Bargaining with Calligraphy

A page from Queen Victoria's journalsI have been attempting to learn calligraphy.

You might be wondering why I decided I needed another hobby. Or possibly that was me.

Of course, I would simply tell myself that “this isn’t really a hobby, it’s just for this one thing.” And then, I would tell myself that for some reason, I’ve decided to share my internal dialog with you.

Probably, since you are not me, I need to add a few brushstrokes.

You might recall that new project I started in January? The peculiar museum known as “The SHUSH?”  Well, it’s still going on. I know, I’m as surprised as you are.

Anyway, as part of that project of dubious exhibits, I have been working on calligraphy. No, I’m not going to be specific, you’ll just have to wait and see like everyone else. Suffice it to say that, I have a tendency to go to weirdly absurd lengths to produce results that a) no one other than me will notice, and b) will only hold the viewer’s attention for about 90 seconds.

To illustrate what I mean by “absurd,” here’s a run-down of tasks I have undertaken to produce a document that will likely be fewer than five hand-written pages:

  1. Bought four basic calligraphy pens, the kind with small ink capsules, with assorted nibs, in multiple colors (I will need two colors of ink for this project).
  2. Bought a pad of calligraphy guide paper.
  3. Bought parchment paper to use for the eventual end product.
  4. Bought a book on basics of calligraphy.
  5. Learned that for some reason I’ve not yet fathomed, I am only capable of getting an ink cartridge to work for about two lines of practice text, and then all I’m doing is scratching the practice paper up and bending several nibs out of wack.
  6. Spent hours trying to make the out of wack nibs work.
  7. Decided that I was NOT going to buy any more nibs if they weren’t going to last longer than this, and decided to go find some of the marker sort of calligraphy pens.  Buy a set of four.
  8. Get home and realize the tips on the set of four are *way* wider than I want, and that to write one sentence with these honking big tipped pens, I’d need 10 pages of parchment.
  9. Went to a different store to find smaller tipped marker style pens, and bought four more pens plus a fountain pen that had a reservoir built into it that was not refillable, in case none of the marker-types were going to work.
  10. Could not find parchment paper I bought months ago, and bought more.
  11. Started working with the new collection of tools, to disappointing results that look no different than if I had used a normal ball point pen, no matter how much I tried.
  12. Looked at actual examples of letters between persons of the Victorian era (including Victoria’s own handwriting) (that’s the only hint you’ll get from me) and realized that, for the most part, the handwriting is pretty much like my normal cursive hand, and even if written with a quill, could pretty much be produced with any pen and no one would be the wiser. Except me. And, let’s face it, I’ve already thought about this far too much.
  13. Covered my fingers in ink blotches, and tried to figure out how the accursed pens can get ink all over my fingers, the pen grip and the barrel, but leave no trail of ink from the tip of the pen nor on the piece of paper.

I can only say that when I finally do get this thing completed, I hope you have forgotten all of this, and you look at the finished result and think, “That is surely a handwritten letter from the late 19th century! How remarkable it is to have survived until today!” If you don’t think that, could you at least have the decency not to mention it to me? Thanks.

Will I Be Forced to Surrender My Geek Card?

Official Geek Card
I am taking this week off from my normal day job, and in my mind, I had imagined that I would spend the week writing, and emerge with many pages of finished work, and feel like I’d accomplished something with that time. I’m even house sitting, and I imagined that getting myself away from my house would actually force myself to work.

That was before I learned that my hosts had Netflix.

I am doomed.

You might recall I am quite fond of television, and I have not seen a single one of the shows produced exclusively for the streaming content provider. Sure, I’m connected to their DVD service, but, they don’t put their exclusive content onto DVDs. That means I’ve had to live without seeing the Gilmore Girls’ revival, and all that Marvel content that those in geekly circles have been raving about. I’ve been hearing talk that I might be required to return my geek card to whatever authority issues these things. I don’t acknowledge anyone as the Arbiter of All Things Geek, so, mostly it’s a way to disguise my own insecurities. Who am I kidding? I’m not anxious about my geek cred. I’m just jealous.

