Thursday, August 28, 2014

Just for everyone's amusement, here are my business cards for Circlet promotions:

I have no problem posting them here, because 1) Circlet does not care if I work under my legal name, and in fact several of our editors don't; and 2) I cleverly have not put my phone number on there, because I don't answer.

They do, however, say "Porn Fairy", because for some reason when I ask 'should I have official business cards?' Cecilia says things like 'just order them yourself' and then doesn't think I need supervision. My rationale for this is that anyone who thinks it makes a mockery of Longstanding Tradition and the Serious Institution of Business Cards is by definition not part of our target audience, and we needn't consider their opinion.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A friend of mind poked me on Facebook not too long ago and asked me for advice on promoting a book he'd written. It's a good book -- I've read it, and I loved it -- but for some reason his publisher seems to have assigned his promo to Malfunctioning Eddie, and as soon as the initial sales burst dropped off by two or three books, sprockets started popping off everywhere. It's his first piece of standalone fiction. Having an overactive imagination is a prerequisite for a writer; it's great when you're crafting a novel, not so good when you get out of the shower in the morning and find you already have three or four urgent voicemails from Chicken Little that are long on hysteria and short on details. Eventually, he realized he was spending far too many billable hours going back and forth between calming his publisher and running down the checklist of heart attack symptoms, and that it would be easier to do it himself.

So he asked me what he was supposed to do. I am apparently the person who knows the most about promotions and social media in his circles, minus the 'help' who seems to maybe need a few more Valium to cope with life, the universe, and everything.

That left me scratching my head. I tend to think of myself as a hermit, and much of the time, I am. I can and have gone days at a time without talking to anything that has fewer than four legs, if my work schedule lines up just right/wrong with my roommates'. Self-check lanes at the grocery store are a glorious thing. I whine a lot when I have to leave the house, because that means I have to put on real pants. I would turn down an invitation to the Presidential Inauguration if I'd already hit my limit of socialization for the week. How the fuck did I end up the local expert in promotions? How the fuck did I end up good at it?

This is not the first time this has happened. One of the other actors in the summer PMRP Super Sleuths show just moved here from the other coast and used to do burlesque, so I got him to hang around and meet Dale afterwards. Dale told him that I was basically the community networking person. I had a pretty savage brain cramp when I realized he was probably right. I am continually amazed at how little the members of la burlesquerie know about each other's goings-on -- I assume that if I've picked up the info, it's probably common knowledge, but that may be overstating the case. Dex seems to think I live on Facebook, which I don't, mostly because I'm too skint to turn on the 3G data plan on my phone.

I've been told I must lead an interesting life. One of the Circlet authors was impressed that I knew so many creative types. I'd only mentioned the Post-Meridian Radio Players, and the cosplay photographer who write YA novels, and... oh. Er. I was declared winner of Porn Camp 2014 partly because I admitted to spending most of my free time with the burlesque dancers and circus performers. (Also partly because I showed up in the Black Widow costume after being dared to, but I'm me and I would wear that catsuit to lunch on a perfectly normal Wednesday if you asked me nicely.) I told my blog that the PMRP wanted radio scripts and was promptly referred to another author who, as it turns out, is or was the longtime partner of one of our Circlet writers, and... know what? I have absolutely no idea how I got here. I never do. I was the kid nobody would talk to until I got to high school and started making friends via modem, and now I'm sitting in the middle of a web of very weird -- but highly entertaining -- people, knotting things together and plinking at strings. I almost want to march back and present my mother with overwhelming evidence she was wrong when she cast me as the book-smart social idiot, but knowing my mother, she'd just claim she thought I was the social one all along, because the structure of her reality is about as resilient as hot taffy, and it was clearly a trait I got from her. So forget that; it would probably end in punching.

At least I recognize the pattern. It's the same one I use when gathering information. Contrary to popular opinion, I don't actually know everything -- I just know where to look everything up. Likewise, I cannot personally entertain your party guests by juggling flaming poi, but I can certainly direct you to someone who has that skill.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I really hate it when people tell me that 'mindfulness' is the cure for depression. I am mindful of the details of life all the goddamn time. If that worked, you'd think I would have noticed this by now. It can help with anxiety, yes. If you tend to wake up from nightmares about the Apocalypse like I do, it is much easier to convince yourself that it is rather unlikely that the world has ended and they forgot to CC: you on the memo when you realize that someone has, for reasons unclear, left a gargantuan piece of construction equipment idling loudly right outside your window. Somerville public works crews would definitely take the end of the world as a sign that they needed a smoke break, and turn that fucker off. No matter what state I'm in, life goes on.

