A Font of Useless Information

So, did you guys know there’s this whole campaign to ban the use of comic sans?

No, really. There is.

Maybe saying “whole campaign” is a stretch since, so far as I can tell, it could be just one guy representing himself as a movement. But there is a website dedicated to it. Of course, anyone can throw up a website and start a “movement” to ban, say, the use of the color yellow.

I first saw the “ban comic sans” manifesto in one of the offices I visited this spring. That’s one of the interesting parts — okay, maybe the ONLY interesting part — of visiting a different cubicle farm every-other week in different parts of the country: seeing what people post on their hollow fabric half-walls. I should post some on here, actually. It was particularly interesting over the course of the election year, to see what people in different regions were het up about. But I digress.

Anyway, the ban comic sans manifesto — and I’m 99% sure they’re serious and not just really good at deadpanned satire, but I’m willing to entertain correction there — explains that the font (you knew this was about a font, right?) “comic sans” was created for cartoons and has enjoyed this extended life for which it was never intended. The people excited about this are the typesetting nostalgics.

Me, I’ve never cared about font that much. Except, hey, yes I use comic sans in my email and IM. I picked it long ago (15 years ago?) because I liked the way it looked. My only other opinion on font is when people make you use Courier, which is a nonproportional font and is thus ugly and inefficient for an electronic age, IMHO.

I have one friend who’s written about her father being a typesetter and the smell of ink, but I’m not sure she cares so much about font. Another friend gets really excited about font and spends a fair amount of time on which ones have which little doodad (I know there’s a real term for it — I forget what it is, this is how much I don’t care) at the top of the “l,” say.

We all need our causes, I suppose. And far be it for me to say someone’s cause is, well, insignificant in the grand scheme, when I have a special place in my heart for frivolous enterprises.

But I just keep thinking about bread & circuses.

I said something about bread & circuses to someone the other day and she didn’t know what I was talking about, so I think it bears repeating, just in case. The phrase was coined by Juvenal, a Roman satirist, referring to the observation that the people won’t care about politics as long as they get food and entertainment.

This is such a pivotal time. There are so many really important changes underway.

And we’re concerned about a font?

(P.S. I tried to format this in comic sans, but blogger won’t allow it!)

If You’re Happy and You Know It…Or Do You?

I once asked my martial arts teacher a question about emotions. This isn’t as odd as it sounds, because it was a kung-fu school and we spent a lot of time talking about chi (life energy) and how emotional energy is the battery for everything we do.

So, I told him how, when I’d lived alone in grad school, I’d sometimes go a whole day or two without seeing anyone. Especially if I was holed up in my apartment on the weekends. This was before all the connectedness of email and Facebook. The world reached me only via my landline, the tv (which I never turned on) and the radio (and I only listened to music). What I’d found was that I wouldn’t notice I was in any particular emotional state, unless I happened to make contact with another person. Then I would discover I was irritable or depressed or happy, by the way I interacted with them.

His answer was that I “downloaded” the other person’s emotions. That I absorbed what they were feeling and that I had to learn to differentiate my emotions from theirs. This led into one of his typical rants about how this was yet another reason for us to shun the world at large and stay away from the contamination of the mass mind.

Obviously, I don’t completely agree. About so many things. Which is neither here nor there.

I think there is something to this, sure. I do think you can pick up on what other people are feeling. If the energetic thing is too woo-woo for you, then suffice to say that we’re really good at picking up subconscious cues from each other. Our pets perceive our feelings and intentions. David knows what state of mind I’m in from the moment I walk in the door. If you’re a reasonably empathetic person who pays attention, you’ll pick up on what the people around you are feeling.

But I don’t think that’s what I experienced in my living-alone days. I think it has something more to do with context. That it’s hard to define something without a point of reference. For example, our visual system works through edge-detection. The receptors in our eyes and the neurons that connect with them respond to the contrast between one color and the next, or one shade and the next. Our visual cortex assembles images from all the lines and edges, then fills in the middle.

