Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fear of Talking

I am not the most social person. I have a tendency to sneak out of parties when no one is looking. I struggle with what to say particularly if I am sober and surrounded by people I don't know. Nowadays, it is worse than ever.  There are so many words I can't say anymore. I have to scan the room to figure out which ones are off limits. My vocabulary depends largely on the race, age and gender of the crowd. The C word is out, N word is out, F word is out. Not that I want to use these words, but hey, I'd like the option of choosing my own words. I've been doing so since I was a child and I am good at it. And if I wanted to talk about these words, perhaps about their histories or if I quoted someone that actually used these words ... no, not even that is allowed. I used to enjoy my freedom of speech.

I can't use the R word, especially if there are any mentally challenge people around. Context doesn't matter. If I were to say to someone that "the growth of the economy has been retarded by foreign imports" ... I am fairly certain I would get dirty looks. I said the R word and that's all that matters. I must be the scum of the Earth.

I have a friend that hates the word "sucks" which really sucks for me because I love this word. Before I talk, I have to make sure she is not around, because I don't want to deal with that. Believe me, I am so afraid to say the wrong word, I feel like I need to bring a checklist with me when I leave the house. I'd call "sucks" the S word, but I hear that there already is an S word and that it is really stupid.

Now I just learned that I cannot say the word "bossy."  It is banned. Specifically, you can't call little girls the B word. Not that B word! Okay, I guess we can't say either of them to little girls. What if I want to read Bossy Pants to a little girl? Okay, not a good idea either. I don't think I have ever called a little girl bossy, but I hear it is common in school. Girls get called "bossy" when they are being assertive. Boys get called "aggressive" or "bullies," apparently that is okay. No need to ban those.

The fear is that we are squashing assertiveness in girls, while boys have a lot of other venues to promote assertiveness. Our double standards hold girls down. Promoting assertiveness in girls is a good goal. I have no issues with that. I am not sure banning the word "bossy" will do much for this. The attitude needs to change, not our vocabularies. People will just use another word. If banning the word changes the attitude that girls shouldn't be assertive, I'm all for it but I seriously doubt if it will do that. All banning words does is shut down discourse. It is better to say nothing at all for fear of social isolation. A person can't be shunned for saying nothing, right?

For one, the behavior that produces the "bossy" comments is not assertiveness. The best bosses I have had (both male and female) were not bossy but were assertive. They were diplomatic. Bossiness is not good behavior. Assertiveness yes, bossiness no. So if people are using the word "bossy" when a girl is being assertive that is bad. So don't ban the word, just use a more positive word to promote assertiveness. But if a little girl is being bossy, (aka a jerk, aggressive or a bully) but all means use it.  Use these other words as well. If you ban "bossy" what are you going to say to her instead? Just let her be bossy. If a boy does this behavior, we have a ton of words to stop him. Apparently, we have one for girls. Shouldn't we be more concerned that people aren't treating them the same. Instead of banning a word, shouldn't we be promoting equal treatment. Shouldn't we be calling boys "bossy" when they are being bossy and call girls "aggressive" when they are being aggressive?

Another approach would be to turn it around to something positive. When I was a kid being called a "nerd" or "geek" wasn't a compliment. You were considered a weirdo that couldn't get dates and probably read a lot of science fiction. You were on A.V. Club, the Chess club and played Dungeons and Dragons. After years of seeing "nerds" and "geeks" taking over the world ... suddenly, it is not so bad to be called these words. It has become a badge of honor. Instead of preventing people from using a word ... take it back.  "You are bossy, girl!"

The one good thing that Ban Bossy movement has done is that it has gotten people to talk about the double standards on how we treat boys and girls. Their web site has a lot of good suggestions on promoting assertiveness for girls that have nothing to do with this word. Also, the Girl Scouts have been doing this sort of stuff for years. A lot of them are really awesome. Not sure why banning another word has become a thing. But hey, if it is easier for you take away another word from my vocabulary, I guess I will have to deal with it. Pile it on. I will walk around in a state of complete anxiety fearing the use of the wrong word.  It will be another reason not to reach out to people for random conversations. The more you attempt to homogenize a diverse world, the less we will mix.

