I have an earworm.

Do not listen to this song or it will infect you too.

Hope in the midst of despair

Despite a thicket of troubles, from deadly illnesses like AIDS and malaria to corrupt politicians and deep-seated poverty, a plurality of Africans say they are better off today than they were five years ago and are optimistic about their future and that of the next generation, according to a poll conducted in 10 sub-Saharan countries by The New York Times and the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

Africans Are Wary but Hopeful, Poll Shows

Awhile ago I read Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari, a journal of his travels from Cairo to Capetown. He chronicles this attitude of persistent optimism, or at worst, shoulder shrugging, amongst grinding poverty and rampant disease. I found this attitude really interesting. Apparently humans can get used to almost anything, and if you've started at the bottom, there's really nowhere to go but up. Most Americans, however, have a standard of living far above most Africans, and we're scared as hell to lose it. Thus the near constant whining about gas prices, housing bubbles, etc. Most of us really have it very good here.

My grandmother used to say that whatever your troubles were, there was always someone worse off than you. This inspired me to have compassion for that person, and to pull myself up so as not to be self-indulgent in my own misery.

Aren't you the guy who cleaned my carpets?

The last step in getting moved out of our old place was to have the carpets cleaned. I drove up there today to let them in and "supervise." I actually spent most of the time on the front porch, chatting with one of the guys in the crew. He's 22, handsome, a smooth talker, and an aspiring... everything. He's part owner of a record label. The carpet cleaning business is branching out into furniture/drapery cleaning, auto detailing, and maybe auto repair. He wants to open a restaurant - Italian, no, Cajun, no, Mexican... maybe all three! His enthusiasm was amusing and a bit contagious. Funny thing is, he's the kind of guy you see on the corner with the really baggy shorts and the bling in his earlobes, and think he's not doing anything with his life.

I don't know if he'll ever be famous, but I have to give him credit for trying. I hope someday I can point at the TV and say "Yeah, that's the guy who used to clean my carpets."

The Kindness Factor

I was been puzzling over my recent uptick in annoyance levels when I read a brilliant response to an advice column titled "I work with the most annoying man alive."

It begins:

Perhaps you could think of this as your own personal version of the Fear Factor, only it is the Kindness Factor. How could you possibly handle such an annoying guy with kindness? Kind people are in general happy, patient, and lovable people; maybe you could use this guy to help in your own personal development!

I really like this construct. It turns self-inflicted victimization into a personal challenge. I think people tend to feel better about most anything as long as they think they have some degree of control over what happens. Sometimes, of course, the only control we have is how we frame the situation in our own mind, but that's often enough to quell the beast within.

I've been busy taming the beast as of late while wrestling with some personal crises. I find that the less external control I seek and the more internal control I take, the happier I am. The way to tame the beast seems to be in tiny increments; each decision is prefaced with "is this going to reduce stress or create it?" I sent a quick thought via text message that apparently didn't make it onto the blog, so here it is: (edit: this is one of those quotes I've internalized so deeply I thought I came up with it. )
Pain is inevitable. Misery is optional.

I think that nicely rolls up the 4 Noble Truths into a tidy package.

(aside: the mom next to me is asking her toddler "You like cheezburger? You like eet?" It made me LOL.)

This is McDonald's!

I'm stuck here for a bit while my fiance's truck is in the shop. They have wifi and super-clean bathrooms. It could be worse.

Separate and... separated.

While researching a response to a forum post about crime and race, I came across this Census information (scroll to "Living Arrangements of Children"). So I made a quick and dirty Excel chart. It's kind of shocking. If you think about it, the majority of black children have grown up in single-parent households since 1983. Those folks would be 24 now, and likely to have kids of their own, who are also growing up without fathers. I don't pretend to have any solutions, but holy shit - is this not a smack in the face?

culture shock

Recent stories from the Chicago Tribune:

Recent stories from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (where I'm from)

Of course, I'm a long way from the city of Chicago, and certainly there's plenty of violence in Milwaukee, but the RSS feeds from Chicago are just depressing.

