Whenever I go to the pet store to get crickets for Refrog, I have to go to the counter where they keep them in a big tank next to the cages of baby mice they sell for people to feed to large snakes. I hate those cages. It makes me sad to see the little tiny mice and know their fate.
And every week, while I’m waiting for the lady to bag up my crickets, some Long Island bro waiting in line for mouse babies starts talking to me and asking what I’m getting crickets for and then he invariably says some version of the following: “You should really see my snake. It’s pretty big. Heh heh.” This is always accompanied by a smirk and raised eyebrows and sometimes they even lean in and invade my personal space.
And each time this happens, all I can think of is Buzz from Home Alone talking about how he fed his spider mice guts, and I gag a little. But to this day, none of these dudes has ever seemed to have it cross his mind that this is the grossest and lamest line ever thrown at a woman.
“Wait. Can we stop for a minute? Let’s just learn something.”—
I was in a boring meeting doing boring logistical things with a bunch of fascinating scientists and someone said something about how DNA self-assembly can be likened to condensed matter physics in some way, and one of my favorite people I work with said Hold on here, let’s stop doing this boring work and TALK about that for a second, okay?
“A quick tangent: I have a fun game/exercise that I play with my rhetoric classes. I pick a seemingly innocuous phrase that is (over-)used in mass media, then I ask the class to explain what it means. No matter what they say, I either pretend not to understand, or ask “no, but what does it mean?” The students think it’s frustrating, then funny, then, frustrating again. A favorite phrase for this game is “senseless violence.”
The point of the exercise is to examine some of the contradictions or confusion we use in everyday language. I feel this way about the phrase “faith in humanity,” and especially “restore [my/your/anyone’s] faith in humanity.” What is humanity, what does it mean to have faith in it, and why does the faith need to be restored? I assume that humanity means something close to “the goodness of human nature,” and not “the essential or unifying nature of personhood,” but I’m really not sure. At the very least the repeated recycling of this phrase should serve as a reminder of the Sisyphean task of restoring faith in humanity, whatever it may mean. Humanity is always already in doubt; our faith must endlessly be restored.”—Life Sentences: The Grammar of Clickbait! by Michael Reid Roberts (via mikerugnetta)
I’m at the tail end of packing up my house for my move next week, and I finally took the stuff off my walls. I usually like to save this for nearly the last step, but I ran out of newspaper for packing up the kitchen so I moved on. It makes me uneasy to live in a place with nothing on the walls. When I move in somewhere, one of the first things I like to do is put up my art so it feels more permanent.
I feel like a ghost living in this apartment now.
I’m one of those people that likes everything to have its place in my home, and when I’m stressed I tidy up and dust things to make it all look like it’s ready for a photoshoot for one of those home magazines. But I’m currently sitting in the midst of half a dozen partially packed boxes, my former life stacked up all around me.
Like a really messy ghost.
I’m just really ready to get into my new place and on with my new life. I feel like I’m in a weird limbo where the only tasks in front of me include moving my belongings from one spot to another cardboard-surrounded spot or wiping down yet another surface. I’d like to just get settled already.
“Now that we’ve established that poetry is work, let’s move on to questions of productivity. How much should a poet produce, ideally? As much as one half-assed garden, planted by a person with a drinking problem, who did not read the directions on the seed-packets very closely. Elizabeth Bishop only ever wrote one poem, a villanelle about an elk breaking up with her (“The Elk Breaks Up with Me”), and if I may say so she did very well with it. Wallace Stevens only wrote five poems, and every one of them was insured for one million dollars, like a famous pair of legs. The greatest living poet, Nicolas Cage, continues to amaze us by never having written a poem at all.”—
I’m terrible at identifying birds based on their chirps, but there’s a winged creature in the yard that’s making sounds like an old Atari game, and it might be my favorite bird I’ve ever heard.
There’s also a pair of cardinals dancing around on the back bushes, which I only just now realized are budding with tiny green leaves. It feels jubilant outside. Every sound seems to be celebrating spring. My neighborhood is a hive of activity. I can hear lots of leaves being raked and everyone’s got a radio on keeping them company in the yard, and something about the warmth is making me want to be productive and do a thousand things. But at the same time, I’m enjoying just sitting still in the sun for a few minutes, listening to Creedence, and watching bumblebees the size of my thumb flit around to all the new green stuff popping up.
One of the most difficult winters of my life is so definitively over. I almost can’t remember the last time I felt this content.
