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Lost in Kansas City

I've done that a few times --got lost in this easy to navigate town. Pre-smart phone, it was because I was using written directions as my navigation tool, watching traffic, trying to read road signs and keeping track of miles traveled on any given step of the directions I was following. Distracted driving at its best.

Having missed a few turns here and there isn't such a big deal when you know the street numbers ascend as you travel south and that in certain parts of the city you have terraces and streets alternating, so it's 71st Terrace, then 71st Street followed by 72nd Terrace, and so on. If you're the kind of person who plans ahead, you will have a map of the city and using the verbal directions of friends trace the turns. Post internet, pre-smart phone I used mapping/direction sites, printed directions, and drove off into the great unknown. This was pre-easy-internet-access so I had a map that lived in my car, just in case I got lost.

Missed exits happen. So do missed entrances. I used that very large, never to get folded right again piece of paper a few times before GIS and turn by turn naviagion. Before today, when I used my navigation app to get to my unknown destinations in a quasi-familiar metropolis, getting lost in Kansas City was an adventure. As a method of discovery it's great for finding random gems that want to stay hidden. It's a thing of joy even in times of stress -- mostly because knowing you're lost and knowing how to get yourself un-lost is very empowering. It's especially empowering when it's dark, pouring down rain and way too late at night.

It also helped me to realize when navigation apps and electronic direction givers go wrong while in the middle of a trip. Having learned the lay of Kansas City's land, and how the laying of those landmarks happen, I can go "off map" and let my app recalculate to it's circuit algorythms' content. There's something to be said for "taking the scenic route" even if it's nothing more than "I've gotten lost here!" while you bask in remembered victories over poorly lit intersections and sign-obscuring trees.

That's why after a day of driving and following my navigation app's instructions about turns, I had a slight "Oh, crap!" moment when I realized I hadn't been paying attention to the landmarks -- AKA: road signs. I had been too busy playing tourist and chatting with my passenger. I immediately returned to my old habits, reading each street sign and checking on miles elapsed.

I wondered briefly how people who have only known navigation apps, manage if the wayfinding fails. Then I immedately went back to reading signs.
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Red Hot flavored Apple Sauce Muffins (take one)

Last night's experiment was sweet. Literally. Almost too sweet for me to eat. Don't get me wrong, it's good, but it's more like dessert than breakfast food. It's also kinda-sorta healthy, too, due to the fact that I added fiber in the form of shredded carrots. The extra sweetness came from the apple sauce. It, too, is homemade. Only it's the kind made with Red Hots (AKA: cinnamon imperials, AKA: cinnamon candy). How do I know? It has a vague cinnamon flavor and a distinct deep reddish-brown color. Non-red hot apple sauce is the beigy-tan color of cooked apples. Just like the commercial kind.

Anyway, here's the muffin recipe I made.

----Red Hot Apple Sauce Muffins----
1/2 cup brown sugar
8 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
1 cup home made apple sauce with red hots
1/4 tsp fresh ginger
1/4 cup finely shredded carrot
1 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 F. line cooking vessels with parchment cups. Cream butter and sugar together. Mix in eggs. Add applesauce, ginger, and carrots, stir well. Combine the remaining (dry) ingredients and mix with wet ingredients until combined. Bake 20 minutes for cupcake pan, 28-30 minutes for jumbo muffins or ramekins.

The next batch I make with this apple sauce will have no brown sugar, or any other sugar that's not part of the apple sauce. Sweetening is sweetening. Sucrose (AKA: sugars), fructose (AKA: fruit juices/fruit sugars/corn syrup), honey, and anything ending in "-ose" all impact the body the same because the body metabolizes them the same way. Red Hots/Cinnamon Imperials are candy. As in I used a candied apple sauce. It's good apple sauce. However, it's a sugar bomb that doesn't need any more help being sweet.

