Follow-up on dogs

July 1st, 2011

Following up from yesterday, a good blog post on why dogs bite:

All dogs, whether they are defined by owners or behavior professionals as “reactive,” “aggressive,” and yes, even “friendly”? can and will bite. A service dog or therapy dog can and will bite. The goofiest dog you’ve ever seen can and will bite. The dog that allows young children to climb all over him and pull his ears or tail with seeming aplomb can and will bite.

Beginnings and endings

May 11th, 2011

Roger Ebert Jim Emerson has a brilliant post up here about what conventions signal to us that a story (particularly, a movie) is beginning or ending.* Particularly, he’s interested in asking what ending conventions small children would inherently understand, prompted by this blog post.

I’m loving Dr. Bordwell’s post, which begins with this anecdote:

I was watching “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” some years ago with a friend’s three-year-old daughter. Molly hadn’t seen the movie before, and she watched it in a fascinated silence. At the end, Snow White and the prince leave the dwarfs and ride off into the distance.

At this point Molly cried, “More!”

This surprised me. How could she know, on her first pass, that the story was ending?

My dissertation was on the psychology of narrative. That’s an awfully broad topic, ranging from how people tell stories of their own lives to how they understand genre conventions used in filmmaking, playwriting, and other narrative arts. As I was just starting to play with these ideas, one of my biggest “aha” moments came at a showing of “The Mummy.” (Some of my smartest ideas are inspired by some of my stupidest experiences.) The audience was extremely diverse in age, ethnicity, and apparent social class. Halfway through the movie the projectionist switched a reel. And at the exact same moment, everyone in the audience registered that the story had stopped making sense. There wasn’t an obvious visual cue; one scene cut to another as might happen ordinarily. It was the story that stopped working, and everyone knew it. You almost never see an entire roomful of people “get it” at the same moment. Certainly “If X then Y” logic never works that way. But story logic … story logic is different.

*Commenter Unmana points out that this is Jim Emerson, not Roger Ebert. Apologies and thanks!

2011 Resolution: Join “Style Nation”

December 13th, 2010

I’ve mentioned before that I’d like to get into more style blogging, and I’ve decided to make it my 2011 resolution. Winter may not seem like the best time to begin such a blog — not much light, hard to photograph outdoors — but that’s part of the reason I want to start it now. It’s entirely too easy, as a freelancer, to stay at home in leggings and leg warmers and long sweaters all day long. Having an impetus to dress like a grownup and get out more is not a bad thing.

I can’t always be asking Mr. Improbable to photograph me, and I haven’t figured out the art of self-photography yet, so until I do, Hanna from IKEA will be my model:

Say hello to Hanna. And if you want to see more style blogging, click below. (Ultimately, I plan to style-blog on this website, but on a different page, to keep it somewhat segregated.)

Click to continue reading "2011 Resolution: Join “Style Nation”"

Tears of laughter, quote of the day

November 18th, 2010

If you haven’t encountered the blog “Hyperbole and a Half” yet, you are SO MISSING OUT. Allie Brosh is a genius writer and one of those deliberately bad cartoonists whose drawings seem to burst with emotion. Her latest post, “Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving” — look, I’m only halfway through it and I’m already sharing it with you, it’s that funny. She has two dogs, and apparently her “simple dog” resembles, physically and psychologically, Milo. Here is how Simple Dog solves problems:

And this, my friends, this is the quote of the day, which follows that picture:

But making high-pitched noises won’t solve your problem if your problem is a complete inability to cope with change.

I think this is the truest and wisest thing ever, ever said. And, also, one of the better analyses of the current U.S. political climate I’ve read in several months.

Juxtaposition

November 3rd, 2010

… in the New York Times Health blog:

Tough questions, but hilarious sitcom hijinks!

PeaceBang bats it out, and a poll

September 2nd, 2010

Speaking of the powerless, the silenced, PeaceBang blew me out of the water with this insight:

“To be a religious person is to notice everyone, period.”

Read the whole post, it’s thought-provoking and also rather funny. And that line certainly smacked me out of my comfortable feeling that of course I’m a good person, and made me take a hard look at how I treat certain kinds of people.

PeaceBang’s doing some good stuff these days — I tweeted another blog post of hers a day or so ago. Which brings me to: how many of you who don’t follow me on Twitter read the tweets on the right column of this blog? Do you find them interesting, useful, value-added? I don’t often tweet about my personal activities (that seems entirely too “oooh I’m a celebrity”; I don’t assume that because a person enjoys my writing they necessarily want to know what I had for breakfast). I use it mostly to link to stuff I think would be of interest to people who like my writing. Is that what you all want?

How many of you who don’t follow me on Twitter read the Tweets on the side?

Mystery blog

August 25th, 2010

It’s quite clear what the blog is, I mean; it’s a blog about mystery fiction. I know some of my readers are fans — or even if not, many of you are all-around book people who enjoy a good review on its own merits. So check out Only Detect, which offers triweekly reviews of a variety of mystery novels, and a good blogroll, all against a tastefully retro wood-paneling background.

Requiem for a dude (and his little dog, too)

June 9th, 2010

Last week, I was immensely sad to read that Jorge Garcia’s dog Nunu died: “as we were preparing to all go to the airport Nunu was struck by a car as she crossed the street. She died in my arms,” Mr. Garcia wrote.

Poor Jorge! He loved that dog. His life must feel so strange now, with “Lost” over, living back on the mainland, with Nunu dead. This is one of the pains of the death of a pet — not only the loss of a companion, but the end of an era. We often get pets at times of transition in our lives, and when those pets die, that chapter in our life feels even more definitively closed. Mr. Garcia has shut down his “Dispatches from the Island” blog and started a new blog, for this new phase of his life. The Nunu years are over. Have you ever had a pet whose lifetime coincided with a particular phase of your life, whose passing seemed to be the end of one chapter of your story?

Before we all leave the island for good, I suppose I should reassess my earlier criticism of how Hurley’s alternative universe was played out. Since the alternaverses were only mental constructs, or purgatory, or a bardo, or some damned thing or other, the emphasis on Hurley’s weight in his alternate-universe story reflected his own insecurity, not the writers’ fat prejudice. I think there’s still room for criticism — was Hurley’s primary reason for insecurity really his weight? He seemed to not trust himself because of his earlier bouts with mental illness and his lack of education and acknowledged leadership capabilities — but I think a lot of character development got sloppy toward the end there, so I don’t feel Hurley got a particularly raw deal.

Calling out Miss Conduct, Part I

June 4th, 2010

The blog “Feminists with Disabilities” called out my May 2nd column, about the mother who insists that her toddler have vegetables with every meal, pretty harshly. I have certain reservations about that blog overall, and I don’t agree with their analysis of my advice, obviously, but the discussion is fascinating, and the comments are really worth a read. Even if you disagree, there are points being made that are definitely worthy of consideration. Eventually someone did come in and defend my point of view.

(Side note: I was amused that one of the most indignant commenters referred to me as “Miss Demeanor.” I’ve always said if I’d gotten to name the column myself, that’s what I would have preferred!)

A particular dynamic that I find intriguing, and that comes up a lot, is that I will say in my column — either implicitly or explicitly — “X is something controversial that people are passionate and not wholly rational about.” And then I will get a slew of angry letters or comments disagreeing with me, by people who apparently don’t realize that the very nature of their passionate, judgmental, highly personal disagreement validates my point. I get this sometimes over gender-related etiquette (especially the use of “ma’am,” honorifics, “you guys” or any other term to address women), but I don’t think anything brings it out quite as much as food or religion.

I needed to read this today

March 18th, 2010

Maybe you do, too. From my favorite beauty blog, Already Pretty:

And sometimes, when I’m curled up in bed listening to the alarm clock yammer at me about getting up, I think, “Why bother? Why not just throw on a sweater and jeans, put my hair in a ponytail, and slog into work un-showered? Who would care, or even notice a difference?” Sometimes when it’s 30 below and I’ve had a long day at work, I look at my gym bag and think, “Why bother? One less workout isn’t going to make a difference.” Sometimes I look at my unruly and deeply high-maintenance mop and think, “Why bother? I’ve got hats.”

Read the whole thing. I am starting to have a serious girl-crush on this woman. Michelle Obama, you have been warned. Your days as my fashion icon are numbered.

Looking at the system, not the parts

February 5th, 2010

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a brilliant post up about weight loss, the American food industry, environmentalism, racism, and stuff. He’s one of my favorite bloggers anyway, and this post exemplifies why; in essence, he’s trying, as always, to get his readers to look at the bigger picture and not point fingers at individuals. This is a huge part of what I try to do with etiquette, and what part of my whole “epidemic of rudeness” post was about — looking at systemic causes for why people behave the way they do, instead of just running around shrieking “Narcissism! Internet! Mindlessness! Selfish bastards!”

You really have to read the whole thing to understand how he gets from low-fat Oreos to racism, but here’s two key paragraphs:

But more than that, I understand enough to be wary of inveighing against people who eat at McDonalds–or even McDonald’s itself–of harshly interrogating the morality of flesh-eaters (I am, of course, among them.) It’s not that any of this is wrong per se, so much as it’s limited. When you’re constantly naming people for their sins of consumption, it’s very hard to get them to act against a system of consumption. More than that, it often misses the point of how hard it is to pull oneself out of the Matrix, and thus underestimates the Matrix, in that it assumes we can win by yelling.

Likewise, I think in my best writing here, in the writing that really matters, I’ve worked to steer us away from the reductive parlor game of “Is this/he/she racist?” It’s useful to a point, but ultimately self-serving. It underestimates our demons and it underestimates how an entire system warped nearly every institution in this country, and continues to warp it to this day. What I’d rather we us understand is some sense of the big system, some sense of American white supremacy as mechanized racism.

You might disagree with some of his specific points, but the overall thrust of his argument is, I think, profound.

(Also, while we are on the topic of the U.S. food system, did anyone catch “Parks & Recreation” last night? Yes, it tripped some of my body-acceptance triggers, but I thought for a sitcom, it did a damn good job of showing some of the problems of our current food system and legitimate points of view from both the liberal and libertarian sides. And all that along with a B-plot featuring an iPod/Roomba hybrid called “DJ Roomba” and a C-plot of April becoming disenchanted with her two gay boyfriends. No small accomplishment, that.)

Fatshionista in the Globe

January 12th, 2010

Just discovered that blogger behind “Fatshionista” was profiled in today’s Globe! Her name is Lesley Kinzel and she lives in Revere.

I love her prediction (on her blog) for what will be in the comments section of the story:

… some people passionately wishing me ill by some fat-related doom; some people passively-but-ominously observing that while they don’t actively wish me fat-related doom, fat-related doom is coming for me nonetheless; some people wondering how the Globe can possibly justify publishing anything not on the subject of unemployment, the economy, and/or local sports right now in These Troubled Times, and bemoaning this evidence of irresponsible journalism; and some people exasperatedly opining that if SOME people can’t handle a little snow during a New England winter, then SOME people should move south and shut the hell up about it.

Heh. It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

Things to know in your 20s

January 5th, 2010

Blogger Sassy Curmudgeon has a nifty chronological advantage for a writer — born in a year ending in “0,” she can write a decade-in-review piece that is also a review of her own life. She’s done so, rather hilariously, in “Ten Years of Twenties,” which everyone who is or has been in their twenties should read:

Unless you have a particularly rough childhood, your twenties are your birth into the real world, by which I mean a world that doesn’t involve trading “points” for meals or having a third party pay for your cell phone. They are painful and joyful, exciting and despondent, infantile and terribly grown up-seeming, drunken and sobering.

Career changes

December 4th, 2009

A big part of what I study at that Harvard Business School job of mine is what happens when people switch jobs. My boss and I are interested in what makes people successful — and, as well, what they think makes them successful, and looking at what happens when people move from one organization to another is a good way of doing that. We’ve got an article coming out in the January (or possibly March) issue of Harvard Business Review on the top five mistakes people make when changing jobs.

So I was very interested to see this item in the British Psychological Society’s blog on the differences, culturally, in how people explained why they changed jobs. Workers from the U.S., three European countries, and China were interviewed. The most interesting finding:

Workers in the United States didn’t ever attribute a career transition to an external cause, such as conflict with a boss. Not once. Instead they tended to mention internal factors, such as their desire for a fresh challenge. By contrast, workers in China almost exclusively stressed the role played by external factors. Meanwhile, workers in the the European nations were more of a mix, attributing their career transitions to both internal and external factors.