Maybe emotional states are like this, too. I might drift through a day or a weekend in an undefined dream. (Okay, yeah, this may be particular to me, being kind of a dreamy gal.) When I encounter someone else, I’m no longer just a wash of being — now there’s someone else and there’s a line between us, created by our differences, slight or great. Suddenly I have a point of reference.

The rest is just filling in the middle.

Gloria, We Hardly Knew Ye

Is anyone else noticing the whole waist/hip thing?

By anyone, I mean the gals, because I really don’t think guys do this. So, if you’re a guy, feel free to skip today’s post.

But gals, the whole waistline-drop thing seems to be getting stranger. Never mind that we really can’t find any slacks, jeans or even skirts that fasten around our waists — and if we could, we can’t wear them because, hey, we might have to concede to being in our 40s, but we still don’t REALLY want to look like refugees from the 80s. Even if that’s exactly what we are.

My mother will testify that I’m famous for keeping clothes forever. It’s the sentimentality. Throwing away a loved outfit is tantamount to throwing away all the good times had in that outfit. So, yes, I still have some of the clothes I wore in high school. A couple of sweaters. A few party dresses from college. None of the lower-body stuff because, let’s just say, my hips did not stay teenager narrow. But I was the girl whose friend told her she was the only person she knew who looked good in designer jeans (Gloria Vanderbilt, with an embroidered gold swan on one hip pocket and a similar gold cursive “Jennifer” on the other.) The waist buttoned around the narrowest point of my body, which meant the jeans stayed there, whether I was standing or sitting.

But the dropped-waist thing — they move around all the time! Sure the slacks will drape nicely over my hips while I’m standing, sitting in their comfortable three inches below my belly button. I went to all drop-waist slacks and jeans after I had my belly-button pierced. Believe me, you have to do it. Thus do vanity piercings drive fashion. So, standing around, looking cute is fine. But when you sit, they kind of creep up and flop around your waist like an Ace bandage gone wrong. OR they slide down further, showing your thong and butt-cleavage and… no, no, no.

Okay, compared to Amazon censoring homosexual books on their website, this isn’t a big deal. Lots of people have been talking about that, though. Is anyone discussing the millions of women out there whose pants won’t stay put? A can of worms there, I say.

I’m starting to understand why older women start to wear those mu-mus.

Is It Just Me?

Sanity is a relative thing. Ask Paula Alquist.

Granted, very few of us (hopefully) encounter someone who is trying to Gaslight us, a now famous derivation that means to deliberately attempt to convince someone that they’re insane. And yet, what with everyone trying to get their own way, it seems a lot of folks out there won’t take it amiss if you begin to doubt what you know.

I think about it like this: we walk around with an idea of what the world is like inside our heads. It’s built of how we think and feel, what we believe, what our families believe. We’re all kind of existing in our own bubble worlds, a separate parallel universe for each person. Thus the world is teeming with alternate realities, some based on thought, many based on emotion. Every time we try to talk to each other, we’re communicating with an alien civilization.

I try to remember this when I have the “am I crazy or are they?” moments.

All it takes is one conversation where someone tells you what you did, usually months ago, that doesn’t match what you remember occurring. Or worse, ascribes motivations to you that you’re certain you never had. I’ve known some people who rewrote history on purpose, recasting events in a light more flattering to themselves. I’ve known others so passionately invested in their position that they come to believe what they want to be true. It’s understandable. I think that we all do this, to a greater or lesser extent.

Which is the crazy-making part.

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. I think this is what he was getting at. If you can’t scrutinize yourself and your life, there’s no way to know if what goes on in your own little universe has a reality that others can recognize or is simply a conglomeration of a fantasy of what you want to be true. There’s an old device in fairy tales where there’s a mirror that reflects how a person truly is. Usually only the “pure of heart” can face themselves in that mirror. I suspect this is something we have to do, every moment of every day: face ourselves in the mirror and see what’s there. If you flinch away, it’s because something has crept in. I don’t think I know what purity is anymore. Other people will be happy to chime in with what they believe is selfish or sinful or simply against the rules. Some of those people take those beliefs to insane extremes.

