Review: All the music ever

I am not a “music person.” By a far cry. I did band and chorus throughout middle and high school. I could/can read sheet music. If I try, I used to be able to pick out a melody on a piano (I haven’t in years). But I’m tone deaf. To me, music is one of two options: background noise and/or poetry.

I’m not kidding either. In high school in order to letter in chorus (I’d been in chorus for 3 years, so senior year when they said I could letter I said “why not”), I had to try out for All-State. In order to prep for this, the chorus teacher hosted some after-school sessions to help people practice things like sight singing from a sheet and this thing where they play the tune and you have to sing the tune – no sheet music. I was “ok” at sight singing, except I usually started on the wrong note. I was hopeless on the other part. I couldn’t ever seem to get it right.

I remember the day Mr. Bunn said “Stop, let me try something.” and he took me through a series of listening exercises. He finally looked at me and said, “I think you might be a little tone deaf.”

I was relieved.

Everyone around me loved music in a way I didn’t. Couldn’t. They seemed to get lost in something that I just never heard. What made this or that so amazing and special? I listened to Hanson and said “meh.” I listened to N’sync’s “bye bye bye” and cringed – because I was listening to the lyrics – which aren’t terribly positive for either the male or female in the song. Even music like the Siberian Orchestra – which I like – I could never get quite as excited as my friends. When I was 18, I finally found out I wasn’t stupid, just a little broken.

What is hilarious is the people who [still] don’t believe this. They can believe in color-blind, even red-green color-blindness. They can believe in people with perfect pitch. But not in a person who isn’t hearing what they hear.

Musings: When does a hobby turn into work?

I know a lot of people with true hobbies – golf, kickball, computer gaming, board gaming, etc. – but then there are people who I can’t quite tell if it’s a hobby or a really-poorly-paid-job.  Sometimes they even “earn” money from their hobby – woodworking, knitting, LARP (yes, there are people that make some money on this… maybe just enough to cover costs but…)  So at what point does the hobby turn into a second job? At what point would you call it that?

As a writer, I sometimes feel like my novel IS a second job. I’m tired, my brain is twisted in knots, but I force myself to sit down and write a hundred words, or five hundred words. There are days where writing is more “job” than hobby – and I’m not getting paid for my writing.

I have been struggling to write lately.  And by lately, I mean since about November. My work has gotten very busy. Not in just hours (although there have been weeks of that too), but in mental power needed. I’m stretching professionally in my role as we’re making some changes in the company and I’m getting to take a lead on them. Add to this a major home-renovation project of my bathtub in my one-bathroom condo and… sitting down to write is both a guilty pleasure and a chore.

So I’ve let myself write when I have the urge, and let myself not-write (binge-watch tv and crochet, play video games, etc.) as well. I have written a few thousand words in the past few weeks, but we’re talking like 5,000 words in three weeks. That’s like 250 words on average per day. Granted, there was one day of like 2,500 words.

At what point does a hobby become something more? I’m not a “professional” writer. I’ve never been paid for anything I’ve written. I want to be paid. I want to be published. I have a soft-spot in my heart for the idea of holding a hardcover copy of a novel with my name on the cover…

It’s not questions I have answers to. Do I call myself professional if I write daily? Do I call myself a professional if I’m paid? Only if I’m making my living at it? How do I balance sanity and social-life with my desire to be a writer?

Feminism: The Goethe Spectrum

This morning on the elevator there was a man who was giving me the total hibbie-jibbies. I can’t tell you why, there was something that made me want to cringe away from him. My stance shifted so I could keep him in the corner of my eye without facing him. He was dressed nice, rolled a briefcase (looked like a sample case really). But there was definitely a piece of my brain running through the reactions I could take if he addressed me/threatened me – because if he addressed me it would be a threat. Even I was wondering what was wrong with me – the level of reaction is pretty unusual to a normal looking dude.  My tension evaporated when the elevator doors closed and he was on the other side of them.

A few years ago, this idea of “Schrödinger’s Rapist” started to circulate the internet. At first I lauded it, it does help to explain when a woman might be nervous around strange men (the first five minutes of meeting someone).  But I feel it is incomplete.  The problem is in the concept of Schrödinger’s cat” – that in an instant both universes exist and thus you must treat them as equally plausible.