It’s “purely malevolent”, says Michael Blennerhassett of Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, because the amoeba aren’t interested in the cells once they’re dead. This suggests they don’t need to eat them for the nutrients they contain, says Blennerhasset, who was not involved in the study. “This is a previously unsuspected method of attack.”
I wrote a piece on amoebas that live in intestines and wreak havoc by shredding cells apart (and end up causing dysentery, as it happens). My first attempt at writing this article started like this: “There’s a tiny, single-celled creature living in your intestines, and it’s mean.” But don’t freak out, because it’s not in everyone’s intestines, okay?
The whole time I was writing about these little creatures, I was thinking, “Gross gross gross gross gross gross gross.” So, yeah! Go read about this disgusting parasite! Amoebic dysentery is awful!
"If I’m in someone’s presence and attempting to conduct an interview, I am wishing I were with Kafka on the ceiling. I’d much rather watch people do what they do than talk to them across a desk. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the passenger seats of their pickups, often far from pavement, bouncing from scribble to scribble. Under a backpack, and hiking behind the environmentalist David Brower, I walked across the North Cascades, up and down the switchbacks, writing in a notebook. Even across a desk, an interviewee will sometimes talk so fast it’s impossible to keep up—like Alan Hume, M.D., a surgeon in Waterville, Maine. Nothing was unforthcoming about Dr. Hume. He talked clearly, rapidly, volubly, and technically. Writing notes, I did my best to stay with him, but when he breezed into the biochemistry of the blood gases I was totally lost and turned him over to a Japanese machine."
I am dying to read the rest of this John McPhee piece, because he’s the best damn writer I’ve ever read. It’s paywalled, so I thought, “All right, I’ll just grab a print copy of the magazine.” Easy, right?
Try looking up bookstores on Long Island. The closest one to me that hasn’t recently closed is 40 minutes away. I rifled through the National Enquirers and “ladies magazines” at the drug stores and grocery stores near me, only to find that they don’t carry most magazines of substance, including The New Yorker. So, because I live in the cultural sinkhole that is Long Island, I’d have to drive to the airport if I want to get my hands on a copy.
How has it come to this? If I want to read a few thousand words by one of my favorite human beings, I have to subscribe to a year of receiving a magazine, letting it sit on my coffee table for two months, and then recycling it. I guess I could read the thing, but most of it is available online. Just let me pay for this one article, please newyorker. Please.
I don’t like this expression “First World problems.” It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.
One event that illustrated the gap between the Africa of conjecture and the real Africa was the BlackBerry outage of a few weeks ago. Who would have thought Research In Motion’s technical issues would cause so much annoyance and inconvenience in a place like Lagos? But of course it did, because people don’t wake up with “poor African” pasted on their foreheads. They live as citizens of the modern world. None of this is to deny the existence of social stratification and elite structures here. There are lifestyles of the rich and famous, sure. But the interesting thing about modern technology is how socially mobile it is—quite literally. Everyone in Lagos has a phone.
Seriously, non-meat protein is pretty good these days. I’ve been mostly vegan all year, and there are so many delicious substitutes for meat and dairy these days that I barely notice the change (except that I feel a lot better, and eating out on Long Island can be tough).
“And finally, for a jolt of clarity via satellite, came Barbara Bush (channelling Maggie Smith) to toss some cold water on the entire thing. She had the put-upon look of someone who’d been called on a few too many times to help her offspring. (Jenna called her Gamms.) She was shown the portrait that her son had done of George H. W. Bush. “That’s my husband?” she asked. Later, she said, “I got up at 4:30 for this?” (You hoped that Matt Lauer, who looked appropriately nervous during the entire thing, would wish the former First Lady a good weekend, just so that she might have responded with the Dowager Countess’s famous line: “What is a week-end?”)”—
Oh man, you guys. George W. Bush is a terrible painter, and the only person who seems willing to say it to his face is his terrifying mother. Seriously, I’m pretty frightened of Barbara Bush. She seems so…disapproving.
Swept the deck. (Like that needed to happen. Geez.)
Braided my hair.
Decided I absolutely had to have fresh cilantro for dinner and drove to the store.
Had an email conversation with friends about the new Cosmos show, which I don’t even like (but I’m happy it exists because science literacy is important even when it’s coming from someone you don’t really dig).
