Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I've been checking into some acrobatics lessons, because having now figured out how to spin the hoop around me in a variety of different ways, I think learning to spin me around the hoop would provide a pleasing symmetry. I took gymnastics briefly when I was younger, but after a certain point they wouldn't let me progress unless I caved and did things on the balance beam and uneven bars. I hated both of those things with the passion of a thousand burning suns, so I quit. 

I'm a grown-up now, and if I say I'm not doing anything that involves being more than a foot off the ground, I can make it stick.

It's probably a bad idea for me to start out doing random saltos unsupervised on a Marley floor, and I've got it in my head that I'd be all right if I had a professional spotter standing by to make sure I don't break my neck. I've also got the sneaking suspicion that if I don't figure out exactly why I think I need a spot, I'm going to thoroughly embarrass myself by not being able to get through anything with an instructor, either.

I spent a bit of time hanging from the barres in the studio on my last trip in. I'm probably not supposed to do that, but at least I was smart enough to use the cast iron one that was fastened to the wall with masonry bolts, and not one of the freestanding ones made of aluminum or PVC.  I seem to have a problem with inversion. It's not even that I mind being upside-down. I'm just uneasy with the process of becoming upside-down. The transitional state of instability makes me want to freak out and flail. On the one hand, this is rather interesting, as I hadn't previously been aware that this precise thing was the issue; on the other hand, this is really annoying, and I'm going to have to fix it if I want to re-learn to tumble.

I'm less bothered by having to place my hands blind than by not being able to see where my feet are going, so I'm probably going to be bizarre again and think back walkovers are easier than front ones. Doing these involves dropping backwards into a bridge, and then kicking your feet around over your head. I'm fine with pushing myself up into a back bridge from the floor, so the first step is figuring out how to make myself fine with tipping myself over backwards instead.

Problem: I don't trust my ability to hold this position for any length of time.
All right. One step at a time. Figure out how to hold yourself up later; for now, find a chair.
Problem: I don't trust the chair to stay put.
Fine. Find a heavy chair.
Problem: I don't trust me to stay on the chair.
Hook your ankles around the chair legs. On second thought, kick your feet back as far as they can go and wedge them against the floor. If you're pushing your toes toward your head, that'll throw your weight onto the back of the seat, where it's supposed to go if you're using the chair properly anyway.
Problem: I can't complete the backbend while hanging onto the back of the chair.
Then swing your arms around and brace yourself on the front legs instead.
Problem: I run out of shoulder rotation before I run out of backbend
Oh, for God's sake. The chair isn't magic. Let go of the fucking chair.
Problem: I have no idea what this looks like. I can't see myself in the mirror anymore.
You have now bent so far backwards that the bridge of your nose is pressed flat against the linoleum. This is a feature, not a bug.
It's not an unpleasant stretch, bar the fact that my face ends up on the floor. I may be getting almost 360° out of it; I have no idea, because I can't see a damn thing. I could see having difficulty holding myself in position were I not on the chair, but as it was, it was entirely a matter of muscular effort, not of straining against the limits of any joints. Once I figure out the balance, I should be able to set my hands down anywhere I want them, up to and including right against the backs of my own feet. Whether my arms can hold me up is another matter. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it -- no pun intended.

After three or four tries at it, the chair did slip out from under me as I was sitting up, and I landed flat on my ass. Nobody died. Huh.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I am completely incapable of finding something interesting without also wanting to know exactly how it works. Not just physical objects like toys, or mechanical processes like figure skating and hooping, but also abstract things like linguistic structures and social scripts. I'm willing to do the kind of obsessive research you need to make this work, so the fact that this is weird normally doesn't bother me much. The most troublesome part is that I keep unintentionally convincing people that I'm the local expert in something I've only been cramming into my head for a few weeks, which can get awkward. At least by that point, I can direct them to other people who know a lot more than I do.

I also do it in personal relationships, which has the unfortunate side effect of confusing and annoying other humans. I gather they feel that anyone who wants to scrutinize interaction in that much detail is determined to find fault with whatever's going on. I think it's just the opposite. Feynman used to get the complaint that he kept looking at pretty things like flowers and then science-ing them to death; he contended that things are much more beautiful when you see and understand the elegance of their internal structure and how they came to be they way they are.

