Friday, February 23, 2007

Is This Legal?

I met Bob for lunch at a restaurant called Trudy's today. Austin Tex-Mex. My first time there. This isn't a review of the restaurant because I've only had one thing there.

Looking over the menu, they had on it a Stuffed Avocado. A Stuffed Avocado is an avocado stuffed with slightly spicy shredded chicken, breaded, deep-fried and covered in cheese. It is, without a doubt, a dish with no finesse, no health benefits, like a deep fried Twinkie, a dish that appears to exist primarily so people can say, 'Can you believe that?' It is also, according to the menu, the most popular thing on the menu.

So I tried it. I can't really remember much except the sensation of my arteries clogging. Since everything about it was smooth, unctuous and slightly bland I guess it was smooth, unctuous and slightly bland. Would I order it again? In a heart beat. Assuming that my heart continues, in fact, to beat, and isn't stopped dead by a major, deep fried cheese avocado fat block.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mountains of Work

I am paying for a great weekend. Had house guests--Pat and Gloria Stansberry and their neice, Rachel. Pat is a fabulous cook and we collaborated to make a fabulous meal. Which I will post about just as soon as I get through the mountain of work on my desk. Or maybe I won't. But the mahi mahi in saffron infused marmaletta was pretty good. With special thanks to Walter Jon Williams who brought saffron back from Turkey. It was worth working until ten last night.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Six Weird Things

I've been tagged with a meme. Karen Sandstrom tagged me to write six weird things about myself.

1. I frequently dream that I look different than I actually do. Last night I dreamed I was a very short, very overweight woman who wore white pants and sandals and painted her toenails. I was living in Africa with my new husband and his many children, who were in high school and older. It was somewhat stressful.

2. I once had a temp job where I was recruiter (or as they are more commonly called, a headhunter) making cold calls to department store buyers to steal them away to a department store chain that is now defunct. I did this for $7.25 an hour and no benefits. I now find it somewhat difficult to call people, even friends.

3. When I was a kid, I played with Barbies. Actually, I preferred Skipper because she seemed to have a much better handle on the whole eye shadow thing. What I liked to play best was "After the Nuclear Holocaust" which took place, as you would expect, post apocalyptically, when radiation has made people have mutant powers. When I could get someone to play with me, we would use our dolls and my Bryer horses, and make the dangerous trek across the basement and up the mountainous stairs, surrounded everywhere by dangers. This did not involve Ken, cars, dreamhouses, or even Barbie clothes, since after the nuclear holocaust you will have to make your own clothes.

4. I sometimes have hypnagogic hallucinations. I warned Bob before I married him. These are a sort of waking dream. For me they seem to involve two senses--say vision and touch, or vision and sound. One night, about a year after we had been married, I got out of bed, waking Bob up. He asked me what was wrong. I explained to him--I was awake and understood him perfectly--that there were spiders in the bed. He paused and then said carefully, 'How big are they?' I told him they were saucer-sized. He told me it was a hypnagogic hallucination. This seemed really reasonable to me, but since I had felt them, I told him I would have to turn on the light. Turning on the light breaks the experience. It did, and I could get into bed and go to sleep.

5. My grandparents were all born sometime in the 1880's and '90's and I am only the fourth generation since the Civil War.

6. In the last few years, I have lost a significant portion of my sense of smell. This is called hyposmia, and in most cases, there is no known cause, although it can be caused by inflammation, head trauma or depression. A complete loss of the sense of smell is called anosmia. Since a lot of what we think of as taste is actually smell, anosmia can be be a profound experience. Hyposmia, I can confirm, is sometimes annoying, but sometimes quite useful, especially when you have dogs.

I'm trying to think if there is someone who hasn't been tagged with this.

Tom Kasten at Musing With Mud.
Walter Jon Williams at Angel Station.

(If you would rather not post weird things, this tag is not meant to be binding.)

Technical Problems & Ninjas

I used to post the odd video on my blog. Then I moved to beta. I deleted my old blog and tried to add my new blog address to YouTube and YouTube just hangs trying to find it.

This is irritating because thanks to Warren Spector, I have a new interest, a Japanese program called Sasuke (or in English, Ninja Warrior) and I want to post about it. With video of Nagano, the second EVER ninja warrior and all around incredible person.

But I've spent two days screwing around and I can't get it to work. So the best I can do is send you to the Wikipedia article and the video which, while incredibly cool, doesn't really give you the total experience because Nagano is so amazing that he makes what he is doing look, well more doable than it actually is.

(edited--Gord told me how o get around it.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Life in the 'Burbs

There's an article in Newsweek about poverty in the suburbs.

It's strange to read, sitting here in my nice house in Austin, because the article was set in Cleveland. It turns out that for the first time, more people are living below the poverty line in Suburbs than in cities.

