autographedcat: (Dayna Larger)

Every so often, a book comes to my attention that perhaps wouldn’t have normally. I’ll read a review, or hear it recommended, and think “Hey, that sounds interesting”, and I’ll make a note to myself to pick it up if I see it, or sometimes i’ll just grab it off the Amazon Kindle store where it will sit, waiting for me to find a moment to crack it open.

I don’t, at this point, remember who recommended the book “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” by Cheryl Strayed. It’s been sitting in my Kindle Library for some time. But a couple of days ago I randomly opened it and began to read. Today I finished it.

I don’t recall the last book that so often made me laugh out loud, so often moved me to tears, so often stopped me dead in my tracks with a perfectly phrased insight or so often made me just stop, walk away from the book because I needed time to think and digest.and reflect on what I had just read.

I’ve read collections of advice columns before, from Dan Savage and Miss Manners and others. This is very likely the first collection of advice columns I will read again and again, because as much as I took from it, there’s more to take and find and connect with.

If you’re a human being who is currently in the process of living a life, I recommend this book.

Mirrored from Home of the Autographed Cat.

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I was playing around with a new way of formatting my Friday Five digest posts, but the cross post to Livejournal and Dreamwidth looked terrible, so....I'm just going to link to the main page where it looks like it ought to. :)

Friday Five: Perspectives | Home of the Autographed Cat

As always, feel free to comment either on the main blog or whatever you happen to have followed the link from.
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CANCER (June 21-July 22): Here are my questions: Will you thrust your foot across that imaginary line, or will you back away from it, scouting around for an escape route? Will you risk causing a commotion in order to scratch the itch in your ambition? Or will you shuffle on back to your comfort zone and caress your perfect daydreams? Personally, Cancerian, I'm hoping you will elect to do what's a bit unsettling. But that doesn't necessarily mean you should. If you make a bold move, make sure you're not angling to please or impress me -- or anyone else, for that matter. Do it as a way to express your respect for yourself -- or don't do it.

(from Rob Brezney's Free Will Astrology)


Nov. 28th, 2011 05:52 pm
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Ran across this while looking for something else:

"You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present."
~Jan Glidewell
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Not being a parent myself, I have no personal insights to add here, but have long wondered at the incredible amount of structure most kids seem to grow up in these days, compared to when I was growing up.

If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable? - By Katie Roiphe - Slate Magazine
Can we, for a moment, flash back to the benign neglect of the 1970s and '80s? I can remember my parents having parties, wild children running around until dark, catching fireflies. If these children helped themselves to three slices of cake, or ingested the second-hand smoke from cigarettes, or carried cocktails to adults who were ever so slightly slurring their words, they were not noticed; they were loved, just not monitored. And, as I remember it, those warm summer nights of not being focused on were liberating. In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves
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I love a good quotation, because a good quotation is a concentration of thought, whether profound or humorous. I keep an extensive quotes file of things that have struck me as worth reading over from time to time, as many others I know do.

So today, I was over at the excellent Making Light blog. I read ML regularly, but I generally do so via RSS, so I don't often find myself on their actual webpage. But today, I was, and a quote in the sidebar caught my eye and literally made me catch my breath.

“Forgiveness requires giving up on the possibility of a better past.” (unknown)

Now, this is nothing I didn't already know, and its even something I've tried to express in the past. But I'd never seen it put so elegantly and succinctly.
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Some things to think about here. I've often half-joked that all I've ever wanted was for someone to PROVE to me that money can't make me happy. But the real truth is, maximizing your happiness isn't about how much you money you have, but how you invest it to get more of the things and experiences that make you happy.

More on Money and Happiness | Big Questions Online
[Elizabeth] Dunn is a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia, and in a new paper, she's teamed up with Dan Gilbert of Harvard University and Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia to show us how we can spend our money to better maximize our happiness.

According to them, money "can buy many, if not most, if not all of the things that make people happy, and if it doesn't, then the fault is ours." Because, they say, we're not spending it right.

The problem, they argue, is that:
Most people don’t know the basic scientific facts about happiness—about what brings it and what sustains it—and so they don’t know how to use their money to acquire it. ... Money is an opportunity for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don’t.
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For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning.

You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn’t pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, but it is still not enough to be able to think of all that.