And here I am, presented with free time and access.

If I were disciplined enough to get things done *WITHOUT* the distraction of Netflix, I don’t really have much of a chance against this temptation.

And yet, as I type that out, I cringe at surrendering.

I can fight against my weakness. I can make it a story about how, against all temptations, I succeeded in conquering the insidious power of Netflix and their sneaky play the next episode in 5…4…3…2…1. Dangit.

It’s not easy. And they know that. It’s so easy to just let the episodes roll on and on in a continuous river of plots and characters and shiny things. Maybe I can use it as a carrot, to reward success and encourage me to turn it off after a single episode.

Anything is possible.

In my youth, I was much better at impulse control, and certainly, those that know me will say that I’m still pretty good about it in many respects. At least, I think they will. So long as my checks clear. But, they also know my Kryptonite, and might not be willing to take a bet on this either way, no matter how many zeros I add to the checks. Which is probably for the best, as it will only take one more zero before they all bounce.

I guess the one bright spot is that I’m more addicted to sleep than I am to binge watching, so, I know I will turn it off so I can get a good night’s rest, maybe, I can just tell myself that I really need a nap, and then trick myself into staying awake. I’ll let you know if it works, but, in the meantime, I need a nap.

When Your House is More Famous Than You

My hail damaged house

If you live in Denver, you know that on Monday, May 8, we got an epic hailstorm with stones up to baseball size. It came late in the afternoon. I was at work, which got little more than heavy rain. As I had also not gotten a text message from the dog, I figured things were probably fine at home.

When I got halfway home I started to see signs that perhaps I should possibly revise my optimistic estimation. It might’ve been the piles of hailstones heaped like snowbanks along the side of the road, or the leaf covered vehicles that resembled mobile hedges.

As I got to my neighborhood, I caught a glimpse of my house through the rear view mirror, and saw lots of dark spots on the front of the house. The fog of optimism convinced me they were clumps of damp leaves from the plum tree. I continued toward the library to discover a lake where the road used to be. I avoided the lake, and started seeing additional evidence of an extended neighborhood-wide machine gun battle, and I again adjusted my aggressively crumbling wall of denial into a nice river of panic.

I skipped the library and went home.

The “black spots” on my house turned out to be my insulation peeking out from the nice new holes punched into my house’s crunchy exterior. The shutters were shattered and lying in bits. The flower box had fallen into a bush. The screens looked like ragged curtains. One window was broken. It looked like a bomb had gone off. My neighbor and her family were out in the yard staring at the carnage.

Our house was the one that drew everyone’s gaze. While the neighbors ostensibly assessed their own damage, they cast surreptitious glances at our house of horror, and pretended they weren’t staring.

In fact, one of these schadenfreude suggested we were already set for Halloween. I wondered if she read my column.

Every car that passes comes to a dead stop as they encounter our house on the corner. Faces mouth OMG (except they don’t use the initials) and some unabashedly whip out their cell phones to capture the dramatic storm aftermath. Within hours, pictures of my house were on the news, via Twitter and as part of the lead storm story.

As far as the lookie-loos were concerned as they snapped pictures of the house which caused their eyes to bug out and their jaws to drop, there was only this blasted house – they did not register the people standing outside it getting the mail or stapling plastic over the shattered windows.

Friends from all over sent email and Facebook messages telling me that my house was on the news. It was the picture with the headline on the front page of the 9news website for all of Tuesday.

And the worst part is that the house KNOWS it is the poster child of the disaster, and this information is going straight to its attic.

It’s started to realize that it is much more famous than me, its image having been retweeted many more times than any tweet I’ve ever made.  It’s even taking credit for KTCL’s storm meme with a house that *looks* like it.

A few days ago, we got a flyer from a siding and roofing company (not hired by us in any capacity), that had a picture of my house as half the advertisement. The flyer was not mailed to me, but was put in my mailbox. The house decided that meant it was now too popular to put up with me as a resident. It demanded that I improve my social media standing, or get out immediately. In exiting, it wants me to somehow guarantee that the next inhabitant be someone who has more than 75 twitter followers, and who is worthy of the house’s fame.