If you can face yourself in the mirror without flinching, I think that’s a good start.

Did anyone notice the lights dimming?

Happy Bunny Trails to You

David never knows when Easter Sunday is coming, he says, until three or four people ask him on Friday what he’s doing for Easter. Of course we’re doing nothing in particular for Easter, since we never do. He likes to report the grumpy answers he thinks up, usually Easter-inappropriate activities. I’m the only one who ever hears them.

It’s not that we don’t like Easter. It just doesn’t mean anything to us. The kids are grown up, so we don’t do Easter baskets. We try to keep candy and refined sugar-somethings out of the house, so we don’t gnosh that way. It’s not springtime here, so there’s no celebration of that aspect. We no longer consider ourselves Catholics; arguably, we never did. And, for whatever reason, this is usually a busy time of year for us, so we almost always have Easter Sunday as a breather day — to catch up on at-home stuff.

Now, if we lived somewhere with a decent Easter brunch, I’d probably do that. I love a champagne brunch. But what I love best is the afterwards, the lazy buzz on a Sunday afternoon of bubbly in my veins and enough food in my body to last the day. Like this bit from Wallace Stevens:

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

There’s something to be said for the “just after.” Many of the people who ask what we’re doing for Easter are hitting the road to visit family. And they look pressured. It’s a difficult holiday, being confined to Sunday and working folks needing to be back at it Monday morning.

My friend, Julianne, just posted that it’s “an oddly gray sky in Laramie this morning. The grackles are puffing their chests and making that funny sqwak sound in the cottonwoods.”

What am I doing for Easter? I’m listening to our black birds. And to the moment just after.

Giving and Perceiving

I’ve always been a joiner.

Not sure why. I don’t feel much of a religious call to service or an obligation to volunteer. But I’ve long been a joiner of service groups. On some level, I do feel like these groups fill a need. On another, I think we’re often just bashing our heads against the wall or filling a bucket with such small drops as to be negligible. Arguably I do it for the social interaction: I like getting to know the people involved and working with them on projects. In many ways I believe the only true charity is anonymous charity — when you give and no one knows that you have. Volunteering in a service group seems to me so full of ostentatious giving that it can’t really count as true service.

This reminds me of a study on vampire bats I read a while back. (I know — you were thinking the same thing, right?) The study found that vampire bats who were fortunate enough to feed on a given night would share blood with bats in the roost that weren’t able to feed. It’s a crucial bit of sharing because their metabolisms are so high that the bats can’t go more than a couple of nights without feeding or they’ll die. The study pondered if this was an example of true altruism. In general, it’s thought that altruism does not exist in nature. Most animal behavior is driven by perpetuation of the indivual or, more precisely, the individual’s reproductive potential. The researchers attempted to determine if the donors gave blood only to close relatives, which didn’t seem to be the case. Eventually they concluded that perhaps the behavior was to perpetuate the entire colony.

An online friend of mine told me that I’m a really sweet person. This is noteworthy because I can’t recall anyone who knows me in person who’s called me sweet. One friend told me I have so many edges that I’m practically a cube. But the gal who called me sweet said so because I read her work and gave her writing advice. And because I continue to read and give feedback. To me, this isn’t sweet. I certainly don’t always tell her nice things about what she’s written. She says that she’s grateful that I take the time. I think, well, I can help, so I do.

And it doesn’t hurt.

Maybe that’s part of my edge: I’m just not into giving until it hurts. If I can give, I will. If I don’t have the time or the energy, I say no. More often I say “later.” This is self-protection. Lately, a couple of people in volunteer organizations I belong to have been unhappy with me that they’re farther down on my list of things to do. Worse, they’ve begun to harangue me about it. Now, I have a lot of deadlines to manage and I like to think I’m reasonably good at it. I have a pretty simple approach: I work on what is due the soonest. Logical of me. I also work on the stuff I’m paid to do first. Mercenary of me perhaps. I’m also easily seduced by the more fun things, so they tend to work their way up in priority ahead of their time. Frivolous of me, I’ll admit.