Okay, so I’m a little fried this afternoon. Just had a long day of trying to wrangle, like, 5 stories into some form of publishable, and I’ve got an evening of freelance work ahead of me. I got home and snuggled onto the couch to chill out for a few moments, and I decided to catch up on my Youtube subscriptions.
Anyway, I went to my internet browser, put the cursor in the address bar, and proceeded to type in “videos” and then I was confused when the appropriate website didn’t come up. You know how some people revert to toddler behavior when they’re exhausted? I guess I go the other way. It’s like I’m a seventy-year-old using the World Wide Web for the first time.
“So GM’s known for a decade about a deadly design flaw, waited years to attempt to fix it, botched the fix, threatened to recoup legal costs from anybody who tried to litigate the issue, and then when the sh*t hit the fan, decided maybe it’s time to promote Car Gal.”—
I’ve got one of these recalled cars, and it gets even a little more ridiculous than this. GM had the gall to offer all of those affected by the recall a $500 check to add to a trade-in deal on their death trap vehicles for another GM vehicle. This was before the recall was extended to several newer models for lots of different reasons — the ignition switch shutting off, the airbags not deploying, the front axel breaking… all while the car is in motion. Are they kidding?! I wouldn’t want to own another car this company has made ever again.
I’m sort of hoping that somehow, GM gets forced to buy back the 6 million recalled cars and they go under.
“In the 1870s and 1880s, the country’s largest arenas were packed to the rafters with fans watching men — and sometimes women — walking in circles on dirt tracks. They raced around the clock for six days at a time…Although running was sometimes allowed, it was not an effective strategy for races that lasted 144 hours straight — roughly the length of 50 baseball games. Stopping occasionally to catch a few winks on cots placed on the arena floor, the competitors pushed themselves to, and sometimes beyond, the edge of physical and mental collapse. A nation starved for entertainment in the days before radio and record players savored the competition.”—
I was just at the Brookhaven bar and Paul brought up the fact that walking is an Olympic sport and I didn’t believe him, so I looked it up and oh my god walking competitions are real and sound kind of crazy and they have a fascinating history. Wow. Just, wow.
Having a twin brother who lives 3,000 miles away is pretty tough. I feel like I’m missing a limb a lot of the time. Well, it’s not exactly like that, but I definitely feel like I’ve misplaced something on most days, and I sort of feel like I should be looking for it, but I can’t quite pinpoint what it is I’m even looking for.
Anyway, Toph is super busy and I rarely catch him on the phone, but I got to chat with him for like 4 minutes last night, and we mostly talked about the dinosaurs he saw at a museum while he was in Bozeman, and just that tiny little conversation about how cool fossils are had me grinning the whole rest of the evening. It’s making me smile even now.
It’s sort of like having an empty fuel tank in your car and you pull up to the pump and just put two little drops of gas in and the tank is full again. Toph is that awesome. Just a few jokey moments and I’m set.
I wrote a cool piece about research into human emotions, and how humans express similar emotions using the same facial muscles despite different backgrounds. Basically, scientists are on the hunt for emotions that can truly be called “universal” based on how they show up on our faces, and how we recognize them. And learning about that could help us build better computer interfaces that can respond to how humans feel while they’re using them.
This was such a fascinating thing to report. One of the most surprising things I learned was that while lots of emotion research has been done to categorize dozens of emotions, most studies still use only six emotions as the basic ones all humans can express: happiness, fear, disgust, sadness, anger, and surprise. If you think about it, all these have evolutionary advantages that would help humans survive. But it’s kind of nutso to me that others haven’t been broadly categorized or incorporated into most emotion research. I mean, SIX emotions?! I go through six emotions while I have a cup of coffee! I can’t even imagine how many I experience in a full day.
Big, fat flakes have been falling since I woke up this morning. I don’t know if you can even accurately picture the horror in my eyes when I looked out the back window in the kitchen. I felt them get wide and round and ran to the sliding glass door, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes to make sure I wasn’t imagining it all. My jaw dropped a little and a tiny, exasperated, “No.” flew out of my mouth.
That word I wrote in the snow filled in within a minute or two, and I had to sweep a couple inches of snow off my car. At this point, I can’t see the building across the street from my office. I saw a bicycle parked outside the door with snow caking up between the spokes.
I’m planning on going outside to lie down and get buried. Maybe the snow will never stop. Maybe it will keep coming down and fill up our towns and our rivers and even the Grand Canyon. Maybe this is the end of everything. Goodbye cruel, frozen world.