Sunday, January 27, 2019

Netflix and take notes.

I had every intention of getting a ton of stuff done this weekend. But this past week turned out to be pretty wrenching for me emotionally. (Fun Fact: Growing up with a bully, and then having to deal with a succession of narcissists and sociopaths later in life, can give a person Chronic PTSD. And watching a bully hold 800,000 federal employees hostage financially for no good reason, and apparently with no remorse, can be a trigger for that person, especially when it happens close to the first anniversary of resolving a similarly pointless financial hostage situation with her original bully.)

Anyway, I ended up tossing most of my original plans for the weekend and giving myself a day off. Yesterday, I stayed in my jammies, knitted, and watched a bunch of episodes of one of the Great Courses.

Stolen from their website. I hope they don't come after me.
Some of y'all may remember when I groused on Facebook a few weeks back that this company appeared to be stalking me. First I received their full-color catalog in the mail, and then, without ever searching for their website, I started seeing their ads on Facebook. They weren't really stalking me, of course; I suspect they're just really good at targeting their potential customer base. Anyway, they were running a deal on a bunch of courses for $35 each. So I bought several to try them out.

These are college-level courses, and the production is about as low-tech as you would expect from a college course: Mostly it's the professor lecturing, with some maps and photos. The episodes are about a half-hour long apiece -- not quite long enough to start nodding off, unless you're very tired on a Friday night and you watch a bunch of them back-to-back (don't ask me how I know).

One of the courses I purchased is called The Celtic World. I decided to try that one first, as I already knew a bit about the subject and figured it would be a good test to see whether I was wasting my money. Not to worry. The professor -- Jennifer Paxton from Catholic University -- was engaging and knew her stuff. I never felt like arguing with her. Well, maybe once or twice: I would have liked more information on the Celtic pantheon (of course!) and a little more technical information about the ornamentation in Celtic music. (Fun Fact: Ornamentation -- all those extra little notes -- were added by bagpipers first. Most wind instruments are played by the musician blowing directly into the instrument; the musician differentiates notes of the same tone by using the lips and tongue to stop the airflow. But a bagpipe has to keep the airflow moving for the drone -- that sustained note that runs under the whole song -- so bagpipers had to come up with another way to separate the notes in the melody from one another. They hit upon adding in grace notes, and the practice became more elaborate over time. Because that sounded cool, other melody instruments, like the fiddle and harp, added them to their repertoire. Another Fun Fact: Those extra notes aren't written in the sheet music. You're just supposed to feel where to put them in, which isn't a hell of a lot of help when you're first learning to play Irish music. I never got the hang of it.)

But for a survey course that covered a ton of material, from the ancient La Tene and Hallstadt civilizations to Riverdance, it was fine.

My initial impression, after this first course, is that the Great Courses are college-level introductory classes you can take for the fun of it -- no tests or homework. If you're the sort of person who used to look through your college catalog and drool over the classes you couldn't fit into your schedule, it's something to keep in mind.

These moments of educational blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Tidying up, or: The simple living backlash.

Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center, Philadelphia
Copyright 2018 Lynne Cantwell
This past week, much was made on social media of advice supposedly given by Marie Kondo. Kondo, who is Japanese, has been described as a decluttering guru. She has made a career out of helping people get rid of their excess stuff. She now has a reality show on Netflix in which, I'm told, she visits couples who need to make their living space more livable and makes suggestions on how they could do it. She brings a Shinto aesthetic to the process, thanking the house for providing shelter and thanking each individual thing for its service to the household. And then, she says, if you hold the thing and it doesn't spark joy in you, out it should go, to someone in whom it would spark joy.

The thing that set people off was a comment about her view of books. She says she has gone through her collection and now keeps just 30 books. Total. She says that feels like the right number to her.

To which the booklovers of America collectively retorted, "You'll get my books when you pry them out of my cold, dead hands." 

Well, words to that effect, anyway.

I saw someone on Twitter sniff that Americans' criticism of Kondo stems from racism. I don't agree. I do think she comes from a culture where living spaces are smaller and where extremely spare decorating schemes seem to be the ideal. In the Indie Wire interview that I linked to above, Kondo admits that. And she also says her book-collecting advice is practical in Japan, where the humid climate rapidly damages books. There, if you're not going to read a book, it's better for the book to be passed along.

Also in that interview, she says, "The question you should be asking is what do you think about books. If the image of someone getting rid of books or having only a few books makes you angry, that should tell you how passionate you are about books, what’s clearly so important in your life." And if you're that passionate about books, and you have the room, then by all means, keep as many as you want. In other words, when you're decluttering, keep only things that are meaningful to you.

That's advice that's not specific to any culture. I first heard it twenty years ago in a book called Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. Their idea was to pare your living expenses to essentials while building up your savings and investments, with the aim of retiring early. Paring your expenses necessarily means bowing out of most of the consumer culture that's so prevalent in the West. Besides, the more stuff you own, the more time you have to spend cleaning and maintaining it. Pretty soon, your stuff owns you.

I was active in the simple living movement for several years, but gradually drifted away. It got harder and harder to keep a lid on my expenses; something always seemed to throw a monkey wrench into my plans to save. These days, I know it was partly because while prices have kept going up, wages have been stagnant in this country for the past four decades -- basically my entire working life. 

