So today I read a piece about how browsing isn’t so much a thing any longer.

This strikes me as both true and – as someone who has quite enjoyed long afternoons wandering over to the local bookshop and just…seeing what there was to see – rather depressing. I like puttering around; I like exploring. I have missed it tremendously during this long time of Not Very Much.

At least there are things beginning to happen, I suppose; today was my first day back in the office in a very great while. This meant quite some time today went toward moving all my things from one desk to another to support social distancing, for example – and wiping dust off things, organizing papers, making sure everything’s in order with my dishes and such…

And then there was a group meeting tonight for classwork – and, oh yeah, also all the everything what with us maybe being on the brink of another world war or similar, and…

Yeah. I think I’m tired.

Unreliable narration

A few days ago I was poking around the random site results on Marginalia (I’ve recently linked this, but if anyone reading this missed it: It’s a search engine that deliberately emphasizes the weird little sites that don’t have a lot of “weight.” They’re not necessarily popular, so larger search engines like Google won’t recommend them.)

A lot of these are the kind of thing you’d expect to make up such results: tiny little blogs and personal sites. Shrines to favorite characters. Members of webrings (Web rings! Those still exist!) People who make loads and loads of dedicated little animated link buttons that you can download and use to link back to them. It’s a weirdly nostalgic little reminder of how the internet was before everything became an app; before all of the weird nooks and crannies and edges were filed off into a nonthreatening corporate realm of sans-serif fonts and vowel-less names and vague promises to reinvent the [insert everyday object or concept here].

One thing that is…completely expectedly popular on sites like these: Assortments of personality test results. A site owner may list themselves as an Enneagram type 5 and an INFJ and a Choleric type and also Lawful Neutral…and so on. I am not surprised to see these. I took most of these at some point in history myself (Enneagram type 4w5, INFP, Neutral Good, for the record.)

Looking at these also makes me ponder something about those personality tests: I wonder how many of us take those more for validation of our ideas about ourselves than we do to learn something about ourselves. Surely I cannot be the only teenager who was disappointed to find that an assortment of responses to multiple-choice questions determined that I was a warm and fuzzy loyalist who was kind and committed to people rather than something exciting, like a sensitive artist or a brave adventurer?

I mean, the more accurate way of looking at it is probably that I have some of both of those things in me; I care a lot about my friends and relations, yes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I also long to be a creative person, and – more than that – to really feel like I belong in the land of creative people, which is much harder if you are like me and regularly bump into our old friend imposter syndrome on the bus.

From there of course it gets a lot more existential – who gets to decide where the bar is that one must get over in order to be “really” creative? Is “creativity” a thing you have, or a thing you do? Both? Neither?

What “counts” as a creative activity? Is cooking creative if you are following a recipe? Is writing creative if all you are doing is expressing yourself about what happened in the checkout line at the grocery store? Can something be creative if it is also analytical?

These things are so often set up as opposites, as “or”; one is either a logical left-brained robot with a genius for puzzle-solving and language OR a messy and colorful right-brained artist who is brilliant with visuals but not both, never both, never ever ever both. You are supposed to pick a side; the two camps are mortal enemies with one constantly seeking to crush the vibrant soul of the other and force it to do times tables, or something. (This is rather unfair to both the analytical and the creative brain, of course, neither of which deserves to be pigeonholed forever as either a flaky, self-important artiste or a soulless lizard-person in a sleek business suit just because they happen to be good at different jobs.)

But how would you know whether or not you already are what you want to be?

How would anyone know?

Perhaps that is the point of all the lists, really. To reassure those of us who sense that our inner narrator might be unreliable that someone, somewhere, agrees that we might be a thing we believe we are but cannot prove.

Nobody can disprove it either, not precisely, but there are some of us who will otherwise always wonder. Am I who I think I am? Am I who I want to be?

How would I know?

There is still life after twenty-five, you know

This morning’s review of Arts & Letters Daily turned up this little personal history from someone who (as the essay states) used to sing opera. As someone who was into an array of performing arts in school, I feel this.

