Monthly Archives: July 2008

She Loved Big Brother

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Lots of folks recognize the opening lines to famous novels.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

“ ‘Tom!’

No answer.

‘Tom!’

No answer.”

Adventures of Tom Sawyer, of course. Or my favorite, the opening to the best Poe short story ever:

“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.” That’s from The Cask of Amontillado. If you haven’t read it, you need to.

Memorable last lines are harder to find, or at any rate, harder for me to think of. Speaking as a soon-to-be-published author myself, I can assure you that, by the time that last bit rolls around, you’re just slopping words on the page. For the beleaguered writer, “And they all lived happily ever after” seems a witty, insightful, original way to close a book.

Only one closing line has lodged itself in my memory. (I was going to claim two lines, but I just checked my complete-works-o’-Shakespeare and, dang, “Good night, sweet Prince” isn’t the ultimate line of Hamlet. Close, though.) I will not give away the fabulous ending to George Orwell’s 1984, because you need to read it yourself, but here is a hint: It is only four words long, and half of those words are “Big Brother.”

Being a fan of civil liberties and privacy, I am not the sort to readily embrace tools that will help Big Brother spy on me. Try reading Jeffery Deaver’s latest Lincoln Rhyme thriller, Broken Window, for a creepy reminder of the risks of ceding privacy. (Read this after you read 1984 though, okay? But do read the Deaver. He’s the best thing going in thrillers. Great characters, great details, and absolutely brilliant plot twists.)

Nonetheless, on Sunday I went and plonked down more money than I care to admit so as to purchase a webcam. With this handy new tool, I was able to set up my very own porn site!

Kidding.

The webcam is a really cool toy. Back in the days before cell phones—and seriously, folks, it wasn’t that long ago—it was a big deal to make a long distance call. I remember having an internet friend who lived hundreds of miles away. I spoke to him a few times by phone, but only on holidays, when the long distance rates were reduced.

With cell phones I don’t think twice about dialing long distance. And with my webcam, long distance calls—very long distance, as in, to folks in the next country—are now accompanied with real-time video. For free.

Thanks for the technology, Big Brother!

In other news, I’ve sort of… completely changed my diet. For several years now I’ve been trying a low-carb sort of approach. This is because every carb I consume goes directly to my waist and takes up permanent residence. I can show them no mercy.

But limiting carbs gets real old after a while, and, in the course of reading a book, I decided to make some drastic changes.

The book I read is called Eat This, Not That. Is that a great title, or what? It has big pretty color pictures of foods that are good (“Eat This!”) and foods that are bad (“Not That!”). There are words to explain why, but it’s okay to skip over the explanations and just follow along with the pictures.

So, for the past week or so, the foods I’ve been eating have been disgustingly healthy. For instance, breakfasts have consisted of plain yogurt, walnuts, blueberries, and flax. We’re talking about more carbs than before, but also way more nutrients, and far less fat, saturated fat, salt, and sugar. Whether this results in a svelte figure remains to be seen.

I’m rather hoping it does. The stupid webcam has gone and exposed all my lies about being a supermodel. Piece of junk. Want my money back.

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Not in Kansas City anymore

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Just finished my little jaunt to the Midwest. That’s my excuse for the silence here, these past few weeks: I’d been busy preparing my presentation on Urban Literature. Urban Lit is an emerging genre that features black people in contemporary settings; subgenres include Street Lit (drugs! violence!), Drama Lit (with a focus on relationships), and Erotica (lots and lots and lots of sex).

I managed to turn that sentence into a three-hour talk, I did.

My talk was in Kansas City, which turned out to be a very pleasing little town. Reminded me of Asheville, NC, kinda sorta. That’s a good thing. It had a small-town feel, funky little neighborhoods, and hills that, though not tall enough to be mountains, nonetheless gave a decent variation to the landscape, the likes of which you don’t get here in Wilhelmsplatz.

Kansas City sprawls into two states, Kansas and Missouri. This confused the bejeesus out of me till Marian Librarian explained that most folks think of Missouri when they talk about the city. It’s the default. You have to go out of your way to explain that you’re talking about Kansas if you want to refer to that part of town.

On Monday morning at 5:00 (happy late Bastille Day, by the way), after a nice relaxing four-hour sleep, I got up an hour late, panicked, and still made it to the Richmond airport with plenty of time to spare for my 7:40 flight. After a bland few hours in Philly, I got myself over to KC, where Marian Librarian picked me up.

I’ve known Marian Librarian (not her real time, I’m sure you realize) for several years now. She’s a rock star amongst public librarians, and she sends me snarky little cards at Christmas, and she always inquires after my cats. And she helps me out whenever I’m stuck on an article or something.

So then Marian dropped me off at her house, where I got to hang out for the afternoon, playing with Bumble (very furry, very affectionate), Piggy (big-boned), Puck (no tail), and The Ashbaby (no front fangs). Marian herself had to boogie back to her library for a program.

Then Mr. Marian got home.

“Uh. Hi. You must be Mr. Marian.”

“Uh. Hi. You must be Jessica.”

“That, or I’m an imposter. It’s possible I killed the nice young lady who was hanging out on your front porch.”

I was pretty sure this fella was Mr. Marian, since he looked like the gent I’d seen in Marian’s pictures. Being relatively confident that he was who he said he was, I willingly hopped in the car with him to go to yoga.

This was the first time I’d ever cheated on my yoga studio. In the year and a half that I’ve been studying yoga, I’ve only ever taken classes at Anahata Yoga Center in Wilhelmsplatz. I felt kind of bad about it, but I figured an evening of yoga prior to my presentation would be good for me.

Boy, was I wrong.

