Stuff

I didn’t finish my Camp Nanowrimo thing. I just don’t do summer. (Though it’s been a pretty nice summer so far, but I still can’t seem to do anything serious in the summer months. Or even anything non-serious.)

I’ve been trying to get back into photography. I found an adorable old Brownie Holiday at an antique store, and am trying to decide whether I want to run some 35mm through it (which will involve cutting the film and using the dark bag and winding it into the cartridge by hand) or buying some 127 film online. The former option is cheaper, if time-consuming. Anyway, I’ve been slowly feeling the photo bug thing, maybe by the time autumn rolls around I’ll be in the mood to go out with a camera.

Writing: well, my story is still developing. One of my stories. Well, a couple. Three. In my head mostly. Sigh.

I’ve been trying to arrange my living space so it won’t look like I’m living in a pile of tote bags full of old bills. I am bringing my usual level of enthusiasm to this project. I expect I’ll be finished by next year, when I’ll have to get to work on the new pile of stuffed tote bags.

In the future, if I get around to it, I’ll put up some photos and maybe even a video or two. Variety! The stuff of life.

The “New” Luddite Movement, Or The Steam Train Stops Here

Let me come clean: I collect (in a modest way almost suited to my minuscule budget) “analog” writing instruments like fountain pens and typewriters. So I own a few, and even occasionally use them. And I’m not alone: there’s a growing community of people into non-digital writing devices. But you know what happens when a hobby becomes a trend. You know. People start thinking of themselves, not as participators in a pleasant pastime, but as a vanguard of a movement. In short, they get up themselves. I see more and more signs that the analog crowd is getting too big for their britches. For example, the so-called “anti-digital device” movement, with its attendant calls for “banning” and “forbidding” and bragging how much better one group is over the other. So despite my fondness for retro office equipment this is one bandwagon I can’t jump off from fast enough.

For example, there’s the thing I’m seeing about the “need” for places outside the home that don’t have wifi, so that people who go there will be unable to use their digital gadgets, and haha I’m here writing my Best-Selling Novel on an expensive pad of French paper with my $500 $3,387.95 fountain pen* so I’m Better Than You. I propose that this is ridiculous. I can also see the forces behind this, and they are for the most part well-off white people who can afford to coffee-shop-hop until they find the “right” one with the proper blend of the latest trends. But beware, coffee shop and cute little eatery owners! These trends always change, you will never be able to catch up, never satisfy the gaping void of need for novelty that drives these people.

So, there are places that are now proudly declaring their lack of wifi. I don’t think businesses should provide wifi if they don’t want to, but I’d like to know if they’ve thought this through sufficiently. Probably not: Western civilization doesn’t encourage introspection past a certain point, and that point would be one where you question your own motives. But it’s their business, and I’m all about letting people do whatever they want on their own dime. Unlike the smartened up little fascists that too many of the anti-digital people seem to be under their supposed concern for culture, or society, or whatever lie they’ve cooked up as an excuse this time. I’ve been around awhile, and I’ve heard it all: a favorite is this or that invention “causes us to be more isolated from each other”, never mind being on the internet or phone call means you’re in contact with other people.

I also find it telling that this sudden push towards places where digital devices are banned has risen just as it’s become clear that non-white and/or non-wealthy people have growing access to things like smartphones and computers. Oh, I’m sure it’s not intentional (it never is), but how odd in a day when “Black Twitter” is a talked about thing there are suddenly wifi-less establishments springing up here and there, not quite like mushrooms, but definitely like some sort of insidious growth.

So anyway, there are two things going on in this story: rude, inconsiderate customers, and the way our “capitalist” society constantly has to moralize sensible business decisions. It’s not enough that people were colonizing tables all day; the owners have to spout some bullshit about how “it’s not just about money” but how “people looking at their screens with a blank stare” aren’t participating in some sort of ersatz “community” that supposedly exists in a coffee house. Quite frankly I’d respect the owners of these places more if they’d just drop the Aunt Gladys and the 4-H Club “oh you can’t want to be by yourself!” act and just admit they were tired of people basically living in their establishment virtually rent-free. It’s rude to take up a table without a good reason, and your need to work on your Nanowrimo draft all day isn’t one of them.

But as I said, this isn’t really about the rudeness of others or the bad effects on society of people looking at a computer screen with a “blank stare” instead of participating in a “community.” If it was, they wouldn’t allow people to sit alone at a table and read a book or write on their precious paper pads. It certainly isn’t about noise, as part of this thing is people wanting to use typewriters in these places. (I can’t wait for the hilarious backlash against establishments full of people using typewriters. Those things are loud, even one is much louder than 1,000 laptop keyboards typing at once.) It’s all about showing off how you are a special snowflake that doesn’t need to “depend” on digital media, unlike those sheeple with their smart phones and computers who are talking to relatives thousands of miles away or working on their dissertations so they will be able to get a job and not be deported or just people kicking back and relaxing with Facebook after a hard day at work because what is to you what they’re doing as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else?

Inspiration for this post: this tweet by Sherman Alexie. Now I realize he is not white, and I apologize for making an example of him as his remarks aren’t the first time I came across this, but his choice of words is interesting: “forbid” and “outlaw” and “allow.” I don’t know what his damage is regarding digital devices in eateries, but I have certainly never heard of one that didn’t allow pencils and paper, at any time, ever. Maybe someone out there could enlighten me?

*Holy SHIT that is ridiculous. Also looks like a standard boring Lamy nib, which you can get attached to a Lamy pen that costs less than $30.00.

