The Unfortunate Garbage of Life: Hoarding, Couponing and Superfoods

Yeah so, today is Monday, which is apparently hoarding day on television. I don’t like that it’s seemingly okay that a mental illness is being paraded around on all of these shows just because it’s weird enough for most people to gawk at. It’s basically a freak show that we pretend isn’t. We (the general public) pretend that it’s fine to watch these people at their lowest point, falling apart, living in garbage, because we’re “helping” them; look: we’ve got them a garbage truck, a shrink and an organizer. We’re fukking saints.

It really bothers me. Not the getting help bits but the exploitation stuff.Because that’s all this really is: exploitation.

Hoarding is an interesting thing. I mean, I’m not a hoarder, but I’m a collector who has had messy moments that made me question myself and even purge my once precious loot. I don’t live alone, so my stuff isn’t distributed throughout the house. I have a teeny room that we’ve remodeled to give me the cleanest lines and the most optimal storage which resulted in sacrificing a tiny closet for a built-in unit. On top of that I have my own shed that is just a wee bit larger than my room, and it’s full of bizarre shiz. I mean really bizarre, like bags of bottle caps, stacks of pressed paper beverage trays, no-longer-salvageable jeans, and junk mail. I even have a small collection of dead bugs (primarily moths). But the shed is actually quite organized and all of those things I have because I am an artist and the shed is my studio. I like to work with repurposed or salvageable materials, so it can sometimes appear to be a mini recycling center in there, depending on what I’ve got going on.

From the outside looking in, someone would see my stuff and go ‘what the fu-‘ but never think that I was a hoarder. Unless everyone considers Martha Stewart a hoarder, because while my shed is not nearly as nice as Martha’s craft rooms, it’s probably even more obsessively organized. (I should say ‘usually’, as right now it’s more of a construction storage as it has been designated housing for the overflow from our endless home renovation.)

So, other than making me paranoid about my own things, I also find hoarding interesting because I know some hoarders. The first hoard I had ever encountered was when I was a teenager and moved to this sorta-suburb from the inner city. I became friends briefly with these girls from my new school, one of whom lived just around the block from me. She was a pseudo-intellectual with average grades, but an above-average idea about how much smarter than the rest of us she was. I may sound bitchy and bitter but I’m not; she was always making little comments here, insinuating that we were all imbeciles who were lucky to be within her orbit. Her mom was a substitute teacher in the local school system, and I believe her father was a mid level engineer. They seemed like they were a put together family and they really sort of exuded airs – if that makes any sense.

Anyway, the first time the girls and I were invited back to the smart girls’ house I was floored. Going into the enclosed front porch was like a peril from the Lord of the Rings: the room was filled floor to ceiling with stacks of newspapers and magazines. There was a narrow little pathway leading to the backdoor and into the kitchen. Navigating it was accompanied by a genuine (and realistic) fear of avalanche. Their excuse: ‘we are really passionate about recycling and the town hasn’t begun its recycling program yet.’

The kitchen was incredible. The door didn’t open all the way; there was too much garbage on the ground behind it. The place smelled moldy and chemically off all at once. Every surface, every countertop, was covered by what I could only assume was garbage. Nothing appeared functional, useable or salvageable. There were two refrigerators – both broken. They were using a cooler to keep their food. Before I could ask they told me that they ‘couldn’t replace the refrigerators yet because one of them was leaking Freon.’ To which I responded “?”

Half of the kitchen table and one chair were clear and empty. There was no treacherous path like on the porch, but the floor was littered ankle deep with trash.

The next room was a family room, with things – books, videotapes, magazines and random electronic equipment – stacked everywhere on everything, very much like the paper goods on the porch. Some of the stacks featured precariously balanced potted plants on top. There was a mostly clear couch aimed at a small television with a bunch of VCRs and Beta cassette players stacked on top (and no, this was not the 1980’s). I would later learn that only one of each worked. There was a basement room that the kids used as a game room. It was functional on one side and completely smothered in crap on the other side. It was unnerving – more potential for avalanche. The only other room I ever went into was smart-girls’. It was fairly clean and neat compared to the rest of the house. When we came over we mostly spent time in there or watching a movie on the couch.

(The other thing I remember about that house was the girl had a balalaika hanging on her bedroom wall, which I completely coveted. She said to me “I don’t know what’s wrong with it; I can’t get it to work for me.” So I tuned it and played it, and she was PISSED.)

That was the first time I had ever seen anything like that. I didn’t even know what to call it, I had never heard about hoarding before. And I suppose an argument could be made that these television shows are doing a service by educating the public. But if that was what it was all about, I’m sure they could come up with a way to do it that didn’t feature humiliating people, annoying therapists who are too aware that they are being filmed, self righteous haul-away organizers, and horror-movie like soundtracks. Back in the day however, I was completely floored. I didn’t understand how people who considered themselves to be so above everybody could think that that level of filth was acceptable to live in. I couldn’t even adequately explain it to my parents until very recently that this was why I didn’t want to go over that girls’ house anymore. At the time the concept was so out there they thought I was exaggerating.

Since then I have met two more hoarding families. This time around however, I knew what it was and how to handle myself. When I was a kid it was sort of stressful trying to remain in the situation (trust me, I wanted to leave) and be a polite guest. Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t judging that family or that girl and I still don’t. I was just really taken aback and confused; I couldn’t reconcile these people and their external, intellectual image with their home. I had no context for what I was seeing. Now I get that this is a disorder, one that needs a lot of outside help and work to resolve.

I can understand hoarding to some extent. I can understand the need to seek comfort, and finding comfort in objects makes sense. You can touch material things; you can hold them and look at them. You cannot touch emotions; you cannot touch memories. What I don’t understand is the point when the hoarding leads to unsanitary conditions. When there are smells and feces and rot; when your home just deteriorates from the filth. I mean, clearly this is when it becomes severe mental illness, but one would think something deep down in your lizard brain would alert you to the health hazards.

So I guess the moral of this story is: ‘Hoarding is a mental illness that deserves our understanding and shouldn’t be exploited on television. People in pain are never casual entertainment.”