But seriously, 'mindfulness' does not make you feel better. It just shuffles the terrible feelings around. Or at least that's all it does for me.

When I get upset, I go out and walk. I used to do Tufts University to Boston Public Library in Copley Square via Davis and Mass Ave, on the grounds that nobody in their right mind would follow me. That walk is about five and a half miles, and I swear the natives out here will seriously take the bus like fifty feet. I did Assembly Square to the Esplanade round-trip the other day, with a bonus detour most of the way down Cambridge Street and back when I realized that the Longfellow Bridge pedestrian path was still probably closed. This was not a good idea, as I am already dropping weight like calories are radioactive and I hadn't had anything to eat for a good twelve hours. It's just that it was free, and I couldn't force myself to do anything else at the time.

The walking itself does nothing; I tried this in the exercise room of my old apartment complex once, and discovered that a treadmill is what happens when you accumulate enough futility and boredom to collapse down into a physical object. Exercise improves mood for some people, but not for me. I also don't get runner's high. Primarily it burns calories I can't spare and time I wish I could fast-forward through.

What walking does do is give me a lot of things to note very, very fiercely. This is the same reason I have a couple of celebrity Twitter feeds and the otherwise-useless MBTA Alerts bounced to my phone. The little message light starts blinking, and I can forcibly drown out the miserable internal monologue for a couple of seconds by observing JOHNNY WEIR HAS A NEW COSTUME ISN'T THAT NICE or OH LOOK THE RED LINE IS BROKEN HOW ORIGINAL as hard as I possibly can. It is the feelings equivalent of sticking your fingers into your ears and going 'lalalalala can't hear you', a tactic which has been used uncountably many times in human history, and which has never once actually made anything bad go away.

So I put my feet on autopilot and stomp across several cities, narrating the trip for myself as the world's most mundane tour guide. LOOK THERE IS A PHOTO PRINT PLACE ON CAMBRIDGE STREET THAT I SHOULD REMEMBER FOR LATER, THERE IS A THAI RESTAURANT I HAVE NOT TRIED, THERE IS A LOT OF CONSTRUCTION ON PROSPECT STREET. There are college kids out on awkward dates, a green Mini with racing stripes parked on Highland, two men holding hands in Central Square, and a small walkable art gallery on the construction fencing around Novartis' new building. Puzzlingly, a large amount of knitting and crochet work is strapped onto the guard rails on the Mass Ave bridge. Weird things happen near MIT.

It reminds me that no matter what I do, I would be hard-pressed to fuck up the entire world. The system is much too resilient for that. But on the really terrible nights, it also reminds me that no matter what I do, I would be hard-pressed to get the world to notice me, either. There are thousands of people with thousands of lives along that route, none of which involve me. Not all of them are happy, but most of them are probably okay. It is an entire world of okay people that runs on without me, unconcerned with my existence. I'm allowed to walk through it, if I want, but I am not okay, and I don't get to live there.

All mindfulness does when I'm depressed is make me mindful of standing outside of everything with my nose smashed against the window. It does not make me happier. It just reminds me of things I do not get to have. No amount of explaining seems to communicate the extent of the not-helpfulness of this to people who are trying to give me advice on how to fix my brain, the brain that I've been dealing with for just about 33 years now and that they have been poking at, unsuccessfully, for the past five minutes of conversation.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Someone on the Straight Dope Message Boards started another one of those 'what will those whippersnappers be confused with next?' threads. There's a huge age range on that board; I think a couple of the regular posters are up in their 90s, and there are more than a few 13-14 year olds around. Every once in a while, the old-timers go round robin and trade tales of things that were obsolete before the new kids were even born.

I recognize a lot of the stuff the oldsters are talking about. I was born in 1981, which is right on the cusp between Generation X and the Millennials, and I grew up in a very nerd household, so I had early experience with a lot of classic gizmos that other people might have missed. I typically geek about a generation older than I actually am -- occasionally amusing, like the time I answered someone's question about kinescopy on the abovementioned message board, and was promptly mistaken for a middle-aged Corporation STelE.