The suburbs are an anomaly, historically. An artifact of cars, cheap gas, and the post WWII boom in babies. They are sustained only by enormous and mostly invisible infrastructure. Gas prices kept artificially low, in particular. The suburbs, more so than the city, are rather libertarian. Pay or sink. If you lose your car, there's relatively little bus service. There aren't many free clinics, or food pantries. Social services can't cluster because suburbs are spread out. And social services tend to be run on the thinnest of shoestring budgets, so the go where they get the most bang for their buck--the cities.

Which means that we are looking at a new class of working poor. They don't look as if they are going to get much help. When they lose their homes, I wonder where they will end up?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Language Part 3

I know people who use language to mark their territory.

They make noise to claim space.

It can be very irritating. Since part of the space they are claiming seems to include me, and snippets of song and random comments and the periodic insistance that I stop what I'm doing and look at them even though what they've done is come into my office and sung, I dunno, part of the Green Acres theme song and then laugh because they think it's funny doesn't feel near as entertaining to me as it does to them. (That's a hypothetical, no one has ever actually come into my office and sang the theme song to Green Acres.)

But I think part of the point is that it is about them and not someone else.

It's communication at its most basic. 'I am in control of this space.' It's as fundamental as pheremones. One of the things that silentmeow's humming does, although I think unintentionally, is fill space.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Language Cont'd.

People ask me how I write. They seem to have the idea that the story or novel is all in my head and I just write it down, like Athena springing from the forehead of Zeus. (Well, most people aren't thinking about Athena and Zeus, but it was a cool, if slightly shopworn metaphor.) But that whole metaphor/aside business came to me as I was writing this. Then I had to think about whether the cuteness of it would take this in some direction I hadn't expected or didn't want. The act of writing makes the story happen. I have an idea when I start, but I find out when I write, what it is that I'm writing. I'm not communicating something from my head to you. I'm figuring it out as I go, and then when I'm done I'll take it, copy it to blogger and plunk it out there for you to see.

When I saw the "In My Own Language" video, it startled me in a lot of ways. I have the preconception that many autistics are not verbal, not articulate, not language oriented. Silentmeow appears autistic and yet her commentary on her behavior is really articulate. Her observations that when she is engaged in many of her behaviors she is often accused of being in her own world when she is actually interacting with the world are startling reversals of my expectations. But like a lot of the people commenting on Metafilter, I felt that language is communication. And certainly, it is. I'm communicating with you in whatever haphazard way I can when I post this video. I have a 'you' in my head as I write. But I don't just use language to communicate.

I use language to shape my experience. I talk to myself. Not a lot. My husband and son talk to themselves more than I think I talk to myself. But talking to oneself is not communication. There's no other, no Saussurian sign and signifier issue. The stuff in my head is not being clumsily mishandled by my attempts to put it in speech so that another person can hear and clumsily assemble those approximations into approximations of their own. We do it to make meaning of our own experience. That making meaning actually creates a level of abstraction and definition.

First it shapes the experience. When I describe an experience, I eliminate much of the experience. If I say I'm sitting in my office on a sunny Sunday morning writing this, while the dachshund sleeps in the sun and the golden retriever dozes on the rug, I have still not made an effort to convey a myriad of aspects of the experience. The way I am dressed, the oatmeal I ate thirty minutes ago, the mess on my desk, the fact that there are three rugs. I've created an experience that sounds domestic and faintly idyllic, and it is, but I don't mention that my feet hurt and yet I feel essentially pretty good. Or that writing this is engrossing and makes me rather happy, I think, but I'm not sure because while I am writing it I am engrossed enough not to be monitoring myself that way and this is a state I both seek and don't really have a handle on.

Second, I abstract the experience. I encode it in words, which are no more intrinsically meaningful than the sounds of Morse code. I stop having the experience and start having the experience of writing about the experience. I think about the 'you' I am writing to. Silentmeow does not appear to abstract her experience the way I do. Nor does she appear to shape her experience--at least until she films it, and then, undeniably she does. She set the humming background (which I find haunting) and selects the behaviors she shows and how long to show them.

I use language to distance myself from the raw experience, to give it coherence and meaning, and I often do that for no one other than myself. Language doesn't stop when I'm alone. It is a method of interacting with my world. Silentmeow interacts with her environment in a series of behaviors. These behaviors may or may not communicate, and may or may not intentionally communicate. (I imagine if I knew silentmeow, I could tell a great deal about her emotional state by her behavior.)

If language is about communication, then a lot of what silentmeow does is not language. But if that's true, I do a lot of purposeless language myself.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Real Life

My sister has been in town for the last week and I've also been doing some freelance work. This has resulted in spending a great deal of my time in Real Life rather than on the internet. Sort of the way buying the house and moving to Austin required a great deal of Real Life interaction.

Pat and I, among other things, went to Fredericksburg, Texas, a little town settled in the mid-19th century by German immigrants. It's in Texas Hill Country (scenic) and has lots of antique and gift shops (faux-quaint). Walking around, talking to people face-to-face, all that stuff. It was quite intense in a Real Life kind of way and I had a great time. But I'm glad to be back to the internet. And all you people I owe email to, I'll be in touch in the next day or two.