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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Getting to Know Your Local Redneck

So, as reported previously I am participating in Neil's Great Interview Experiment. I have been tasked with interviewing Tanis, The Redneck Mommy. Even though she's an Oilers fan and totally cut in line (Neil completely caved when she batted her eyelashes at him and insisted she needed be the one to interview Mr. Lady), I agreed.

Well Hi there, Tanis. Thanks for squeezing this little interview into your busy press schedule. I understand that you have recently been featured on CNN and in the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald. How do you deal with the attention from media outlets? Do you laugh about it? Get nervous about your image?

It's an aberration. Generally speaking, the only attention I get in real life is from my dog begging for a treat. My children like to pretend I don't exist unless of course they need something like, food or clean clothes. Then it's all "Mommy, we love you. Please get off the computer and take care of us." That's when I like to toss Cheerios at them and tell them to check their socks. If the socks can't stand up by themselves, they are good for at least another day. Heh.

All of which makes the recent media attention I have received flattering and a bit disconcerting. I don't mind doing print or radio interviews, but television throws me for a loop. I'm very self-conscious about my appearance and it's hard to pretend I'm invisible when I see myself on the screen. I don't enjoy it.

You've been blogging for a while now, and it seems to be a pretty big part of your life. Do you have close friends that you've made through blogging, or do you keep your blog life separate from your offline life?

Dude. What life offline? Folding laundry and parading around naked in my yard? Just kidding. Well, not about the naked part. But I rarely fold laundry. I prefer the wrinkled look. I call it crinkle-chic.

To answer you, blogging slowly, through time, has become a huge part of my life. I have been fortunate that my blogging life has bled into my offline life and the boundaries have blurred. Some of my favorite bloggers that I stalked regularly have turned into my real life best friends and I consider myself amazingly blessed to have them as part of my life...on line and off.

Do you really consider yourself a redneck?

Depends on how you define a redneck. Have I ever ate roadkill or dated a blood relative? No. Do I like to play in the mud with big trucks and shoot off guns at darn near every opportunity? Hell yes.

The difference between me and a stereotypical redneck is that I still have all my teeth. For now. Heh.

You have a reputation for being extremely candid on your blog. Are you that candid in your offline interactions with people? Do people react differently to candor in person than online?

I suffer from a condition called foot-in-mouth disease. There is currently no treatment available and it seems to be compounded by my complete lack of common sense.

That said, I believe in telling it like it is, even if the truth hurts. I have learned to be candid, even shockingly so and not mince words whether on line or in real life, because I don't like it when people say something and mean another. I also seem to have no personal boundaries, which further encourages my candor. Much to my family's discomfort. Heh.

I haven't found a real difference to the reactions to my candor on line or IRL. People either appreciate it or they don't.

You seem to spend a lot of time naked. Why do you hate clothes so much?

I think I must have been a nudist in a past life. That or I find clothing constricts my creativity and for the sake of my craft I must be naked.

Either way, it works for my husband.

Who is the hottest daddy blogger and why?

Well, I don't have a thermometer handy to take temperatures....oh, you mean...HAWT.

Hands down it has to be Bill, from Gunfighter: A Modern Warrior's Life. The dude plays with guns and blows things up for me. Plus he wears a kilt. Call me crazy, but a man who fights crime and wears a kilt just equals HAWTNESS..

If you could cast yourself in any movie you've ever seen what would it be?

It's a toss up. I'd love to be in a movie, any movie, with Elvis, because he's the KING. But not Fat Elvis. My heart belongs to the young, thin hip-shaking Elvis. Swoon. (I know, I'm pathetic.) If Elvis wasn't available I would absolutely cast myself as Ellen Ripley from Aliens. She's probably one of the toughest female character ever written, and I would love to be able to run around playing with guns in outer space while shooting aliens.

Apparently, I've got some anger management issues I've yet to deal with.

What is your strongest scent-memory?

I cannot smell the scent of hospital antiseptic without immediately being taken back to my son's last moments of life. It is very difficult for me to be able to walk into a hospital or even a doctor's office because when I catch a whiff of that familiar smell, my heart breaks all over again and I find myself fighting waves of grief and love.

If you had to choose between being funny in person or funny online, which would you choose and why?

You mean I can't be both??? Damn. So much for my comedic delusions. If you asked any of my friends or family, they would be quick to tell you that I'm decidedly not funny in person. Just sarcastic and annoying.

I just take that as a personal challenge to try harder. Wink.

What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

I could ask if you meant African or European. I could tell you that it's just a simple question of weight ratios and with some kinematic data, Strouhal numbers and some simplified flight wave forms the answer is 8.8 meters per second, or 20 miles per hour.

Instead, I'll just tell you that I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction.

Many thanks to Tanis for agreeing to do this, and again to Neil for setting the whole thing up in the first place.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Blogging Justice League

Some days I want to punch people in the face. I can get myself worked up really well over little internet nothings, and some days I can spend a lot of time just going around hunting trolls because I can't let things stand unanswered.

Trolls: Those little asshats who populate message boards, spouting horror and hiding behind masked IP addresses.

Not all trolls are anonymous. Some are bloggers themselves who write stupid posts about people I know and read.

Maybe it's my philosophical training: I'm not supposed to let stupid reasoning and bad argumentation go unnoticed and un-addressed. I have an almost professional obligation to make the world a better place by leaving traces of reasoning wherever I can, even if I'm not nice about about (and honestly, a lot times I don't want to be nice about it).

I have a new badge, because although Loralee is quite right that we need to remember that we aren't the blog police, to stand up and fight every little insignificant battle that faces us, we are, and ought to be Blog Vigilantes.

A vigilante has some spare time, and takes the opportunity to leave a little trace of order where there was chaos, reason where there is abuse, and mockery where it is earned (because seriously, sometimes the troll just needs to be mocked for sheer stupidity).

This isn't a call to arms, because the blog world would probably be a worse place if everyone started feeding the trolls all the time. But it is a call to vigilance: if a troll attacks someone you care about and responding would make your friend feel better, then do it. Don't worry about provoking the troll: your concern ought to be for your friend. If a troll is sliming through your community and you have an opportunity, you can get your digital billy club out and do a verbal number on his head, because part of what makes a community is the defense of the community. You don't need to do it all the time; you can be opportunistic in your vigilantism.