Most people are not on Feynman's side, so I try to stuff a cork in it.

The persistent need to know why makes me sound suspicious, I suppose. It's honestly really rare when someone has an ulterior motive for doing something; much more commonly, what happens is that they provide insufficient information, and I don't feel I have enough to extrapolate accurately. Behavioral choices are the ultimate in high-context decisions -- they're influenced by everything you've ever experienced in life, right up to that very moment. People forget sometimes that most of that context exists solely inside their own heads, and that without it, actions can be ambiguous.

Why don't I just ask? I do, if it's important. Or at least I express the uncertainty, so whoever I'm dealing with has some idea of why I keep getting sidetracked by strange details. There are occasions when asking doesn't help; the most obvious one is when someone is lying, which happens for a variety of reasons. There are also situations where people won't give you a straight answer because it's one of those things it's not considered polite to say. They assume that you have a common foundation for the interaction, and that when they tell you [polite thing], you'll know that traditionally it really means [impolite thing] but that neither of you is supposed to admit it.

People have also been known to do things for reasons they can't articulate. Sometimes this is because they genuinely don't know what they were thinking. It happens. A lot of the time, it's because their motivation was 'because I felt like it'. A lot of people seem to think it's an inadequate rationale. I think this is a perfectly good reason to do most things, but I've also been known to write in my own answers to multiple-choice questions, so I am perhaps not the best person to use as a guide here.

There are also occasions where asking is counterproductive. Polite fictions can cause this as well; if you keep asking because you genuinely don't know what the hell [polite thing] is supposed to mean, sometimes they're so sure you really do know that they think the only reason you won't drop the matter is that you don't like what they're doing and you're trying to pester them into relenting. People can also get really hurt if they thought it was obvious they were doing something altruistic, and asking makes it evident that you're confused; I think it makes them feel disappointed that you don't automatically assume the best of them, but I'm not literally a mind-reader, so don't quote me on that.

One thing I never have worked out how to explain to people is that picking things apart intellectually isn't the same thing as trivializing them. At least, not for me. I do a lot of the people-reading things backwards: Something happens, I realize I'm having a particular reaction to it, and then I pick that apart to see what's going on. I find it a lot easier and more accurate than trying to run straight off the internal truth tables, although I have those as well. I can go decipher interactions that I have no personal stake in, but it's not as interesting, and I'm not particularly motivated to refine my guesses on the things I can't deduce directly.

I am often tempted to turn around and just tell someone that I know exactly what is going on here, and detail the exact pattern of interactions that I see, step by step. It's great for getting bullies to back off, because almost everyone assumes that the fact that I have gone to the trouble to decompose all of this into outline form means, 'I see your game and I refuse to play, because I think it's stupid and you're being a dick.' I have never had any success getting across when it actually means, 'I've seen this pattern before and I want to make you aware that I'm choosing to cooperate on purpose,' so I've quit trying.

People do a lot of things that I find meaningful not because they were planned as great significant gestures, but because they weren't. Having any kind of conversation about it inevitably gives them the impression that I think they were trying to convey some sort of MESSAGE IN MAJUSCULES, as if I'm one of the nutters who's convinced that the TV weatherman is sending me secret signals with his choice of necktie. I don't. It's the things people do when they think nobody's really paying any attention that are most telling.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dog Tails-- er, Tales.

The house was always a menagerie while I was growing up. My mother couldn't turn away an animal. Several times, we had neighborhood people ring the doorbell to ask if a kitten wandering around stray was ours. If it wasn't before, it was now. The minimum complement was two cats and two dogs, plus any small caged critters we had lying about, but it ranged much higher than that at times -- one of the cats escaped for the night before we could get her into the spay/neuter clinic, and we briefly had ten of them, before the babies were weaned and re-homed.

Have you ever been in a house with ten cats? It's an adventure. My father had to check his size 13 work boots every morning before putting them on, in case a kitten had decided to nap inside.

