Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Fool

In the name of giving myself a break this week while I still get settled into my new job, I've pulled an excerpt from my journal.  No, it's not a recent entry. But, I find it entertaining.  I hope you enjoy it.  I did when I found it last week.  


Loneliness crept up on me the other day.  So, I naturally went to shuffle my tarot cards to read myself a fortune—or rather, to keep reading my cards until I got a good one.

About halfway through shuffling I had a sudden out of body experience and saw myself in that moment, sitting cross-legged in my childhood bedroom, sharing the wall with my parents, about to read my tarot cards. 

I had reached a new level of teenage regression that even for me was too much.

So, I packed up the cards and went scrolling around Facebook (as usual).  There are a couple profiles of friends I always end up commenting on, if not routinely right back on my own to respond to the messages I got for the day.  When I went to my list of latest posts I couldn’t help but notice a girl I’ve had a crush for a year or more has interacted with a couple things I had thrown out onto the Face earlier that day.

She had posted a response, she had obviously liked a link I had posted because it had coincidentally been linked again on her page right after I had said something on hers, which also tells me that she went to my profile—and success!

She had to have looked at my profile!  My face was in front of her face!  I might not have been aware of it at the time… but what of that?  There’s no need for retrospective speculation.  I am just burbling with joy that she even looked me up.  And thus, the pitiful, foolish, ritual begins anew.

Saying, "You Do It, Too" Just Means We're Both Creepy

Whenever I happen to find someone I like on Facebook I have a ritual I go through. I've asked around and I'm not alone in this.  Facebook allows us to anonymously snoop without feeling bad because of the Golden Internet Rule:  Post unto others as you would have posted about you.  Aka, if she didn't want me to see it then why make it public?  But, this girl decided to not publicly declare whether or not she likes girls.  How dare she.

Rather than just plain asking her (because that would be too scary) when the girl popped back under my radar I returned to her “info” page of her Facebook profile and sat and went through every bit of information as if the secret to her sexuality were right there sitting in front of me.  

I just have to crack the code, I tell myself—get enough evidence, find the secret out.  It's all right there in front of me because who we are is what we love (negating the fact that we sometimes fluff our profiles to look better for others to see).  And if she's straight (by my rubric) then it's my loss and I should move on.  If she's not, then I can allow myself the luxury of hoping I'll catch her eye one day in the future.

I always check first to see if her preference for guys or girls is even listed—but of course, that is ever vacant, which causes me to become all the more curious.  Why wasn’t it posted?  Is she just afraid of weird lesbians trolling around on Facebook searching for any sign of The Gay because in actuality you leaving that information hidden just makes weird lesbians search for signs of The Gay.  

just… I can’t let it go.  That’s the problem.  I think if I had got the message long ago that she was completely utterly straight, I’d be far less interested and burning with curiosity not knowing and always wondering if I just made it up in my head that she could be queer.  

Objects In Rearview May Appear Gayer Than Before

Gaydar is funny this way; to those who have it, usually it means you get a slight tingling sensation about a person that you have more in common than your Buffy DVD collection.  It grows subtly inside of you until that perfect moment he/she says something along the lines of "I was reading the latest Sarah Waters novel the other day," and BOOM.  You knew you were right.

For me, Gaydar is unfortunately retrospective.   

So, I surf past the “Relationship status” on her page as always with a grimace—it’s the steady reminder that “even if her sexuality was listed this doesn’t change anything—remember she’s with so-and-so and you’re definitely not so-and-so.”

At least, that blue underlined link is not to my Facebook profile.*

Anyway, I go back to the meat of my possible discovery—I feel like an archeologist, sifting through minuscule remnants of stone and bog-preserved tissue, trying to piece together the truth I know existed at one point.

My criteria?  There isn't much to go on.  But, it's all I've got:  her favorite books, movies and tv shows which, arguably, could be all within the same bracket of criteria. These are the things that emotionally stuck with her that she would like to share with other people. It’s likely she will not list her ex-girlfriends and boyfriends, you see.  

So, I pull on my mental archeologist outfit and get to work.

I begin by scouring these titles.  And it is then that I turn into Superficial Beryl.  Every title places an invisible hash mark under either “queer” or “straight” in my head.  And it is through this ridiculous rubric I make up on the spot that I try to figure out her level of queerness.

Do You Have a (Rainbow) Flag?

No flag, no queer community.  Those are the rules I've just made up.  If there was an App for this--there should be an app for this--I would call it:  The Queerubric.  You plug in a title.  It tells you if its fans are queer or not with 80% accuracy. What?  I'm no Steve Jobs.  80% accuracy is good enough.

I start off with Favorite books:

Jane Eyre… straight… Pride and Prejudice...straight…** 

But, as with any rubric, I quickly feel constrained and start adding categories to take off the edge of disappointment and leave wiggle room for change:

Never Let Me Go… straight and secretly masochistic…Harry Potter... straight but British...

Not getting the answers to my Queerubric I wanted, I move on to movies:

Love Actually… hopelessly romantic but hopelessly straight… 

It isn't looking promising.  But then, within the folds of blue verdana comes...


It's like a beacon.  A giant, Joss-Whedon-shaped beacon.  

Queer, point 1.

Success.  I greedily read on, heading into TV shows.  Suddenly, I see the queer in everything.

Shakespeare in Love….drama geek...and/or queer ... Bones… queer… 30 Rock… bi-curious tennis shoes… The Office… UK version = queer, US version = not as good either way… Lost…annoying either way…Babylon 5…queer…

And then finally, as a finale to this whole dehumanizing--not for her, for me, realizing that underneath it all I really am just this superficial--experience, I reach favorite music.