Some days I'm more vigilant than others. And on those days I always remember the best XKCD ever drawn:

This is my Blog Vigilante badge. It reminds me both that there are stupid people on the internet and that it can be an unjustifiable timesuck to try to stave off the flood of ass-hattery that can come washing down on you. So, don't take your vigilance too seriously, but don't let trolls, whether they are anonymous or noted bloggers themselves, control your community or your friends.

Join me, and Loralee, in The Blogging Justice League!!! You will get your tights when we get your initiation fee.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Great Interview Experiment

So, Neil Kramer over at Citizen of the Month has done a fabulous thing. He has invited bloggers to sign up to interview each other, just like the rock stars they really are. New bloggers, veteran bloggers, red and blue bloggers, they've all signed up to be interviewed, one after another after another.

I looked on the sign up page recently and there, just waiting for someone to interview, was Oh The Joys. How awesome. I clicked on the comment form as quickly as I could to paste my name all over that sucker because I love Oh The Joys.

She sent her questions to me and I said "Wow, I so should never be around her or anyone she knows if I've had more than half a glass of wine." And then I said "There is no way I'm answering these questions out where my, uh, parents, can read the answers." :}

So she sent some more questions and I just have to give her some mad propz yo for doing twice the work to get something printable out of me.

So, if you want to know a little bit more about me, go ahead and click on over to Oh The Joys. You won't regret it, because I'm really interesting to talk to.

And stay tuned to this space for my interview with The Redneck Mommy! Coming Soon! As soon as soon can be! As soon as I can think of questions to ask her. Any ideas? E-mail me at and I'll spring them on her.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

This post is about hockey, kittens, babies, heaven, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You've been warned.

On June 16th, 1998 the Detroit Red Wings swept the Washington Capitols to win their second straight Stanley Cup. The "16" was important, since it takes 16 wins in the playoffs to win the Cup. "16" was also the number of Vladimir Konstantinov, the Red Wing defenseman who was critically injured during a car crash shortly after their 1997 Cup Win. All year long the Wings wore a patch on their uniforms that said "Believe". For Vlad-y.

I am a Red Wings fan, but the 16th is important to me for a different reason. That afternoon we brought a little calico kitten home, just before Game 4 was to start. We named her Madison and she punched the older cats in the face and she licked beer from my chin as the Wings clinched the Cup.

Madison was our first daughter, in a way, and even though pet owners might shake their heads at this, she was clearly the favourite in the house. Hector and Puck, a year older and brothers to boot, just never did out-cute Madison. She was Emily's favourite living thing in the world, and I don't know that I'm kidding about that. Maybe a little, but it's a close call.

Maddy grew very ill just after Valentine's Day 2006. Her vet said that her kidneys had failed and that we ought to go home, say goodbye, and bring her in the next day to put her to sleep.

Emily and I were both complete and total wrecks. And in the middle of the night, in the middle of our grief, Emily said "No."

"No, I don't accept this."

The vet had told us that the UC Davis veterinary hospital actually had a feline kidney transplant program, but that Maddy was just too far gone for that to help. But in the middle of the night that sliver of hope was enough for Emily, and for me.

We brought her up to Davis the next day and then spent a week with her in the veterinary hospital, having her examined, stabilized, and hoping that a donor would come in. None ever did.

But it was during this process, the daily visits, the constant worrying about Madison's health and future quality of life, that Emily turned to me and said "Let's have a baby."

Even though no donor ever came in Maddy was stabilized enough to come home after a couple of weeks and then we began our long wait. Twice daily we would give her subcutaneous fluids and medication so that she would feel well enough to eat and put weight back on.

In early August 2006 Erin was conceived, and Maddy was still with us, six months after the vet had said we ought to put her to sleep; six months after Emily said "no."

In late April 2007 Erin was born, and Maddy was still with us. She met the little girl that love for her inspired us to have.

Maddy stayed with us until September 2007, 19 months after she would have died if Emily hadn't said "no." Once Erin was born the cats received a lot less attention, and so there was always a lingering feeling of either guilt, or that Maddy had just stayed long enough to say hello and goodbye to Erin.

Emily came to me in the kitchen a few days ago: "I had a dream about Maddy last night."

"I dreamt that she came to tell us that she was happy in kitty heaven and not to worry about her."

I almost couldn't look Emily in the face after she said this. It was quite possibly the most adorable thing she's ever said in my presence. I felt my heart grow like the Grinch's, bursting its walls and giving me superhuman strength and inspiration out of love for this divine woman.

And then, proving forever and to the entire world that I am married to the most perfect woman, she said: "It kind of reminded me of that part in Buffy when she comes back from the dead and she doesn't want to tell her friends that heaven was great because she doesn't want them to feel bad about bringing her back. Except I don't think Maddy would lie about it like that."

The only thing I could think to say to her after all of that crushing loveliness was: "You are writing my blog for me, you know."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sauerkraut and Rumours

I don't like sauerkraut. Or I didn't. I was eating a pastrami sandwich today and there was some sauerkraut on it and it didn't bother me. And I wondered why I had had an aversion to sauerkraut at all (apart from it being utterly disgusting in appearance, smell, and flavour; a lot can be forgiven for perfectly accompanying thin-sliced pastrami).

And then I remembered the rumours.

No. Not those rumours. But the timing of my sandwich is highly suspicious. Like the god of deli meats is looking out for me, reminding me that life is a bit cyclical.`That it doesn't matter that I'm 31: sometimes high school is inescapable. Because people don't change enough from the teens they were when they become the adults they are.

I was a counselor at a day camp for kids with disabilities the last two summers of high school. By the second year I was completely comfortable in the job, loved all the kids (many of whom returned), was friends with all of the counselors from the past year and made friends with those who were just starting. Probably unsurprisingly most of the counselors were young women or high school girls: young men weren't that attracted to the job, for inexplicable but obvious reasons.

There were a few guys: Bruce, a late-twenties trashy-dude who took the job when his girlfriend Laura did. Nick, a kid around my own age. And another Shawn, a varsity-looking guy, also older, but only early twenties.

It was probably the best job I've ever had (present occupation excepted), and we gang of friends, though of varying ages and backgrounds, really delighted in pranking each other to one extent or another. The bigger pranks were reserved for a special day, toward the end of summer, and on that day everyone was on the lookout.

I didn't look hard enough, though. Because on that day they managed, Bruce and Shawn, to get me on the ground and dump a huge bag of wet brown sugar all over me. And then to top it all off:


God it stank. And it was sticky. And it lingered for what seemed like days.

