Reading Seattle #6 — Ballard Library

Date of visit: October 26, 2017

We went here after having Weinberg Family Dinner at Volterra — it was a beautiful fall afternoon. I had a cocktail and a half portion of pasta, which was really quite enough.

Books:

Allegheny Front, Matthew Neill Null — A collection of short stories illustrating the high cost orimpossibility of change in Allegheny West Virginia. Ironic mode for sure.

I somewhat avoid short story collections for this project because it’s so easy to read one story in the collection and call it a day, but I kept reading because I wanted to get to one where the protagonist triumphs. Never found one.

The Good Neighbor, Amy Sue Nathan — A divorced woman, about to turn 40, moves back to her family home near Philadelphia, and starts blogging about her dating escapades with a man named Mac! Visitor count goes way up, and her friend hires her to write for her media company. Plot twist: Mac is made up, but now she has to continue. How will it end??

I almost felt bad reading this because it was so simple and far fetched, but whatever, I had insomnia.

A Kind of Intimacy, Jenn Ashworth — Told from the perspective of an delusional, murderous fat girl, who is relatable and pitiable nevertheless. She moves in to a new neighborhood and starts obsessing over the male neighbor and harassing his partner; slowly her past begins to unwind.

Ok — and — I am going to “break” a bunch of my own “rules” here: I never finished a fourth work of fiction from this library. Instead, I read parts of several non-fiction books: My Own Words, a collection of speeches about / by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, edited by Harvey Molotch and Laura Norén.

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Reading Seattle #5 — Greenwood Library

Date of visit: September 2, 2017 (ebooks were checked out sporadically)

I came here after a long soak and (anhedonically-received) scrub at the spa, so I was a little out of it. I probably should have gotten a beer at Naked City instead of thinking it was a good time to get books, as the four books I selected ALL turned out to be bad choices: they were all too dense, the type of book I think I read rather than the type of book I read, etc.

A week or so later, I realized that I was going to be on some airplanes soon, and would need a few books. I looked at SPL’s listing of available Kindle books, applied some arbitrary filters, and got a few. They were actually all winners!

For the sake of accounting, I will consider Greenwood visited, and try not to have to substitute with e-books too often — e-books are supplements in this project, where local visits and physical copies are key, but maybe e-books were fitting, as I was not at all local during this time.

Easy Way Out (Stephen McCauley) — A nice tidy story of the love lives of three brothers, told from the perspective of the gay middle brother, set in Cambridge in the 1990s. There are happy and sad anachronisms: the protagonist thought he would never be able to marry; on the other hand, the protagonist is a travel agent who fakes boarding passes and funeral excuses for his clients to make up for his procrastination.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War (Mary Roach) — Mary Roach is one of my favorite science-confectioners: this one was about interesting scientific challenges the armed forces encounter. In her chapter on food poisoning in the army, I was glad to learn that many soldiers develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome after an initial acute bout of food poisoning! This is what happened to me when I ate the bad mango, c. 2014.

Rory the Dinosaur Wants a Pet (Liz Climo) — Liz Climo is the best, dinosaurs are the best, and Rory is an excellent name for a dinosaur! Liz Climo used to work on the Simpsons (she’s only quit recently), and is a successor to Sandra Boynton, but more cute in the use of animals, and less (bad-)cute in usage of basic puns.

Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile (Nate Jackson) — I skimmed through most of the football and just wanted to read the gory medical details; wish he’d talked about the rehab more. Concussions are discussed only in the last chapter — I guess Nate Jackson’s problems tended to involve muscles ripping from his pelvis.

Books returned: 9/26/2017 (I know, I incurred a fine)

Reading Seattle #4 — Central Library

Visit: August 13th, 2017

I had a book on hold — about housework (Never Done, Susan Strasser), and I was desperate to leave the house, so I took a bus down and fetched it as a convenient excuse. It turned out that Never Done was a dense reference volume: I would never be done with it. So I gave it back to the librarian for reshelving and got four new books.

Damnficionados (J.J. Wilson) – I was in a hurry and this seemed like a plausible choice at the time, but then I realized I hate post-apocalyptic science fiction: I don’t have the patience for worldbuilding.

Small Beauty (Jia-Qing Wilson Yang) – I appreciated this book because it is about a 3rd generation Chinese woman living in Canada, and they leave plenty of conversation untranslated in the pinyin, mixed in with her thoughts, which are in English. The character is transgender, so this book did the PSAs of telling about the horrendous transphobia she faces. Selfishly, I recommend this book because of the pinyin.