The Beatles…pansexual…Joni Mitchell… straight, but depressed… Rufus Wainwright… queer but male…Fiona Apple… female, but straight and self-destructive…Damien Rice…interested in women but male and self-destructive… Sondheim… genius either way… Tegan and Sara…

Wait...Tegan and Sara?


That’s when I stop stalking her profile and figure “I’ve got my answer.”  I smugly smile to myself and think “It’s fine.  She’s secretly gay and doesn’t know it.” I’ll just sit and wait here, I think.  I’ll just sit and wait here…as I’ve been waiting for the past couple years.

That’s when I pull out the tarot cards again.

*Am I the only one wary of setting a relationship status with someone new?  Ending a relationship on Facebook and changing your status from "in a relationship" to "single" is the worst; you have to cancel your relationship.  Cancel.  Like a dentist appointment.

**It should go without saying but one of my favorite stories (and BBC mini series ever) is Pride & Prejudice.  By my own rubric I am possibly straight.  And given that 80% accuracy rate for this app of mine, I am now questioning if in fact I am.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Prune Trees and Bimmers


I've had a couple of oddball stories winding around my way.  So, we're going to have a new installment today of mini-stories.  I won't say short-stories because technically they're not even that long.

Starting last Sunday I went to go hang with my grandpa.  We just recently buried my grandma's ashes and to tell you the truth, I'm not sure how well he is doing.  Hell, I'm not sure how well *I'd* be doing under the circumstances.  So, I show up and I bring him homemade pot pie.  The pie went down well enough and we sat, watching the classical music ARTs channel while I put photos away that had been piling up.  About halfway through putting the photos away--mostly of people I don't know--one fell out onto my lap.   It was a very nice, beautifully pristine black & white photo.  I recognized not one but two faces, both very young--painfully young, smiling sweet.  It was my grandma and grandpa's wedding photo, decked out in white--both of them, my grandpa had a white suit on--and my grandma was wearing a classic 40's pinched shoulder dress.  I looked up and there he was, smiling in the same way, but far more wrinkles.  He was happily telling me about  the Prune Tree Farm in California his father's father had owned.


For the past week or two I've been car shopping.  Usually, when I involve myself in any sort of Big Buy or Life Altering Moment I tend to curl up inside into a little ball of nerves.  And not unlike the process of a star turning into a black hole (bear with me, I've been watching How the Universe Works for the past four days straight) the pressure of my nerves has actually caused me to draw further within myself.  I've become quiet.  I've become taciturn (at least, I think so).  

My mother, who hasn't bought a car in 22 years, very kindly took on the task of being my wing woman throughout the car-appraising process.  That translated into Mom being the Good Cop and Beryl being the Bad Cop.

Good Cop Mom: "It's got a sunroof?"
Bad Cop Beryl: "How many miles does it have?  Show me the Carfax.  What do you mean you don't allow a mechanic to check it out first?"
Good Cop Mom:  "Beryl, it's got a sunroof--AND heated seats!"

It was a confusing time for all.

One particular car caught my eye.  It was a 2003 BMW 3 Series sedan, steel blue.  All you need to know from those words is that it's blue with four doors and isn't ridiculously old.  The Toyota Camry you see everywhere?  Same year.  Same color.  It caught my eye because it was relatively young and in my price range and also holy mother goose, Batman, it was a Friggin' BMW.  Plus, I have been worried I'd end up with a Lesbian Car, aka a Subaru Outback (Sorry, Alex) or a Hipster Car, aka a 1991 Volvo sedan (no, Mom, this doesn't make you a Hipster).  I've wanted an Outback for a while but the reality is I don't even fake going camping nearly as much as that kind of car implies.  Plus, I am not fashionable enough to pull off the hipster ironically retro look.

So, I walk over to the dealer, who looks like he just walked off the set of a bad mafia movie, and say to him, "I'm interested in the BMW over there--the blue one.  Can I do a test drive?"  I take note of my surroundings as I say this:  The cars around me look nice enough.  But, the dealers have also got a mobile home for temporary office space, which to me signifies less that they're being low-budget and more that they have a get away car for an office.

He disappears into the Office On Wheels and comes back, shoving his hand through the air a couple times at his 20-something mechanic to go pull it out for me.  He then turns to me and pushes the key in my direction:

"You drive car now."

I take a moment to let that sink in.  I want to make a comment about Mother Russia, but I found it inopportune as this man was likely to decide the price on the car.  I did not want the conversation to go as such:

Beryl:  "Is that price fixed or can it change?"
Surly Dealer:  "No, it's not fixed.  For you?  5,000 more."

I ended up not only test driving, but re-test driving it, bringing my father along to drive it, bringing a mechanic to test drive, and then buying it.

So.  I have a car now.  And yes, it's a Friggin' BMW.  As Mother Good Cop says, "And Beryl, let me tell you, this is no Lesbian car."


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Holiday Cards 2011

I should go into business as a card vender.  After a year of blogging, I think I've got it all covered at this point.

Seriously, I love the holidays.  When the weather turns to more windy and rain I love to walk around or go for runs.  When the leaves get crunchy underfoot I am all over them, making mulch faster than my sidewalk trees can absorb them.  And the scarves--don't even get me started on the scarves.  I have more scarves than I have neck.  Even if I were a Giraffe there would still be too much scarf.