This brilliant and humiliating prank was engineered by Bruce, and I never thought of a way to get him back. Plus, he was from Rideau Heights in Kingston, the shady side of town, and I just didn't want to mess with him.

Summer closed, and the changes that had been taking place all season beneath the earth sprouted brilliant maples that bore some insane fruit.

A few days before my sauerkraut bath I was called in to the camp director's office. She was a high school friend (although long graduated), and I had the job I did because of that connection and because the company's main office was next to my father's law office, so I saw her all the time. She waved me in, and indicated that I should have a seat.

"I had to call you in today, had to, even though you shouldn't worry about this at all. But I've had a complaint about you."

The wind was sucked out of me. I thought I was pretty affable. If I'm comfortable, as I was in that environment, I'm pretty good with people and I try not to step on any toes. I thought I was doing well.

"Someone has complained that you've been sexually harassing some of the female counselors."

The wind was punched out of me. My mind ramped up speed, re-examining every interaction I had had with any of the other counselors all summer long. I had a girlfriend, and didn't consider myself flirty, and I was taken utterly by surprised.

"Look. I know that this complaint is nonsense. But it was made, and as the camp director I have to investigate and confront you about it."

"Can you tell me who? Who I'm accused of harassing? Who made the complaint?"

"No. But seriously. Don't worry about it. It's bunk."

I left her office a very cautious, paranoid person (but not paranoid enough to avoid the sauerkraut dousing later that week). I couldn't tell anyone about it, because it was just too freakishly embarrassing. Plus, if it made me re-evaluate all of my interactions, even though I was assured that the complaint was baseless, then I couldn't imagine what other people would think. I didn't think I could count on the benefit of the doubt (although I shouldn't have been so worried). And I just didn't want anyone thinking of me like that, even if only to consider it without judging.

But, on the last day of day camp I was sitting outside with Bruce, trying to be a little sympathetic since his girlfriend Laura (the one who was also a counselor and who had gotten him hired) had broken up with him. They lived together, so this was especially painful for him (and alien to me), so I talked to him about it, and about how weird the summer was.

"You know," I said, "I, uh, I got called into Stephanie's office a couple of weeks ago. Someone had filed a complaint against me, for sexual harassment. Can you believe that? I mean, what the hell? Hey, tell me honestly, do you think that I was over the line with anyone here?"

He looked at me and smiled the bitter smile of the recently dumped: "Yeah. I do. I'm the one who filed that complaint."

What. The. Fuck?

"What the fuck? You? Why?"

"Laura. You were always talking to her and I know that you two have been sleeping together all summer. You needed to be put in your place, you little shit."

His eyes were pretty crazy by this point, and all of a sudden the sauerkraut incident wasn't just a prank: it was aggression, spite, revenge.

"Bruce. Look. Laura and I are friends. I have never done anything even remotely inappropriate with her." (Hey, I know this is supposed to be an 18-year-old talking to a 28-year-old, but forgive me if I make the 18-year-old sound a little more sensible and a little less squeaky than the situation really had him sounding.)

He spat something about waiting for me around the corner after work (seriously, dude? High school is over, for both of us, but maybe not for as long in your case.) and then he crawled off. No longer a person to me, but a chameleon. I hadn't realized it; I hadn't been able to pick him out against the red brick of the camp building, or the green leaves of the summer trees.

I wanted to talk to him, and convince him, somehow, that he was just wrong. But he wouldn't listen. Just threaten.

I asked Laura about it later. I told her about the sexual harassment complaint (and her eyes grew wide) and then I told her about Bruce being the one to make it (and her eyes grew angry), and then I told her about his accusation that we had been sleeping together, the 18-year-old kid and the 27-year-old woman-living-with-someone (and her eyes grew soft).

Yeah, they softened.

"Well," she began, "he got it half right."


"I've been sleeping with the other Shawn for half the summer."

I had no idea what to say to that. All I could think about was sauerkraut, and being held down by Shawn while Bruce poured the disgusting concoction all over my head.

I don't mind sauerkraut so much anymore. And I suppose rumours don't bother me either.

But I don't ever want to suffer from both ever again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why Not?

We took Erin on one of those Duck-boat tours in San Diego. You know, the ones where you board on dry land, drive around for a while having things pointed out to you, then drive into the water and motor around for a while having things pointed out to you, but lower, with chance of spray?

I think Erin had a good time. I know that Emily and I did, but not because we could see the seals in the harbor (or sea lions, I don't know the difference) or watch helicopters take off from North Island in pursuit of imagined bad dudes.

We had a good time because we watched people gush over our daughter. Sure, that happens all the time (because like every parent our child is the cutest one in the world and gets the most attention and blah blah blah...leave me alone), but this time it was particularly charming because Erin was the object of attention from an entire group of Japanese tourists.

Picture, if you will, the stereotypical, mildly racist archetype of the Japanese tourist from every 80's film and television depiction. Now, add smaller cameras. That's the group.

They laughed, smiled, pointed, took pictures, and eventually we let Erin go play with them for a while. She posed, she was bounced, she laughed, she stole glasses and hats. They couldn't stop passing her around, almost fighting over the chance to steal a few extra moments with her.

I know how they feel.

That kind of attention goes right to my heart. I love knowing that other people are just as enamoured of my daughter as I am. I am proud of her and her enthusiasm for the world and its inhabitants. I love sharing her with the world when the world asks, both because that kind of sharing will benefit Erin in the long run as she remains fearless and confident, and because it's really flattering, as though I have something to do with the way that she is and it is being recognized. A tiny little award for having some awesome sex one night fifteen months ago. (Uh. Where did I just go? Getting back to the family show...)

So, that's the feeling that I took with me Wednesday morning as I rode the train up to San Francisco to meet with a modeling agent. Constantly seeing pictures of babies in magazines and thinking "My baby is cuter than that!" or people asking if we've considered letting Erin model finally piqued my curiosity. One of Emily's friends does some modeling, and she has allowed her toddler to do some modeling as well, so eventually we slid a picture her way and it was passed along to the agency. Why not?

Why not?

Why not?

Do you know, "why not?" isn't really a question? It's a statement. A statement about an inability to see reasons, not an invitation to someone to provide reasons that you can't see. It says "I can't think of anything compelling the other way, so...."

I walked into the swank office in downtown San Francisco, with it's posters of movies on the wall signed by actors the firm had represented, and I suddenly missed suburbia.

Yeah, this guy missed suburbia.

The agency was alien. Certainly it was an office like any other, with small rooms off to the side of the waiting area, and hardwood flooring throughout. But I couldn't escape the feeling of "factory" as I looked around.

