Monday, July 29, 2013

Writing Advice I’m Not Going to Take

When you’re a writer, people everywhere just fall all over themselves to give you advice (like, “Have you considered another career?” Ha ha ha). Not all of this advice is bad. Some of it is fucking great. But alas, some of it is terrible. Such as:

You must write every day.

You heard ‘em. That’s every single day – seven days a week, 365 days a year. Is it your birthday? Is it a major holiday in your religion, or a day when your religion proscribes any kind of work? Are you sick, hung over, tired, busy, comatose or in labor? Have your hands been recently amputated? Stop making excuses. Real writers write every day, no matter what.

Write in public.

Oh sure, that might be fine for you, Mr. Male Privilege. I’m not sure how writing in public is supposed to help, because I’m a woman, and when a woman writes, reads, grades papers, or engages in any kind of activity that is clearly requiring all of her concentration in public, she might as well be wearing a big Styrofoam hat that says “Hit on Me!” because that is what every other man who sees her will do.

You should only read culturally significant works of literature.

Because god forbid, if you picked up a Stephen King novel, you might learn to write books that people will actually read.

Exercise your other creative muscles – learn to paint, draw or play an instrument!

Excuse me, O Giver of Shitty Advice, did you notice how long it took me to learn to write? We’re talking years here. Add to that all the high-brow reading I’m supposed to be doing to learn how to write in a manner that I can be truly pretentious about, and the fact that I work on paid writing assignments 40-plus hours a week in addition to doing “my own” writing, and that I have a social life – how am I supposed to find time to master the guitar? Fuck off.

Don’t air your dirty laundry because you might hurt someone.

Spoken like someone who spends a lot of time hurting others and doesn’t want it to come back on him in any way. I’ll write about whatever I want to write about and if anyone doesn’t like it, then they shouldn’t have been an asshole.

But, be honest! Don’t worry about what other people think!

Wait, what?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fun Friday Facts #80: Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic eruptions are measured using the Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI, which was developed in 1982 by Stephen Self of the University of Hawaii and Chris Newhall of the US Geological Survey. The scale generally runs from 0 to 8, with 0 being a non-explosive eruption and 8 being the biggest eruptions in history. I get the impression there could be bigger eruptions than that, but we might be too dead to measure them.


I’m not even joking. The last VEI 8 eruption was the Oruanui eruption, which happened 26,500 years ago, and created Lake Taupo, the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand (with a surface area of 238 square miles or 616 square kilometers). The last one before that was the Toba event, which occurred between 69,000 and 77,000 years ago and is believed to have caused a volcanic winter up to 10 years long and 1,000 years of global climate change. It has also been linked to a genetic bottleneck in human evolution, which occurred about 70,000 years ago when the human population of the entire world dwindled to between 3,000 and 15,000 people. This could explain why there’s so little genetic diversity among humans today. Or, you know, it could all be bullshit. Those scientists, always kiddin’ around.

The Krakatoa eruption of 1883 was a VEI 6, and emitted six cubic miles (25 cubic kilometers) of...ashes and stuff. In case you’re not familiar with that one, it’s the one that blew up a whole island in Indonesia. Oh, wait, I just checked Wikipedia and it turns out it was only two-thirds of the island. That’s another thing my mother lied about.

The eruption killed 36,417 people (that seems like an awfully specific number, don’t you think?) and was heard 3,000 miles (4,800 km) away. Also, it was before cameras were invented, but not to worry, there was a sketch artist on the scene:


My mother also used to talk a lot about the Mount Saint Helens eruption of May 1980, which is odd because she wasn’t there, and also I’m starting to think my mother has an unhealthy obsession with things that explode. A 5 on the VEI scale, Mount Saint Helens had lain dormant for more than 100 years before a late March earthquake caused it to start venting steam. By late April, the mountain had “grown into a bloated, trembling blister of rock and magma” in the fascinatingly grotesque words of an unnamed Discovery News writer. Shit, I hope they’re paying you well, kid.