I can’t stand how channels like TLC and MTV and Discovery are such shitpiles now. Remember when the L in TLC stood for ‘learning’ and the M in MTV for ‘music’? Remember when the Discovery channel was awesome, and showed documentaries and not ‘reality’ shows about drunken hillbillies and motorcycle builders who fight? And it happens to every channel that is good. Animal Planet has shows about bounty hunters and tree house builders now. SciFi changed their name to Syfy – supposedly to incorporate fantasy (as in science fiction/fantasy) – but it plays wrestling matches. Sleuth played mysteries and then changed its name to Cloo and now plays USA reruns and castoffs (that’s when it’s not playing hours and hours of Law and Order spinoffs).

I swear, TLC makes my eyes catch fire. What the frak happened to that? They should be ashamed of themselves: Fake Gypsies and mocking trailer park families, and Rumspringa romps, hoarders and couponing.

Oh and by the way, those couponer people are assholes. Why? Well I’ll tell you. First off, hoarding food is seriously shitty, especially when something like one in six (or five depending on who is doing the counting) children in the United States goes hungry every day. I mean really. If you’re doing it for a food bank or something then good for you, but we all know that most of these people are stockpiling for themselves. Another thing that may be equally significant is this: people doing this couponing thing for sport, and this series on television documenting it and making it more popular, is making manufacturers and groceries change the rules on how they accept and distribute (and if they distribute) coupons. It’s making it harder for people who actually need coupons to stretch their very small budgets to do so. So these super couponers or whatever they call themselves are just unbelievably selfish, there really is no other word for it.

I got Ed Bighead from my local farm stand.

I got Ed Bighead from my local farm stand.

Before I go I have one more brief rant, and it’s about so-called superfoods. Just so you know superfoods are contributing to cost inflation (and unfair farming practices) of important nutrition. Groceries – and unfortunately, especially ‘health-conscious’ stores – use the term superfood as a marketing tool to inflate prices on key items. The problem is, these key items are truly as nutritious as they say they are and in many situations the new inflated costs make it so that people on a limited budget (poorer people) are unable to get them. Therefore, when at one time they were able to purchase proper, more-bang-for-your-buck foodstuffs, they now can’t afford it at all and are forced to go without proper nutrition. This is called food gentrification and you may have heard of it. The best example of this would be kale, which was primarily eaten by lower-income families, and was affordable, but since being declared a superfood has risen in price over 75%. Next on the ‘superfood’ chopping block are collard greens.

This sort of thing is done in the free market all the time – a manufacturer has a product and they reimage it in order to appeal to another, more affluent demographic. The problem is food isn’t a manufactured item. Food is a necessity for everyone despite their demographic. Food gentrification is making it so that only wealthier, or better off people, can afford to eat properly. It’s not only unfair, it’s unethical and immoral. So next time you hear of a superfood in some magazine, don’t buy it. Or, don’t buy it from a store like Whole Foods that is trying to turn a profit at the expense of people’s health. Better yet, grow it yourself or buy it directly from a local farmer or farm stand or food coop. Trust me, you’ll get better quality food, without a marketing team behind it. That alone should save you some coin per pound.

Hamster Cardiology, Rabbit Euthenasia and Synthetic Pain Management

crane

When I was a kid, somewhere between the ages of 8 and 10, I performed surgery on a hamster. I removed worms from its pericardium, and put them on a slide.
I still have the slide.

Now, dear reader, I suspect you have some questions. I mean, that first line is upsetting in itself. And yet, not too surprising; little kids are known to do such things. They torture bugs: burning ants, dissecting beetles, and tearing the wings off of flies. They take apart little things like frogs and minnows. All of this of course is done generally out of curiosity, and only occasionally out of psychopathy. Most little kids don’t even get the significance of their actions and feel that perhaps they can glue the little things back together and everything will be okay.

So that last bit there about pericardia and slides must have really thrown you.

Would it help if I mentioned the hamster was part of a laboratory trial, and the laboratory in question was at Harvard University, and that the entire procedure – from sedating the little guy (which I remember to this day as being a strange combination of horrifying and cute) to the surgery and subsequent staining of the slide sample was all done under the supervision of one of the head researchers in the trial?

What was I doing in a major experimental research laboratory after hours performing life saving surgery on a cute hamster? I DON’T KNOW.

Well, I sort of know, but it’s not really important. What is important is that this really happened and it would go on to support a long held belief in my family that by now I would be a doctor or a veterinarian and I’d be successful and happy and at the very least smart and stable. Well aren’t I a colossal disappointment?

I think however, the most significant thing about this particular childhood incident is the fact that whenever I replay events in my mind, I imagine that the hamster in question is clothed. I believe this has everything to do with how it reacted when it was going under sedation: it rose up on two legs, then sunk down into a very human-like sitting position – on it’s rump with it’s little back legs stuck out straight in front of it and it’s tail sticking up in the back. Its jaw dropped open in a dumbfounded sort of way, its tail drooping, before finally falling onto its back – hind legs in the air.

Despite how human and adorable my rodent patient, I had no trouble going through with the procedure. I followed every direction, did not get ‘grossed out’, and later I found the worms on the slide endlessly fascinating. I was remote, practical, professional and clinical. And I was still in primary school.

So fast forward some decades later to last summer, when I woke to find an amazingly horrific sight: my ancient rabbit (we suspect him to have been at least fourteen earth years in age), Killer, was in a condition so awful I can’t say here what it was. Let’s just say that it was so disgusting that when I FREAKED THE FUCK OUT and ran for help NO ONE BELIEVED ME. It was so unimaginably awful all I could keep saying was “Why is he still alive?”

This prompted the urgent and immediate necessity to put him out of his misery. And I, as the only person in the house not in cowardly denial, was the obvious one tasked to do it. So I tried and found that I couldn’t; I just couldn’t. I don’t know why exactly. It needed to be done, it was the merciful thing to do, and I knew this. I cried and I vomited and then I cried and vomited some more but I couldn’t do it. I even went so far as to try and poison him with prescription painkillers but (not surprisingly) he wouldn’t drink or eat anything. I didn’t know what to do.

I often wonder what happened to me between then and now – between hamster and bunny – that made me change. Especially when you consider how absolutely shitty life has been to me. I mean, why am I suddenly kinder and not a serial killer? Where did I go wrong? Why couldn’t that clinical, in control reserve that allowed me to cut into a hamster as a child help me now? I mean, I call it up more often then you’d think. So why, when I needed it the most did it fail me?