The agent who had been in contact with us came out from behind a wall after I had finished filling out Erin's "stat" card. (She batted .327 for the Silicon Valley Toddlers last year with 47 goals and a 92% pass completion.) We sat down in her office and she gave us the run-down on the business side: little to no-notice calls, the agency handled both print and film castings, the need to get a work permit, late-morning weekday sessions, the trust accounts set up for earnings. It was all straightforward. She asked about our flexibility, and I felt the need to assure her that even though I'd be in school full-time in the fall I'd only have classes a couple of days a week and could be very flexible.

It was a straightforward "I think your daughter is cute, and has a great disposition, and I can find work for her" conversation.

But something turned my stomach about it. The agent was pleasant, and I immediately felt like trusting her judgment about things: she had the confidence that her position probably requires of her.

So it wasn't her.

It was the factory. Erin would go in, be processed, and come out as some refined (as in sugar, not as in hoity-toity) version of a toddler.

And I realized that the flattered joy that I took out of seeing the world appreciate her would never be captured if this were a job. And she wouldn't learn to love and trust the world as she does in those innocent, random encounters with Japanese tourists: she would learn to let the world love her.

That reversal was stark and bright at the same time. Stark like coming up to the edge of a chasm and feeling your intestines jump into your throat; bright like the hot lights of a police interrogation: "Why Not, Shawn? Why Not? Why Not? Isn't it true that this is Why Not? Admit It? No. No lawyers here. No phone calls. Why Not?"

We left the agency and I was already dressed in mourning black. I mourned the death of that naive dad who thought he could say "Why Not?" without asking it. There was no way I was going to be comfortable letting Erin do this (or making her do it, I suppose you could say. It's not like it's been at the top of her little toddler list of things to do this year: (1) Be a model. (2) Learn how to use a spoon. (3) Figure out why the cat doesn't respond to "kittykittykittykitty!!!!!" and sudden charges in its direction.)

Plus, they wanted 20%.

Fuck that noise. We'd burn the rest in gas just to get to the jobs.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Do you duck and cover?

That's what I'm asking myself right now.

Amalah, Motherhood Uncensored, and Whiskey in My Sippy Cup all pointed links this way yesterday and frankly the traffic here has been intimidating. Like, I feel like I need to vacuum and take a shower.

I kept looking at the posts that were up and thinking "Really? All of these people coming by and they're going to read one post about how you almost threw up as an introduction to someone, or a long braggy list of stuff from BlogHer, or a crazy ramble about neurons, language, and sincerity?"

So, how about you go and read some better posts. If you are here from Amalah, you probably think I'm nice and gallant or something. So this one is for you.

If you are here from Motherhood Uncensored then you probably think I'm lascivious, so this one is perfect.

If you are here from Whiskey in My Sippy Cup then you probably think I'm oblivious, so...uh, what's going on? Did I miss something?

And if you are here because you just like to hang out here in my boring old Blogger-template blog, then welcome. You are my favourite person.

To my old friends, I'm sorry this is just a "Best Of" post. But come on, this is my fourth post in two days. Gimme a break.

Sincerely, Backpacking Dad

There's more to communication than the words you choose.

A professor of mine once described the brain like this: "Imagine that you have covered every inch of the exterior of the two towers of the World Trade Center with windows. Now stack television screens in those windows so that every inch of window pane reveals a television screen behind it. Now, imagine all of the individual pixels on the individual screens behind all of the individual windows on every floor and every side of both of the towers. That is how many neurons we are talking about when we talk about the brain."

Every one of those little puppies fires, on or off, inhibitory or excitatory signals, and the tubes (axons) they fire along are of varying sizes and connected to hundreds and thousands of other neurons.

A thought is a pattern of activation across those neurons and axons, from layer to layer in an insanely complex dance.

When we write we approach the world as though it were handicapped, capable of receiving information only visually. Chronic writers, no matter how talented in metaphor and simile, still approach the world as representable purely linguistically. Words on a page.

Words in your ear are something else. So many more neurons in their little neural communities are involved in hearing spoken words than in reading written words. So many more are involved in feeling the breath on your neck or seeing the look on a face when you speak directly to someone.

It ought to be unsurprising that the thoughts elicited in direct communication are more complex than those elicited by the written word. Not better, just more complex, involving more transitions.

But with this increase in complexity, and an increase in our ability to sift through that complexity with practice we lose something, or gain something, when we transition from writing to speaking. Writing is excellent for conveying honest thoughts, but sincerity is best conveyed in person.

Sincerity is honesty with feeling. And our feeling-detectors work much better face-to-face. It's difficult to be sincere in writing, because all of that feeling of sincerity you have while you write is going to be diluted by the starkness of the written word. Writing is almost an impediment to conveying sincerity. Your reader has to be able to put him or herself in an emotional state that isn't built in to the words themselves; there are no triggers, so you just have to hope that your reader has that kind of empathy. In person we can take advantage of those more subtle tools of communicating sincerity: eye contact, head-angle, light touches on the arm or grasping hands, tone, rhythm, and cadence.

And if you are speaking with someone and they fail to take advantage of these extras that come with speaking in person you experience something like the Uncanny Valley: a point at which the person seems less genuine, less of a person, uncanny, and disturbing. Alcohol and other aids to lowering barriers often increase honesty at the cost of sincerity. The ratio favors the uncanny valley, and turns the drunk into an honest non-person.

Honesty is important. Erin will learn how to be honest. But sincerity is even more important. The difference between charm and cheese is sincerity.


Backpacking Dad.

Monday, July 21, 2008

BlogHer '08: Part 2: I went to BlogHer and all I got was treated like a rock star...and a t-shirt.

My last post notwithstanding I had a truly magnificent time at BlogHer '08. I expected to meet a lot of people, which I did. I expected to make a fool out of myself, which I did. But here are some things that I didn't expect (along with all of the shameless name-dropping that I totally feel entitled to do now):

1. To have Loralee actually squeal when she saw me at the Newbie Mixer on Thursday night.

2. To be standing in a triangle with Graham and Mike at the People's Party, getting our Bay Area Dad Bloggerness on in the middle of a sea of women.

3. To have my bullshit seen through by Oh the Joys and then to get teased by her all weekend about it.

4. To be given one of Carmen's "four mile hike" muffins.

5. To be recognized by Lisa Stone and thanked for participating on the BlogHer website, with references to actual participations!