I really don’t need another source of anxiety, so I’m blocking that ungrateful structure from my social media feeds. Watch me pick new siding that makes it look fat.

Suburban Stone Circle

A collection of stones in a circleWhen I’m not preventing the dog from finding truffles and fights, or assessing the historical implications of various structures in the neighborhood, I take in the scenery. My neighborhood is filled with unexpected and unusual yard decorations.

Take the fascinating rock garden of one house I pass often. It’s a miniature henge. In the front yard. The tallest stone is about a foot tall, but I wonder about it every time I pass. I wonder if they built it to transport people to 18th century Scotland. I vaguely entertain the idea of stepping into the circle on a solstice to meet a smoking hot Highlander. Maybe *this* is why the neighborhood just to the south of mine is known as the Highlands.

My luck would be that I’d get there, and the smokin’ hot Scot would pay no attention to me as I am not a smokin’ hot English lady, and then I’d be stuck in a much worse place to be a single woman of a certain age than is 21st century Denver. Even worse than having no flushing toilet and no internet, I’d have zero prospects and would probably starve. If I could survive a few weeks to get to a big city, I suppose I could try to be a teacher or a governess, but my one year of Latin is not going to cut it in the 18th century marketplace, and having practically no French would pretty much kill that notion.  I suppose common sense and basic first aid might get me a nursing job, but that alone is enough to keep me from looking ridiculous passing through the stones of my neighbor’s front yard.

Yeah. Fear of it working. That’s the ridiculous part.

Of course, it just occurred to me that the stones aren’t known to transport a person in time AND space. They aren’t exactly a TARDIS, after all. I’d be in 18th century Colorado, which means I’d be a white woman in a red man’s world. Depending on the time of year, it might be months before I would see a soul. I might have a better shot with a smokin’ hot Native American fellow, if I can manage to survive the fantastic beasts of the Rocky Mountains. Clearly, I need to start carrying a knife with me on walks in case of a sudden urge to time travel.

As I was walking the dog on Friday night, a new item had appeared in the yard. Sadly, it was not a Scot. It was, instead, a “for sale” sign. I’m now worried that the house will go to someone who won’t appreciate the curious ring of rocks in their front yard, and will have them removed. Maybe there’s someone reading this who *NEEDS* their very own stone circle, and would be interested in having it. The house is not large and you’d have to have me as a neighbor, but if you are undeterred, I can get you the details.

Preventing Canine World War

Where were we?

Let’s see. I had shared with you some of the activities I have used to fill the time walking the dog, which included really terrible, useless punchlines, and pastimes of dubious entertainment value.

And, while I shared with you the weakest of my walking writing work, there have been other bits that have found success in other writing, most of which hasn’t been seen by anyone yet. That’s a really cruel bit of teasing there, and I’m sorry about that.

The sadder truth is that I can only devote part of my attention to writing, as the larger share needs to go to the canine, in the event that our path crosses that of other furry mammals. People are fine, but, cats, dogs, squirrels, skunks and raccoons are serious hazards.

This is where I tell you that the adorable little ball of white fur is a gigantic bully.

If she sees a fur creature, she will immediately start barking at it and charge it at full speed, risking dislocation of my shoulder in the process. It matters not if the creature is much bigger than she is, or if they are behaving themselves and offering no challenge, their mere existence is sufficient to merit aggression. My job is to prevent her from noticing them.

First, as much as possible, it’s important to go after sunset.  My walking companion is no longer a puppy, even if there’s no convincing her of this fact, nor would it be evident to an outside observer.  Her eyesight at night has suffered the effects of aging, and I’m not ashamed of taking advantage of this frailty if it means that I have help in keeping myself free of skunk stench. I also tend to choose routes that are in the most dog-free parts of the neighborhood, which means that the scenery is boring, and therefore, largely predictable.

