Archive for March, 2012

Endless Black Holes on the Intarwebs….

March 28, 2012 2 comments

Time spent on the internet is even more nebulous than the hours that evaporate in the midst of a hectic work day. I’m sure many of of you have experienced that strange time warp of a crazy day in the office (restaurant, store, etc) where you’ve just walked in the door at 8.30, and the next chance you have to look at the clock, it’s noon. The almost universal response to this is “WTF happened to today?” (The nuances of this expression range from utter delight at the massive amounts of work you’ve gotten done, to gut-wrenching despair because all you’ve done is put out fires and you haven’t even STARTED your t0-do list. I won’t interject my commentary here, but let you idle in your preferred reaction for a moment or three.)

Done? Ok. Awesome, back to what we were talking about.

Way back in the day, one of my favorite ways to kill time (and oh my god did I slay that m-fer every time it stared at me and whined it was bored) was to while away the hours on a message board. It was an awesome time suck that took me away from reality and gave me a place to indulge in the conversations some of my “normal” friends just couldn’t get in to. (For you geeks out there, I challenge you to explain D&D in a way that doesn’t make you sound like you and the rest of your party are somewhat schizophrenic and crazy. For a bonus thrill, explain the mechanics without their eyes glazing over.  The “normals” don’t get it, and most aren’t willing to give it a try – but that’s a story for another blog post.) On this message board, I could play in the writing forum, game in PbP RPG’s, chat, flirt, banter, have (mostly) civil debates over controversial topics and compete creatively with Photoshop or in “house” competitions. It was fun, intellectually stimulating to varying degrees and it was an escape.

Since the board disbanded, I haven’t actively sought out a replacement time suck. I did get lost in Facebook for a while, but school has helped me cut back on and almost kill that addiction. It did, however, introduce Google Earth into the equation, which is another black hole. I have to use it for school, so when I pull it up, it’s for legitimate use. The Panoramio pictures are my undoing, though. Many a time, I’ve started in one hemisphere and after doing the research I was supposed to do, have found myself in another hemisphere 180 degrees from where I started simply because I followed the trail of captivating photos. It’s a problem I’m working on… But back to the “free time” addictions. When I do take time to peek in on Facebook to see what’s going down, inevitably, I run across posts from Pinterest. I am convinced that this is the newest incarnation of evil and for that reason, I refuse to even attempt to sign up for an account.

Lemme ‘splain.

This site allows you and the billions of other compulsive collectors to “pin” things to various boards so you can clutter up your digital space instead of your home space. Yay for going green! ….but knowing my habits, my head aches just considering having another place to collect things in exchange for hours and hours spent wandering and pinning.

There are a great many people who disagree, I’m sure. I can point to a half a dozen or more Facebook posts a week praising the miracle of Pinterest recipes, craft ideas or kid projects. There’s always someone pinning something visually intriguing or stimulating. Even my boss is forever whipping out her iPad to say “Look what I did last night/this weekend – I found it on Pinterest.” It’s a groovy place to be, and I get that. My problem is that I’d have a problem with it – I do, actually, and I don’t even HAVE an account. This weekend, for example, I popped in to Facebook to see what the rest of the world was doing while I was working, only to find a cool picture of a manicure someone had pinned to their board. Intrigued, I clicked on it for a closer look, only to find fifty other images…and then I realized that several were attributed to one particular blogger…and that blogger blogged a LOT about a particular boutique nail polish manufacturer….which lead to some intensive googling to track this elusive persona down various dead end paths which all lead to a Blogger account I couldn’t view….Q&A forums to find dealers, more information…trudging through eBay with my wallet well over my head and prohibitively sealed….digging to find a distributor who carried it, but only in small batches….discovering the dealer was out because the manufacturer was in such high demand that she was on backorder…to find a dozen other pictures I really, REALLY want to try….and ending back up on Facebook to find out when they’d be available again.

Do you see what I mean about evil?

When I took of my glasses to rub my burning eyes (which are in need of a new Rx, not to mention the fact that they probably hadn’t blinked once through the whole foray), I realized I’d lost almost two hours. Two freaking hours because of one thumbnail of a thumb nail!

Head, meet desk. Rise. Repeat.

Meanwhile, I have work and homework in addition to writing, editing and finding time to do all the other crap we grown ups seem to be obligated to do no matter how much we protest.

As much as I can appreciate and even find creative succor after falling into a wiki-hole, Pinterest is an insidious form of this kind of evil that even I am giving a wide berth. It is not for me. No way. Now, stop posting all your interesting pins to Facebook so I can stick to my convictions, damnit! 😉

Indulgence (or Taking the Time to Sniff the Bubble Bars)

Life is too damned short and there’s way too much to cram in the confines of 24 hours. We run around and stress ourselves out and for what? What is so important? Is it really going to matter in the long run?