I think the reason why holidays are so wonderful for me is that I had a good association with them, growing up in the olde towne Alameda--or as I like to call it, The Island.  Alameda is one of the few remaining places in the Bay Area that is definitely old fashioned.  If we could afford one, we'd have a debutant ball--that's how old fashioned we are.  Although, I did have my own Coming Out party.  But, that had a different theme altogether. 

Anyway, anyway, the holiday season is now well underway.  Last year I made my own turkey, I helped decorate here and even threw a gingerbread house making party.  This year, I am slightly worried holidays will slip past me.  I just barely got a pumpkin carved the night before Halloween and already we're into the first week of November.  So, for now, I give you...

Not-so-Limited Edition Life and Beryl Holiday Cards

There's your classic Thanksgiving Card:

"Turkey:  $18.  Holiday themed centerpiece:  $30.  The therapy induced from getting together with the family:  priceless." 

Christmas cards for the disenchanted friend, who believes Santa to be a deranged drunk that defecates in your front garden:

Birthday cards for that loner, literary figure in your family who needs to lighten up:
And of course, my favorite holiday--Halloween:

"Scared yet?"


p.s. Seriously, if you are interested in Life and Beryl cards--what in the hell is wrong with your local card shop? Just steal these and print them out on your printer and go support a local business instead.  Seriously.  It's what I do.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Laundry Situation

So, I goofed.

I'm late with the blog again.  But, more importantly, I have a situation.  A Laundry Situation.

The Laundry Situation

A lot of changes have occurred in a short period of time.  Lots of little things fell to the wayside I normally keep up with weekly (like the blog).  Then I ran out of clothes.

No, that's not dirty laundry.  That would be normal.  No, no, see I washed my clothes only to be too tired to fold it on Laundry Night.  So, I left the massive pile in the bin.  Then I woke up the next day and thought "Man, that's a huge pile.  Too bad I have work all day.  Tomorrow.  Tomorrow I'll do it."

As most procrastinators will recognize, this is Phase 1 of Denial:  believing in yourself.

I then proceeded to push off folding it for another four days.  It became absurd, just sitting there, while my actual dirty laundry was increasing in size, without a bin to place it in.  I decided to be pro-active.  Did you fold it? you ask.  No.  That would be smart.

I instead moved the huge pile--yes, moved it--to on top of my bed, wherein I thought to myself evilly, "This will get me to fold it!  I'll have to fold it to get to my bed!"

Turns out, that tactic didn't work.  New data from studies show that a Tired Beryl is ten times more likely to push piles of clean clothes onto the floor rather than fold it.  So for the next few days a new, festering routine kicked up:

In the morning, I would wake to see the huge pile on the floor and move it happily to the bed, thinking "Tonight's the night... I can feel it," then of course, shifting it back onto the floor amid a sense of dread and self-disappointment for the morning.  It was like a sick, twisted cycle I couldn't pull myself out of.  It's still on my bed, waiting.

That's when I came up with my brilliant idea.

So What's Up? 

Laundry, like many things in my life, has become obsolete in the face of two part time jobs that are now coming to an end to be replaced by...

*drum roll please*

A full-time position with my favorite theatre company.  Not only has this meant a surreal week of interviews and pleasant surprises amid all the other odd commuting and hours I've been working, this has ALSO meant a huge shift in my life for the foreseeable future, all of which I hope to happily keep you abreast* of.

Thank you for your patience and I plan to be back on schedule (whatever that is--what was the last day I was traditionally posting on?  Tuesday?  Sunday?  Can't remember because it's been that. long.) at the top of November, if not sooner.


p.s. Teehee: "a-breast."


So Halloween approaches.  You might remember my Otter Costume  I fixed together last year.

Earlier today on Facebook it became clear that a lot of people believed me to be a good Robin Hood as a child.  So, I managed to find my old Robin Hood hat again.  And then I realized there was an opportunity here I could not pass up.  I give you...

Friar Pug.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Middle-Aged Librarian WWII Spy You Never Knew About

My friend Danielle requested I create a comic-book version of Shakespeare's play Antony and Cleopatra.  While I think a) there very much should be a comic book version of every tragedy play ever written by Shakespeare and b) I would be the perfect candidate to draft these, I c) don't have the time to draw it.  Yet.

Instead, this week I am going to introduce you to yet another woman who isn't nearly as famous as she should be.  This is part of my Random Acts of Hindsight Feminism (see: Anna Mae Wong and Nicolaa De La Haye or the post inspired by Dr. Marlene Zuk).  Looking back, I am shocked that these women are not nearly as famous as their male counterparts. 

Feminist whingeing aside, I have found a new woman to admire for her gumption, her gallantry and un-gripulous nature.  Don't ask me how I got that last 'g' word.  It's incredibly hard to find a good 'g' word.*

Oh sure, you might have barely noticed her.  You might have decided, as I think most would, to look at the Giant Naked Lady instead.  

You might have completely ignored that mousey little woman with her pristine stereotypical Librarian fashion.  

But, you see, so did the Nazis.  

Godwin's Law Doesn't Count When You're Actually Having A Discussion About WWII, Right?  

The Nazis, I think all sane people can agree, are an emblem of When Humans Go Really, Really--No, Really--Bad.  I am not going to summarize what they did or even entertain the idea of explaining why they're bad because if you HAVEN'T learned about their actions during World War II by now you grew up in a walnut shell.  Or you're a crazy maladjusted dictator of Iran.  Just saying.