I mean, for me the performing side was never all that likely to happen; I am too big a girl to be seriously considered for casting in any of the most desirable roles. Always was – though oh boy did I ever get cast as sexy/slutty characters for a while there, presumably thanks to the…generosity of my endowments. I hated it; didn’t I have it in me to be intelligent, thoughtful, spiritual, whatever? And, of course, I do…but that doesn’t matter a bit when all that anyone will really care about is whether you have the “right” look for whatever they’re casting.

Perhaps fortunately for me, I really enjoyed the other half of theatre work – running lights and painting sets and managing costumes; seeing to it that all was in readiness for the big night, then watching it all come together. The technical folk seemed a bit less…highly-strung, shall we say, as well (not so odd perhaps, considering.)

Still. I can relate to this experience, I think. The intensity of pressure, that “well, goodness, you’re twenty-five so if you haven’t made it by now it’s basically over.” One wonders if anyone who attempts to go into performing arts professionally actually gets to have any fun with it; perhaps the amateur space is where it’s at in more ways than one. If only doing it didn’t require one to be basically nocturnal! (I mean, okay, I would be basically nocturnal if I were following my chronotype, but most of the rest of the people and things in my life are diurnal instead, so we’d have a real Ladyhawke thing going on.)

Last night I went to get my booster for COVID at last; again I find myself marveling a bit at just how efficient they’ve made everything. (Those poor people at registration though, having to say over and over and over again “have you been out of the country? do you have fever?” and so on seventy billion times a day.) So far so good on the symptoms front, though my left arm is absolutely killing me this morning.

And tonight I make tacos.

And I feel a little flicker of something like anger at how boring I feel writing this out. (Frustration. Related to anger, but mostly about the sensation that there are forces I can’t control that are preventing a desired outcome. Also the dominant feeling of the last couple of weeks. Sigh.)

Delightful thing of the day: this selection of abandoned villages and towns. Sort of spooky and weirdly appealing at the same time.

Tuesday’s not that great either

I’m sure this is not a controversial opinion, but February kind of sucks. By that time it’s been winter long enough that everyone is getting sick of it, and it’s still far too long before spring will get here, and the only holiday in sight is one that tends to…induce stress, shall we say. (Not for me, not this time; I tend to favor relatively modest “let’s just have a nice time” celebrations, and have already ordered a little surprise that unfortunately was a bit spoilt when a certain someone got to the door before me. Well, whatever; it will still be enjoyed.)

Factor in a week full of adulting-commitments taking up time in the evenings (at least one of these is my vaccine booster, so there’s that) and…yeah. Vague dissatisfaction ensues.

Trying to name this feeling. What is it? Frustration? Boredom? Both?

Things aren’t bad, is the thing. Everything is more or less fine, or at least as fine as “fine” gets in the world in which we live. (Depressing that we have to knock a -2 modifier off everything for the general aura of the world.)

But I keep picking up books and putting them back down. Starting the day with the intent to move around regularly and maybe even burn an extra calorie or two and then somehow just…not getting up from my desk for three hours. Catching myself zoning out midway through a podcast I am listening to, stabbing angrily at rewind, taking 20 minutes of time to finish 5 minutes of audio as it happens again and again and again.

Nothing is really wrong. I mean, what is the worst I can say: that sometimes I feel unappreciated? That it’s a bummer that it’s been hard to find people to play games I want to play with recently? That I feel tired and irritable and would rather like to eat half a chocolate bar except I am trying to be at least kinda sorta mindful about calories, and the sense of deprivation makes me feel a bit like chucking the nearest chair out a window? These are barely even first-world problems, let alone actual problems.

Vague feelings of unmet needs are a thing right now, I guess. I do not know what you call this. I cannot even be a Karen and demand to speak to the manager because there is no manager; no one and nothing to direct my frustration at, justified or otherwise.