When “the blister popped” on 18 May 1980, the entire north face of the mountain collapsed into what would be the largest avalanche of debris in recorded history. The pyroclastic flow would flatten everything within 230 square miles (600 square km). Ash spewed forth from the volcano for over nine hours, reaching a heights of up to 16 miles (27 km) and raining down as far east as Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


The explosion of Huaynaputina (don’t ask me how to pronounce that) in Peru in 1600 sent lahars (volcanic mudflows) 75 miles (120 km) away into the Pacific Ocean and may have caused some of the coldest global temperatures in 500 years. In fact, this VEI 6 explosion may have been responsible for the Russian famine of 1601-1603 that saw the ouster of the reigning Tsar. What we do know is that the sketch artist on this scene really should have been fired:

WTF is this? Where's the kablooie?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Wasn’t the Only Kid Who Was Scared of E.T.

Today I was asked to write a piece about unintentional horror movies. You know – movies, usually aimed at children, which were meant to be funny or cute, but got lost in translation and wound up fucking horrifying instead. There was only one I could think of.

Image credit: Juancho20002000

That’s not true. There were several I could think of – Labyrinth, for example, or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or The Wizard of Oz, or Beetlejuice, which probably wasn’t for kids, not to mention that one Winnie the Pooh where he eats the bad honey and the heffalumps come for him.

But those weren’t so bad. Even adults could see why Labyrinth is scary, for example; I mean, it’s David Bowie for Chrissakes, and as if that weren’t bad enough, at one point some of those goblins actually pull their own heads off. Also, a kid gets kidnapped. That’s the exact thing they were always warning us about. Eep.

No, E.T. the Extraterrestrial was the one film that scared me so badly I had nightmares for years. The worst part was, everyone kept gushing about how good it was and it won heaps of awards, so all the grownups insisted on watching it over and over, even as I cowered in fear.

“What’s the matter?” they’d say (as if it weren’t fucking obvious). “Don’t be afraid!” they’d say. “He’s a friendly alien!” they’d say.

My ass. There are no friendly aliens. Well, Superman, but that’s it. Look at the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind – they kidnapped people and held them captive for decades. You can’t tell me that’s an act of peace. That’s what they want you to think.

This guy is in cahoots with them.
Image credit: Romain Dubois

As my friend Page pointed out on my Facebook today, E.T. “looked like a dog turd that talked.” And he turned white like a dog turd too. WTF was up with that? I’m pretty sure if Elliot hadn’t gotten E.T. back to his home planet in time, he would have pupated or something. Then we would’ve been fucked. I mean, if he was so harmless, then why did all those government guys need hazmat suits and rifles? Oh yeah, they replaced the rifles with walkie-talkies in the 20th anniversary re-release, but I was there in the 80s, you guys, I REMEMBER THE RIFLES. I am certain he used that red laser-finger to steal kidneys. Certain.

So, about the nightmares. For years, as a child, I was plagued by nightmares that I was trapped in a supermarket at night, and E.T. was chasing me, making that weird little grunting sound he makes. He was a lot more agile in my dreams than he is in the film. In order to escape, I’d have to make it to the candy aisle, find the Reese’s Pieces, and fling them at the monster. Only then would he leave me alone, to go after the candy.

I didn’t eat Reese’s Pieces as a kid. I still don’t eat them today.


Monday, July 22, 2013

I Really Regret My Tattoo

A Mother Life

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of enough tattoos must eventually regret one of them.

I have several tattoos, and managed to escape regretting them for a number of years. I’m particularly proud of that because I got my first couple of tattoos at 14, an age when, by all rights, I should have ended up letting some drunken 16-year-old etch a crudely drawn dick onto the small of my back with a safety pin and some Indian ink. He would, of course, have told me was a kitten.

But because I had parental consent, I got to go to an actual tattooist and ended up with some pretty good tattoos – even though I only got the one to piss off a chick at school who slept with (or, in retrospect, probably just claimed she slept with) a guy I liked, and the other one, well, I can’t remember why I got that one at all.

Why did I get this emblazoned on my flesh for the rest of my life? Who knows? Who cares? Not me!

