Monday, 3 March 2008

Ordering a Life

What do you do when life leaves you with nothing to do, and all the time in the world to do it in?

For some people, this is called a holiday. It may be a welcome break from the constant demands of working life. But for others, it can become a lifestyle. And it gradually becomes a hole that is very difficult to get out of.

In August last year, I took extended sick leave from my job. I found that the pressures of being a first-year doctor required a lot more energy than I had. Don't get me wrong, I loved my job. But after five months of working, my energy levels were low to the point that I would take at least a day off every fortnight because I couldn't get out of bed, and at work every afternoon around lunchtime I started feeling exhausted and by 3 I would need a nap. Hardly compatible with full-time work. So, despite the fact that I got an excellent report from the last team I worked with, it was decided that I would take leave until I felt better. (I think the excellent report was something to do with the fact that when I was there, I was doing my job as well as replacing other people who were supposed to be there but weren't. :P)

We'd already planned to take a holiday in early September - went off skiing. But after that, and after Smith went back to his job, there was nothing much for me to do. As far as I knew, my job was to get better so I could go back to work. But what would that involve? I didn't know.

Medical investigations had been organised to work out if there was any medical reason for my exhaustion. All I had to do was wait for them and then wait for the results. (In the end, there was no convincing medical reason.) In the meanwhile ... I slept. Seemed like the right thing to do, when I was so tired.

September, October, November ... I think I lost three months of my life.

I certainly can't remember doing anything worthwhile. I wasn't particularly enjoying myself, either. A lot of the time I would sleep until midday, or 1pm. I'd get up, mooch about on the computer a bit, maybe go back to bed. Computer time was spent reading webcomics, playing Insaniquarium or LOTRO, and doing puzzles. In the afternoon I'd nap again, wake up when Smith made dinner, and then sleep; or stay up late playing LOTRO. To tell the truth, I don't remember much about that period. It wasn't much of a life.

Nice work if you can get it, you might say. A life of leisure, with a job to go back to when I was ready (but how would I know I was ready?). Loving husband. Every need met. Capable of doing anything I wanted to do. No time pressures. No financial pressures, thanks to my husband's job. No obligations.

From another perspective, I was a bum. A highly privileged one, to be sure, but still a bum, leeching off my husband.

Of course, I'm not what you'd think of as your typical bum. You know the kind: the guy who lives in his mother's basement, on the computer all day (or all night, doesn't matter which) but doing nothing productive, doesn't cook, clean, wash or take care of himself, baulks at the idea of getting a job or even studying. In the 50s he'd be hanging out on street corners, 'bumming' cigarettes off his friends, in the 80s he'd be at the garage talking about all the cars he'd love to do up. But your privileged bum of the 21st century ... well, I sure acted like it. A female version, at least. You couldn't even call me a housewife, I wouldn't have met that standard by any stretch.

Naturally, I didn't recognise it at the time. There aren't many bums in medical circles :P And of course, nobody thinks of themselves as a bum, because the concept that comes to mind when you think of a bum is of how unfair it is on the people around him, that he isn't pulling his weight. Nobody likes to think of themselves that way. Even my husband was kind enough to think of it as me being ill, and that one day I'd get better; he'd support me until then. He knew I was capable of much more, and he figured I'd get back to it one day.

And the way it looks from the inside ... of course there's that nagging feeling that you're not being a productive member of society, and you're not even really enjoying yourself. For some people, I imagine that feeling is easily overruled by the simple ego-feeding thrills of whatever it was they're spending time on - World of Warcraft, or an addiction like gambling at the poker machines. For others, it is strong, the sense that you're a dead weight on the people around you, and that you really could be doing more with your life ... if only you knew how, or what. But it also feels like there are insurmountable obstacles in your path. For me, I knew there was more to life, but I didn't feel I had the energy, or the motivation, to do anything. It was all just too hard. This inner struggle in itself weighed down on me, the feeling that I couldn't do anything I wanted to do, I didn't know what would become of my career ... a cloud constantly in the background dampening my mood, blunting my emotions.


