Happy 2014!

I like the fresh-start feel of the Gregorian new year. Like a number of folks I know, I see the time between Halloween/Samhain and January 1 as a sort of hibernation/reflecting/rooting time. I don’t go out much, I spend a lot of time doing things that either don’t require much thought (this year it’s been knitting and shelving the last few boxes of my books) or are aimed at reflection (this year, I lengthened my meditation most mornings, and got a lot better about writing in my journal and doing my Morning Pages).

Yes, January 1 is an arbitrary date (and in fact, inaccurate to the Roman calendar we base many of our months upon!), but the culture surrounding me is all about the fresh start at this time, and it’s much more pleasant to ride the wave of “yayyy! Let’s do good things and be awesome!” rather than shrug it off.

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Social Media is Making me Crazy: Twitter/Facebook vs. the Monkeysphere

The Monkeysphere is a great concept. The idea is, we can only relate to so many people as actual humans; everybody else is sort of abstract to us. The people we relate to are inside our monkeysphere, everyone else is outside. For most people, the upper limit for their monkeysphere is about 150 people.

I follow over 300 accounts on Twitter and have over 400 Facebook friends. I can’t keep up. My Twitter feed has something like 1,000 tweets every day.

Let’s not even talk about Tumblr. I can’t keep up with my Tumblr feed at all.

Part of the issue is that it’s winter, and in the winter I mostly want to hole up and read or knit and watch TV, and everything else feels like way too much work. But the rest of the issue is pretty much that the internet is full of tons of people I find interesting for various reasons, so I add them to my social media.

Fiddling around with Twitter lists and Facebook lists can help some — I can tag individuals on Facebook and get notified every time they post something, and that helps. I’ll hit the website, check my notifications, and take a look at the top maybe … ten entries in my main news feed. That makes Facebook way less crazy for me, and I don’t have to worry about missing something from the people I absolutely want to keep up with.

I tried doing that with Twitter, but the I Can’t Bear To Miss A Single Tweet folks is about three or four people, but the Cool Folks I want to Keep Up With Cos They Are Cool people… there’s like 200 of them. How do I pick and choose among that many interesting people???

I’m tempted to decree that I can only follow 150 people on each service, but I worry about weeding out people whose feelings might be hurt, or missing out on something awesome. (It doesn’t help that my “ooh, awesome” threshold is pretty low. One of my favorite things on Twitter right now is the conversations between @korybing and @sfemonster (they talk about all kinds of cool stuff, and are total geeky nerds like me! Eee! They’re so cool).)

I know people who have left Facebook entirely, or quit social media except for two or three feeds/folks/friends, and there’s a simplicity to that which is really appealing to me.

In the runup to my wedding, I stopped reading feminist blogs, because they just made me angry. There’s so much sexist bullshit around, you know? The fatosphere can be that way too.

But I’ve had people tell me that the stuff I post to Facebook has changed the way they think about things, made them more tolerant, helped them understand — and that means so much! I want to do that! But that material comes from my massive social media intake. Argh.

As with so much in life, it’s all about balance. I just need to figure out where the balance point is for me with this stuff.

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Driving Culture Shock

Recently, I went back to the SF Bay Area in California. It was my first trip back to the place I always thought I would call home, and I knew there would be weirdness and change, etc.

I was not expecting to find that the way I drive has changed enormously since moving up to Portland.

I’m way calmer behind the wheel, less rushed, less paranoid and angry. Even when I wasn’t commuting regularly in the Bay Area, I had a certain rushed irritation around driving. “Why are all these people in the way? Why am I not there yet?! ARGH!” I stayed in the fast lane and drove as fast as I thought I could get away with.

But that’s all gone, courtesy of eight months living in a totally different driving environment. I’m mellow, I stay in the slower lanes and tend to drive at or below the speed limit, and I am startled by other drivers’ rudeness and inattention.

This has had me thinking since I got back, and I think it boils down to three factors:

  1. How many people on the road have a long-ass commute?
  2. How far apart are the things we drive to regularly?
  3. How pretty are the roads?

Commutes are the norm in Silicon Valley. I’ve had commutes upward of an hour each way and while they sucked, they weren’t abnormal. I know people who commute between Tracy and Union City, for crying out loud. From Milpitas to Palo Alto. And the freeways are full of people with drives like that.

