Thursday, November 30, 2006

Router issues

Hmmmm. Seems as though my wireless router has bit the dust. After trying all kinda things and making several tech support calls (2 to Verizon and 1 to Apple Care), I've given up on the darn thing and just plugged the ethernet cable into my Powerbook. Not that it really matters right now -- the computer is spending most of its time on the desk. At least I can get online.

Question now is, do I chuck the stupid router and get a new one? It's probably a rhetorical question since nobody fixes this stuff. Also my printer died. I only had it for about 3 years. My first printer lasted me for at least twice that, probably longer. I would still be using it except it's so old, nobody has the drivers for it any more. I hate how all computer stuff is so disposable.

New router, new printer. Not cause I want to, but because I need to. Ho ho ho. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

R.I.P. Sweetie

I realize that that might be a little misleading. No, Sweetie did not get flushed away. I just thought it would be appropriate to post a photo of her in a typical pose. She loved to drink out of the toilet. So there she is, doing what she loved.

After ten years of being a Splendid Cat, Sweetie developed kidney problems, as older cats often do. Fortunately it was not a long, protracted decline. Within about a week of my noticing that she was not eating very much and was acting kind of sad, her kidneys were in near total failure. I brought her to the vet, suspecting it might be a kidney-related problem, having been through it several years ago with another cat. A quick exam, a couple of blood tests, and within an hour we knew that her prognosis was grim. Rather than drag it out and make her remaining days miserable with misguided attempts to prolong her life, I told the vet to put her to sleep. He agreed with my decision.

Her funeral, if you could call it that, was like something out of a Stephen King novel. After leaving with vet with Sweetie wrapped in a blanket and stowed in a carton, I took her to my ex's (and my former) house for burial in the family plot. Actually it's a patch of brambly earth behind the old stone garage. It was 8 PM by this point and completely dark. So there we were, by the stark light of a bare bulb, digging a grave in the Pet Sematary. Quite funny, actually. A good way to end a sad day.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A thought from the subway

I'm wondering today if people behave the way they do totally in response to others around them? Not just reacting to someone who annoys you at work or bumps into you on the street. I mean, do we calibrate our behavior to elicit certain responses from others? It's obvious we all do this sometimes. A woman will act silly or sultry or do what's necessary to attract the attention of a guy she's interested in. Or a person in a relationship will do things or say things to please his or her partner. I'm talking only about adults here, not kids. People free of the need or desire to get the grownups approval or to torment their siblings.

We like to think that we "are who we are" and that it comes from the inside. But how much really does? It'd be interesting to be able to observe people when they're alone. Be the proverbial fly on the wall. See if the girly girl belches out loud, or the surly guy watches weepy movies. Guess I'll just have to wonder.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Out From Under

There are some signs, itty bitty though they are, that Things might actually be getting better. In my life, not necessarily the world. And as I said, itty bitty. Itty witty bitty. But hey, I'll take 'em as I find 'em. To quote Richard Farina, an old hipster from the 60s, been down so long it looks like up to me.

I don't really believe in fate, but I do believe in the the law of averages. Of the cosmic pendulum. Of how nature abhors a...well, besides a vacuum, a too-muchness of any one thing. And so, if you wait long enough, and struggle mightily enough, a long stretch of crappy life can in fact come to an end. Of course to counter that I also believe that certain people are blessed with -- not luck exactly, although it presents that way to the outside world -- a capacity to attract good things to them. I'm convinced it's pheromones. Some people have it in spades, some of us are running on empty.

But even for those of us who were at the back of the line when they were giving it out, life doesn't have to turn out to be one long unrelenting load of shit falling on our heads. We just have to work a lot harder for the good stuff. So maybe that means we value it more, I don't know.

So what are the itty bitty signs? Not important, except to me. But the upshot is, I'm feeling more optimistic about things today. Even though mostly nothing is different, I am. No, I was not in danger of doing damage to myself. I was not even angling for a Prozac prescription. I was just oh-yeah railing impotently against The Injustice Of It All. Today, I just don't care so much. My god...I'm almost happy!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Feeling a little buggy

So I finally got to the end of the Week From Hell. Hysterical (and not in a funny way) day Friday right down to the wire -- the 4:00 PM deadline. My stuff was done on time but this was a multi-person project and some others were not prompt. But I couldn't enjoy my Friday evening because I had to run out and go directly to see a freelance client and work there for 3 hours to meet their deadline. This morning I had a class, then went back to the freelance client to finish up. About an hour into it, I start feeling a little...well...not great. I keep working but after another hour or so I had to call it quits. I was feeling really crappy. Really fatigued, headachey, not quite nauseous but definitely queasy.

I told my client I had to go home. Sweet guy that he is (and I mean that), he was very concerned. He offered to give me cab fare. It was a bit of a walk to my car but I think the air helped. By the time I got home I felt a little better but more tired. I lay down on the sofa, put on the TV and fell asleep for about 3 hours. Can't tell if I'm really ill or if it's just my body's delayed reaction to several weeks of stress and overwork.

