Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cutting out information junk food

Last week I heard a story on NPR about a new book, The Information Diet, that was about how we all are suffering from information-obesity.  The parallel was drawn that the same thing that happened to food in the past century is happening to information.  Food used to be scarce, lots of people were growing it themselves, and calories were expensive.  Now we have "food scientists" who have figured out how to make things called twinkies and ho-ho's that have "best if used by" dates up to 2 years from now.

And calories have become cheap.  But with that, calories have become figuratively cheap.  They're crap.  The same thing is happening to information.  We have tons of it.  Everywhere.  We're swimming in it.  Actually, sometimes we feel like we're drowning in it.  There are books published about how to deal with it, thus giving us more information to take in.  It's freaking everywhere.  But it's largely junk.  The difference between Fox News and the Huffington Post really isn't that great.  It's just junk that's made up to confirm the beliefs that the readers already have.

I spend my time wondering how to keep up with everything I'm interested in.  How do I keep up with all the blogs, the tweets, the podcasts, the tv shows (speaking of which, I just discovered Portlandia...where the hell have I been, right?), not to mention the books and new albums (and old albums).  There just isn't enough time in the day to keep up with it all, as well as answer work emails and hold down a job.

Oh, but there is.  On an average day, I probably spend at least an hour putzing around on the Huffington Post.  A few stories here in the morning, a video or two mid-morning, getting lost in a web of links at lunch... it adds up.  Plus, I watch The Daily Show religiously.  But seriously, what am I getting out of it?  Is that the stuff I really care about?  Yeah, it's fun to laugh at Republicans, and watch people doing stupid things on youtube, but seriously, is it making me smarter?  Is it adding value to my life?  When I'm done, do I think, "man, that was a good way to spend a few minutes of my life that I'll never get back"?

No.  I do not.

And so, I am on the information diet. I am giving up the sugar-equivalent of information, and sticking to the stuff I really care about.  Like the Madeleine Brand show.  I love her.  And Planet Money.  And the St. Matthew Passion.  You know, the important stuff in life.

I'm thinking that it's going to make a huge difference in my quest to achieve more mindfulness in life.  Because anything that sucks that much time away from you can't be mindfulness-approved.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Paris: All Style, No Substance

Last Saturday I went to Paris for the day.  Mainly because it sounds really neat to say, "I went to Paris for the day."  When you're based in London, it's easy to do that. 

I had been in Paris when I was 13 on a family vacation with my parents.  I had this idea that Paris was insanely romantic.  I envisioned my teenaged self (wearing my Batman shirt and bad pink lipstick) falling in love with a Parisian boy who would play the accordion and tell me that he'd meet me on the top of the Eiffel Tower.  He'd wear a beret and carry a baguette, too.  I didn't have a romantic rendezvous, but I blame that on the fact that I was with my parents.  And being thirteen didn't help.  I wouldn't have known a romantic rendezvous if it hit me in the face.

So I went back last Saturday.  J went to Amsterdam for the weekend to see a friend of his.  I'd been to Amsterdam before, and not being a fan of tulips or legal marijuana, and having already been to Anne Frank's house, I passed.  He needed a weekend with the boys, and I needed a weekend on a train.  I had been thinking about going to Italy, but I really wanted a nice long train trip, so Eurostar it was.  

I arrived at the Nord station excited to see some glamour, and some elegant skinny moms with their elegant and well behaved offspring.  

Instead, an old lady poked me in the ribs and asked me for three euros.  

(I was subsequently poked in the ribs six times, though the amount of euros requested varied each time)

Then a smug guy on a bike honked his bike-bell at me.  Apparently I was standing in the bike lane.  

Oh, and then a guy whistled at me, asked me for directions, and when I tried to say something like "non parle Francais..." he blew smoke in my face.

Good God, I thought.  These people are as smug as the ones in San Francisco.  And at least San Francisco has the water and sunshine.  What does Paris have?
I ventured off to find out, guidebook in hand.  Surely there would be some style.  People carrying original Louis Vuitton bags and not the cheap knock-offs I see all the time.  Women walking around in four inch stiletto heels as comfortably as if they were in Dr. Scholl's.  After all, the women in London are pretty glamorous, and they have nothing on Paris, right?  And I do love Amelie.  Really, I do.  That traveling gnome is awesome.

Now, I want to be clear that I'm aware of the fact that the time I spent there was about the equivalent of judging London by arriving at King's Cross and walking down to Trafalgar Square on Tottenham Court Road.  I can't judge an entire city by one road.  But maybe I can?  I mean, in London, that journey would take you close to Bloomsbury, the publishing and literary capital.  You'd go very near Soho.  You'd see St. Martin in the Fields, and the National Gallery.  You'd see a lot of life.  

I saw an Office Depot.

No shit, I seriously saw an Office Depot.  

I saw Notre Dame, walked around the South Bank, saw Pont Neuf (a major landmark, the oldest bridge in the city, which, incidentally, was missing the "f" on the sign.  Stay classy, Paris.) and ate outside at an outdoor cafe.  I considered buying some makeup at a giant Yves Rocher store, but didn't once I saw the check-out line.  And I marveled at some fashion faux pas, including:

- skin tight turquoise jeans paired with a sheepskin coat and purple uggs.  Really?
- prostitutes wearing fur coats, and little else.  Seriously, can't Peta step in and do something about that?  Give the prostitutes some faux fur?
- a tan mini-skirt, forest-green tights, and shiny black stiletto boots.

The list went on.  I also saw a fair few mustaches.  On women.

Oh, and I have I mentioned how loud Paris is?  Everyone honks their freaking horns all...the...time.  There was some bicycle rally going on, and this guy must have just set his horn on "auto-annoy" because it did not stop.  Where was he going to go?  There were three hundred bicycles in front of him, rallying, in French.  What point did the horn serve?  Did making my lunch that much less pleasurable really do much for him?

So it had been 22 years since I'd been to Paris, and if you can't tell from this post, I don't really mind if it's another 22 years before I go back.  

And women of the UK (and the US): please get over your inferiority complex about French women.  It's like it's this made-up fairy tale that we've all bought into - that French women are more beautiful, and that Paris is more romantic.  They aren't, and it's not.     

Case in point:

awesome outfits

Only Paris can make eating at KFC outside look romantic: it's a perfect example:
you're outside, having a romantic dinner, but you're eating crap.

When I go to Paris, I like to get Used Jeans

Me and Notre Dame

This is what you get when you order a ham and cheese sandwich in Paris.
Coronary surgery included, thanks to the socialist government.

In case you were wondering, this is the Trendy Shop

French Subway: in Paris, calling cheap cheese "fromage" makes it cool

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year's!

Well, I guess you all thought I disappeared off the face of the earth there for a while, huh?  Nope, I'm still here. And, in Reproductive News, I'm still not pregnant.

But on to other topics.

First, November was NaNoWriMo, which necessitated me spending all my writing time on my novel, which, incidentally, I really love.  I've taken a month away from it now, but I'm going to go back to it with a fresh view this month to start the editing process.  This is the fourth year I've done NaNoWriMo, and this is the first time I have really loved my book.

Then came Thanksgiving, with maternal visits, and lots of turkey.  Same thing you did, probably.

THEN I was up in San Francisco for a week.

And FINALLY the good stuff:  we've been in London since mid December.  Back in September my boss agreed to let me try out working here during a slow time of year, so that I could potentially spend a lot more time here, in the land that tickles my soul.  I work California hours, I transferred my phones over, and thanks to Skype, I see my boss more often now than I do when I'm at home.

With my work schedule I start work at about 4pm, which gives me my days to go exploring, wander on the Hampstead Heath, etc.  I had Christmas here, which was brilliant, and of course, New Year's.  The last time I celebrated Christmas in the UK was ten years ago.  It feels lovely to be back, with mince pies, and a full celebration of the 12 Days of Christmas (attention Target: if you're going to put up Christmas decorations on November 1, at least have the decency to leave them up the full Twelve Days of Christmas!  Oh, that's right, that interferes with your desire to start selling Valentine's.  Grrrr.).

I've been so busy living this amazing life, I haven't had much time to think about it, journal, blog, etc.  But I will try to do better, if for no other reason than to document the awesomeness that is my life right now.  I don't have a baby, but I do have England, so, you know, small victories.

Have you made any New Year's Resolutions?

I'm still working on mine, but they include:

1) Continuing to lose weight and get healthier.

2) Switch to mostly vegetarian foods.  Mostly because the cruelty to animals in the dairy industry, especially, simply horrifies me.  I feel like a hypocrite, saying I care about animals, and then supporting industries that force female cows to keep having calves so they continue to lactate, and then "dispose" of those calves. It makes me feel dirty when I think about it, and when I do eat dairy, I'm going to research it to make sure it's from a cruelty-free farm.

3) Practice transcendental meditation, which I was taught last week, at least once a day, regularly.

4) Read the entire King James Bible.  I missed doing it on the 400th anniversary year, but anyone who says they care about literature NEEDS to read the King James Bible, if only for the literary influences.  Even Christopher Hitchens (rest in peace) adored the King James Bible.  I'm ashamed that I've not read it completely.

5) Edit and self-publish my book.

Which leaves very little time for Skyrim, but I'm going to try to squeeze that in there, as I can...

And, the usual, complete the Damn Artists Way.

Seriously, I need to do it.  I'm driving myself crazy with my lame excuses for not.  Which leads me to my final one:

Give Up Being Lame.

Happy 2012...