If you recognise this as a picture of yourself ... well, I'm writing a series of posts for you. I've gradually, very slowly, pulled myself out of that hole, using nothing but willpower I didn't know I needed, didn't know I had, borrowing strength from the people around me. I think it's time to detail how I did it, because when it comes to a hole like this, only you can pull yourself out, no matter how many hands are reaching in to help you. But know this: There is a way out.

There is a way out.

Don't expect any startling revelations from me, though. Everything I am going to say has been said many times before. I'm not advertising any miracle product or ten-week program (You too can be shiny and successful!) No, it is all common sense that you have heard from your parents and from society ... you might even be sick of hearing it by now. The big surprise is: it works.

You don't need money. You don't need any special powers of the intellect. You don't need any special circumstances (although, come to think of it, this would be kind of difficult if you didn't have a place to live, even temporarily). Your tools are a watch, maybe a pen and paper, and the wherewithal to get out there and take care of yourself, and then others. And while it won't be easy - I plan on detailing as many pitfalls as I can think of - it can be done.

The key word, of course, is 'done'. This is a process that you must do, you cannot simply 'become' (although popular culture would love to tell us you can!) No, you must act.

Currently these are the steps I have taken:

1: Realise that you could be doing something worthwhile. (This step took the longest.)
2: Take steps to obtain the energy you would need for doing it. In other words, take good care of yourself.
3: Seek support, and recognise support when it is being offered.
4: Actually write down things you could be doing.
5: Try to do some of the things you want to do.
6: Recognise the barriers in your way, and find out which ones are within yourself.
7: Realise that everything takes time, but only a certain amount of time.
8: Plan your time concretely, and realistically.
9: Endure your first big relapse into old habits, and come out of it realising why it happened and how to limit or avoid it next time.

Of course, this isn't a complete list; I'm not yet where I want to be. In fact, I've just come through my first big relapse into amotivation and fatigue. (I didn't go back to LOTRO, but there was a lot of Insaniquarium. I did do something every day, though.) But eventually - on March 31, to be exact - I will be going back to work. And by then, I plan to be ready. I'll keep you posted on how I go.

In the meantime, though, I will be going into each of the above steps in more detail. I hope that, one day, someone finds this useful (although I don't have that many readers just yet). Just remember:

It can be done.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Seven Basic Plots, by Christopher Booker

Have you ever thought of yourself as an 'avid reader'? Are you addicted to stories and narrative? And are you interested in structure and analysis? If so, you must read the book I am (still) reading, The Seven Basic Plots - Why we tell stories, by Christopher Booker.

I grew up on stories. As soon as I could read, I read everything I could get my hands on, especially fiction, and I kept that habit all the way through school. Even during my Uni years it wasn't uncommon for me to become completely engrossed in a series of books (to the detriment of my study, unfortunately.)

This has meant I have become quite a narrative-driven person. Everything is a story, in that it has characters, events, consequences. Even my study of medicine has been story-driven. Why does this happen in the body? What is it used for? Every part of the body has a function, so that the relevant molecules flow from food to flesh to waste. Every microorganism has its own story of survival, invasion or elimination. The textbooks I relate to most easily are the ones that tell me the best stories, so that I can just sit down and read them. (I've never been able to study anatomy, unfortunately. Or spend any amount of time on a reference book.) And I love case presentations.

As soon as I saw the book The Seven Basic Plots and flicked idly through it, I had to have it. A detailed analysis of the structure of stories? (The use of the word 'plots' here is a little arguable.) I was in heaven. I'm now on page 630-ish of 730-odd. And, as is immediately apparent even from a brief flick-through, the book is all it set out to be, and much, much more.

Yes, plots have been recycled, reinvented and reused throughout the history of literature. The author has looked deeper, though, and found seven basic ways in which a story can be structured. They are, in the order that he examines them, "Overcoming the Monster", "Rags to Riches", "The Quest", "Voyage and Return", "Comedy", "Tragedy" and "Rebirth". (Yes, there are exceptions, and he deals with those too in this book, a highly-structured thesis.) These, of course, have been combined and recombined countless times, and he gives many examples to support his ideas. There are 350-odd individual stories referenced in the book, from the oldest known (the Epic of Gilgamesh) to the ultra-modern (Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone), with references to the literature and storytelling culture of every era between then and now. And it's not only the written word that he examines - oral culture, theatre, propaganda, movies and television also fall into the scope of the book.

