Friday, July 30, 2010

Melvil Dewey

If my heroes were a brain, Emily Dickinson would be the artistic right hemisphere. Melvil Dewey would be the logic-loving left.

Melvil Dewey is the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System for classifying books in a library, and anyone who makes classification systems is OK by me. He advocated for the use of the metric system, which is really the only logical way to measure things. But the real reason he ends up in my little collection of heroes is because of his penchant for spelling reform.

Melvil Dewey looked at the ridiculously inconsistent ways in which English words are spelled, and he didn't just grumble about it like some of us. Nor did he take advantage of it and go on to win lots of spelling bees. No, he did something to change it.

Melvil Dewey wrote like this: "Speling Skolars agree that we hav the most unsyentifik, unskolarli, illojikal & wasteful speling ani languaj ever ataind." And he wasn't always known as Melvil. He was originally named Melville, but only attained linguistic fame after he'd dropped all the superfluous L's and E's. He even tried to change his last name to Dui, but had less luck getting it accepted.

Spelling reform! It's Occam's Razor meets the Queen's English! Melvil Dewey! He's the poster child for spelling reform!

While I've heard that Mr. Dewey was kind of overbearing and hard to get along with, I think on the whole, he and his eccentric ways with language make him well worthy of a spot in my hero boat.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

An Ode to Emily

The following is a piece I wrote on Emily Dickinson for a prototype magazine for people with depression. Consequently, the article focuses on depression and skims over the other thing about Emily that I love—our shared inability to form healthy relationships in the real world.  Because of this common trait, we'd probably never have been friends if we met, but separated by several hazy decades and united by stirring poetry, I get to feel like we're good friends! And now, on to the article.

In the long history of mood disorder sufferers in the arts, one person in particular stands out to me as the ambassador of the depressed—Emily Dickinson. Reading her poetry might at one moment carry one straight into sadness’ firmest embrace, and at another moment, restore one to hope with the simplest imagery of joy. Though I’ve not made it all the way through her voluminous writings, the ones I have read mirror my heart in such a way that I consider Emily a friend of mine…a long-lost sister. It might be a tad presumptuous to speak so familiarly of this person I’ve never met—but what I do know, and what I’ve read of her work, have convinced me that that she is my literary alter ego. And I’ll warrant that a good many depression sufferers might agree.

In Emily’s time – the mid 1800’s – depression was not a disease that doctors recognized or diagnosed. But Emily’s life certainly shows the signs. After the age of thirty, she hardly left her family’s property—sometimes never even left the house. She led the kind of solitary life that is both born of depression and fuels it.

Her writings speak of a broken heart, of tragic loss, of the truth in agony, of a subtle yearning for death. Her words take all the thoughts in my tortured soul and distill them to perfect clarity—and make them beautiful. In Emily’s poetry, the broken heart is elevated to glory: Proud of my broken heart since thou didst break it / Proud of the pain I did not feel till thee... The tragic loss is an avenue to spirituality: At least to pray is left, is left / O Jesus! in the air… It is a true artist who can reveal the glimmer of loveliness in anguish, without letting the anguish lose its sting. But Emily’s poetry succeeds again and again.

Wherever I look amongst Emily’s poems, I find my timid lost self, speaking in her voice. But the thing that I find most remarkable is, even though Emily is so adept at expressing the pain that lies within every depressed heart, she is equally adept at dispelling it. One of my favorite poems in her repertoire goes thus:
HOPE is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all…
Emily’s hope never stopped singing. It is her hope that reminds me there is a light at the end of every tunnel. Actually, not just a light—a cute fuzzy bird! What more could I hope for? Once in a poem, Emily wished, If I can ease one life the aching…I shall not live in vain. Emily, you have succeeded. Thank you for your wisdom and your hope.

Readers, Emily Dickinson’s poetry is freely available for anyone who needs it. Visit her anthology, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, at

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Hero!

Numerous times as a youngster (and a high-school student, and a college applicant, and a job candidate...), I was asked to name "my hero." I always found this task highly distasteful, because I never had a good answer.

In elementary school, my classmates seemed to usually pick their favorite athletes, musicians, or family members. I, too, eventually chose the family member route, not because I strongly idolized my relatives, but because I knew them well enough to give plausible reasons why any of them could be my hero—if I were to have one. I didn't, of course, since, as an extreme introvert from birth, I never spent much time thinking about other people.

