Monday, July 21, 2014

A radical transformation

Most of these Facebook-posted YouTube things give me the pip, but this struck me as the real thing. It's realistic about the time, dedication and effort it takes to attain real transformation. I'm reminded once again of a favorite quote:

Sixteen seconds of Harold Lloyd

Friday, July 18, 2014

Facebook assumptions: sappy, not happy

You know what just happened?  I lost a whole post. I lost a whole post I worked on for at least an hour and a half. So what happened? Was I going too fast? People think I go too fast, that in fact I work at light speed, and when very angry, I do. It's like rocket fuel in the veins.

It started with the last post about unsolicited advice on Facebook. Something was triggered, I guess, and I was off. It was those sappy little "things", like the truncated thing above - I realized that though I see them every damn day, I don't even know the name of them or where they come from. They circulate around and around and around the waters of Facebook like pond scum.

I think it's the smug assumptions behind these things, these announcements of how you are supposed to feel about close kin, that enrages me. EVERYBODY has a wonderful sister, don't they? Kind of like that White Christmas sister act, where the body types of the two women are so radically different that there could not be a genetic link even 100 generations ago.

And oh God, mothers! Here is what my mother was really like, and never mind what my memories tell me. A duck would have made a better mother than mine was. Mother ducks are extremely loyal and protective, would fight to the death to protect their young. My mother may have been somewhat aware that I existed in the house. Maybe she was just waiting it out.

I very much doubt if this quote is by Kubler-Ross, whose theories have been so distorted and overpopularized as to be unrecognizable. (For example, she NEVER wrote about "stages of grief". Those stages described the process of actually dying.) But it doesn't matter. The same quote can be attributed to Einstein, Freud, Mark Twain (a current favorite, for some reason, maybe cuzzada cool moustache), Emily Dickinson, or even JANICE Dickinson, and no one notices, cares, or even wants to know. Though that doesn't stop them from hitting the "Share" button.

I won't even get into the lame misspellings, misplaced commas and quotation marks, and other awkward, careless useage you see in about 80% of these things. This kind of "loose, relaxed" approach to grammar (with "it's" and "its" constantly being reversed, and the verb "to lie" misused, even in news broadcasts, so that "the victim was laying in the road") is trickling down, or up, saturating the culture, to the point that it eventually worms its way into the dictionary and becomes "correct". Language, after all, must be fluid! It must change with the times. It's future lies in being dymanic. Don't let it just lay there.

And oh, this: probably written by some teenage girl, obviously equipped to guide and correct my behaviour and attitudes. This is a sort of Ten Commandments of emotional reaction, a what-not-to-wear of little things like promising, replying and deciding. So let's look at the inverse of this negative life-directive: promise when you're unhappy, reply when you're not angry, and decide when you're not sad (happy?).

I won't comment here. These weren't in my original draft, my polished draft, my GOOD draft, the draft that just fucking disappeared for no reason at all, because Blogger always automatically saves everything. Like I said, I just slapped them up here because I just have to win this, have to win over the forces that would screw up my whole day. But I remember some sort of choice quote on Nazi Germany, now gone forever.

I used to think humans were herd animals, but now I realize they are more like flock animals, with one aberrant member being pecked to death by the forces of conventional mediocrity. Except that in some ways, birds are superior. I mentioned mother ducks. And I forget the rest of this post, so I just have to stop now. And now I know what those "things" are - I think. They're called status quotes (because they're quotes that go on your status updates) or picture quotes (because they have pictures and quotes on them). They're things you sort of "put up", like you'd slap up a poster in the olden days. Except that these are standards, nay, imperatives for how we are supposed to feel, how we are meant to look at life. The average chimpanzee would have a steadier moral compass, but all that doesn't seem to matter any more.

Crap advice

Actual Facebook post, July 18/14:

Margaret Gunning

Sometimes I'm so tired it's like I'm living below the floor of
my threshhold of energy.

(FB "friend"):  Nice phrase, but -- ??? Overwork?
Or health issue? All kinds of safe-ish energy boosts
available, from matcha green tea to B12
to stuff like Adrena-tea and Rhodiola.