What he has done, further, is to look at the stories in terms of the archetypal figures who appear in them, and how the plot is shaped around the relation of the hero/heroine to each of these figures. I guess it's not too surprising that he has based these around the Jungian archetypes - the Mother, the Father, the Teacher, the Alter-Ego, the Anima/Animus, the Tempter/Temptress, the Child, the Ego, the Self, the 'masculine' qualities, the 'feminine' qualities. These are supposed to be the figures of our subconscious appearing in our dreams, and it would be natural for them to appear in stories, an outwardly-projected extension of our subconscious. I wasn't that familiar with Jungian psychology myself - all I really knew was that he was a student of Freud, and that Freud was that psychoanalyst preoccupied with sex :P But as these archetypes are explained in this book - as an explanation of the figures who appear and reappear in stories throughout the ages - the author's arguments make a lot of sense.

Now, all of this analysis takes some time. 350-odd pages of quite small print on a largish page. At the same time, it is surprisingly easy to read. Of course, this is in part because he stops so often to tell us the plot of yet another story, before weaving it in to his overall theme. This plethora of stories had me completely engrossed. But it cannot be denied that he is a highly-skilled writer. I was not surprised, when I looked up his biography an hour ago, to find that he has been a lifelong journalist. And, despite his age (more on that later), he writes in very contemporary language - as you'd expect from anyone wanting a book published in 2003.

And then ... And then, at the halfway point of the book, having completed an analysis of all these plots, he embarks on two even greater endeavours. The first is a study of the progress of literature in the past two hundred years, as these plots have gradually changed, been overtaken by fashions, stereotypes, sentimentalism, sex and violence. For me, this was a very difficult section of the book to read, and I believe that many people will instinctively find it so.

Now, this is not to say that I was offended by the content. The stories themselves ranged from the shocking to the bleak and the pointless, and having read the analysis I am actually inspired to read (or in some cases see) the originals; many of the ones he includes have been lauded as great, groundbreaking works of literature, theatre and film. And the author presents all of these items in a very objective, analytical, impartial manner. He examines our reactions to each, and combines them into his analysis and his theme: the disintegration of our relationship with stories. But his main point rang true with every page - that these stories no longer resonate with our sense of the struggle to become one's own Self, and so each story, in its own way, feels somehow wrong and unresolved.

Finally, after a brief interlude in which he tells how stories relate to the 'real world' and history, he presents a gargantuan chapter on what I think is his final topic: the stories of religion. Here, I will not give away his thesis; although his theory is uncontroversial, I know that religion is quite a sensitive topic with many people. Being an atheist myself, I was very much impressed at his absolutely impartial treatment of a near-comprehensive list of religions and cultures. But it will probably be slightly uncomfortable for any person who adheres to a particular religion to see the roots of their own culture analysed so objectively, especially those which the author shows to be varying from his theme.

All the same, I feel this is the most important part of the book; it is the one which finally prompted me to write all this. The level of understanding of the human psyche he demonstrates is awe-inspiring. You would not tell from his tone of writing that he is in his seventies, but his insight in finding these themes, these values, these relationships, shows the true wisdom obtained only by experience. My idols and role-models have always been those who show such insight, and while they have previously been the Galileos, the scientists of the world, or more recently Terry Pratchett ... this is one man I would really want to meet and shake by the hand. (And then he'd wonder who this shy little girl was, who couldn't express herself properly.)

Yes, in my ideal world everyone would read this book and learn something about themselves, their culture, the history of literature. But of course, the book itself is not accessible to everyone. People may be discouraged by its small print and large size (although many who look inside may find it to be surprisingly readable, as I did). There is extensive use of three- and four-syllable words (sample from one paragraph: incognito, disarray, overshadowed, arrogance, dissipation, infesting, miserably, majesty, massacre, reunited, triumphantly) which may unfortunately rule out a proportion of the population, and then of course there are those who simply are not interested in stories, literature or analysis. I even saw a writer's review complaining about typographical errors and excessive use of the word 'little'. But for the rest of us, I implore you to read this book.

