Category Archives: Flotsam

The magic art of ….getting your life back

Whether it’s the in-laws coming or a special occasion or meeting the future son-in-law, cleaning house for company is guaranteed to send modern 21st century women into a tailspin of anxiety and depression.

It reminds me of those Internet memes….This is what I think I do, this is what  my friends think I do, this is what… You get the picture.  Maintaining a clean or even an orderly house with technology or help is definitely a challenge in the 21st century. And thanks to the feminist movement and its “enforcers” most women are left without help amidst the guilt of trying to be both homemaker and career woman.

So what’s a girl to do?

Several months back while search the Kindle book store I ran across a little book by Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

It definitely is life changing. I’ve spent my entire life (half a century) under the burden and guilt of trying to maintain an orderly house when I’m NOT an orderly or organized person. Let’s face it…housework is mind-numbingly boring, not to mention backbreaking hard. It’s also mundane and repetitive, NOT the way I want to spend my days or weekends.

So imagine the sheer delight of finding a way to have my cake and eat it, too. This little book changes the way women think about cleaning and organizing, dismissing all the so-called “rules” as unworkable myths and moving on to give an easy, workable solution to the age old problem of juggling life and housework.

What ‘s also remarkable is the “extra” time I’ve found as I work through the process which has become noticeable to all my friends. Not how clean my house is, but how free the rest of my life is.  Now they’re reading the book. My daughters-in-law and I enjoy (yes, I said enjoy) sharing with each other what we’ve done. Imagine showing off closets and drawers that have stayed neat for months with little or no effort!

I know…I would have laughed in your face if you’d told me this time last year I would be an “organized homemaker and proud of it.”  But I am and if I can do it, so can you.

The best thing about this life style change? It’s super easy. Let me give you a small example.

We had company coming – the kind where you wish you could afford to hire a maid because you really want everything sparking—and I was in a panic trying to get everything cleaned while still teaching school during Homecoming week. Then I remembered: what is the purpose of my home? To be squeaky clean? No! The purpose of my home is a refuge, a place where people could relax and escape the pressures of the world.

Instantly, all the things I felt “needed” to be cleaned melted away, along with the stress and guilt. I focused on making the place a refuge, finished cleaning without becoming exhausted, and we had a wonderful weekend and no one noticed the baseboards or cobwebs. (smirk)

 

Nerd Confessions

The problem with being a niche writer is that often niche writers are niche people. We don’t fit into any preconceived or “normal” category. We are neither fish nor good red herring and that in itself presents a problem.  How do we find a comfortable place in both the world and our writing?

For instance, growing up I was neither city nor rural, although I lived in a small town.  I disliked the limited scope of small town life; however,  I desired the quieter pace.  I disliked the noise and confusion and hurry of the big city, but I craved the accessibility of culture and variety. I was also neither city girl nor country girl. I loved being in the country, but lacked the skills necessary for country living. Even though I considered myself country, five minutes in the presence of a country girl made it crystal clear that wasn’t me. The same applied to the city—the social life and status necessary to thrive didn’t interest or appeal to me.

My true habitat was the library. I spent a lot of time growing up at the library, browsing shelves, picking out a book, and reading it at one of the tables. I loved the smell of ink and paper, the quiet that permeated the place, the solitude of being surrounded by worlds that accepted me for who I was.  In college, I would often escape to the stacks of government documents just to find a quiet place to study or read without interruption.

Sports was another arena I just didn’t fit in. Oh, I could go to the game and scream with the rest for a touchdown, but I just didn’t get the intense need. I could take it or leave it, and most of the time I left it.

Maybe it had to do with growing up poor. We never missed a meal, but we didn’t have the “extra” life took to fit in. Events like Homecoming where the girls wore mums that dragged the ground and cost a week’s salary starkly pointed out I didn’t fit in.

In a way, I’ve never overcome that sensation of not fitting in. I teach, but I’m not “a teacher.” In my mind there is a difference and I am acutely aware of it every time I step into a classroom.  I am a Christian, but I don’t fit in with most Christians’ ideas of what constitutes a “good Christian” – in other words, I’m not caught up in the rituals and traditions. The “doing” isn’t as important as the “being.”