The researchers said a lot of the transitions reported by the participants, especially in the USA and Europe, were positive. Generally-speaking, people are known to be biased towards attributing positive events to themselves, and so it’s perhaps little wonder that many workers attributed all these positive career transitions to internal causes. “In addition,” the researchers said, “in many cultures ‘being in charge’ of one’s life is positively valued. Conversely, reconstructing crucial career transitions as purely triggered by external circumstances does not convey a great amount of competence.”

I bolded that because I think it’s absolutely huge. I’m dying to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest, Bright Sided, about how America’s near-pathological obsession with optimism (and, hence, the belief that we can or should control our fate) has warped our culture, our economy, our medical system.

We so want to be in control. We so want the narrative of our lives to be about “choosing our choice.” It’s very hard for an American to say, “This bad thing happened. No, it wasn’t a blessing in disguise. No, it wasn’t God closing a door and opening a window. No, it wasn’t a ‘challenge.’ It was a bad thing, and it sucked, and now I have less and can do less than I did before, and if I’m going to make any meaning out of it, well, that’s going to take a long damn time and frankly, there’s other and better things I would have liked to do.”

We can’t say that. Even if we could admit it to ourselves, we can rarely say it. You sure as hell can’t say it in a job interview. You can’t say it to strangers at a cocktail party, either. You can only say it to your closest friends, and even that not too often. It’s like the way we can or cannot talk about chronic illnesses. (Ms. Ehrenreich, not surprisingly, wrote the book after a bout with breast cancer.)

In the “children” chapter of Mind Over Manners, I write about the so-called “mommy wars” between working and stay-at-home mothers. I read up a lot on the issue, and came away more or less convinced that except for a privileged few, neither set are really, truly, choosing, but are rather making the best of a limited set of options:

The repeated talk of “choice” makes women feel entirely responsible for the situations they find themselves in. Is a mother who works full-time really making a “choice” if she dare not even ask for a reduction in hours if her husband is self-employed and she provides the family’s health insurance? Is a stay-at-home mother really making a “choice” if the public schools are so bad that they must be supplemented or replaced by homeschooling, or if child care would cost more than she can earn? If we label the decision to stay home versus to go off to work as a “choice,” it allows us, as a society, to maintain that any negative consequences are a problem for the individual to solve, and don’t require reform of our laws or workplace cultures. I’m not here to offer policy recommendations—only the politeness recommendation that both working and stay-at-home mothers recognize that the other side, like they themselves, are making decisions under severely difficult circumstances.

There’s a career transition in my past that I “brightside” a lot, too. I talk about how fun the job was, but how exhausting, and frame my leaving as a simple “when the contract was up,” and then I start talking about all the cool things I’m doing now. I don’t talk about the fact that “the contract was up” really means “they didn’t offer me the permanent job.” I don’t talk about how I wasn’t even given the courtesy of an interview for that permanent job. I don’t talk about how, on my last day of work, I went home early and cried until nightfall.

Because the contract was up! It was over! I was free to pursue other dreams, and now I’m Miss Conduct! I’m not a loser, I’m a winner!

Sometimes, it is very, very tiring to be an American. Always to be a survivor, never a victim. Always to craft that winning story. Always to feel in control, when science and religion and art and philosophy since time immemorial have converged on the simple fact that we are not.

Or to put it another way, because the language of LOL is true and good:

funny-dog-pictures-lemmunaid-suk

Why I write about style

December 3rd, 2009

The fashion stuff I write about — it’s not only because I enjoy it. I truly do believe this stuff matters. As I wrote here a few years ago, your clothing choices communicate who you are to other people, whether you want them to or not, so you may as well take control of that message.

PeaceBang has a particularly eloquent post about the importance of image today on Beauty Tips for Ministers. She’s writing about female clergy, but what she says can apply to everyone, of any profession or gender:

Drab, aggressively sexless, sartorially clueless people in any profession make a statement by their very presence, and that statement is not a good one. Some of the non-verbal statements such appearance makes are:

1. I do not want anyone to look at me.
2. I don’t deserve attention; being noticed is something I am not prepared to accept and a responsibility I do not want.
3. I am harmless; in fact, I am passive. The world is happening around me and I hope to be invisible in it.

That’s only the first three. There’s more. Go read.