I think I'm just tired! I
said it when it was 1:00 a.m. and just really bagged. Um,
nice advice though.

Maybe it's too early in the day for a rant, but here goes. This is an example of the many things that gall me about Facebook. Last night I was well and truly bagged. I had stayed up so late I lost track. Still, it had been a good, even hilarious day, much of it spent with Caitlin and Ryan who act as a fizzy tonic to my sometimes discouraging life. I was just saying, Whoo, boy, am I ever exhausted. Wow. Can't even describe it!

So what did I get, from a complete and anonymous stranger?


Not only advice, but advice delivered in a didactic and even judge-y way: "Nice phrase, but - ???" seems to indicate that I'm putting a lot of fancy words down on the page for nothing. (Three question marks seems like overkill to me. What? What? What?) Or for something: a cry for correction.  Being completely bagged, it could be I was guilty of trying to garner some sympathy, or at least empathy, and I failed miserably: instead, what I got was this. Then came the barrage of theories:

Overwork? ("Are YOU suffering from overwork? Fatigue? That tired feeling? YOU need. . . ").

Or health issue? ("Why aren't you looking after your health issue? and/or Why are you talking about your health issue here, which is completely inappropriate? Do you even KNOW what your health issues are, and what you should be doing about them?").

All kinds of safe-ish energy boosts available, from matcha green tea to B12  to stuff like Adrena-tea and Rhodiola.  (So here's the infomercial, not quite as if she is selling the stuff, but nevertheless magazine-like, delivered in a flat news report tone, implying - I think so, anyway - that for God's sake, don't I know that there are tons of "safe-ish" energy boosts that are readily available to alleviate this mysterious fatigue that I'm complaining about? It's solution syndrome, the thing that makes people with chronic conditions keep their mouths sealed shut. Here, I'll fix it for you - don't you even know about this, aren't you willing to even TRY this? - and then you can just shut up again.)

It's not so much the message (which is pushy enough: "the answer to this whole issue is blah") as how it is delivered. There is no sense of  "you know, I've had fatigue too. I've tried some things, and this really worked for me," or even "why don't you give this a try?", or even "Try this, dummy!" Such a tone implies, at least, wanting to help instead of a sense of "oh my, that's a very elegant phrase you just wrote there, BUT. . . ",  before launching into a lecture.

Another assumption, given the content,  is that I am automatically "into" herbal and alternative cures. Not that I haven't explored them. Through the entire course of my perimenopause (and PLEASE don't tell me how I handled this the wrong way!), I tried remedy after remedy, including some that nobody talks about now because they have been completely discredited as a useless or even dangerous waste of money and time/hope. Remember St. John's wort (now found to be hazardous and ineffective), soy powder (can cause cancer), and evening primrose oil (which might work if you dabbed it behind your ears)? All of those attempts went down the toilet, literally, and I finally went on the pill for a year, which almost instantly fixed everything - I am not kidding, the symptoms just STOPPED and never came back, with virtually no side effects. That was fifteen years ago, but I know some people would still think I was weak or brainwashed by the patriarchy.

I quickly learned to keep my remarkable cure to myself, however. If I talked to women about it, more often than not I got a look like this:

(Maybe that's why, throughout my entire life, most of my close friends have been men. Not politically correct, but true. As a rule, they're more direct and have fewer labyrinthine hidden agendas and unaddressed power vacuums. And no, they don't grab me in back alleys. Well, maybe once.)

Presenting a list of herbal cures to someone you don't know is insulting, because it makes the assumption that the stranger you are advising thinks they are relevant. Take them for yourself, share them with people you KNOW are open to them, but please, don't proselytize or try to win me over to your (obviously superior!) side. And if you must recommend, RECOMMEND, don't just present me with a laundry list which keeps you on the shielded side of vulnerable. Here. Here it is. Too bad you're the way you are, but hey, cheer up, I've got the cure.

