Ten thoughts on a Monday [4]

1

I’ve been playing HQ trivia. I actually won ~$6 one time. Finally, I can put all of my useless knowledge to use!

2

There are words that should never be used. No, I’m not talking about racial epithets. I mean words like vibes (its singular form is no less offensive). Any co-opting of a term from physics or mathematics for use predominantly in social media posts is offensive. Impactful is also terrible. Full of … impact? It would be okay to describe an impacted wisdom tooth this way, if you really wanted to. But anything else? Unacceptable. Any word that could go on this list or a future one like it is untouchable. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if Richard Dawkins would sound ridiculous using the term, then no one should use it. Higher standards: let’s at least attempt to have them.

3

It’s common in blogs with many followers to hedge any statement that may sound like a complaint with acknowledgements of privilege. This is absurd. (And this, folks, is why those blogs are popular and this one is not). Think of the full range of any individual’s experience as something that can be mapped onto anyone else’s full range. The worst thing that’s ever happened goes on one end, the best thing on the other end, and the in-between, in between. Now, do the conversion yourself. A rich person complaining about an outdated bathroom may sound petty, but if you perform the mapping properly, it may be the 184th worst thing that’s ever happened to them. Which may equate to your cat dying when you were seven. There. Now maybe you won’t need to deride them for having too easy a life. Think of it this way: the pain they experience from those passé sink fixtures is like what you felt when your mother told you that Fluffy got run over by the mailman.

4

My friend asked rhetorically “Why can’t we just live in a city where no one steals anything?” What a brilliant idea. Discussions in San Francisco about housing seem to have the default premise that it is a bad thing if people are priced out of the housing market. But is it so bad?* Here’s something I’m pretty sure of: if someone has the income to pay $3500 a month to rent a luxury condominium, they won’t be interested in stealing my bike or mugging me. Here’s something else I think is true: people who commit crime usually do not commute to do so — they target others in their own neighborhood or close by. That’s not to say that everyone who is too poor to afford market rate rent in SF is likely to commit quality of life crimes: just that those who can afford it are unlikely to.

5

This NYT recipe for black bean soup is perfect for coldish weather. N says he never expected beans to be that delicious. I would share a picture, but it looks like poo.

6

Food blogs with recipes are making a mistake. This is how each post should look. First, one attractive picture of the finished product. Then, the list of ingredients. Then, the instructions. After those, then and only then, should there be any long-winded stories about grandma or how much you love beans. Or any of the dozen unnecessary but beautifully lit pictures of your stand mixer at work. I’ve stopped bothering with food blogs because they put the fluff first and I have to scroll to see the ingredients list and directions. Scroll for a really really really long time.

7

I read an article about lonely death in Japan and it made me wonder what Japan will look like in 50 years. 100 years. Besides the minor issue with population decline, gender imbalance problems, and the Japanese government’s refusal to recognize and atone for past atrocities, Japan is pretty much the ideal society. Unfortunately, it seems that countries our president would call shitholes are the ones with higher birth rates. Not sure what that word encompasses for President Trump, but I imagine it’s some combination of corruption, poverty, illiteracy, and a general inability of most of its citizens to find a decent living. It’s a sad fact that countries like that are the ones with the highest birth rates. It’s almost like foreign aid and charity are preventing evolution from doing its work. Bonus word of the day for lonely death: kodokushi.

8

The best response is no response. I mean, if you’re a famous person and there’s some scandal. Apologies, denials, acknowledgements: they all seem to backfire. There’s no response that sounds good or makes a person look good. If there’s no response, well, maybe the person is too busy and the rumors are too petty.

9

Microgoals are interesting and maybe worth trying. Anything to trick myself into being more productive! I have found that just having a to-do list helps with my own productivity. And that getting started on something (even something unrelated to the larger goal) gives me momentum that makes work on the goal more likely. I feel a little silly, but I have to start somewhere. Motivation has always been a problem for me.

10

When a single day of market fluctuations makes a bigger difference in your net worth than what you earn at your job in a month how do you stay motivated to work at all? Asking for a friend. 😉

* We would have to make sure the homeless aren’t allowed within city limits as well.

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Los Angeles

We went to LA because 3 day weekend. That picture is saying goodbye to our house from the plane. Why LA? N has lived here in California for several years and people were shocked when he admitted he had never been to LA. To be fair, it’s not much of an N place. However, there are plenty of Asians and therefore, restaurants worth visiting. So we went.

We ate at both Tsujita and Tsujita Annex on our first night. Can you tell which one the pic is from? If you look closely at the broth, you can see globules or bits of something. At first, I thought it was garlic. But it’s not. It’s fat. Delectable globules of pork fat.

