What’s in the bag?

One of the sexist stereotypes about women is that their purses contain everything short of the kitchen sink. I can’t support that. I’ve known women who walk out of their home without anymore more than their keys and their debit card. I’ve also known women who can’t conceive of leaving their houses without a sack big enough to carry a corgi full of random stuff.

And then there’s my backpack.

I often feel self conscious about bringing my backpack with me everywhere I go because a) I know so many people who don’t need to bring half their household items with them when they go out and b) I grew up with the above sexist attitude surrounding me and constantly worried how men would judge me.

I’m slightly less concerned with point “b” these days, but it still colors my self doubt. But one thing is certain: Any time I leave home without my backpack I end up wishing I had it with me. As inconvenient and slightly embarrassing as it’s presence can be, it does hold a lot of useful things.

This whole thing was sparked by a simple question I saw somewhere in my social media stream: what do you have in your backpack?
In mine I currently have:

  • Two notebooks. One is nearly full and I hate running out of paper in mid sentence. Once I switch over to the new notebook I’ll file the filled one away on my bookshelf.
  • My tablet. I use this primarily to read books. It doesn’t have a data plan and only works through wifi. Its case folds into a stand that allows me to read while eating. I was always warned that if I ate while eating I would always want to eat while reading. I’ve found the opposite to be true. If I’m eating alone it’s impossible for me to eat without something to read.
  • One large-ish cotton napkin, tucked into the bottom. It serves as backup for the handkerchief I keep in my pocket. It also serves as backup napkin. Mostly, however, I’ve kept one in the bottom of my backpack to absorb any accidental spills I have in there. It has served me well in the past to protect my tablet and my notebook(s).
  • Spare keys. My backpack has a key ring attached to the inside of one of the pockets. It detaches with one of those ubiquitous backpack clips. It also means I always have an extra set of house keys available. I’ve kept it in my backpack ever since that one day I actually managed to lose a set of keys somewhere between work and home. A friend had to drive in from out of town to let me into my home. Now I have the spare set and a friend within walking distance with another extra set.
  • Flashlight. This has helped me effect motorcycle and car repairs in the middle of the night. It also allows me to walk down my back alley at night without tripping in the many, MANY pot holes we have back there. I have no idea why our alley is unlit, but it’s like a post apocalyptic landscape back there.
  • My multi-tool. I have a Leatherman that folds out into a large pair of pliers, among a dozen or so other tools. It has served me really well for years. I should get a replacement, though, as a couple of the tools are damaged or missing. But I’ve used it so often I always keep it with me. It was particularly handy when I worked in shipping.
  • Assorted pens. Mostly bic. I try to keep one good pen in my shirt pocket at all time, but I sometimes forget. Or sometimes that pen will run dry. Or go missing. So I keep a handful of backups in the backpack.
  • Pencil, eraser, and sharpener. This is for gaming. You do a lot of erasing and re-writing in gaming.
  • My glass case with my glasses. Ever since I lost my most treasured pair of glasses out of my coat pocket I have become much more mindful of keeping my current set in something less open. Man I miss those glasses. The frames were such a perfect fit, and I wore them for so long, that my temples gradually wore away the enamel on the inside of the arms.
  • Small pack of “get out of hell” cards. I give them out to people who’re having a bad day. Sometimes I’ll leave them in random locations for people to find.
  • One pencil case that does not contain any pens or pencils. Instead it contains a number of small, useful items that would get lost in the backpack if I didn’t keep them in the pencil case. In it I have:
    • Antihistamines and Dristan. I’m allergic to, well, life in general. These keep me breathing.
    • Assorted bandaids. I’m clumsy.
    • Eyeglass cleaning fluid
    • Lip balm

Other things I might have depending on my mood:

  • Pipe, tobacco, lighter, and cleaning implements
  • Thermos of water
  • A random selection of food
  • Dice
  • Laptop and various attachments

I’m hard on my backpacks. The one I currently have is only about three years old and the straps are starting to come detached at the shoulder. I’ll probably have to invest in another one soon.

So, yeah… if it’s a given stereotype that women keep massive bags full of stuff on their person, then I guess I’m just one of the girls. Otherwise I’m a nerd turtle who keeps half his house on his back in case he needs it.

3 hours of stalking while I can’t sleep

I find myself unable to sleep again tonight, consumed by fear and doubt, convinced of my imminent demise. Far too upset to sleep I got dressed (in yesterday’s clothes, no point in dirtying another set) and turned to the internet and Radio Paradise.