I am slowly becoming less upset with other people choosing my words for me. I am starting to feel liberated. With other people choosing my words, I have no responsibility for what I say anymore. That means eventually I will be able to say anything and I am not to blame, the crowd is.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Perfection is the Enemy of Progress

Joseph Grand is a character in Albert Camus's great novel, The Plague. He is a minor character but is perhaps the most profound. Grand is a city clerk but in his spare time, he claims to be a writer. He is writing a novel but is stuck on the first sentence because he wants it be perfect. So much so that he spends a week deciding which conjunction to use. Finally, midway through The Plague, he reveals his sentence and it doesn't even have a conjunction:
"One fine morning in the month of May an elegant young horsewoman might have been riding a handsome sorrel mare along the flowery avenues of the Bois de Boulogne."
By the end of the novel he is nowhere closer to finishing the novel. His only achievement is 50 pages comprised of variations of this "horsewoman" sentence.

Completion is a difficult thing for an artist. When I was younger, I lingered on poems and pieces of fiction leaning on the trope "nothing is ever complete." They hung around on my hard drive for years being "perfected." When I read this Camus book, perhaps twenty years ago, I recognized this for what it was. I believe it helped me get over this. Perfection indeed is the enemy of progress. We need to move on. Perfection will never happened. I have heard interviews with creative people like Woody Allen and musician Joe Jackson where they say, they can't even look at or listen to their old work. All they see it the imperfections. I am grateful that neither one of them had Grand's problem for the world would be lacking.

Larry Heinemann, one of my writing teachers, used to say "edit is where the money is." His approach is to overwrite to get your manuscript done and then fix it while editing ... then edit .... then edit.  When he wrote his most famous novel, Paco's Story, he was stuck on a plot point where Paco was reading a female character's diary and didn't know where to go with it. To solve this he wrote the entire diary as a separate project just to get into the head of the character. He was then able to get over the hump of the novel. He only included a few lines from the diary in the novel ... hence overwrite and edit.

It seems that the axiom of "Perfection is the Enemy of Progress" works not only in writing but with the rest of life as well. As a software engineer I understand that I should be aiming for perfection, I turn projects over to testers and hope they catch any mistakes I made in coding. It is a humbling process. But I also understand, that there is no such thing as bug free software. If I were to wait for perfection, nothing would ever get completed and turned over to the users of the software. It seems that this could be applied to anything like social movements, government, household planning, etc. A few years ago, the US government rolled out a huge healthcare bill that was by no means perfect. The web site didn't even work and it wasn't even funded. I am not talking about The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) but of Medicare Part D which was rolled out in January 2006 under President George W. Bush. Its roll out was just as bad, full of imperfections that was eventually fixed and people seem happy with it now. The difference of course is that Bush didn't budget for it and it only affected senior citizens. Not sure why the talking heads on Fox News didn't freak about it and call it Socialism ... oh wait. ... I do know why... it was rolled out by a Republican white guy. I realize that neither of these programs was even close to perfection when they rolled them out but at a certain point, especially in government, you got to say "this is done" and "I will fix it on the back end" which is what I am going to do now with this blog post.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Road Tripping to Georgia

The winters in Vermont are harsh. Not only are they very cold, windy and full of snow, but they are dark. The days are short and cloudy. Other than the Great Northwest, the Champlain Valley area where I live, is the most cloudy area in the United States. Because of this, I try to get away each year to some place sunny and warm. Last year we visited Hawaii, but I can't always afford such a large trip. I also like to drive during these vacations so that I can take my dogs. The Georgia coast is one of our favorite destinations, it is usually warm but lacks the traffic, attitude and general craziness of Florida. It is also very dog friendly. My dogs are geriatric now so I don't like to leave them with a sitter.