Another weapon in my arsenal of preventing canine conflict is the retractable leash with shoulder harness combo. As soon as I see a potential problem brewing, I begin to shorten her leash, and if possible, perform an emergency re-route. If she’s seen the incoming target, however, re-routing will be nearly impossible, and it’s time to grab her harness, pick her off her feet, and carry her.  This is vaguely reminiscent of holding a large sack of loud, squirmy, scratchy pythons. I try to avoid the nuclear python option as much as possible.

Every night is an adventure in preventing the anarchy of canine fight club while trying to achieve the quest of eliminating biological waste.  It sure sounds better than simply “walking the dog” when you put it this way.

Passing the Passeggiata

As you might recall, I have been lately responsible for the walking of the dog that lives at my house.

Some days, this is a more pleasant task than others. I’ve been trying to make the best of these trips, and over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some of my collected observations of meandering about the neighborhood behind the leash of a tiny white dog.

First, there is a game I like to play called “Architectural Forensics,” which, at the very least, probably sounds nothing like a game at all to most of you, and at the most doesn’t even sound like an amusement of any sort.

For those that chimed in that “it sounds nothing like a game,” you would be correct. It’s nothing like a game. I just call it that for lack of a more efficient noun.

Actually, I lied.

I don’t call it a game in my head, because, until I decided to share it with you, it only existed in my head, and I wasn’t anticipating sharing it with anyone, so, I didn’t call it anything, I just amused myself with it.

This thing I’ve been building up for three paragraphs as a “game,” will never live up to the preceding paragraphs, and once I’ve actually shared with you what it is, you’ll probably roll your eyes and proclaim it not worth wading through the tedious introductory paragraphs. Sorry about that.

Anyway, now that I’ve named it to tell you about it, “architectural forensics” is where I pay careful attention to the buildings in my ‘hood and try to figure out which are the oldest homes. I live in one of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods, officially the city’s first “streetcar suburb,” which means that the oldest homes were built in the late 19th century. I look for the tell-tale signs of chimneys in places that have changed to vinyl siding from wood, or brick houses that hint to a different era from the old Victorians or “Queen Anne revival” numbers. Then there are the ones like my own, that were built in the 1940s as duplexes. Many of those have since been made into single homes (mine is still a duplex). I ponder their histories and wonder who lived in them when they were new.

Now that you’ve all made mental notes to “just say no,” if I ever invite you over for “entertainment,” I will concede that after a few weeks of this and pretty much running out of “new” houses to assess on any of the various routes, this stopped being a way to pass the time.

Instead, I have taken to some composing.

Like, I imagine encountering someone who thinks I’ve allowed the dog to eliminate her solid waste matter without cleaning up after her, and then I indignantly wave the collection bag at them and say “This isn’t a bag of Hershey’s miniatures!”

I’ve worked on perfecting this for longer than I’d care to admit, and naturally, this line has never been used. It started out as “cracker jack,” but that didn’t last long, opting for the more juvenile implications of chocolate colored candies.

This “composing” time has not been wasted, as now I’ve shared it with you. You might not be thanking me.

Tune in next week for another glimpse into my “Walking World.”

Oh, and hey…
Remember that thing I was starting in January? It’s still going on. You can catch-up with it here: SHUSH Museum.

A Time for Reflection and Vampire Slayers

Torreance High School, or, Sunnydale High School, home of the Hellmouth.
A long time ago, in a galaxy that remarkably looks like this one, there was a high school kid who liked exactly one television show. She thought that television in general was a colossal waste of time, and was sure that anyone who proclaimed their love of television was simply a victim of those aliens that dine on mushy brains.

She went to college, and in those days, she got an idea that she wanted to write for that show, and even had managed to get an internship with one of the writers on that show in L.A., and had to turn it down, for various mundane reasons relating to money, and logistics, and no she’s not really bitter about that, except when she thinks about it, and she entertains notions that she would’ve been working in the industry in time for the television show that completely changed her mind about the brain rotting power of the medium.

That television show premiered 20 years ago Friday.

At about this point, you probably have figured out that this “she” is me, right? I knew I couldn’t fool you all.

For those that are not me, and don’t remember the dates that TV shows premiered, that show is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I know.