Radio Paradise is, more often than not, an excellent choice when I’m upset. It seems to know just exactly when I’m at my worst and hits me with a surprise favorite that perks me up. This morning it was Blue Man Group’s “I Feel Love” featuring Venus Hum. The song has many detractors in the Radio Paradise community. You can rate the tunes and comment on them, and they have a graph displaying the distribution of all the ratings from one to ten. “I Feel Love” (featuring Venus Hum) is rated at a 6.7 despite my sincere “9” rating. The distribution shows a lot of ones and twos and threes. There are people out there who clearly dislike the tune.

But I love it. Headphones are best, as with all my favorite tunes. And with all my favorite tunes the music takes me to a place of daydreams.

Tonight I had the urge to share the tune, even though I knew there’d be a lot of my own friends who simply wouldn’t “get it”. That’s the way it is with all my favorite tunes. They’re my favorites for reasons that don’t work for other people.

Digging through Youtube I found a recording of their live performance. I also found an official video, but for once the live version was better. I posted it and then proceeded to trip down the rabbit hole. I had no idea that “Venus Hum” was a band name, I’d always assumed it was the singer’s name. Youtube had a couple of suggestions for Venus Hum and I checked them out. Good music, and I wanted more.

I was cautious in my search, however. I know the “Feel Love” tune is old, I’ve had it for many years myself, and the video date was some time back in 2006. Doing a search on the band I found they’d formed in 1999. Typical. So much of my favorite stuff comes from the nineties and aughts. The wikipedia entry didn’t mention anything about the band, but it did say their last album release was in 2009. That depressed me a bit. Any band that hasn’t published something in over five years is generally defunct by default.

Then I let myself explore a bit of obsession with their singer, Anette Strean. In the BMG video she did not look anything like my imagination, but watching her on stage, and in Venus Hum’s other videos, I found her face incredibly familiar, and very appealing.

Something about the lips and the smile... and the glasses.

Something about the lips and the smile… and the glasses.

I cannot for the life of me figure out where I’ve seen her face before, but I swear I have. Not Anette Strean’s actual face, because I’ve never met her, but someone. My brain kept skipping on a loop of “she looks almost exactly like…” with that aching lack of conclusion. There was a strong connection somewhere up in my synapses but they refused to resolve in any one person.

Perhaps it’s connecting to some dream amalgam. My dreams, the good ones at least, present me with favorable people who, upon waking dissection, turn out to be an amalgam of multiple people. The women in my dreams especially, combining all the best qualities of my past friends, family, and lovers. Any adversaries in my dreams rarely need more than one person to create a suitable villain, but the nice ones are always very complex.

The face Annette presents has a feel like that, along with an old “high school crush” kind of attachment. So it’s quite possible the person she reminds me of is just someone I’ve forgotten, but it feels like it’s someone I would never forget.

With the obsession of a newborn stalker I did some searches on her. The Venus Hum website looks like it hasn’t updated since the release of their last album in 2009. I was briefly excited to discover she had a twitter account but was then crushed that she hadn’t posted since 2010. I regained the excitement when I found her facebook page. The latest update was from May but at least it was from this year. Reading her last post I find that she’s talking about how May is Mental Awareness Month and she talks a bit about her struggles with Bipolar disorder. She talks about how the diagnosis was both freeing and crushing. Crushing because it labeled her as broken (my paraphrasing) and freeing because at least she now had a point from which she could work and move forward.

I read of her struggles and looked at the photos she has of her family, her husband, and her daughter. I confess to feeling a bit uncomfortable seeing so much of her life without actually knowing her, but I reassured myself a bit with the knowledge that her facebook account was a personal one and what I was seeing was the few bits she made public. Which made me feel good because a surprisingly big part of me wanted to believe she was still posting tons of updates to her friends and family. I wanted to know she was still … existing.

And I’d really like to remember whom it is she reminds me so strongly of. Because it feels like that person might be important. Really important.

But that could just be my imagination building up a connection that isn’t even there. I’m feeling crazy enough as it is these days.

Be well, Annette Strean. I sincerely hope you’re going to make more music and I would love to hear it some day. Please continue to exist out there in the real world.

Busting ghosts and hunting critters

I went for a very long walk tonight. It started with a walk to Eau Claire. I wasn’t there to play Pokeman Go, but to finally see the new Ghostbusters. I chose a late night showing because I wanted a less crowded showing and because I haven’t been able to get motivated enough to leave my condo in time for a matinee. The 10pm showing at Eau Claire was perfect.

I enjoyed the movie, pretty much as I expected to. In fact I enjoyed it more than I expected. I particularly loved Holtzmann.

Erin Gilbert: What year is it?
Jillian Holtzmann: It’s 2040. Our president is a plant!

I also loved the new gadgets, particularly the power fist variant. I wholeheartedly agreed with Abby’s reaction to that one.