So among the many horrible things this army did systematically, the German Army in the 1940s began an enormous, secretive operation of art proliferation.  After the invasion of France in 1940 and the "armistice" between France and Germany was signed and ratified, Hitler and Goehring had a particular surreal project in mind:  the confiscation of cultural artifacts they liked and the eradication of everything else.

Keep in mind, Adolf Hitler applied to the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Wien, aka the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, as a painter.  He was denied admission.  Twice.**  

That's where Rose Valland comes in.

You May Have A Systematic Way Of Looting But We've Got An Art Historian With A Memory Like A Polyurethane Mattress 

I can't help it.  I like someone automatically if they're a smoker.***  
Rose was the overseer of the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris right when that armistice went through. Hitler had just decided not to obliterate Paris.  Among the many odd facts about Hitler, he both adored and envied Paris and was "happy" when he finally got to visit the city.  It seems a bit hypocritical to point out as an American, but I always thought one doesn't have to overrun a country to become a tourist.

Anyway, the Germans created an organization solely dedicated to systematic looting of the occupied territories.  It was called the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg für die Besetzen Gebietesay that three times fastor the ERR for short.  The ERR used the Jeu de Paume as their central storage and sorting unit before sending thousands of pieces of art--pieces of culture--to Germany.

Emptied frames of the works stolen by the Nazis during WWII

I Spy With My German-Fluent Eye

Rose was a quiet woman.  She didn't dress flamboyantly and didn't cause much attention, which is a good thing because for over four years she recorded the distribution and looting of over 20,000 pieces of art.  Much to the German's chagrin, Rose could also understand German.  

Imagine that sweet, quiet librarian you always thought nothing of, spying on every conversation between brutal, murderous Nazis.  She would just sit there, soaking up the information, memorizing the names, titles and locations of every piece, and would later write it down every night in a secret journal to be distributed to the Allied Forces if and when the invasion would occur.  She also risked her life to send this information the French Underground so that bombs wouldn't be dropped on the trains shipping out the priceless pieces of art. 

And that's why you should know about Rose Antonia Maria Valland.  Yes, she has been awarded and remembered by the French Government for her incredible work.  She published the book Le front de l'art in 1961 describing her incredible story and proceeded to become the chair of many artistic preservation boards.  However, I would have much preferred to learn about her during my sparse education of important women in, say, middle school or high school or hell even in college.  The fact that I'm learning about her now leads me to believe that many other Americans have no idea about her.

So, remember:  Rose Valland.

Bad. Ass.


*I think I now understand why the 'g' spot is not called the 's' spot or the 'f' spot because in English, well, it wouldn't be as nearly evasive, wouldn't it?

**Please now join with me in the ritual "What if...?" and imagine how Adolf Hilter might have handled Art 135B, Introduction to Charcoal and Pencil.  Would he have been the type to break his pencil lead repeatedly, unfamiliar with the medium, only to then stab it in his professor's chest for getting a low mark?  Or would he have instead rushed with a fury at his own canvas during Elementary Oil Painting 11 because the damn thing wouldn't dry instantly unlike his darling little watercolor paints?  Personally, I like to envision Hitler after graduating from art school, unable to be taken seriously as a real artist, and ending up trapped in a job as a greeting card artist for slogans like "A Special Message for Someone Special!" or "Miracles come in all sizes!" and "Eye will always luv u!" That last slogan would have to have an image of a cute kitten with big eyes or a magnifier on a happy baby's eyeball or something.  And yes, all slogans would have to be in Comic Sans MS.

***Small Disclaimer:  I like you automatically if you're a smoker but only if you're also French, female and a middle-aged Spy working against the Nazis.

Friday, September 30, 2011

New Job: Memoirs of an Ex-Techie

The Setup

So the other day I was working an event.  The event?  A visiting Ambassador giving a speech to Americans on the status of the geo-political alliance of select nations he represents.  It was my first official night working as a tech for this new job I've just started and I didn't want to mess it up.  Tech isn't really my thing anymore (partly because I just don't have that much black clothing) but I wanted to be a team player and show my new bosses I could take on responsibility outside of the office.  I wanted to shine and prove that I could represent our company with pride and eloquence.  And I certainly didn't want to look like a fool in front of an Ambassador.  That's my sister's specialty.*

I show up.  I'm wearing my blacks.  I'm calm, I'm cool, I'm collected.  I've been given a simple task:  make sure the event goes up on time.  The event is simple enough; it's just a powerpoint.  With a man talking.  Not that big of a setup--just a couple microphones, a podium, some cables, a table with linen and water and viola! you have a classy setup for a classy man.  No problem, right?

The Problem

It's about five minutes before people--real people, not just people that theoretically are arriving but real, live, human beings that have come here, come to see my event and be in the room that I'm setting up--start to arrive.  That's when the first bump of the night happened.

I go over to my boss's boss, who happens to be there as an audience member, and ask politely, "When are they bringing in their computer to set up their powerpoint?"

She responds just as politely, "Oh, you're providing them with the computer."

And then her smile falters a bit, "You've got a computer for them, right?"

And I say as calmly as I can, "Oh, did not know that.  I was told that they were bringing it in."

"Well, you can provide them with a computer right?" she smiles again, "I don't have to worry, right?"

This is about when the night started to take a turn for the bad.

"Oh no, you don't have to worry.  I'll let you know if you need to worry."

I stroll back over to the stage.  My tech--let's call him Ben for the sake of anonymity--is finalizing the cabling for the computer, the computer that I've just been informed is never to going to arrive.  I inform Ben of the latest development in our setup.  We both share a look of mutual understanding.  We need a solution.  Fast.