Just for perspective, let's look at where I used to live: Bozeman, Montana.

Signs I'm getting old

  • I'm not sure I've ever seen a hipster, or would know one when I saw one. I guess they're the people who hang out on Brady Street?

  • I have to refer Urban Dictionary to read most of the comment threads.

  • Who the hell is (Hillary Duff/Lindsey Lohan/etc) and why should I care?

  • Practically all the "YouTube celebrities" are at least 10 years younger than me.

  • Why are 1970s aesthetics are back in fashion? They sucked the first time.

  • Related: why do people want to wear old t-shirts, or t-shirts that look old?

  • I don't understand the appeal of MySpace, Twitter, etc.

  • I can't identify half of the Billboard Hot 100

  • Shit like this

Suicide - not always the selfish choice.

I've heard a lot of people say that suicide is a selfish choice, that the person isn't thinking of the pain they cause those behind. *

In my experience, that's a lot of bullshit. I've known people who were suicidal, who have attempted, and a few who have actually done it. The vast majority of them felt like they were a burden on their loved ones and that their loved ones would be better off without them. They felt so alone that they didn't think they'd be missed all that much, or that their loss would hurt all that much.

Well, they were wrong. There's no dispute about that. But suicidal tendencies, by their very nature, necessitate some cognitive distortions. It'd be selfish if they knew they were hurting people, and did it anyway. That's not the case. They believe that their existence is causing people pain, so they are committing the unselfish act of removing themselves from the presence of others, to ease their burden. It's misguided, but they're not exactly thinking coherently.

You know, I've been there. I've sat on my parents' bed with a gun in my hand. (My stepdad was a police officer - he kept the gun hidden, but not well enough. Fortunately for me, he kept the ammo very well hidden.) I've thought that there was no other way out of this pain, and that my continued presence was just dragging down everyone around me. I can see clearly now that this is so much bullshit, but at the time it was like a mantra, and I was incapable of being introduced to new information. People say suicide is a choice. It's not much of one when you're deep in depression. It feels like a choice between peacefully laying on the beach or wrestling wild alligators. That's no choice, that's a certainty. Who the fuck would willingly pick alligators?

I don't have the solutions to suicide. I just don't think it makes sense to demonize the victim by saying that he/she is selfish and (by inference) stupid to have made that choice.

*Generally, these are people who haven't ever been pushed to the edge.

apropos de absolument rien

The more things change

It's been... uh... 989 days since I had a cigarette, or even a puff of one.

I want one now. A therapist I used to have would say that I have a bad case of the fuckitalls. You know - those days where you just want to wear all black, listen to loud angry rock, and push old ladies into traffic. Well, maybe not that last part.

You just want to give the finger to society. If you have a bad habit, you indulge in it for its momentary relief. If you had a bad habit, you'll be tempted to pick it up again. If you never had any bad habits, well, you probably aren't going to be inflicted with this syndrome anyway.

I have journals dating back to age 12. I had the fuckitalls nearly constantly, to varying degrees, from ages 12-27. That's a long fucking time and I'm lucky I didn't do any permanent damage. Honestly, I think the only thing that saved me was that none of my friends did drugs, and I wasn't streetsmart enough to go search them out.

I was single the vast majority of that time, and it's easier to deal with it then, because there's no one around to take it personally or reflect your anger back on you (of course, there's also no one to catch you when you fall). I have great difficulty showing this side of myself, because I don't want people to worry. I've made it through far, far worse, and my moodiness is not their burden.

Yet, I am the kind who wears her heart on her sleeve, so when I'm not happy, everyone knows it. What people want is some sort of explanation I can't give. The fuckitalls, by definition, are completely irrational. I can't draw a diagram and show how A progressed to B which caused C. It doesn't really matter how I got to C. It's all damage control now. It's all about seeking shelter from the storm. You can't stop the rain. You can stop standing in the middle of the street.

I like this apartment. Thick walls suitable for blasting music, and no one below us to complain.

Will it Blend? - iPhone

I think it's just awesome that the #1 video on the Viral Video Chart shows the utter destruction of a piece of cult technology. I have nothing against the iPhone per se, but I think the popularity of the "Will it Blend?" series is telling. People just love seeing these things destroyed.

Managing my internet time

I'm using ALARMd to manage the time I spend online. I've made it one of my home page tabs, and when I open my browser, I set an alarm for +1h (one hour). When my hour is up, an alarm sounds, and then I know I should go do something else. You can set the alarm to be an mp3. It even has a countdown timer.


I am just crushingly lonely tonight. The music (3 Doors Down) isn't helping, nor is the fact that he's several states away.

The scary thing is sometimes I feel lonely even when he's here.

We moved to México!

at least that's what the Yahoo maps widget says when I plug in our address (which isn't remotely Spanish sounding). ¿Qué?

Tragedies of the Commons

...a stray bullet from a gang fight struck 7-year-old Tajahnique Lee in the face [...] at least 20 people were within sight of the gunfight [...] but the case remains unsolved because not a single one will testify or even describe what they saw to investigators.

New York Times, A Little Girl Shot, and a Crowd That Didn't See

As appalling as this sounds, especially to white suburbanites who rarely have to worry about this degree of violence, the silence of the crowd makes perfect sense on an individual level. Each person was acting on a rational basis. He or she doesn't want to cooperate with the police because at best, they will be shunned by their community, and at worst, they and their families' lives are at risk. Whites who see this as a black or gang phenomenon are forgetting the Kitty Genovese case.

How to cancel your Vonage service

I'd read a bunch of scary blog posts about how horrid it was to try to cancel Vonage service. There are stories of long wait times, getting the runaround, high pressure to reconsider, cancellation fees, and a hold message designed to drive you insane.

With trepidation, I called them yesterday, and while I was on hold (for a half hour), I devised a plan. Their CSR came on the line, and after getting my account information, asked me why I wanted to cancel.

I told her I had moved to a rural area that didn't yet have broadband service.

Oddly, she never asked where, but she seemed flummoxed at the thought that these kind of places still exist. She said that it was alright, Vonage can work with dial-up (it can't). I was offered a plan at $4.99/month (for something that wouldn't even work, what a deal). I told her we'd already gotten a land line, and we just wished to cancel. She asked me if our area would be getting broadband service in the next few months. I told her I couldn't predict the future. She then asked if I had friends and family who would benefit from Vonage service. Finally she just let me cancel - sans cancellation fees, and sans any of the runaround that others have gotten. Maybe they're getting the hint.

I suck at burglary.

So, my dear fiance woke me up before he left for work this morning, and I soon heard the cats scratching at the bedroom door in search of affection (oh let's get real - food). I stumbled downstairs in my pajamas, grabbed their food dishes, went to the garage to fulfill their demands, and closed the door behind me so I wouldn't have to chase them around the garage.

All rational decisions... except that the door locks automatically.

Hm, maybe he didn't lock the front door when he left. Yes, he did. Hm, maybe he forgot to lock the patio door last night. No, he didn't. All of a sudden my Absentminded Professor has turned into some OCD door-locking fiend. Figures.

I look around the garage, hoping to find an extra key, or something equally useful, like this:

Ah, there's the toolbox. I find a putty knife and a flat-headed screwdriver, plus some tweezerlike things (hey, it's not my toolbox). The putty knife is the same width as a credit card, so I figure I can do that thing they do in the movies. Or I can put the tweezer things in the lock - they go way in - and wiggle it around like they do with paperclips or bobby pins in the movies.