Whatever, I'm not moving tomorrow. Hell, I'm barely moving now. Yup, I think it's back to the sofa for me!

Friday, November 10, 2006

I've got those Second Draft Rewrite Blues

Sigh. It's been over three months since I had the reading of my play. It was the first draft; the reading was purely for the purpose of helping point out things that need to be fixed. And believe me there are plenty. But happily (very VERY happily) it's structurally sound. The basic plot framework is in good shape. The story as a whole works. The characters are basically sound.

The actors gave me lots of great feedback. They even found things in the characters I didn't know was there. How cool is that! That's what I love about theater. It's alive, it really is. You create these (hopefully) fully-formed characters and set them loose in a world and there's no telling what they'll do. They can surprise you. Seriously! There are times when I've tried to make a character do something and they absolutely did not want to. They'd resist and resist and I'd finally have to give up. Often I feel like I'm just following them around, eavesdropping. But anyway...

I've got my first draft. I've got lots and lots of notes. And I haven't been able to get started. Part of it has just been me digesting it. Letting it percolate. But then of course there's the whole thing of how overwhelming and daunting it is when I think about how much work there is to do. It took me five years to wrestle this thing to the page the first time around! I don't think it will take me nearly that long for this go-round. But even so, I look at it and I kind of, well, deflate. I know once I get started, how I look at it will change. (see my previous post about writing)

But then there's this goddam working for a living thing! When o when will the government realize it needs to subsidize its artists? Plenty of youse know exactly what I'm talking about. But in the meanwhile, we are forced to put our primary purpose on the back burner and spend all those precious hours at some other labor. And what is the result? The result it....

I've got those Second Draft Rewrite Blues!!!!!!!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Give me chocolate!!!!!

Today was a major chocolate day. Unfortunately, I didn't have any. The needle on my stress-o-meter was way, WAY off the scale. This whole week in fact. And last week. Difficult deadlines made even worse by the geometric growth of the amount of work needed to be completed by then. Then being tomorrow (Friday). And after tomorrow, there's another one next Wednesday. And in between there's a deadline on Sunday for a freelance project I managed to sandwich in there.

I did finally get my chocolate -- on my way home from the bus at 9:30, I stopped at the 7-11 and got a bar of dark 60% cocoa. But by that time I had kind of decompressed. It was good of course but not as necessary as it had been hours earlier. I think I'll take the rest to work with me tomorrow so I'll be equipped to handle anything.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

My Post-Election Pronouncement

Yessirreee, I'm feelin' pretty good about this election. When's the last time I've been able to say that? Not for quite some time, I can tell you! And on top of that, Rumsfeld's departure. It's good to be on the winning side once in a while. But it's not just the winning of course. It's that it offers the possibility of undoing some of the damage that's been done to the country and many other parts of the world in the past six years.

I'm not going to get into details or policy or anything like that. I just wanted to say that for the first time in a long time, I feel not quite so in peril. That's a very good thing.

Monday, November 06, 2006

My Pre-Election Pronouncement

First of all, I have to say THANK GOD FOR CALLER I.D. It has protected me from a non-stop barrage of last-minute (or in this case, last-week) electioneering and pleas and harrangues to vote for this guy or that guy. I absolutely intend to vote tomorrow. I'm adamant about voting. But I already know who I'm voting for and these folks aren't going to change my mind.

This is the first election in a long time that I feel hopeful about. I'm resisting the hype that says the Republicans are going down hard. I don't want to get my hopes up. But it's a major moment for sure. Their stranglehold on the government is about to loosen up. And the slow erosion of the checks and balances that has historically held those in power accountable will hopefully be stopped.

But that isn't what this is about either. I've been thinking recently, in light of the New Jersey State Supreme Court's decision about equal family rights for same-sex couples, that there are two kinds of legislation. The first is the kind that comes from visionary leaders who change the course of social interactions. The creation of Social Security. The TVA. The WPA. Civil rights laws. These were innovations. They induced changes that would not have happened on their own.

The other kind of legislation is the catch-up kind. The kind that simply codifies behavior and actions that have already been going on. Things that were initiated at the grass roots level by individuals agitating for change. That's what the whole same-sex marriage thing is. It's going to happen. It's a natural force like gravity or plate tectonics. And the best thing the government can do is fold it into the legal system as soon as possible. I know that won't happen. But (and here's where we get to my pronouncement) I'm telling you that within 10 years or so, it's going to be the rule rather than the exception.

And within 20 years, no one will be using gasoline in their cars any more. But that's a whole 'nother thing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Shop till you drop. Or not.

This is the Grand Gateway Mall, one of five malls at this intersection.

Okay, here's the deal about buying stuff in China. I know that everything we have here is made there. So naturally we would all think that everything must be really cheap there. Not so! The same rules that apply here apply there. With a few variations.