Ridiculous name. Made from a movie that I had, to my great surprise, liked. In my snooty “television is worthless drivel” mindset, I deemed the entire premise incapable of sustaining a series. I didn’t bother with it when it first premiered, but, eventually, I learned my mistake, and took back all the things I had said about it. I know. I am deeply ashamed. I was very wrong.

I didn’t get all confessional about the origins of my marginally unhealthy relationship with television to convince anyone that the show with the silly name is worth watching.  Instead, I am celebrating the series that turned me into an unrepentant champion of television worth watching.  And, in so doing, I’m revealing to you all another of my deeply geeky traits.

Besides, it’s Lent. Having a moment of reflection is part of the formula. I should assess my relationship to scripted fiction, and think about the horrible things I used to do before I fell under the thrall of television.

More than that, I am sorry for all the insults I once heaped upon those lovers of TV. The things I said were cruel, and might’ve implied that loyal viewers had rotten brains, no standards for quality entertainment and smelled of unfortunate hygiene habits.  I hope you forgive me.

If it’s any consolation, I’m doing my best to offer penance.  There’s this little confession and apology, and, I hope that one day, all this thinking about the larger metaphors of being a superhero and saving the world will make me a better person.  It’s the least I can do.

Celebrating Generosity Day

Antique (Public Domain old) Valentine. Caption reads "To My Valentine"

I am well-known to be averse to VD. I’m sure you are too. In my case, I mean both the health issue and the holiday. If you had missed that quirk of my personality and didn’t click on the link, then this sentence will have to suffice as background for the next few paragraphs.

I had been proud of that piece of poisonous prose, and while I patted myself on the back for my wit and use of indelible imagery, I passed it along to many who were not regular subscribers to this column, thinking that they would be unable to resist signing up for it the minute they read that spectacularly awesome indictment of the holiday of 50 Shades of Red.

I was wrong.

Of the 15-20 people I had shared it with, *ZERO* signed up. More telling to me was that one of them had the courage to tell me her thoughts. She is not one to mince words. She simply said: “It was not worthy of you.”

Inside my head, InsecureFraud38 shouted “See? Everything you write is worthless! You are a fool to try and pretend you are talented enough to impose your barely literate ramblings on an unsuspecting public!

OffendedArtist12 jumped into the onslaught of self-doubt with its twist: How dare she say that horrible things about me and my art! She cannot comprehend the brilliance of my tortured soul!

About this point, InsecureFrauds 1-38 ganged up on OffendedArtist12, and the results were spectacularly horrific. Suffice it to say, there are only 11 these days.

I managed to say something, I probably even thanked her for crushing my soul and unleashing the specters of self-doubt and loathing, but then BrutallyHonest numbers 1-20 told me that she was right. I had taken the easy way out, and relied on the Crutches of Snark and Sarcasm. I could do better. I put in a request that the nicer parts of my psyche go visit with the brutally honest parts, and maybe teach them to be a bit more gentle in their delivery. Then I realized I didn’t really want any more sugar coating, because I really should cut down on my sugar intake.

About that time, I learned about “Generosity Day.” It was a way to reclaim the day of commercialized love with all its superficiality and fill it authenticity and kindness. Something not confined to couples, and lacking the burden of obligation.

Perhaps, just by sharing this idea with you, I’m losing my “street cred,” but, BrutallyHonest4 tells me I never really had any in the first place. Maybe, I’m simply getting weak in my advancing age. Or perhaps I’m just remembering the gift of honesty from a friend that I got last Generosity Day.

Meeting the Demands of the Super Bowl

After weeks of anticipation and painstaking preparation, the most holy day of the US calendar is finally upon us.  Countless avocados have been mashed to a cheery green pulp, numerous buffalo have sacrificed their wings, and scores of bowls have been filled with highly salted carbohydrates.

The faithful take their places on comfy couches and squashy armchairs, arranged around the warm glow of the television to watch grown men crash into each other and fall down.  The less faithful anticipate the stream of talking babies, horses with large feet, and shiny automobile antics.