Perhaps frustration is the word then. There’s a lot going on I can do nothing about that sure seems to be stopping things from being as good as they might otherwise be. Well, ok, I could in theory do something about the chocolate bar part, but I am supposed to be being A Responsible Adult.

At the moment I feel about that rather as I do about February.

I think I’d rather have had the madeleine.

Has anyone reading this ever had a moment like that famous one Proust had with his madeleine? Where something just hits you and you are suddenly swept up in a torrent of memory and emotion?

I have not, though I have always sort of wanted to; I have wondered what it would be that triggered such a thing for me. The foods of my childhood were mostly processed, and it’s hard to imagine having a huge, nostalgic wave of feeling over a Little Debbie snack cake or a box of what they call Kraft Dinner here. (I mean. Perhaps it’s possible, but my inner aesthete objects to the notion, and my palate has…adjusted…after some years of cooking for myself. I doubt very much I would still enjoy many of the things I used to subsist on.)

I have had a recent incident of something triggering unexpected feelings, though: I listened to a song. Not a favorite, or even one I was all that familiar with; I had perhaps heard it once before, in the kind of “shuffle songs” situation that comes up when you are exploring an artist or a genre.

And, for no apparent reason, I cried for almost an hour as though my heart were absolutely broken.

And then I felt like maybe it would be a good idea to check and make sure people were okay, just in case I was having some kind of premonition. (They were; I was relieved but felt rather stupid for acting on such a thing.)

And then I felt rather confused (and maybe a bit ashamed as well). That was weird.

I have since been advised that perhaps I should consider any such unexpected emotional outburst in a bit more depth. The song in question is, as I interpret it at the moment, about striking out on one’s own when those around you are unable to take care of you; it does not appear to be going well for the speaker, so there is a strong undercurrent of loneliness and of the loss of relationship(s?), perhaps of identity as well, after a fashion. The new world is hard and loud and cold, and in it it is easy to forget one’s name.

Considered with a little distance it is not difficult to see how that might possibly have some impact on my reptile hindbrain, but the degree of the reaction is still a bit of a surprise. I haven’t really been having that bad a time. Things are stressful in the usual areas of adult life (work and sometimes finances and so on, compounded of course by the pandemic and all of the business down south), and yes, I’ve spent almost two years holed up mostly in my house but I’ve worked very hard to reach out to people consistently and to try and keep some semblance of a social life going.

…I do sort of feel lonely anyway. There is a…hunger, I think the same one that for some reason often translates into a craving for cake. (I don’t think I quite understand that, either. Cake is a special-occasion food, certainly, but I do not remember having any particular kind of special relationship to it as a child, other than being happy to see it on said special occasions. Why that particular sweet, brain? Why not chocolate or cookies or ice cream? A doughnut, even?)

This is preposterous, exasperating; I have literally talked to someone, at least digitally, every day all this time, and I live with a partner, who is generally good company and might justly wonder what on earth I meant by that and whether they were chopped liver or what.

I feel the same irritation looking at this feeling as I might watching a little kid have a meltdown because the packaging of the chocolate bar you have just bought them is the wrong color, and no amount of telling the kid that it’s just the packaging that’s different and the contents are exactly the same seems to make a bit of difference and everyone is staring at you and you find yourself perhaps wishing you could invoke a bolt of lightning to end this and all other awkwardnesses forever.

It IS the same chocolate bar, right? Everything is fine. What the hell is wrong with you?

I guess I’ll have to sit with this one for a while and keep thinking about it.

Still hoping to have a bit of a nicer version of this experience some day, though.

The calculus of “and”

When someone asks “How are you?” (or any of its many variants), there’s always a calculus, isn’t there?

Not just of “Well, how am I actually?” – which can be tricky enough, some days – but of “Is it okay for me to tell this person how I’m actually feeling?” or “Is it appropriate in this social situation for me to just spill my guts, and if yes, to what extent?”

I wonder if this calculus happens for everyone, or if it’s just a symptom of my own tendency to overthink everything.