Abby's Proton Fist

Abby’s Proton Fist

There were only six or seven other people in the entire theater which allowed me to choose a position with lots of personal space. Oddly, it was almost too roomy. Quiet moments between advertisements had me self conscious of how loudly I was chewing my popcorn.

Every criticism I’ve read of the movie was reasonably accurate. Chris Helmsworth’s “Kevin” was a little over the top. While I understand the message, and the humor was there, it became a tired joke with overuse. The villain was as forgettable as the character complained himself to be. They played his dysfunction a little too realistically. The joyride with Slimer and his girlfriend was gratuitous and… meh.

But in general it was good, and I’ll see it again.

After the movie I did walk to the park and mingled with hundreds of people playing Pokeman Go. Everyone there appeared to be in their very late teens or early twenties. It was amusing to watch the herd occasionally stamped when someone shouted the name of what I assume was a rare Pokeman. I didn’t bother following the heard, though. I just did a few laps around the park, checking in at the various pokestops (of which there are many, of course) and picking up what Pokeman I encountered. I saw a few new variations, but then they’re all new to me. I have no idea if I picked up anything rare or not, although if the cost of evolving them is anything to go by then I imagine that floppy fish thing is fairly valuable.

Magikarp is my spirit animal

Magikarp is my spirit animal

Okay, I did my research and the flopping fish thing is called a Magikarp and it’s pretty much useless. Looks like it’s an inside joke.

When my phone battery hit 25% I started home, tagging the occasional pokestop on the way. When my phone warned me of low battery power I put it away and concentrated on walking.

I definitely walked more tonight that I have in the past couple of weeks. My feet are killing me and every joint from the hips down aches to some degree. All a consequence of my weight, of course. But it still felt good. Mostly.

Now that I’ve caught up on my internet and wolfed down a bowl of blackberries and vanilla greek yogurt, I think I’ll be heading to bed.

With this image keeping me company.

Holtzmann: lick it!

Holtzmann: lick it!

I made a playlist

I went for a walk tonight after everything but the bars had closed. The streets were still wet with rain. The air was crisp and fresh. It was a fantastic walk through the city at night. I was listening to music as I walked and decided that tonight was the night I would finally make a play list on 8tracks.com. It took me longer than I expected, primarily because some of the music I was looking for was on my phone but not on my PC. Not sure how that happened. I never download directly to my phone, I always download to my PC first. So I had to grab a couple of files off the interwebs before I could make the list itself.

I’m disappointed that the service doesn’t seem to have any method of leveling out the volume, so some of the tracks are louder than others. But I guess that’s something I should be able to do on my end. I’ll try better next time.

Midnight walk after the rain from TheRook on 8tracks Radio.

Meeting neighbors at 2:30 am

I went out for a walk at 2:30 am last night… well, my last night, everybody else’s “this morning.” I finally hit a point of cabin fever where I just had to get out of the house. I decided to walk to Tim Horton’s, buy a tea and do some writing.

As I walked down the nearly empty street I noticed a bearded fellow walking toward me. He presented the body language of someone who was about to talk to me so I took my ear buds out.

Yes, I walk the dark streets at 2:30 in the morning with my ear buds in. I’m 6’ tall, 350 lbs, with a shaved head and a beard. The only people likely to approach me would be either friendly or in need of help. I’m not usually afraid of being mugged. Not in Canada, anyway.

The guy approaches and asks if I live in the Katriina. I recognize him as someone I saw entering my building the other day and realize he’s a fellow resident of the building.

He introduces himself as Jeremy and we get to chatting. Turns out he’s switching over from night shift to day shift and having a bit of trouble getting to sleep. I explain I’ve been unemployed for a number of months and have fallen into the bad habit of simply not going to bed until I’m too tired to stay awake.

We get to talking about the building. Apparently I’m “that guy with the bike.” Which is interesting because it’s the first time I’ve been identified by a group of strangers as something other than “that big guy with the beard.” I’m not surprised, though. I’ve been riding my bike to work (when I worked) every morning for the past couple of summers. Someone who fires up a bike like mine every weekday at 7:30am is going to be remembered by the residents. I’m sure at least a few of them are quite relieved I’m not working right now. They’d be even more relieved if they knew how often I’ve resisted the urge to go for a ride at 3 in the morning.

Jeremy went on to tell me his girlfriend is on the condo board and they’re pushing for “a garden” which explains why there’s some doomed flowers and bushes planted in the dry and biologically sterile dirt in front of my windows. A few are already dying. Jeremy admits that it’s about the worst dirt you can work with. He also commented that, since he’s the only one on the committee without expensive nails he’s well aware who’ll be doing most of the work. He added he plans on bringing in some sand to add to the soil. I hope that’s true. Maybe the combination of pants and a sand topping will keep small birds from using the spot in front of my windows as a dust bath. They kick tons of dirt into my windows.

