I took a break. Summer sunshine didn’t set the right mood for this kind of work. I kept meaning to get back into it, but once I got a kitten, I realized it was going to be out of the question.

I’d love to get back to it one day. And I hope that the meanings and interpretations would come as readily as they did last time. Meanwhile, I enjoy looking at these every once in a while — remembering a very, very precious part of my life.

Sea otters and mountain lions

I’m not a big fan of being in or on water — so it does seem odd that if I could choose an animal to be, the sea otter is high up on my list (I like all the weasel family actually.) But, there are two main reasons I don’t enjoy water:

1. I don’t like the feeling of cold that goes along with it.
2. I have lousy buoyancy and really struggle not to sink in water. This really puzzles me as I am not noticeably thin, although I am rather muscular for someone who doesn’t work out at all. I might also have exceptionally dense bones.

Anyway, the idea of being able to float effortlessly on my back while gorging one-fourth of my body weight in food each day really appeals to me; as well as the up to one million hairs per square inch fur that would keep me warm. I don’t like shellfish as a human, but I suspect as a sea otter I would find it all delicious.

Sea otters do have to fear some natural predators: sharks, bears, eagles (they take pups) and orcas. But humans are the biggest hazard with their fishing nets, motorized water vehicles, and oil spills (which cause the fur to matt and lose its insulating quality.) But before I would panic too much about that, I would remind myself of how many times a day I have to be on the alert for inattentive drivers as I cross the street.

If you think about it, sea otters aren’t required to multitask are they? The dive for clams; bring up as many as they can in one trip; lie on their backs with clams and rock tool on belly; repeating the exercise once the clams have all been eaten. It’s a way of living and working that I truly aspire to.

I think I am in sea-otter mode much of the time. My natural habitat is the coffee shop and I get from one to another by walking or taking the bus. Even my work environment is accommodating, as I spend much of my time at my computer with a cup of coffee, happily lost in data.

But there is another animal within me that is troubling, even though it makes its presence known only occasionally. Have you ever been hiking in the mountains along a forested trail — and come around a corner to find a mountain lion? Not blocking the trail at all, but perhaps up on a ledge very close by — a distance that could be covered with one easy leap at you? And you can tell by the calculating look on its face that you have been on its radar screen for quite some time. And you stop right in your tracks.

I’ve never actually experienced this, but I can imagine it: that expression on the cat’s face. I think I wear it myself sometimes — and people react as the hiker surprised on the trail. For some reason, I make people nervous. Sometimes I can figure out why — but usually not.

OK. Enough of those sinister thoughts. Time to brew another cup of clams and get back to sea-otter business!

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californiampas.org

NaNoWriMo — just a week away!

November is National Novel Writing Month — known more conveniently as NaNoWriMo. If you’ve been noticing more posts about writing and coffee lately, it’s a probable explanation.

I took part for the first time last year — and was successful in writing the 50,000 words. Mind you, I was only working part time and so had almost three hours in the morning before work in which to write. I had a fairly detailed outline to work from and I had done most of the research ahead of time.

This year, I will have less time to write as I now have a full-time job. And, I have a much less definite plan for the novel. Yes, I’m going to be winging it just a bit — but I am determined to win again this year. Luckily, the month ends with a four-day weekend for me, so there is some time to catch up.

Last year was great fun. My boss at that part-time job is a huge Buckeyes fan. I sometimes wonder which he would sacrifice if forced to choose — the business or the Buckeyes. Anyway, when he told me about the rivalry with Michigan, I thought it would be a nice addition to the story I was writing. It ended up being a big part of the final chapter — which I finished while listening to Ohio State beat Michigan on November 30 of last year. I even described the nail-biting finish in some detail!

Last year’s story was humorously bizarre, and I set the right mood for writing by listening to the entire library of Welcome To Nightvale podcasts on an endless repeating loop.

This year’s story is more serious, but it will have plenty of humorous touches. I searched at iTunes for a podcast that I have playing on repeat while I write. The History of English should do the job!!

Overviews of both stories at http://nanowrimo.org/participants/alenemitchell/novels

Is it Black Friday yet?

Halloween merchandise marked down forty percent. Well, there is only a week to go. And the crap has been out since before Labor Day.

My employer from two jobs ago was probably meeting with sales reps this week — to order Christmas merchandise — for Christmas 2015. I kid you not.

It’s a crapshoot for a small, independent retailer, second-guessing consumer sentiment a year in advance. That’s why the crap — I mean merchandise — has to be out in the stores so ridiculously early. If anything is likely to be a hot seller, then you want to find out before Labor Day so that there will be time to order more in time for Thanksgiving.

At that job, I dealt with Christmas merchandise in every month of the year. By the time regular people start complaining about the Christmas stuff being out in the stores too early, many retail workers are already sick of it — with the worst still to come.

Thankfully, that’s not my life anymore. I don’t have anything to do with Black Friday — knowing all the time, energy, raw materials and human endeavor that gets squandered to make it happen.