6. To see, on the great big screens at the front of the ballroom during the opening breakfast, a screenshot of my blog and some lame quote. Several times. Thanks "Blogher-big-screen-slideshow" Committee. You both mortified me and made me feel awesomely welcome and involved.

7. To be practically adopted by Tanis, who was awesome and acerbic and who forced me way out of my comfort zone to meet people.

8. To fall in love more than a little bit. With Catherine's infant son.

9. To be told by Ali how cute I am in person.

10. To hear variations on "Oh my god! Backpacking Dad!" enough times to feel like a huge, monster, Rock Star. I can only hope that I gushed similarly often enough to ease the karmic burden of all of that appreciation. My ego has been swollen to such an inappropriate size that I will be sentencing myself to the Python Abuse Room for a good week and a half to come back down to earth.

11. To discover how much I like mojitos. Even $11 mojitos.

Bah, there are a thousand of these I could write.

I was really touched, ladies. If every guy could go to BlogHer and have the same experience you'd be beating us away with great big sticks. It was an amazing experience that I'm never going to forget.

BlogHer '08: Part 1: The Big Fail.

I'm going to begin in the middle, proceed to 16 years before the middle, continue to the beginning, and then get to the end. I've been told that sometimes it helps to give your readers a little introductory topic sentence that lays out the roadmap. So there's mine. Do you also want a compass?

The Middle

After the first full day of BlogHer ended there was a big party at a club behind the hotel. I was eventually convinced to get over my shyness and just get the introduction over with, even though in 24 hours it had been built up way out of proportion for me by someone who shall remain nameless and deserves to be flicked in the nose a few times, and it had become more of an obstacle than something I was looking forward to. So I cashed in my first drink ticket and wandered up to her as she was speaking with a couple of other people.

The Prologue

When I was 15 I spent a week visiting my cousin Michael in Barrie, Ontario. Set two 15 year old boys loose on a town like Barrie and hijinks ensue. Boring hijinks, really. We mostly just walked around, trying to buy cigarettes (which I was totally successful at even though I stammered the entire way out of the store), and smoking down on one of the baseball fields. We were joined in our delinquency by a third boy, Michael's friend. And he and Michael spent a lot of their time talking about a girl they knew: Lisa. She was gorgeous, and cool, and, well, that's as far as the descriptions went because that's as far as their attention span lasted and I didn't mind at all because I was also 15 and interested in hearing about gorgeous, cool girls.

We ran into Lisa one night, while we were walking around smoking, and my cousin's friend pointed her out, called her over, and started talking to her. Michael joined in. I stayed a little out of the way, nursing my cigarette; I had nothing to say to her, so no reason to interject myself into the conversation. Plus, she was gorgeous, and that made me nervous. She asked for a cigarette, and wham! I was in the conversation (because I was the one who had the guts to try to buy them earlier, so I was the keeper of the smokes).

I was so cool. I slid the Export A box open and eased one of the white sticks of awesomeness out, then offered it up. Because 15 year old girls never have their own damn lighters, she asked for a light, and all of a sudden I had no idea who the other two guys with me were: strangers? shadows? The Competition?.

Yeah. Someone was going to be lighting that cigarette, and we all had our own lighters. Michael had a Zippo, because Zippos were cool back then. His friend had a plain black Bic, the tall functional, unimposing utility lighter.

I had also picked up a Bic, at the store when I bought the Export A's. And I was so focused on what was going to go wrong with that purchase at the time that I let the clerk pick the colour of the lighter I asked him for. So he tossed a short, pink, Bic, onto the cigarette pack and I didn't have the guts to ask him for a different colour.

We weren't completely dumb, so we knew she was going to ask. We were also competing a little bit, and it was only upon whipping out my short pink Bic that I remembered that I had a short pink Bic and that there is nothing less impressive than a short pink Bic.

So, now what? How do you patch over the hole in coolness that carrying a short pink Bic around leaves? If you are me, you open your mouth and reveal all of the amazing wit and intelligence you have hidden within your soul.

You say: "Here. Use mine. It matches your eyes."



I stood there, hand outstretched in front of me, as all three of them turned to look at my little pink Bic.

Later, my aunt would put it best: "You really have a way with words, Shawn. No girl can resist a man who calls her an albino to her face."

The Beginning

I spent the first night of BlogHer meeting an insane number of people at a pre-party and being made to feel, over and over again, like a goddamned rockstar. People were that cool. Afterward, I went to bed at 1:30am and then let Erin wake me up at 3:30 and 6:30. I caught the 7:30am train back to SF and arrived for the first day very, very tired. I missed breakfast, and picked at lunch, and tried some coffee in the afternoon that just made me jittery, anxious, nauseated, and eventually even more tired.

I was not a rockstar that night. I didn't have the energy to hold up conversations. I was lame and emo and if it weren't for a few ladies who really propped me up all night I doubt I would have stayed very long.

So, it was the perfect time to go introduce myself to someone. It occurs to me now that I may not have taken the initiative in introductions until that moment, and it shied me enough that I had to work really hard to try it with other people, even when I wasn't exhausted, sick, emo, and anxious.

The End

"Hi." I was all smiles, hovering beside her for a few moments while awaiting a gap in the conversation.

What have my eyes looked like when I have turned to look at people I don't know? Have they been so appraising?

"I'm _______," she said, politely.

"I'm Shawn," said I.

Now what, genius? Oh, right. Why would she know "Shawn"?

I pointed down to my namebadge, so artfully printed with "Backpacking Dad" (while every other person I met had filled that space with their actual name).

Whoops! Nothing. Maybe a flicker of recognition. Maybe annoyance.

"Oh, hi. I've seen you around but I didn't know who you were."

"Yeah." Nerves again? "I'm, uh, easy to pick out and tough to recognize."

Complete and total confusion. Man, you should have just gone with calling her an albino to her face. At least that provoked a smile once.

"So, how are you enjoying the conference so far?" She remained polite, but any conversation we were going to have would never ever recover.

"Have you met anyone you'd been looking forward to meeting?" she offered, professionally.

"Yes, [she who deserves to be flicked in the nose] has kind of adopted me so I've been talking with her a lot."

"Oh, she's great. Are you having a good time?"

A smart person would have ended this conversation with "I'm Shawn" and walked away. But you have other plans, don't you Bic-boy?

