Saturday, June 23, 2007

Summer Vacation

That's where I've been all week, if any of you are at all interested in my personal life. Insofar as it contributes to some strugglingly funny anecdote or observation about life on this great spinning rock of molten iron with its wafer thin layer of biosphere.

It was a nice a road trip. Down to a sleepy town on the coast in the States. A touristy town known for (predictably) its salt water taffy. Or it's plethora of video arcades, that have sadly declined over the years, and therefore have all the cutting age technology of 1998. I mean, my phone can play more advanced games. My rotary phone.

Be that as it may, it was quite pretty. The ocean, miles of beach populated only by the locals, it seems, as we missed the Summer Crush of 2007 (school's still in session?). Our time at the town was marked by having greasy burgers with enough net calories to feed most of South America or the hungrier parts of Africa, and by walking down the boulevard. We also bought some cheap touristy type stuff to cram into some closet and promptly forget until our untimely move into an old folk's home whose name sentimentally references meadows.

But the views. Wow, the views were pretty great. Ocean, sand, rocks, and sometimes, if we drove a little bit out of the way, really big rocks. You know you are an adult when you get excited about driving slowly down a forgotten highway and hopefully find some governmentally sanctioned Lookout Point. Some place to take a few photos of some geological formation that has been photographed some 12 sextillion times. I almost have an urge to post some of those photos here. But that would be folly. Just go to flickr and search for "towns by the sea", or "rocks", or maybe "pretty large rocks by a nice sandy beach". You'll get the idea.

It was an idyllic vacation, filled with the easy drone of lazy summer days spent doing nothing in particular. To give me some respite from my dangerously un-stressful job and our collective non-busy non-rushed life.

And then we went to Seattle. And that was all a blur. I remember things smelling of fish. There might have been a few shops along the way, perhaps a space needle viewing. And now we're home. I promise I'll think of something more original to write about next post.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Anonymity

It's a funny thing about anonymity, especially on the web, some people just don't care. I'm not talking about those cell phone carrying Paris Hilton wannabe tweens who wear too much makeup and have too little opinion on world issues; I'm talking about grown adults. People who supposedly pay taxes, get their oil changed every 5,000 kms and go to overpriced tourist hot-spots for their two week allotment a year.

Now, folks who turn a blind eye to privacy issues are not new, I covered it briefly before, but in some respects, that was different, as it related to walled garden type stuff: only people you know (or think you know, or think might have known) have access to your info.

The sort of lack of privacy I'm talking about are in the literary blogs I occasionally find myself at; folks there have no issue signing off their comment with their real, in-flesh, not aliased in any way, name. It's more than a little disconcerting, it's like finding out that some people's cars are not made of fiber glass and steel, but instead, artfully crafted paper mache. You have to respect the brazen optimism of it all, but it still leaves you cold. They are usually professional writers who all know each other. Or wannabe writers who want to be known. Or complete hacks who attempt writing but all that ends up coming out are various nouns and verbs that on occasion may make sense, but not on purpose. Or me.

I'm of the generation who thinks nothing of creating an elaborate alias and sticking to it throughout my internet lifespan. We're used to forum boards and blogs scattered with people like SupaSnipa92 and GorillaMonsterMax. We lob invectives and ad hominem attacks like it's a Fox News Round Table; on the other hand, we also commiserate, lend an ear, and in other ways become positively chummy with WyleSpir8 and **NerdCoreRizing**.

It's a sign of internet sophistication to keep your identity secret. A true netizen knows to keep all identity hidden from the hackers, phreakers and crackers who roam the black screened terminals of the Undernet. Pasty faced youths with keyboards literally on fire from the hell wrought havoc they bring: wielding passport numbers, credit card authorizations, drivers licenses, and all sorts and sundry numbers that you should Never Give Out. Numbers that, for better of for worse, make up the entirety of your worth to society. You are citizen number X from country Y with a credit rating of Z able to drive vehicles A, B but not C and are currently under investigation for your avid interest in Depression Era Sock puppets. These are the numbers that we try and keep safe, close to our chest, like a starving chinchilla. Any and all identifiers out in the web can, or so the wide eyed logic goes, lead to our downfall.