For God's sake, I was TIRED, bagged, not in need of a course correction in my sad little life. But no. No "poor baby", not even a "tough shit". What really drives all this compulsive and automatic correction, beyond towering ego, is a profound discomfort with anyone else's pain. It must be "fixed" now, and at all costs. At the same time, the self-proclaimed savant can wear the mantle of mastery and gain admiration and respect. Pretty sweet deal, I'd say.

I won't name the person in last night's FB encounter, but she was a bossy-big-sister type, the likes of which I have encountered before and hope never to encounter again. But it will happen. Any time I have expressed any sort of vulnerability on FB, I get an avalanche of not-well-meaning advice from people who would really rather I shut up, because my statements subconsciously remind them of all the crap they have not addressed in their own lives, all the stuff they don't want to look at. I am annoyed and even infuriated by the quick fixes they spew, unsolicited, playing "expert" to keep from facing their own unresolved shit. 

This was not a statement of  "I'm tired, does anyone have any advice out there to help?" This was not a "I really need some herbal remedies that have worked for people." This was, "boy, I am so bagged I can hardly think straight." Immediately, like a suckering vacuum, my statement drew a sour and self-righteous, even judgemental weather report from someone I barely knew.

Who has been unfriended now. Because to be honest, she is no friend of mine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The lonesome death of Margaret Gunning

Tonoyt, whuyl lookin for summut else, oy stumbled on dis rahther incrahdible recahrding: a podcast, the tuyp-o thing oy never bahthers wid. 
OK, I'll translate. Tonight, while looking for something else, I stumbled on this rather incredible recording: a podcast, the type of thing I never bother with.
It's a dark and dank and somewhat creepy story of a woman unjustly convicted of "murther", and publicly executed in 1832. I wasn't going to listen to all of this - it's nearly an hour long, after all, and wouldn't it be dull? Hell no. It's enthralling, for two reasons:
(a) it's hard not to be enthralled when you hear your own name every one or two minutes, as the accused perpetrator of a grisly murder;

(b) the accents are remarkable. There must be seven or eight varieties, from the softening and darkening of vowel sounds and hillocky lilt, to an almost nose-snorting sound, like a horse breathing, or rather a "harrrse". Impossible to reproduce here, almost an "iggerant" sound, or, as me sainted grandma used to put it, "rather common". 1832 comes out something like "aihhyt-tyeen toirrty-twoo". A "th" sound comes out more as "dh".  "Mother" sounds, weirdly, like "mudh-der", the consonant sound breathily drawn out.
If Ireland is anything like England, and any good Irishman would flatten me for even suggesting it, there is a plethora of accents and even dialects there, overlapping, layered, and bound up in things like heredity, geography, education, money and power, and (that awful thing that is not supposed to exist) "station" in life.  Each voice, each person interviewed in this thing may have come from a different part of Ireland, but the variety of sound transcends mere location: it's as if this Ireland consists of showers of sparks or bubbles of radiant light, each expressing the soul of an individual, yet all from a common source.

It's a funny thing, too, that as the documentary attempts to piece together the sad, brief life of Margaret Gunning, nobody seems to know very much: "no idea" and "never heard of" keep popping up, as if she and her kin somehow just fell off the face of the earth. Most likely, because she was poor and powerless, few or no records were kept. Weirdly, some of her forbears were tinsmiths and tinkers, a trade that for some unknown reason was looked down-upon, even despised. I happen to know that, because my great-grandfather on my mother's side was one. We still had a few of his artifacts floating around the house, cookie cutters mostly, one shaped like a greyhound.

Little remains. I have pieced together a bit, mainly from sifting through meagre internet entries. Tinkers were often itinerant, went around in cluttery, rattly old wagons, and were lumped in with "gypsies" (also unfairly stigmatized), and who knows but that there was cross-marriage and a blurring of social barriers. The greyhound cookie cutter may well have symbolized something I didn't understand back then: perhaps the old man liked to go to the dog races, place a few bets with his meagre earnings, and if he came stumbling home drunk and broke after hours, it wouldn't reflect well on his already-low social status.