The car rental agent asked “Would you like a free upgrade to something larger?” N said “No, small is great!” A good thing, too. Because our small car was this beetle. From Texas. Imagine driving up and down highway 1 in this car to visit postcard-perfect beaches. Like this one:

In LA there are some parking… issues. Permit only, paid public lots everywhere, traffic jams to get in and out of these lots… But driving further north or south gets you to nearly empty beaches. After beaching and reading Call Me by Your Name, lunch the second day was at Galbi House.

All you can eat Korean bbq. Don’t be scared by reviews saying the quality of meat is better elsewhere. You won’t be able to taste the difference. You will be grilling the bejeezus out of the meat and all you will taste is charred umami plus marinades and/or dipping sauces. Which were perfect.

The next day we went to Greystone Mansion, and the drive through Beverly Hills was the grand tour of McMansions. I was surprised: I thought the inhabitants would be rich enough to hire real architects. The land use at Greystone followed the pattern of wealthy people everywhere: inefficient, but private.

See that? It’s the private driveway — land that’s otherwise unused. We saw a 5 year old girl (not pictured) in what appeared to be a wedding dress, having a photoshoot on the grounds. Must be an LA thing.

Speaking of McMansions, here is one we found walking along the pedestrian path at Manhattan Beach:

The phrase that went through my head when I saw this was “Italianate horror.” The distressing/splotchiness of the paint was done this way on purpose to make it look old. Also love how it’s built out to within a foot of its property line and has stubby decorative columns everywhere. I have to thank Kate Wagner for the existence of McMansion Hell, which has introduced to me one of the premiere pleasures of life: gawping at McMansions and saying “What the hell…”

This next house I thought looked sweet, but I wanted to ask if it was lost. Recall, this isn’t in San Francisco. It’s beachfront property:

3 roofs, 2 balcony railings, 4 types of windows, stick-on flower details. But still adorable.

Lunch that day was at a Persian restaurant. Apparently, there is a sizable Persian community in Los Angeles dating back to the 1979 revolution. They call it Tehrangeles? We’re big fans of Persian food, and this was better than anything we’ve had in the bay area.

On our last day, we finally did something touristy and went to see the walk of fame. Neither of us recognized very many names, but we did find Ben and Jerry’s carnival promoting a new product:

That plus donut for breakfast made me feel ill. That’s about all for this trip report. I’ll leave you with a nice beach photo that reminds me of that old show “The OC” (which I used to love):

Urgency vs importance

A cruel fact of life is that our most urgent tasks are seldom the most important or meaningful. Some things that need to be done right away (or at least this week) are the dishes, the laundry, the grocery shopping, taking out the garbage, and you know, work.

But those things aren’t important in the final measure of someone’s life. They just have the clearest deadlines and the most obvious consequences when neglected.

On the other hand, suppose that someone aspires to be a writer. An average person with a day job and all the ordinary tasks of life to attend to. What consequence is there if they don’t get around to reading today? If they don’t write a single sentence this month? None. They can go on their entire lives going to work, coming home, cooking dinner, washing the dishes, zoning out on Candy Crush, going to bed, repeating the process.

There is more and more evidence that creativity is born of boredom. That we need time with zero obligations to cultivate our own ability to think and observe, rather than just absorb the internet and its cat memes.

The only way I can think of to mitigate the fallout of this inverse relationship between important and urgent tasks is the following:

  1. Figure out your most productive time of day
  2. Use at least an hour of that window every day for something important to you

This is how I passed my quals.

Now. If you have trouble even identifying things that are important, that’s a bigger issue. But still use that hour a day to be bored. Eventually it will point you in the right direction.

The best thing I’ve ever learned

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Must lists of advice from the dying all be trite? Some mishmash of “tell people you love them,” and “buy experiences, not things” and “don’t concentrate on petty things like cellulite” and “eat the cake” and some “do things for others” sprinkled in there for good measure.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not currently dying. But I can share with you the best thing I’ve ever learned. Realized. There’s a story. In 6th grade social studies, we had to do projects and present in front of the class. I watched the other students present, each of them a jumble of nerves, fumbling over their own insecurities. I watched the students in the audience. No one was paying attention to the speaker. Every last one of them had their own matters to fret about. Their own upcoming presentations, homework they need to finish for the next class, or just daydreams. I learned something liberating that day:

No one is paying attention to you.

No one cares enough to judge what you’re doing. They have their own concerns. Now you know. You don’t have to filter everything you say and do through questions like “but what will people think of me?” They aren’t thinking of you at all. Every detail you’re perfecting will register as a millisecond blip on most radars. If that.