Even if you do not start off sympathetic to the points of view he later proposes, you will find his arguments compelling. Even if you read critically with an eye to his omissions, his elisions and biases, his thesis will still be interesting. Because, readable though it may be, this is a finely-constructed essay building on point after point after point, example after example, theory after theory, to a stunning understanding of the way we tell ourselves who we are.

Monday, 18 February 2008

I've been busy...

getting my life organised. It's taken some effort, but I'm really getting there :) Unfortunately, writing this blog seems to have fallen by the wayside. Probably because I keep procrastinating about what I wanted to write about.

Ahh well. Time to write about something else instead!

This evening I went for a walk around the neighbourhood, and came across a little Japanese supermarket. I wished I'd brought my purse with me (I'd deliberately decided not to) because they sell little tubs of green tea and sesame ice cream! I love Japanese ice-cream flavours.

They're an interesting east-west fusion - while green tea, black sesame, red bean, taro (a kind of purple very starchy turnip), lotus seed and lychee are traditional Asian flavours, dairy is not. Soy milk mixes are a tiny bit more common, but usually you see these flavours on their own - red bean paste or lotus seed paste in buns, red bean sweet soup, black sesame soup dumplings, taro cakes (often more taro, less cake, and no egg), lotus seed cake (ditto), lychee and green tea ice drinks, green tea jelly. But the Japanese have made them into traditional milk-and-egg-base icecreams, and they work really well. Black sesame is the hardest on western palates, but green tea and red bean work really well, and I assume taro would too.


Oh, and in an odd turn of events, I found out that the thing I was so angry about the other week ... I'd attributed to the wrong person. She had nothing to do with it. In fact, it was a guy, who doesn't know me that well at all. I know for a fact he resents me for something I refused once long ago, and I don't particularly care. So I don' t need to pay any attention! So much for the positive effects of anger. Someone mentioned that it gives you tunnel vision ... here, it seems it did.

Well, actually, maybe there have been positive effects after all. I have done a lot of stuff directly sparked by the thoughts I had that night, and none of them have been negative. I certainly haven't done anything to hurt anyone, or anything that I regret. I didn't go speak to her, or him. I have, on the other hand, started some projects which I'm sure, later on, I'll be really proud of. All because I was forced to get creative.

Okay, enough for now! Time to go have dinner.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

A couple of weeks ago I begged Smith to take me to go see Sweeney Todd at the movies. We enjoyed it thoroughly. And tonight I bought a recording of the musical, done in 2005 by a Broadway Revival cast, over iTunes. Listened to that and also enjoyed it.

I saw the movie first without knowing much about the plot. Now, I love musicals, but I hate suspense and gore. I'm a scaredy-cat type who, if there is any indication that 'somebody might get hurt!', will hide under the seat with my ears blocked, or leave the area. As a result, I don't watch much TV :P Or at least not the kind of stuff that Smith watches - he likes supernatural themes. I like documentaries and comedian revues.

Anyway, I normally wouldn't see a movie with so much violence and death. But this was a musical, and highly recommended by my type of people (xkcd readers). So I steeled myself, I even read spoilers. (I like to read plot synopses if I have to watch something with suspense, but this time I didn't, so I didn't really know the plot.) However, I knew it was about a barber who kills people, so I was fully prepared for everybody who went anywhere near Johnny Depp to die. This served me well - the couple of people who didn't die were a pleasant surprise :P And for anyone who hasn't seen it and wants to, firstly DO SEE IT ... and secondly, be prepared for blood. Lots and lots of blood. Lots and lots and LOTS of blood. Mostly fake-looking, but hey, that's part of the fun.

And the music was wonderful. The musical itself is by Stephen Sondheim, who also wrote Into The Woods and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and the lyrics in West Side Story. The lyrics to Sweeney Todd are fantastically witty, lots of laughs, suitably cutting and cynical in places, and overall the best bit of the movie, even if you can't catch them all. Johnny Depp sang quite well, Helena Bonham Carter did a great job, Sacha Baron Cohen was hilarious and Ed Sanders (the child who played Tobias) just shone. Overall I found the movie to be tremendous fun.

So of course I had to listen to the original. I bought it over iTunes tonight, the 2005 Broadway Revival Cast recording, and it was well worth it. But quite different to the movie.

Of course, the musical came first, and so I'll be comparing the movie to the original, as it were. Firstly, in the movie they transposed a lot of the key parts to fit the voices of the actors. For instance, in the musical Mrs Lovett is probably an alto, and Patti Lupone on my recording has a reasonably deep voice. Helena Bonham Carter, on the other hand, is a mezzo-soprano at least. Likewise, the role of Tobias is sung by a light tenor in the musical, while they used a boy soprano in the movie. I can see why an adult tenor would be more practical for the musical, as the Toby role is rather large and I can't see an 11-14 year-old boy playing it night after night for however long a Broadway run lasts. (Although hey, they do it for Annie.)

Given that they could cast more freely for the movie, though, I think they did superbly. Having a young boy with an unbroken voice as assistant to Pirelli just makes the role much more likeable and poignant in the right places. The young actors who play Johanna and Antony have adolescent-like singing voices, consistent with their characters (my original recording has an adult soprano as Johanna, which doesn't grate as much on the ear, when really it should. She's supposed to be 15.) And Helena Bonham Carter ... well.

I'm still tossing up as to whether Helena Bonham Carter or Patti LuPone (Mrs Lovett in the Broadway recording) is the better voice-actor. And that's quite a compliment to Ms Carter, given how much I love Patti LuPone. Of course, I was more than halfway through the recording before I realised where I recognised the voice - she also sang Fantine in the London Cast recording of Les Miserables. And Ms Carter does a different, but equally good job. And she does a great down-to-earth accent, I'm not sure what to call it, although it's definitely a British one. Ms LuPone had an American accent in the recording, and that made me cringe in places.

They also seem to have sped up some of the songs for the movie. Either that or the professional singers have that much better diction, that everything not only comes out clearer, but seems slower. But I could swear that most of Mrs Lovett's songs in the movie are a touch faster than on the stage version, especially the patter in "The Worst Pies in London." (See, with song titles like that, you've got to see it.) And it works well, even if Smith had much trouble making out the words.

And the choice of what songs to put in the movie and what to leave out ... I think they did well. They did leave out a key 'narration' song, "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd", which it seems some musical-goers missed. Me, I wasn't that enamoured of the song itself, although maybe it needs a visual impact to go along with it. The flashback technique they used in the movie in the other songs served as a good background, so that song would have been redundant. And the rest of the songs ... well, they flattened some of the characters out severely (Judge Turpin, Johanna and the Beggar Woman) by leaving out key songs that displayed depth of character, but I don't think it detracted from the story.

Overall, I think the movie is a great rendition of the musical. Hey, apparently even Stephen Sondheim likes it. But if the musical ever comes to town, or we ever make it to London's West End, I'll be seeing that too. :)

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Our anniversary

Well, I was going to write something interesting today. But I'm too tired! I woke up at 3am and started doing stuff rather than going back to sleep. And I've had two naps today, but it hasn't helped enough.

So here's something I prepared earlier.

It was Smith and my anniversary of the first time we went out, on January 24th. I wrote him a card.

[front of card]
24th January, 2008
"Dear Smith,


It had to happen sometime. After eight years, your brainwashing has finally worn off [in-joke]. Finally, I see things as they really are. I'm kicking myself now, I really am. How could I have thought I loved you?

[inside card, left-hand side]

I mean, all you ever did for me was
share my interest in Physics,
share my love of Terry Pratchett [author of the Discworld series],
make interesting conversation with me,