The dogs were generally fewer in number, but made up for it in mass. Right around the time I was born, my parents had a dog named Yeti. It was apt. He was half Lab, half husky, with mismatched eyes, and completely indestructible. He was hit by a car, not once, but twice. Dented both cars, wandered away confused but unscathed both times. He got into so many alarming things that my mother made the local vet teach her how to perform CPR on a dog, just in case. (You hold their muzzle closed with one hand and blow air in through their nose. You're welcome.) He ate shoes, books, furniture, a full bottle of prescription-strength folic acid tablets, and a tube of superglue, with no apparent ill effects. The only thing that ever fazed this dog was the time he ate an entire baggie of weed. He was distressed to find that every time he tried to lift his leg to pee, he fell right over into the snow.

We couldn't take Yeti with us when we moved to Arizona, so my parents found him another home. He became the mascot of the local volunteer fire department. Which, honestly, is probably the correct place for a dog who loves everyone, fears nothing, and is too stupid to notice when he's just had a near-death experience.

One of the first things my parents did when they bought the house in Phoenix, naturally, was get another large dog. Saturn was half golden retriever, half springer spaniel, and somehow ended up all-black. Not too long after that, we went down to the animal shelter and picked out a smaller accessory dog, Tootsie, whose lineage we never did figure out, other than noting that he didn't shed giant clumps of his coat every summer like the rest of them did, and was therefore probably part poodle.

The two of them were inordinately clever dogs, and spent many years engaged in an extended battle of wits over dinner. The dogs got fed after the humans did, on the tile floor in the kitchen to minimize the mess. Saturn snorked everything down so fast I'm convinced that the dog never tasted a single thing we fed her, but Tootsie was a fussy little thing who actually chewed his kibble, and got through perhaps half of his meal by the time the other dog was down to licking imaginary food molecules off the sides of her dish. At first he'd just walk away when he was done, but he soon realized that meant that the other dog would finish his food, and of course that was just not on -- that was his dinner, and he didn't want her to have it, even if he couldn't stuff it all down himself. So he took to camping in the kitchen, guarding half a bowl of dry dog food, until my mother came back through to pick up the drool-covered leftovers.

Saturn one-upped him by hiding. When she'd finished her food, she'd trot off and go sit on the other side of the counter bar, where Tootsie couldn't see her. Once he thought she was gone, he'd abandon his food to go hang out in the living room with the humans, and she'd swoop in and inhale whatever he'd left. It worked for a while, but eventually Tootsie twigged and wouldn't leave the kitchen if he saw her sneak off around the edge of the counter. So Saturn started sneaking off the other way, and hiding in the dining room instead. And when Tootsie noticed that, she started trotting all the way around the corner, through the dining room, and into the living room, where she could look through the sliding glass patio doors, through the window panels in the kitchen door, and past the edge of the breakfast bar, and see the moment when the smaller dog got tired of guarding his food and wandered off.

Tootsie enjoyed being taught tricks, which my sister used to take full advantage of. She was in the habit of taking her shoes off when she got home from school and then just abandoning them in the living room for other people to trip over. We complained at her constantly, but it made no difference; rather than stoop to cleaning up her own damn footwear, she just trained Tootsie to pick them up one by one and carry them back to her room whenever he wanted her attention. The dog eventually generalized this to other things, which came in handy the time my sister's hamster somehow managed to get out of its exercise ball while rolling around the back patio. We were about to mount what we suspected would be a futile rodent-hunt when the dog trotted up and politely deposited a small, terrified, drool-encrusted, but completely unharmed hamster at my sister's feet -- 'excuse me, I think you lost this, do I get a cookie now?'

When I was in high school, we had a long-haired St. Bernard. No, I don't know who thought it was a great idea to breed Alpine rescue dogs in the Sonoran Desert, but I bet they were dropped on their head a lot as a kid. We had to take her to a professional groomer every summer, because you can't use regular dog clippers on Newfoundlands and Newfie mixes -- you need sheep shears, which are a bit much for amateurs. The cow spots don't go all the way down, if you're curious. She was all of a color when shaved.

Chessie was very sweet, but she had four enormous snowshoe feet, and did not have four brain cells to run them with. There was a fence around the backyard but not specifically around the pool, so we walked all of the dogs into the water a few times to make sure they could find the stairs and get themselves back on land if they ever fell in. Not all of them liked swimming, but they could all doggie paddle their way to the exit -- except Chessie. She had absolutely no idea what to do with her feet. She just sank like a rock, back end first, in this state of sad, pitiful confusion. We eventually gave up trying to teach her and just prayed that if she ever did wind up in the water, she would panic enough to accidentally flail herself over to the edge.