"It's a little overwhelming." What was the plan, dude? Did it tank when you realized she barely knew who you were? What, did you think you were going to walk up to someone and they would Of Course know who you were? You conceited ass. You have nothing, now, right? I'll remind you later that you could have brought up War & Peace, had a one minute conversation about it, and then left. I'd remind you now, but I really want to see what you are going to come up with here.

Polite nod.

"Plus," No, dude. Stop. Stop stop stop stop, "I've been feeling really anxious," please stop, "and nauseated all day."

Wow. I didn't think you could top the albino-compliment, but telling a writer you interact with online that, basically, you want to go throw up, is BRILLIANT.

She had nothing to say in response to my absolutely charming confession. And I didn't have the energy to put anything else into this moment. There was no saving it.

"Well, I'll let you get back to your conversation."

She looked a bit confused and relieved.

I retreated, went upstairs, and used the "I feel nauseated" line on some other women. It seemed to work.

You can't win them all. Or I can't.

After the albino-pickup-line of 1992 I always carried a little pink Bic with me to light my death-sticks; it reminded me to just take a couple of seconds to put my thoughts together.

Never should have quit smoking. Maybe I'll start carrying around one of those airplane barf-bags instead.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lying is just love in disguise

My parents were cruel.

When I asked (fine: yelled, screamed, begged, pleaded, bribed) for a Nintendo for Christmas when I was 10 or 11 (I don't remember which) they came to me on Christmas Eve to say they were very sorry, but they couldn't find a Nintendo anywhere. It was the hot toy that year.

Things haven't changed much in 20 years.

They were very gentle about it, and disappointed, and I did my best to not sulk too much about it.

I think.

When Christmas morning rolled around we took turns opening presents, and I was the official doler-outer of the gifts. Some were torn open immediately, and others (like the big box I wanted my dad to open first because I wanted to see what my mom had bought him) were set aside until later in favour of the smaller gifts. As I doled, and opened, and doled, and opened, I couldn't help but notice that I hadn't opened in a while.

I was done.

My sister still had some to open, but the rest of my Christmas morning was spent passing presents around trying not to look absolutely crushed. Not only did I not get a Nintendo, but I also hadn't received as many presents as my little sister.

Spoiled much? It's all about the quantity, baby, not the quality.

Finally the morning ended, and I passed that big present to my dad to open. He saw how disappointed I was about the whole process and let me open it for him, just to give me something fun to do.

You know where this is going, right? Because most of you are parents, and you know what parents do.

I ripped the paper off, revealing a brand new Nintendo Entertainment System: Action Set (the one with the gun and the Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt combo).

They had driven to Ottawa (an hour away) and combed the city looking for one, and finally found one at JC Penny. It was on layaway for someone else who never bothered to pick it up, so on Christmas Eve they were able to buy it themselves and bring it home for me.

They thought it would be funny or something to watch me sulk all morning.

It was funny. Right?

You'd think I would have learned something from that. Something apart from the great parenting truth that "Lying is just love in disguise".

But I didn't. I didn't learn.

The next Christmas when I begged for a Power Glove (Nintendo's first attempt at a Wii-type controller), my mom was very sorry to tell me that they couldn't find one anywhere.

Yeah. I fell for it. Again.

And within hours I was knocking out Bald Bull and King Hippo with my Power Glove. The display copy from the mall store that they were finally able to sell at the last minute to the woman who was waiting so patiently (or threatening them with death).

Tell me I'm not the only one to fall for stuff like this. And that I'm not the only one who is totally going to do it to their own kids.

There really is something incredibly loving about these stories. Even though they are mostly about tricking a kid into being a jerk on Christmas morning.

Monday, July 14, 2008

GoogleHer? I don't even know her

Catherine over at Her Bad Mother had this little epiphany for pre-BlogHer introductions (and also a good meme idea for those who aren't terribly self-conscious about their Internet footprint): Google yourself and list 5 things about yourself that are floating around out there, known only to Google. Most of my Internet (did you know that's a capitalized word?) footprint is academic, except for the blog stuff.

So, for the stalkers:

1. I am a grad student in philosophy at Stanford. I'm an old grad student. That's an old picture. And it was taken in Hakone. That egg was steamed over the sulfur pits there.

2. The UCSD Alumni Association loves me. Emily says I have a leadership addiction. Whatever. They gave me a check and nice paper weight.

3. At one point I was very concerned about helping people read Steven Brust's books in the best order.

4. I was invited to present comments on a Native American political philosophy book by Dale Turner (This Is Not a Peace Pipe) at the APA Pacific conference this past winter.

5. I am a mediocre fencer. I haven't been able to fence in a few months, because of a combination of scheduling conflicts with Emily's work and some bruised heels.

There. Now you know as much about me as Google does.

(Editor's Note: I realize upon re-reading this that the list looks like a joke. No, that's all me kids. Philosopher, leadership addict, fantasy-geek, professional philosopher, and bad fencer.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Suburbanity and the Future

I spent my birthday being suburban. I woke up, drove my Camry to drop my wife at work in her office building, and then went to breakfast at IHOP where I sat Erin in a plastic high chair and watched her stain her dress with blueberries that had probably never seen a shady forest. We followed that up with a nap, because I tire easily at the corner of Maple and Chestnut.

.............In War and Peace, when asked why he is going to war, Prince Andrei replies: "I'm going because this life I am leading here--this life is--not to my taste." .......................

After naptime we went to Target, because I needed some cargo shorts. The shorts I was wearing had holes through both pockets and I carry a lot of the suburbs with me: car keys, a digital camera, a Blackberry, a leather wallet that I bought at the mall. I usually put my keys in my right pocket, close the doors and walk away while clicking the clicker that will either alert me that my vehicle is secure in the parking lot formerly known as paradise, or that my doors are open and need to be closed before being locked. I needed new cargo shorts because I was tired of putting my keys in my left pocket; they kept falling through the right one.

I bought three nearly identical pairs of shorts, the only difference between them being one of shade, not colour.

..................and they're all made out of ticky tacky................

Then we drove to the mall, because Target wasn't big enough for us to spread ourselves out in.

We dined at Beni Hana, where we made faces at Erin while the chef-ertainment put on a show in the toughest house around. She smiled at him a few times.

The most significant scene in Wall-E, I think, is the one where the floating indolents change their outfits from red to blue, with the push of a button and without hesitation. This false choice, so important to them, allows them to satisfy the human need to navigate forks without risking the consequences of a real choice, one with consequences. Their condition, and the condition of the planet they flee, is a result of these simulations of choice.

.........I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately.....