[continued on a pasted-in loooonnnng strip of paper, folded]
share in-jokes with me, make me laugh, bounce ideas off me, invent new words for me, look at me every day, tell me you loved me in a wonderfully cryptic and creative way, decide to live where you wanted to, send me novel-length emails, tell me your innermost secrets, hopes and dreams, share most of my values and tolerate the rest, feel protective of me, consider my comfort, introduce me to online life, be nice to my family, kiss me silly, cuddle me happy, ask me to marry you, consent when I wanted to wait, give me unwrapped books, lend me your library, share bus trips home with me, be nice to my friends, fit in with my social life, accommodate my study and my timeline, provide me with a safe haven, give me your old computer, download games for me, share your home with me, accept the ring I bought, share your family with me, hold me when I needed you, wait up for me in the lab, miss me when I was away, talk about my family with me, support me through my first job, distract me from my studies, decide what you really wanted to do, move out with me, buy household goods with me, buy furniture with me, make a life for me, enjoy my cooking, buy me a ring, marry me on the MUD [imaginary], wear my ring, support me financially, endure my clinical placements, cook when I was too tired, cuddle me when I was sad, watch TV with me, kill a zillion cockroaches, pay my HECS [Uni fees], take me out to dinner, visit my family with me, tell me about your job, make me smile, take me to concerts, find a job you like, indulge my MUD addiction, sleep by my side, visit me on rural terms, help me take my medicine, support me through my exams, talk about life with me, pick a beautiful new apartment, wash up when I need to cook, buy fun jigsaw puzzles, hold me on the train, help me get out of bed, dress me for class, make sure I eat, change your work hours for me, remind me to take my medicine, take me to the doctor's, hold me when I cried, kiss me til I smiled, make sure I did paperwork, analyse my chances of getting the job I wanted, let me live away when I had to, look good in a suit, imitate HEX [from Discworld] for me, teach me to code, marry me on a beautiful day, plan a wonderful honeymoon, drive us all around New Zealand, take me bird-watching, slide down a glacier with me, surprise me with puzzles, go ballooning with me, fly on a wire, endure my horrible hours, go dancing with me, take me to the theatre, visit me at work, talk me down out of the building, make new friends and old with me, cuddle me when I made mistakes, feed me dinner when I couldn't move, cook dinner when I could, clean the house, take me skiing, push me to move when I was home alone, talk me through things on the phone, stroke my hair when I was sleepy, make me get out of the house, watch my mood for me, help my tidy my room, vacuum the house, let me have friends over, endure my bad habits,
let me know when you were irritated, guilt-trip me into good behaviour, let me buy anything I wanted, share fantastic and whimsical ideas with me, talk with me at nights, walk with me in the mornings, never show a hint of jealousy, while at the same time being perfectly possessive,

[on the card again, still left-hand side]
love me with all your heart, inspire me to be a better person, and generally make me the happiest woman in the world.

[inside card, right-hand side]
I mean, DUH! I should have realised that a man who couldn't bend the universe to my every wish [Another in-joke] would try and make up for it in other ways. And now, it's been eight years, when all along I could have been out there, looking for the man who could...

Oh, what? I actually got myself married to you?
Uh oh...
this complicates things.
let me think now...

Well, before I go on my way, I guess that to be fair, I should try and repay all that ... So I think I'll stick around for a while longer.

And you're good company, I'll give you that.

And besides, if anyone's going to bend the universe to my every wish, isn't it going to be you?

And maybe...

[back of card]
maybe I really am a little bit in love with you after all.

[Illustration: small hearts drift into big hearts forming a thundercloud, raining into a blue puddle washing away to one side.]

*brain slowly melts, and washes clean*

I see the truth ...
I love you with every subatomic particle of my being...
and I always will.


Monday, 4 February 2008

Very late last night, I read something that made me very angry.

Anger is an emotion I'm very unfamiliar with, actually. It doesn't come easily and I tend to repress it, or rationalise around it. I have a very high tolerance for misunderstanding; I have a very high tolerance for 'lack of progress' when things aren't urgent; I have a reasonably high tolerance for most aspects of standard human behaviour. So a lot of things that get people irritable or angry don't affect me.

I used to get angry, of course, when I was a young child; I remember several decent rolling-around-on-the-floor temper tantrums, none of which had any good cause. They probably lasted until I was about nine; by then I was starting to realise what I was losing, and to take more care of my dignity. Then, too, anger started turning to sadness and retreat - and eventually I started skipping even that step in favour of analysing the situation and, well, doing something about it. Or learning from it.

Part of it, I guess, is that I have a reasonable self-esteem in a lot of areas, these days. So it takes quite a lot to threaten me. It's not often that I encounter any cause for fear, real or imagined; I have a good life. You can't hurt me by saying I'm ugly, or fat, or stupid, or selfish, or a whiner, or silly, or nerdy, or any manner of other things, because I know what I am. (To wit: I look like your average Chinese, I have a poor appetite, people call me unusually intelligent, I do things predominantly for others, and I complain very little. And I'm silly and nerdy and geeky and indecisive and overly serious. So what?) I'm comfortable in my own skin. I'm even popular in certain circles, and loved by others.