I'll also double the amount of ginger and up the carrots to 1/3 or 1/2 cup. I wanted a mildly spicy muffin. I also have some ginger root I need to use up. Increasing the amount of carrots is because I like how using a micro plane grater reduces the carrots to invisibility texture wise and adds moisture and fiber to the muffin. Because I'm removing the need to cream butter and sugar together, I'll replace the butter with the same amount of oil. (Fat is for browning, sugars are for caramelizing.) While not all fats are created equal nutritionally, a lot of muffin recipes do use oil instead of butter. So it's an ingredient with a known performance style.

Just for giggles and grins -- and because I don't have a jumbo muffin tin -- I pulled out a creme brulee ramekin and two 1-cup Pyrex lunch containers to make three jumbo muffins to go along with my six cupcake regular ones. I have the jumbo liners, just not the baking tin.

Other than the whole square peg, round hole (or rather round peg, square hole) thing, it really works. For the record, regular muffins take 1/4 cup of batter. Large one take 1/2 cup of batter. Dimensions also matter. Muffins baked in a regular ramekin look like muffins (only with truly vertical sides). The one baked in the ramekin spread out rather than up and look like English muffins or crumpets (only without the holes and well, everything else that makes them what they are).

Before I forget...adding carrots is good for the flavor and for the body.

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Pear Muffins Redux

Because diabetes is an ever present concern for me, I pay attention to things like serving size, calorie counts, fiber content and so on in what I eat. One day, several years ago when googling nutrition information for fresh fruits and vegetables (things that I regularly consume that have no handy USDA nutrition facts label) I came across the Calorie Count website. This handy-dandy web site also has a recipe app that converts the ingredient list into a Nutrition Facts label for the thing you just baked/cooked/made from assorted ingredients -- just like the kind you find on commercially prepared foods. I plugged in the one-egg version of the recipe and selected for three servings (because one cupcake sized muffin isn't enough, two is my norm.) I got this.

Because Pear Sauce and Pear Butter is not to be found in grocery stores -- or in on-line databases -- I used an equivalent amount of applesauce. (That was actually the first nutrition label I generated. I decided to use "1/2 cup pear"* in place of apple sauce or pear sauce/pear butter.) The "apple sauce for pear sauce" substitution was handily provided by the Calorie Counter web site. It's amazing what happens when you switch out the fruit component. It also illustrated for me, why pears have such a grainy texture. That's fiber. So my original let's use up this applesauce recipe went from a "you can do better" nutritional grade (something that the USDA label doesn't do) into a "not bad, mostly guilt free" food.

* This is in not-so-fond memory of my Mother's tendency to do strange and unnatural things to fruit. Specifically, she stewed it. Fruit simmered in a little water until it's mushy is just nasty. It was her favorite dessert to make while I was growing up. Out-of-season fruit she froze during the summer and cooked during the winter, I could see. The fresh-in-season stuff? *shudder* That's why I bake with apple sauce/pear sauce rather than eat it straight.
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Pear Muffins

... or rather Pear Butter Muffins. I'm going through some home canned food while cooking ahead. Half to three quarters of the muffins will be frozen so I can make apple sauce muffins, pear honey muffins, sausage-n-cornbred muffins and other random muffins to freeze. A person can only eat so many muffins before they get sick of them. Cooking and freezing, however, makes work day breakfast very easy.

This recipe is an off-the-cuff one. It was January, the Texas Cousins were up and I was hunting through the cabinets out at the farm looking for canned stuff that needed to get used up -- or tossed. I ran across a stash of single serving cups of apple sauce. The one's that are designed to go into lunch bags. I defaulted to my favorite banana bread recipe and tweaked it. This is the result.

I have to say, single serving fruit sauce cups are excellent when baking for one or a limited number of people. I'm not using one of those. I've got a pint jar of pear butter/sauce to use up. (The jar says "pear butter". My mouth thinks it's "pear sauce"

For the unitiated, pear butter and/or pear sauce is like apple butter and/or apple sauce. The fruit was cored, possibly peeled (not a necessity) and cooked for 6-12 hours over low heat with some sort of spice like cinnamon or nutmeg. The longer you cook it, the smoother it is. 6 hours gets you pear butter. 12 hours gets you pear sauce. I've made both the apple and the pear kind of both types from scratch. All hail the crock pot! The only time I actually use the stove top is when I'm canning the stuff.