The Slap (Christos Tsiolkas) – This book was lightweight and the binding seemed well read, so I took it. Now that I’ve read it, I am filing it under “things I didn’t like that clarify what things I like”.

I don’t like it because it doesn’t have a statement: the titular slap isn’t enough to tie together the events, except temporally, and we don’t actually see any characters “wake up” due to the slap. We get a slice of life of suburban Australia: the focus shifts from generation to generation, from the parents’ drama to the grandparents’ sadness, ending on a triumph of the children.

But try as I might, I can’t find the relationship between the stories of the generations. The best I can do is that dads and pappoúdes (there are lots of greek families in Australia; who knew) alike all want to fuck the young ladies in their acquaintance, and that there is a lucky young gay boy with a loving mother.

Exit West (Mohsin Hamid) – Turns out I had borrowed but not read a book by this same author a few library visits ago: Phil read it (How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia) instead, and thought it was beautiful but very sad. This time I read the book; it was also sad, but also a hopeful utopian sketch with likeable characters.

Books returned: August 31, except for Exit West, which had a shorter 2 week due date as part of the Peak Picks program.

Bikeshare trip report

I finally completed some substantive bikeshare trips today! It’s not perfect, but it is very good — more thoughts below.


Why?

I’d loaded up $20 onto my Limebike account, and thought I should finally use it for a trip of decent length. Today was the day, for a variety of reasons:

Location: I had a picnic to go to at Magnuson Park — this is a park on the Burke Gilman Trail (BGT), which is primo bike infrastructure. I wouldn’t have to ride on roads at all.

Logistics: I didn’t have to be at the picnic at any particular time, and there was food / drink at the other side. A nice bike ride would help me bring an appetite.

Light: My sleep schedule has been getting progressively later, so I decided to wake up “early” today and then bathe myself in sun and endorphins by biking to the picnic.

And — to seal the deal — it turned out that I left home without my wallet (+ bus pass!); there would be no way to cheat by getting on a bus, and I couldn’t take car2go because the wallet also had my driver’s license. Not risking it today.

Where?

My plan was to take a bus towards Seattle Pacific University (SPU), find a bike, and get on the BGT at Fremont. This is the bus I take to go to work every day (except I take a second bus or walk from SPU to Fremont), so I know it well. A kindly bus driver let me on the bus without my pass, and I got off where I thought I saw a bike on the app.

I soon ran into my first problem of the day. The app says there is a bike at a map point. I am standing as close to the map point as possible without trespassing. Where is the bike?

It wasn’t such a busy area that someone else would have taken it before the map had a chance to refresh; I can only imagine that the location was inaccurate — or, less charitably, the location was perfectly accurate but inaccessible. Like, someone has put the bike into their garage. Not a bad deal, right? You have 100% access and no risk, and if you don’t want to bring it back one day, go ahead, leave it somewhere truly public.

I assume the bikeshare companies have a way to deal with this, or just factor it into costs, but it’s not a great experience to be stumbling around suspiciously in quiet neighborhoods, peering into yards and alleys.

How was it?

Eventually I got a bike and got myself onto the trail. The bike emits a loud chime when you unlock it, which was pleasant feedback — I wish car2go did this, instead of me putting my hand on the car door and feeling for the lock to release, as if I was trying to exchange energy with the smartcar.

I should say now that I am far from a confident cyclist: I veer a lot, I’m always afraid that I’ll catch an edge and fall, and I can’t reliably start if I’m not on a decline. (I know the theory of starting uphill, but I don’t always land in the saddle.)

But generally, the ride was comfortable — no clanking derailleur issues, the problem I’ve had on every bike I’ve owned. The gears also worked well; biking on all flat or downhill, I didn’t have to use gears 1-5, but gears 6-8 were fine and easy to shift. I also really liked the handlebars — they are broad and contact your palm more than a plain cylinder. I felt that this helped me relax my upper body.

As an aside, the _existence_ of gears 1-5 is what convinced me to deposit my money in LimeBike, btw. If, for some reason, I had to climb a hill, I would be able to. That, and that I swore I had put my payment info into SpinBike, and it seemed like it’d lost it.