Here's a for-instance. Say you want a pair of Ralph Lauren jeans. Yeah, if you go to the factory outlets, you can get some insane deals. First problem is, it's a big freakin' country! There's factories in lots of places! Second problem is, which factory? The garment factories are contractors. The guys who ran up that last batch of Lauren jeans are now working on North Face parkas or Sears flannel shirts. And they don't put signs out front saying, "Now appearing...Ralph Lauren jeans!". So you have to know a guy. Now if you want socks, that's a no-brainer. Just go to Datong (aka "Sock City"). There's also a Tie City. But really, how many ties and socks can you own?

The same applies to leather goods, shoes, whatever. I was told by he who knows that if I wanted to go up north to like Harbin where the furriers are I could get a full-length mink or sable coat for, like, $300. But I was absolutely nowhere near Harbin, which is in Manchuria, which borders Russia. Also, considering the time of year and the weather, it would have looked rather odd for me to be sporting such a garment. But you get my point.'re looking for jeans. You go to the mall. You go to their version of The Gap or Old Navy or The Limited or Abercrombie & Fitch. Yes the prices are a little lower, but only by about 20-30%, which if you wait for a sale you can get here.

So now we come to the knockoff goods. The fake Fendi bags and the fake Vacheron Constantin watches. Things in this department are not what you'd expect either. There was this big enormous marketplace, kind of like a permanent street fair, where all the vendors of pseudo goods sold their stuff. It got closed down recently. Partly because of pressure from the real manufacturers, but mostly, I think, because the property just became too valuable to house a bunch of crappy little one-story stops. It all got torn down to make way for (what else?) a giant multi-use office tower/upscale shopping mall/5-star hotel/luxury condo units. But I digress.

Now in order to get the really high-quality knockoffs, you gotta know a guy. Fortunately, we did. The guy met us at his cousin's or his aunt's boutique. We went into the back, out the door, up the stairs into a private little showroom. I wanted a watch. No particular watch, just a nice-looking watch. I found one, an Omega Constellation. Not the real thing of course, but a nice looking watch. I thought I also might like a new wallet since mine is falling apart. I ended up with a "Gucci" wallet. Very nice but now that I have it home I don't like it. It doesn't work right for me. Same with the "Fendi" purse. It's too small and everything gets all jumbled up inside. So now what do I do? I can't sell them on eBay as genuine because they're not. I can't very well list them as phonies either. So I guess I'll just wait until somebody I know needs a gift. But at least I got a watch I like. Cost: about $30.

What else did I buy? Some truly kickass green tea. I got it at the tea market in Shanghai where Westerners rarely go. I also got a clever little tea maker. Total cost of tea and pot: about $12.

At a craft market I bought a very pretty shawl/scarf. Cost: about $4. And also a colorful wall-hangy thing. Another $4.

That's it, the extent of my purchases in the land of We Make Everything Cheaper.

Small digression

I just decided today that I hate my job. No, that's not really accurate. I don't hate the job itself, I just hate that it is keeping me from doing what I really need to be doing. And it's often very stressful and it drains me of all my brain juice. Sometimes by 3:00 it's gone. By the time I get home, I can't do anything creative. I can't think deep thoughts or write clever writings. I'm tired and downtrodden. At least I feel like I am. Something must be done.

But at least I have good health insurance.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More from China

This looks more like what everyone thinks China is supposed to look like, right? This is a party boat on I forget the name of the lake in the resort city of Hangzhou, about a 2-hour train ride from Shanghai. Compared to the grit and the hustle of Shanghai, this place was positively laid back and funky. Kind of felt like a Florida resort town but with no theme parks. And way less cheesy. Although the cheese factor was in evidence from time to time. But the lake is ringed by a beautiful public park with footpaths and oodles of restaurants and cafes. Our favorite one was called La Luna. Great place to sit in the evening and people watch. There were also dancing fountains (like those ones in Las Vegas, only in colors) and a light show across the lake. Very touristy, but still charming. of the things Shanghai lacked for me. Keep in mind that this is a very cosmopolitan city of upteen gazillion people. As a percentage of total population, Westerners were not that numerous but neither were they a rarity. There are plenty of American and European expats living and working there, plus a complement of travelers. Absolutely no feeling out of place. Just another body amidst masses of other bodies. I did go to a couple of areas where round-eyes congregate in the evenings, but as I was with someone who lives there, mostly I got the insider's view. Which was very cool. And since my companion is also American, I got the best of both views.

Food...some was very good, some was rather mediocre. I ate Chinese, I also ate Thai, Italian and Brazilian barbecue. (Told you it was an international city.) Had some crappy Chinese buffet breakfasts at my hotel, and had some decent American breakfasts at various cafes around town. Big surprise: I did not have a bad cup of coffee anywhere in China! No kiddin'! And forget Starbucks (which like everywhere else is on every other corner). I hate Starbucks coffee in any country. But at other cafes, at plain little restaurants, all the coffee was decent or better. They just LUV coffee! I also drank some superb tea (which I brought home). But I can't tell you how thrilled I was to hang out with a good cuppa Joe.

Next installment: What's good to buy. Where's good to drink. What's fun to do.