Commuting makes most people cranky and aggressive, and also (more dangerously!) inattentive. People will cut each other off, accidentally or on purpose. Tailgating is common. Everyone wants to just be there already goddammit look at that asshole over there ugh. Even if not everyone on the road drives like that, enough do that it affects folks with shorter commutes. If your short commute happens on the road with a bunch of assholes, their driving style will rub off. Their anger will rub off. Have enough people act like assholes to you on the road, and you stop being as polite a driver because of it, unless you are a saint.

Plus, everything in the Bay Area is really far apart, and public transit mostly sucks. People live on one side of the bay and work on the other, they’ll drive an hour and a half to go clubbing, an hour to get to a nice restaurant, you name it.

And because most of the freeways are butt-ugly (I-280 is an exception, at least between Santa Clara and San Francisco) — lots of buildings right along the highway, no greenery, etc. — there isn’t even the calming influence of a pretty sight to chill people out.

In Portland, there are commuters, sure — between Beaverton and Portland, between Vancouver, WA and Portland. These aren’t super long commutes, and because there isn’t a huge tech industry, it’s not too hard to avoid the rush hour up here (which by Bay Area standards is a joke, there’s almost no gridlock most days!). Few commuters means fewer inattentive assholes, which means less of a shitty driving environment.

Plus, driving around Portland, everything is close! I’m five minutes from downtown, from Safeway, from my comic book shop. I have to go allll the way to NW Portland for Zephyr’s oncologist, and it takes about fifteen minutes. My shrink is in Beaverton, which is all of forty-five minutes away during what passes for rush hour here. Nobody is in that much of a rush, and the few who are generally can move along because other folks give way.

Perhaps more importantly, Portland, even on the highway between here and Beaverton, is full of gorgeousness. Trees line most of the roads in residential areas. Buildings are old and cool-looking. You can’t whip around in residential areas because the roads are really narrow, and you have to figure out how to pass oncoming cars (whoever can pull off to one side first wins and waits for the other person to go past before continuing onward. People here are nice behind the wheel!).

I’ve had the occasional close call or asshole-driver encounter, but they’re the exception, not the norm. I don’t have to rush because it’s so quick to get anywhere. I’m disinclined to rush, and so are most other people. You have to be alert in Portland because of all the bikes and pedestrians (and you are expected to stop and give way, especially to pedestrians!), not to mention skateboarders.

Folks here mostly drive cautiously and politely, and I had major culture shock having to get on the road in the Bay Area. I was so relieved to get back up here where people are nice and actually let me change lanes in front of them rather than speeding up to pass me before I can get over (because god forbid you have one more car in front of you!).

I love Portland for a lot of reasons, but it was really impressed upon me that the driving environment is a big one.

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Set Lightbox to “On”

So, my posting lately hasn’t been so regular, much as I would love to be doing Maxim Monday religiously.

I’ve informed myself that it’s my blog, so I can update when I feel like it, and if I don’t, then I don’t. So there, self!

Portland winter is settling in. I was somewhat prepared, because I’ve visited up here in the winter. But man, being here for a longish vacation and living here are not the same. So, my light box is out and set up (and being used every weekday and whatever weekends I manage). I’m taking my vitamin D. I’m taking walks outside even when it’s gray out because going outside and seeing greenery is good for the mood.

I’m also preparing for December hibernation. I get a burst of energy in the fall (I’m convinced it’s Back To Schoolness), but by the end of November that will be shot. I know from experience that if I push through my inclination to curl up and refuse to do anything I can get away with not doing (i.e. nothing other than the minimum necessary to keep my job and keep myself moderately healthy), I will feel wretched and that will last through January. It’s better to take December more or less off, then hit the ground running in the new year (I get another burst of energy in the new year, because: NEW YEAR! New planner! New ideas! WOO!).

One thing I do have this year that should help: KITTENS! Bishop and Barton are six months old, so they’re great to play with but are also learning the joys of sitting in laps and being petted while they snooze. Definite mood elevator.

Plus, Barton is certified cute by the folks over at Cute Overload! Check it out, if you missed me bragging about it last week.

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Maslow Is a Dick

So. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s pretty cool:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fact that we, as a culture, here in the US (and really, most of Western civilization as a whole), have solutions and plans to get the bottom three, even four, items handled, but bupkis for the top. Continue reading »

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Maxim Monday: Γαμειν μελλε

So this week’s maxim is “intend to get married” (Γαμειν μελλε) according to the list I’m using.