As we got older, my peers grew more high-minded, selecting their heroes from a pool of upstanding charitable, intellectual, and courageous figures from the present and the past. Following their lead, I dabbled a bit in citing Gandhi as my hero. He was supposed to be all about peace, right? I like peace. But really, I didn't know anything about him. I'm not sure if I spelled his name right. I'm not even sure if I'm talking about Mahatma or Mohandas Gandhi. And what he actually did to promote peace? Well, that's a little hazy. All this uncertainty was making me feel like a downright fraud, so I reverted back to familial heroes.

I've realized since then, that while some people seem to easily become infatuated with public figures (Teens with their movie posters, anyone? Adults with their Obama shirts?), I rarely develop even a passing interest in people I haven't met. And thus my hero-deficiency may be neatly explained. However, it was only after I stopped being forced to write essays on this awkward subject that I realize what I would write – with confidence – should the need arise.

My heroes are not the great instigators of social change that I always felt should be my heroes. They're not scientific geniuses or founders of great religions. They're not even my favorite athletes. They are, like me, simple people with a love for words. It seems obvious now, that as a bookworm with limited social graces, I would choose literary figures as my role models. I don't have to relate to the people—I just have to relate to what they do!

Of course, now that I've realized where my true loyalties lie, I can't be content to select just one hero—and surely I'm entitled to a couple, after a lifetime of having none at all! Finally, after years of being obliged to half-heartedly endorse people who never really struck a gong in my heart, I can name my heroes with enthusiasm! So, over the next few days, I'll introduce you to a couple of the people I consider role models and kindred spirits.

Friday, July 23, 2010

An Eye-Opening Experience

Originally, I was planning on writing a post on the way I (and people in general, I think) always find something to be discontent about. Whenever we get what we want, we find something else to want instead. I was going to discuss, as an example, how when I'm feeling fat, all I can think about is how fat I am. But when I get over that, then I find myriad other things to hate about myself—such as the breadth of my shoulders, the narrowness of my mouth, the knobbiness of my knuckles. It's always something. I was going to talk about that, but then I ran across a much more interesting topic.

You see, the object of my self-loathing these days is my eyelids. Yes, my eyelids.  It seems to me that almost everyone else has fairly discreet eyelids. You see maybe a millimeter or two of the upper lids before they disappear under a fold of skin that I'd consider part of the eyebrow. If you happen to be East Asian, you probably don't have any visible eyelid at all!

Eyelids done right

Not so with me. I've got eyelids the size of Delaware. If I look straight at you, you can see the contour of almost my entire eyeball behind the upper lid! This, in my humble opinion, is not an attractive effect. It makes me look perpetually sad and sleepy. Possibly bug-eyed as well.

And so, bemoaning my fate as the ugliest human being ever to walk this earth, I set out to determine why this is so. I considered briefly that my eyes were set too deep into my skull, but rejected that, as it would cause just the opposite of a bug-eyed look. Then I considered that they might be set too far forward in my skull, but experiments with pushing my eyeballs back farther into the sockets (not a behavior that I would recommend, but I did it for science!) just caused my upper lids to look droopy and the "crease" (as it is known to those familiar with makeup tips) separating my eyelid and eyebrow to disappear entirely. So I concluded that my eye sockets are simply too big! There is a space between them and the eyes themselves—creating a hollow into which my flesh sinks, rather than folding neatly on the surface like eyelids are supposed to do! This also provides a tidy explanation for the circles under my eyes that persist no matter how much I sleep.

Following this epiphany, I set out on an image search for "eyes" to see just how uncommon my eyelid configuration is. The fruits of my search yielded the pictures of eyelids done right that you have been admiring above, but no pictures of eyelids that look like mine. They did, however, include a few results that led me to another epiphany. As I usually discover when I become excessively interested in a subject that I think is unclassifiable, there is a WORD for the object of my obsession—and that word is "heavy-lidded."

Funny, I have seen that term in literature numerous times, yet I never gave thought to how it would actually look outside the pages of a novel. But there it is, staring me in my heavy-lidded face!

The next phase in my journey of discovery occurred when I learned that a synonym for heavy-lidded eyes is "bedroom eyes." Now that was a shocker. See, I've always heard "bedroom eyes" used in a complimentary way. And since, in my mind, the defining characteristic of beautiful eyes is size (the bigger, the better—and if you look like an anime character, that's the best), I always assumed "bedroom eyes" meant "eyes the size of an entire bedroom." No, it turns out bedroom eyes are called so because they look sleepy, like the eyes of someone who's about to go to bed. Apparently, bedroom eyes are considered "sultry" and "seductive" because of other things people do in bed when they're not sleeping.