The thing is, I find I really hate being pressured to do something I volunteered to help with in the first place, especially if I don’t see the fire. Everyone has their comfort zones, I know. There are people in this world who panic if a deadline is a week away. I’m one of those who slides the deliverable into the email five minutes before COB Eastern Time on some occasions. When I’m being paid, I do things their way — I figure that’s part of the deal. But when I’m giving, I find my altruism dries up if I feel forced.

Maybe that’s how it works for the bats, too.

Sand Between the Toes

I finally made it to the beach yesterday.

No, there won’t be any “life’s a beach” titles or comments. Just the sheer pleasure of escaping from the strange veneer of Orlando to something that feels raw and real. To me, this is Florida.

Now, I know a lot of people don’t like the beach. They think it’s silly and boring and there’s nothing to do but lie around. I know quite a few men who think this way. Fortunately mine is not one, because I really love a beach.

Two of the gals I work with went with me and didn’t get there until late. We finished our work around noon, had lunch with the client and headed back to the hotel to swap our pumps and laptop bags for bikinis and sandals. By the time we stopped at the store and acquired sunscreen and beach towels, it was 3pm. So we arrived at the beach around 4:30, just as the sleepily sunbaked people were trailing away from it, pouring down the access ramps like so many towel-wrapped children ready to be bathed and fed dinner and cocktails.

But the declining Florida sun pumped warm and friendly. The ocean welcomed us with tangy blue swells. It soothes me, just to touch the water and be near it. To let the undulations of it move me. Sometimes I fancy I can touch every life touched by the interconnected oceans, as if it’s still the primordial soup that flows through us all.

Maybe it is.

My Magic Kingdom for an Authentic Florida

Orlando can be disconcerting.

Not just the Disney area – though that long strip of International Drive is a strange blend of Route 66-flavor liquor stores and road stops, interspersed with every party-meal franchise restaurant imaginable. Along with the theme hotels and cartoon signage. Theme parks have proliferated in the area, like so many clones grown from the dispersion of tourist-dollar spores. There’s Sea World, Aquatica, Wet and Wild and Disney Beach. Epcot, of course, Dinosaur Land, Holy Land. Every theme imaginable has its park.

But what gets truly disconcerting is that the housing developments have a theme-feel. It’s hard to put your finger on the quality of it. They seem self-consciously pretty, with vast expanses of common areas that might accommodate a carnival at any moment. Even the downtown is composed of pretty buildings in shining glass and pastel colors. Each has an unusual, frisky roofline.

That’s when it hit us – nowhere were the sagging warehouses, the depression era buildings that have been desultorily rehabbed. Everything is of a certain era and aesthetic. It creates a sense that everything is a façade, that nothing is truly authentic.

When we were in Lincoln, Nebraska, I wrote about our debate over the aesthetic – or lack thereof – of the West. And I don’t like the lack of care that comes from that, the ugliness by default. The magic kingdom approach, though, seems like a relentless glossing of reality.
After passing downtown, we glimpsed off to the side a lake in a park. A boathouse and pavilion sat reflected on one end. It looked to me like old Florida, in its Spanish splendor. It could have been another facsimile. Old Orlando City Theme Park: come listen to the old-timey flamenco bands and eat cotton candy and get your Ponce de Leon souvenir doll, ride the fountain of youth waterslide!

Even in a glimpse, though, it had a feeling of age and authenticity, in a place where little else does. It managed to be beautiful, also.

A friend who grew up in Gatlinburg, Tennessee turned down a job in Gettysburg because she said she’d never again live in a tourist town. Tourism kills the soul of a place, she said. When I asked her why, she couldn’t explain it better than that.