The People

For anyone who has not worked as a tech--or perhaps wonders what working backstage of a theatre would be like whenever out watching a play--there is without a doubt something wrong going on that you are completely unaware of.  It could be a missing prop, it could be a light cue that was fumbled, it could be a line that was dropped.  But, it's in moments like this that the onstage techs become the true actors of the evening:  they will carry off every fumble and every blurp during the performance with complete indifference for the outside world.  They will walk patiently and talk quietly into their headphones that the stage left pillow is missing and would the actor be willing to bring it on in the next scene even though they'll be on fire for the duration of the second act?

On the outside techs look calm and quiet.  But, on the inside stress is building to an incredible level.  And it's a very lonely form of stress, mind you, because the public is right there surrounding you as you shift bits of props and furniture around.  And while they are gambling on about how they interpreted the first act, you're fully aware that your star kid performer is actually stuck on a bridge in traffic with his parents because they thought it was an eight o'clock show and not seven and he's on in ten minutes.

To breathe a word of this to the public would be unprofessional. It would ruin the theatrical experience. It would be the end of the theatre's magical deception. But, most importantly, it would be a failure. And you, as a techie, would rather die than admit failure.  No, really. You. would. rather. die.

This is the other reason why tech work isn't really my thing anymore.**

The Goat

So, people are filing in, holding their drinks in one hand and explaining their jet lag with the other.  I'm waiting to hear back about whether or not we even have a computer onsite to use.  

There is one and Ben plugs it in.  But, when Ben climbs back up the stairs to the tech booth he is unable to get direct signal; it's like having a big screen TV with no remote.  Ben tries a second backup computer--this one doesn't even go so far as to get an image on the big screen.  Now, I can't speak for Ben.  So, I'll just tell you how I felt:  stress starts to rage through my body and it is then that I discover another attribute about my psychological/physiological makeup I was previously unaware of:  apparently, when I get really stressed, I turn into a fainting goat.  Ever seen this video?

Just like those little guys my leg muscles freeze up when my fight or flight adrenaline kicks in.  I know this now because at one point I had to bend down to remove some cables (since we were ditching our original setup plan) and I couldn't do it.  I couldn't bend my knee.  So, still trying to look calm, cool and collected in front of the now fiercely growing crowd, I did what can only be described as a poor attempt at the Trepak dance:

This is about when I consider walking back over to my boss's boss and telling her "You have a Myotonic Dystrophia-prone Event Coordinator and no computer, with an Ambassador waiting to talk to this growing crowd about how relationships with people are going smoother since technology has become an added attribute to society.  Worry.  Now."  

The Solution

I didn't end up having to do that.

Another thing you must know about working in tech:  for some reason, and I feel superstitiously scared of letting you non-theatre people in on this secret, but there is always something that comes along (usually) that stops the production's problem from turning the show into a complete meltdown.

Sure, there is an awkward moment; the stage hand backstage might experience a mini version of cardiac arrest; the audience might clue in that something wasn't quite right when the music kicked in on top of someone's line. But, there is some magic to live theatre that causes some solution to appear last minute, some sort of idea that hadn't been tried before that is discovered just at the last possible second before you, the techie, can bear it no longer.

These moments--and I tell you as a theatre kid who has worked in professional theatre for over six years now--have happened with almost every show I've worked on.  And each time they happen, it feels as if the solution to the problem could not been realized *without* the stress of a hundred oblivious eyes surrounding you.

Ben came up with the solution.  It was all him.  I take no credit.  I still don't quite fully understand what he did.  But, basically he pulled the computer offstage, put it upstairs in the booth and plugged it in directly from there.

It was still wonky.  We were still dependent on a system we had half-hazardly setup fifteen minutes after the presentation was supposed to start.  I had to run up to the stage in the hushed quiet of the Ambassador's entrance and manually hand him his remote for the powerpoint I had just previously raced/limped down from the tech booth.

I remember squeaking out, "Mr. Ambassador--Sir, here is your remote.  For--for the powerpoint."  I handed it to him and he grunted, "Oh.  Thank you."

I had no idea if it had batteries in it.  We didn't have time to check.  Watching him talk for the first five minutes until he clicked his first slide was an eternity because if that little piece of plastic and metal didn't have batteries in it then we were sunk.  Then I really wouldn't have been able to do anything because both my legs would have frozen up and Ben would have been left in the tech booth on his own trying to manually click the slides himself.

But, it worked.  The Ambassador spoke.  The people clapped.  The questions were asked and answered. And aside from the mics not being properly set--just fyi: ALWAYS TAPE CABLES TO YOUR MICS--and the Ambassador literally pulling his cable line out of his microphone, it ran smoothly.

At the end my boss's boss congratulated me on how on top of everything I was.

I smiled and awkwardly slapped Ben on the chest saying, 'It was all him!" (Note to self: don't slap the people you're grateful for).  But, that was the end of it.

That was my first gig at the new job.


