Digital Laze: My Fingers Need Discipline

I’ve always been a writer, such that I’ve always had an awareness of what I’m writing above what I think is probably normal. It all began when I was quite young. Being from a broken home, a large portion of my relationship with my mom was conducted by mail. We put a lot of efforts into our correspondence, which was great fun, and my mom even bought me a book to help my inspiration. I might even still have the book, now that I think about it. It didn’t stop with my mom, though. When she moved not so long ago, she mailed me a box that was filled with letters I had received in return for letters sent to quite a large number of people, some of whom I had completely forgot. I was quite impressed with myself for the achievement. Today, I can barely get a reply to a text message (exaggeration!).

My attention to the written word continued into my professional life, where much of my business is done through email with people on the other side of the world. From the start, I made a point of carefully constructing my missives to be as clear as possible to the readers. While they are all English speakers, they aren’t American so there is always a chance for confusion. One person I have worked with over the years writes (especially in the earlier years) in extensive abbreviations, a hold over from the telex days when every character counted, literally. It took me some time to decipher, and so in response I pledged to myself to write out every single word always. I’ll admit I’ve gotten a bit lax. There are a few words I always abbreviate. But I still make a point of writing complete sentences, with proper punctuation and capitalization (as a result, my personal emails are practically devoid of these things). I pride myself in it. I have therefore been chagrined this week by the discovery my fingers have become quite lazy.

I was issued a new computer at work this week and have spent some time customizing my settings. I’m generally opposed to auto-correct, and have turned it off. What I discovered, however, is that on my old computer, I still had the “capitalize the first letter of sentences” turned on. Now, it seems at least half the time, I’ve been having to go back and fix my capital letters! Since when did it become so difficult to hold down the Shift key? Am I really in that much of a hurry? It has brought a new found awareness to my typing. I read an article recently about the growing disuse of periods as a signal of sincerity in typed messages. I pray I don’t fall victim to this herd mentality. It would really get my goat to have my behaviors defined by generational norms (I’m fairly safe as I’m not quite young enough to fit into the millennial range).

What does this all mean? Well, it means I’ll be paying more attention to my punctuation, in the traditional sense. So, if you get a text from me that ends with a period, there’s no need to read anything into it. When I’m being sarcastic, you’ll know it by the look on my face.

My Next Great Idea: Returnable Shampoo Bottles

I’ve been thinking lately about water bottles (who isn’t?) and it led me to thinking about shampoo bottles. The average American surely goes through much fewer in a year than the evil store-bought water bottle, but we still must go through quite a few. So I got an idea. There could be a little return receptacle at the grocery store/pharmacy where consumers can place their empties while picking up their new bottle. When the distributor comes to refill the shelf, they take the empties back to the distribution center, and then they make their way back in bulk to the manufacturer. There they get washed and stuff, and then refilled. If the bottles now are not in a reusable state, they may need a redesign, or maybe they just need to be melted and reformed, I don’t know.

I’d like to start a pilot program with a smaller company – I was thinking Giovanni since I use their product – and see how it goes. It may be an idea that fails miserably, but it may be the start of something much bigger.

Karma Chameleon

It seems that I may have been given an opportunity to redeem myself for not helping out a stranger the other day. This is what I’m thinking this morning, after I hand over the wad of cash to my neighbor. Wednesday morning, my elderly next door neighbor knocks on my front door to ask me for a couple postage stamps. I usually have a stash, but had recently run out, so I could not help her. But I stood at the door and listened to her for a few moments, as she was clearly distressed. She is frail and sad and on her own since her husband died last year. She tells me that she is not in good health and she just wants to die. I’m in my bathrobe with a towel on my wet head, otherwise I might have stepped outside to give her a hug. Instead, I take her hand in mine while she whimpers a bit more (I hope I don’t sound sarcastic, because I don’t mean to be) and I go inside to get dressed and go to work. This morning, at a little after 7am, she comes to my door again, and this time she’s even more distressed. She hands me a hundred dollar bill and asks me for change so she can take a cab to the hospital. I don’t have the change, but I tell her I’ll go to QFC and get some. I throw on yesterday’s clothes and my shoes, forget my glasses, and rush over to the supermarket, preparing my speech to convince the cashier to give me change without making a purchase. When I get there, no explanation is necessary and I head back home with a bunch of bills folded inside my fist. I decide then that supermarkets are banks for people without bank accounts, and I’m happy they exist. I hand over the cash and continue with my day. I didn’t hear her leave, but I’m pretty sure she must have.

This is when I think that this was my opportunity to make up for a couple weeks ago, and I’m comforted by that thought. And then I think, on a different tack, maybe it’s been her anxiety I’ve been feeling for the last few months. I’m not a stranger to mild anxiety, but for several weeks it’s been quite agonizing for me. I’ve often felt I have some sort of psychic connection with others at various times, and I think I vacillate on whether I’m a sender or a receiver. Today I think maybe I’m both, but I’m a one-way transmitter. In other words, if I’m in a mode of receiving, such as maybe I’ve been for my neighbor recently, I can’t also send anything out to anyone. And maybe it’s to do with biorhythms, if those actually exist. It’s all just crazy talk, I’m sure, brought on by being startled awake by a scared woman nearing the end of her life.

You have to also understand that I’m not really good with people. I generally don’t like touching people, even people I like, and I have a horrible bedside manner. But I felt for this woman I’ve lived beside for the last five years, and thought I really need to do something to comfort her. Standing at the door with my neighbor, I thought to myself, “how would Meg handle this situation?” I could never emote the way she can, but I tried to channel Meg as best I could to allow some intimacy. I held her hand, I stroked her arm, I offered some, hopefully, encouraging words. I suppose I did OK. When I gave her the money I had changed at QFC, she told me, “I will never forget you. You are all I have.” Which is, of course, not true – she has family nearby who come by fairly often. But it made an impact, and hopefully I did on her.