I suspect it has something to do with creating an appearance to temporarily please. There’s no pay-off in substance when attracting tourism. All is for fleeting pleasure, not for long-term sustenance. In some ways, that kind of calculated prettification is as unsatisfying as leaving things ugly because it’s not worth the effort.

Curls and Girls

My hair is developing waves in it. While this may seem like a minor point, it’s significant in that I’ve, for the past forty years, had bone-straight hair. Unless I chemically altered it, which I spent a fair amount of time and money doing.

It’s especially noticeable down here in Tampa, the humidity antipode to Laramie. I’m down here with three other gals who typically make up my work team. Two of them are about five years older than I am and are full of “change of life” advice. One’s theory is the “curlier as you age” theory. Up until now, though, she’s been all about the “gray hair has a different texture and thus is curlier” theory. But, since, I have only a few silver hairs, right at my part, she’s generously revised her theory to include my drift to curliness with regularly textured hair.

And I don’t mind the waves. Kind of different.

What I do mind is the whole “peri-menopausal” thing. A medical type recently informed me that peri-menopausal includes the 10-15 years before and after the actual Pause. Which means, for those terrifed to do the math, one can have perimenopausal symptoms for, yes, that’s right: THIRTY YEARS.

Has anyone else noticed that this comes out to at least a third of a normal life?

I don’t buy it. To me, this is like the “we’ve been dying since the day we’re born” view of life. Just because something is a certainty in the future doesn’t mean it’s already in process. You can move towards a thing without being it. And once you’ve moved through an event, you don’t have to carry it around with you, the tattered remains of it like streamers hanging off your limbs.

Change of life, fine. It happens. Hormones shift, our bodies change. Different physiological priorities.

Now can we move on?

White Horse Optional

My friend, Laura – and old friend from high school recently rediscovered on Facebook – asked me to help her come up with a “headline” for her Match.com profile. It’s basically dating-twitter. 140 characters to advertise who she is and what she wants.

Of course I said yes. I love to find the right words to describe people. I asked her if she was looking for true love, sex and fun or babies and the white picket fence. I expected her to quibble with me, to equivocate over what she might want now versus later. But no.

True Love, she promptly replied.

So I ran with it and we came up with this:

Waiting for the fairytale. Blonde belle seeks prince among men. White horse optional.

I wondered if it would be too much. I’m clearly interested in the fairytale ending, be that what you really wished for or not, but I know a lot of people out there (read: men) have issues with the female ideas of happily ever after. Can’t say I blame them really. What reasonable man wants to get mixed up with a gal who thinks she’s a princess and it’s his job to rescue her and take her off into the sunset? The thing is, we don’t really think that. We’re big girls now.

That’s why the white horse is optional.

By the following day, though, Laura reported 229 page views on her profile, 35 contacts and one verified hottie who says he owns a white horse. She’s talking about holding out for the full luxury package after all.

Another friend of mine was devastatingly dumped by the guy she’d invested in. He told her he loved her one day and the next that he hadn’t loved her in a long time. He was surprised she didn’t know that. It took her a while to pull herself together and a while longer to date again. But she hasn’t found IT again. Now she’s spending time with a guy she’s been, by her own description, “dating by default.” When I ask her about it, she sounds like she’s not convinced she can do better than that.

I want them both to have the happily ever after. I’m a believer in true love. I never expected to have it and here I’m nearly twenty years with a man who’s a better companion to my life than I ever thought possible. He’s added a richness and intimacy to my life that my girlish fairytale endings didn’t know to include. I like that he tells me he’s become a better critical thinker from being around me. I especially like that he’s someone interested in becoming a better critical thinker. He’s a prince among men.

Romance stories are often criticized for ending at the moment of the Happily Ever After, be it the wedding, or the exchange of vows of eternal love or what have you. The thing is, if you do it right, once you ride off into to the sunset, you get to live there.

And that makes so many other things worthwhile.