  • Γαμειν – This is amusingly close in the dictionary to γάγγραινα (a gangrene, an eating sore ending in mortification).  If I’m looking things up correctly, this literally is “I shall marry”. First person future active infinitive.
  • μελλε – according to my beloved Greek textbook, this means be about to (+fut. inf.); hesitateintend (+pres. inf.)

So, presumably this maxim could be translated more literally as: intend (think/say/whatever) “I shall marry.” So, again, the source translation works for me as an interpretation of the text.

As for the maxim itself, right off the bat I’m not a fan. Folks who know me know I’m divorced. My bf is too, and both of us are pretty meh on the whole thing. The romantic and fan of beautiful ceremonies in me looooove weddings (well, alternative ones, with all the indications of ownership taken out), but practically, for me? Ehhhhhh.

But, I’m in a completely different context than the maxims’ author(s). Women couldn’t own property in classical Greece. In Athens, women weren’t even considered citizens. They had no citizen rights, couldn’t participate openly in government, etc.

The maxims are probably aimed more at men than women, of course, but either way, it was in everybody’s best interests to get married. For women, it meant you were no longer the property of your father, who (after fifteen years of supporting you) would eventually tire of a spinster dragging on the household income. For men, marrying meant legitimate children and increasing the population of his city-state.

In classical Greece, getting married was far preferable to staying single, at least from a societal point of view. The occasional singleton is fine, but most folks needed to get hitched and have kids to keep the city-state going.

Today, obviously, things are a bit different. Getting married does confer a ton of legal rights and advantages (and if I ever do get married again, that will probably be why), and from a societal point of view, committed pair-bonds are a vital unit for things like raising children (which you can do as a singleton but as any single parent will tell you, it’s fucking hard work).

But, I have the same citizen rights as any man, with the occasional archaic hold-over. There’s sexism, but nothing like the classical world saw. Nowadays, there are plenty of reasons to get married, but it doesn’t need to be compulsory. We have too many people already, and marriage is no longer permanent-except-in-unusual-circumstances. What marriage means is different now than it used to be — and that’s a good thing, I’d say.

So, I don’t agree with this maxim, at least not as something every single person should do.

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The Holy Shit Rule

There’s a quote I run across every now and then, attributed to William Morris: “Have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I like it a lot, because it’s a pretty solid guideline to use when decluttering or trying to choose what to acquire.

I applied it a few years ago to my tshirts (I have a tragically enormous collection of them, most of which I do not wear), but in a somewhat different form: “Buy only those tshirts which make you say holy shit that is amazing.”

Since then I’ve done the same with books (I did a purge of my to-read shelf and only kept books I actually still wanted to read, and I only buy books that make me say holy shit I want to read that right now).

And now I’m looking at expanding it to comics.

Continue reading »

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Discipline and Self-Care

So, as long-time readers of this blog may remember, I am no fan of Chris Guillibeau. However, the fantabulous Bombchelle linked to a recent post of his in her newsletter, and I read it and actually liked it.

The gist of the post is: having routines helps you save your decision-making energy for things that really matter. He cites a profile of President Obama which describes his daily routine, and quotes the President as saying:

I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”


I’ve read about that research too — and holy crap is it ever accurate. For example: packing a box of paperback books? Easy peasy. I can do it in my sleep. Unpacking it is easy too, because I already know where everything goes. No decision, just identification. But packing and unpacking a box of random crap that I don’t want to get rid of but also am not sure where to put (or how to put safely in the box so that nothing gets damaged) is really fucking exhausting. That’s why the last boxes I unpack after moving tend to be the ones full of the odds and ends that I packed toward the end of the packing process.

Hell, I found boxes of that type from previous moves in this last move, because I forced myself to open every box and look at every item and decide: keep or toss? It was exhausting, and left my brain feeling like tapioca.

Routine can be mind-numbing, but it can also be meditative. No decisions, just doing the routine. For a while, I would get up, throw on exercise gear, and head out to exercise before I did anything else. I laid out the gear before I went to sleep so it was right there, I didn’t have to go find it or decide which swimsuit or pair of sweats to wear. Exercising first thing, before I was even really awake, enabled me to get it done — and it left my willpower for things like my job and my studies.

My morning routine has suffered since the move, and although it was starting to come together again before my recent trip back East for a book cataloging gig, since I got back I haven’t been in the swing of things at ALL. I need to sort out a real routine again, one where everything gets laid out as part of the routine the night before, so that it’s all ready to go.