Granted, there is a reason and yes, sometimes it does matter in the long run when you trace your actions using the butterfly effect theory. Each decision is a step in some direction, and even indecision is an action. Slacking at work can lead to lackluster performance which can lead to missing opportunities for promotion, but let’s be real…will you get the same promotion if you’re so stressed out that you can’t function? Not likely. They’ll take one look at your shiny, bug-eyed face with the scary lupine grin and they’ll pass faster than a state trooper on the highway.

I have come to realize that taking time to do the things that make you feel good, that allow you to recharge your batteries is not only the right thing to do, it’s a requirement. I deserve a break from my personally created hamster wheel to recharge. My current indulgence is my introduction to Lush.

We really should wait for the aficionados to return from their lavishly scented day dreams, but it could take them a while, so for those of you not familiar, we’ll continue and let them catch up.

I won’t extol the virtues of the company because being an informed consumer, you can do all that nifty research yourself and make your own decision. What I will do is tell you that I have incorporated them into my weekly routine – a long, hot scented, silky bath, usually rounded out with a book and a beverage of some sort. I love the bath bombs like Phoenix Rising, and the bubble bars like The Comforter. There’s a heady luxury in Temple of Truth and bliss in Yuzu and Cocoa. This is the kind of bath you sink into and just laze around in until you’re pruny and the water starts to feel somewhat chilled. The often brilliantly colored, scented water erases the trials of the week and the scent lingers with you long after the bath is over.

As healing and restorative as these are, there is a draw back – if you’re a stress monkey to begin with, by the time you’re out, sleep is pretty much inevitable. There have been many a Sunday “ruined” by the narcolepsy that overtook me after such a bath where comfort was simply inevitable and, when added to such deep relaxation, it meant sleep. The value of these moments is that there’s nothing in the world that can replace them. No amount of task completion, or progress is going to be this fulfilling, and without these moments, I’m less likely to achieve task completion or progression any way. Everyone needs to find that moment of indulgence in their week, no matter what it is. Everyone needs to recharge their batteries. Our batteries are permanent – while you can recharge them, you really can’t replace them. Take care of them so they can take you through the rest of your beloved chaos.

Something Like a Review – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

This is another book that I seemed to trip over everywhere I went on the internet. And another one I was hesitant to pick up because it seemed to be so popular. What swayed it for me was the fact that this book seemed to polarize people. They either extolled its virtues from the highest hills, or they raged against the fame it garnered since it was “obviously” not one of Green’s best. I like controversy – it makes me want to know which side is right. After a moment of digging, I realized I had available credits on audible, so I dropped it in my cart just to see why it was being pimped all over the web and what all the hubbub was about.

The most tired cliché when it comes to entertainment media is the old “I laughed, I cried…” and it’s usually a load of crap. For that reason, I won’t use it. There were moments when I was driving and listening to this novel where I snorted my coffee (which is both more unpleasant and more inconvenient when you’re driving) in the middle of some of the funniest, driest lines I’ve heard from a story. In contrast, there were moments when my throat shrunk to a pinhole and my eyes teared up and spilled over rather profusely. I didn’t cry, exactly. I sobbed. Hard.

This is a story about two teenagers and cancer and love, but it’s not really a romance. It’s a love story, but something more like an anti-romance. Hazel Grace (Lancaster) and Augustus Waters are a charming, quirky, star-crossed pair from the beginning, but taking every advantage of their time together because they already understand that time is a precious commodity. From the beginning, I was enchanted by Hazel, the main character and narrator of the story. She’s a “cancer kid,” and while her disease plays a prominent role in the story, it’s not the primary focus and while it imposes borders on her activities, it does not limit her. Augustus’s voice and personality were snappy, witty, addictive and I missed him when the story was over.

This is an unabashed look at illness and their struggles against cancer, the reality of their shortened lives, but Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters and all the other “cancer kids” they meet retain their humanity and their identity as people, not letting them become a disease. It becomes a story of living, not just living with cancer.

This is, I am quite happy to say, unlikely to be the next teen sensation. While it’s classified as “young adult,” I think adults are going to have a more poignant experience with this story. It’s not material beyond a young adult, nor is it unattractive to the age group. My personal opinion is that the older crowd is going to have a more profound emotional reaction to the reality of the story than a teenager will. An adult understands mortality and the horrors of cancer on an entirely different level than the average teenager. There’s more here to resonate with an adult experience than with the scope of a teenager’s world.

Without giving too much away, given one of the major elements of the story, a book called An Imperial Affliction, I wanted to rush through to the end of the story to make sure it wouldn’t end in the middle of a sentence. **Two notes, here: 1.) this is a major drawback of the audiobook – no sneaky-peek at the end. (Boo-HISS!) and 2.) An Imperial Affliction is an actual book title, but it is not the book referenced in this novel. Color me disappointed.

One of my concerns about this book becoming a “timeless” classic are the pop-culture references that will be dated in the next handful of years. Hazel and Augustus watch “300,” and “V for Vendetta.” The references are valid and they give insight into the characters and how they integrate those experiences into their lives, but will a reader picking this book up ten years from now have the same kind of understanding of them? Possibly not, which would be a shame.