For those whose sole reason for watching the Bowl known as Super is the advertising, disappointment has become the regular feature. How can the gift of a clever advertisement be enjoyed if it’s been previewed on the morning news media weeks before the big day? This is like opening your Christmas presents on Thanksgiving. By the time you get to Christmas, all the paint has dulled under thousands of greasy fingerprints, and the initial delight has been replaced by a “seen-it-all cynicism.” There’s no longer anything special about it at all.

It’s sad that companies have lost the true meaning of the holiday. The one day when people watch a show live and don’t fast-forward through the commercials, and they take it all away from us. Why should we bother paying attention on the breaks if they’re only going to be running commercials we’ve all seen before? There’s simply no respect for the audience.

And despite the increasing disdain for their viewers, they still expect us to eat the required allotment of junk food. I have learned that the USDA has proclaimed that their normal dietary guidelines are suspended for this day*, and in their place, there is a strict, enforceable, snack food intake requirement. This is to insure that the purveyors of all things crunchy and of dubious nutritional value sell enough to put the industry into the black for the year.

Each person must eat a minimum of three servings from the fried food group, two from the salty group, five from the heavily seasoned, bite-sized meat group, three from the sugary and sticky group, four from the fermented and carbonated beverage group, and six from the dip group. I’ve had to pay expensive fines for not complying with the requirements, and this year I’m taking no chances. Now, not only am I going to be feeling exceptionally queasy on game day, I’m going to be eating leftover chips for months.

*This is not actually true, even if all the components of common party recipes mysteriously go on sale the week before the game, as do sugary beverages and macrobrew beers. The nation’s strategic snack reserve is perilously low around the first weeks of February, and, I’m certain it puts us in considerable danger on the world snack stage.

The Value of Fuzzy Photographs

A very blurry photo of a child(?) and a tree(?) indoors My parents were not good photographers. I say this with all the love and respect my entire being can manifest. But all that love and respect cannot change the fact that they have an exceptional chance of winning awards for excessively challenged photo taking skills.

As a child, I was innocently unaware of these simple truths. I figured it was more of a factor of the one camera we had in the house, which probably was considered an antique before I was born. It resembled Fred Flintstone’s model, and I suspect our failure to feed the chisel-wielding bird inside contributed to the poor quality of the images produced.

For you youngsters out there, cameras used to require carefully rolled containers of light-sensitive cellulose known as “film” to capture an image. The mechanical nature of a roll of film itself led to handfuls of photo horrors. If you didn’t advance the roll correctly, you got a handful of pictures where the image inhabitants are calmly ignorant of the black hole hovering just inches away from them, soon to consume not only their physical bodies but probably also their souls.

Another photographic technique favored by my thrifty father, was to make sure to use both sides of the roll of film. These pictures embraced a certain flavor of absurdist avant garde, giving my baby sister the body of a cat, while she explored a living room jungle, complete with sofa waterfall and hanging lamp flowers, while the upside-down floating birthday cake hovered over the waterfall like curious moon.

The creepiest samples are the ones where something in the image was moving, or perhaps the picture taker moved the camera, resulting in ghostly heads appearing above more solid, but still fuzzy heads. And does that blobby thing(?) person(?) have two extra arms? Or are those tentacles?

As antiquated as the photo equipment in the house was, it seems unfair to blame it for loping off the heads of three of the 4 people in the picture or adding random, gigantic fuzzy digits onto the margins of every frame. Probably, it’s also unfair to blame it for filling three-quarters of an image with a spectacular lens flair.

There are times when I lament the headless and fuzzy photos created by the only Polarock camera to survive the Stone Age, and then I also realize how only two generations before, you could count the total number of photos of the entire family on fewer than five hands. And a generation before that, a single hand might do the trick.

These were taken in an age where you couldn’t instantly see the picture you’d just snapped. Each click was carefully considered, and deemed worthy of preservation. Every time the button was pressed, it was one more segment of precious film gone, with no certainty that it would come out at all. Thinking about it that way, all these photos, even the fuzzy ones, become priceless treasures.