Darx Unplugged

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Movin' on up

Not to a dee-luxe apartment in the sky (oh, that all the TV I watched in my youth was not burned so indelibly in my brain) but to a shiny new self-hosted Wordpress blog. You can find it here.

It's not all prettified yet, but I'll be working on it over the days and weeks to come. I don't know if anyone out there is reading or subscribed, but now would be an ideal time to update whatever internet thingamies necessary to keep reading or subscribing. Oh, and yes, now that you mention it, I do intend to start posting again.

As my high school English teacher Mrs. Weber used to say, "Come on over!"

Friday, May 29, 2009

Memoir triple header

I have been reading like a fiend again, maybe in anticipation of expecting to have less time for pleasurable reading in the near future.

The first book, Getting a Grip by Monica Seles just caught my eye in the biography section of the new books area in our library. I don't know diddly about tennis, except that my aunts used to play and teach it (it might have been how they met?) and that one exceptional day as a child they took my brother and I to a court and tried to teach us. I was not inclined toward athleticism even then, and the best thing I remember about the day was that the Gatorade we got after trying to hit an entire basket of balls back across the net was the best thing I had ever tasted in my life. I still have a fondness for Gatorade to this day.

Anyhow, Monica's book (I feel like we're on a first-name basis after reading her story) was wonderful. Did she really write it herself? Who knows, but who cares? It was well-written, compelling and surprisingly relevant for me. Not that I have ever faced pressure as intense as that to which a world-class athlete is subjected, but her struggle with weight wa the hook for me. I'm not giving anything away, the subtitle of the book is (On My Body, My Mind, My Self), and this line from the jacket: "...it's hard to believe that spectacularly fit former tennis champion Monica Seles struggled with binge-eating and depression" pretty much give it away. I saw that and thought, huh, that sounds familiar. Not the spectacularly fit part, the other bit. So I read it. I really gained a lot from reading this book, and I would recommend it to anyone else for whom food is a favorite drug. I am glad that it sounds like she's found a purpose for her life now that she's retired from pro tennis, and it sounds like a wonderful one, at that. And I didn't see her on Dancing with the Stars, but that she was on it at all, I thought that was great. I can't even stand the anxiety of being surrounded by a simple jam circle, much less the eyes of the American television-viewing public.

The next book I read was Mornings with Barney: The True Story of an Extraordinary Beagle by Dick Wolfsie. Hilarious. A laugh-out-loud funny book about a morning newscaster from Indiana and the mischievous beagle (redundant, I know) stray who adopted him. I am a sucker for beagles, and the photo on the cover of this book was irresistable. Still, I've gotten a little quicker to ditch books that I'm not enjoying, but I picked this up on Wednesday evening and finished it Thursday morning before leaving for work. A quick read, very well-written, and so funny that I had tears streaming down my cheek more than once from laughing so hard. Want to laugh? Read this book. You will not regret it.

I stll needed more memoir, so I went back to new biographies and found Breakfast at Sally's: One Homeless Man's Inspirational Journey by Richard LeMieux. The writing was clearly only so-so from the very beginning, but I decided to give it a chance anyhow, mostly because The Professor and I had a heated debate about homelessness on our way home from a weekend away last month, and then not long after my illustrious father was spouting off on the phone to me about how the economy is tanking and the entire middle class will all be living under bridges before we know it. Uh, right. But I digress.

As a memoir, this book disappoints. Only the barest details about how his family abandoned him to his crippling depression after he went bankrupt and left him to live in his van are given, and he refers to his despair periodically, but having withheld enough of his story to help me decide whether or not I was sympathetic to his plight, it cast a rather fishy light on the situation to me, and I honestly spent too much of the book feeling suspicious of his motives for even writing the book. Memorializing the homeless people who have no voice in the mainstream world? Healing his own pain by coming to terms with his past? Just trying to make a buck? Of these possible reasons, only the last seems plausible, and well, that's not a motive that makes for a great read.

The glowing quotes from Salvation Army employees on the cover bring to mind that it's probably great PR for their organization, but still, this book left me feeling like I had been jerked around. Many of the stories he tells are quite moving, and it's hard not to be affected by the idea of a mom and her two young sons living in a storage unit, or runaway teens living in an ever-shrinking-to-development woods near a mental hospital, or two women whose so-called landlady steals their public assistance checks and locks up their shoes before leaving for work in the morning and lures homeless men with the promise of a free place to stay only to demand rent the next day after having "talked it over with her husband." But these stories are not LeMieux's, and his right to use them seems suspect to me, especially when his motive for telling them is so murky. I'm glad he's now off the street (yes, I'm ruining the book for you, but I'm not recommending it, and one rather suspects that having had a book published he's probably out of the van by now), but I don't think I'll be picking up his next book that his bio mentions he's writing. Don't bother with this one unless you've got a mad desire to read anything you can about homelessness, and even then, I'm sure you can find many better things to read first.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Happiness is...