When bad shit happens I’m usually the only one in the room with their head on straight. Be it driving somewhere with Mum when lost, calling 911 when someone needs emergency care (and riding in the ambulance), taking everyone’s shit when someone dies – I’m the one who keeps everything together. And seeing as I have an awesome case of panic disorder, this is really saying something.

I keep finding myself wishing I could tap into that clinical 8-to-10-year-olds’ magical detachment. I think these days it would really help.

Ultimately BB put Killer down, and it’s been a few weeks since my last nightmare about it. But I can’t help but wonder and question, all the time, why I was so weak.

So…

I have to take vicodin more often. It makes me write the BEST blag posts ever. Really.

Yeah, so I’m on painkillers. WOOO! Or, if you’re me: woo.
I hate being on drugs. I don’t like feeling out of control of my brain – understandable, especially when you consider it’s all I’ve really got going for me.

Last Friday I spent in the ER at a not-so-local local hospital, and after a few hours of agony where they determined I was not in fact a drug-seeker, they gave me an intravenous cocktail of painkillers and antiemetics which was just… awful. Granted, it dropped my pain level from a 7 to a 5 and at one point a 4.

This is the World's Most Accurate Pain Chart. Possibly the ONLY accurate pain chart. It was created by Allie Brosh. (Please don't sue me.)

I borrowed this from Allie Brosh (please don’t sue me). It is the World’s Most Accurate Pain Chart. Possibly the ONLY accurate pain chart.

But it also did a few awesomely shite things like give me mushmouth and make me a bastion of profundity, dropping such gems as: “I hate my hair now. It’s not fair that my hair can’t be purple anymore.” (Tear slips down cheek).

When they put it in the IV, and then into me, it HURT. And I mean, it was like suddenly hot lead was being poured through my arm, across my shoulders, out my other arm and down through my head into my neck. It physically felt as though a great hot weight was suddenly forcing me down. And the taste in the back of my throat was awful.

After they sent me home I spent the night having crazy fucking vivid dreams and hallucinations. I literally could not tell awake from asleep, and I couldn’t do anything about it but ride it out. This resulted in my not taking ANYTHING for the crazy pain – that is nowhere near resolved – for the next few days. Not an unreasonable reaction under the circumstances.

Unfortunately I can’t keep up the pain side of things, and have succumbed to the prescription I was sent home with.
Right now I’m just trying to head the pain off at the pass until some better plan arises. I am taking the ‘conquering a migraine approach’.

So that’s been fun…

The Year In Music 2013 and the Bandwagon of Death

 Here’s the other bit of that giant thing I wrote assessing the assets of 2013… and probably the last, so don’t panic. Or maybe panic. Whatever you’re most comfortable with.


The Year in Music

Typically I would start something like this off with a list of some of 2013s standout LPs. And I intend to, eventually. But this year I was given a randomly large amount of musical instruments.

First, completely out of left field, I was provided with Wilson, my cherry red SG. Then, the same saintly folk who gave me Wilson found me a hilarious First Act amp, with which to build a Tower of Power. Then, after BB stole Wilson, they brought me a black Fender Squire kit with a tremolo and its’ own little Fender amp. (BB is on the fence about stealing that.) They even brought me a small, parlour-sized acoustic guitar. (BB keeps trying to steal it, but he can’t play it, so then he gives up. BB can be a real prick.)

Stack

Another of Mum’s coworkers presented me with this mandolin, circa 1910-1920. It was sporting its’ original strings and case. It was discovered in a barn along with the Ansco, and despite, remains beautifully in tact (as does the Ansco). I’ve been keeping the mandolin in my room, under guard. BB already has a mandolin, (as well as around eight other guitars of his own), but that won’t stop him from trying to claim this beauty. And I’m not having it. I want to play along to Chris Thile, Glob it, and I want to do it on this.

This is a seriously gorgeous Medalist Mandolin.

Seriously gorgeous Medalist Mandolin.

In my grandmother’s basement they found a disarticulated Gretsch acoustic/electric. I plan on articulating it this year. So technically I have a Gretsch. I like to imagine that it’s very pretty.

The year ended in this strange direction, when having asked Santa for a ukulele ($25 on sale at Guitar Center, even), I received, well, this:

 Jolene! All shall love her and despair!

Jolene! All shall love her and despair!

This is Jolene my frelling fabulous banjo. I asked for a ukulele and got a banjo. That’s awesome on the level of asking for a Civic and getting a Maserati. Seriously. f(ukulele)=banjo. If I can figure out this equation I’ll have this gift receiving thing in the bag.

Sufficed to say, I’ve got my work cut out for me in 2014, as I’ve now got to learn the mandolin and the banjo. My cousin is an accomplished player of both, and he gave me some tools and advice to get me started. So far I’m just trying to get the hang of  picking and of using finger picks. You come at the banjo in a completely different fashion than you do the guitar, and I’m not used to picks at all as I play five finger arpeggio style. It’s a grab-and-pluck sort of method, where your hand kind of hovers above the strings. With the banjo you get really close to the strings and the drum, closer than you’d think what with the picks, and you only use three fingers. Plus it’s a five-string banjo, which means every time I play I keep forgetting that I can’t come at it with all five fingers, and I have to override my brain every time I look at the top frets and see four strings, but my hand is trying to maneuver over five. Plus add to that the fact that it’s tuned to G (as opposed to the guitar’s E tuning). It’s maddening.

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When it comes to the music I listened to in 2013, I didn’t listen to that much new stuff. How could I after this happened:

Your jealousy gives me power.

Your jealousy gives me power.

If someone I loved released something new, I ate it up, trust me. The new Dum Dum Girls album Too True I listened to for like a month. But that didn’t technically come out until 2014 I guess.

So here is a quick run through of some of the new albums I tried my best to get my head around this year. I’ve linked to the band information and online album streams wherever possible.

The Julie Ruin Run Fast. Oh this record. It makes me nostalgic, but in a sad way (entirely my problem). This is all you need to know about what women making music should be like. Forget Lorde. Forget Haim. This is it. Real music, represent.

Thee Oh Sees Floating Coffin. Thee Oh Sees make me happy. They make me want to turn this shiz up and jump up in down in a very undignified manner. Thee Oh Sees make me undignified. Glob bless them (even when John Dwyer sounds too much like Luxe Interiors for his own good).

Savages Silence Yourself. This sounds like what would happen if Siouxsie Sioux formed the Runaways.