We talked about jobs. He got some of my specifics and said he’d keep an eye out. He works for an engineering firm made up of an Australian parent company that bought out a whole bunch of smaller companies a few years ago. He didn’t get my hopes up, though, when he talked about his girlfriend’s company advertising for summer student positions and having people with MBAs apply.

My only hope is if students going back to school in September leave some openings for me.

We shared some stories of our cats… he and his girlfriend went to a rescue and picked up a couple of kittens. They were only going to adopt one but one of its siblings clung to him and tried to climb up him to be with its litter-mate, so they chose to adopt both. We talked about possible sleep remedies. We talked about the homeless people that make the area between our building and the neighboring house into a camp site.

Then we parted ways and I found out that the Tim Horton’s near to me isn’t open 24 hours like I’d thought. Still, it was nice to meet a building neighbor. At 3 in the morning.

Why do I fear writing?

I was born to a single mother of a large extended family. For 80 to 90% of my time it was either the two of us or just me. A lot of just me. When we spent time with the extended family I didn’t identify with anyone. Nobody was even a little bit like me. I was soft and emotional and even the women in my family were tougher than me. I cried at the littlest things and nobody knew what the hell to do with me. Things that were common conflicts between my cousins, daily struggles and fights that blew over like flash paper, left me burnt, hurting, and withdrawn.

It quickly became my most common tactic to avoid the family as much as possible. I didn’t hate them, and I never have. I’ve never even been angry with them. They just don’t get me, and I don’t get them. The worst that I can say is that I was constantly aware of what a disappointing puzzle I was. My aunts tried to be sympathetic to a point, and my uncles, near as I can tell, were either disgusted with me or inclined to just write me off.

I never felt I had any chance to prove them wrong. I was disappointing. That part was always clear.

To the best of my recollection I was only ever passionate about two things that I could DO. In my younger years it was programming, and I was good at it. Then I grew disillusioned of programming, burned out on the stress and pace of it, and just confirmed my tendency to disappoint.

The second was learning to ride my motorbike. It was the first thing I ever attempted that was considered universally cool, even by those who felt it was needlessly reckless.

I was working a very physically demanding job at the time, one that frequently had me working ten and eleven hours a day. I would start work at 7:30 and leave at 6:30, regularly. When I signed up for my riding classes I was fortunate that my manager agreed to let me leave work at 5:30 to get to class by 6. It was an incredibly trying and stressful week, working hard all day lifting and delivering, then spending four hours every night learning a terrifying new skill that I invested my entire will into. I pretty much got through it by being angry all day. It was the only energy that would persevere. Anything else was too soft, too ready to give up.

I learned to ride in the dark. I had signed up for the first class of the year, which took place in the second week of March. The sun was down by the time class started and we learned by the minimal light of a stadium parking lot. The temperature was often below freezing, except for one night where it rained. The next evening the puddles froze and we learned to handle, or avoid, ice. My first bike drop was due to an invisible patch of ice in the dark. One evening we had snow. Another we had fog. Short of hail and hard wind I learned to ride in all the worst weather there was.

It paid off. I passed the class and, more importantly, passed my riding test.

Programming came easy to me. It was an enjoyable mental exercise and I rarely had to fight with it to make it work. (programming tools, on the other hand…) I always knew that, if I couldn’t solve a problem today, I could get some rest and get back to it tomorrow. In all likelihood a potential answer would occur to me before I even went to bed and I approached the problem with confidence. Programming, while it was difficult and convoluted, was never a RISK for me. It was a nice safe thing to do to make money. The risk came later with the environment of pressure and stress of deadlines and overtime and changes in mid stride and just shit that I’ve come to term “managing an artistic process with a manufacturing attitude.” While I definitely burned out of the programming environment the actual act of programming itself was just a comfortable mental exercise that entertained and challenged me.

You can always crash a car, but unless you’re moving especially fast, and so long as you’re wearing your seatbelt, you’re more than likely to come out of it just fine. Maybe a sprained neck, perhaps some bruising from your knees hitting the steering wheel, but fine. Even so, learning to drive a car is incredibly stressful.

Learning to ride a motorbike was dangerous. It was dangerous and uncomfortable and tiring and freaking HARD. Your past experience with riding a bicycle actually worked against you and you had to force yourself to unlearn it. I was perched on a piece of machinery that could literally kill me if I didn’t handle it well. We spent one of our earliest hours just memorizing where the clutch and brake are. Given that the two are identical levers under each hand, it’s very easy to get them mixed up in a panic. We learned how to change gears in the middle of a turn. We learned how to make sudden changes in direction and, even though the direction of the change was random, we knew the change was coming and many of us still panicked and made mistakes.