Anyway, my point is that Ms. Kondo is simply the face of the newest iteration of a philosophy of living that has been around for a long, long time. It's not a bad idea to consider, every now and then, whether you own your stuff, or whether your stuff owns you. 

And feel free to own as many books as you like. I do.

These moments of sparsely-furnished blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

We have #Snurlough.

I was skeptical last week when the weather forecasters started rumbling about snow in the forecast for DC -- and with good reason. In the almost 30 years since we moved here, I can't tell you how many times big snowstorms have been predicted for the region, but very few of them have amounted to anything. The immediate DC area seems to sit in a snow hole -- often areas around us will get measurable snow, particularly to the north and west, but where I live, we'll get skunked. And I expected this storm to follow suit.

I was wrong. 

It began snowing here yesterday around three in the afternoon. It's still snowing.

I went out around three o'clock this afternoon to see how much we had. My ruler showed about 5 1/2 inches of snow in the courtyard of our apartment building -- a long, narrow space that's fairly sheltered. So I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that Reagan National Airport, which is a couple of miles from us and is the official weather reporting station for Washington, DC, had more. A fair amount more.

As of 7:50pm, the airport had 9.8 inches of snow. 

Have I mentioned that it's still snowing? If we don't get at least 10 inches out of this storm, I'll be very disappointed.

I know 10 inches seems like chump change for a lot of folks, but Washington prides itself on acting like a Southern city when it comes to stuff like this -- which is to say we don't have the kind of snow-removal equipment a city farther north would have. Plus we don't get decent-sized snows that often, so people here aren't used to dealing with it. I saw a comment from somebody this afternoon who was kind of laughing at their condo maintenance crew for shoveling sidewalks earlier today. The commenters' reasoning? They'll just have to do it again after the snow stops. Someone sane then pointed out that it's easier to move six inches of snow twice than to move a foot of snow all at once. I thought about mentioning that shoveling multiple times for a single storm is standard operating procedure in a lot of places, like in northern Indiana, where I grew up. But I decided it would be pointless, as it likely wouldn't make a dent.

The big question now is what will be open tomorrow. Every school system in the area, I believe, has already thrown in the towel. My daughter Amy works for a nonprofit whose snow closing policy follows what the federal government decides to do -- but as you may have heard, the federal government is in the midst of a shutdown and a lot of federal employees are furloughed anyway. (Hence the unofficial name for this storm: Snurlough, a contraction of snow and furlough.) Now all those employers are going to have to decide what to do on their own. Amy's employer didn't wait; they've already announced they'll be closed tomorrow.

I expect whether my day job closes will depend on whether public transit is running. Right now, Metro says the subway will be operational but there won't be any buses in my neighborhood. I guess I could slog a mile on an unshoveled path to get to my closest subway station. And then sit in wet clothes all day at work. And do it all again at the end of the day. Gee, that sounds like fun.

Here's hoping I get a Snurlough...

These moments of snowy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Grown women aren't girls.

Copyright dimaberkut |
Few things get me worked up quicker than hearing a man call a woman a "girl."

I even wrote about it in Mom's House. On this occasion, my brother was mad at both my mother and me because of something that had happened earlier in the day. He felt the need to retake control of the situation, so first he needled Mom about her clutter, and then he declared we were going to the grocery store to get boxes in order to pack up some of her stuff:
So we all rode in Lar’s car to Al’s at Karwick Plaza. “You girls stay in the car,” he said. “I’ll go in and ask.”
I bristled. “I know you didn’t mean that,” I said warningly. He pretty much ignored me.
Later, Mom asked me why I was upset about Lar calling us “girls.” “We’re girls, aren’t we?” she asked. I just stared at her, speechless. How to explain thirty years of women’s liberation to an eighty-seven-year-old woman? 
I know there are women who, like my mom, don't see a problem with grown women being called girls. But trust me when I say that in this instance, my brother was not using an endearment. He was emphasizing that because he was the man, he was therefore in control -- something we had no business trying to be.

I bring this up because this has been an extraordinary week for the U.S. Congress. For the first time ever, 102 out of 438 members of the House of Representatives -- nearly a quarter of the membership -- are women. Eighty-nine of these women are Democrats; of those, 35 were elected just this year. They are diverse. Two are Muslim; two are Native American. And one is under the age of 30: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Perhaps you've heard of Ocasio-Cortez. She stunned politicos last spring by staging a primary upset, upending the career of a Democrat who was rumored to be in line to become Speaker of the House. Then she went on to win her seat in Congress. She gets a lot of criticism from the right, and when it happens, she claps back hard. She's more than capable of handling her trolls herself. But I saw red on her behalf when I heard today that GOP strategist Ed Rollins had called her a "little girl" with a mouth on her.

Rollins is 75 years old. He has had a long career in national politics dating back to the Reagan administration. In short, he is just the sort of old, white guy who would see a young, smart, popular woman as a threat. And it's clear that in this instance, he did not use "little girl" as a term of endearment.

Ocasio-Cortez wasted no time in responding. She tweeted, "If anything, this dude is a walking argument to tax misogyny at 100%" and followed it with a winking emoji. I'm glad she can laugh it off, but I'm tired of making excuses for men who are old enough to remember Women's Liberation but would rather ignore it.

Stop with the misogyny already. Grown women aren't girls. Knock it off.


These moments of furious blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.