Chessie also vehemently did not want to be in charge of anything, ever. She took orders from Tootsie, who was a pernickety little old man by the time she came around. We kept a giant communal water bowl for all the animals in the kitchen, and if someone else was there when she went to get a drink, Chessie would queue up, this giant slobbery behemoth of a dog looming timidly over a single housecat, waiting for her turn.

She was also convinced that all of the furniture had some sort of Aura of Protection From Dog on it. If she were chasing one of the cats around the backyard, and the cat jumped up onto one of the deck chairs, she would stop absolutely dead and stand there dancing anxiously from foot to foot, trying to get him to pleeeeeease come doooooooown because she couldn't geeeeeeeeet him there. The cat -- who was all of four inches away from her, exactly at dog nose level, with no actual protection whatsoever -- would just sit down and calmly start washing his unmentionables while the dog tied herself in knots. One of the cats discovered that this even worked if he "hid" under a Shaker end table, which had no skirt and was completely open all the way up to the underside of the drawer, and -- as this particular cat was a lazy 20lb slab of Himalayan -- under which only the front half of the cat fit.

The cats did, however, learn to be careful when they were hunting the dot from a laser pointer. Chessie was the only dog who ever paid attention to it. I don't even know how she could see the thing; when she looked straight down, her entire face slipped forward. There are few things funnier than watching a St Bernard lumber around the house at top speed, trying to whomp the laserbug with her feet. DOG-HULK SMASH. The cats eventually learned that was safer to stick to chasing the dot up the wall.

Last I was there, my parents had a Labrador retriever named Jupiter, and a smaller dog of indeterminate origin named Maggie, who, judging from her vocalizations, is either part beagle or part foghorn. Her howl can not only wake the dead, but prompt them to file noise complaints. Both of them are mildly insane. Jupiter is excited about everything. Toys! Yay! Bath! Yahoo! Medication! Yippee! He had to have his dewclaws off when he was young, and he was so thrilled by the anti-chew cone that when he was all healed up and it came off, he went berserk trying to get my mother to put it back on again. NO THOSE ARE MY CLOTHES YOU GIVE THEM BACK. My parents bought him one of those sleigh-bell elf collars one Christmas and he got so attached to it that he ran whenever he thought anyone was going to take it away. Maggie eventually saved the rest of the house from creeping insanity by cuddling up to Jupiter and calmly chewing every last goddamn bell off of the thing, so he would stop jingling loudly whenever he fidgeted.

Jupiter is also too stupid to notice that he isn't invulnerable, but it's okay, because Maggie is neurotic and panics enough for both of them. I was helping my mother herd them to the groomer's once when Jupiter helpfully demonstrated that she'd forgotten to engage the child locks on the back doors by opening the window and falling out. Fortunately, we were in a parking lot going 5mph, so aside from a bit of road rash, no real harm done. Jupiter was in fact perfectly fine, all happy tail-wags and excitement, until my mother slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the car, and went running back to get him, at which point he realized she was upset over something and became confused. Nobody else in the parking lot was aware that there was a free Lab dancing around on the pavement, wondering why his mommy was distressed; they were all staring at the car, because as soon as Jupiter went AWOL, Maggie had begun scrambling around in the cargo compartment, making the kinds of noises one might expect out of an emotionally-compromised ambulance siren, and could probably be heard in the next subdivision over.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I'm currently trying to scare up a vocal duet for performance. I really shouldn't be doing it at 11pm. The best way to test them is, obviously, to sing them aloud, and I don't have much of a volume control. The very very top and the very very bottom of my range only work if I'm belting. Naturally, that's where all the fun notes are. I also get sidetracked a lot when building playlists, and I'm almost certain that the neighbors do not want to hear Beyoncé's "Halo" anywhere near as often as I want to sing it.

I can sing. Very well. I know this as a scientific fact. There are a lot of things that I think I do pretty well, but I could be easily convinced otherwise by an audience, and I'm never surprised to run into someone more competent than I am. Not so, with singing. I had a complete stranger hunt me down in the audience after a school concert once, when I'd come out to find my parents, to tell me that she was a professional vocalist, and that I should never stop singing. I wish I'd appreciated that more when it happened; at the time, I was mainly bewildered. My level of social awareness as a twelve-year-old was not high.