The human brain is a big prediction generator. Over time it develops archetypes, patterns of learned and created reality that it uses to see into the future. Our human curiosity is more than anything else a drive to feed the prediction machine. Because if we can feed the prediction machine it can help keep us safe, and keep our genes safe, to spread out and populate. Our brains run little simulations of the world and its events, micro-seconds ahead.

The suburbs are a simulation, and within this simulation we are safe, and our genes are safe, and we can make choices without consequences.

.....................Not with a______, but a whimper....................

Our sun is dying.

"When it gets too hot here," says the man on The National Geographic Channel, "we have two choices: to adapt to life here or to move on."

"Or die," says Emily.

"That's really morbid," says I.

"I've never thought that human beings would always be around," she explains.

"I have."

........................Soylent Green is people.............................

The suburbs, and the people living in the suburbs making their simulated choices, are a resource.

Technology, sufficiently advanced, looks like magic.

Technology, the manipulation of the pure stuff of the universe, can help us in our daily individual lives. It can also be the cause of our soul-death. What happens when we are constantly connected to everyone else through our Blue-tooth brainchips? Individuality dies, and there are no more creations from individual genius. Souls are individual expressions of the stuff of the universe. When people can communicate in the same way that the two hemispheres of our prediction-machine brains can, then there is just one person, made up of tiny little resources. People the size of neurons.

But will the technology inspired by, funded by, demanded by, the suburbanite help the population achieve escape velocity and carry on, out there? Or does it take individual genius to leap into space?

Does soul-death ensure the safety of our genes?

.............That's my daughter in the water, everything she owns I bought her.................

My genes are sleeping in the other room. She doesn't know that the sun is dying. But she loves Target, she smiled at the chef-ertainer, and she has blueberries all over her dress.

I will keep her safe, here in the simulation, and I will hope that doing so also helps us achieve escape velocity.

I will hold the soul death at bay through deliberate choices, wherever those choices are available to me in my simulation.

But my first choice has to be to embrace the simulation. Because if all I do is tolerate it, then I am one of the pseudo-humans in Wall-E, carried along on my hover chair and never noticing that I have no choices left.

I love the show Weeds. And The Olive Garden

.........You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around; that's what it's all about..........

As we left the Target and returned to our car, we saw that the driver's side door was open and there was a security guard standing near by. We approached, and he asked me if the grey Camry was mine. "Yes. How long has the door been open?"

"The whole time," he replied.

My shorts had a hole in the right pocket, so I put my keys in my left pocket when I got out of the car. I pulled Erin out of the back seat and she was so excited to see the Target logo that she practically hopped out of my arms to race over to the giant red concrete spheres. I let her lead me away.

Completely forgetting that I hadn't closed my door.

And because I had put my keys in my left pocket I hadn't felt them when I put my hand in my right pocket, my habit. And so I hadn't pressed the 'lock' button, and the car had not beeped at me to say that the doors weren't all closed.

It's a good thing I have new shorts from Target now, or else the next time this happened someone could have stolen my iPod.


Don't worry if this is confusing. I don't understand it myself. I'm just feeling very suburban today and trying to feel better about it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


In one hour, I will be a thirty-one year old: father, husband, son, brother, philosopher, blogger, hockey fan, and list maker.

Loyalty: It makes me an asshole


Does it say "asshole" in the title of this post?


I realize that I don't swear on this blog (maybe I have on occasion and I just don't remember at the moment). And that probably most of the bloggers I read use "fuckshitwadmotherfuckingbitchslutcocktits", or other words with similar effect, with regularity and great humor.

I don't.

I swear a lot. In e-mail, in comments on other blogs (where appropriate), out loud, in front of my daughter. I was at the ballpark on Sunday and I yelled out "What a chickenshit!" then noticed the dad with his two kids sitting immediately in front of me. "I mean poopyhead. Sorry dude."

I don't think I make a conscious choice to not swear. It just doesn't occur to me to do so in print.

Well, today, fuck that noise.

I'm pissed at myself, because I caught myself being an asshole today and then kept right on being an asshole anyway. Asshole asshole asshole.

Erin and her grandma (from that Mohawk reservation near Massena New York, kids. I was the dumbass running in jeans through Washington Square Park) and I were at Le Boulanger in Menlo Park today (because we roll the suburban eateries like that). Emily joined us about halfway through, and just after I had noticed one of Erin's baby friends from way back in her Day One days was in the restaurant with us.

This kid was older than Erin, and had "graduated" out of the formal playgroup a few months before Erin and I stopped going. His mother and I were friendly, mostly because he was pretty cute and hung out over on my side of the parachute floormat most of the time. She always seemed a little sad, and tired, though. And through the group conversations she eventually revealed that she and her husband were separating, and divorcing.

Her son was months old.

Fuck that.

Ok, so I don't know anything about it. But she was kind of a friend, and she always seemed so sad, and tired, and it all made sense once I knew that her husband wasn't in the picture on a daily basis. Want to know what the opposite of a stay-at-home-dad is? That douchebag.

Again, I don't know anything about it. But I can't help it. I'm still a little pissed off that I let myself become an asshole for a second because of this loser.

The kid was at the restaurant with his father, and I kind of recognized him, so I must have met him at a party or something. I was happy to see the kid, and I said "Hey pal", and I turned to the douchebag, er, dad, and said "Hi, Erin and your son used to go to Day One together." And then he said:

"Oh, I know. I remembered you."


Fuck you douchebag.

Because that "you" was loaded with all kinds of "the dad who hangs out with the moms", "the dad I'm suspicious of", "the dad who thinks he's better than me" shit.

Sure, most of that is in my head. But he's the one who said, and emphasized "you". And it wasn't a "I didn't recognize your daughter, but I recognized you" kind of emphasis. And it wasn't a "Even though you seem to have recognized my son but don't remember me I remember you" kind of emphasis. It contained secret thoughts that he couldn't keep off of his face. Just for a second.

It bothered the hell out of me, that "you". Because I do my best to be sincere and above-board. I'm the male in a female group (groups, really), and I have to be aware of the explanation and accounting that must be given when I meet the husbands. "This is Shawn. He's the dad. Feel threatened or inferior by his dedication to his daughter and his support of his wife's career, husband. Also, he's shockingly handsome and I hang out with him All. The. Time." I try to stay cool, and I absolutely resent any implication that I'm anything but honest and respectful.

His son started making the sign for "milk". He and Erin had been in a signing playgroup when she was 6 months old and he was 9 or 10 months old. "Ah, still keeping up the signing, are you?" I asked, completely without agenda. I swear.