Haim Days Are Gone One of the bands Thunderball would call ‘fucking hipsters stuck in the ‘80s’. And she is completely right. Sort of Au Revoir Simone just more into the 1980’s nostalgia aspect of it: indie electronic/rock with pouty Casio keyboard effects for punctuation. All in all it just falls flat.

Polica Shulamith. This band. I loved their first album Give You The Ghost so much it took me forever to get into Shulamith. I mean, after my first attempt to listen I just chalked it up to sophomore effort syndrome and left it at that. But I kept listening, and listening. And then I hit a song called ‘Very Cruel’. This one song is, if not the best song on this record, their best song to date – period. And after ‘Amongster’ and ‘I See My Mother’ that’s really saying something. So after about a month of listening to nothing but ‘Very Cruel’ non stop, I gave the rest of the album another go. Turns out it’s awesome, after all. Look out for a melody very similar to that in Portishead’s ‘The Rip’ on the song ‘Trippin’’, and for the guest vocals of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) on ‘Tiff’.

Okkervil River put out a new album.

… But seriously, it’s called The Silver Gymnasium, and it was good. In the way that Okkervil River is good, but with a little sort of classic Bruce Springsteen flair in the songwriting this time around.

Deerhunter Monomania. Oh this album. It goes from ‘what the hell is this sh-t’ to OHMYGLOBIT’SAWESOME, and very often in the same song. Thus making it excellent.

Au Revoir Simone Move in Spectrums.  This damn thing is frustratingly catchy: sometimes in a bright poppy way, sometimes in a poignant lullaby way. It’s a girlie, indie synth-folk pop record you can get through your day to: not over the top, not lo-fi but just right. Goldilocks would love this shiz. And while it isn’t the most profound, it is still very good, and does so much of what Haim is trying to do – but better.

And speaking of frustratingly catchy…

CHVRCHES The Bones of What You Believe. A few years ago a really dear and amazing friend of mine sent me some of the early bits of what would later become this album. So after that initial taste I was sort of – embarrassingly excited for it when it was finally released. I was not disappointed. This record is I guess what the kids call ‘indie synth pop’, but I don’t care what it is just that it doesn’t stop doing whatever it is doing to the pleasure centre of my brain every time I turn it on. Sweet Jeebus.

Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City. I think that there is a preconception of what a Vampire Weekend album should be, what a Vampire Weekend song should sound like. This record just defies all of that, and displays that this band is something more, that they have so much to offer. It’s not all affected college music. It can be really fucking beautiful.

Throwing Muses Purgatory/Paradise. I love Kristin Hersh. So much so that it may be considered a problem. If you are unfamiliar with her work, she’s been a professional musician since she was 14. Quite prolific, she has released music as Throwing Muses, as a solo performer, and as 50Ft Wave. And every time there is something about what she creates that makes you curious for more. Purgatory/Paradise is the first Throwing Muses album in ten years, and it’s wonderful. If you are an old school aficionado, don’t expect the frenetic cowboy punk of earlier material; this album rings more like a raw Sky Motel. And if you are on the fence due some of her more recent output (Speedbath) listen anyway you will not be disappointed. If anything Hersh’s music is brutally honest and original.

Hersh releases her music under a Creative Commons license, releasing it to the public as she creates it – from demos to stems – and she encourages her fans to share it , remix it, repost it and love it.

Chris Thile Bach: Sonatas and Partitas Vol.1. Chris Thile is better than you. IN EVERY WAY.

Wait. Now that I look at it, and think about it, I listened to a LOT of new music in 2014. Huh. So that being that I’m going to stop there. Maybe if you’re reading this, and are curious about an album or something that came out last year or well – ever – then ask me about it in the comments and I’ll give you the what’s what.

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I think it should be noted that Benjamin Curtis died in 2013, thus ending the School of Seven Bells. The School of Seven Bells (SVIIB) was an excellent independent band from NYC. If you’ve never heard of them, I suggest you get to youtube and begin yo’ education: they were pretty fucking awesome. They were only together a few years, and they released three albums and a few EP/singles. Their sound was sort of electronic, sort of rock, very indie. In an NPR interview they said they wrote their lyrics first and then formed the music around it, which isn’t something you hear often from songwriters (and coincidentally how I write a lot of my stuff too). Sometimes they reminded me of the Cocteau Twins, sometimes My Bloody Valentine. In any case, you should really find their music and listen to it. Spread it around. Show the world how good they were and how gifted Benjamin Curtis was.

There are mixed opinions about people who get into music they’ve never heard of just because the artist has died. And I agree: there is something really douche-y about jumping on the bandwagon after the fact. I remember that after Kurt Cobain died, suddenly everyone in my school was a fan and was showing public displays of grief. And let me just say that, beforehand, Nirvana wasn’t that big a thing in that school. They were all into Metallica or they were hip-hop wannabes. But the notoriety, and the huge media attention was apparently too tantalizing, and next thing I knew… Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. So in my opinion, getting in on the action (so to speak) for the sake of getting in on the action isn’t that great a thing.

However, I think it’s perfectly fine to discover an artist after hearing about them because they have died (or the band broke up, or what not). In fact, I think any interest that causes the music of that artist to be heard by new ears is a good thing. I am in no way saying that dead musicians are good things. Of course not. I’m saying that even delayed (or posthumous) interest is worthy interest, because it helps to spread someone’s life’s work to a larger audience. And in doing that that artist lives on.

So do I think you’re a complete tool for running out and buying a “Best of” collection just because everyone made such a big deal when Lou Reed died? Yes. But do I hope you really like it, continue to listen to his music and spread it along? I really, really do.

And on that note I think I’ll be off.  (Door slams)

Spague! 2013 and The Year in Nifty Acquisitions

It’s only February and things have already started going hinky. So I’m going to spam you with all of my 2013 Year In Review type blagging, relatively at once. And out of order too. So that’s going to happen…..

Now.

Okay. Now before we begin with the next subject, I think that I should make it plain that I have a really bad cold – or the Spague, I’m not quite sure. It’s not like I’ve been tested or anything. So, if I’m short, or angry, or tetchier than usual, that’s pretty much why. I’m not excusing my behaviour, no, no, no. There’s no excuse for that. I’m just explaining it.