Apparently as well, bedroom eyes are best exemplified by the late film star Bette Davis. Some people think Bette Davis' eyes are just the cat's pajamas. I personally was never impressed when I saw pictures of Bette Davis, but it's comforting to know that my funny-looking eyelids are in such well-respected company.

↑ Bette Davis' Eyes . . . My eyes ↑

That's right, world! I've got Bette Davis eyes! (I even have her asymmetrical eyebrow elevation!) And, while "sultry" and "seductive' are not exactly the look I was aspiring to, I guess I'll take what I can get.

The moral of this story is, (in rhyme, just as in the best Aesop's fables):
Even if there's something about you that you hate,
Someone else probably thinks it's great.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

This is my 100th post

I was watching my list of blog posts, so I could make a big fanfare when I hit 100. Then I logged in today, and saw that I already had 100 posts! I was very sad that I had missed my 100th. But then I realized that I'd only reached 100 posts because one of them was a draft of this post. So this really is my 100th post! Isn't that cool?

In honor of that coolness, I want to share with you just one thing that I think is cool. Just one. And, right here in this sentence, I will describe this one cool thing with words like "tight," and "sick," because I have this great love for new slang terms, but I lack the confidence to use them in everyday conversation.

Let me introduce you to the greatest computer game ever invented. Forget about MMORPGs, abandon your first-person shooters and your high-falutin' graphics cards. Instead, play this super 2-D puzzle game that was originally written for DOS. Oilcap. Go on. Just download it. You won't regret it. It is particularly fitting, considering the big BP fiasco of recent months.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Where I'm gonna go when I die

Speaking of things being at the end of their life span...the trusty pocket calculator that I've had since 8th grade (that's 14 years, folks) is starting to randomly display blank diodes. Its time is near...And I'll miss it when it goes!
Last time we talked, I was talking to you about what happens to consumer goods at the end of their life span.

Today, I'd like to talk to you about what happens to consumers at the end of their life span.

In America, a very popular way to dispose of bodies is to dress them up fancy, pump their now-defunct circulatory systems full of chemicals, seal them up in a fancy, expensive box, and then cover them up with a ton of dirt and a fancy, expensive rock. This rather ludicrous practice has its roots in the fear of decomposition (obviously something that we should all be worrying about once we're dead) and has no doubt been encouraged by the funerary industry, which stands to rake in a good bit of profit when corpses are provided with their own cosmeticians.

There are other options. Many people choose cremation, which allows the remains of the dear departed to be scattered romantically across bodies of water or favorite haunts from the time before the dear departed were technically capable of haunting anything. In some cases, cremation also allows the dead body to be stored in a very compact manner so that it can be cherished forever by adoring family members. Cremation is significantly cheaper than its cousin, the extravagant burial, but just think of the carbon dioxide emissions!

Actually, there is no other option that I can think of that's in common use. But obviously neither of those options are satisfactory to a tree-hugging hippie who would rather die than let any of those earth-scarring things be done to her dead body.


Well, moving on! There are still other options--even if they're not as popular!

I've heard, if you happen to live in the right third-world countries, you can have your body placed somewhere out in the open so carrion-eaters can have their way with you. Unfortunately, I do not live in one of those countries, and I don't think that practice is ever going to fly in the US.

So, what's a good eco-conscious American citizen to do?

The answer is, find yourself a good green cemetery and do your best to ensure that's where you end up!
They are out there. I don't feel much like writing about it at the moment, because I think I've dripped sarcasm over just about every tradition related to respecting the dead, and if I don't want to join their (highly respectable) ranks, I'd better shut my figurative mouth now.

But here, visit these links:

Friday, July 9, 2010

The downside to upcycling

Back when my purse collection was in its prime, it filled an entire printer-paper case, with a few extras lying about here and there. This might not seem that huge, but to someone who likes to avoid clutter, it was oppressive. Last summer, I donated a dozen or so purses, and the collection now fits inside a standard milk crate along with some other apparel-related odds and ends. Why am I telling you this?

Well, I'll come back to that.