...riding your bike to work, wearing a skirt you sewed yourself, giving a friendly wave to a stranger who is out mowing his lawn, hearing when your backpack hits the pavement after falling off the pannier rack behind you so you can stop to pick it up, and still getting to work on time. Yes, I'm feeling quite righteous and wholesome today. Yes, indeed.

I biked to work yesterday, too, to cheer myself up after the itchy walk around the block. For the short time left that I have a bikeable commute and while the weather is absolutely perfect for biking, I'm going to enjoy it.

Happiness is also acing the final exam for the Mickey Mouse computer class that's part of the curriculum at Virginia Marti, without taking the class, and using software that I had never seen before, namely the 2007 versions of Word and PowerPoint, which appear to have been changed for no other reason than to confuse and frustrate long-time users of the software. The man from the school who called with my results was certainly milking the suspense for all it was worth. The tone of his voice said failure, so I was happily surprised when he said "passed," even though I left the test feeling fairly confident of a pass. Heck, I skipped to my car yesterday. That was more because I'd finally gotten a) my first text book and b) the summer schedule, but still.

After work, a weaving guild friend is coming over to help me get unstuck with the piles and piles of stuff clogging up my laundry room needing to be overdyed/dyed/have the color removed/etc. I haven't been able to use my laundry folding table in something like a year or two? It's ridiculous. I find that the more I admit I need help, the easier things get. Even if she can't help me, I'll be that much closer to getting through it all. I've got all the supplies and equipment I need, I just need the moral support and social facilitation (learned that one at Bryn Mawr, hello Psych 101). The same person recently helped me overcome an obstacle on the loom that took approximately 30 seconds to overcome when she was standing there, but which had caused me to leave the loom sitting untouched for months. Yeesh.

Tonight, we celebrate by going to see the Star Trek movie. Okay, we were going to see it anyhow, but it feels very celebratory to me. I can tell that getting good grades is going to continue to be a motivating force for me as I go back to school. It's just such a straightforward way to get an ego boost. The June Sewing Fundamentals class that I'll be taking (oh, I got in, did I forget to mention that on here?) is mainly for them to assess what kind of students we will be. Ha! Stand back, Virginia Marti College. I will be taking you by storm.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why I don't exercise

This morning, I woke up feeling happy and positive. I decided to take a little walk around the block to get the body moving. Yesterday I finally finished a skirt, the pattern for which was fit when my tummy wasn't as round as it is now, and it's not terribly flattering. I can make another skirt that is more flattering, but I also want my flat tummy back. Better get off my butt and do something about it.

So I decided to just walk around the block. It's a 1-mile walk. Just a little something to get myself going again. I haven't really done any exercise since my last attempt at walking 4 miles on the elliptical machine with no breakfast before and not enough after left me feeling wretched for a day and a half.

And it happened again. Ever since college, I've had this very annoying problem. I found out about it the hard way when I tried to go jogging with some friends. I got half a block from our dorm and started itching like mad. My legs first but eventually my whole body will itch. It is torture. I can't jog or even do a brisk walk without this all-over itching happening. When I do walk, I have to go pretty slow so I don't get itchy, which means I don't get my heart rate up, which means not the best exercise ever.

I have asked doctors about this problem, I have asked anyone I've met with any kind of sports background, and no luck on finding out what is causing it. Is it something to do with nutrition? I mean, probably, but what? What specifically do I need to eat or not eat to make it so that I can walk around the block without wanting to claw off my own skin?

It doesn't happen with rollerblading or biking, which leads me to believe that something about the impact of walking is part of the problem. It also doesn't happen when I walk on the elliptical, so that's something, but I just wish I could be outside in the fresh air to get my exercise. I could bike, but it's so much easier to walk here. I live in a somewhat non-bike-friendly suburb, alas.

I really wonder how the heck I can find out about what causes this problem and what to do to solve it. If anyone reading this has any clue what could possibly be going on, I'm all ears. Right now I'm going to go try not to scratch.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Book: Outliers

Subtitle: The Story of Success

by: Malcolm Gladwell

What a fantastic book. Gladwell does it again. I love his writing and the topics he chooses. This book is one that I want to recommend to a number of people I know. Chris, Steve, Ken, Erica and Adi, all of you would dig this book. I even want my dad to read it, especially the part about the airplane crashes, because I think it might help him get over his fear of flying, although who knows, that could backfire and make it worse.