I'm just old enough to remember when gas stations still had to specify which pumps had unleaded gas. (Leaded fuel is still sold for some applications, mainly avgas, but was phased out of consumer gas supplies almost entirely by the early 1990s.) Cars had radios -- regular transistor radios, not the satellite kind -- instead of CD players or even tape decks, and you had to roll your own windows down with a primitive cranking system, which also provided an extra awkward chunk of plastic jamming itself into the side of your leg as you were trying to sleep squashed against the door. I was in junior high before we got a car with an alarm, mainly because I was in junior high before we got a car anyone would want to steal. Not much resale value in a used Sentra.

I remember our first cordless phone (huge, clunky, with an telescoping antenna, and sound quality that fell somewhere short of 'tin cans and string'). I also remember US West being our phone company -- we moved to their area just after the Baby Bell divestiture, when they were still Mountain Bell, and a few years later they switched to doing business under the parent company name. If you have ever had... dealings... with Comcast Cable, then you might be interested in knowing that they studied under Darth Telco up there. We had shitty telecomm service and inscrutable billing practices in Arizona decades before the national cable internet people made it into an art form. They were eaten by Qwest Communications around the time I hit college, and so far as I know, Qwest is continuing the long, proud tradition of fucking over people who just want to make a goddamn phone call. I started phone + DSL service to an apartment once and cancelled it a few months later when it became apparent that not only did the DSL service not really work, but the phone company was incapable of figuring out how to dun me for the same amount of money in any two consecutive bills.

My parents were enthusiastic media pirates way before it was cool. See, we had a VCR and a Blockbuster account. VHS tapes in those days weren't made for the consumer market -- they were made for the rental market, so new titles were priced up around $80. (The consumer format at the time was Laserdisc, whose new titles were about $30.) We had friends who copied movies pretty much the same way pirates do now with their iPhones in the theater, by pointing a camcorder at the screen and leaving it running. My father thought this method was for the ignorant and unambitious. He went and bought about $5 in parts from the nearest RadioShack and soldered together a wee little widget that hooked between two VCRs, and killed the primitive copy protection on new tapes. Voilá! Good as new! Well, less generational degradation. And the fact that VHS resolution is even worse than TV resolution to begin with. Details.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

When I run out of sensible things to amuse myself with on the internet, I read up on the most embarrassing moments of other people's lives. It would be convenient if the Wikimedia people just set up one of those list pages under the heading "Debacles", but they don't, so I have to go link hopping in order to find hilari-awful things. Like the story of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, wherein one of their crowning achievements in the area of Things No One Will Ever Live Down was when a ranking member of the organizing committee decided -- correctly -- that the least mortifying way to respond to a comment a South African swimmer made about the crowds in Delhi was to publicly admit that they were having a problem keeping feral monkeys out of the pool area.

(The article mentions in passing that there are feral monkeys all over Delhi. No kidding. Apparently the local method of getting rid of a large number of small loud thieving monkeys is to procure a single much larger loud thieving monkey, and bribe that one effectively. I expect this to escalate over time, until one very very rich man with no concern for his neighbors imports a gorilla with anger-management issues. Nobody will ever be able to get near his house again, once the gorilla settles in, but on the bright side, the place will probably be free of monkeys.)

The Olympics in general are a great source of these. Cities bid crazily for the chance to host the Olympics, because apparently before you are allowed to talk to anyone on the International Olympic Committee you are required to have your common sense gland removed. As far as I can tell, the only Games that have ever not resulted in the host city losing money hand over fist were the ones that were called on account of war. In a display of intelligence not seen before or since, the city of Denver, Colorado, USA, was awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics and promptly voted to give them right back, probably because they figured it would be more efficient to spend that winter burning cash for warmth.

The Games are very nearly the proverbial perfect storm when it comes to chances to mung things up. The financial stake is enormous, the bureaucracy involved is huge, and the people planning this turkey are not the people who will have to go in and deal with it when it's done. There are hundreds of cameras pointed at your project from every angle, which inspires glossy façades that make Potemkin villages look like a third-grader's shoebox diorama. There is a very hard deadline for completion, set years in advance by completely separate people, and when the schedule slips during construction as it always does, the only solutions are to throw buckets of money at it, slap things together in a quick but slipshod fashion, or -- the most popular option -- both.

Boston is apparently on the short list of bids for the 2024 Summer Olympics. This would be hilarious, in that Douglas Adams black comedy sort of way. Have you people seen this place? They did the urban planning by paving over the bare lines in the grass where the cows kept walking. It'll be just like London, except full of Americans.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jazmin has recently experienced the HEALING POWER OF RAT. She came home after a particularly shitty couple of days, so I told her to sit the fuck down on the sofa, handed her two of the three rats, and pulled up the original Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy (1981), because everything is on YouTube if you look long enough.