Small caveat: a handful of people over your lifetime are paying attention. They’re paying rapt attention and every word you utter, every stray expression on your face, every imagined intention is a scrap for the starving. They can’t put it down, they can’t stop wanting more, and they will remember everything you say and do.  If you write a single word, a throwaway “hello” on a stained napkin, they will keep it forever in a box under their bed. But don’t worry, to such a person, you walk on water. With their attention they’re saying “I worship you.” This is an entirely different matter. If there is a way to gently make it clear to such a person that you can’t reciprocate without crushing them, please teach me. It’ll make the top 10 list of best things I’ve ever learned. For sure.

In all cases, don’t worry about being judged. Mostly, they’re regular people wrapped up in their own lives. They don’t see you at all. If you meet a supplicant, just try and be kind.

Resolutions

New year resolutions are like goals. Depressing. I like Barack Obama’s opinion on them: that he’d rather evaluate daily whether he’s going in the right direction. Not once a year. Still, here we are. I have a word of the year (a concept I saw first in a Mormon family blog). I have assorted resolutions. I also have a small rant on why goals and resolutions are depressing. Let’s begin.

Word

My word of 2018 is vagheggiar. Funny that I should choose a word in a language I don’t speak. A word I can’t pronounce. And one that I only vaguely know the meaning of (and only through googling and google translating). Why? Google translate tells me it means “contemplate with joy.” But it also suggests that I translate it from Corsican. In which case it means “wandering.” This word. I figure, if I can live my life and not feel that everything was forgettable at best and a waste of time at worst, that would be something. I have never considered time that spent contemplating with joy (or wandering) to be either forgettable or a waste.

Resolutions

Discount first impressions. Mine are rarely accurate. My imagination fills in blanks that aren’t there. Mostly to ascribe positive attributes to beautiful people and assign fault to unattractive ones. This is… one of my biggest failings.

Play Liebestraum like Lang Lang. At least give it a serious go and practice daily.

Pay more attention to finances. My frivolous expenditures are so frivolous. I own a killer whale shaped paperweight named “Mumu” and I have neither papers to weight, nor wind in my house, nor a desk. I own every kitchen thing known to man. And I’m not sure that benign neglect is the best investment strategy. Nor, I’m sure, is letting money pile up in checking and being periodically shocked that I have that many dollars in checking and that many checking accounts.

Learn how to write. Engrosser’s script is what I’m starting with. I need to spend a lot more time with spacing and regularity of single strokes and letters before I can move on to actual words. See above. Looks ok when I’m following the lesson, but quickly falls apart when I attempt to write my word.

Rant

The reason I find goals and resolutions depressing is that they remind me of how limited I am as an individual. If I could not fail, I would have goals like “Never spend another second waiting. Not in line, not on hold, not for a response, not for a bus, not in traffic. Not even at a red light. Never again.” Or “Create a secret social club with a Pac Heights mansion as headquarters and have only interesting people as members.” I would have many other grandiose, unprintable goals.

 

Over the holidays…

We didn’t go anywhere. N tells me working is more productive when no one is in office. I believe it. What did I do? Some baking. Peppermint sandwich cookies were a hit, but the optimal amount of frosting for looks and for eating are different. The former is about 2x the latter. These are pretty but too sweet.

We had some friends over for the traditional French Christmas Eve dinner. You know, 6+ courses, lasts all night, feels like your stomach will rupture at the end? It started with canapés on crap toast, which seems strange, given how snobby the French usually are about bread. I made the NYT lamb tagine, but disliked the sour note from the apricots.

(Do you like the La Boulange plates? Wish I had found some bowls too..)

Here’s our cheese course. One of them is called tarentaise, but I mistakenly called it “tartinaise” at the Cheese Board and asked if it was for slathering on bread.

Not pictured: 3 desserts. Chocolate lava cake, strawberry/blueberry tarts and a fluffy Korean style cake brought by a guest.

These are our gifts. One Muji shirt each and some assorted stocking stuffers. Like pocket notebooks and hair elastics. Nothing fancy. You know me. The real haul comes from the after-Christmas sales.

In the quiet week when everyone goes to their real home (no one’s from San Francisco, she says, except maybe her) we went to watch Call me by your name.