Possible first paragraph to my autobiography, “I Was Adopted By Lizard People”

“I’m taking out the air-conditioners,” my father announced one fine day. I like to think that he cleverly did this during one of South Florida’s few “cold” “winter” days, when temperatures and humidity levels were in the normal range of human tolerance, but knowing him he probably did it in August. His excuse, though, was special: “Air-conditioning is causing you girls to get too many colds.” This was in the mid-1970s in Miami, Florida. Not only was it normal for people to live in homes without air-conditioning back then, we also went to schools without air-conditioning. I didn’t go to a school with air-conditioned classrooms until I was in high school. Of course in my last year the air-conditioning, installed by a West German company that had gone bankrupt, broke for good, and we had to sit outside for most of our classes. The pursuit of cool air explains a lot, though not all, of my life’s trajectory.

An American In Europe Rather A Long Time Ago

So there’s this list/article thing in Buzzfeed: 35 Thing You Appreciate About America After Living In Europe. Needless to say, most of those things are either 1) actually in Europe (where did the author live, in a box under a railway platform?) or things I, a person who has lived in America for 51 years (my entire life) don’t give a shit about. It’s an odd article anyway — “Europe” means nothing, where did she live that there were none of the mod-cons like driers and convenience stores she’s lamenting? As a matter of fact, the thing about Solo cups, something I’ve only seen remarked upon by non-US people (they’re just another brand of disposable cups over here), makes me think she might just be full of shit and has been nowhere near Europe and gets all her info from reruns of Are You Being Served?

I went to Europe in 1981 on a three-week trip with my mother, and haven’t been back since, due to money mostly (believe it or not most Americans aren’t rich and can’t just hop across the pond on a whim). If I went back I’m sure I’d find a lot of changes (like I can go to all of Germany now, and Prague and Latvia and stuff). Here are some of my impressions of the differences between the parts of Europe I went to (England, Scotland, The Netherlands, Belgium, West Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, France) and the limited parts of the United States I’d visited (mostly Florida, where I lived, and North Carolina, where my grandparents lived half the year):

  1. It’s July and it’s freezing. (It was usually in the 50s during the day (10-15C) when we were there. I don’t know if that was normal for the time — a few years later my dad visited with his dad, in the summer also (no one in my family traveled in winter outside of Florida, also as my father was a teacher we couldn’t really go anywhere during the school year), and it was in the 80s (26-31C) and everyone, he reported, complained about the heat.
  2. Radiators. We have them in the US in old buildings, like the apartment I live in now. But at the time the only heating I’d experienced were the space heaters and gas fireplace we had in our (also rather old for South Florida) house, and modern central air.
  3. People open their windows when it’s “freezing” out. Only our Cuban neighbors did this at home year round. (In South Florida 40F is like the deepest winter freeze.)
  4. If you need drugs or sanitary pads you get them at an “apothecary” (In England anyway), which is a small drugstore. You ask for them at the counter.
  5. Acetaminophen is called paracetamol.
  6. Everything is upstairs or downstairs. (South Florida is very flat and most houses are one story.)
  7. The sun stays up forever. Especially in Scotland. (South Florida is nearer to the equator.)
  8. Newer houses have lots of gigantic windows. (At least in Florida in the late 70s, the only big windows in new homes where sliding glass doors in the back, and picture windows were still a thing. Most rooms had one window, rather small, due to needing to keep air-conditioning costs down.
  9. England is really that green.
  10. Things like public telephones have no instructions. We had to ask a passerby how to use one.
  11. Arabic graffiti all over London.
  12. Traffic is worse in Paris than in Miami, only in Miami it’s impossible to drive 90 miles per hour through the streets because of gridlock, so Paris wins.
  13. German campsites are hilarious: they looked like parking lots only for tents instead of cars. Or maybe my parents had always picked the wildest, most bear-and-raccoon infested parts of the southern US to camp in. They would.
  14. Food. Is. So. Good. Even that McDonald’s we went to in Cologne. (We had to try it. They served beer!) (Hey also this points out one huge lie of that Buzzfeed article: there was even fast food in Europe during the freaking Cold War.)
  15. Except for British food. British food was just like white people food in the US, except maybe not as much fried. At the railway stations they sold hardboiled egg sandwiches just like I used to make at home: one layer of thin-sliced hardboiled egg on buttered Wonder bread. In fact, the country that invented the sandwich didn’t seem to know how to make one: every attempt to eat a sandwich in the UK was a chastening example of what not to do if I wanted a fulfilling meal. I’m talking one paper-thin slice of ham.
  16. If you asked for a “hamburger” at an English diner you got what we call “Salisbury steak” (a breadless meat patty covered in gravy).
  17. I got so sick of “chips” that it was years before I was able to forgive the potato for existing. Every meal what is wrong with you people? (Later I decided the answer to that is “nothing”, potatoes are good enough for three times a day.)
  18. I hope to God the British have learned that you don’t have to boil every vegetable for an hour to make them palatable.
  19. We (or at least I) was saved while in the UK from starvation by the excellent Indian and Chinese restaurants they have over there. By the way, in the US Indian food is still considered a somewhat luxurious cuisine, so if you come over here expect to pay at least ten bucks for a “curry.”
  20. As the Latin@ cuisine I’d grown up eating was Cuban, not Mexican, I didn’t pine for tacos and such like 99.9% of all other Americans in Europe.
  21. Tea and coffee in Europe is way stronger than I and my mother were used to. At home she drank her coffee black. In Europe, she added cream.
  22. Cream in Europe. Cream desserts in Europe. Desserts in Europe. I gained twenty pounds in Europe.
  23. Missing the US: I didn’t want to go home but we were running out of money.