The critters have grown up interesting. Binky is in fact still tilty. She can straighten her head -- she does it to eat -- but some combination of torticollis and maybe just that ear works better means that she usually cants to the left. This bothers her not at all. The spiral worsens as she stretches; if she's really keenly into smelling something, she'll cantilever herself out over the edge of the cage with a progressively greater and greater twist, until at her full extension, she's making frantic sniffing noises with her face nearly upside down. The bulk of the rat, of course, is right-side up and sat squarely on the roof of her house.

Binky hasn't fallen off yet, which is not something I can say for her sister. Edelweiß is the only one who has gone splort on the floor, which led to a fun evening of moving furniture trying to get her back. I was briefly terrified that she'd found some way up into the walls, but it turned out the scrabbling noise was coming from under my bureau, whose toekick is only closed off in the front. There's a bottom to the cabinetry, which meant I couldn't drag the drawers out and pull her out through the gap.

So Eddie and I spent a few hours doing this:

ME: Come on out, boo-boo.
RAT: no
ME: Pleeeeeease? I love you.
RAT: no don wanna
ME: Goddamnit, rat, get back out here or I swear I'm going to suck you out with the vacuum cleaner.
RAT: fuk u *vanishes*

I probably could have moved things enough to get my entire body back there and fish the rat out directly, but I didn't want Eddie utterly traumatized, plus it's absolutely filthy behind my dresser, so no. Eventually I remembered that Jazmin had recently brought home something that I can only describe as a box full of boxes of boxed dishes -- I swear there was only service for four packed into that cube, but it was so Tetris-ed in that decanting it resulted in a gargantuan pile of things in our recycling bin, all of which I could go steal for use in retrieving the fucking rat.

After a brief sojourn, in which I prayed that the rat did not have the bright idea to leave the sanctuary of the bureau and smash herself into somewhere even more inconvenient (no; she sat there and ate mysterious floor crunchies), I came back with my secret weapon.

ME: Will you maybe come out where I can grab you now?
RAT: hahahaha no
ME: Okay. I don't know what I'm going to do with this cardboard box, then.
RAT:, u say?
ME: I can't put it back in the recycling. Someone seems to have gotten peanut butter in the bottom.
RAT: ...penut buttar, u say?
ME: I'll just put it down right here, next to the dresser, while I think about what to do.
RAT: *throws self into box*

I wouldn't have to do that now. Eddie and Binky have recently discovered that they do not have to wait for me to scoop them up for cuddles. Mommy can be climbed. (They're most of a year old now, mind you. No one is going to mistake these particular rats for intellectuals.) The top -- that is, permanently open -- door to their cage is right about at shoulder level, so the two of them spent a good half hour running onto my shoulder! and off of my shoulder! and back onto my shoulder! and frequently colliding face-on and trying to slide off backwards into my shirt in an undignified fashion.

They are both now also deeply in lurve with Jazmin, because she will sit there and pet any visible parts of the rat for as long as they want, or until I serve dinner, whichever comes first. At one point, she was lying on the sofa petting the back half of Eddie while the front half of Eddie was jammed face-down into the front of her blouse, because by rat logic that totally makes you invisible. Jazmin is learning first hand that when I say rats are tiny self-centered little attention sponges, I am not kidding.

Yuki is not interested. I have no idea why. She's kind of bitey, which is a new one on me; none of my rats have ever done more than test me for food-ness before. She's not angry-biting, or I wouldn't ever get my finger back -- she's greedy-biting, because apparently she considers my hand to be hers as soon as I start petting her, and she thinks it belongs back in her comfy nest with her. I've no idea how to get her to stop, so she gets to sit out Social Night, where Jazmin and her friends get festooned with rat while they watch Farscape on the couch.

It doesn't help that Yuki is fucking huge. I mean, all of my rats are always huge -- they're very well-nourished as kits, thanks to my habit of feeding them bits of my leftovers as a reward for existing. My kinesthetic weight reference for "1 kilogram" is still "two squashy boy-rats smashed into a Kleenex box for a nap". (Male Rattus norvegicus in the wild are usually around 350g when decently fed. My boys routinely hit ~500g, or a little over a pound. A couple of them have been noticeably fat, but mainly they just grow to Hulk-like proportions.) Binky and Eddie are pretty big for girl-rats, but Yuki is gargantuan. Jazmin said she looked like a bear compared to her sisters. If Eddie is a Romanian gymnast, and Binky is a Paralympic swimmer, then Yuki looks like she ought to be medaling in shot put for East Germany.