As for Halloween, isn’t that done yet?

Eclipse of the soul

Today’s partial solar eclipse was visible during brief sun breaks in Seattle. I did not get to see it — but I have seen a couple of beauties.

The first was in Kentucky on Christmas Day 2000. It was a very cold, dry, sunny day with snow on the ground. The eclipse peaked at around 66% coverage in the middle of the day. I had made a pinhole device to monitor its progress, but gave up after a while, choosing instead to just enjoy watching the light change in the silence of the forest. It was eerie how the light changed; and the shadows cast on the snow turned purple. It was my Christmas present — I thought.

I saw another of similar extent in Seattle on June 10, 2002 — a day of dazzling sunshine. I forget the exact time of the day, but the sun was high in the western sky and I watched it looking west over Puget Sound. The air was still where I sat, but there was enough motion over the water for the sunlight to make glittery reflections on the water surface. As the eclipse reached its maximum, it looked as though Puget Sound was made of diamonds — at least that is how it looked to me. And the light had that same eerie quality of the Christmas eclipse in Kentucky.

Those two events were special enough to allow me not to be disappointed when the weather does not cooperate — as it did not for me today.

But what about a total eclipse?

Well, when I was a child in England, I had the date of August 11, 1999 etched in my mind as the next opportunity to see a total eclipse. It seemed so far off. I would be age 39 by then — and I just could not imagine myself at that age. But I thought about it often.

When that day came, I was not in the south of England to see it. I was in the emergency room in Wenatchee, WA — a rather horrible story I will not elaborate on. But during a calm moment in the storm of that day, I remembered it was the day of the eclipse — and I was missing it.

I was not really disappointed — but I was never the same after that day.

The partial eclipses I have enjoyed were plenty of consolation — somehow.

This afternoon, I followed the progress of the eclipse online. At around 3pm, the time of the maximum in Seattle, I went outside and looked over the freeway overpass into the cloudy gloom where I guessed the sun was. A coworker was having a smoke and we exchanged some gossip and remarked on the already heavy traffic.

Well, the Earth and Moon will continue to waltz around the Sun. And I will just have to keep dancing on my merry way also.

Warehouse beautification

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Two days I week I work for a program based at a warehouse. Toilets are a big part of the program — so a creative type decided to make a statement to that effect.

It’s too bad that we don’t have a reception area (not that we get many visitors) because this little display would probably be a humorous change from the usual potted palms.

Now we need to get a pink flamingo!

I’ll sit this one out

Last week, my supervisor asked me if I would be interested in a standing desk, i.e., one high enough to work at while standing.

Part of me knows I ought to say yes. BUT — after eleven years of retail and warehouse work, I finally have a sit-down job — and I want to enjoy it! I really love my walk down to the Seattle waterfront on my 30-min break, even in foul weather. And I enjoy climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator. It’s nice to go for the bus home and be happy to stand while waiting — and while riding home. Then when I get home, I feel like going for a walk again. My feet are really loving this!

I’m not sure standing at a desk for eight hours is such a good idea either. Being on your feet all day when you are moving around, such as in a retail store, warehouse or restaurant, is far easier on your feet than standing on one spot for an extended period of time. It’s the standing that kills you — not the walking around.

I also find it hard to think on my feet. Standing at a computer to ring up a customer or process a UPS shipping label is no big deal — but I know I would have to sit down to find the error in a complicated spreadsheet.

So, I declined the offer.

If there are enough takers, perhaps someone will let me have their old, comfortable office chair. Mine is a piece of junk!

Boots thumbs up

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Tonight was the first rain test for my new boots — a thirty-minute walk in some seriously heavy rain.

I kept expecting to be disappointed by a sense of moisture seeping in. But my toes wriggled happily in dry warmth all the way home.

When I took the boots off, my socks were slightly damp — but my feet had got exceedingly warm, so I assume that was just sweat.

The boots are from The North Face and replace a similar pair I wore for several winters. Last year, I patched them up with duct tape on the inside and Shoe Goo on the underside.

They have required no break in, are super comfortable, and look cute with a skirt. Now if it would just get a bit colder so that I could really enjoy them!

I’ll take that as a compliment — I think

I was told I look old fashioned. Not sure what that means these days — especially as the remark came from a woman rather older than me.

My shoulder-length hair was pulled back into a short ponytail. I think it looks elegant — but I guess it’s old fashioned. My makeup consists of just enough foundation to even out my complexion plus lightly pencilled-in brows. I think it’s understated — but I guess it’s old fashioned.

I was wearing a black skirt with black sweater. I think it looks classic — but I guess it’s old fashioned.

I was wearing purple/gray/black argyle socks. I think it’s a fun and funky Seattle anti-fashion statement — but I guess it’s old fashioned.

I ordered a custard-filled donut with my Americano. I guess I should have ordered an old fashioned.

Perhaps I’ll stop at a bar on my way home.

Old fashioned my ass!