"Yeah. He uses his eight signs."

Eight wasn't a boast, so it had to have been the truth.

So what did I do, at the table next to the douchebag who was out with his son for lunch and who had made the mistake of an emphasis?

I spent 5 minutes cycling through all of the signs Erin could recognize or perform. I didn't say "Hey, douchebag, watch what my kid can do!" It only occurred to me after the first minute or so that I was even doing it. I realized right away why I was doing it: even though I knew nothing of their marriage, I assumed he was a jerk because my acquaintanceship was with his wife, who always looked sad and tired. And I wanted to show him up a little bit, for that "you".

But come on. That's an asshole move. Continuing to do so after recognizing what I was doing was an even bigger asshole move. Because it was using his thoughts about his kid against him: "Wow, she really knows a lot of signs and she's a lot younger and maybe I haven't been doing enough with my son to teach him and maybe my son just isn't as smart."

I feel badly about that. I should have just called him a fucktard to his face and left it at that.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Guest Post

I'm over at FADKOG's today, pretending that I'm not looking through her drawers for porn while she's on vacation.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


He was wearing brand new Nike shoes as he ran through Washington Square Park. The rest of his running attire consisted of an ill-considered pair of jeans (who runs in jeans?) and a sweatshirt. It was 70 degrees in San Francisco. No one needs a sweatshirt to run in San Francisco in 70 degree weather.

His sweatshirt was grey, and emblazoned across the front was "Massena New York".

Where is Massena?

Ask your friends from New York. They probably couldn't tell you. A Google search reveals it to be spitting distance to Canada, near an infamous Mohawk reservation and at the intersection of the borders of Canada and the U.S., of Ontario, Quebec, and New York, of Europe and Indian Country.

Why was he running? Why was he weaving around the homeless, the hippies, the high-schoolers, and the high schoolers, laying out in various prone positions in the park? Why cross the park, diagonally from Powell to Stockton instead of going around it?

Where are you going in blue jeans and a sweatshirt from a place no one knows about?

I like to think that he was on an urgent errand. That perhaps his mother was visiting from that Mohawk reservation where Indian Country meets Europe, where English meets French and the U.S. meets Canada. That he was out in San Francisco playing tourist because she was visiting.

I like to think that he was running because as part of the visit they had taken a double-decker bus tour of the City, narrated by an impossible-to-understand tour guide with a muffling microphone. And that on this tour his daughter, her granddaughter, threw a 2-hours-past-naptime freakout, one so bad that they had to disembark, he, his mother, his daughter, and his wife, at Union Square instead of staying on board until the tour ended at Pier 39.

I like to think that he knew he needed to get back to Pier 39 as quickly as possible, pick up their car, and then pick up the girls at Union Square so that his daughter could fall asleep on the long drive home.

I like to think he sprinted up Powell from Union Square, quickly drenching his undershirt, and that he knew this would happen and that's why he kept the sweatshirt on, even though it was emblazoned with the name of a town no one had ever heard of.

I like to think he made it almost all the way to the top of the hill before he had to start walking, out of breath, through Chinatown.

I like to think he jogged down through Chinatown, thrusting the shin-splints out of his mind, because he knew he had to get the car as fast as possible, because his daughter needed to sleep.

I like to think he thought about hurdling the homeless man snoring on the grass because that would have been a perfect movie moment and he loves perfect movie moments.

I like to think he made great time to Pier 39, and that he arrived exhausted, panting, and parched.

I like to think he was running across Washington Square Park in new shoes, blue jeans, and a sweatshirt that read "Massena New York" because his daughter was crying.

Because that was a pretty stupid jogging outfit he was wearing.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Summertime Fun: 19th Century Russian Style

On our flight down to San Diego last week Emily and I read magazines. As we were watching Erin play in the airport before our flight Emily said "I'm going to get some magazines, do you want one?" I said "sure". And she said "What do you want?" And I said "surprise me".

When she came back holding a People and a Maxim I was reminded very forcefully how much I love her. She knew I'd've bought the Maxim on my own had I been flying alone, but that I wasn't about to say "Hey, could you pick me up some porn-without-nudity?"

So, I had a nice time with the Maxim Supermodel Issue on the flight. But before I got around to it I spent some time reading a Make-me-feel-less-guilty-about-the-Maxim publication, the Atlantic Journal Monthly (or however we are supposed to arrange those words; seriously AJM or AMJ or AM or whatever, figure it out).

There was a great article about online reading that did things like increase paranoia about computers and reference Nietzsche and his comments about the work he did on a typewriter versus by longhand. It was also titled, entirely for the grab-factor alone, "Is Google making us stoopid?" I don't really remember Google having much of a role, but the gist of the piece was that maybe the quick hit-and-run reading we do online (blog reading, perhaps using Google Reader so there's your Google tie) might be changing the way our brains are structured to process information. Several anecdotes were brought into play from people who confessed that they had a hard time focusing on a single long piece of writing for the length of time it deserved, something that they had done easily before becoming blog-and-online-article junkies.

It really was mostly just a technophobic, Luddite article. But, you know what? I just spent 15 minutes on Google trying to figure out what the word for "technology-hating person" was because I couldn't remember it. I don't know that it's necessarily Google's fault that I couldn't remember Luddite (and had to give up the search eventually and ask Emily because I wasn't smart enough to pick the right keywords to find articles online about a group that would not willingly put themselves online), but I wonder about this anecdotal "can't read long pieces" stuff. Have I lost my own ability for focused reading?

I read blogs instead of 40 page academic papers or 200 page academic books. And now I've begun Tweeting, and it's hard for me to imagine a less focused type of reading than combing through Tweets looking for something interesting.

Emily and I went to see All the Great Books (abridged) a couple of weeks ago and I was once again reminded of that tome that sits on my shelf, unread, with a fresh spine, taunting me. I bought it almost 8 years ago and I picked it up once and put it down pretty quickly. Yeah. War and Peace.

I've decided that I'm going to make it through War and Peace this summer. Or I'm going to try. It's not as though I'm intimidated by the length (size doesn't matter, say the ladies to their men; size matters not, says Yoda to his boy), but I think I am a little stung by my own earlier failure.

So, here is my clarion: join me in Muscovy. Let's get through War and Peace this summer. I say let's finish it off by the end of Labor Day.

If you've already read it, you can bite me. If you've already started it this summer then kudos to you, but way to make me look bad and I totally wasn't stealing this idea from you.