I imagine a flowchart. Are you at work? Do you know the person who is asking? Do you know them well enough that you would speak with them in an un- or lightly-filtered manner about major life events? Follow the lines and arrows and eventually you will come to one of the outcomes that involves sharing more or less of what is really happening.

This is a little ironic, considering how very un-flowchart-like my thought processes tend to be when I am not following them carefully and deliberately. If I do not force them to slow down and write everything through, I more often find myself somewhere without really having much of an idea how I crossed the intervening space. I have an answer before I have really completely parsed the question. I have teleported to the moon unexpectedly.

(This is not to say that the answers I come to by such proto-thought-processes are wrong, necessarily – often they are correct – but more that my brain is a sort of eager street magician, too quick for the eye to follow.)

In any case, my response lately, should the result of that calculus come out to “Probably best to keep it to the surface level…” has been:

“Well, I’m not sick and the furnace is working. So, okay, I guess!”

This usually gets a chuckle, and it’s meant to. Sort of a badge of how low the bar actually IS right now when it comes to our interior landscapes. I am not actually and immediately suffering? Nothing in my house is actively on fire? Guess everything’s fine then!

This is of course not entirely correct. I am not sick right now, yes. In a pandemic that seems like it will never end and that may have upended most of how we do reality, that is definitely a good thing, though I do not think I am entirely comfortable with the notion that the right answer is for all of us to just get sick, the way everyone expects to get the chicken pox as a kid. Unlike the chicken pox, there can be long-term consequences to this, no?

And yes, the furnace is working. And in weather like we’ve had the last few weeks I am grateful for it, to be sure.

On the spectrum of loss in an article like this one I am barely inconvenienced, so far. All of my friends and family are well. Only one person I know with any degree of depth has gotten sick (though that sickness was, to be fair, quite scary.) I appreciate the author’s thesis that the “and-ness” of things is kind of essential to our humanness, that in the midst of the worst times we will sometimes find joy and in the midst of the most beautiful times, sadness.

Certainly if I take any amount of time to seriously consider how things are Outside – the ridiculous convoy, the climate disaster nobody with power to do anything about is paying attention to, the political garbage fire that is the land of my birth, the bottomless desire of Finance People to invade and monetize every instant of my life – it takes very little time for me to go from zero to literal shrieking rage. (I mean that depressingly literally. I yelled at someone yesterday out of sheer frustration with the fucking stupidity of humanity, and I feel terrible about it. After all, it wasn’t that person’s fault.)

But I also listened to a podcast episode about burrowing owls yesterday, and it was fascinating and delightful – moreso because there are people working to make homes and habitats for them in spaces that used to house less delightful things, like chemical weapons. Also, I mean, look at them.

And I Kickstarted a mildly ridiculous little nerdy thing – a page-a-day calendar that is also an RPG, with little dice and everything, and which would have been a feature at my desk this year if I were…well, more at my desk. And yes, it’s a little goofy. But the moment of levity in the mornings is helping a bit, I think. Just a tiny bite-sized chunk of an adventure every day.

So. All of that and.

It makes “How are you” rather complicated.

Reason # who-knows-what why it is nice to be a regular

That up there is a special sushi tray put together by our local sushi place. In this our era of not being able to dine out anywhere ever, it made a nice birthday dinner, and I find it rather heartwarming that when my husband went to ask them if they did anything for special occasions they basically said they’d whip something up. Sometimes it is nice to be a regular.

(I think my favorite thing was the row of rolls at left, just below the edamame; that’s a lobster-and-crab concoction that was lightly broiled on top and just a bit spicy. It was also delicious.)

At left, my birthday-cake substitute, also from a local place:

Clockwise from top left: Vanilla with sprinkles, chocolate raspberry, lemon meringue, and chocolate hazelnut.

The bakery has a very cute interior, with little tables with cozy seating, and once again I heartily wished I could order a coffee and sit and look out the window for a while. Sigh. Maybe later.