I also want to say how I think it’s weird that when you get a cold at first, like in the first hours or whatnot you think you’re dying. Just. Ugh. But then after a few days, it’s old hat. As if you cannot remember a time when you could breathe freely through your nose, your facial tissue consumption was at a reasonable minimum, and your voice wasn’t that of a three-pack-a-day-for-forty-years smoker. Or when you weren’t taking mass quantities of fever reducing medications.

This segues nicely into this brief piece I’ll call:

The Year in Nifty Acquisitions                  

In the moments before the pilfer party officially began at my aunts house, I was privy to a look-see and given a stack of post-its with which to call ‘dibs’. On the dining room table were a bunch of random little tins and toiletry bags full of my Uncle John’s emergency supplies – nail files, first aid and etcetera. In one was a tiny little glass bottle marked ‘Empirin’, full of pills which promised to ease my fevers, aches and pains of the head and shoulder, and possibly cure the common cold. I should point out that it was upon acquiring said ‘Empirin’ that I developed this cold (or Spague). So…

Cures What Ails Ya

Cures What Ails Ya

‘Empirin’ is just another brand name for Aspirin, and in fact Aspirin itself was the Bayer-Pharmaceuticals brand name for acetylsalicylic acid, but it was a brand name that got too successful and they lost control over it. Therefore we now call all forms of acetylsalicylic acid ‘aspirin’, much to Bayer’s chagrin.
Don’t ever say that I don’t teach you things.

I also snagged me the World’s Coolest Wallet. After letting the wallet I’d had since high school (a hippy dippy hand woven number), disintegrate beyond all hope, I decided it was time. So, I did what any normal person would do – I scanned copies of my favorite Sandman images (mostly scenes from the Rook Parliament story Abel tells) with which I intended to make my own badass wallet out of scrap vinyl. But then of course, life happened, the wallet became yet another project put on hold, and so I just continued to use my old wallet, which at this point was just a suggestion of it’s former purpose, as it was now mostly wool fibres clung together with elastics secured around Library Cards.

So there I am this summer at the Davis Flea, browsing a stall, when lo, it appeared before me. The World’s Coolest Wallet. So naturally I leave without buying it. Only to regret it instantly, knowing that the hipster populace of Davis Square would be completely drawn to its amazing awesomeness and when the Flea opened up a week later, it would be gone. Of course, I go back the next week, unable to find it at the vendors stall amongst all the other vintage purses, clutches, wallets and handbags. Thinking it had vanished into some Tufts chumps’ kitsch collection, I began to turn away disappointed when I spy it, peaking out from another rack, waiting for me.

(See that bit right there? That's where all the blood went...)

(See that bit right there? That’s where all the blood went…)

And here it is. Note that it was never before used, clearly purchased as a souvenir upon some gringos’ trip to Belize some years ago. Note how it has no wear, with only some minor fading along the spine from sunlight exposure. Note the tooled depictions of the Al-tun- ha temples of human sacrifice, and be envious upon hearing that their bloodshed is depicted not only on the front, but on the back and inside as well. Note that the inside also contains many convenient zippered compartments, as well as a compact mirror for blinding my enemies.

wallet 2 sm

This year, I also acquired a heap of randomly awesome and kindhearted things from friends and co-workers of my Mum. I should say right now that Mum is a ‘federal employee’, basically in an opening-sorting-stamping-categorizing-whatever-of-the-mail capacity. This basically means that every time you send some douche-y, passive aggressive note, outright threat, or anything like that, the big bad gummint isn’t the one reading it or getting it. It’s a bunch of really nice people just trying to get by on minimum-to-just-above-minimum-wage who you are threatening or hurting. (Not that the gummint doesn’t take notice. These things get ‘handled’ by the proper authorities: you know, it being a federal offense and whatnot.) It should also be noted that every time something stupid happens, like federal employees getting a pay cut, it’s these people and never congress or the senate who take the hit. Whenever the government shuts down or there is some sort of federal emergency, these same people are expected to work without pay, their mortgages and rents be damned. And I think it should be known, for the record, that when congress retroactively paid wages to the people ‘laid off’ by this years shut down, they gave the money they were supposed to retroactively pay these federal employees to themselves. As a bonus. Because that’s just what congress needs, what with all their free health care and lucky-for-life wage situation: a bonus.

So this year, these same people who spent about three weeks forcibly unemployed and unable to pay their bills, donated a TON of yarn for my knitting hats for bald kids project. Seriously. Epic amounts. So much, in fact, that I’m also considering spreading out and knitting hats for more than just the brats. I may begin knitting hats for the homeless as well.

Some of Mum’s friends also sent me some interestingly amazing things like LPs, kick ass cameras (like an Ansco land camera and a Brownie Holiday), and some things even more surprising.

Which leads me to my next obnoxious entry: The Year In Music.

Until then.

Just a note – it turns out I didn’t have the Spague after all. It was SPARS. It was pretty awful – I was upwardly mobile one moment and flat on my back hallucinating the next (I hallucinated Patrick Stewart!) . I know what you’re thinking: “When did you get a chance to go to Space over the holidays? And you didn’t get vaccinated? Are you insane?” Well, you’re right. I was careless. I spent the holidays in the People’s Republic of Cambridge and as you may know, the PRC often borders Space Beijing, where SPARS is rampant this time of year. So even though I only passed through it briefly on the way to grandmother’s house, it was all I needed to contract the virus. It took a few weeks, a bottle of Tylenol and a few days of laryngitis but I’m over it.

Vlog Versus Blog and the 24 Hour Free Quote Hotline

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have been watching Brotherhood 2.0/The Vlog Brothers videos from the beginning to catch up with all the Nerdfighting I have missed. As classes have barely started, and I am unemployed, skint, and have no life, I have put a significant dent in the backlog – the vlog started in 2007 and I’m already up to 2011.