When it comes to writing, I wince every time someone asks me to categorize my novels. Science fiction is a broad term and trying to pin it down to subcategory isn’t easy. Is it a western on Mars? A space opera? Space fantasy? A slice of life set in a futuristic setting?  Not a fan of romance novels, I shuddered when I realized my stories sell better under the romance category than sci fi.

Then there’s the whole “what age group is it written for?” I don’t write age groups. I write stories. If a story is good, all ages will like it. I still read the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden. I still read Rick Brant and Tom Corbett. I also like The Ranger’s Apprentice series. It doesn’t mean my tastes are juvenile (although a case could be made that I prefer juvie lit over adult lit); I enjoy a well-written story. I read classic literature like the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Prisoner of Zenda, but can’t stand the “classics” required in English lit classes.  (Is it just me or is the educational definition of “classical” limited to dark, occult, and perverse?)

My niche may be defined by books and quiet places, but it’s my niche and I’m comfortable with it. Just don’t ask me to define it or limit it…it’s as vast and diverse as the universe.

 

A Bit of Fluff

The human brain is a remarkable instrument. When faced with things we don’t understand or can’t explain, the brain fills in the missing bits from the billions of informational bytes it has stored

Case in point: our cat came Friday morning as I was leaving for school. Unfortunately, Ralph passed away earlier this year. He was a very large presence in our household for 16 years and has been sorely missed, so it’s not surprising we see him everywhere and even hear him ticking the screen to be let in

I don’t believe in apparitions or ghosts, but I do believe that influence lives on. Ralph had that kind of influence on our lives. For such a small being (he weighed in around 15-25 pounds), he ruled the house. He took up massive amounts of space. Once stretched out, he seemed to dominate our six-foot couch and king-size bed. He seldom spoke, yet always made his presence known. Even when he deigned to grace us with an utterance, it was short, to the point and soft…a far cry from his kitten days when he wouldn’t shut up and his Siamese heritage was very much in evidence. And until Ralph came into our lives, I had no idea cats had a liquid state.

Since his death, we have stumbled over him, been surprised to see him under the futon in the back room, watched him slither between the flower pot and front door as he darted inside and heard him at the window or door asking to be let in. On occasion we’ve spotted him stretched out lion-like on the couch or sprawled on the carpet runner.

Even though we know he’s not there, our brains – long accustomed to having him constantly underfoot – will insist he is still (and ever will be).

Not Quite Otaku

Scrolling through Pinterest the other week I came across a comment about Disney Productions’ influence on anime. At the risk of offending and hurting some people’s tender feelings, I have to disagree. It’s actually the other way around.

See, I liked anime before it became popular or well known in the States. In fact, I’m the one that introduced (read..corrupted) my kids to Japanese cartoons. Back in the days when all we had were Hanna-Barbera cartoons and the same dumb backdrop repeated ad nauseam, Japanese fare was a shining star in an otherwise black night. Not only were the graphics incredible (some resembled actual photographs long before Disney came on the scene), anime featured strong plots and crisp dialogue, not to mention intriguing characters who somehow managed to grow and develop. Sure there were character stereotypes and facial styles were reused in different series, but for the most part no one thought Naruto looked liked Captain Tyler with a different hair color. In addition, anime featured epic space battles—a far cry from sappy birds singing a love song about a helpless princess. Japanese heroines could wield a blade as effectively as the hero without losing any of their femininity.

I’m not decrying Disney, nor am I putting down the current generation of animators. I just think anime deserves its own day in the spotlight without being beholden to an American animator.

While Disney characters are limited to the nursery and elementary school (when’s the last time you saw a teenager decorate his room with Mickey Mouse?), anime is wildly popular with all ages in Japan (and gaining ground in the U.S.) The bold colours, sharp detail, and complexity of its characters create a world not limited to children or teens. Anime inundates Japan from cosplay cafes to festivals to decorations on public buildings, trains, and buses.