So I emerged from the incredibly weird experience of listening to a dozen different Irish voices talking about someone with my name, someone from 182 years ago who had murdered somebody and was executed for it. How in God's name did this information ever come to me?   How many ways is it possible to be Irish, to pronounce the language? And though it is unlikely that any of theses "Gonne-nings" were my own blood kin, it's possible they were related on my husband's side. . . which means my children, and their children, could also be blood kin. Go back the generations, hear the Irish sounds, realize with a start that two of my grandkids have Celtic Irish names, picked for some reason, or not for a reason, just because of that low ancestral hum, the hum that registers below and beneath everything else.

Post-blog ruminations. It's the next morning, and I am wondering now about Pierce Brosnan, Gabriel Byrne, and other black-Irish hunks I have known and loved. Yes, that term has hung around my family, but not directly. My mother's side, the Irish connection, all seemed to have the same black hair, slight swarthiness and green eyes. I never thought it strange until I realized that my mother, married to a very fair blue-eyed man, produced two sons with black hair and dark brown eyes.

There was this strange rumor of "Spanish blood" in the family, but this was supposed to be on my father's side. HIS father was swarthy (I never met the man, but he will live in infamy as a layabout and a violent drunk). But the dark brown eyes had to come from somewhere, didn't they? Was there Spanish blood, perhaps going all the way back to the Spanish Armada, on BOTH sides? And why did my sister and I end up fair and blue-eyed? My own kids were "darkening blondes", you know the type, but two of my grandgirls (Lauren in particular) look almost Scandinavian, with wheaten blonde hair and crystalline blue eyes.

Strange, since their mother is brunette.

It's all very weird, and the bit of researching I did led me to believe that whole books could be written about it. An article about how the Irish names changed over time, simplified and de-Celticized, fascinated me, because I read somewhere that Gunning used to be spelled O'Conaing.

So here's just a tidbit about DNA and the true origins of the Irish:

But where did the early Irish come from? For a long time the myth of Irish history has been that the Irish are Celts. Many people still refer to Irish, Scottish and Welsh as Celtic culture - and the assumtion has been that they were Celts who migrated from central Europe around 500BCE. Keltoi was the name given by the Ancient Greeks to a 'barbaric' (in their eyes) people who lived to the north of them in central Europe. While early Irish art shows some similarities of style to central European art of the Keltoi, historians have also recognised many significant differences between the two cultures.

The latest research into Irish DNA has confirmed that the early inhabitants of Ireland were not directly descended from the Keltoi of central Europe. In fact the closest genetic relatives of the Irish in Europe are to be found in the north of Spain in the region known as the Basque Country. These same ancestors are shared to an extent with the people of Britain - especially the Scottish. 

DNA testing through the male Y chromosome has shown that Irish males have the highest incidence of the haplogroup 1 gene in Europe. While other parts of Europe have integrated continuous waves of new settlers from Asia, Ireland's remote geographical position has meant that the Irish gene-pool has been less susceptible to change. The same genes have been passed down from parents to children for thousands of years.

This is mirrored in genetic studies which have compared DNA analysis with Irish surnames. Many surnames in Irish are Gaelic surnames, suggesting that the holder of the surname is a descendant of people who lived in Ireland long before the English conquests of the Middle Ages. Men with Gaelic surnames, showed the highest incidences of Haplogroup 1 (or Rb1) gene. This means that those Irish whose ancestors pre-date English conquest of the island are direct descendants of early stone age settlers who migrated from Spain.

(Post-script. I had to bring Harold in here, didn't I? But his coloring was a tad unusual, for one reason: freckles. All his life, from boyhood on, he was covered with freckles, so much so that his makeup had to be laid on with a trowel. The few glimpses of him shirtless show a freckled body. This is relatively rare except in redheads, whose freckles are so numerous they sometimes mass together like constellations in the night sky. With skin so fair it was almost white - he never seemed to get a tan, unlike his leathery Hollywood cohorts - and strikingly blue eyes, he seems a candidate for the black-Irish theory - except that he was Welsh. But hey, Welsh may well be included in that strange Gaelic/Celtic  equation. That story I will leave for another day.)