The day itself was pleasant enough: I spent a chunk of it puttering around taking care of business the way one always seems to on the first day of a vacation, before settling in for an evening hangout in an online game I’ll be talking about a bit tomorrow. Got the usual round of text messages (from younger friends and relations) and phone calls (from older friends and relations); got a walk in; took a little time to meditate.

Overall, it was a pretty good day.

My anxiety did show up in the middle of the night to torment me a bit about this and that – some upcoming paperwork, that creeping 5 a.m. feeling of existential meaninglessness, unease about some of the relationships in my world and whether they are okay – but at least it had the decency to leave me alone on the big day itself.

Today, feeling a bit tired from all that, with a nagging sense of longing that doesn’t seem to want to settle. Doing my best to let it go and re-center; I have a loaf of bread to make, and tonight there will be a mildly ridiculous kitchen experiment wherein I saw a recipe for salisbury steak and thought “you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten one of those” followed by “wouldn’t it be hilarious if I reproduced one of those old-school TV dinners with, like, the mashed potatoes and peas and so on?”

And then of course I had to do that. So that will be tonight.

But first, another coffee.

Delightful thing of the day, via Boing Boing: Marginalia, a search engine that focuses on teeny-tiny sites. Its “random” page is quietly charming/addictive, a little peek into the weird corners of the internet where webrings are a thing and people are still creating shrines to their favorite ships.

Hey, I’ve only responded to a work message once.

…so far, anyway.

It’s a day off for me, and I have the house to myself. This is nice, though in a reversal of the usual I find myself rather wishing I could…you know…go anywhere or do much of anything.

But the province is still fairly closed-up, and the weather is pretty miserable (-13, feeling like -19, with the sidewalks still questionably navigable thanks to last week’s massive snow-dump.) Ordinarily, this would be fine. No problem; I’ve got lots of little things I can do around the house, we’ve got all the groceries we might need and everything.

But good lord it would be nice to go out and do…something. Visit a friend, have a coffee, go and eat a cheeseburger, anything.

#firstworldproblems, I know.

Yesterday I listened to the latest of that series I’ve been following on emotions over at the Happiness Lab. This time, it’s about anger, and how to do it better:

This SHOULD be an embedded player. Hopefully. If that’s not working, try this link to have a listen.

My favorite takeaways from this:

  • Anger begins in the body.
  • Anger exists to motivate you to seek change.

So, when I feel angry, the question needs to be: What do I feel needs to change right now? That makes anger actionable, turns it into something I can do something about, at least hypothetically. I like this idea, at least in terms of making things more clear, though it may not be quite so easy to think of a way to execute the change in question once I’ve thought of what needs changing.

The city & the city & the city & …

So, I have a game in my head today, and it’s not actually one I played recently.

I blame this video, which we watched yesterday evening during dinner prep:

It reminded me that even though I didn’t “really” play this one – I just watched someone else do it and offered occasional commentary – it really is a pretty great representative of the video-game-as-art.

An RPG where you may never really meaningfully engage in combat of any kind, where your skills aren’t things like Strength or Dexterity or Intelligence but rather “Visual Calculus” and “Shivers” and “Inland Empire.” Where your skills are voices in your head that literally talk to you, pushing for one course of action or another, making suggestions, informing.

A tale of a disgraced cop who opens the adventure by apparently going on a bender so massive and so intense that he wipes out his very identity and must re-learn how the world works.

A densely-written exploration of a city and all the tangle of stories in it.

An experience that is by turns darkly funny, ominous, emotionally touching, and (at least once) a little awe-inducing, too.

A lot of the rhetoric around the game on its subreddit and such seem to suggest that people think it’s bleak, or depressing, but I’m not sure where they are getting that from. There’s an awful lot of hope in it, too, and stress on the importance of connections and connectedness.

I like the video creator’s suggestion that really, all of us who live in cities live in a different one. This is true, I think, though having been forcibly cut off from it for going-on-two-years thanks to the pandemic has somewhat dulled my sense of what the city is.