For those of you who may not know, the Vlog Brothers is a vlog (video blog) series on YouTube featuring the author John Green and his brother Hank, a noted environmental blogger. It began as a dare: John challenged Hank to go an entire year without using any sort of communication outside of telephone and these short videos to each other. And so it went. There were rules – absolutely no electronic communications (of course), and videos can’t be more than four minutes – and any violations were punishable. It started small, but with every new in-joke, and each creatively torturous punishment (once John had to wax his chin) the videos gained momentum. As their viewership grew, so did their content. They gave each other challenges that took on lives of their own: Challenging themselves to find a way to help make the world a better place led to The Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a variety of worthy causes. After Hank performed a song called “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone From Your Pants” (based on the first big in-joke of the vlog), John challenged him to write a new song and perform it each time he posted on a Wednesday, leading to the creation of the tremendously popular song “Accio Deathly Hallows”, live performances, touring (with and without John), CDs and a record label – DFTBA Records, which produces music by YouTube musicians. This thing has grown so huge it’s unreal. Charities, record labels, websites – they even created VidCon. DFTBA, their catchphrase, has taken off and is now in the popular vernacular. Don’t Forget To Be Awesome indeed.

The best part of all of this is that everything they do is entirely community oriented. Their followers are known as Nerdfighters. As the series grew, and they realized how great their Nerdfighters were, they made the videos more and more interactive. Nerdfighters are first to note violations of rules, and are the ones who get to suggest the punishments. They donate money and time, they volunteer, and they have formed this massive, open collective online and IRL (in real life). What Nerdfighters have done over the years is simply amazing, and it’s truly changed the way people see the internet.

And the Vlog Brothers community doesn’t just include the Nerdfighters (although, technically it does, since we’re all Nerdfighters, really), but also YouTube. They have reached out and befriended other vloggers and really advocate for the potential of such connections. In December they have an event where they encourage all their fellow bloggers and Nerdfighters to make videos advocating on behalf of their favorite charities. This day is called the ‘Project for Awesome’, and the goal is to hijack the front page of YouTube with videos, each different, but each with the ‘Project for Awesome’ logo as the thumbnail. Since 2009 it’s raised thousands upon thousands of dollars for dozens of awesome charities, and each year it just gets bigger and bigger, with the full support and promotion of YouTube behind it.

All of this aside, the videos themselves are highly entertaining. While sometimes they just talk about what’s going on in their day or what’s going on in Nerdfighteria (events and whatnot), a lot of times they do theme projects, top ten lists, scavenger hunts, contests. John is really great at explaining historical and current events, and Hank still cranks out the songs. It’s fabulous.

So that should be enough back story for you to get why it was so surprising that I got into it so late in the game. Being on top of this sort of thing is sort of my thing. It took me a little bit to figure it out but now I think I have, and I think it has everything to do with it being vlogging and not blogging.

When I was at university it was sort of the belief that blogging was somewhat more adult than vlogging; blogging is what serious, opinionated people did, vlogging is what some bored, shameless pre-teen did for attention. This is a completely nonsensical notion. You get geniuses and nimrods in every population of every thing (livejournal, anyone?). But somehow I got this prejudice tainting how I saw vlogs, and as a result I missed out on a lot of things.

I missed out on an international scavenger hunt perpetrated by authors and musicians across the globe. I missed out on contests and commenting and possibly befriending (virtually) another writer who maybe could have offered some constructive advice for someone in my unique situation. I missed out on other great vlogs and other great people and other great ideas. (This is also strange, since I was a fan of Ze Frank at the time). I missed people like Esther Grace Earl, the Nerdfighter, Harry Potter Alliance warrior, and fellow New Englander who befriended John Green and became the inspiration for John’s book The Fault In Our Stars.

I missed all the charity, Thunderclaps and other events for good in Nerdfighteria. And it reminds me of why I joined Twitter. I was completely against joining Twitter, because, really who needs to listen to every thought some empty actress or teen pop star has to say. But then demonstrations were being organized via Twitter. Coups were orchestrated via Twitter. When social media is changing history, it’s ridiculous not to get involved. So I joined Twitter. And yes there were mounds of clueless crap – but there was also the journalist who fought to get racist posters removed from American subways, the artist who was assaulted and arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest, the musician who rallied her fans into sponsoring her tour and album.

Twitter can mobilize people. YouTube can mobilize people. It’s not completely vapid bullshit after all.

So now I’m giving this vlogging stuff a chance. I am not saying I’m going to do it – I barely do this blag shiz, and frankly I’m not brave enough to put myself out there like that. It’s one thing being anonymous(ish). It’s quite another having a face. So if you have any suggestions for good vlogs I should check out, let me know. And if you haven’t already, go check out the Vlog Brothers.

Although I must warn you, John Green is a real douche about knitting. I don’t get what his problem is. Knitting would so be the best super power. Imagine if I had super knitting powers and an endless ball of wool? No one on Earth would ever be cold AGAIN. Including penguins!

He’s also really sort of obsessed with his weight. He’s like a teenage girl. Take it from a bonafide fatty, Green. Give it up.

Ooooh.

In other news of the world, I drove past a business today that had a sign boasting a ’24 Hour Quote Hotline’. Okay, I don’t know about you but I JUST FOUND MY DREAM JOB. I want to man the 24 Hour Quote Hotline. I want to answer the phone and be like “Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” And then hang up. Oh just imagine the awesome:

Ring. “A dying man can do nothing easy.” Hang up.
Ring. “
If your ancestors cut down all the trees, it’s not your fault, but you still don’t live in a forest.” Hang up.
Ring. “
Dungeons & Dragons is some of the most crazy, deep, deep, deep nerd shit ever invented. Every word you’re saying is made up. Motherfuckers talk like Yoda.” Hang up.
Ring.
“I laughed and said ‘Life is easy.’ What I meant was: ‘Life is easy with you here, and when you leave, it will be hard again.” Hang up.
Ring. “Get at least eight hours of beauty sleep. Nine if you’re ugly.” Hang up.
Ring.
“Not only is the universe stranger than we think, it’s stranger than we can think.” Hang up.

So I am getting this out there, releasing the Brain Crack if you will (told you I know the Ze). But I seriously want to do this. If I can get a phone number it’s on.

And with that I skulk off. Thanks for reading.

Here’s what I listened to while writing this; another playlist from the Psychic MP3 Player for you. Enjoy.