---Pear Muffins (1 egg batch)---

1/2 stick of salted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup pear butter
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup rolled/quick oats
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 F. line a 6 cup muffin tin with paper liners.
Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg and mix. Beat in the pear butter.
Combine the dry ingredients then stir them into the wet ingredients until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly between liners, bake 20 minutes (give or take. I start checking them at 15 minutes) until the center springs back when lightly touched. Do Not Overbake. The whole grain nature of this muffin means it will get very dry when baked for too long.
Serves 3.


Normally when making muffins, I just do the white flour and oatmeal for my starch. (The oatmeal is to make it healthy-er) Tonight, I was poking through my pantry and came across a small batch of whole wheat flour that also needed to be used up. The key to making whole-grain products that don't have the texture of sawdust or sand paper is to 1) make a wet batter and 2) don't over bake or 3) pre-cook the high-fiber ingredients before adding them to the mix.

Rolled/Quick oats are steamed/parcooked, sent through a mill and then dried. They have less fiber than steel cut oats -- which is basically the whole oat that's been cracked to bits for quicker cooking. I have an oatmeal bread I make using steel cut oats that's as soft as regular white bread. The key is to pre-cook the oatmeal. Doing that breaks down the sawdust-like fiber and disperses it evenly.
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Dedicated Practice Time

Back in junior high school, when we were learning to play the recorder in Music, Mrs. Kolarz insisted that we practice 30 minutes every day to get better. Thirty minutes wasn't that much time, she said. Her tone of voice indicated do it and get it done. Of course, this was the woman who could play a dozen different instruments including the accordion. Thirty minutes was hell for a parent who didn't like a lot of noise around the house. Thirty minutes was an eternity for a kid who was not musically inclined. All of this was in preparation for High School Band.

Between subtle parental pressure to Not Take Band and other interests of my own, I never did get that 30 minutes a day in.

I can't really say that I missed it either. Chorus was enough of organized music education for me*. It doesn't help that I had (and still have) one of those voices where I feel more comfortable singing in the tenor range than the alto I kept getting shoved into. At least, Mr. Galleon never figured out that I was singing with the boys half the time.

Fast forward through the decades... I still did the music thing. This mostly entailed breaking out into song at non-random times. At least, non random to me. Good mood, good friends, good times, good associative cues, and I would (still will, actually) break into song.

However, I did not break into song tonight.

My Thursdays are taken up with a different kind of practice. First it's tea ceremony, then it's water color painting. I'm a student in the former and the instructor in the latter. Practicing tea ceremony, even if it's just a quick run-through in my head, helps when it comes time to actually do it. Or at least, remember the correct phrases to say at the correct times. After tea ceremony, Mrs. O and I paint the same object or photograph. For me, it's practice. For her, it's an actual lesson. Some things it's much easier to show than tell because English is not her first language.

So here it is, 10:52 at night and I'm blogging to unwind. I want to/need to go to bed. However if I want to finish my book, I need to stick with my newly resumed, "Write one hour or one page, whichever comes first." I hope it won't take an hour to write one page. I really need to go to bed.

* I did learn to read music in chorus. I have acquired a small, simple harp that is basically "An Instrument for Musical Dummies," I am teaching myself to play it. I just haven't put in the 30 minutes a day on it.
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Butterscotch Cake: a most wonderful accident.