And best of all, there is no stigma attached to anime in Japan. Watch cartoons in the U.S.? There must be something wrong with you. Cosplay downtown as your fav anime character? Cool! Can I come, too?

 

 

 

 

The Scarf Sold the Sweater

I really don’t like shopping for clothes—long hours, fruitless perusal of stores which stock the exact same thing for the exact same price, clothes not the right size, not the right price, not the right colour. On the other hand, I do enjoy browsing and window-shopping, wandering around a mall or market or strolling down a shop-choked street for the excitement and enchantment of discovering something unexpected that sparks a connection.

On one such excursion I discovered a sweater and scarf combo. The sweater itself really wasn’t my style and definitely wasn’t my colour. The bright-banded scarf, however, draped artistically around the collar of the sweater caught my attention. “I have to have this sweater,” and although after the first wash the scarf never fell exactly the way it had in the shop, I still enjoy the combo, luxuriating in the sweater’s softness –something I would have missed if I hadn’t been lured by the scarf’s hues.

It’s the little details in out of the way places that call to me: a wildflower clinging tenaciously to the side of beach cliff, the bright green of leaf against a summer sky, the smooth stylistic lines of a wood carving that suggest a bird. While I can appreciate the “big picture” and I don’t get focused on crossing every ”t” and dotting every “i,” the tiny personal touches, the insignificant details are what stick in my memory long afterwards, like the mints on the pillows at a classy hotel. The mints themselves aren’t necessary; they’re even temporary. But no one who’s ever stayed at a luxury hotel forgets about the mints. It’s what often sets apart “good” from “better.”

“For some people, small beautiful events are what life is all about.” –Doctor Who

Techno Geek Girl

I confess…I’m a techno geek at heart. I love browsing the geeky techno magazines or window shopping down the gadget aisle at Best Buy or Radio Shack and I’m always hinting to my family for gift certificates to ThinkGeek.

There’s something captivating about shiny devices that might serve no other purpose than to be interesting or intriguing or unique or just down right fun!

I think the only thing that saves my family from bankruptcy is lack of funds…and an innate Scottish sense of prudence that “I can’t buy that; we need groceries.”

I drool over LED air purifiers or night light cubes, salivate over multi-tools and five in one pens, crave solar powered thingamajigs, hanker for levitating technology, and fantasize about future gizmos.

You get the picture. If it has moveable parts, glitters, creates dazzling light displays, turns an otherwise mundane appliance on its proverbial ear, it catches my eye.

Not that I’d know how to use all those fun and curious oddities, not that I need any of them, but there’s something fundamentally satisfying about knowing they’re out there.

I have to admit, the 80s seemed to be the “gadget” decade, especially around Christmas. Both Radio Shack and Best Buy had “gadget” aisles chock-a-block with apparatuses, implements and widgets for home, office, and hobby. Some were just all-inclusive clocks with fancy packaging. Others were nifty items that served a practical purpose in an inventive way.

Gadgets today are harder to find, but they are out there—mainly in Skymall magazines or off the wall specialty periodicals. They range from the bottom of the food chain gullible knockoffs to the pricey can’t-live-without-it luxuries for the 21st century. Sometimes interesting ones show up in online tech news blogs and websites, but aren’t always available for the regular consumer.

Perhaps as technology catches up with our “vision” of the future, there will be less need for gadgets and gizmos, but I will always be on the look out for the outlandish and bizarre. And maybe, one day, I’ll even be the grandma with all the “cool” toys!

 

 

 

 

When Imaginary Becomes Reality

“Mrs. Parsons, are you a Jedi?”

I chuckled and said, “No, this is the real me. I just dress in costume as a teacher the rest of the year.”

Headshakes, puzzled looks, a few hesitant giggles, then class moves on.

Actually, I an X-wing pilot, but since I had to leave my blaster at home, it’s kinda hard to identify me. Or swap the blaster for a bow and quiver and I make a pretty convincing elf.