There’s a lot to this book, from humor to sadness, resignation and perseverance, to romance (but not “Romance”) and love. It is my first John Green book, so I have no basis for comparison to his other works, but if the frustrated fans are right and this is just not up to par with the rest of his books, I eagerly anticipate reading other works of his. I’m so infatuated with this story that even though I have it as an audio book, I’m going to go grab a dead tree version so I can pick it up whenever I want.

Eye Exercises

My eyes are suffering from overuse, but the point of the title and content of this blog post has nothing to do with making them physically stronger or improving the clarity of my actual vision. It’s not even about bitching about how they twitch and water after staring at a computer monitor under fluorescent lighting. What I mean by this is simply the act of seeing what you’re looking at in a different way. I’ve written about bringing awareness to the parade of images and people who cross our paths during the day (take a peek back at it, if you’d like), but sometimes shifting mediums helps keep that vision in perspective.

I’ve had a passing interest in photography for a long time. My dad used to be a photographer and videographer, and I’d dabble in photography when he’d let me do it in peace, or at least at my pace. As an adult, I got a digital camera that allowed me to play with tricks and techniques to create the images I wanted, but when I got good pictures, it was usually a happy accident of messing with buttons on the camera that I didn’t understand. All in all, I have a decent eye for composition and telling a story with the images I capture, but I was frustrated. I wanted to tell visual stories that captivate the viewer, just as much as I want to create written stories that captivate the reader. Even in my limited dabblings, I could tell the two were clearly interrelated and the stronger one got, the more it fed the other. Given that I’d started school, I shrugged and tabled it for “later,” resigned to trying to figure out what I could as best I could.

For Christmas, I got a gift certificate to attend D-SLR Bootcamp with The Photo Classroom, run by Osborne Photography in Charlotte, NC. They’re a great group of people and with their help, I discovered that my frustration was not limited to my lack of knowledge about ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, but that my camera wasn’t going to be able to help me compose the visual stories I wanted to tell. Fast forward a few months, and now I have a swanky camera that is ACTUALLY a D-SLR (not just a fancy digital camera with a zoom lens), and now I’ve got the visual story telling tool I wanted. I re-took the class with The Photo Classroom to learn the beast in my possession and I’m quite happy to say that even though there is a bit of a learning curve, I’m enjoying the ride.

I related the writing and photography before, but as I was messing around in my local game store, I realized that I was really on to something. As I framed up miniatures in the foreground with the painter responsible in the background, I was telling a story. As I framed up the intricately painted miniatures on the landscaped game table, I was pulling a scene from their games that would exhilarate those who had a passion for it. I was strengthening my eye for scope, context and story-telling.

Needless to say, after reviewing the images, I had to sit down and write to feed this happy symbiosis. They’re not perfect, but there’s gold in them thar images, and it’s only going to take time, patience and practice to make it shine. Over time, my eyes will get stronger, see these microcosms more readily and when they do, my sense of story will sharpen even more. And the more I hone one, the stronger the urge to play with both becomes. Right now, for instance, I’d love write more. My brains are squirming, my fingers are twitching and scribbling down notes on the scenes pouring across the back of my eyes is so unsatisfying, but reality and responsibility call, and I’m off to work on my mid-terms. There will be time to indulge once the grown up stuff has been completed.

Something Like a Review – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I am not generally a fan of popular fiction. There’s usually something so…commercialized about it that I feel icky even picking it up, and my complaints about the Wonder-Breadiness of are generally well grounded.

When I saw this book popping up everywhere, I was leery. Pimping a book everywhere on the net is not really an indication of quality. I did some research on it in Goodreads, and what I saw there in the reviews was enough to get me past my resistance to purchasing it. When I had available Audible credits, I dropped it in my cart, downloaded it and started listening.

The Night Circus is a rich story that’s difficult to classify by genre. To risk being cliché, it’s a magical story, both in quality and in subject. The descriptions of the circus, of the characters, of the tents and wonders found therein are beautiful, and well-written. The prose is visual, sumptuous and reminds me of a combination between Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury. I loved the romance of the story, and by that I don’t just mean between two of the characters, but the romance of the atmosphere, of the world Morgenstern had created. I want to live in that world with Poppet and Widget; I want to be a rêveur and brandish my scarlet scarf in the magical world of black and white.

I cannot think of a story that really compares to this one, which is both amazing and wonderful, but it makes it very difficult to provide a comparison for other stories. One of the things I found unique and enchanting was the way the perspective in the story switched to drop you right into middle of the white paths, standing outside the black and white striped tents. Interludes in the second person created the sensation of falling right into the middle of the story, and while it was a little disorienting, it enhanced the story, making you feel like a rêveur.

The only disadvantage I found in the story is more related to the format than the story itself. I was listening to this as an audiobook and it was difficult to follow the progression of dates preceding the chapter. This is entirely my fault, of course, because I don’t have a knack for remembering dates in general (that’s what calendars are for, duh!) and because I wasn’t listening to the story straight through.

I highly recommend The Night Circus. I loved it and I will be investing in a dead tree version as well.

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