Um. Stunning. Left me speechless and still feeling it a week later. If you see one movie this year, let it be this one. It’s the best of both worlds between French and American film. It’s an ideal enough setting with interesting people (and, an actual plot) that it could be an American film. But it’s also realistic enough, thoughtful enough, emotional enough that it could be French. No, I take it back. It can’t be French. It doesn’t end at a random point in the story. Let’s just say that now I know what most French films are aiming for. I don’t think anyone ever said the word “gay” during the movie*. Not once. Sexuality should be on a case by case basis, shouldn’t it? Aren’t we all asexual when it comes to some 70%+ of the population?

*edit: not true. There was one conversation about gay dinner guests where the son, Elio was making fun of them and the dad demanded to know why he was acting that way: “Is it because they’re gay? Or because they’re ridiculous?”

Ten thoughts on a Monday [3]

one

This was the sky and city hall as Ed Lee lay in state. Maybe this was the day he was moved. Northbound Van Ness was closed for a while, causing quite a traffic snarl. I’ve seen it before: someone important dies and to honor him, the masses suffer in traffic. Say it with me, there’s got to be a better way!

two

The holiday season has me saddened that fois gras is banned in California again. I’m surprised because there’s a growing French population in the Bay Area and banning foie gras is culturally insensitive to them. Would we ever ban the sale of halal meat? Halal slaughter is arguably more cruel than gavage, but since Islam is a religion and fois gras is not, I guess California sees fit to ban one but not the other. Maybe the answer is to make a religion that has foie gras as a ritual food item.

three

People acquire a certain hardness when they’ve faced challenges in life. Especially chronic problems like abusive parents, hunger, unstable housing situations, poverty, etc. It isn’t their fault, but I’ve noticed that the hardness makes them less pleasant and terrible conversationalists. They do too much posturing to influence how others see them, and frankly, it’s dull. The people I find most dear have lived sheltered lives, laugh easily, trust willingly, and say things like:

It’s so bad being homeless in winter. They should go somewhere warm like the Caribbean where they can eat fresh fish all day.
Lady Victoria Hervey

four

Notebooks marketed towards women too often have silly “inspirational” sayings on them. But if a man were using a notebook that had “Follow your dreams” stamped on it in swirly gold foil, wouldn’t you find it silly? Is it that designers think women are silly, or is it that we actually are silly? Oh, maybe designers are silly.

five

I found a note I wrote to myself last time I was drunk.

When drunk you will forget everything. How to spell. Your own name. How to stand up on your own two legs. But you won’t forget that you need to floss.

It appears I have some strange obsession with flossing.

six

I would love to find a way to give compliments to a person without them thinking I’m flirting. Or, more generally, a way to be nice to a person (give them attention, ask them to events with me, offer them baked goods) without them thinking I have ulterior motives. I blame the skewed values system of our society. The way we talk about sexual relationships as something more than “just friendship”. For example, I have friends with lovely eyes, the cutest giggle, great fashion sense, amazing hair, and I can’t admit I think these things without it sounding like I’m flirting or like I want “something more” when I don’t. I suppose I could go back to when I didn’t realize everyone thought I was flirting. But that era had its own problems. Like people who I considered friends kissing me out of nowhere (or so I thought).

seven

I never heard of Sam Altman until yesterday when I read his blog post , which appears to imply that if we shame people for having views like “gays are evil and deserve to die” then we create an environment that is bad for innovation. Most in my friend group agreed that this was a poor argument without much evidence to support it. But one friend started spewing terms like “online lynch mob” and “thought crime” and “liberal bubble”. It was ironic to see how quickly someone who thinks of himself as a supporter of open discussion, disagreement and innovative thought sought to shut down and dismiss arguments from those who disagree with him.

eight

I have a thing for Muji. I almost got hauled in for additional questioning at Denpasar airport for refusing to give up the Muji forks I was trying to get through security. Aren’t they beautiful? I wonder what it says about a person when they buy themselves flatware for Christmas. Never mind, no I don’t: it’s probably nothing good.

nine

This snowman is visiting SFMOMA for the holiday season. I didn’t grow up somewhere snowy. So I had winter fantasies about snow based on movies. Sledding, snowmen, ice skating, magic. I am assured isn’t like that for people who actually live in it for months at a time, but to me, snow is still magic.

ten

A friend of mine asked how I lost “all that weight” and I was reminded again of how little our perceptions of ourselves line up with how others perceive us. I thought my clothes fit better, sure, but I didn’t think my weight loss would be noticeable to others. The best resource for information about lasting weight loss is Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Obesity Code. He addresses why low-fat diets don’t work, why most diets fail, and gets into the science behind what causes weight gain and why it is so much easier to gain than lose weight, especially with traditional dieting advice. But don’t take my word for it — there are about 1000 5-star reviews on Amazon and the book is an easy read: see what you think.