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Summer in Siberia: or, a day at the bitch

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cubic fruit: the square watermelon

$200 square watermelons are selling, despite the price tag | CTV Vancouver News

Yum! Especially if you have a square mouth.  And since I was only able to post the link to this wonderful story (click link NOW), starring my wonderful daughter Shannon Paterson, I will take solace in my usual cheesy gifs.

(Now we know what Matt Paust does in his spare time.)

Early Cellphone Ads: is that Bill Gates???!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Boiled Coke Challenge Fail! GONE WRONG! Plus Slow Mo

Let's break it down, shall we. . . 

Coke has been reduced to tarry black syrup. . . suitable for blacktopping highways. . . 

Evil, nasty stuff. . . 


OMG it's stuck. . . 


Noooooooooooooooooo. . . . . . . . . . . . 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Donner Party Movie: worse than the restaurant

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DefamationMarch 18, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)

This review is from: The Donner Party (DVD)

It's hard to come up with a single positive thing to say about this miserable, nasty film. It was shot at Truckee (Donner) Lake, but the photography is so mediocre that even this doesn't count for much.

As for the story: It doesn't merely "stray from the historical record," it invents malicious lies about people who deserve better. As one of many examples: In the film, Bill Eddy is depicted as a selfish hoarder who refuses to share with the rest of the suffering families. In fact, the opposite was true. Eddy's entire family died, in part because he foolishly shared food with people who, when the time came, did not reciprocate. Never mind that none -- not a meager few, but NONE, not even the least friendly -- of the historical records agree with this bizarre assassination of Eddy's character. Eddy is depicted as the paid leader of the party, when in fact his was merely one small family among nearly a dozen. This would not be significant, except that "Mr. Foster" (who is depicted as the financial and spiritual leader of "the Donner Party" for reasons never explained) berates Eddy for taking money to lead them and then causing the disaster of their entrapment in the Sierras.

Foster, of course, was a minor player, a son-in-law of one of the older women, not the central figure of the group. The film goes on at great length about Eddy's refusal to share a cabin with the "Fosters" (actually the Murphys) when in fact Eddy DID share a cabin with them. But that's only the beginning, as far as twisting the facts is concerned. The Donners, the Reeds, and the Breens, making up 70% of the camp population and the real leadership, are simply not present in the film (except for one reference to the "30 people" left behind at "the Donner camp"). Will McCutcheon and Milt Elliot (two singularly different people) get conflated into one character, and then killed off in his first scene. Eddy finally makes it to help by abandoning the rest, who end up killing each other in a squabble.

So it's fiction, tricked out with historical names for no discernible reason. As fiction, it doesn't fare much better than as history. The viewer is faced with some problems that didn't need to be there. First, the cobbled-up "cabins" that we see from the outside (one appears to be bedsheets on a clothesline), turn out to have interiors that would have been spacious living quarters in the era, complete with tables, lamps, and dinnerware. Second, in the spirit of casting perversity, the characters are all plump, round-faced, and obviously well-fed (and at least three of the men appear to have made their careers on the strength of their resemblance to William Peterson), so the jawing about hunger is no more convincing than Mrs. Quayle's appeal to her missing lunch. For reasons no one explains, the "Forlorn Hope" carries the snowshoes they made so laboriously instead of wearing them; no, I did not make that up. There is one brief scene, a few seconds long, around the middle of the hour-long depiction of the trek, in which they wear them. However, they do frequently use them as walking sticks. And the "handmade" snowshoes, by the way, are beautifully crafted top-of-the-line REI specials.

Of course, the "money shot" in the story is the cannibalism (which is, frankly, the least interesting element of the real story of the Donner Party), and they even manage to botch that. The moment they run out of food, someone says, "Well, I guess we'll have to eat each other," and they immediately begin working out the details. The tone is almost, "Well, I'M not missing lunch!!" Suffice it to say that the details end up being a brave soul marching out into the snow so another brave soul can shoot him. Then a character who borders on obese (who cast this thing?) kills himself to add to the ham stock. By the time they get to "Sutter Fort" (they can't even get that right), they have killed four members of the party and chewed on some chunks of what looks like thawed chicken breast. We should be grateful, probably, that the producers couldn't afford "special effects."