When I moved here, someone who would become a very close friend insisted on taking me around on a tour. “I want this to feel like your city.” I’ve always appreciated that; it is one of those memories I like to pull out and consider when I am craving something that feels rather cozy. And I wonder, sitting here, feeling isolated from it, what my experience of the city was, and what it will be again when I can go back out into it.

What I remember: I live in a city that is full of art.

That means art in the somber, stoic ways of the Royal Ontario Museum or the AGO, where I can (could) go to spend some pleasant hours taking things in, a kind of communion where instead of partaking of what someone tells you is the body of a god that died for you it is another human being, giving of themselves across time and space and identity and place. Across that tiny synapse of a gap between selves, vast enough to contain all the oceans and never be truly full.

That means art in the rough edges of surprise, the bit of graffiti where almost nobody looks, the painted doors and mailboxes, the mural around a corner, the mysterious signage on a lamp-post with a story in it. The same impulse, less stately but no less intense.

That means art in the kitchens of cozy neighborhood pubs with worn upholstery and that one little crack in the window that someday someone will get around to fixing, maybe. And tiny little cafes barely big enough for a table and grand modernist food vistas that charge hundreds of dollars for a little ballet of delicate, edible constructions. And, yes, even the mildly exasperating, how-is-it-possible-to-be-this-hipster-and-this-bourgeois-at-the-same-time places, the ones where sometimes I feel I ought to be angry with them but at the same time isn’t it just someone having a dream?

That means art on the stages of grand performance venues where actors and singers and dancers whose names are known to the faithful come to present tales and songs, and also art on the street corners and in the tiny, cramped interiors of local bars where performers of all sorts come to gather, and to do the things they must in order to live. (Because the president of Square is wrong; what yearns for expression will express itself.)

That means art in the hands and on the workbenches and on the carefully-arranged shelves of the tiny shops of local craftsmen and artisans, some who make glamorous things like high-end jewelry and some whose shelves are lined with soap or blends of tea or dainty little candies or…anything, really.

Yes, the city is also, in some ways, bleak and messy and poorly managed. Yes, affordability is a problem. Yes, it, and everywhere, struggles right now with treating its people well. But it is also full of interesting people, making and doing and being and sometimes telling their stories to one another. Humans do that.

It is oddly reassuring to me to think about it still happening, out there, somewhere, even if I cannot go out into it right now. Perhaps someday I will get to go exploring again. I like that idea. I wonder what I will find.

I wonder very much what kind of city the others around me live in. What their experiences are like. What frames them. What they see when they ride a city bus or wait on a subway platform or look out a window onto a wintry landscape. Does the woman on the bus opposite me live in a cutthroat city, where everyone is constantly striving to backstab their way into positions of power? Does the man in the coffee shop staring at his phone live in a tedious city, bland and enervating? Or perhaps it is alienating, cold, spiritless?

I wonder what kind of city I will live in when I go back out into it; when I eventually manage to overcome the constant sensation of too-brightness, too-loudness, too-muchness and the unease of so many, so close. I hope it is as fun to go exploring in.

And now I think I need to read Invisible Cities.

Why I didn’t write yesterday

This is why.

I shoveled for an hour in the morning, when the snow was still coming down.

I shoveled for half an hour at lunchtime, trying to carve a path between my house and next door.

I shoveled for an additional hour in the evening, checking to be sure all the vents on the sides of the house and the various drains around the house were clear. (The street drain in particular, given that the last time that thing iced over I had to bail out my basement. Let’s not.)

By the time all that shoveling was over, my arms were shaky and I did not have the energy to cook anything more elaborate than frozen perogies or to…well, do much of anything really. (My prediction that I would be extremely sore today has also come true.)

It is probably true that more snow fell between 10 PM Sunday and 5 PM yesterday than I saw throughout my entire life prior to moving to Canada.

I will say, though, that the sunset was especially lovely; all coral-pink streaked with blue and gleaming off the snow as well as in the sky.

For now, off to deal with the rest of today – but please enjoy this odd little read about crossword puzzles, the craze for them in the 20s, and various animal clues.