Later in life, I got some more tattoos I really ought to regret, like that one of a pool shark that looks a bit  like Jabberjaw, but I kind of like that about it, because the whole point of being a pool shark is that nobody can tell you’re a pool shark.

Also, it's clearly female. You can tell from the eyelashes.

I’m also not real clear on why I got a tattoo of my high school mascot. On the one hand, high school crushed my will to live. On the other hand, my high school mascot was a buccaneer, which is a fancy word for pirate, so now everyone thinks I’m some kind of badass with an awesome pirate tattoo. Okay, honestly, I just wanted an excuse to get a pirate tattoo, but I secretly feel like a dork because the pirate in question is my high school mascot.

My high school mascot carries a knife in its teeth, though, that's pretty rad.
But the one tattoo that I really regret is this one:

It says, “Mountaineers are always free,” in Latin. It’s the West Virginia state motto, which we adopted to reflect our desire to become a free state and remain with the Union when we separated from Virginia in the midst of the Civil War. I got it when I was living in France and I didn’t think I’d ever move back to West Virginia.

I didn’t start regretting the tattoo until after I returned to the U.S., because French is a Latinate language so most French speakers can puzzle it out for themselves. But now that I’m back in the States, I can’t go any fuckin’ where without some rando asking me, “What does your tattoo mean?” 

And no, I don't mean native West Virginians; they never ask because they already know what it means. So I can’t just tell the rando what it means and leave it at that; I have to also explain why I got the tattoo, which leads them to all kinds of insulting conclusions about my genealogy, level of educational attainment and general intellect.  

So now whenever anyone asks, I just say, “It means, ‘Ask me about my tattoo.’”                                       

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fun Friday Facts #79: Fireworks Edition

I think fireworks are a fitting topic for this week’s Fun Friday Facts, since it’s the fifth of July and some of you are still hospitalized with blown-off fingers. Explosives and alcohol don’t mix, kids.

Seriously, though, in 2012 over 5,000 American found themselves in emergency rooms between June 22 and July 22, seeking treatment for fireworks-related injuries, mostly burns to the face, hands or head. At least one-fifth of those injuries were due to misuse of bottle rockets (ouch) and sparklers (keep that away from your face, Johnny). Fireworks also caused about 17,800 fires that did about $32 million in property damage. I suddenly don’t feel so bad about not liking them very much.

Legend has it that fireworks originated in China. I say “legend” because the Internet doesn’t seem to be sure whether that happened in the 7th, 8th, 9th or 10th centuries, and one website even goes so far as to admit that fireworks may have been invented in ancient India or Arabia, where lots of inventing was going on back in the day. Gunpowder was invented in the 9th century, by alchemists looking for a path to immortality. Gunpowder is a key ingredient in fireworks, so let’s go with that. Their earliest use was presumably to scare away evil spirits.

Everything they did back then was to scare away evil spirits.

Fireworks came to Europe in the 14th century, with Marco Polo according to legend, but more likely as a result of commerce along the Silk Road. In the 15th century Italy became the center of European fireworks manufacture, and fireworks became a regular part of most celebrations, although not as integral as they are today. Figures that spewed fireworks, such as fire-breathing dragons, became a common part of celebrations.

In the 18th century, fireworks became far more elaborate and large displays became common, especially among royals like Louis XV and Czar Peter the Great, who used a five-hour fireworks display to celebrate the birth of his son. Common people also used fireworks to celebrate things they liked, especially in the American colonies, which explains our almost hereditary national obsession with blowing things up.

We get it from the British.

It was the Italians who, in the 1830s, figured out that adding trace amounts of metals and minerals to the gunpowder in fireworks makes pretty colors. Sodium makes them yellow; copper, blue; barium, green; strontium, red; and calcium, orange. Gold and silver might even be added for long, trailing lines that reach almost to the earth; titanium is used for sparkles and magnesium perchlorate for loud, bangs and crackles.

Pink remains a mystery.
Image credit: Kurume Shimin

Fireworks manufacturers form these chemical compounds into little pellets called stars, and arrange the starts in patterns inside the firework casing to create patterns. When the firework explodes, the pattern appears in the sky. The first pattern fireworks were used in Washington, DC to greet troops returning from the First Gulf War in the early 1990s.]

These are hearts. I think they look a little lumpy.
Image credit: Rama

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Should You Give Your Partner Your Passwords?

Some time ago now, I was watching the Today Show one morning, because I am a glutton for punishment, and some blowhard came on and started lecturing us about how, in a good relationship, we should share our email, social media, cell phone and presumably online banking passwords with our partner because, “If you’re trustworthy, you have nothing to hide.”

Right, that’s what the NSA said. How about, if I’m so trustworthy, then you trust me.

A few minutes later, the same guy told America that we no longer need to wear socks with our closed-toed dress shoes, so that just goes to show you how well-thought-out his opinions are.

Socks are not optional, America. Don't even try it.
Image credit: Loran Davis

In an unprecedented move, I took to the Internets to see what other people thought before blurting out my half-educated opinions here on the blog. I thought this would be a good idea because I have, according to an ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, “a negative attitude about relationships,” for reasons that remain mysterious.

My search turned up a Pew study that found that one in three teens share their online passwords with their boyfriends, girlfriends, or (in the case of the forever alone) besties. According to a New York Times article on the matter, teens take password-sharing as a sign of trust and intimacy.

Yeah, but those are teens, and teens are…not renowned for their ability to think things through. What do full-grown adults think of the matter?

An informal survey of ten of my Facebook friends and one of my Twitter followers revealed that the majority of full-grown adults think that sharing your online passwords with your partner compromises your own personal space and privacy, which you, as a distinct and separate individual, need and deserve. No one actually said that; that’s just the impression I got from reading all of their remarks.

Don’t get me wrong, some of those people did come out on the side of full password disclosure. One friend, Eileen Dover, said, “My wife knows my passwords because its always the same and I know hers because I set them up! We don’t have secrets and have never used them to spy on one another.”

Another friend, Constance Noring, wrote, “Snoop all you want. Just be prepared for what you find. On that note, my husband and I both know each others passwords. It’s not a trust thing but a respect thing as well.” I’m not sure I understand that, because I kind of feel like, if someone respects me, they’ll respect my right to privacy, but whatevs, it’s not my husband.

I will say that the general rule of thumb, as I understand it, about snooping on your partner is that you will be guaranteed to find something you don’t like, either because a) you realize, either consciously or not, that there are problems in the relationship, and you’re snooping because you’ve decided, either consciously or not, to find the evidence you need to confirm your suspicions; or b) you’re some kind of paranoid jealous wingnut who’s going to overanalyze and misinterpret whatever you find, even in the absence of any legitimate evidence of wrongdoing.

Several people said, as Facebook friend Leigh King put it, “You shouldn’t want to know your spouses passwords and they shouldn’t care if you know it.” So that would be a “no,” then, I think.

The Twitter follower, @youresuchamom, said, “If you’re doing something wrong it’s likely on another account anyhow. I let hubs have his privacy.” Well, I guess that’s logical.

Christina Majaski, whose real name I’m going to go ahead and use here because everybody already knows who she is, said, “I think not sharing passwords exhibits more trust than sharing them. I am definitely going to wonder if the person I’m with suddenly thinks he needs that information. Granted, because of tech issues and other things, couples may accidentally just know each other’s passwords, but if you think you are entitled to this information, ask me for it, expect it, or think I need to prove something to you by sharing it, then we don’t need to be together.”

Only one person, Polly Esther, said anything about the privacy of the people on the other end of your email: “While being open and honest with [husband] is my #1 priority, keeping my friends personal feelings and rants private for them is just as important to me as trusting they would never share mine with someone else. How could I protect their thoughts/feelings/private conversations if I share my passwords with my significant other.” That’s right! The people who email you expect privacy too! But no! Make it all about you!

It's probably obvious that I come down on the side of non-password-sharing. Have you ever heard someone say, "How can I miss you if you won't go away?" It's like that, only with trust instead.

What do you think? Should you share your passwords with your partner?