I learned and trained on a little 50 cc engine. The machine could barely bring me up to 80km an hour, given my weight, and I still felt terrified of the power of the engine sitting raw between my legs.

I now ride a massive 1500 cc cruiser. The engine on my motorbike is literally more powerful than the engine of my car. I’m constantly aware of the amount of power I’m guiding down the road, and I’m comfortable with it. I ride it daily, when I can find a reason to. My bike is my summer vehicle. I ride it to work and back, to the grocery store and back (if I don’t need more than a backpack and two saddle bags can carry) and pretty much any where I need to go. Rain or shine. Even through hail.

And my ideal vacation is spending days and days on my bike guiding it down the road.

My question now is why can’t I be that dedicated to my writing? Why I can’t write in the dark, through snow, rain, and fog? Why I can’t accept dropping the pen on the ice and just get back up and start a new page? Why I don’t write the way I ride? My writing has the potential to take me to worlds beyond where my bike can go. So why do I find it so easy to distract myself with something else to do?

Maximum Effort means Maximum Anger

While the declaration is instructive, I’m not sure I’ve put out Maximum Effort in a long time. The last time it might have happened was on my 2012 road trip where I rode my motorbike down to Portland and back. That was a great trip, and it definitely took some effort. Not sure if it was Maximum or not.

The one time I am certain I put out Maximum Effort was back when I took my motorcycle riding course. I was working very long days at Purolator, physically exhausting days, and racing from work to get to class on time. Then I was learning to ride the bike in the dark cold March evenings where we contended with fog, snow, and patches of very dark ice.

My entire week consisted of waking up at 5am to get to work by 730 so I could inspect my truck and plan my route. Then I spent the day hauling boxes on and off my truck. I had two hours between my last delivery and my first pickup, so I inevitably found some way to get in a nap somewhere, but it was never more than an hour and it was never enough.


It sums me up so well

I would get back to the depot at around 530, having put in 10 hours, and would then have to race to McMahon stadium to start my class. The only reason I was off work that early was because I’d made special arrangements with my manager to have someone make my last few pickups. Normally I wouldn’t be back at the depot until 6 at the earliest, but my class started at 6.

The class was a total of 20 hours, 6 to 10 every night of the work week, and we needed ever minute of it. Riding a motorcycle is actually fairly easy. Riding it slow on an obstacle course with fewer than three mistakes is fucking hard. Harder when it’s dark.
I’d get home at about 1030 with just enough time to make my lunch for the following day before crashing into bed.

That was a challenging week, but I managed it. I think the only way I managed it, however, was with anger. Anger brought me to determination. I’m not sure I’m capable of any other path. Years ago when I was working out regularly the only thing that kept me going was anger. Anger at my body for wanting to quit, anger at my lungs for burning, anger at myself for being so weak.

And now I’m reluctant to be that angry with myself ever again. After this hard relationship deterioration that left me angry nearly every day I’m now weary of it.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been feeling ill, some kind of incredibly brief flu virus. One day of intense all-body joint pain with zero appetite, and a second day only half as bad. The one thing I noticed through those days was how easy it was for me to get angry at the slightest things. I was angry with sudden noises, I was angry with slow lines, I was angry with people being too happy nearby. I was angry at some of my favorite music. Clearly, I was not in my best frame of mind. Luckily for me I noticed the disproportion and managed to not act on any of it. Given I stayed home through most of it this was relatively easy.

But anger is important and appropriate at times. And I need to be able to focus it properly again. I need to be able to dedicate myself to required writing without having to resort to anger and I’m not sure that’s possible.

We are what we do. Excellence, therefore, is not a goal but a habit.
Be excellent to each other. Be excellent to yourself.
Write the good stuff. Write the bad stuff. Write the stuff.
This is the stuff.

New Year

Okay, so here I am at the coffee shop on my first day off of my vacation. So far my laptop has been fighting me every step of the way. I have my touch pad set to turn itself “off” by default IF THERE IS ANOTHER POINTING DEVICE ATTACHED. I have unplugged my mouse but my touch pad will not activate. I’ve tried using the button specified for activating the touch pad (FN + F3) and it does nothing. I can’t get to the control panel to adjust the setting because any time I attempt to use the Windows menu my session crashes and I have to log back in.

So far Windows 10 has been a huge disappointment. Actually, disappointment is too light a word. Aggravation might be a better word.