Of course, there are a few small problems: the bell worked on my first bike, but didn’t on my return trip. Worse, the bike is so heavy (or the kickstand is so short) that the kickstand can support only its own weight: if you have anything in the basket, the kickstand is useless, and you have to lean the bike against your pelvis.

I’m sure LimeBike is aware, but reliability in starting and ending trips could be improved — I had app flubs on both ends. On the way back from the picnic, I wanted to take the same bike, but was unable to unlock it. Let it be known that I _intended_ to bring it back to civilization — however, I tried three times, and each time, the app said that the input was invalid, unlocking failed, please try later, etc. In the end, I walked out of the park and, as luck would have it, found another bike that I was able to unlock.

And when I ended my trip, I locked the bike, listened for the little chime, and went inside to shower — imagine my alarm when I saw that the clock was still running on my ride! I trotted outside to check (definitely locked!); then I went to see my trip history in the app, and I had indeed ended that ride successfully — it just hadn’t been reflected the screen I had been on.

Overall, this was a great experience. I got some exercise (hopefully I’ll sleep early tonight), and felt more confident about biking. Unfortunately, even if unlocking a bike became more reliable, the fact that you can’t know that there will be a bike near you will always limit bikeshare’s role as transportation. But for a fun weekend picnic jaunt, it was excellent.

natural language

I find you delightful and interesting. I admire you. But if it seems like I am quiet or never talk to you, it’s probably because I literally cannot.

I don’t mean “literally cannot” in the flippant way, as if you’ve done something unforgivable. I think I have an inability to react to certain conversational cues in the expected way, and it makes it painful for you to talk to me.

If you and friends have left a group of people after I tried to join a conversation, or let an opening question wither after I answer in my way, I don’t blame you in the least – it’s good signal, and helps me get closer to figuring out what’s going on.

On the other hand, I’d prefer not to skip events due to not being able to talk to most people (and the natural opposite, monopolizing a few people’s attention because they are the only people I can talk to), so I’m going to list out some observations.

Here are some things that happen in a one-on-one conversation:

  • When someone asks me a question, I answer too fast or too briefly, without asking my own questions, and what should be a conversation turns into an exhausting interrogation.
  • When someone asks me a question, I answer with an entire paragraph, anticipating all future questions. “So what do you do?” “I work for X, the location at Y, doing Z in role W — I’ve been there for about k years. It’s pretty good, I like it!” “Oh, neat…”
  • I interrupt. Horrendously. I can’t tell if the gap is for me to ask a question / paraphrase, or for you to say m–ok, I guess you were going to say more. Sorry!

And in groups:

  • In larger groups, I just. can’t. get. a. word. in.

I vividly remember one end-of-rehearsal discussion at Strictly Seattle about “conversations,” and in 20 minutes, I could not find some way to give my perspective, which was that I have a hard time getting into conversations, and that we should consider whose voices do not sound. (basically, what Jarrett Walker said)

I especially rued this opportunity because Strictly Seattle is a dance intensive, dancers are very body-aware, and maybe they would have had ideas — or maybe they would have just looked at me, “Poor awkward Lu,” left a lot of silence, and moved on in what they were all talking about before.

  • In medium (3-5) groups, I leave dead air.

I actually feel like I talk too much in medium groups, especially when other participants are women. But if I’m saying something, I don’t indicate well that I’m finished with a thought, and it seems like the other people are courteously hanging, waiting for me to conclude. This is a natural opposite of the aforementioned interrupting problem.


One thing that makes these (fairly mild, in the grand scheme of things) worse is that it seems to happen so much more with women than men, especially women who are mostly friends with women.

I fear being seen as a homewrecker or otherwise unacceptably heterosocial, but mostly, it’s a problem because I can’t be friends with so many of you.

Are men more tolerant of me because I share interests with them? Have I deliberately cultivated interests that primarily let me interact with men?  Under the assumption that people are mostly homosocial, maybe a greater percentage of men are awkward, and so, men have more practice talking to awkward people and waiting out conversational awkwardness?

Are women’s conversations more advanced: more teasing fragments, confiding of piquant opinion, and other devices I don’t even understand, arenas where a drily-delivered pun has no currency?


I guess I’m looking for a Speech-Language Pathologist, but one who deals with gestures and sentences, not phonemes as atoms. I don’t have trouble putting my lips together and parting with a pop, just once, crisply, but I do have problems answering a question and returning it gracefully, not with a kludge like “what about you?”, and not with a torrent of information.