The route we take from our home in Vermont is not a direct one. Some huge cities stand between us and Tybee Island. We have found a great route that avoids New York City, all of New Jersey and Philadelphia. It may add a couple hours to the trip, but considering the congestion in these areas, maybe not. Also, when we stop half way, the lodging is much cheaper in Hazelton Pennsylvania than anywhere off the Jersey Pike. This year's trip was similar to others. It takes a long time to get to the New York interstates from our home because not only are there no east/west interstates in northern New England but there is a huge lake, Champlain, in our way. We like to take the ferry over the lake but in February or March, the lake is frozen so this is not an option. We have to take a bridge which is a longer drive and not as fun. It takes about three hours of small highways to get to interstate 87.  For this, good weather is essential because about half of this is driving through the Adirondack Mountains. It is lovely but treacherous in bad weather.

New York: We take 87 south to the Albany area where we connect with Interstate 90 for about eight miles to Interstate 88 southwest down to Binghamton which is near the Pennsylvania border. NY interstates are usually fairly bumpy, one lanes always rumbles more than another. This year it was worse than ever. I am guessing there are some fiscal problems in NY State because we noticed a lot of other problems with the Interstate. The reflectors on the road signs weren't there half the time making them difficult to read in the evening. Also, most of the rest rooms at the rest areas were closed. I think we noticed one rest area that had working rest rooms. On 87, I couldn't wait, so I went behind one of the buildings (one of the advantages of being male). Apparently, I wasn't alone because it smelled of urine and I noticed a small amount of toilet paper on the ground as well.  This was gross and unsanitary. Traveling through NY state is usually much more pleasant.

Pennsylvania: At Binghamton NY, we changed to Interstate 81 and headed southeast shortly crossing the PA border north of Scranton. On 81, in between Wilkes-Barre and the state capital Harrisburg, we found a dog friendly Best Western motel that had reasonable rates. We stayed there on both legs of our trip. In Harrisburg, we headed south through York into Maryland. My complaint about PA is always the same. The amount of billboards in this state is atrocious. I have a headache after driving through it.  Perhaps my perception is jilted by the fact that I live in a state without billboards. It is too bad because this is a beautiful state. They don't show it off opting to cover it in advertising. Usually,  I can't wait to get out of there. This trip was no exception.

Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina: These states do seem to have their act together, at least when it comes to their interstates. Other than the traffic on the beltway around DC, it would be flawless. I don't know how people live with this kind of traffic. On the way home it was around 6pm on a Saturday, bumper to bumper traffic ... no accident causing it, no bad weather, just too many people on the road. If you don't think there are too many people on this planet, take a drive through a major city on a Saturday night some day. You might change your mind. I can understand traffic jams during rush hour on a weekday, but Saturdays! That shouldn't be happening. We need to find a route around DC that doesn't involve the beltway. After the beltway, we took Interstate 95 south for several hours.

South Carolina: Like NC, SC is gorgeous. That is until you get off the Interstate. Our route took us to one of the last exits on 95. The litter in rural SC is horrendous. The gutters along the roads are like mini-land fills. I don't think I have ever seen litter like this in a rural area before. My experience is not good in SC. I spent a week in Myrtle Beach once which I didn't like at all. Conservation doesn't seem to be a thing in SC. Every mile or so of Myrtle Beach was a new mini-golf cluttered near t-shirt shops and crap stores. They even charged a dollar to walk on the boardwalk. The problem with the litter seemed to go away once we crossed the line into Georgia which is near a fairly large city, Savannah. So you would expect the litter to be worse there but this is not so. SC won't be getting any more of my tourist dollars if I can help it.