And the coffee shop environment on a Saturday afternoon is very nearly combative. The noise is incredible. I’ve actually dug through my backpack to find a set of earplugs, the kind I use to help me sleep, and shoved them in my ears as deep as I can. That cuts most of the noise but also serves to highlight the more annoying sounds, like the one idiot’s forced laughter in the corner and the constant high pitched whine of steam from the coffee maker. Still, the earplugs do dull the impact a bit.

Obviously I’ve become that old guy who’s hyper sensitive to noise. All the more joy to me.

It is the second day of the new year and the more logical day to sit down and set some goals for the rest of the year. New year’s eve and day are both too full of themselves to allow for quiet, sensible contemplation. That’s why people make grand plans impossible to achieve on New Year’s Day. They’re pumped with the adrenaline and dopamine of the holiday and convinced they can lose fifty pounds while learning Russian and Portuguese while simultaneously saving up for that world wide cruise.

Brace Yourself, New Year Resolutionists are coming to a gym near you.The second day is considerably more subdued. We’ve gone through the rush of partying (well, some of you have) and we’ve survived the following hangover. Now we can sit down with a bagel and coffee and take a realistic look back and a sensible look forward.

“I never look back, dahling, it detracts from the Now.” Edna Mode has some excellent philosophies to think about. However, while that’s an excellent sound byte it really isn’t practical. If we don’t keep mindful of the past then we will keep making the same mistakes in the future… like having capes on our costumes.

Looking back at 2015 I can honestly say it was a year of some significant change, and quite a bit for the better. It wasn’t a “good” year in the sense of having lots of pleasant memories and grand achievements, but there were definitive improvements and achievements to be proud of. And a lot of lessons. NO Capes!

I endured six months without a kitchen. It sucked hugely, and I hated it, but I managed. I admit I managed better with some help and advice, but I managed. I’m so very glad it’s over, and you’d be amazed how important something as simple as a kitchen sink can be. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t look at that simple water tap and marvel at what a convenience it is. Water, cleaned and purified, delivered directly to my home in temperatures ranging from nearly freezing to nearly boiling. Miraculous. Incredibly miraculous.

I switched from a job where one person actively and aggressively hated me to another job where I deal with customers who are justifiably angry at how their services are being performed. This is an improvement in two significant ways: 1) the people I work with at my new job are all, without exception, fantastically wonderful people. No backstabbing or negative attitudes, a general willingness to help and get the work done, and support, support, support from every direction, even and perhaps ESPECIALLY from the top. 2) I have the potential to do something about those angry customers that will make them happy again. And I have. Repeatedly. I am constantly thrilled at the satisfaction I get from turning a angry, helpless feeling customer into a happy, satisfied, and GRATEFUL customer.

The previous job I had at the beginning of the year had good people in it too, and there were chances for achievement an reward, but that one poisonous viper intent on very deliberately ruining my day made it impossible to enjoy anything between the hours of 8 and 5. A few months after I left my former co-worker texted me and asked if there were any chance they could hire me back. The venom woman had caused two other shippers to quit in as many months. I replied that I would need more money and the assurance that I wouldn’t have to work with that woman again. He said he could work on one of those requirements. I asked if that meant he could keep that vile woman away from me. He said no. So I told him there was no way they could ever afford me.

And you have to wonder at a company that can keep a person on staff that makes every single subordinate quit within a year or less. From all accounts I lasted the longest of any of them. And I have to wonder how horrible that woman’s life must be for her to be so gleefully willing to ruin someone else’s day, every single day. I shudder to think of it.

But I digress.

I had also entered into therapy for depression and began trying out medication to modify my moods. My emotions had been out of control and led me to self harm and seriously suicidal thoughts. The medication helped keep the worst of these thoughts at bay and I was able to wake up in the morning without crying through my entire shower. The therapy sessions that went along with it served to highlight that, while I was going through some stressful points in my life (like not having a kitchen for six months) there really wasn’t anything worth dying over.

I ended a ten year long relationship in a fit of anger and spite. She suggested that my emotional reactions were ruining her days and that perhaps we should take a break. I agreed with vehemence, cutting her off from all forms of communication save e-mail. I feared I would regret such a rash action but, as it turns out, not only have I NOT regretted it, but everything in my life has since improved.

Gradually, my therapy sessions got brighter and my general demeanor lightened. I wasn’t happy with the weight gain I was fighting due to my medication and decided to try something else. All the other medications my doctor suggested, however, had the same potential side effects with a few worse tacked on: seizures, vertigo, blackout, and potential death. Since things had been going so much better I decided to find out if I still needed the medication at all. With my doctor’s instructions and my therapist’s support I reduced my dosage to half for two weeks, then a quarter for two weeks, just as Christmas was in full swing.