What makes it difficult to identify my costumes is they are so ordinary. A few tweaks are all that’s needed to distinguish the costume from reality. And I do it on purpose. Although I love costumes and dressing up, I’m too much of an introvert to be comfortable in complete costume in public.

Maybe it harks back to elementary school days and the paranoia that my costume wouldn’t meet approval with my peers. After all, nobody dressed up like sci fi characters in those days in rural, small town America.

Whatever the reason, I tend to downplay my “costumes,” so most days only I know which character I’m playing that day.

Which brings me to cosplay and the trend of more and more adults to spend boatloads of money on costumes that last longer than the 30-minute walk around the neighborhood to collect treats. It’s like giving adults a free pass to relive their childhood days playing dress up.

Some folks are pretty ingenious when it comes to parading around as their favorite anime or cosplay character. Then there are those larping folks who stay in character no matter where they are. Awesome!

I’ve seen a few adults (the no nonsense kind (and no fun kind!) who raise eyebrows at cosplay and make disparaging remarks like “when are you going to grow up?” Too bad they miss out on the real benefit of cosplay: to make us comfortable with who we really are and brave enough to let that person out in public.

Cosplay is wonderful, and one day I’m going to get up enough nerve to go all out on a costume and actually find like-minded adults to hang out with. As a wise X-wing pilot once said, “You can’t look dignified when you’re having fun.” You just have to choose your moments.

I’ve Got Rhythm

I’m always slightly amused at the way Hollywood portrays musical tastes: good guys like rock ‘n roll, bad guys like classical and all old people are stuck in the mud. As if the over 40 crowd woke up one morning and decided, “Hey, I think I’ll like not-popular music.”

The truth of the matter is bad guys like country, rock, and heavy metal, too. More often than not, they don’t like classical—not even the corporate Big Business types out to crush the little guy; and lots of good guys like classical. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Star Trek is classic—their musical tastes are timeless and not period/decade dependent.

Last, but not least, old people don’t choose a specific type of music (classical or otherwise) just because we’re old guys. Our musical tastes (like 20-somethings and teenagers) developed when we were young and not always was that taste based on our parents’ tastes.

Maybe it was because I grew up in the 70s the first time around (yeah, we’ve been stuck with 70s do-overs and wannabes for a couple of decades now). Rock was making the transition from the Beatles to Iron Butterfly and I was forced to endure the shrieking cacophony in the classroom, friends’ houses and cars, etc. Needless to say I got very good at blocking out the noise and determined that when I was an adult, no one would ever, EVER make me listen to such music again.

Then I grew up and discovered all my friends, coworkers and colleagues were—you guessed it—stuck in the 70s past. Go to a professional workshop, you are forced to listen to 70s music as “inspirational” music. Sit in a restaurant and you can’t hear the waitress over the electric guitars and steel drums, much less hold a conversation with the people you’re eating with. Buy groceries, endure the sick lyrics and panting pounding of something that should have been put out of its misery before seeing the light of day. More than once I’ve been tempted to leave my grocery cart in the aisle and run screaming from the store.

Public music used to be calming—the idea was stores wanted you to spend time there in order to spend more money. Public music used to be background—pleasant and just there so it didn’t distract you from the business at hand. Public music used to be family friendly—you try explaining to a 10 year old what some of those words are.

I’m glad there is variety in music and that we are not all alike. But businesses and public places need to realize that their customers are diverse and music should be muted and a pleasant background. If someone wants to “get down and get funky,” let him do it at home.

Oh, and my musical taste? Everything from movie tracks, jazz and techno, to classical, just as long as it’s instrumental.

 

 

 

 

The Benefits of Laziness

A recent conversation with a parent left me pondering our interpretation of “laziness” and its place in our society. A quick check of the dictionary definition gave some interesting word choices associated with “laziness.”

*not active or in use

*unemployed

*absence of significant activity

*pointless

*the quality of being unwilling to work or use energy

Which brings me to my next point: who gets to decide the definition of “work” and “meaningful”? What is lazy and pointless to one person might be useful and meaningful to the next, and our definition and understanding of laziness affects how we view people and activities.