You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open windows and the scattered noises.

And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke.

h/t to Andrew Sullivan for the pointer.
autographedcat: (hmmmmm - rayne (LICD))
Following up to the concert, some musing on a specific song. On Twitter, [ profile] sfeley writes:
One concert annoyance: why do people laugh and shout out during "Shop Vac?" That song is TRAGIC. It's a tearjerker. Does nobody else get it?

Which got me to thinking about the song, and the nature of comedy...or, more specifically in this case, satire.

"Shop Vac" is a very bouncy pop tune, with a catchy sort of Fountains of Wayne vibe to it. It tells the story of a couple who has moved into their little suburban castle, with their two kids and the yard and the basement workshop and the convenient shopping nearby. But if you listen closely, its obvious that they are utterly miserable. As Steve notes, it's a tragedy set in a pop song.

I've complained in the past about songs where the emotional centre of the song and the tenor of the tune felt at odds to me. Most famously, the Beatles "Ticket to Ride", which I've always thought was a terribly jaunty tune for a song about losing love. (I much prefer The Carpenters' melancholy cover.) But sometimes, the dichotomy is part of the point -- it creates a dissonance between what we're feeling and what we're being told.

"Shop Vac" is satire, and it's target is the American DreamTM -- or at least the ideal of it presented by our current culture. The couple in the song has everything that we're all told we're supposed to want, but everything we've been told we're supposed to want turns out in many cases to be empty and unsatisfying. Somewhere on the way to "success", they've found that along the way they've lost their dreams. Lois McMaster Bujold expressed it best: "The one thing you cannot trade for your heart's desire is your heart."

So....why is this funny? For some, it may be a measure of shadenfruede, because the person laughing may think "Ah-hah, but I didn't fall into that trap! I reject that lifestyle and all it represents!" (This is a very geek attitude, and geeks are Coulton's primary audience.). For others, it's the hollow laughter of recognition. Coulton is certainly not the first to mine this notion for humour. Erma Bombeck wrote a dozen best sellers by extracting comedy from the soul-crushing ennui of suburban life. In the 1960s, The Monkees had a huge hit with Gerry Goffin and Carole King's "Pleasant Valley Sunday", which had a slightly more detached air, but lampooning the very same ideals.

This is why it's one of my favourite Coulton songs, and why I requested it. Because it's complex, and thought provoking, and more than meets the ear on first hearing. I don't think that it's funny because I don't get it. It is funny (and tragic) because it is revealing a truth in a way that only the court jester can. Dry black humour, indeed, but humour none the less.
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While Andrew Sullivan is on vacation this week, he's turned over his Atlantic Monthly blog to a series of guest writers. Today contained a post by Lane Wallace which really struck me as being tasty thoughtfood:

In the course of the past 20 years, I've flown small aircraft on five continents. I've been stranded alone on a glacier in shorts and tennis shoes. I've found myself in the middle of rapidly destabilizing situations in African countries. And I've started two businesses and navigated a career that, more often than not, has lacked a stable paycheck. Do I love all the uncertainty that comes with that? No. But I've learned how to survive it, and even embrace the possibilities it offers. (I've even written a book on the subject.) Not every lesson translates to surviving uncertainty in everyday life, but a surprising number do. A few big ones:

1. Don't panic. Self-explanatory. Panic and fear never helped anyone think their way clearly out of a tight spot.

But how do you control panic and fear?

2. Focus on the present. Fear is almost always related to something we're afraid will or might happen in the future, not what's actually happening in the present. In the present, we get busy with the business of coping. It's our fears of amorphous monster threats down the road ... realistic or not ... that tend to paralyze us. Ask yourself, "Am I okay right now?" If the answer is yes, take a deep breath and relax a little bit. You can figure the rest out as you go.

3. Keep perspective. Ask yourself, "what's the worst thing that happens here? Does anybody die?" Sometimes, in an adventure setting, the answer to that is yes. But that's rarely true in everyday life. And keeping that fact in perspective helps ratchet the fear and worry down a notch or two. As long as you're alive, you can regroup to fight another day.

4. Separate what you can't control from what you can, and then focus on taking action on those items you can control. In an airplane, I can't control whether the weather is going to deteriorate or something mechanical is going to break. But I can make sure I at least have enough fuel to look for a second airport, a flashlight in the cockpit in case the electrical system goes out, and a plan of what I'm going to do next if Plan A doesn't work out.

5. Learn to prioritize what's essential, and loadshed everything else.

6. Stay flexible. Be open to innovative options that pop up unexpectedly, or aren't along the path you initially planned to follow. Sometimes those out-of-the-way places you end up diverting to end up way better than your original destination.

7. Remember to look at and enjoy the scenery, even when things get challenging. Few experiences are without any moments of beauty or grace. And these days ... "good old" or otherwise ... will pass all too quickly. You may have more money or safety down the road, but you'll never be this young again.

Stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait? Only if we choose to be.

Why Math?

Nov. 24th, 2008 02:51 pm
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There's been a thread on rec.arts.comics.strips about the value of maths education, and how much of the things you learn in maths class are really useful later in life. Brian Fies contributed a personal essay so profound I asked him for permission to reproduce it here.

I like doing square and cube roots on a slide rule--you don't even have to
slide anything, just read the line on the proper log scale. That's
probably one of the few instances where a slide rule remains easier to use
than a calculator (though as Mark says, not as accurate), and I think it
instills a good subconscious feel for what logarithms are all about.

To the original question of Why Bother Learning Math: Y'know, I really do
find myself using math up through at least the high school level very
regularly. Calculating square footages of flooring, what volume of topsoil I
need to cover a yard, what length of PVC pipe to buy, how many bookshelves
to build. Figuring averages, tips, gas mileage, food unit pricing. Once in a
while I bust out the Pythagorean Theorem or the volume of a sphere. It
actually is part of the fabric of my life that makes me a better consumer,
homeowner and citizen.

What I didn't really get until I hit calculus in college is that math (and
physics) are more valuable to me philosophically than as nuts-and-bolts
problem solvers. There quickly comes a point where equations stop being
about turning a crank to find "the answer" then modeling how an idea or
physical phenomenon works. I don't think I actually solved a single
calculation or equation for at least my last two years of university study.
For example, you don't take Schrodinger's wave equation, put in some
numbers, and get an answer of "42." Rather, you take that equation and ask,
"What does it tell me about how a hydrogen atom might act?" and then go see
if the atom does that.

Even though I don't use that level of math or even remember how to do it
anymore, I don't consider that education a waste. It changed the way I look
at the universe and trained my brain in ways that have been beneficial to
me. One example: calculating hundreds of integrals from zero to infinity
gave me the habit of looking at the extreme possible outcomes of situations:
what would happen if everybody did something; what would happen if nobody
did it? What if the opposite action were taken (i.e., integrating from
negative infinity to zero or positive infinity)? What if that awful thing
done by the Democrats had been done by the Republicans (or vice versa)? What
if a policy that applies to black people were applied to whites? Or women to
men? Would I feel differently about it? Should I?

Plugging in zero and infinity to see what happens is a helpful way to
analyze a math problem and I find it a helpful way to analyze life, as well.

So, if you ever wondered to yourself, "why do I need to learn this stuff anyway", that's why.
autographedcat: (still flying)
[I originally wrote this in 2002. Reposted with minor revisions.]

I don't have a problem with remembering the terrible human catastrophe that occurred seven years ago today. I think it would do us all good to pause and reflect on how terrible events can bring us together, and to remember what we learned, as a nation, as a community, as a people, about the world.

But I also think we should spend more time looking forward, not looking back.

We should spend more time making grand plans and executing them, inviting our souls and being creative, and living life to the fullest.

We should spend more time doing small, special things for our friends, our family, our loved ones.

We should spend more time laughing, and making music, and increasing the joy in the people around us.

We should spend more time helping each other, and holding each other, and saying "I love you" to each other.

Because at the end of the day, each other is all we ever really have.
autographedcat: (hmmmmm - rayne (LICD))
Thanks to [ profile] natatattat for this:

I kinda like it.  Go pomo.
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[ profile] bunny_hugger, who I know from else-Internet, had this to share on New Years:
On Christmas Eve, I watched Scrooge, the 1951 version with Alistair Sim. This is not only my favorite holiday film, it is one of my very favorite films. As I watched it, I realized that part of what makes Sim's portrayal so great is that he doesn't overdo his portrayal of "mean Scrooge." You can still see flashes of the kinder man that Scrooge once was, and this makes it more believable when he transforms into "good Scrooge" at the end of the film.