I've become picky about cake. Part of it comes from attending weddings. Some of it was working on a cake-based fundraiser called "Let Them Eat Cake" where contestants had to submit two identical cakes. One to sample, one to auction off. Between that, various boxed cake mixes, and a burning desire to have small amounts of really good cake whenever I want...I turned to made-from-scratch recipes.[1] While there are some good box mixes -- if you don't follow the directions exactly -- I do not want to bake a 9x13 or double layer cake for just myself. I don't like cake that much. A bonus feature of scratch cakes is the fact that you can make a half (or quarter or third or whatever fraction gets you down to one egg) of a cake. And then bake it in something other than cupcake pans. An 8x8 pan or 9 inch cake pan, or (my recent favorite) ramekins will do.

I finally found a recipe that meets all my criteria: few ingredients, reduces down to a 1/4 batch easily, doesn't get all gross when I want to play with flavors. It's called "Golden Milk Cake".

I'll get around to posting the full, original Golden Milk Cake recipe eventually. Right now, I want to blog about my latest experiment. I wanted to see if I could make a carmel flavored cake, but what I ended up with was more like butterscotch. Warm from the oven it was pure heaven.

So here's the actual (half-batch) recipe.

Butterscotch Cake
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup, packed, brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, room temperature
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup sifted flour (don't have a sifter, stir the flour with a whisk before measuring)

Preheat oven to 350F. prepare your baking vessel[2]. Cream together butter and sugar, add vanilla and eggs, beat until smoothh. Dissolve the baking powder in the milk, stir in the sugar mix until smooth, Add flour then mix until just combined. Pour into baking vessel. 1/4 cup for cupcakes, 1/2 cup for ramekins, the whole bowl of batter. Bake until the top is dry but springy or a toothpick comes out clean when stuck in the center. Time wise that's:
cupcakes--15 to 20 minutes
Ramekins--30 to 35 minutes
pans--50 minutes

Makes 12 cupcakes or one 8x8 pan, or one 9inch round cake pan or 4 ramekins

[1] I also believe that good cake doesn't need frosting. Really good cake says "Frost me if you MUST, sugar addict, but you're missing the point."

[2] line the cupake pan with cupcake sleeves. butter and flour the square or round pans. The ramekins will easily take giant muffin liners (you'll just have very frilly sides) or you can butter and flour them.)
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Star Trek Beyond -- The Pithy Review

What I Expected:
A rehashed, re-done reboot of some old episode or movie from Star Trek (The Original Series) full of sexist BS involving James T. Kirk having sex with a striking alien in between things blowing up and people running, screaming and fighting. I figured I'd wait until it was streamable to watch it, but I kept hearing trusted sources say it was unexpectedly good. So I ponied up for a matinee.

What I Got:
A brand new, never before seen plot! No overt sexism! Geeky bonding! Actual displays of real friendship! Some very pretty cinematography! A surprising low level of WTF-ness!

The franchise's triumvirate of Kirk/Spock/McCoy actually came off feeling as though they were real friends in a real-ish world as opposed to actors portraying friends in a movie. In The Reboot Movie, I had a hard time buying that this friendship between three very different people could gel that fast based on the acting that I saw. The second movie, The Wrath of Khan Sans Khan--Nope, Just Kidding--It's really Khan, didn't have time to focus on the friendships outside of the general stereotyping and rampant white washing.

The crew/cast as a whole seem more family-like and comfortable with each other, too. There was less manufacured interpersonal drama so the actors were able to act like people, not set pieces.

While the plot was standard and fairly predictable, I did enjoy the nods and the little twists to my cultural-based expectations. I liked the fact that Uhura did a lot more than "answer the phone" and repeat other people's words in her duty as a linguist/translator. I appreciated that a female engineer out-Scottied Scotty. I could go on about the little touches, but let's just say, "I got the warm fuzzies over the kind and quality of ass kicking" and leave it at that.

The CGI was stunning. And fun. I didn't expect the fun part. I also suspect that this movie wouldn't suck in 3D. (I have very strong feelings about 3D movie cinematography.> It has to do with things like "Depth of Field" and "Dimensionality vs Layering" and "Please don't throw things AT me.")