I have had a few moments of loneliness and tears, but nothing even approaching the self loathing that had me punching my own head and contemplating whether it would be more considerate to cut my wrists in the tub so that there would be a much easier way to clean up the blood.

In short, I’m doing much better and feel much more positive about the future. Without the drugs. Which is a significant improvement over not feeling I had any kind of possible future at all.

I’ve even gone so far as to clear off all my debts save my mortgage. A vast improvement in itself.

So, the second day of January and a calm, rational look at the year ahead.

It couldn’t get much worse, could it? And there’s every chance it could be so, so much better. If all I manage is to keep myself from going back into debt and get some weekends of riding in I’ll already be much ahead of the year before. Everything on top of that will be gravy.

Walking. This will not be a goal of weight loss, although it would be a nice side effect if it happens, but I do need to become more physically active. I’m not talking about working out at the gym. I’m talking about walking around my neighborhood.

Writing. Daily. Something, anything, to a minimum of 250 words. 250 would be rock bottom but would at least be more than a Facebook status update.

Getting out of the house. Daily. And not just for work. If I can get into a routine of walking this could solve itself.

Reading. I’ve immersed myself in the Internet far too much over the past few years and have forgotten the wonderful escape of a good, or adequate, book. I’ve rediscovered some of that literary joy over the past few months and I fully plan on continuing. Walking to the local used book shop should solve three criteria at once.

Budget. I have a working budget in place and I need to stick to it. The budget managed to dredge me out of a significant hole last year and I ful

Wonton rests her head on a pillow

Wonton getting comfortable in her new home.

l intend on staying above water from now on.

Pet. I have a cat now and her name is Wonton. She is demanding and loving and always there. She has given me someone to talk to when I need to talk out loud but not necessarily to myself. She’s also a lot of fun.

Friends. Combined with the insistence that I get out of my house more this is another goal that will effectively contribute to a few others along the way.

There, reasonable goals firmly set. If I manage to fit in a motorcycle ride down the coast this summer, that will be the massive cherry on top of it all. If I manage new relationships as well, even more cherry and chocolate sauce. But those aren’t goals. They’re opportunities I’m open to.

Happy New Year everyone.

Judging a movie before it’s seen

I’ve been developing a skill over my life, one I never really labeled or quantified, but one I have nonetheless been aware of and have, in my way, hone.
I have been reviewing movies before I actually go to see them.
While this sounds very much like “judging a book by it’s cover”, there are some some very distinct differences. The primary among them the fact that people will discuss movies a lot more than they will books, both before and after they’ve seen them.
I’ve never set down to quantify the qualities I judge a movie by, so I thought I’d set down to do that now. So here, in no particular order, are the qualities by which I judge movies before I see them:

1) Release Date
This is shallow and knee jerk, but it is accurate more often than not. Hollywood has it’s seasons and, like the weather, you can predict quality by the general calendar date.
Late spring through Summer: Big summer releases trying to capitalize on summer frenzy just before summer actually hits. These will be the blockbusters for the school aged audience, the high action, high budget, low brain load films that Marvel and Sony like to put out. Super hero films, adventure films, splashy horrors and raunchy comedies. Flashy films that will get a big payoff on opening weekend and then will sit stoically in the far corner theater as the final option four out of five of your friends can finally agree on when there isn’t an obvious choice. Studios have no illusions about getting awards for these films. Their goal is a fat bottom line and enough lingering interest to sell toys when Christmas draws near.
I will look forward to these films and plan a specific date to see them. I won’t go on opening night anymore, because I can’t handle the crowds anymore, but I’ll go in the first couple of weeks to get the buzz before it’s ruined with internet spoilers.
Late Summer through Fall: minor splash films that could have been much better if they’d had a better budget/director/cast/story. Things we’ll want to see but nothing that’s going to break any records.
I look forward to these films as well, but I’m less likely to see them in theaters. I’ll be much more willing to watch these films at home where I can multitask with something else if the story doesn’t warrant my full attention.
Early Winter (ie. Christmas): Big budgets that the studios have place a lot of faith in. More family oriented films, stories that will appeal to more than one generation, and those high brown movies that studios are hoping to get awards for. Some of these will be worth seeing on a big screen and I’ll see them when the initial furor dies down. If it isn’t a big budget, particularly if it’s an intelligent film trying for some awards, I’ll probably wait until it’s available at home so I won’t have to fight the noisy crowd, the coughs, fidgets, and talking, that will completely ruin the movie experience for me. I swear one of these days I’m actually going to smash someone’s cell phone during a movie. Best if I watch these at home.
Late Winter to Early Spring: These are the C class films, or lower. If it’s release is in January, they’re trying for a late entry into the Oscars. Otherwise, the executives have decided that these films are good enough for release, and that’s it. They’re the “also ran” films that the studio has decided they’ve spent too much money on it to write it off so they might as well get it into circulation.
Sometimes these films are so bad they’re good. Sometimes these films are so bad you wish the studio had cut it’s losses before inflicting it on you. Unless you’re certain it’s the former, wait to download it when you’ve got nothing else to watch.