Watching this film, with its dopey, stilted dialog (everyone refers to everyone as "Mr." and "Mrs.", even while chowing down on the addressee's spouse), its bizarre culture fantasies (on at least three occasions, husbands put their uppity wives in their place, once with the threat of a backhand, and the group spends as much time praying as they do marching), the cheesy cost-cutting (there is no blizzard, and the snow is at most a few feet deep), and its garish insincerity (much is made of the common humanity of the Indian "Louis," but the actor playing him is not listed in the credits!), I have to think that "straight to disc" is too good for it. What were they thinking?

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Hoo-eee! It's American History time, folks, and this Amazon customer review of the ludicrous straight-to-video fiasco The Donner Party is probably a lot more entertaining than the actual event. (I mean the movie, of course.)

What brought this on? I phrase it thus on purpose, as if I am trying to trace the source of some vile illness. Something - oh, it was Matt Paust, not "something", and his close, perhaps too-close association with the Jamestown famine/massacre in Virginia back in 1609 - triggered a re-fascination with the Donner Party. A revisiting. Nice to know that cannibalism had a precedent in the annals of Americana, but the Donner story is so much more dragged-out, so forehead-slapping in the sheer incompetence and hubris of those who felt they could take an untried, impassible shortcut to get to the Promised Land in California.

So somehow that led me back to a documentary that I find almost dangerously enthralling. It has been aired on PBS several times, then I bought the DVD and watched it some more, then I lost it - the DVD, I mean, though the story brought me near that point. If you're a serious Donner buff, don't miss this thing, because I guarantee that if you watch 10 minutes, you'll be stuck for an hour and a half.

I know because I did it again last night, on YouTube, and did not get to bed until after 1:00 a.m. Was this the third time through, or the fourth? I wasn't even aware until now that this film, written, produced and directed by someone named Ric Burns, was made 22 years ago.

The low-key presentation and narration combined with vintage photos of people who look as if they are half-demented contribute to an atmosphere far more macabre than sensationalism would provide. (In fact, I did not notice until today when I attempted to make a few gifs that virtually the whole thing is made up of still pictures and narration, with none of the ludicrous "re-enactments" that make some documentaries so detestable). We can't let our minds go there, and yet we can't stop. As with Lord of the Flies, civilized behaviour soon begins to fray around the edges before becoming completely unstuck. The party is frighteningly inexperienced in meeting adversity along the trail and seems to think the experience will be a smooth scenic ride with the oxen doing all the work. None of them knew how to build a weather-tight cabin or even a proper tent, rations were lamentably short (four months' worth for a trip that lasted twice that long), the livestock RAN AWAY for some reason - had they not heard of ropes, did they not realize they'd have to eat them later? - and in fact, unlike the local natives, they did not seem to know how to dry strips of meat (let alone strips of people) so that they could put something by for the even-worse times ahead. So impractical were they that they ate the leather laces holding their snowshoes together, so that they flailed helplessly around in the nine feet of snow that held them captive all winter. 

Back when I had that disastrous Open Salon blog that ended so badly when I realized it was just an I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you'll-scratch-mine sham, I think I did try to address the Donners, no doubt after a viewing of the same documentary. And I swear, when looking up suitable images, I saw signs for a Donner Party restaurant. But now I can't find a single trace of one. I can see it being shut down by historians quivering with indignation, but wouldn't there be SOME remnant, at least a photograph?

People have squeezed a lot of mirth out of the Donners, most recently Jess Walter in his delicious novel Beautiful Ruins. I had a little problem with the over-the-top humour of something that has already been done (a crappy movie about the Donners). But the thing is, you don't need to stretch the facts in this story. It is so unbelievable that it can only be true. The fact that roughly half the 80-odd pioneers squeaked through this ordeal attests to the importance of body mass and a taste for steak tartare.

(The fateful turnoff. Go right, young man - go right! But it didn't work out that way. Insisting on taking a hard left, the Donners found themselves on the road to nowhere.)

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