Junior high was the last time I got to be part of a choir and perform on a regular basis. Not for lack of trying. The high school I went to did have a theater program, I just didn't find it to be a very friendly place. I was an understudy in Noises Off my freshman year, never got to be on stage, and was thereafter cast as self-locomoting scenery in everything until I gave up and quit. Both the theater director and the choir director had favorites, and I wasn't one of them. I'm not just being bitter here -- it was common knowledge, even among the other teachers. One particular girl had a leading role in every. single. production. for four solid years, despite quite a lot of exasperating diva behavior. They transposed the role of Lead Player in Pippin specifically so she could have it, even though we had not only a good handful of guys but several girls available who could sing the part as originally written.

College was not any better. I tried to take beginning guitar lessons there once. Nothing serious, just the kind of intro course where a bunch of people sit in a circle and try to strum a chord without developing a hand cramp. I was told very bluntly that unless I was a music major or a music minor I had no business pestering anyone in the department.

(I probably should not have been surprised. This was the same state university where I tried to sign up for an Intro to Mandarin course for five consecutive fall semesters, only to be notified every time that the course had been cancelled because nobody had bothered to hire a Chinese instructor. The handbook listed an entire Library Sciences major which could not be completed. Not a single one of the required core classes ever appeared in the course catalog, mainly because the Library Sciences department had no faculty attached to it, and did not actually exist.)

Despite all this, I do my damndest not to start singing whenever anyone else is home. They might hear me. I had it drilled into my head when I was younger that 'nobody likes a show-off' -- or, in other words, 'your display of competence makes other people feel bad, and you are responsible for managing everyone else's feelings on this'. I'm fine on stage; anyone who accuses you of unfairly showing off while you're performing clearly has mental issues, because that's the entire point. It's only when I'm in more mundane situations where I get the overbearing self-monitoring lobe of my brain telling me that it's clearly time to sit down and shut up before someone gets upset at me.

Yes, I do realize that this is insane. I was not surrounded by functional people, as a kid. My mother has somehow worked out a way to kite reality checks, and as far as I know, I'm the only one who ever bothered to argue with her on anything. This is why, when I started tentatively asking people if it might be a good idea to not tell any of my relatives that I was moving across the continent, every single one of them immediately said YES, with the loudest answers coming from friends who had personally met my parents.

Friday, April 18, 2014

I got to be a guest at a Sirlesque photoshoot the other day. Well, I say 'guest'. What I mean is, I was working my shift at the dance studio when the guys came storming up the stairs carrying giant bins of clothes. Dexter sidled over to the desk and made giant puppy-dog eyes at me -- against the majestic backdrop of most of the rest of the troupe whipping their shirts off right in the middle of my lobby -- and asked if I could possibly let them stay a leeeeetle past closing? Because Dex is one of the designated adults, and he had done enough math to realize that there was no way they were going to get through a six-man promo shoot in the hour they had booked.

I'd shown up to work vaguely discouraged with the world. I was hoping to get through two hours of telling people where the yoga classes were before I took the late bus home and went the fuck to sleep to make the day end. I wound up spending my evening with half a dozen highly-attractive, half-dressed guys, who were steadily getting more and more naked for the photographer. Whenever they ran out of things to take off, they changed outfits and repeated the process. Nothing makes you re-think the dreariness of the universe quite like watching a grown man run around a dance studio in an ensemble composed entirely of red underpants, a luchador mask, enameled scale mail gauntlets, and a makeshift cape tied around his neck. That wasn't even part of the shoot -- Ricky just got bored while in wardrobe. This is apparently such a common occurrence with him that nobody else even looked up when he tore past.

Such is my life.

I told them that if someone gave me a lift home instead of making me walk back to Somerville in the middle of the night, I didn't care when they left. This immediately made me everyone's favorite person. I was showered with thanks and what I think was the promise of dinner, although I'm not entirely sure that was serious or collectable. Some men shout 'I love you' in the middle of sex; Dexter may just offer Italian food when in the throes of the kind of joy that comes with the realization that he doesn't have to herd the other five cats around at Warp 9. Not a clue.