*My sister works in Disaster Relief with USAID.  She was deployed to Tokyo immediately after the Tsunami hit Fukushima.  Now, as a representative and worker of the US she is to automatically introduce herself, her status and working position to any higher ups wherever she gets posted.  While at US Headquarters my sister rides up an elevator of some high rise to take notes at a meeting.  The meeting was about the latest updates on the crises and a bunch of representatives from America as well as Japan were to be there.  A man gets into the elevator with her and smiles politely.  She smiles back and waits for her floor.  The bell dings and she walks out ahead of him towards the room and sees two Marines on either side of the double doorway entrance to the big pressroom.  But, as she approaches to walk through the doors, with the man following her, the Marines take an immediate Ten HUT and salute fiercely.  Fiona, my dear, sweetly unassuming, awkward-when-given-too-much-attention sister, internally goes "Huh?"  She looks back, sees the man behind her again and it hits her like a ton of bricks:  the man riding in the elevator with her was the American Ambassador to Japan.  He smiles again serenely and beckons her to go ahead of him.  She didn't want to walk ahead of him now; she's missed her chance for formal introductions and the marines are waiting on her to move. But, he was being gentlemanly and motioned to her ladies-first.  She has to oblige, as it would be ruder to do otherwise.  So, she walks through the doors and is immediately bombarded by the press, snapping photo after photo of her.  They stop when they realize it's not the Ambassador but an awkward white girl with glasses.  The man of the hour finally enters, at which point the press snap back into action.  My sister I believe then hid herself somewhere behind a decorative begonia bush.  Our family has a special knack for entrances.

**I need failure to be an acceptable part of my work environment.  It's not that I consistently fail at my work.  In fact, I have incredibly high standards for my work output.  But, I will fail if you tell me not to.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Two weeks ago I took the GRE.  I almost didn't.  I showed up 7am early on Wednesday morning outside my hometown's quietly hidden test center.  I walked in to find myself in the midst of a small crowd of unspoken stress.  One woman was off to the side, talking on the phone next to a girl half her age and majority her looks, staring blankly off into the distance.  I wisely conclude, "She's missing her test.  Poor girl."  Confident that I wouldn't make the same mistake, I strode over to the check in station and proudly handed my ID over saying, "Here to take the GRE."

That was when I was informed that the computer server was down and I could either wait to talk on the phone, like this woman right here, or take the little business card that was handed to me and call on my own time.  Subdued by this news I sat down and figured, "Well... I'm here.  Might as well wait."

Waiting, it turns out, was another poor judgment call.  Just FYI, in case any of you are considering taking a nationally ranked standardized test and your computer server goes down on test day, the customer service phone tree by law will not take more than one customer on one phone call.  Security reasons.  Go figure.

So, I went back home.  I got onto my own phone and then was on hold for an hour and a half.  I got through, rescheduled for two days later and that's how I found myself in the middle of downtown San Francisco in the back of a sky scraper building, coming face to face with something I've been denying for years.

I Do Not Read Directions

I hate admitting this because anyone who doesn't read directions, according to everyone around me from grade school up to my very first job in customer service, is an idiot.  And yet, anyone who works in Marketing and hears you bemoaning that "They didn't read the directions!" will say to you:  "Duh."

So, it goes both ways.  I feel bad about it but we're also told since day one of our lives in computer/advertisement-happy-land to split our attention focus, to multi-task, to scan rather than read, to be "efficient" in pulling out information from the deluge of materials that come our way every day in life.

I'm making excuses.

The point is, there I was sitting down to take my Graduate Record Examination and I found myself slipping, slipping, slipping away.  I don't mind being asked math puzzlers or being asked to answer questions about vocabulary.  I love algebra, calculus and geometry.   I love learning new things about the English language.

But, as I was sitting there, it became quite clear I had a problem that wasn't going to go away.  And the problem wasn't the test.

I'm Not Allowed to Talk About the What Was On the Test So I'll Talk About What It Was Like Taking It With a Fake Question Instead

So, I'm sitting there and it doesn't really matter what the question was about, so I'll just give you a rundown on the inner monologue I had while reading:

1960s....marine fossil records... I wonder what I should make for dinner tonight?  I do have that eggplant I've been meaning to dice up for a bit... and I still have some falafel mix left over but I don't think I should get into the habit of frying things that often--FOCUS BERYL--volcanic activity causing ruptures... marine biologists have come a long way in developing new strategies... I wonder what Rickey's making for dinner?  I should txt him when I get out of this test.  This test that I'm taking RIGHTNOWFOCUSBERYL... 


Fossils... fossil record... marine biology... you know, that girl was a marine biologist.  She was so cute...calling someone more than once when you don't hear back...that's ok right?  God, that is not ok.  I should let that one go. But, she did at least not hate being around me and Marine Fossil Records In Volcanic Ash Can Be Found Stirred Within The Ancient Sea BedsI wonder if I could trick her into liking me... or maybe she'd like me if she thought I was a science geek like her--like if I started to drop random latin-sounding words around her for animals that aren't native she might fall for it:  "There is the girafficus bigamous spotticus onnicus the bottomus..." 

Then again, knowing my luck, she'd be like "Actually, their name is giraffa camelopardalis" or something.  Ugh, stupid science girls who aren't stupid enough to fall forFOCUS BERYL I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL MAKE YOU RETAKE THIS TEST IF I HAVE TO.  




Marine fossil records in volcanic--Oh.  

It's A.  

Next question...

About four hours and thirty minutes later I was done.


WOO UPDATE:  Woo has a problem with her favorite puppy toy.  We at the Baker homestead are now very painfully aware that Woo sometimes believes her stuffed animal doppleganger is in fact a real dog. 

She will place it in her bed and if we're not careful a sick, sad cycle will begin in which she just starts to stare at her "buddy" waiting for it to do something, to move or at least play back.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Out to Lunch With a Test

So this week was kind of a cluster of not good scheduling.  And, I'm quite surprised to say it really wasn't my fault.  So, I'll be back next week to tell you the lovely story of what it means to miss your GRE test and have to figure out a way to take it so that its returned scores don't come back after you apply to Grad School.