A veteran web surfer realizes that participating in this great network of Spyware infested sites, millions upon billions of videos of cats, and the odd treasure trove of Deep Space Nine paraphernalia, one must dip the unprotected hand into the figurative lake of piranhas. But not these writers and literary elite. No, they brazenly display their name for any and all to see. Which wouldn't be a problem, except I usually post a comment too, under the juvenile name of Niteowl. The name to a superhero of a comic book that almost nobody has read. And it's misspelled for good measure. It tends to bring into sharp relief just how ridiculous my alias is. Which, I suppose, is a small price to pay for anonymity.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Comfort

So I'm in this blog chain started by a few folks over at the Absolute Write forums. I'm not entirely sure what it is. It brings to mind the chain gang, or possibly a log chain, or a chain letter. None of these are very encouraging, I'll grant. Except for the log chain, which I assume is some sort of forestry equipment. Come to think of it, if you're a staunch environmentalist, a log chain would probably put a fly in your totally-organic-100%-ethical-premium-grade-flaxseed-honey comb-wheat-grass-and-hemp oatmeal.

But I digress.

The idea is to write a blog post, then have the blog after you use an element from your post in their post, and so and so forth until, presumably, all topics of discourse and enlightenment have been spent, or until the chain gets to the last person. Whichever comes first.

The seed of todays topic comes from tjwriter who wrote about comfort zones, encyclopedias, being the strange new person at work, and posting your fiction where anyone can read it, and possibly comment. So many topics to touch upon.

Comfort is a fine thing. When on an airplane, the attendant often asks, "Are you comfortable?". It's the quality we look for in sensible shoes, queen sized mattresses, and often (heart-attack inducing) food. It's also the mainstay of most charitable organizations. Particularly the ones that go into war torn parts of the world offering something along the lines of 'comfort and succor'. Succor being a word that sounds like the punchline to a slightly off-colour joke, needs a solid, life affirming word like Comfort, right beside it, to give it heft. And to stop the peanut gallery from snickering.

Comfort of course, has a dark side. Besides the aforementioned flight attendant. "Are you comfortable?" is also a question posed by a dentist, holding say, a large and seemingly overpowered drill, or that sneaky KGB interrogator before he proceeds to attach the electrodes. I imagine it might be the same phrase that a Manhattan shrink would ask before delving into your psyche to reveal that yes, you do have a fetish for Big Bird and are maybe too attached to your 1983 collection of World Lacrosse Player cards.

But comfort can be lulling. It's the lazy boy chair that convinces you to take a nap instead of cleaning the gutters, the tryptophan rich turkey that knocks you out before raking. It's something that we strive to get, comfortable, but something that we are constantly trying to escape. Hence the term Comfort Zone. Zone makes everything seem more serious, even dangerous. You don't want to stay in a zone too long. Zones are created by totalitarian regimes with an extensive military police force and the blind eye of the UN. Must get away from your comfort zones.

Which isn't bad in and of itself. Outside of comfort zones is its unimaginative opposite, discomfort: nature's way of telling you that you are doing something different.Something new. Maybe not exciting, maybe not fulfilling, but new. And on balance, don't most of us prefer to hoard what we have rather than risk it for something better. Because better is a constantly hungry idea. Everything and anything can get better (all references to New Coke excluded). It seems like a bit of a treadmill.

So one is left with the two choices, the lazy boy or the treadmill. And while one might be alluring, the other is better for you (there's that word). Even if the experience isn't all it's cracked up to be, there is always something to learn from it, even if that something is: "Don't do that again".

The road to betterment, the path outside the comfort zone, is a journey of growth (oh my, using that term makes me want to grow a beard and form my very own cult, or possibly write a series of self-help books that can boiled down to "There is no try, only do"). Which is what we are all geared to do. Grow mentally, emotionally. We get antsy in that lazy boy. The comfort becomes uncomfortable. Not in any way that people usually measure comfort. But in nebulous, I-feel-antsy-like-I-shouldn't-have-had-that-fifth-cup-of-coffee antsy.