I have absolutely no idea why the lot of them like me. Don't get me wrong, I've got the basic self-esteem stuff covered -- I'm a worthwhile human, I have a number of personality traits that are often seen as friendly and interesting, &c. I'm just the one thing I'm far too invested in and know far too much about to ever accurately see from a stranger's viewpoint. I find this irritating at the best of times, and it's especially annoying here, because I spend about half of my time with them prodding them in the brains with a stick to see what comes out. You can't just flail wildly at that sort of thing, piñata-style. It's rude. You're trying to precision-poke out the bits of candy you want, missing all the crap gumballs, with the stick held behind your back. And your eyes closed. While not hitting the other partygoers. Doing this with social interaction without necessarily having a clear idea of how the other person perceives you is difficult, is what I'm saying.

Two of them think my efforts are entertaining, and I'm betting a third would if he thought about it for five seconds, which he probably hasn't, as he is often busy fighting crime boredom as El Armadillo. It's an interesting situation. I do this stuff constantly, but most of the time, nobody has any idea what I'm up to, much less that I'm doing any of it on purpose. I've learned the hard way that it's not usually a good idea to just flat-out tell them, either; once you've told people that you're watching what they do, they tend to implode in a cloud of self-consciousness.

I'd say Dale figured out what I was up to without being told, but 'figured it out' implies that he had to sit down and slot together clues until it became clear; I think he just recognized the pattern on sight. Dale is exceptionally good at this, quite possibly better than I am, and he'd be frightening if he weren't also one of the most forthright people I've ever met in my life. He's even more blunt than I am. I find it charming. He must make narcissists piss themselves in terror.

(Note that I have no idea if any of them read this thing. Possibly; it's linked to from my Facebook. In that case: Hi, Dale! I'm taking your advice, although probably not in the way you intended.)

My working hypothesis is that Dale and Ricky ended up friends because at some point Dale sat down and did the same thing to Ricky that he's been doing to me lately -- which is to say, in the friendliest possible fashion, "That's a lovely public personality you have! What's underneath it?" I've told Ricky a number of things about the insides of his own brain by this point, and not only is he intriguingly unsurprised that I'm guessing, he's also unsurprised that I'm guessing right. If this isn't a novel thing to Ricky, then either he does it himself, or he's had it done to him a lot. That's an OR, not an XOR; it could well be both.

Given that Ricky has a whacking great case of both genius and attention deficit OMG SQUIRREL!, I can't imagine that most people track him very well without extensive explanations. And indeed, for all that he can be very loudly social most of the time, he is also rather quiet about what he's actually thinking unless specifically asked. It is the kind of strategic silence I associate with people who have been given an extensive collection of blank looks over the course of their lives. I have no idea if I'm any better at following him than anyone else is, but I'm probably better equipped than most to do it by paying attention and piecing it together, rather than having to wait around until I could guess from history. I've also no idea what he thinks of my efforts, although I assume if I annoyed him he'd quit telling me things.

I got to watch some of them rehearse choreography while others were finishing their photos. Quite fascinating; I wish I had video footage. Their dance and theater experience varies pretty widely. Dexter actually can dance, to the point where I must conclude that either he's had formal training, or he spent his entire adolescence standing in front of his bedroom mirror pretending to be Lance Bass. The rest of them are awesomely idiosyncratic in how they pick it up.

Dale watches the mirror and steals body language from the leader, which is also how he does his acting -- there's a Buffy-themed number in one of their geek shows where he does a shockingly good James-Marsters-as-Spike. His face is fully visible in that one, and it still took me a minute to figure out which one it was. God help me if he ever does any character pieces involving a mask.

Ricky has spent the past twenty-odd years of his life teaching himself how to fidget in elaborate patterns without stepping on other people, so while he can't always keep track of his brain, he can almost always locate all of his hands and feet. Plus he can count to eight.

Jack has to get the basic flow down and then add all the stop-lock steps. He doesn't want to let go of his momentum, which makes total sense now that I know he's an aerialist. You want to keep your angular velocity up when you're working on trapeze, or you fall, or at least you fail to flip yourself all the way around and look like kind of a doof when you end up dangling upside down.

If you're curious as to what my precious idjit friends look like, they do have a YouTube channel. They're unfairly hilarious people even when they're wearing their pants.