This just isn’t true when addressing human interactions. So as the past few years have gone by, I have pondered on how I would adjust the theory. And it’s not really Schrödinger’s rapist as much as it is the Spectrum of Threat. Or the Goethe Spectrum.  Newton was the one credited with breaking apart white light to identify the seven colors “of the rainbow”, but Goethe used the word spectrum – meaning the blending between the colors in between the stark colors Newton identified.

Because that’s the kicker, it’s not a 50/50 sort of thing. There are a million little clues that I filter when assessing threat when I see someone for the first time. Taking a 0-10 scale isn’t a bad start, but it’s really more like a 0-100 when you start considering the nuances.  For the sake of this blog, we’ll simplify this to 0-10:

0: No threat. Dead body or otherwise incapacitated to potentially threaten me in any way.

1: Breathing human. Might be a man? So the possibility of threat still exists in some universe from this person, but not likely this universe. If I haven’t seen a slider’s hole or heard the TARDIS, I’m probably safe.

2: Visibly a man. He’s a man. Probably. Threat so minimal that I can feel safe to continue my normal actions. As long as I’m not 150% stupid, this is a totally manageable interaction.

3: Might be a straight man. So he may or may not be giving indications of interest, but there is nothing to concern me of a threat. This means either a rejection has already been gracefully handled or it is clear he would never pursue action (i.e. he is in a happy relationship he wouldn’t risk even if I hit on him).

4: Definitely straight. This is a guy who might have indicated interest. Or has “that look” (which is almost indescribable in text format) that says he admires what he sees in a female form. There is no sense of danger or threat, but if a lot of cards hit the table in just the wrong way… there is just enough here to keep me wary. It’s unlikely I’m unsafe, but I must be the one making sure the appropriate barriers are retained.

Frankly, this is where most of my male co-workers fall when I meet them the first time. I am infinitely aware that most of them are probably “safe” guys, but if I do not make sure I keep my shit in line – we’ll use the inept phrase “misunderstood signals”…

5: Unknown danger levels. Dead in the middle of the spectrum, this might be someone I can’t get a read on, or getting mixed danger levels (i.e. the guy in the elevator this morning retained a “5” because my gut reaction was more dangerous, but he had all the signs of like a 3 or 4 kind of guy)

6: Small danger. There is something this person is saying, wearing, or doing that makes me edgy. The way their eyes rove. They’ve admitted attraction and when rejected say “Your loss baby.” They are the guy who I have doubts if I was drunk they wouldn’t take advantage… I don’t think they will attack me, but if they got a drunk yes – they would classify it as a yes…

7: Don’t be alone. This is the guy who might have asked more than once – and remember, this is a first meeting, the first time I meet them they can’t take a no. Made advances after rejection. Sometimes there is a space invasion – Probably not actually a threat, just an asshole. Probably.

8: Threat level: high. This is my line for “get me out of here.” because this is when the guy is doing more than talking. He is making it quite clear – if the opportunity presents he believes it’s his right. Sometimes this is not in words, but in body language. This guy holds the door and purposefully stands in so you have to squeeze by and gives a dirty grin. Calls you a bitch if you don’t let him “be a gentleman” and in other ways attempts to assert inappropriate control over me and my body.

9: Danger Zone! This is the guy who is trying to get me to drink from a glass which I did not have control over for a period of time. The guy who called me on my phone when I knew I never gave him my number. There is a physical threat here and it may not be right now but he has made it clear that verbal “no” will not deter him.

10: Rapist: I am being raped right now.

Fortunately, I’ve never had too much exposure above about an 8.5 on this scale and those have been few and far between (and I have gotten damn clear about calling them out). There are still men I will not be alone with because during this initial meeting they pinged as a 7+, and in a group I maintain a discrete three-person-buffer zone. It’s very difficult to come back from a back first impression.

So I don’t even want to talk about Schrödinger’s Rapist anymore with my friends. I get why men might get annoyed by the black-or-white idea. There are a million variables to filter:

  • 40-something man on subway car reading a newspaper, wearing a suit. 3.2
  • 20-something man/boy with his buddies. Possibly drunk. On subway. 9pm Friday night. 7.9
  • Group of any age men talking and staring at me (location matters). 6.8-7.8
  • Man in gay bar flinging a drunk arm over my shoulder. 4.1
  • Car with a male in the driver seat following me home in the dark. Rises from 4.1 to 8.1 when he follows me through a neighborhood that horse-shoed back to the main road.
  • Man I see in the grocery store three times and keeps smiling at me with too much tooth. 7.1

Location, age, appearance, and body language are the major factors. Body language is one I know I rely heavily on with these strangers. How are they choosing to orient to me? (casual, direct, leaning forward or away) What are they doing with their hands? Honestly, I have found the phrase “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” to be all too true. Someone with something in their hands (drumsticks, book, phone, hell-cigarette- etc.) is far less threatening than the man doing nothing with his hands.