So one way to think of it is that one moves outside one's comfort zone to once again achieve comfort, with oneself, at least. And this is where the whole lazy boy treadmill analogy kind of falls apart.

Next up on the chain is Food History, which I hope posts a long polemic on the wonders of macaroni and cheese.

Virginia Lee: I Ain't Dead Yet!

writing@cathsmith.com

hunt & peck

Life, Writing, and Other Things

periodically.org

Food History

A View From the Waterfront

Organized Chaos

Willibee

The Road Less Traveled

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Dog Days Of Summer

So it's summer, and Mrs. Owl, the Owlet and I are staying at the parentals for a spell. We're so far from civilization that running water is a perk, and running water without lethal microbes is a luxury. Where you can be lulled to sleep by either the gentle chirping of crickets or the last strums of a banjo as the home made hooch takes hold. We're in the furthest suburb from the city; so naturally it has debilitating air quality, long parking lots that closely resemble roads (and are, when it's not rush hour) and subdivisions as far as the eye can see. Where strip malls and large car dealers scar the land; a 'compact' car is any truck under 350 horsepower; mesh hats with "Big Foot" emblazoned on the front have been worn since 1985, and always, non-ironically. And where yes, the hallmark of mullet culture, the mid-70's camaro, is found in the wild, and often.

    Ah, hometowns. Can't live in them, can't reasonably deny you were ever there. But I do appreciate some aspects of life here. There are no buskers, panhandlers, or hipsters. There are no SUVs driven by people who don't actually go off-road (if you have an offroad vehicle, your extra suspension and genuines off-road tires lets everyone know that you like to play in the mud). No suburban yokels ripping up the streets for their 'night on the town'. Since, well, this is the home of the suburban yokels.

    There is nothing particularly trendy or cool about this town. Nothing 'hip' or 'hot'. Certainly nothing 'sustainable' or 'eco-friendly'. It's a mess of neighbourhoods connected by institutions that keep the whole town running: supermarkets, malls, and multi-chain restaurant franchises. And in each neighbourhood are thousands of houses where a family can actually afford a living unit that has *gasp* a backyard; and with that, the inevitable pet.

    For my parents, that pet is an American Staffordshire Terrier. A dog somewhat related to the pit bull, except nicer, and with larger jaws.

    Now, I have nothing against dogs (quite the opposite), even the 'evil attack' dogs. As long as they are well enough away from me and mine.

    There are a few things that make me want to keep distance. Many of the people who are attracted to said dogs want them for a symbol of machismo. "Look at me, I have a pet that can rip the throat from a lioness running at full speed!" "Look! I'm just like those rappers and their 'dawgs' showing off their 'bling' and 'sick rides'." Not all owners are like that of course. Indeed, the true lovers of those breeds are vehemently against negligent owners. But even given that, I just feel awkward around dogs that instill in one not the cuddle instinct, but the Flight or Flight response. Or more accurately, the Flight or Flight Faster response.

    Don't get me wrong, my parent's dog is nice enough, friendly, a touch energetic, but a good dog by all accounts. But there is something about it's raw power. Like it could win a towing race against a 18 wheeler and win by a large margin. And then there are the jaws. Always smiling, always chilling out, but damn, are they ever big. I'm talking 'eat a small child and have room for a cantaloupe' big.

    This creates a bit of conflict for me. Because I know a dog is only as good as its owner. A dogs behaviour, for the most part, is not really its fault. Neither is its breed. But there is nothing that can quell that primitive primate brain. That screams "run away! For god's sake man, RUN THE HELL AWAY" when I see the dog run towards me, maybe for a game of fetch, maybe for the last game of 'Tear Out The Jugular' I'll ever play. There is no quelling the urge to cower and sniffle like a child. Which, I suppose, makes it fortunate that we're in the town of my childhood.