Georgia: We stayed on Tybee Island which is a short drive from Savannah. It used to be named Savannah Beach which is what it actually is. There is not much on the island other than a bunch of homes, a few restaurants and three beaches. It is a lovely place. Unfortunately, we had only a day and half of good weather. It was sunny Sunday and the morning of Monday with 70 degree F until the rain came. Then the temperature dropped into the 40's. It was still about 30 degrees warmer than home but it still wasn't pleasant. We rented a home from the Homeaway web site.  The owner, Mark, has five bulldogs so he lets vacationers take their dogs. This place was perfect for us. It was a short walk to the beach and to a great breakfast place, the Breakfast Club, that is owned by Cubs fans. We ate there three times playing cribbage and tanking up on a lot of coffee. What is nice about renting the home, rather than a room, is that it comes with a kitchen with everything you would need to cook. We shopped at Whole Foods and stocked the kitchen for the week. This kept financing of our vacation down.

Savannah is a lovely city. Due to the bad weather, we spent more time in the city than we had planned. We did several walking tours around town. We did some shopping, took in a movie and visited some historic sites. The Spanish moss working in tandem with the Southern architecture makes for a gorgeous walk. People are friendly and very accepting of dogs. You see dog bowls on the sidewalks in front of businesses and you are allowed to bring your dog into many of them. This is why we pick Georgia when we go south. I was in a personal quandary about visiting Georgia this year because of the anti-gay discrimination bill that they were considering. Luckily they came to their senses and have tabled the bill so we didn't have to reschedule our visit. I am not gay. I just don't want to support anywhere that discriminates against their citizens ... particularly if they do so for religious reasons.

Obviously we would have preferred good weather. Here are two surprises that we found that we enjoyed very much that we may not have discovered if not for the rain:

The Wormsloe Historic Site was a surprise. We were just looking for a nice place to walk during a cold and breezy day with a drizzle. The appeal of this walk were the oaks creating a blanket over the walkway which would be good cover on a rainy day. It is only eight miles outside of Savannah on the Isle of Hope.
It is an historic site of the second settlement in Georgia. It was the home of Noble Jones, who like Roger Williams, left the original settlement in bad terms. I plan to blog about him in the future. The grounds have the ruins of the original house's foundation as well as replicas of some of the original buildings. It is a nice spot to spend an afternoon.

The other pleasant surprise was the StopOver Music Festival in Savannah. The reason why it is called Stopover is because a lot of musicians stop in Savannah on their way to the more famous and larger South By Southwest Festival (aka SXSW) in Austin, TX. Savannah is at the intersection of Interstate 16 (that leads to Atlanta and connects with 20 West into Texas) and Interstate 95 (which leads down the entire east coast). It makes for a good stopover for any band on the east coast heading to Austin. While SXSW is 27 years old and isn't just for emerging artists anymore, Stopover is only four years old and has only lesser known artists.

We went Thursday night, the first band we saw was called Good Graeff and they were my favorite of the night. They are fronted by twins sisters from Sarasota FL, one on guitar and vocals, the other on cello and vocals. I've had never seen the cello rock before. I bought a CD and I am listening right now. I love it.

After them came, St. Paul and the Broken Bones from Birmingham, AL. They could really rock and the lead singer was quite a performer, but not quite as soulful as he seemed to think he was. He reminded me more of a Southern preacher than a rock and roll singer.
We walked across town to another venue and caught The Silver Palms. These guys are so young, I couldn't believe they were allowed in a bar. They hail from Camden, GA, but sounded like a New York band. They had a Velvet Underground or Feelies sound which I enjoyed very much.

Last up, before this old guy needed to get back to bed, was The Black Cadillacs, a damn good garage band from Knoxville TN. These guys were tight and they could jam.

We ended up leaving Georgia a day early. The weather report wasn't good for Friday but Saturday was beautiful, so we drove on the bad weather day. We visited Charlottesville VA to see Thomas Jefferson's Monticello which is again, a subject for another blog post because this one is getting too long.

We made it home on Sunday in time to see Cosmos.