The scale once I get to know someone becomes far more complicated. It isn’t two dimensional. What are your friends like? How do they influence your behavior? Are you close to your family or estranged? Why? How do you behave to me on a regular basis? How long have I known you? Have I met any significant other(s)? -The factors beyond first meeting are ten times more complex.

As limited as I believe Schrödinger’s Rapist is to defining the initial impression of threat, the scales to define relationships after I start to know someone… it is the difference between a wheelbarrow and the Enterprise.

Writing: #WeNeedDiverseBooks Debate

As a writer, I do feel some draw to put my two cents into the debate which has arisen around “Spend 12 months not reading cis white male authors” (CWM) or not.  In case you’ve missed it (somehow), K.T. Bradford challenged readers to take the next 12 months and either focus on a group of writers you normally don’t read (women, LBGT, race, etc.) or at least cut out the CWM authors who dominate the market.

To me, this challenge would be both easy and difficult. Many of my favorite authors are women. But many of them are white cis women… so I still have room to expand my repertoire myself.  I do think it is an excellent concept for people to expand their reading exposure. Get a new view of the world. Get into the head and heart of someone alien to yourself.

It is one of the things I miss about school.  My high school had amazing English teachers who introduced me to books and ideas I never would have discovered on my own. Both in class and outside the classroom, my teachers encouraged me to read great books. (Granted, one of them also suggested I read The Lovely Bones and I never quite forgave her for that one.)  In college, my history professors encouraged us to the look at literature as an integral piece of the culture(s) we studied, we would read political pieces, short stories, and poetry very regularly when we studied history (not usually novels, but I’m sure that’s only because of time constraints of semesters).

Without school pushing to have people read and study context, people do fall into a place of comfort (as John Scalzi discussed) and read authors similar to themselves. I do. I have found myself picking up a book and thinking “God, this is just like the last 3 series I’ve read.” and then follow it with “why can’t I ever find something original anymore?!?!”  That’s my sign I’m getting entrenched. For me it feels stifling, and I seek out new authors. I sniff into different sections of my local bookstore. I pick up a few $0.99 titles on Amazon or Google (or now I’m going to start looking at Scribd). I look at curated lists on Goodreads.com. That’s how I find new books. New authors. New ideas.

It was only a little while ago I hit one of these funks and found The Twentieth Wife Indu Sundaresan, and immediately read A Feast of Roses (the sequel).  Personally, I can’t imagine getting so ingrained with CWM authors to avoid seeking out others.

I think it’s healthy to expand your horizons. See how others are different (and the same!) Explore the world from a new set of eyes. And yes, sometimes it’s good to get uncomfortable because the author presented something you are unfamiliar with.  And yes, you may walk away thinking “no. never. Baaaaad” – I find I can say why I dislike the idea(s) much better having read about it.  (Perfect example: Twilight).

I do think as a political statement, it might help the book industry to see that we (readers) want and need that diversity.  I have been looking since I read the initial few comments and articles on this, but haven’t been able to find primary resource (census data, industry reports, etc.) which back up the statement that CWM dominate the market.  I can only say that the bookstores certainly reflect that.  Google Play is a little better (or at least presents me with the oddities of my reading that let me explore outside CWM authors).

So will I avoid cis white male written books this year? No. Will I seek out non cis white male authors this year. Hell yes. I will always seek out diversity in my library.  I have loved The Tokaido Road, The Twentieth Wife, Imperial Woman and Dalai Lama, My Son: A Mother’s Autobiography too much. I do think this has made me think about being more deliberate in finding some of those groups where I haven’t read as much. And I will continue to encourage my friends to also be deliberate. Look at your reading list. Are you in a comfort zone or are you seeking to grow your reading list outside those lines?

Life Memories:Today is National Nap Day and National Get Over It Day

Today is National Nap day. My mother informed me of this when she called me this morning.  I went to Google to check and found it is is also national meatball day, national barbie day, national crab meat day, and national get over it day.  Yes – these are days.