This book's most striking point to me is that one of the biggest determinants of success is just plain showing up. Do something for 10,000 hours and you'll be awesome at it. Sounds like a no-brainer, but I love that how long it takes to master something to the point of virtuosity is quantifiable. I mean, one can keep track of how close one is to 10,000 hours. It's a lot of hours, but it's not infinite. You're slogging away at some skill you're trying to master, and you think Am I there yet? Well, have you been at it for long enough? If not, just keep going, eventually you are going to get there. I like that. It appeals to me. Anyone can succeed if you just refuse to give up.

I also liked about this book the idea that a cultural legacy to behave in a certain way can be with you even if you don't know it. I'm descended on one side from Scotch-Irish Tennessee immigrant stock, and the whole chapter that dealt with how people from that kind of background, even generations back, often react in a predictable way in certain situations made a lot of sense to me. I always just thought it was my Scorpio rising and Pluto-Sun tendencies that made me the kind of person you do not want to piss off, but who knows, it could be some reptile part of my brain that was passed on in my DNA. Maybe it's both. Not that it isn't still something to work on and overcome-- I'd love to be more mellow, less irascible in certain situations-- but the idea that it's maybe not just some random personal flaw appeals to me.

Reading this book over the weekend was so timely, having learned this morning of the death of one of the world's most amazing swing dancing legends, Frankie Manning. Frankie was an outlier, a rock star in the swing dance world who achieved amazing success and the aforementioned legendary status, and a bunch of the factors that Gladwell discusses in his book might have had something to do with that. I'm a little fuzzy on Frankie's history, but I'm sure the 10,000 hour rule can be applied to his life. Opportunity in the form of living near the Savoy Ballroom at just the right age and just the right time in the history of music and dance, and then being asked to come out of retirement and teach dancing again back in the 80s. His own innate joyful attitude about life and dance that came through even to people who only met him briefly, like me, was clearly a factor in his success.

Frankie is a wonderful inspiration to so many people, and I don't know how anyone could look at the story of his life and think anything other than, Wow, I only wish I could touch so many lives for the better. Let's all try to be like Frankie, passionately returning to our dreams and our loves and using our talents to inspire others. Let's all be outliers to the point where there's no such thing anymore.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Book: The Spiral Staircase

Subtitle: My Climb Out of Darkness

By: Karen Armstrong

Another memoir, this book was a hand-me-down from my stepmother. I really enjoyed it. Very hard to put down; I was disappointed when I went to pay my cable bill in person the other day and encountered no line whatsoever so I wouldn't have an excuse to get some reading done. The author documents life after leaving the convent in 1969 after 7 years as a nun. What I loved about this book was how she hit so many dead ends and just kept going until she eventually found her way to a life that fit her. This book made me think of so many people when I was reading it that I recommend it to anyone, especially anyone interested in the idea of vocation and how we find ours. I'm looking forward to reading her first memoir next, about the time during which she was a nun, and some of her other books on religion. And if only I could get my hands on the BBC video she did in the 1980s.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Going toward something good

In the back of my mind I've been trying to think of a reason to exercise. The obvious health benefits just weren't motivating enough to me, too abstract, and I've never done it consistently or intensely enough to get addicted to the adrenaline or whatever happens to people who seem obsessed with working out. The reason I had been trying to use was getting rid of these new Ohio thighs that have happened to me (like I had nothing to do with it) since I stopped biking, walking and blading everywhere and started getting around in my car. Oh, and since I started eating more. I honestly never felt like I didn't eat enough before, but I think I must have been skimping, or maybe it really is just the lack of built-into-daily-life exercise that produced this change.

But coming at exercise from that angle, reduce my thighs, was just going away from something I didn't like. I knew this whole program would work better if I could go toward something I did like. Sunday it came to me. I want to go toward a flat belly. I have always been relatively thin, and my figure is pretty much proportional throughout. I loved having a nice flat tummy for most of my life, it made up for what I used to consider to be other deficits in my shape (small boobs, not very curvy/girly). I was honestly a little vain about my nice flat tummy, and well, I miss it. I'm still fairly proportional, so it's not a long way back to my former shape. At least that's what I'm telling myself, so if you know better, please refrain from bursting my little bubble. My legs work just fine; whatever happens with them, so be it, although I can't imagine they won't follow suit. So that's my new fitness motivator: flat tummy. Vain and shallow, perhaps, but if it's getting me to exercise, who cares. The loftier reasons weren't working for me. I want my nice flat tummy back. And I've done 4 miles of elliptical machine two days in a row since I had my epiphany. It's working so far.