I do realize that a lot of these ‘awkwardnesses’ I list are due to the assumption that conversations are about declaring facts. Maybe the easiest thing I can do is to think of conversations as opportunities to learn about people, and that I should ask more questions. Maybe this is what makes some people seem easier to talk to: they are comfortable with conversations composed of statements, and others feel that this shuts them out?

(addressing the smaller-eared elephant in the room: no, I don’t think it’s race or age – there are counterexamples all over the place)

Or you know, it could just be that I am still a nerd, and I forget how much of a nerd I am until I am with people who are not nerds. I like digital cats, partner dance, fitness, music, transit, and using words from science while having forgotten most of the details behind them. I dunno. This seems like a long-enough list of things.

You might be tempted to think, “well, I’ve never had a problem talking to you!” This is what makes this problem so hard to figure out: if I can’t talk to you, I can’t become good enough friends for you to take me aside and say, “Hey, Lu, do you ever notice that you do X?” It’s unfair for me to expect people who don’t know me well to do the hard work of observing and commenting.

But if it’s not a lot of work for you and this post inspires you to help, please, post just that. I really appreciate it, in unspeakable amounts.

 

ninja

I am going to write about cutting fruit.

Each way to cut fruit gives the eater a different advantage, but we don’t often list out the ways. This listing could be a table, though a sparse representation is more compact, and leaves room for comments.

Cutting an apple (around the core): allows you to eat a portion of the fruit at a time, lets you have no trash after eating the desirable parts of the fruit, easier to fit in the mouth / less noisy eating

Cutting an apple (through the core): This is an American practice that I have never understood. You risk more knife-injury, the hapless kids still have to eat the seeds, the seed particles spill out everywhere, and it’s not any faster than cutting around the core.

Cutting an apple (perpendicular to the core): to show that apples are the fruit of God, something something DaVinci code? art projects (look, a star stamp! also we should learn about monocots and dicots*) that seem incredibly wasteful in a modern context but maybe legit in an agrarian society?

[*] Once I was running one of those useless STEM events where we made soft serve ice cream in a bag. I actually tried saying “colligative property” to 5th graders. I also tried introducing graph theory concepts (yes! you said ‘family tree’ and isn’t it cool that you are never your father’s mother?) to a 13-year-old boy and a high-school-aged girl at a party this weekend and that did not really go over well.

Peeling an orange / citrus to eat in sections: allows you to eat a portion of the fruit at a time, lets you have no trash after eating the desirable parts of the fruit, lets you not emit odors that might be offensive to others

Cutting an orange into wedges: Allows you to serve a lot of people quickly while providing them with antioxidant-rich facials.

Cutting a durian: allows you to eat the fruit, lets you emit famously offensive odors, even before eating

Cutting a drupe (peach / plum / apricot / chimeras thereof) hemispherically (free stone): allows you to eat a portion of the fruit at a time, lets you have no trash after eating the desirable parts of the fruit, easier to fit in the mouth / less noisy eating, joy and satisfaction of the pit being free of the smothering flesh as you twist the two halves, as if cracking your knuckles or wiping your hands of some messy business

Cutting a drupe hemispherically (cling stone): sadness. bruising.

[pithy ending about fruits and labor]

launch

This is my internet origin story. Essentially, I was a Luddite from the beginning.

It was probably 4th grade when people began “being online,” by which they mostly meant being on AIM, AOL Instant Messenger. It was treated as another place where kids could hang out, away from parents; in middle school, this would morph back into a physical location, “the fields,” a mosquito-ridden set of sports courts.

I had email: it was from our ISP, Optimum Online. When my friends wanted me to “get online,” I didn’t see the point of registering for an account — wasn’t this the same as sending a lot of short emails? Why not just do that? Why did I have to go through the onerous process of getting an account when under 13, which involved asking your parents for their credit card number and moreover, telling them what you were up to?

I remember the first night of trying to send quick short emails. Too much latency for conversation: it seemed lame and we stopped the experiment.

I then discovered how to evade the hassle of <13 account signup: lie, lie about everything. I just called AOL’s password recovery service and not a single fact I could remember from that time was helping the poor guy key into my accounts.

A bit sad, but perhaps it’s for the best that the away messages and profile text (proto status updates, proto Facebook updates, proto tweets!) stored under FrogertoLily2001 have disappeared into the ether.