Problem the first: It was a Hot Yoga class. This is a unique form of torture, in which the classroom is heated to a wicked level, I’m guessing 90-some degrees Fahrenheit. The point is to make you sweat, which I did, in buckets. A day and a half later and my clothes are still damp.

Problem the second: the instructor sucked.

…Wait, let me tell this right. Prior to the start of class, while we were all warming up individually (not like we needed to really warm ourselves, not in that inferno), this one chappie at the front of the room was showing off in a major way. It’s one thing to stretch out and practice before class. I myself do it all the time. It’s another thing entirely to show off all sorts of fancy moves.

This guy was doing headstands in the middle of the damn room, raising and lowering his legs. This is not how folks warm up. This is how folks show off their shit. It’s obnoxious.

So then, after showing off all kinds of crazy advanced poses, this prick gets to the front of the class and starts barking out commands. Turns out he’s the instructor.

But does he actually instruct? No, he just calls out poses, like he’s an aerobics instructor. He doesn’t do any adjustments, doesn’t offer anyone help to improve their poses. He just yells out commands for an hour and a half.

That’ll teach me to stray from my own studio.

At least it gave me and Mr. Marian something to bond over. This particular instructor was a new guy, unfamiliar to Mr. Marian, so we gleefully spent the evening kvetching about him.

Next day was the presentation. Fifty librarians from the KC area gathered to listen to my talk. It was the first time I’d ever done a presentation on Urban Lit, but they were a lovely audience, offering all kinds of comments and questions throughout the day, which mercifully disguised my inexperience. Way I figure it, even if I’d been the world’s best Urban Lit librarian (I’m not), I would have bored everyone to tears by talking for three hours straight. Who wants to listen to a three-hour lecture? Easier and cheaper to just read the article, ya know?

But these folks transformed my talk into a lovely interactive discussion, the kind of thing you can’t get from reading an article. It’s difficult to judge when you’re the person actually giving the talk, but I think it went well. Then after I was done, another guy talked about Spoken Word poetry (very cool talk!), and then another librarian talked about Teen Urban Lit.

Not a bad way to spend two days. I learned my lesson about Hot Yoga, I spread the good news about Urban Lit, and I got to explore Kansas City—not as much as I would have liked, of course, but that’s okay: I’ll be back there before too long. This same bunch of librarians wants to know about Graphic Novels. Guess who’s up for the job?

It Takes Twos to Tango

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At work the other day, the internet came crashing down.

The internet on the public machines continued to function—thank goodness, or the patrons would have rioted—but for the staff, nothing was working. Apparently the air conditioner had somehow broken in the server room (though not in the main library; patrons and staff would have rioted), and so we had no access to email, to our files, or to the internet.

For a brief while, perhaps thirty or forty seconds, we took this as a godsend: “Can’t do any work! Whee!”

But the true implications slowly dawned on us: There was no internet. No… internet. It was like being in the Middle Ages. No—the Dark Ages.

No: It was like being in Prehistory. By the time two minutes of no internet had elapsed, our fragile constructions of civility had collapsed. Our primal selves reasserted themselves. I found myself jonesing to slay a mammoth.

Chaos and anarchy ensued. Grunting and crude gesticulations replaced human language. We did not actually resort to cannibalism, but only because we were still fat off the riches from those glorious days of internet access, lo those four minutes prior.

With no mammoths in sight (I should have checked the public computers; you never know what you’ll find), I began cycling through the classic signs of severe anxiety. My right foot tapped continuously. My left eye developed a serious twitch. My teeth ground against each other, till I had the good sense to gnaw on…

…to gnaw on…

“What’s this?” I grunted/gesticulated to Asserty. It was a long, slender, hard object, perhaps the length of my hand, but not even as big around as my pinkie.

The following conversation really did happen:

 

Asserty: Dunno, but I have one on my desk, too.

Jessica [gnawing]: Maybe it’s for chewing on.

Asserty: Yeah, this little bit at the end here looks… looks almost rubbery, like bubble gum, maybe.

Jessica: You mean this white nub here?

Asserty: Huh… it’s pink on mine. But yeah.

Jessica: [Chews on rubbery white nub. Grimaces.] No. Not for chewing on. [Spits out the object.] Say!

Asserty: What!

Jessica: This… doohickey thingy, it made some kind of mark on the paper!

Asserty: [Rolls her doohickey thingy against a piece of paper.] Mine’s not doing it.

Jessica: No, you have to use the dark pointy end.

Asserty: …Oh! Hey, neat!

Jessica: You can scribble things in the margins!

Asserty: And draw pictures!

Jessica: And… oh, wow, this is awesome, look at this.

Asserty: What?

Jessica: It’s like… it’s like I’m typing.

Asserty: But… but there’s something weird with your font.

Jessica: How do you mean?

Asserty: I mean at a glance it all looks like the same font, but each individual character is a little bit different.

Jessica: Oh. So it’s like typing, but not quite as good. Too bad.

Asserty: You could still use it the same way, though. You could still create words and sentences and things.

Jessica: But then how would I email it to people?

Asserty: Hrm… You could… You could make photocopies, and then distribute them to everyone.

Jessica: This thing is really neat. I can’t believe I never noticed it before.

Asserty: Me neither. I mean, I’ve used one before, but only to tie up my hair. It can do so much more!

Jessica: I wonder what it’s called?

Asserty: Mine says… Two.

Jessica: Mine says No-dot-two.

Asserty: Twos, then. These things are called Twos.

Jessica: I still want to know what the rubbery bit at the end is for.

Asserty: Yeah… oh, wow, look!

Jessica: What?

Asserty: Rub it against some of the words you typed with the dark pointy part.

Jessica: …Oh!

Asserty: It’s like a delete key!

 

At this point the internet came back on, so we both abandoned our twos, but I’m still keeping mine at the desk as a curiosity. And I still want to hunt for mammoth.