I have heard parents complain about their children being “lazy” because they spend time watching television or playing video games. The child’s sense of worth is only as developed as his ability to do chores around the house or make money. Yet many cultures have a better understanding of “laziness” as a necessary part of rest and relaxation than Americans do. They have a tendency to enjoy life more and even live a little longer than we do.

Before we went overseas we had to complete the famous Myers-Briggs test, which believe it or not typecast me as the wrong personality type. The reason was I had learned to cope/adapt/adjust in a world where organized, overachieving, workaholics are the norm so anyone who didn’t fit in was considered lazy. I was burning myself out trying to be something I wasn’t. When I realized this, my whole perspective on work and laziness transformed. I no longer had to feel guilty for spending time reading or watching a movie or simply enjoying the sunset. Artistic wasn’t lazy; it was just different.

Perspective plays a large role in our understanding of laziness, as well. I know way too many adults who feel guilty for taking a day off or not spending every single minute of their day being “productive.” It also affects how they view others: if you aren’t actively engaged in work, then you are by definition “lazy.”

In a culture that doesn’t observe a day of rest once a week (we fill our Sundays with activities and busyness to the point we return to work exhausted), we need more “lazy” times during our week. Our creative batteries need recharging weekly. Our emotional storage tanks need to be refilled every seven days. Perhaps it’s why we see such an increase in alcohol and drug abuse. Humans need coping mechanisms and if we aren’t resting, we can’t cope.

Bottom line: everyone’s need for rest manifests itself in different ways. Fifty years ago, children actually had “free” play, few organized sports, spent the summer swimming in the lake and watering holes, and catching fireflies in the evening.

With every minute of their day “organized” by adults is it any wonder they need some serious time chilling in front of a television or video game?

The Simple Things in Life

The old adage, “you never know how much you miss something until it’s gone,” has certainly been true for me the past couple of weeks.

Actually, it’s the little things, the things you never think about: like eating.  After spending a week in recovery from a vicious stomach bug on Sprite and crackers,  just being able to eat real food again has been a blessing.  Even graduating from saltine crackers to Cheese Nips was a huge jump. Although after a week of Sprite and Cheese Nips I really wanted something more substantial!  I missed texture and flavor, the freedom to eat anything at any time. The ability to choose, not just be limited to something that didn’t abuse my stomach.  Trying favorite foods only to find they had no flavor or actually tasted horrible was very disconcerting. Still even half a sandwich is better than the Sprite diet.  I’m so looking forward to our annual Easter cookout at church and sinking my teeth into a delicious hamburger–even if it is only half of one!

I’ve missed my computer, too. For the last two weeks, I’ve had a loaner while mine went into the shop for a total memory wipe. If I’d only had some warning, I wouldn’t be missing half my files now, along with all my bookmarks.  I know there’s a key function for that, I just never learned it, so now I’m laboriously trying to recreate all my links, which I know I’ll never be able to do.  Sometimes technology is more of a crutch than a help. Lesson learned: copy and paste all websites regardless of bookmarking.

Then there are those little files, which are important now, but I failed to back up on the server because I was in a hurry or simply forgot I’d updated them and needed to back them up. And having to hunt for all my files which got mixed up and swirled around in the overhaul.  Live and learn. That is why I have to continually update my mental programming. Twenty years ago I lost valuable writing because I was going to save it, “in just a minute.” A power outage deleted two pages of work which I’ll never recover. Now, it’s a habit to save frequently.

Another lesson learned a year ago, make paper copies of everything because you never know when the corporate office is going to lose your work. Fortunately, I had back ups, learned long ago after various floppies, computer hard drives, thumb drives, etc crashed and burned along with all my files, not to mention updated software that wouldn’t open older style files.

So the most recent lesson learned about little things? Back everything up because you never know when your computer is going in for a memory wipe and Artoo will be returned as someone else.

%d bloggers like this: