Steeped in history

I blame my father.

One of my mother’s brothers (no, not the dead one) is AWOL and I ended up googling to see if I could find some sign of him. That led me to where I signed up for a 14-day trial. I’ve long given up looking for my uncle (he doesn’t like to be found, and he’s not that nice either), but  I’ve been sitting here for the better part of a week poring over censuses and old Quebec birth, marriage, and death records.

On the one hand, I’m filling in some longstanding holes in my mother’s family history. On the other hand, I’m so steeped in reading about young deaths and the working conditions of Montreal’s English slums that I’m feeling quite sad. Must be time for a break.


Life’s a weird old duck

Found out this past Saturday that one of my maternal uncles died of a heart attack last Saturday (about 9 days after my mother died).

I feel like I should be more sad about that than I am (which is very close to not at all). My mother grew up in less than happy circumstances after her own mother died quite young. She spent the better part of her life feeling inadequate and undeserving of anything good that came her way and, heaven forbid she’d start feeling better about herself, one of her brothers could be counted on to call her up or come visit and make her feel like shit again. (Goes to show you that people don’t necessarily become better human beings as they age, they just get old.)

I wonder if they’ve met again. And how that went? Is it all forgiveness and enlightenment there on the other side? (“Glad we got that Karmic lesson sorted out. High fives all around.”) Or did she finally bloody his nose? (Kapow! “You weren’t supposed to be that big an asshole, asshole.”)**

It’s weird looking at the obituary guestbook and the comments about how kind and generous he was. Families sure do mess each other up in ways they wouldn’t mess up other people, don’t they. My mother would probably be fervently wishing for us to forgive her family, but I’m not nearly as good a person as my mother was. It’s going to take me some time to work through that.

** It reminds of the teacher I had in college who found my journal and then ten years later decided he had to tell me, in best creepy stalker fashion, all about how he read it and shared it some of my classmates. It was a mind fuck, pure and simple, and my reaction when he died suddenly of a heart attack was, “Good.” Hard to be sad about one less asshole in the world, though I’m still a little creeped out by the thought of him perving from the other side.

Netbook woes

I’ve had a netbook, an Acer Aspire One, since early 2009. In that time I’ve learned the following:

  • AWOL webcam: The webcam on the Aspire One is in the lid, just above the screen. If you’re a little rough as you’re carting the netbook around, the camera connection within the lid has a tendency to shake loose, causing the camera to disappear from your list of devices. You have to go through a slightly frightening process of squeezing the front and back of the lid together to the right of the webcam (until you hear a snap)  in order get the connection back in place.
  • Dead batteries: Unlike most notebooks and netbooks, the Aspire One continues to leech from the battery even when the netbook is turned off. If you don’t use the netbook frequently or keep it plugged into the power cord all the time, this continual leeching will eventually drain the battery completely. Unfortunately, the Aspire One also has a problem dealing with a completely drained battery — it can see it but it can’t do anything with it. The support forums are full of helpful suggestions for fixing the problem, usually involving a lot of unplugging and plugging back in of both AC adapter and battery. The solution for me ended up being flashing the BIOS to 3.10. Once the BIOS was up-to-date, the system recognized the battery and charged it properly. Such a simple solution, once you dig through the other stuff to find it. Maybe the netbook will finally start recognizing it’s original battery as well (when I find it). Now I just need to remember to pop out the battery if I’m not going to use the netbook for awhile so that the leeching doesn’t occur.
  • Tiny drives: The specific Aspire One that I have is the one with two 8 GB solid state drives, running Windows XP. The benefit of the solid state drives is that you *can* toss the netbook around a lot without having drive read/write problems. The down side is that 16 GB is not very large. Windows XP takes up almost half the C drive, leaving very little room (relatively speaking) for applications. A surprising number of programs, including Firefox and Adobe Reader, give you no option to choose where you want to install them but rather just install automatically to Program Files on the C drive. This means that you regularly run out of space on that drive, which in turn affects the operation of Windows XP. If you’re smart, you download a program like Application Mover that helps you to move files from one drive/folder to another.  But it still requires continual juggling and monitoring.
  • Slow as molasses: This particular netbook only has 1 GB of RAM and a 1.6 GHz processor. I never thought I’d see the day when 1 GB of memory wasn’t enough to function properly. That says a lot about how bloated both Windows and applications that run on Windows have gotten over the years. (I still use Paint Shop Pro 6 — despite having purchased upgrades up to PSP X — on my main computer because of its relatively small footprint, both in terms of hard drive space used and memory required to run.)

Given my experiences with this Aspire One so far, would I ever buy another one? I honestly don’t know. There’s something to be said for going with the devil you know. If I did get another one, I’d probably pick one with a larger, regular hard drive rather than the smaller solid state drives.

Purple 10.1" Acer Aspire OneA year and a half is forever in the world of technology. Acer now has bigger, better Aspire Ones to pick from, including a new 11.6″ ultra slim model that looks quite nice and a pretty purple 10.1″ model in the old, slightly chunkier style. (Be still my heart — I’ve desperately wanted a purple computer ever since the grape iMac came out many years ago. I haven’t gotten one yet, though I did manage to get purple MP3 players. Have I mentioned I love purple? )

I ♥ thunderstorms

I love rumbling, booming thunder.

What we’re having right now is the other kind, the kind that cracks like a gun shot and scares the living shit out of you, especially if it wakes you up out of a deep sleep. But it’s an awesome sound and light show from Mother Nature. (Who needs fireworks? And I got some good cuddle time with the cat that is priceless.)

This is my kind of weather — dark and moody and rainy. You can almost smell Fall just around the corner. Almost.

Happy Friday the 13th

Have I mentioned before that I really like the number 13? I’ve never really understood the whole “Friday the 13th is bad luck” thing.

This is the only Friday the 13th we’ll have this year (the next one isn’t until May 2011)  so celebrate it. Like an eclipse, only slightly less awesome.  (I say “slightly” rather than “extremely” because who doesn’t love a Friday the 13th with meteor showers?)

Remember, don’t look straight at a Friday the 13th or you’ll go blind.

The fluidity of sexuality

My mother and I had some odd discussions when I was a teenager and a young adult, most of them during the time period when I was essentially an only child and played the role of both daughter and best friend (a very weird dual role at times). I don’t know that she ever had these same conversations with my sister; I’m fairly confident in saying they never came up with my brothers.

One of the discussions revolved around my having children. It seemed very clear from a fairly young age that marriage and children were not at the top of my life’s “to do” list. Some little girls dream of having a husband and having a family. Me, not so much — though I’m sure there must have been a point in my young childhood when I had those typical dreams, they were long gone by the time I hit my mid-teens. I hadn’t ruled out the possibility of having husband and/or children completely. At some point, my mother and I had come to the agreement that I really didn’t need the husband to have the child. (In hindsight, I suspect my mother was hoping that I would remain a virgin until I got married and would never get married — thus allowing me to remain a virgin and making artificial insemination the only option for having children; I, on the other hand, was thinking “I don’t need to be married to have sex.”)

Another of the discussions revolved around my sexuality. As I’ve already mentioned, my mother hoped I’d be a virgin until I got married, a plan I fully supported until I was in my late teens and had realized that I really didn’t want to get married anytime soon. I’ve always considered myself to be heterosexual in terms of sexual attraction. Women in general do nothing for me sexually. However, I’ve always thought that I *could* be sexually attracted to a woman if I loved her. Love is a soul-to-soul, heart-to-heart thing that is non-gender-specific. I can remember trying to explain this to my mother when I was in my teens. I’m not sure what she truly thought of it — you tend to be really self-involved in your teenage years and everything is All About You — but she seemed to go along with it. From later conversations, I think she would have been typical of her generation, thinking that she’d failed as a parent if one of her children turned out to be gay. (I think it fell into the same category as committing a serious crime: “I’d love you no matter what, but I’d still turn you in and then visit you in prison.”)

Anyway, to make a long story slightly less long, NPR published an article on August 7th entitled ‘Late-Life Lesbians’ Reveal Fluidity Of Sexuality that reminded me of that last conversation with my mother — clearly I was way ahead of my time:

For many years, researchers assumed so-called “late-life lesbians” were simply repressed by society until they felt comfortable coming out. But that’s not entirely the case, says Lisa Diamond, a researcher at the University of Utah who is studying whether sexuality is fluid or fixed. Diamond has been studying a group of 79 women for 15 years to track changes in their sexuality.

“It does appear to be that women’s erotic desires are pretty tightly linked to their emotional feelings,” she tells NPR’s Guy Raz. “So for some of these women, they authentically did not feel attracted to women before they met one particular woman that they completely fell in love with.”

(The NPR page linked above also includes the radio broadcast of the story, which is more extensive than the written article.)

I’m pretty sure I’ve read personal stories from men who found themselves in similar circumstances, where they weren’t — and perhaps still aren’t in general — attracted to men until they met the man they fell in love with. Again, it’s about love, with sex just tagging along for the ride.

Pet Peeve #34,098

Facebook pages/applications that require you to “like” them before you can see the content, and the fact that this seems to be the new marketing trend.

Pet Peeve #34,099

Facebook pages/applications that require you to “like” them and spam your friends list (with no opt out option) before you can see the content.

Pet Peeve #34,100

Facebook friends who do #34,099.

A trip down memory lane

Funerals usually mean a lot of reminiscing as people share their fond memories of the deceased. My brother shared his eulogy with me last night — it was very heartfelt, though it’s funny that many of his reminiscences are not ones I would recognize. (We’re essentially different generations, my brother and I, despite only being 6 years apart in age.) It made me appreciate some other eulogies I’ve heard that I was less than charitable about — my memories are not your memories, but both are equally valid. (It’s a bit late to be learning that lesson, mind you, but better learned late than never learned at all.)

On the phone tonight, my father read me the cards people had left for the family at the funeral today. Most of them contained some shared memory or another. One of those cards had me scouring the Web for images of the Moo-Cow Creamer to spark my Dad’s memories. (It didn’t help — he still doesn’t remember this beloved bovine at all.)

What? You don’t remember the Moo-Cow Creamer? The Moo-Cow Creamer (I just love the flow of that name and the warm fuzzies it brings up) was a kitschy little cream dispenser (manufactured by Whirley Industries of Warren, PA) that you could buy in diners (either alone or as  “gift sets” with a sugar dispenser and/or combo salt and pepper shaker) during the 60s and 70s.

Moo-Cow Creamer with matching salt and pepper shaker and sugar dispenser Moo-Cow Creamer label

It was a cunning marketing plan by both Whirley and the diners who stocked the novelties. Unsuspecting families would stop at a roadside diner during a long car trip, their kids would see the coy little cow with the sign on her that urged “Moo-Cow Creamer For Sale – ask your waitress!“, and that would be it.

Click to visit collector-guy's Flickr photostream of his Moo-Cow Creamer collectionWe picked up our set when we travelled from BC to Nova Scotia in the summer of 1974. The salt and pepper shaker contraption and the sugar dispenser didn’t survive well — both tended to clump up in humidity and were a pain in the butt to clean; the plastic used to make them and mechanical parts weren’t nearly as sturdy as the plastic of the Moo-Cow Creamer itself and broke easily in the hands of energetic children. The Moo-Cow Creamer itself could survive the Apocalypse. Our set was the colours shown in the image posted above left, but apparently the colours and front label varied greatly depending on where you bought it.

The aunt who reminisced about the creamer in her sympathy card remembers my mother loving the creamer, though my aunt thought it was ugly. Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. I love this little Moo-Cow. It reminds me of times when we as a family were still living together in one place, times when I was still secure and carefree and bursting with life.

And it reminds me of my mother, because my mother loved the quaint and the kitschy.

The Great Canadian Novel

I used to be a writer.

Not just a technical writer, but a writer. With every fibre of my being, a Writer.

Of poetry. Of short stories. Of the Great Canadian Novel (perpetually in progress, of course).

I haven’t written poetry in almost 20 years. I thought on my way home from visiting my mother in June that if there was any time to write another poem, it was now. (My mother was my greatest and most devoted fan, as only a mother can be.) But I can’t seem to muster the inspiration to write a poem for my mother just yet. I’m still paused, and I can’t bring myself to write a poem right now knowing that she won’t be able to read it. Some day that will fade and I’ll be able to start. It might be next year or it might be next week. But not today.

So, instead, I’ve been thinking of other writing. I’ve had a number of novels under way for years — decades, even — that I always promised myself I would finish. I have a box full of old ideas, a writing program full of new ideas, a head full of ideas I haven’t even thought of yet…but I still never seem to actually do more than write a page or two, maybe a scene.

Part of the problem is good old procrastination. I start out with good intentions but then something else — everything else — becomes more important than what I should be doing. And I suddenly become narcoleptic, unable to stay awake for love or money (Mr. Procrastination’s version of a roofie.)

Part of the problem is that I am too critical of my own writing. I have problems writing a true rough draft because I keep trying to go back and edit what I’ve already written until it is perfect in my eyes. So much energy is wasted on that that I have little left for writing new words to copy-edit. And by the time I’m ready to move on, I’m so sick of the story that I just can’t stand to write any more and the story gets released into the wilds of my head to go rogue.

Still, I remain ever hopeful. And so I find myself thinking again of the 3-Day Novel Contest, a writing contest in which you attempt to write a novel over the Labour Day long weekend. I’ve taken part in the contest four times since 2005, but I’ve yet to have a complete (even a crappy-but-complete) novel to send in. (Who am I kidding? I haven’t written more than a half dozen pages for any of them, let alone a complete novel.) That doesn’t stop me from giving it as much of a try as Mr. P’s wily ways will allow me, though.

3-day novel contestI didn’t take part in last year’s contest because I was working, but I think I’d like to try it again this year. It’s mad, but it’s also fun in a really twisted kind of way. Most of the ideas I came up with for previous years are still calling out to me so perhaps I’ll pick one of them back up and start it over, give it a fresh shot at life. I think I might even know which one that will be.

I have until September 3 to decide whether or not to take part. Time enough to let the idea percolate for a bit. (Say, I can’t tempt any of you to join in, can I? Misery loves company. You’d have a great time.)