I do place a high value on understanding. But I also appreciate that it's sometimes not easily obtained. If someone has misunderstood something, I know that that doesn't necessarily mean they think ill of me; such things can be resolved. Who knows, I might be mistaken, or I might not have made myself clear. I give people the benefit of the doubt in these situations too; I tend to assume they have good intentions, that they don't set out to malign me, and that nobody has perfect delivery. Some times understanding takes more effort than others.

I'm also used to having patience with and tolerance for people. If the lady at the bank has to sort out paperwork the previous customer left, before she can call me up, so be it. The person who stepped on the back of my shoe didn't actually do it deliberately. The patient who makes unreasonable demands is sick and needs comfort. The people in the queue in front of me have their own agendas and stresses. I don't need to get worked up about it.

When I see people's anger in these situations, I've always seen it as getting in the way of resolution - people alienate each other, make each other nervous, and stop communicating. I'm a communication junkie; I love to know that somebody understood what I meant, or how I feel, and to think that I can empathise with them in some way, and see what they are trying to tell me. Anger, as I see it, is often a barrier. And quite often a waste of time.

Which is not to say that I ignore injustice. I don't know, I must lead a charmed life, injustice seldom happens to me, or at least not in any serious way. And I don't have the sense of self-entitlement that leads some people to imagine injustice, whenever they don't get everything they want. When it does happen to others, I do what I can. I try to help those who need it. There are always options, ways around a situation, ways to cope and things to work on. I'm not motivated by revenge, but fairness appeals to me. And I have an exceedingly strong - overriding, even - sense of doing what is fair. Or trying to.

But anyway, last night, I was angry. Very much so. I even considered getting her back, showing her up by making it clear what I really was.

Of course, that idea quickly dissolved. What angered me was that realistically, there was no way to make things right and still be true to who I am and lead my life. There were options - there always are - I had considered and rejected them many times before- but they involve a lot more time and effort than I have available, or ever will. I am going to have a full-time job to go back to, after all.

So I did the first obvious thing: I vented to a friend. I didn't even have to tell her much, just point out what had happened and let her see the obvious injustice. She sympathised - that was all I needed - and I felt better immediately. After a rambling discussion on health, what she was cooking for dinner and what I had in the fridge, I thought I was ready for bed. It was 4am my time.

What I didn't fully appreciate was the energy that comes with anger. My mind was abuzz for the next two hours. I'm not one to think negatively of people, or to go over perceived misdeeds round and round again; I had already accepted that the injustice was there, and permanent; my previous efforts had come to nought. Where I was mistaken was in thinking that acceptance was the same as resolution. Instead, my mind got creative, and started presenting me with an infinite number of avenues. I could do this and this, and limit the damage... I could help others learn from my situation... I could be true to myself and what I really wanted to do by starting this or that project, and everyone would see. And maybe, yes, there was an easier way of showing her up; it wouldn't even have to be permanent ... no, here were some even better things to do with my time ... on and on.

I know now why they say never to go to bed on a dispute. Bedtime is the worst time to be angry, because you know you need sleep, and yet you can't. And you know that no matter what you think of, it will be best done in the morning; you'll be out of whack if you don't sleep; and yet you can't. The energy is there, whichever way you channel it, constructive or destructive ... it quickens your breathing and your pulse, raises your blood pressure, whooshes through your mind and your limbs. And you need your sleep! Darn it.

It got to six o'clock, normal time for our morning walk, although I knew Smith wouldn't be walking because he'd been up late trying to make something work. I got out of bed for a drink of water, and seriously considered doing the walk anyway, in the rain, by myself, just so I could sleep. I'd already tried progressive relaxation (and found my jaw was tense), and attempts at meditation, trying to block everything out with my mantra, but of course I was too tired for that to really work. Concentration was not available.

And then I dismissed the idea of the walk (I probably would have collapsed) and went back to bed, and Smith turned over and put his arms right around me ... held my head to his chest while he slept... and I was safe.