Weirdly enough, the fat bitey rat is also the only one who will turn up her nose at things. I'm not 100% convinced that the other two taste anything they jam into their mouths, but Yuki will smell things and then shove at them with a paw if they are not to her liking. How the fussy eater got to be the one built like Wilson Fisk is beyond me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gymnastics is the summer equivalent to figure skating: very pretty, very difficult, very sexist, and full of eating disorders. If these are your main criteria for making something a sport, I have no idea why they don't run Olympic ballet, but nobody asked me, and I have a feeling that logic is not the strong suit of the IOC.

It is, in fact, even more overtly sexist than figure skating in many respects, and that's something when your main competition is a sport that regulates the color of the shoes you're wearing under costume spats anyway. The men and ladies of figure skating at least run the same events (singles skates for each gender, pairs skates, ice dancing, and formerly the actual figures, the set of which was the same for both genders), albeit the requirements are somewhat different between the sexes, whereas in gymnastics the only events both genders have in common are floor exercise and vault. Men work on parallel bars, high bar, pommel horse, and rings; women work on balance beam and uneven bars.

Yes, the women have fewer events. No, there is no especially good reason for it. Dumb tradition. The mens' events in general emphasize upper body strength over leg strength, so you could make an argument that running co-ed rings events would give a statistical lead to the men, but if you're worried about that then you can still segregate by gender. Technically, the women would have an equally unfair advantage on uneven, high, or parallel bars, as a lot of the standard moves on those involve rotating around the hips, which is roughly the center of gravity for women, but some distance below it in men. Mostly, though, it's just sexist bullshit.

That there is no reason for men not to compete on the balance beam is demonstrated quite aptly by a very short, very furry man named Paul Hunt, who performs here in drag, under the joke name "Paulette Huntinova". (He's also used "Pauletta Huntescu", in case the Romanians felt left out.) The effect is not unlike stuffing Wolverine into a tutu.

'Bloke in a dress' is not normally automatically funny to me, but in this case he's highlighting the patently ridiculous difference in style and standards between the men's and women's events. The sport has a history of jamming the ladies into nauseatingly cute, childish costumes, and then telling them to fill in around their real gymnastics moves with "sexy" things like strutting and hip wiggles. The worst cases strike the same awful note as toddler beauty pageants -- the competitors are clearly supposed to be acting out feminine attractiveness, but equally clearly they are supposed to be too innocent to know what that means. It can be done to a point where it's genuinely spritely and cute,  but overall I find the effect to be rather demeaning, just as I do in figure skating.

I also don't ordinarily find balance beam very interesting to watch. Modern Olympic beam is basically a bunch of 12-year-olds doing their floor exercises on a very narrow strip of floor. It wasn't always; someone has thoughtfully put a video up on YouTube showing what it used to look like.

Gymnastics was apparently finalized into the Olympic sport of today in about the mid-1950s, sez Wikipedia. (It existed before that, but not in a form you'd really recognize.) The women in the earliest clips are clearly young adults -- on the athletic/muscular side for, say, a professional ballerina, but any one of them would make a respectable tap dancer or chorus girl. They get markedly thinner in the 1960s, but not alarmingly so, and they look to be about college-aged. Notably, nobody is doing saltos on the beam at this point. You couldn't, frankly; that kind of hair only looks like a helmet, it doesn't actually function as one.

It's not until the 1970s that the gymnasts start looking alarmingly young and bony. I don't know enough about the history of the sport to know if something happened right around then; I know that the figure skaters abruptly got much younger when the ISA abolished the precision figures part of the competition, which cut years off the necessary training time. Possibly this is when the Eastern Bloc started sweeping medals, using athletes who had essentially been kidnapped out of school as children to do gymnastics full-time instead, for the "good of the state". (Not that the US is any better about getting our Olympians an education. It's just that the government officially separating children from their parents and sending them through grueling drills instead of kindergarten would have gone over rather less well here.) Romania, for one, was a sure bet for a long time. I don't know anywhere near as many gymnasts as I do figure skaters, but I do recognize Nadia Comǎneci.

After the '70s, the artistic gymnasts seem to have dropped most of their dance training -- the girls pose occasionally in floor exercises, but the flow of Comǎneci and Olga Korbut on the balance beam is generally lost, making it more a technical showcase than any kind of entertainment for me.