Also, hi.

How are you?

No, really I do care.  I'm not just asking this question because I have the urge to surreally change the subject.

Anyway, I'm out.

Ok, so I lied about really caring or not.

But, please.  Leave me some glorious updates on YOUR life as I will be absent from discussing mine presently.

It would have been more about Colin Firth, anyway.


p.s. Depending on how much flack/feedback I get about Colin Firth, that may or may not still happen.  Two Party Democracy:  it makes half the population unhappy.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Human 2.0

"The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind."  
- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

I am coming back from a week of incredibly intense experiences, one right after another.  Needless to say, the gearing up to those pivotal hours was emotionally overwhelming at times. I don't want go into detail on how I reacted during the bad parts, nor do I really want to publicize the parts that had me acting like a little kid who just was given a brand new Playmobile Pirate Ship.  (That was what I got for my 5th birthday, by the way.  I was a lucky, lucky kid.  And hell yes, I still have that sucker.)

But, it has gotten my thinking thoughts going again.  Having gone through a record run* of stressful experiences, I was faced with people (including myself) who willingly created conflict rather than smoothed the passages for communication.

Retail Is The True Test Of Faith In Humanity 

I don't know if you know this but I have had a lot of experience working in customer service.  And anyone who has worked in customer service knows to the full extent that there is a portion of the human population that will misbehave, act out, yell, throw tantrums, threaten, humiliate and verbally abuse the other human given the doleful task of handing them their bill.  In those moments I found myself repeating an odd inner mantra, sighing:

"We're animals."

It's a simple mantra.  It got me through the day.   But, I noticed I was saying it a lot, which brings about two possible facts:  1) I don't know when I've beaten a line to death and 2) A lot of human beings "misbehave" a lot of the time.  Not willing to accept number 1, I have since decided to methodically examine conjecture number 2.

Luckily, I have a human test subject that's willing to give me feedback on her recent personal experiences being human and dealing with emotional stress:  me.

Unattainable Life Goal No. 576

I'd like to think of myself as tough.  I'd like to think that I can handle bad.  Sure, I'll get mad when I watch an animal get abused by a human, and yes, I will turn into a puddle watching The Lion King.

Lion King: Years of Therapy in the Make
But, in general I try my best to stay calm when the people or worlds around me come crashing down.  You might not think it to look at me (I do look like a goober) but I have immensely high standards for my behavior:  during hard moments I inevitably feel ashamed of showing my true emotions as I feel it would reveal that I am less than a full grown, mature adult human.  

Perhaps this is because my role models as a child were Mr. Darcy, John Harmon, Martin Chuzzlewit and Elinor Dashwood, i.e., English aristocrats who all have the interpersonal skills of a dried walnut.  

Mr. Darcy's attractiveness summed up
Regardless, I am attracted to this. No, not Mr. Darcy--although I want do want to be him; he wears fantastic clothes.  Being perpetually mature, emotionally under control is something I wish to achieve.  

And in reflecting on this latest unattainable goal of mine, I am seeing that I'm not the only human who has made the human mistake of thinking we're bigger and brighter than we really are on average. My case in point:  If humans really were divine then customer service would be a breeze and everyone would want to do it.

Naturally Emotionally Immature 

The majority of evolutionary scientists** contend the beginning of Human Civilization (as in, agriculture, the written word, technology and increase in longevity) began to kick off around 10,000 years ago.  Right?  So, before agriculture, humans were hunter-gatherers, as in nomadic animals, running around trying to live long enough to breed.  Then we sat our seeds down and slowly stayed put.  Then that gave us time to develop strategies for static living conditions, language, culture, shared technology, mass food production--all the big stuff.  With me so far?  Great.  Because this is the last time you'll see me try to summarize human civilization's evolution in four sentences.

Here's the upswing I'm seeing of this evolutionary track humans went on 10,000 years ago:  Setting aside the change in gene frequencies in the human brain, psychological traits (which are still results of our chemical, biological, environmental and cultural inheritance) in the human brain haven't really changed in the last 10,000 years. Yes, our technology and accountability for a wider range of knowledge about the world and ourselves rapidly expanded.

But, we haven't.

I want an expansion pack.

In the heat of the moment, how often do people really try, really actively work on rising above the need to HIT IT WITH A STICK ?  I think our struggle as humans is not so much how we "rise above" being human--but how we deal with ourselves when we don't reach the standard of our preferred definition.

Conclusion:  Humans are naturally emotionally immature. We have the same cognition ability as Ms. Gatherer way back when. She would have eaten her weight in Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey if she could have gathered it, just as much as my friend Rickey would if no one was watching him. And even then he'll still eat it. I've seen him do it.

It's not healthy.  But, it's natural.


*If you're scratching your head going, "Jesus, what happened to you last week?" then here is the factual answer:  Within 48 hours I turned 25, officially spent a morning mourning my grandma's death, which caused (as death usually does) familial strife, went to a wedding for my two good friends and I asked a girl to dance.  I want to be noble and say hitting the quarter-century mark, dealing with death, mama-drama, or even watching my friends turn into a family has transformed me into a more maturer me.  But, instead I just keep kicking myself in the head that I must have looked like an idiot asking a girl to dance--a really, really pretty girl--only then to realize I don't know how to waltz.