This ties in with something I have been thinking about a lot lately. It seems to me that people almost never really change -- at least, not in the sense of becoming an entirely different person. Instead, I think that people become better or worse versions of what they already are. People's essential personality traits generally stay the same; but what they put those traits in service of, and which traits come more to the front, will change over time.

With that in mind, I offer this New Year wish. I wish that all of you will become a better version of yourself in the New Year. And I hope, and resolve, that I will do the same.

Something to chew on.
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Whenever you discuss issues of relevance to a minority community, eventually the notion of privilege comes up. There are certain status that, through accident of birth, simply make it easier for you to get by in our society. Two things I've observed about this in the past are that 1) telling someone they have some sort of privilege often makes them defensive, and 2) it's really hard to realize it when you have it.

I know that I'm extremely fortunate in many ways to have been dealt the cards I have. I'm a married white guy from a comfortably middle-class family with country squire roots. Double Income No Kids and good jobs means that I have a fair amount of disposable income at hand -- not enough to do whatever I want whenever I want, but enough to live comfortably in a nice neighborhood with two cars and a fair number of gadgets and toys -- not to mention traveling across the country just to see someone I love because I can. While there are certainly parts of my life that are well outside the mainstream, they're easy enough to hide if I was inclined to. (I'm not, but I've found -- and have sometimes been gently chided for - simply not mentioning things makes it pretty easy to avoid scrutiny.

Do I have privilege? I have privilege in spades. Good lord, I'm only short being rich and good-looking for a full hand of trumps. And it's not my fault, and I can say that none of the things should matter, but they do, and when you were born able to breathe the water, it rarely occurs to you that other people are drowning.

Part of the problem is that it's really hard to put yourself in another persons shoes. No matter how much you empathize, no matter how much you care, no matter how much you show solidarity, its hard to really grok what it means to be black, or poor, or gay, or a woman, because you just don't have the context. You don't have the invisible framework that exists around those things that lets you see the world the way they do. You can see the picture, but don't notice all the colours, or the little details that are just out of your frame, but the painter was quite aware of.

Every now and then, someone will come along and tear a jagged wound in their soul so that you can see inside, and while total understanding still eludes you, something strikes you deep in the heart, and you get it just a little more. Yesterday, [ profile] shadesong pointed to just such an essay, a reaction to the Jena 6 incident that is continuing to play out in Louisiana and the continuing presence of racism in our society.

A few minutes later, I was helping my then terminally-ill father to the bathroom. He had been down south for a few weeks with my mom. Back “home” was where he wanted to die. I stayed there with him, as he stood at the urinal.

“You know” he said, “I came back here to let go, right son?”

“Yes sir.”

“I wanted it to happen here...where I was born. With Mama and Daddy, and everything I knew. I wanted to go...home.”

“Yes sir.”

“And I'll be”—he looked around to see if there was anyone there to hear him curse—“I'll be Goddamned, if the shit I ran away from in 1948 ain't still here.” He sighed heavily. “The same shit.”

He looked at me. His eyes wet with tears. “I swear to God son, I tried to make this a better world for ya'll. I tried. And look at it. Coming home to this shit...I know I'm not gonna be here much longer...but coming home to this just takes it outta me that much more. I feel like I could die today.”

Read the whole thing. Walk a mile in those shoes, and see the world through another's eyes. Understand where you are, how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.
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Courtesy of [ profile] aolscalzi, I found the article from the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), titled 50 Things You Need to Know by 50.

Now, you might think the AARP is going to serve up a lot of stodgy, get-off-my-lawn advice, but given that their very first tip for life includes "Do the dishes naked."....

Engelbert Humperdinck offers advice for Karoke that's just as apropos to filkers:
In karaoke the most important thing is to pick a song by someone you really admire, and take the best of that person while giving the song the best of you. If you are not a singer but want to be part of the fun, pick a cheeky song and act silly. If you can't even catch a melody, let alone carry one, just speak the lyrics. Pretend you are Richard Harris.

There's also advice from Star Trek veteran George Takai, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, and basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Seriously, there's a lot of good thoughtfood here. Go eat.


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