Most of my WTFness came with the world building and command structures of the Federation. It wasn't central to the plot, although it was held up as an obstacle to happiness. Whose happiness I can't/won't say. However, it felt like a halting call back to the original movie franchise. All I can say is... if the writers/producer/director are/is going to keep referring to HQ and the Higher Command Structure, go watch a bunch of Star Trek the Next Generation episodes involving members of the Federation's high command.

I give it a 3.5 out of 5.
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Japanese Tea Ceremony: In Media Res

For the second week in a row, I’ve had to resort to an alcoholic beverage after my Thursday-night class.

It’s not that I dislike teaching watercolor or my student, who also happens to be my instructor in the Urasenke School of Tea Ceremony, it’s because I’m sensitive to caffeine. I’ve learned the hard way that caffeine affects me for nine hours. Unless I ingest some sort of chemical depressant, I’ll be up until at least 3--probably 4--am. I have to go to work tomorrow and be moderately functional. That’s hard to do on 2 hours (or so) of sleep.

Why am I drinking matcha (very strong green tea made from powdered green tea leaves--strong as in 1 cup of matcha equals 5 normal cups of brewed tea) so long after my self-imposed 3pm caffeine cutoff? Because my teacher/sensei is also sensitive to caffeine and she won’t drink the tea I’ve made. (It’s also a way to teach/walk me through the role of the guest in the ceremony. Two birds, one cup of tea. Well, two cups. We do two practices each class.) Luckily, hopefully, her other students will return from their breaks soon. Being wound up (you have to consume sweets with the tea, so I’m well on my way to being the live-action version of the Tazmanian Devil as seen in the Buggs Bunny cartoons) and soused makes for some weird sleep.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about how I got to be in this buzz-fest. Hopefully, with the addition of her other student’s I’ll be able to restrict my intake to just one cup -- if that. In the meantime, three cheers for alcohol!

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Movie Reviewers: Readers’ Bias, Genres and Sales [*]

It's actually viewers’ bias[0], in this particular case, but it amounts to the same thing. Go listen to the first 18 minutes of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour (PCHH) from June 24. They're talking about Pixar's “Finding Dory”. They're good at being non-spoilery, so it's safe. The PCHH crew only address the stuff you see in the trailers. I know this because, as I write this, I’ve only seen the three trailers. I’m not going to watch the movie until after I have posted this to my blog. Veracity in action reporting? Whatever the reason, it felt like cheating to post this after seeing “Finding Dory”.

Done listening?

I kept getting hung up on something Linda Holmes[1], Daisy Rosario, Glen Weldon, and Stephen Thompson kept saying so much that I had to stop the stream and blog about it. I have strong opinions on the topic of audience perception vs narrative intent vs reviewer bias. The cage protecting that hot button was accidentally loosened last week.

The biggest complaint the PCHH crew had was that "Finding Dory" was not directed at them, the specific adult viewers that made up the PCHH podcast that episode. Neither did it carry forward the lessons learned in "Finding Nemo" in a "this is the next step of growing up for adults/kids" as illustrated by the Toy Story trilogy. Yes, PCHH compared the "Finding Nemo/Dory" series to the Toy Story movies despite the obvious lack of cross pollination in the narratives. The PCHH reviewers were so turned off by the lack them-focused emotional therapy that they forgot to do their usual thoughtful review and expressed amazement at how well it was doing at the box office[2]. My favorite[3] bit in the review session was "This movie does not meet the Pixar standard" said in condemning tones more than once as if Pixar is its own genre separate from “animated films directed at children and the young at heart”.[5]

Which brings me to something I figured out back in college when I was taking writing workshops. Reader/viewer/listener bias is important when contemplating stories in any media. In fact, I find myself reviewing the reviewers because of this. There are many reviewers I trust who love what I hate and hate what I love. I just go see the movies they dislike. That’s the fun part of a good workshop. You learn what about your work appeals to others and why. It’s also good training for identifying bias in others.