2) Hype
This isn’t a straight forward chart. There’s a feel to it. If I were to visualize the chart, the x-axis measuring the amount of hype while the y axis indicating quality of product, I imagine it would look kind of like two humps.
A the low end you have very little hype, not a good film. As you get more hype, the expected quality improves. Then, when you hit about the standard amount of hype they quality levels off, even drops a bit. Then, as the hype increases, the expected quality begins to climb again. But there comes a point where more hype just begins to show how desperate the studio is for you to buy into the film before it’s released so they can recoup their money on opening weekend. At the far end of the chart where you can’t ignore the hype if you try you have big budget crap fests.

3) Reviews
Again, this isn’t straightforward. Obviously if everybody loves it, it’s probably good. If everybody hates it, there’s probably a good reason. It’s when the reviews get down to 50/50 that you have to look deeper. Look at the reviewers who hate the film and find out why. If you can see their point, you probably won’t like the film.

4) Expectation
This is totally pre-judging before their even IS a cover, but there are some films you hear about that you just know are going to be horrible. Anything with Eddie Murphy in a latex suit, for instance, or any Adam Sandler or Hugh Ferrel comedy. Feel free to disagree, everybody’s tastes are different, but there are some names and concepts that fail my interest right out of the gate. Oddly enough, if you give me any of those three in a serious role and I will look on with interest.

5) Interest of Friends
This can bite me in the ass from time to time, but chances are if my friends are excited about it, I’m interested. If they aren’t, then there’s going to have to be some other bits to interest me.

6) Trailers
This is a subset of Hype but it also fits on it’s own. If they trailer shows a handful of scenes with two or three lines of dialog, then it’s likely to be able to hold it’s own. If it’s a comedy and the trailer shows more than four punch lines, chances are those are the only funny moments in the film. If it’s an action/adventure film and the cuts are all less than a second long, it’s a pretty bit that won’t have any real story to it.
And then you mix:

February release, bit of hype, massive friend interest: possibly a so-bad-it’s-good laugh fest with friends. At the very least, if it’s just plain bad, it will give us plenty to talk about.

July release with just a bit too much hype: Big budget blockbuster that the studio doesn’t think it’ll make it’s money back on unless they shove more money under it. Hold off, wait until the reviews come in.

Story I can’t envision being a movie, march release: Someone tried and got far enough along that the studio wants to try and make it’s money back. If it’s a story a care about, pass, unless I hear good reviews from people I trust.

Summer release, expected amount of hype, trailer looks interesting enough, no major casting or directorial warning flags… probably a good film to watch.

Happy Thanksgiving! (Yes, I’m Canadian)

Today I am thankful for friends, both present and absent, and my thoughts are with so many of them.

Today I managed to get groceries, do my laundry, put together four lunches, cooked supper, and completed my Dangerous Goods Transportation certificate. Oh, and I learned how to make animated GIFs. Go me!

In between loads of laundry I’ve been catching up on Arrow season 2. I’m almost finished, but I must say it’s been a little hard going. It’s very much like reading a series of books by an author who has a signature style that can best be described as “a rut”.

Posturing and cliches abound, repeated over and over again. There are a lot of moments of “can we speak alone” and dramatic statements spoken in halting bursts of two or three syllables.

It’s two dimensional as any comic book page, and I enjoy it. I”m such a sucker for comic book action that I’ll enjoy it even when it’s mostly bad.

Still… Green Arrow, Black Canary, Deathstroke, Flash, Speedy, Brother Blood… some classic comic book adventure.

It’s a pity it’s DC, but then it’s some of the best of DC. The frequent problem with the heroes of DC comics is that they’re some form of “ultimate” badass. Superman is invincible, Wonder Woman can block any shot, Flash is the fastest thing in existence… the list goes on. And the more “ultimate” the heroes are the more unbelievable the threats have to be, to the point where they have to invent unrealistic threats like Kryptonite. It makes it very difficult to identify with.

But Green Arrow is one of the better heroes of the DC Universe. Other than is excellent aim he’s pretty much a normal guy. And I loved it when they took away his sill trick arrows. It was always much more simple when he used basic arrows.

And now… on to season three.