Butterfly Affectation

Recently I met someone who made an impression on me. Something about him struck me, and I listened to his story, strange that it was. I wondered if what he was telling me was true, and at the same time also knew there were things he was keeping hidden. Eventually it came out that he needed a place to stay for the night, and I considered granting it. In the end, I guess you could say I chickened out (my mother is probably thankful for that) and sent him out into the night without anything to make his way any easier. What could I have given him? He didn’t even ask for anything. And I’m left wondering if I did the right thing, if he really just wanted a place to lay his head for the night, or if he may have had sinister intentions. Who knows, because when he left, he was gone. It brings to mind Jesus’ story about treating strangers nicely (“when I was hungry, you fed me, etc”). Maybe this guy, this fellow human being, was down on his luck but otherwise a decent person. Then again, maybe he was a thief and a liar. I feel like I should be able to connect with my fellow globules of atoms in a way that would help me know this. What have we become if we turn our backs on everyone solely on the basis that one of those people might be evil? I sincerely hope this man found a nice patch of grass to rest upon and that he made his way home after sunrise. And if there is any kind of karma, I hope it doesn’t bite me for turning away a stranger with an authentic need for shelter.

Yes, I Know Exactly What You’re Talking About

A few weeks ago, I took a class called Writing Effective Paragraphs. It may seem obvious, but there are some things that you just don’t think about when writing, but when someone says it out loud it brings them to the forefront of your mind. It can be quite helpful, even if you think you know how to write, for someone to tell you how. I wrote the below paragraph for the class. I don’t make a claim to its effectiveness, but I felt compelled to share it. Though our instructor made suggestions for improvement, the paragraph is virtually unaltered from what was presented in class.

There is always something interesting happening on the block of Third Avenue between Pine and Pike Streets. As a bus stop for many of the routes passing through downtown, and as a sort of geographical center of the Ride Free Area, this block brings many different people to it, and at all hours of the day. Recently, I witnessed a game of Catch between two young men in the middle of the street. It was a Sunday night so there was very little vehicular traffic. On a previous occasion, I was waiting for a bus when a fight broke out, prompting a bus driver to call in a report which brought three sheriff cars and a police car to the block. A week ago, I read a newspaper article about a disgruntled man who went home to get a gun to settle an argument, and he brought it back to where? That’s right, he returned to the Third and Pine bus stop. Many of the less fortunate among us gather on this block whether waiting for a bus or not. If you use this stop, you will start to see the same people again and again. It brings to me a sense of belonging and community which suburbanites may not appreciate. This block could be considered an institution in Seattle, on a similar level of the Starbucks building or the Fremont Troll. At the very least, it is a part of the rich tapestry which is the Emerald City.

Spinnaker: Then and Now

For all of my life, I’ve never really been a fan of roller coasters or other thrill rides. Especially if it has a loop in it, I can totally live without the experience, but there’s usually enough other attractions at amusement parks that I can still have a satisfying time. At some point in my childhood, I found myself at Six Flags Over Texas with my sister, stepmom, aunt, and older cousins. We were in line for the Spinnaker, a spinny thing on an arm which lifts to a vertical position, giving the riders a few moments of being upside down. I had no desire to ride it, so I said that I wouldn’t. This decision did not sit well with my stepmom, and so began a battle of wills. I eventually lost, influenced in part by my cousin Brian’s offer to let me ride with him in his pod (this same cousin Brian introduced me to peanut butter on pancakes, so I knew he could be trusted).  It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but I still didn’t like it, and never rode it again. I just didn’t see how taking a turn on an amusement park ride would bring the slightest amount of betterment to my life as a whole. It did, however, provide me with a lasting memory.

Which is why, sitting at the bar of Oddfellows last night with Maryam, I felt compelled to drink a cocktail named Spinnaker. From what I can tell, it is a house creation, and its ingredients are bourbon, Bonal, Cointreau, and bitters, served with zest of orange. It was not nearly as scary to me as the amusement park ride, so it was not difficult to convince myself to get it. I had no previous knowledge of Bonal, but it is apparently harmless (as much as a 16% alcohol beverage can be), and actually quite tasty in the Spinnaker. I may have to check out this aperitif next time I’m at the ol’ liquor store. I can be quite adventurous in aspects of life that don’t involve mechanical arms and such throwing one’s body into the air.

I Don’t Mean This to Be a Dream Journal

So the night before last, I had another “taking off for somewhere else” dream, only this one did not fit the mold of any of the others. It was not in New York, or at my dad’s house (a very common theme), it was not even on Earth. I was in a space ship, relocating to Hong Kong, which is apparently on a neighboring planet. There was quite a bit of waiting, as one might expect from interplanetary travel, and I did a lot of looking out the windows at the stars.

Last night was a whole new ballgame. I was at a dinner party for my writing group – Maryam and Meg were there, as well as Ben, and other people as well – and our new member was in attendance. Not anyone I know in waking life, he was one of those dark and mysterious handsome guys, perhaps inspired a bit by Richard Armitage in MI-5. Well, as it turns out, in my dream I had formed the writing group with people who had killed other people. I had, however, lied to everyone else and had not actually killed anyone myself. This new guy maybe suspected as much, or maybe he was just a murderer, but he glared at me during this whole party as if to say “I know your secret.”

Well, that’s how dreams go.