I should add at this point that almost everyone in my subdivision has already left for work, not that I know anyone here anyway. The few people I do see pay absolutely no attention to my attempts at breaking in (I suppose a burglar does not wear pajamas and slippers, but still...). And, I'm hearing impaired so I have to wear hearing aids (especially to talk on the phone), but guess where those are? Yup. Plus I have to go to the bathroom really badly. Oh, and I have a monstrous cold sore, and I obviously haven't showered. This is not a brilliant start to the day.

I start to wonder how much a broken window will cost to replace, and weigh that against how badly I want to go to the bathroom plus how hot it will be later in the day. I find a heavy metal pipe in the garage and wrap it in a towel (again, I get all my burglary info from movies). I know I'm not strong, but I figure this thing is so heavy it will do the trick. There's a small window right next to the front door. If I can just break that one, I can easily reach in and unlock the door. I swing at it, and it makes a loud thud (again, no one notices - these people aren't exactly neighborhood watch material). It doesn't crack, much less break. I swing again. Nada. I quickly realize that I will be spending all day hitting this thing.

Then Linda comes out for a smoke. Linda. Dearest Linda. I love you and your filthy cigarette habit. But most of all, I love your cell phone. And your phone book (because I have no idea of my fiance's work or cell numbers beyond "it's speed dial #2"). She places the call for me, because I can't hear (thank God I can read her lips, though). My fiance arrives a half-hour later to rescue me from my garage/prison. All is well.

And my keys are in my pocket.

an attempt to untangle the wires in my head

I've been very easily annoyed lately. It doesn't matter who, or why. This constant annoyance is something I lug around and it seems symptomatic of a perceived lack - a gap between my expectations and reality. I want x or y or z, I get a or b or c, and my annoyance = (x-a)+(y-b)+(z-c)... It all adds up to a tremendous weight.

There are four options, I suppose (see, even writing "I suppose" is symptomatic of my desire not to really admit to this problem).

  1. ask directly for x, y, or z

  2. seek x, y, or z from a different source

  3. seek values that are closer to a, b, or c than x, y, or z

  4. let go of my desire for x, y, or z
My sense of automatic entitlement is an obstacle to pursuing options other than subtle hints and/or pouting when I don't get what I want (the phrase "just like a woman" comes to mind. I assume that person K or M is purposely withholding xyz, and purposely giving me abc as some half-assed substitute. I feel like if I don't automatically get xyz, I'm somehow less of a person.

Remember this popular desktop toy from the '80s? This is how all those thoughts work. I pull back the first pendulum, and when I drop it, it hits the next one, which hits the next, etc., and it starts a rocking motion. The key to avoiding all that clatter is to avoid releasing the energy of that first thought that sets all the rest into motion.

Never moving again

We're pretty much moved in to the new place. The moving process itself was relatively painless; we owe a lot to our families (crazy as they may be) for their help. I'm mostly unpacked and the new place is mostly clean.

But jesushelpme if I didn't want to kill that boy. I can understand being crabby, frustrated, tired, etcetera, but dude, I'm helping you here. I don't expect a round of applause or a dozen roses, but it'd be nice not to be snarked at. I am in default roll-over-and-let's-just-go-to-sleep mode, so I get the "are you mad at me?" 3 times an hour. No, not really, I'm just annoyed. Remember that rule when you were a kid, the one that says "if you can't say anything nice..."? Yeah, that one. It's in effect.

Anyway, just normal relationship stuff, I guess. For us, it doesn't usually drag on for days.

This house is so spacious that I don't feel as trapped in suburbia as I thought I would. I still feel like I'm the lone survivor of a nuclear attack, though. It's so damned quiet, and almost everyone in this neighborhood is working-age, so the street empties out from 8-5. There's no reason for anyone to drive past, so there's no traffic noise. There's no retail or industry close enough to make noise.

Tomorrow we're going back up to Milwaukee to get the other stuff we left behind - most importantly my bike. An area with this many parks should have some decent bike trails.

We're renting, but we have the option to buy this place, and I'll tell you, it seems damned appealing right now.