It’s this last day that interested me.  National Get Over It day – so I did one more search to find that is a day in which you should “let go of hurt, bitterness, and disappointments” and is purposefully half-way between Valentine’s Day and April Fools day (a holiday I detest with every fiber of my being).  There is even a website set up for the day…

It’s a good thing to remember.  Not to dwell on a past. I’ve spent months of my life pondering how an event got to X point. How a relationship turned sour. Why this or that failed. How I should have done better.  Today is the day to get over it.  Pick something and say, “I’m never going to dwell on that again.”

There is one friendship I lost several years ago that I have grieved for ever since. Even after all these years, I don’t know that I could have done things differently.  It still hurts that I have no idea where that person is.  I cut her out of my life because she kept hurting me, but it doesn’t heal the wound of the loss of a beloved friend. What I really need is to remember the good memories prior to that last year or so of our “friendship.” I need to focus on the movies we enjoyed. Remind myself of the laughter we shared.

And I need to get over it that she has made it clear in the last ten years she didn’t believe or doesn’t want to take up my farewell that if she was ready, I would always be here for her. I haven’t wanted to give it up, I have kept hoping she would someday reach out and say “hey, I saw X and thought of you.”  I need to get over it and reading that today is National Get Over It Day made me decide today is the right day. And then I should take a nap.

Breathing

When Robin Williams died, the world grieved to lose his talent and his spirit. And a lot of conversation about depression and suicide rose up in the wake of that pain. Awareness and support.  I don’t think it’s an accident that Facebook has finally improved it’s intervention actions (I haven’t looked at it yet, but I noticed it was there).

I felt a very personal pang when I read Leonard Nemoy died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  I’ve always decribed this as the “upgraded asthma” breathing issue.  This happens when something has damaged the lungs. It is incurable because when you damage the lungs, they don’t fully heal.

My grandmother had COPD. My mother has COPD. I’m at risk.

Let me begin by describing an asthma attack a little bit for those that don’t understand. It hurts. You know when the air is really cold and it hurts to inhale? You feel that cold all way down your sternum. My asthma attack is a little bit like that – only without cold.  It’s the pain of it though as my diaphragm and lungs strain to drag the air in. I can feel it in my back as the muscles which should just work stretch and strain, trying to expand even as the tubes internally are clearly contracted. I feel the space expanding and nothing (or not enough) coming in to fill the space. It’s like trying to expand a vacuum sealed bag – the struggle to pull it apart without anything to fill it…

There is also a perception reaction during attacks. In a bad attack, my eyesight narrows.  I can’t focus much more than a few feet in front of me. People come and go from a room and I can’t tell you about them. I rarely feel much aside from what’s happening in my lungs. I’ve had people walk up and touch my hand or my foot during an attack and I don’t notice them.

I also can’t process more than one person talking.  It turns into Charlie-Brown-Adult-Speaking when two people talk at the same time.  Even with just one person, each word has to be processed like I’m translating it. I have to go look up meaning in my mind and what normally is a nigh-instant process becomes a tedious workload on my mind.  And for me to make decisions… Every little decision requires much more effort. Every ounce of oxygen is processing one thought at a time. Air in. Air out.

The horrible thing is when someone asks me questions.  I can’t get air in and out correctly – don’t expect an answer other than a nod or a shake of the head. Single syllables are difficult. Multiple syllables are like climbing Mount Everest.  The worst thing someone can ask during an attack is “What do you need?” – there is always a little piece of me that replies in the nastiest way possible “oxygen”, but that’s a 3-syllable word.

Despite the struggle, underneath Air-In-Air-Out, there is a level of my mind that is racing, running through every possible solution. Cause matters. If I’m having an attack because I was exposed to something (smoke, dust, etc.) than moving away to fresh air is a good place to start. The terror is when I don’t know the cause. Waking up in the night gasping. Sitting watching a movie and realizing I’m wheezing and struggling. Realizing I keep trying to take a deep breath for no apparent reason. What will work? Is there something triggering the attack I didn’t notice? Do I need to use my medicine now (not what I want to jump to first)?

The panic makes the attack worse, so once the panic of “there is no trigger. Oh God I can’t breathe!” then I have to mantra calm and peace, try to push back the adrenaline rushing through me. God forbid someone around me start being wiggy – their panic makes me panic.  “Am I underestimating how bad it is? Am I turning blue or something?” Someone just calmly giving me tea, putting me in a quiet corner and keeping people from staring at me so I’m not adding into my mental process “I’m sorry, I know I’m some kind of freak who can’t breathe for no good god damn reason…”

After the attack there is still pain. I usually have a headache. I described the back pain in 2012 as “I was kicked by a house” – I ached basically from shoulders to belly front and back. My throat is often raw. I’ve usually been fighting tears of fear and frustration, so my eyes itch. I’m shaking from that post-adrenaline rush. All I my mind can process is that I’m ok and I’m ok and I’m ok. This time.