Beach House – Myth
School of Seven Bells – ILU
My Bloody Valentine – I Can See It (But I Can’t Feel It)
Throwing Muses – Sunray Venus
Neko Case – Hex (The Tigers Have Spoken version)
The Innocence Mission – Lakes of Canada
The National – Anyone’s Ghost
Polica – Warrior Lord
Tori Amos – Raspberry Swirl
The Dresden Dolls – My Alcoholic Friends
Guided By Voices – Sleep Over Jack
Johnny Cash – I Still Miss Someone
Pixies – Make Believe
Belle and Sebastian – The Blues Are Still Blue
David Bowie – Kingdom Come
Grant Lee Buffalo – Drag
The Flaming Lips – Waiting For Superman
The Helio Sequence – Keep Your Eyes Ahead
Rilo Kiley – We’ll Never Sleep
Throwing Muses – Rabbit’s Dying
Xiu Xiu – I Am The Center Of Your World
Architecture in Helsinki – Heart It Races
R.E.M. – Pretty Persuasion
Talking Heads – Stay Hungry
Vic Chesnutt – The Big Huge Valley
Ani DiFranco – Out of Habit (Like I Said version)
Bon Iver – Brackett, WI
Ladytron – Runaway
Portishead – Nylon Smile
The Smiths – Asleep
Echo and the Bunnymen – Porcupine (alternate version)
Kristin Hersh – Echo
The National – Lucky You

Big Bad Storm Behaviour and Overstimulated Deer

The tomato soup is trying to kill me. It’s in my stomach searing it’s way out as I write this. Dear Glob. At this point I am doubting that this is even tomato soup after all. Maybe it’s Gorgon blood or worse yet, lava. And not that, you know, firey explodey kind of lava either, but the slow, oozy, seepy kind of lava that is still amazingly hot, but you don’t even notice it as you walk by until you realize the reason you’ve just fallen on your face is because your legs are gone. That’s what’s going on in my stomach right now.

In the world today New England is battening the hatches for some apocalyptic snow storm. As per us’ for this time of the year. I am hoping that this pending storm won’t warrant a reaction similar to that of last year’s big snow. Last weekend we had a heavy, wet snowstorm that dropped about four to six, and was a complete surprise to us locals. All the local meteorologists were at a loss for words (which was awesome). And for the first time in a long time, there was no stupid driving, ridiculous panic or rushing of super markets. I know this, because I was actually in a grocery store when the storm hit, shopping it up (like you do). We just looked out at the rampaging sky, shrugged it off, and went about our business.

It was like the awesome ‘old’ days when we New Englanders, people renowned for their curmudgeonly ways (a friend once explained to some Californians that what we have is called ‘crustiness’ so there’s no need to call the cops), did not give in to the bullshit hype that the media is always bombarding us with. ‘Scared people are good citizen-consumers.’ (Angie Simbert, Memento Nora). Most of us just got crabby and didn’t bother to shovel. And besides the Patriot’s were playing the next day, as I’m quite sure Mark Whalbergs ‘ neighbors would find out the hard way.

So now we must wait and see how we fare with this coming storm. I seriously hope the good, smart, angry people of New England refrain from ransacking the local grocers of all their milk and Pop Tarts.

On that day in that very grocery store I had an incident. I was struck by a moment of panic. Not a full blown ‘attack’ as it were, but a close call nonetheless. I was moments away from a full on crisis however, when something occurred to me. Earlier in the week I had watched a Nature documentary about deer and how and why they’ve been moving closer and closer to human beings, basically overtaking U.S. suburbia. They explained how deer have super shitty eyesight, which I didn’t know, even worse than human eyesight. They also explained that the whole deer-in-the-headlights phenomenon occurs because the deer is actually so over stimulated by all of the sensory input around it that it physically can’t move. It’s literally paralyzed by its’ own senses. And as I was wandering the wrong direction down a frozen food aisle and slowing to a stop in my newly giganticized local grocery, it occurred to me that this same phenomenon was happening to me. I knew what I had to do, I knew what I had to do to feel better about what was happening to me, and yet I couldn’t get myself to move or function properly. I was freezing up from sensory overload. Which makes sense, if you think about it; all of my worst panic situations occur when I’m driving, when I’m in a store, or other large facilities by myself.

So what I can derive from this lesson is that I am apparently a deer in disguise. Huh. And here I always thought I was a whale. A SPACE whale.

As seen here, the surprise storm inconvenienced Cobble the most.

As seen here, the surprise storm inconvenienced Cobble the most.

Okay, so it’s the next day now, and wouldn’t ya know – it didn’t snow. At all. All the schools closed, the governor cancelled his speech and everything was shut down for a bright sunny day. Temperatures did plummet however, if you can call going from somewhere in the forties on Monday night and then being -2 degrees on Tuesday night plummeting. Aside from closing down everything preemptively for naught, I think we did pretty good. No stupid accidents or traffic jams, and no racing to stand in line for an hour at the grocery hugging a quart of milk (that you just knocked an old lady down for) to your chest.  So well done, us I suppose.

I do worry however, that there will be too many people outside or otherwise unable to keep warm this week in these apocalyptic temperatures. I wonder if there is any way to get the statistics on that. Is there an accurate, officially tally? I’m not just saying this either, I genuinely stay up nights over this. How can we be the richest, ‘greatest’ country in the world, and yet people still freeze to death every year? Or go hungry? Events like this just drive home how flawed and ineffectual capitalism is.

And on that note.

Writing Panic, Nerdfighteria, and New Knitting Jargon

Even though, logically, this would be the time when I post the next installment of the long-ass piece in which I blagged about the assets of 2013, I pull another fast one and digress yet again down a long and ridiculous tangent that has nothing to do with anything but is bothering me quite a bit. (Like that commercial in which a guy brings a flower to a date of some import, while a delectable guitar melody plays over it. Has no one noticed that the melody is in fact “Never Going Back Again” – a Fleetwood Mac song about bitterly giving up on love after a string of disastrous affairs? Seriously? What is friggin WRONG with people?)

And in that vein I refer back to my last blag post in which I mention how I’ve been knitting up a storm. And while twelve movies (make that thirteen – hello, the Breakfast Club) does fill up the time, it obviously doesn’t fill up all the time. So what else have I been watching? Well, first I went and watched all of the nerd videos I had missed this fall/winter while I was busy getting nerdier. Then, after I did that, I decided to go back in time and watch all of the early Brotherhood 2.0 videos. In order. I did this mainly because I was curious, and mainly because I was bored and knitting, and mainly because I am a fan. I mean, I watch the current videos and whatnot, but I am not an original fan. All of my DFTBA and Nerdfighting expertise came later, when I was lured in through other, related videos by Mental Floss and the like. I am not afraid to admit that; I was still at university (the first go round) and dealing with some heavy personal shit (like always) and so stuff like this got by me. This is true of other things of that time period – like Heroes, which I love and didn’t watch until years after the fact thanks to G4 and Netflix.