One of the current trends in the waste-reduction world is to take old stuff that would ordinarily get thrown away and transform it into something new. They call this "upcycling." Something like adding postconsumer plastic to paving materials would be called "downcycling," because once the plastic has hit the road, it's really reached the end of the road. There's not a lot that can be done to further reuse or recycle that plastic, once it's been mixed with gravel and fused to the ground. And being used for driving on is not what every bottle aspires to. Plastic lumber is another example of downcycled material. If you know a tackier building material than plastic lumber, you let me know. Upcycling, on the other hand, is repurposing material into something of a greater value than the original.

The media is just all aglow with stories of great stuff being made out of not-so-great stuff. People are making jewelry from just about every reclaimed object under the sun. Terracycle fashions cute tote bags from old food wrappers—among many other clever products. And clothes made with cigarette butts? Yes, we've got those too.

But let's not get too excited about it, now. The point I was trying to make with my purse story was that we just don't need that many purses. Or light switch covers, or sandals, or trivets. There's only a finite number of things we can make with would-be junk, and our consumption of the disposable items is pretty much guaranteed to exceed that number.

In some ways, I would go so far as to say that upcycling is a euphemism for downcycling. Higher-quality does not necessarily mean more environmentally friendly, and while upcycled products might look a lot prettier than they did in their original form, they aren't any more recyclable than they were. At the end of the day, your wallet made from tires is still going to end up in a landfill.

I'm not saying that upcycling is bad. But the existence of a use (even if it's a one-time use) for old packaging materials gives manufacturers an incentive to not find greener packaging material in the first place. Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to invent creative things to do with our single-use products after we'd used them—because we didn't have single-use products to start with?

Well, we do have single-use products. But as consumers, we have the power to change that. The next time you're shopping, consider the full life cycle of whatever it is you're buying. If you're buying snack chips, you can buy the ones in petroleum based plastic, or you can buy the ones in the compostable bag (way to go, Sunchips!). While a purse made from potato chip bags is greener than a similar purse made from virgin PVC, the earth would be better off if you chose a purse made from cotton canvas—which, at the end of its life, will degrade neatly back into the dust from whence it came. That's closing the loop.

While upcycled goods are a nifty way to make use of the oft-wasted material cluttering our world, ultimately, I hope we learn to focus on eliminating the oft-wasted material at the source, making upcycling obsolete.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Grumble, Grumble

It's that time again—when I fill my blog with gripes about things that annoy me. (Let's face it, gripes about things that don't annoy me wouldn't make any sense at all!) Today's first topic:

Paginating online news articles

I'm told that people on the Internet have a short attention span. I'm told that they don't read; they skim. And I'm told that if you don't give your e-audience their information in little bits and pieces, they won't read it at all.

The online news media seems to have taken this advice to mean that they cannot post an article on their website in its entirety, but rather have to divide it into 2–4 pages. Mind you, these pages are not meaningfully divided, such as by topic wherein you can skip topic 2 if it doesn't interest you and go right on to 3. No, they're just divided to make the page look shorter.

Does this really result in any kind of benefit for anyone? If I were to break this blog entry right here, and make you click a link to see the rest of it, would you? Or would you decide you'd had enough, and it wasn't worth the wait to load an entirely new page just to continue reading?

If I've already committed to reading an article, making me click through several pages of it is only an annoyance. In my opinion, dividing content on the Internet should only be done if it assists in navigation—not if it slows the reader down.

On second thought, this unnecessary pagination may be a ploy to ensure the reader sees more ads. In which case, I complain even more adamantly than ever before!

Speaking of complaining...

There are some people on my Facebook who keep a running commentary via their status updates of all the things that have gone wrong in their life since their last status update. I hardly hear anything from them but some complaint. There are also some people in my immediate vicinity who have a cynical comment to make every time they open their mouth. Jeez! Grumbling every once in a while is all right (it'd have to be, or it would be very hypocritical of me to be writing this post), but try to maintain a balance!

And speaking of balance...


I'm aware yoga has been in existence for millennia. Apparently it has some practical benefit, or people would have given up after the first thousand years. But ever since yoga splattered all over my radar screen about a decade ago, I have been struggling with my skepticism. I can't help but think that a good portion of yoga practitioners merely do it because it's trendy. And another good portion of them only do it because they like to show off all the strange ways they can contort their limbs. Maybe I'm just jealous because I'm about as flexible as a Lego person, but frankly, I just can't work up any respect for an activity that inspires captions such as the one below.

If we relax our minds and concentrate,
perhaps we can rip our own heads off!