In December 2012, I had an asthma attack that ended me in the ER for 4+ hours.  After this I finally agreed to go to my mother’s pulmonologist (lung doctor).  She treated my grandmother and treats my mother.  She talked to me about the dangers of not breathing for extended periods of time (my entire time of attack was about 7 hours because I resisted going to the ER). Every time my asthma attacks – even just “extended low-level problems” – there is a risk of scar tissue building up.

Here’s what happens in the body (per my the un-medical-degree understanding): the alveolis are the part of the lung that actually transfers oxygen into the blood.  When asthma (or emphysema) attacks, the bronchial tubes contract.  Everyone learned in early anatomy about the major tubes (the trachea that branches into each lung), and these branch into secondary and tertiary tubes.  ALL of these contract during an attack- denying more and more oxygen down the path.

When a part of your body isn’t getting oxygen it begins to die.  When those tertiary bronchial tubes close down they deny oxygen to the alveoli.  The alveoli will begin to die along the edges of your lungs.  This creates scar tissue that over time builds up in the lungs – leading to COPD.

The doctor made it clear to me that extended attacks, like I had, are very bad because the longer alveoli are denied oxygen, the more damage is done. The more damage done, the more likely it is I will develop COPD. The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America states that 9 people die of asthma every day. When I first read that Leonard Nemoy had COPD (and that’s why he went to the hospital, etc. etc.) I will admit I selfishly thought, “Does this mean I’ll see a facebook feed telling everyone what to do when I’m having an attack?”

But no, it is just a line-item in the news articles: cause of death. I see “live long and prosper” bandied about and there is a piece of me hurt beyond measure. What about those of us who can’t live long and prosper because we can’t breathe?

Manners: Snow in the South

I live in the “heart of the south” – Atlanta.  We’re rather infamous for shutting down for snow. Every time it really pisses me off. Yes, some people freak out at the word “snow” and take all the bread and milk from every grocery store in range. Somehow these are always the people the media seems to get their hands on.

A) We don’t get snow. We tend to be hovering right at freezing. So we don’t get the nice, fluffy snow flakes that build up into banks of traction.  It hovers at 0’C or 31-33’F, so it’s slushy and when it freezes it’s ice, not snow anymore. And no one drives well on ice (see stories from New York, Ohio, and my favorite over 600 accidents in Minnesota in the last 2 months).  Somehow when ice hits the south and we can’t drive on it, suddenly making fun of southerns on national news is perfectly acceptable. You don’t hear about the over 600 accidents in 12 hours in Minnesota on national news for days on end, talking about the failure of the city to prepare for snow and ice.  Why didn’t we make fun on them? They should know how to drive on it. Don’t they get snow and ice for months on end every single year?

B) We don’t have trucks.  I mean snow trucks, ice trucks – you know the tools that northern states keep on hand in order to prepare roads and treat roads during ice and snow. How many trucks do we need?  How many tax dollars should we devote to maintaining a fleet? How much time should we devote for drivers to be trained? How should we train them when we don’t have the conditions?

C) We don’t have enough salt, snow tires, or anything else that is sold every year – all winter – in northern states. Why would Home Depot or Walmart or any store stock up on ice salt in a city that isn’t going to buy it regularly?  They know the market is smarter for using that shelf space for other things. BBQ is a year-round activity here and the grills take up a lot of floor space…

D) Lastly, (perhaps even most strongly) the city of Atlanta have averaged less than 3″ of snow in over 70 years or record-keeping (SE Regional Climate Center). Yeah, snow is weird to us. As weird as a massive hurricane to New York City. I will be honest, I had to bite my tongue a little when Sandy swung north.  know how horrible hurricanes can be – and I can only imagine how bad it is if you live in a part of the country that doesn’t have the supplies, the infrastructure, or the experience to deal with this type of weather. Sound familiar?

So yes, we freak out and post pictures about single flakes and light dustings. Good manners might be remembering that it isn’t nice to make fun of someone who has a cheap, frustrating imitation of what you have and may not have the resources to take care of it as well as you do.