Now that I’ve admitted that, please don’t dump on me over it, fellow Nerdfighters. I am suffering enough knowing that too much time has gone past to bother posting replies In My Pants or otherwise when the Green Brothers need to be schooled. Maybe when I complete my time travel device, I can tell Hank that the Harry Potter series is popular in a way that hasn’t been seen since L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. Yes, it’s true: the Land of Oz was an epic commercial success that no one had seen the likes of before or until Rowling dropped her recycled saga on us. I could also fill the Brothers in on the equally epic Ninjas versus Pirates wars that went on at my college campus. Wars involving found vintage pornography and kites.

Anyway, so here I am knitting feverishly and watching John and Hank when I am struck by two unsettling things. The first being: as I watch John I can’t get the fact that this is the same guy who wrote The Fault In Our Stars out of my head. Seriously? This is the guy? Not to knock John – no, no, no. Not at all. It’s just that he is very much like my friend Dan. Too much, really (it’s doppelganger level scary), and I can’t imagine Dan writing that book. I can’t imagine John writing that book. Although when I do try to imagine who could have written that book I come up blank, so I guess the whole thing is moot.

What is getting to me, actually, is the second unsettling thing, which is that these videos are a good peek into the life of a modern day writer. They take place in 2007, in which we find John Green between two novels: the much acclaimed, already published An Abundance of Katherines, and the in-progress, still being crafted Paper Towns. This means when we don’t see John talking at home, or giving us sneak peaks of a day in a life of writing, we see John traveling… A lot: Promoting his books, going to functions, speaking at organizations and libraries and schools and even attending awards functions. He is always running around and this bothers me because my panic disorder has reached epic levels in certain departments, and traveling, especially alone is currently out of the question for me. And if I am ever to be published I will be expected to do this traveling, running around and talking and flying in planes, and whatnot. It’s bad enough I’ll have to deal with doing it all as a fatty (which is a really big concern, actually and probably will prevent my ever being published by a proper house), but doing it in a constant state of panic… I can’t even…

So concerned about this am I, I have been searching other writer’s blogs and videos and talks and interviews and articles and it’s all the same, everywhere I look. Neil Gaiman practically lives on the road. Even the Composers of Naughtiness have to do all of this. There are specific Naughtiness Composer conventions. I don’t stand a chance. My only hope will be to write something as epic as To Kill A Mockingbird, let my book work for me as I hide in my room and refuse to talk to the media.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I have been medicated for my panic disorder in the past, but the drugs messed me the frak up and stunted my creativity in a weird way. In fact, if you read what I’ve written before, after, and during my periods of medication, you would swear that whoever was writing during was not the same person who was writing before and after. And they sucked even more than that other guy. The same goes for the rest of my art and music too – everything is forced and without, I guess, soul.

This February though, things may change in the freaking-the-fuck-out-in-the-supermarket department. Thanks to the ACA my health care is expanding and I will be able to resume my search for a mental health professional who has some experience dealing with panic disorder. Go me, and thanks Obama. (And please, I don’t need any guff, so don’t go writing nasty anti-Obama shiz in my comments section. I already get a lot of that – and plenty more – from my sadly misguided and misinformed right-wing cousins. Yes, I’ve seen the open letter from the lady in Alabama who is worried her kids won’t have health care. And I’ve successfully smote every single person who has attacked me using it as evidence. So let it go.)

Despite getting all wound up and anxious that my crazy may be thwarting my hopes of finding my book in a store one day, I keep obsessively watching Brotherhood 2.0, Year 1. I find it horribly amusing, and in a lot of ways I can see how these guys might just be In Cahoots. For all of you out there in Nerdfighteria, being In Cahoots is very much like being a Secret Sibling. We would have to meet, exchange glances and nod knowingly for me to confirm this, but so far as I can tell, all the evidence seems to be there. There is no question however, that I am a Nerdfighter. I mean, come on. Not only am I a most epic reader, I am specifically a most epic reader of Science Fiction. On top of that, I am a font of useless information. Seriously. I once inadvertently usurped a museum curator giving a tour, and ended up finishing it myself. (This has resulted in my being the go-to guide in every museum situation since.) I collect weird shit like ancient cameras, rocks, bits of discarded nature and dead bugs which I then incorporate in both my science and my art. I am an abecedarian, and I have lists of kick ass words – everywhere. This last year I didn’t make a gingerbread house I made a gingerbread… T.A.R.D.I.S.. And if that isn’t enough, I am currently enrolled in a major university, where I am studying theoretical physics. I ultimately want to use my nerdiness to make the world a better place – if not just a better informed one.

At this point I think I could actually give Nerdfighter classes. This I feel would be good, and beneficial, as the Nerdfighting community should aim to grow and spread across the earth, using it’s might against World Suck. So sign me up.

In a complete non sequiteur, I shall now present to you as promised, the epic hat stack:

The Epic January 2014 Hat Stack

The Epic January 2014 Hat Stack

That’s fourteen bald heads that shall be soft and warm in the near future, kids.

I wish to take this final moment to announce a new development in the world of knitting jargon. The knitting acronym/abbreviation Sl2,K1,PSSO – sometimes written as S2KP – shall now be referred to as Flooping The Pig. So remember, next time a pattern requires you to slip two stitches (as if to knit) then knit one and pass the two slipped stitches over that knit stitch, you are Flooping the Pig. Don’t worry, SSK – or slip slip knit – is still called Slipping the Nip. That will never change.

And with that, I am off. Please enjoy this parting gift – a playlist to get over this whiny rant to:
Fleetwood Mac – Never Going Back Again
The Goat Rodeo Sessions featuring Aoife O’Donovan – Here and Heaven
Newton Faulkner – Sitar-y Thing – Interlude
Chris Thile – Riddles in the Dark
Claude Debussy – Suite Bergamasque: Menuette
The Jane Austen Argument – Song for a Siren
CocoRosie – Gallows
Agnes Obel – Riverside
Alexandre Desplat – Mr. Fox in the Fields Medley
Bruno Coulais – Mouse Circus
Iaian Ballamy – Rabbit Band
Architecture in Helskini – Nothing’s Wrong