The PCHH review session disconnect between message and meaning is not limited to me or “Finding Dory”[0.1]. It's been addressed elsewhere by Nebula and Hugo award winning fantasy/science fiction author Lois McMaster Bujold who does a lot of cross-genre writing and likes to play with tropes. After you read her Denvention08 speech, go out to Amazon and peruse the reader reviews of her fantasy novel "The Sharing Knife: Beguilement".

Don't feel like it wading through all that? Let me summarize Bujold’s speech: Writing the story is only half of the work that needs to be done for storytelling. Readers(views) bring their life experiences to your work and change the very nature of the story by the simple act of reading (or watching) it. It’s not wrong that this happens, but it does need to be considered when writing because, all in all, it’s just a part of the writer/reader collaboration called storytelling.

The summaries of the Amazon reader reviews for Bujold’s fantasy series’ first book were filled with military-science fiction genre fans split pretty evenly between "She made me read about Girl Cooties(tm)! This book sucks! Give me Miles and splody spaceshipy adventures!" and "Man, she's such a good writer, I actually liked reading a Girl Cooties(tm) book. Who knew that was possible? I didn't." (Girl Cooties = Romance Novels)

Almost all of the breakout/best selling/game changing movies and books have one thing in common. The author wrote the book they wanted to read, but couldn’t find in the market as it existed before they came along. Ditto for pop culture movies like Star Wars, TV shows like Star Trek, and so on. Some producer/show runner/etc. decided to film a movie/show they wanted to watch, but couldn’t find. Pixar did the same thing. In the “Finding Nemo/Dory” duology, the Pixar group made a set of movies they wanted to see about a topic no one talks about much -- being handicapped and fighting for independence.

And that’s why a “sub-par Pixar movie’ is making money. There is an audience out there for a disabled hero/heroine who “just keep[s] swimming” despite past experiences and outside advice. It’s obvious from the trailers that “Finding Dory” is retconning why a disabled, damaged individual is the Campbellian gatekeeper/wisdom giver in “Finding Nemo.” Even though I have only seen the trailers, I can say for certain that “Finding Dory is a typically Pixar film and a cohesive, thoughtful Pixar duology. It’s just focused on coping with disabilities and physical/mental limitations. Unlike the Toy Story trilogy, which is a linear narrative about growing up/old, Finding Nemo/Dory is a conversation between/by/for people inhabiting a limit-filled world whether they’re aware of it or not. [6]

Dear PCHH, I respectfully submit that neither "Finding Nemo" nor "Finding Dory" were directed at you and your point of view/life experiences. I ask that you re-watch both movies and try to put yourself in the role of a child who has disabilities, either physical or mental, then re-podcast. Now, please excuse me while I go watch the movie. I’ll have to see how much I agree/disagree about the rest of your collective review.
[*] I meant to post this a week ago, but “Life is what happens when you have other plans” hit me hard. Also, the first round of this post was one of the crankiest rants I’ve ever written. Time has allowed my inner-English Major to take control.

[0] Or in the case of “Frozen” read/watch series at Tor.com, it’s reader/viewer bias.

[0.1] I agreed with all of the movie reviews except the last one. All I have to say to that is “Go read the Dysfunctional Family Day threads on the Making Light blog.” Pre-DFD, I would probably have gone along with it. Post-DFD not so much. Plus some experiences of my own made me go, “Yes, that actually happens IRL”. Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense. Truth doesn’t care what you think is believable.

[1] She is the nicest devil's advocate I’ve ever listened to—some people take the "devil" part to heart. Linda doesn’t. However, it was painfully obvious that she agreed with her fellow podcasters. Her defense of the film was not believable at all.

[2] “It sucks, and it’s making money? How can this be?” is the most clueless thing I’ve heard the PCHH group say about a movie. They’re usually so much more culturally savvy about things like this.