I know my lack of a morning routine is poor self-care — I don’t do my spiritual and meditative practices when I’m not in the routine. I hit snooze over and over until I get up at the last minute and rush to get coffee and get to whatever my first item of the day is (usually a meeting or needing to get started on work). No spiritual or meditative work means a general lack of grounding throughout my day and a major lack of structure — which means I have to decide every morning what I want to do. Hit snooze again? Get up? What should I have for breakfast? Should I have tea or coffee? Should I shower and then have coffee, or have coffee first?


After all that nonsense, it’s no wonder I’ve found myself having trouble focusing — and, more importantly, trouble getting to sleep at night. I wind up not having the mental energy to make good decisions (e.g., “do I put the book down and go to sleep now, or read another chapter? Let’s read more, sleep is stupid!”). Plus, it means I don’t have the mental energy to exercise. I’d like to go for walks, but without a space in my routine for them, the decision is “walk or work?” and of course I’ll pick work because my job is super busy and I don’t want to miss deadlines.

It sucks!

So, routine-making time. My ideal weekday routine would probably look something like:

  • Get up, throw on clothes laid out last night
  • Go for 20 min walk
  • Shower, teeth, etc.
  • Spiritual and meditative practices
  • Breakfast and caffeine while doing my Morning Pages, a practice I really miss
  • Make any phonecalls that need making
  • Start the workday
  • Lunch outside with a book
  • Afternoon work
  • Bookbinding work/after-work appointments/unpacking
  • Yoga
  • Dinner
  • Prep things for tomorrow (clothes, notes on phone calls, etc.)
  • Spiritual and meditative practice
  • Prep for bed
  • Read til lights out

That takes some serious discipline, though, and I’ve let my discipline muscles atrophy something fierce over the last few months.

My teacher T. Thorn Coyle has said she likes to remember the root of the word “discipline” – disciple. Having discipline is about learning, about applying yourself to something with an end goal in mind. Discipline is what enables the student to study hard and pass the test, what enables the athlete to continually improve through rigorous training, etc. It’s a regular thing, a continuous thing. It’s not something you do once and are done with.

So, time for me to get back to work. Getting my routine back will give my days some structure again, and I really need that.

How about you, do you have a daily routine? Does it help you do better work through the rest of your day?

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Maxim Monday: Σαυτον ισθι

Ah, the classic: Be/Know Yourself (Σαυτον ισθι). Everyone’s heard this at some point, right? Well, let’s take a look at the Greek, just for curiosity’s sake. (As usual, definitions are from my trusty Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, with occasional support from the Joint Association of Classical Teachers Greek Course, Reading Greek.)

  • Σαυτον: This is a contraction of σεαυτον, the reflexive second person pronoun: of thyself.
  • ισθι: This is the imperative of ειδω (know) or of ειμι συμ (be).

So, together we have be/know of thyself — looks like the translation is good!

I like this maxim, and have for a long time, especially now that I know the meanings of ισθι. It implies that you should both know and be yourself, which requires both self-knowledge and authenticity if you’re going to follow it. These are both things I value, so this maxim works for me!

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Getting Ready

Things are busy, but in an orderly sort of way. My folks were in town two weeks ago, which was awesome but threw all my routines off for a while. Now I’m using HabitRPG for tracking my to do list and the things I need to do every day, which is definitely helping. I even sat down yesterday and started a packing list for the trip I’m taking tomorrow.

What trip, you ask?

An ADVENTURE! I’m going out to Pennsylvania to catalog a mid-sized book collection so the owner can get bids from people who want to buy it. I’ll do my dayjob during the day and work on the project evenings and this coming weekend. I might even get to see my cousins who live not too far from where I’ll be!

One of the nicest things about having a job that can be done remotely is being able to do stuff like this. I can even work on the plane if I need to. All I need is access to the ‘net when I have meetings or files to upload, and I’m good to go.

Meanwhile, Bishop is mostly recovered from having dental surgery to correct her dangerous overbite (they pulled her four canines so the adult teeth can come in more normally and her lower jaw can get some growing done in the meantime, maybe even catch up to where it’s supposed to be), but now her eye is bugging her – it’s been swollen and weepy for 48 hours now, so we’re off to the vet in a few minutes to see if it’s anything bad. Hopefully not.

Zephyr is doing a lot better — he’s eating almost two cans of food a day now, on average, although he doesn’t seem to be putting weight back on yet. But no vomiting or related symptoms, so huzzah. His white cell count was down from 8,000 to 800 — back into the normal range! — so that’s presumably helping.

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