**If you're like me and like to watch science discussion videos for reassurance, then check out what evolutionary psychologist, Professor Satoshi Kanazawa, said during his interview on The Big Think.  He discusses some interesting points--some I find myself cringing over because they sound potentially like sweeping generalizations about women (Dear Scientists, stop leaving out lesbians, love, Beryl).  But, his take on the psychological evolution of the human brain is fascinating.  He only gets away with it from me because he goes on to compliment those who are "unnatural" by saying we're more "intelligent."

After doing some more research on Prof. Kanazawa, I've gotten the sober reality check of a lifetime from other leading scientists:  Dr. Kanazawa is a bit of a hack.  But, you have to admit, he gets his attention from the likes of me because the idea of sweeping generalizations over time is always fun; it makes one feel connected somehow...this is turning into a metaphor for religion...oh dear, not my intention.  Anyway, so I officially apologize to anyone who is completely dependent on my scientific delusions for accuracy--this just goes to show you that anyone is susceptible to falling down the rabbit hole of theory versus factual, methodical proof.  I've left the original link I had advertised above so that anyone can make their own decision on the value of his theories.  But, now you have a link as well to Dr. PZ Meyers, who will quite happily yell at you for believing anything before researching it, first.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cricket Love

So I was listening to npr (big shock there) the other day and I got stuck--you know, stuck in the car because you don't want to stop listening to what's playing.

Marlene Zuk (caption later added)
It was with Marlene Zuk, a professor of biology from UC Riverside.  She's just come out with a new fanch-schmancy book (hence the npr interview) and it's called Sex On Six Legs.

I can't help it.  My nerdy little brain just went POP when I heard that there was a book out there talking specifically about the kinky activities of insects.  It combines two things I am naturally fascinated by:  weird ass natural science and sex.  What more could I want?  That meeting I was going to could wait another few minutes, right?  Who needs to talk about the future of my company's finances when there is a discussion going on about cricket sex?  Not I, said the fly.*  Wait, did I tell you I'm one of nine people who founded a theatre company?  I didn't?  Next blog post.

It's My Party And I'll Write About Insect Sex If I Want To

Anyway, fun fact about Marlene Zuk that I just learned:  she got her Ph.D the year I was born.  Another fun fact:  my birthday is next Friday (if you don't buy me a present then I will make this blog invisible to you).  I was planning on just taking the week off from the blog this time around since my scheduled Tuesday posts have been thrown out of wack now.  But, I figured.  Hey.  If  it's my birthday week then this means I get to write about crickets having sex.  Because that's what I do with my free time.  Don't judge.

So here's the story.  Field Crickets in Hawaii were introduced back in 1877.   From what I've learned, whenever I see the words "introduced" alongside a year in the 1800s it usually means White People Ships Crawling With Invasive Species scraping up onto the other beaches of the world.

For example...
A Dramatic Representation of the arrival of Invasive Diseases to The Bahamas
But, however it happened, these Austrailian field crickets (aka Teleogryllus oceanicus because that's easier to say) are now living and chirping away on Kauai island.  These are the bug(ger)s that Dr. Zuk was talking up to Dave Davies.
If you didn't already know, that chirping you hear on those classic summer nights are male crickets singing their hearts out (or wings, depending on how you look at it) to attract lady crickets.  Lady crickets are all about them nice vibrations (hey hey) and will go after the one with the best audio display. Same old story, those who breed get to pass on genes and those who don't get to become queer bloggers who work in theatre.  I mean, what?

Anyway, life would be fab as a male cricket, singing your love songs to your ladies on Kuai.  Except for the fact that there's just one hitch.
Someone else is listening.

No Really, This Is Creepy.

You know the classic story of a stalker-fan of someone's music gets too close and pulls a Mercy on you? Well, it turns out Mr. Singing Field Cricket has got one fan he doesn't want.  They're called the Ormia ochracea.  It's a parasitic fly (don't you get a little inner cringe every time you read "parasitic" in a sentence?).   According to Dr. Zuk, the female flucan "hear the song as well or better than a female cricket," and will land on the cricket, laying her eggs on and around the body of the guy.  The larvae then burrow and live off of the cricket's tissue for a week or so and then...

"They burst out like the movie Alien."

You know, Dr. Zuk.  I like it when the movie Alien is not reinforced as a reality in the natural world.  

Learning Dating Techniques From Crickets

The best part about this story is that around 2003 something changed.  A mutation occured in the male cricket population:  some male crickets are not able to sing.  They just... are tone deaf (re: don't rub their wings).  But, of course, if they don't sing how do they get to pass on their genes?  And if they don't pass on their genes, then how has this mutation continued to grow?

Turns out, insects are more shrewd than I am.  These silent males literally hang out around the dude who's singing, waiting for the females to literally mistake them for him.  It's like sitting around at a campfire, while Grace Slick is singing folk songs, meanwhile you're Yoko Ono off to the side listening and some hot-hottie comes up to you and is like "Hey.  I love your voice.  C'mon.  Let's get out of here."

And what are you going to do to right this moral wrong?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  Because you're a cricket.  And you just want to live long enough to have sex and not get eaten by a parasitic fly out to plant her babies in your body.

I think we can all learn from the Silent Field Cricket.  I am now going to try and hang around Adele's next concert off to the side and whenever some cute-cutie walks by I'll be like "That's me singing" and all will be solved.  Right?


*But, unfortunately Me, said the B.  Don't worry, theatre kids.  I went to the meeting and was on time.  But oh you BETCHA I listened to the feed on the npr website later on that evening.  Now you can listen too.

EDITED TO ADD:  Just FYI, I actually like Yoko Ono.  She's badass and has put up with a lot of crap over the years.  I just prefer Grace Slick when it comes to vocal power.