[3] By "favorite" I mean "most eye-rolling". I love you Glen, I adore your snarkiness, I take endless joys in your pithy rants. but really? Your narrative desires (nor mine) are not Pixar’s standards. Stephen/Daisy, the type of water they were swimming in/through was your only problem with the film? I’ve only seen the trailers and I had issues with an octopus breathing air as though it had lungs and lifting a water-filled coffee pot like it had bones in its tentacles. However, I can’t say that your willing suspension of disbelief’s breaking point is no less valid than mine. It’s just different.

[4] My google-fu has failed me. I can’t find the picture of the hand-written list of “Things we hate about Disney films that Pixar will not do.” (I suspect it was cleansed from easy-to-find searches during Disney’s acquisition of Pixar.) Still, what I found is a good list, and should be included/considered, even if it’s not the one I wanted.

[5] Hentai counts as animated film, but not for children or the young at heart. Now if I could just find that bottle of brain bleach...

[6] Which is why the movie was not set in the open ocean. It’s a metaphor that supports the overall theme.
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On Being Heard

I follow Ursula Vernon's twitter feed and found myself agreeing with her recent rant about people who get upset about not being heard in elections and in other places about things near and dear to them. The general gist was,"get over it. No one is listened to all the time, or even all that often. Deal with it, or not, but know this is a fact of life you can't avoid."

I have to add that not being heard is also a reality of life even when they ask you to air your opinion. It could be they just want you to shut up so they pretend to listen while zoning you out. It might be because they're too busy thinking about how to respond to what you have not yet said. It's possible they are listening, but not understanding because they lack knowledge or context or whatever. Not being heard is the norm, not the exception. I had a lot of that this week. The least annoying example I'm willing to share is me asking my sister, Twosie, "Have you talked to Hroback recently? How's he doing?"

Her reply was "The organization is falling apart."

I wanted to know about her friend who used to do her taxes for the cost of her donating dog food to the local animal shelter. The same guy who announced "Buick U" on his lawn because the neighbor's kid took Roundup and wrote "Fuck U" there, and Hroback didn't want the insult on his property so he bought some Roundup and edited the insult out of existence. The last I had heard, he was having health issues. Instead, I got a brusk business report for a place she worked at six years before. As that was the third, "I'm not listening to you" conversation of the day, I gave up talking, and we finished the two hour drive in silence.

And then today happened. I had lunch with Cheryl, a friend from college. The first thing she did, after greetings were done, was to relay a question from her husband, Steve. "Is C.J. Cherryh a good follow up to Bujold? He read all of her books in nine months and now wants something else."

I was confused. I thought Steve was a much faster reader than that, but their lives had been busy recently. I'm behind on my reading, too, for the same reason,

"You don't understand" Cheryl told me with some urgency, because good friends of long standing can read you like a book. If there hadn't been a table between us, I think she might have grabbed my shirt and shook me to get her level of urgency across. "Steve doesn't read fiction! You got him to read Bujold, and now he wants to read something else that's not about computers! He even bought a Kindle Fire so he could read all the books that were out of print!"

Knowing how important this was, I answered thoughtfully in the affirmative. I also added a couple of other authors for Steve to try if he didn't go for Cherryh's brand of GrimDark and UberPolitics. New readers must be encouraged at all costs. Primary need satisfied, we ordered lunch and started catching up on a year's worth of news.

On the drive home, I tried to figure out just what I'd said and when to get Steve to pick up the first Bujold book. I think it was during the time we were hanging out in his man cave, watching woodworking shows -- an interest we both share -- while Cheryl was in her home office, dealing with a work issue. All I can remember is the commmentary we traded back and forth. "That's a pretty piece... he just ruined that piece of wood... The stain looks nice, but I prefer natural... Why in God's name use screws when a motise and tenon..." and so on. Books (and other topics) must have come up, because that's one of my babble buttons. I just don't remember babbling about Bujold.

The specifics don't really matter though. What I have to add to Ursula's rant is this: not being listened to is frustrating, if you let it be. What's truly scary is when people do listen and come back at you with it later, long after you've forgotten what you said. Most of the time its not something nice like a book recommendation -- especially when politics and hard feelings are concerned.