Only then could I let go, tell my creative mind to take a rest; only then could I slowly, visualising each colour in turn, bring my thoughts back to a normal level (I dunno, it works); and then, focused, take myself back to the reality of warm, soft bed, half-light, bird call outside ... cradled by my husband, I relaxed. Even then it took a while ... but I eventually slept.

And of course the options were all there in the morning, and some of them were more realistic than others. Morning is the best time to be creative, because you have the whole day ahead of you to do what you think best!


I haven't been that angry in a long, long while.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Tea flavouring and random topics

Well, I'd been putting off posting here for a while. The reason is that there is a topic I really want to write about - have for a couple of weeks - but I don't quite know what I want to say. So every time I come here, I think 'I really should write about that conversation' but I don't know what to write, and I go away.

But I also want to practise my writing skills. I'm determined to post three times a week now - Monday/Wednesday/Friday if I can manage it. And I've just realised - it's okay to just come and write something else! If I can't think of anything, I'll look up a random concept from the dictionary and write about that. If nothing else I'll have learnt something. :P

But today I wanted to write about tea flavouring. My sister April brought me a bottle of Lychee Tea from a Chinese supermarket. It's really nice - tea mixed with lychee juice, and refrigerated. I love lychees, sweet and lovely to bite into, in a mini-explosion of juice. I haven't previously been an iced tea fan, but I could get used to this stuff. Probably not especially good for my water balance, but even if I have to drink extra water to make up for it, I think I can live with that.

Anyway, on the bottle it says 'Real brewed from tea leaves'. And that made me wonder ... why on earth would they need to put that?

I think they're trying to distinguish it from 'tea flavouring'. But who would bother with tea flavouring? Tea leaves have got to be one of the cheapest commodities around, I would have thought. (Maybe I'm wrong.) Wouldn't 'tea flavouring' be much more expensive? Lychee flavouring, that I can understand. The fact that this drink has real lychee juice in it does count as a selling point. But 'real brewed from tea leaves' ... not so much.

When I first thought about it, I wondered if you were only allowed to put 'real tea' if you had actual tea leaves in the drink and didn't take them out. That's not so cheap. But now that I look on the bottle, in the ingredients it says 'freshly brewed black tea'. That, and the original 'brewed from tea leaves' wording, tells me they took the tea leaves out.

So they're advertising the fact that tea leaves were involved. In a bottle of iced tea. Is that special?

Maybe I take things too much for granted.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

While I was out today, standing around waiting for my dad to come out of a bank, a girl I don't know made eye contact, and came over to talk to me. I wasn't sure what she was after. She didn't look like a homeless person, at least, she had a watch on, clean clothes, and a mobile phone in her hand. I gave her some of the bread I was eating, though, on the off-chance she might need it. We made really stupid small-talk for no good reason.

I think she wanted to steal my handbag, but she had no chance anyway, because my dad came out of the bank then. That was my dad's worry too, and when I think about it, she was standing on my handbag side, and my bag was open. I don't know how she would have done it, though, considering my bag strap was over my opposite shoulder. If she'd got out a knife she could have threatened me or cut the strap, but cutting the strap would have taken some work, and it was out in the open with plenty of people around. When I thought over it, I figured I'd done what was right in chatting to her and giving her some of my bread. But probably foolhardy. I also turned away from her to point, at one point, and she could have pickpocketed something then, I guess. But she didn't.

However, she probably feels rotten. Even if she wasn't out to steal anything, she'd accepted food from a stranger, despite not being a beggar. That worried me a little, that she might find that painful. She wasn't there when we came out of the supermarket.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Internet anonymity

I got my sister to pick an internet pseudonym the other day. My real sister, that is, not Tie. After I explained why it was important to me, she chose April. She doesn't have much of an internet presence at the moment, but I do, and I guess I'm doing it to protect her as well as me.

It's gradually become quite important to me to keep this identity separate from my name. I put a lot of myself into the angel Jean, and I've started really thinking about how to control the links between this and my real life.

Ideally, I want the flow to be one-way. I want my real name, address, place of work etc to be private, while this blog and my internet identity are completely public. And I'm happy for friends of mine to come here knowing who I am.

But I realise that you can't keep factual information secret, and so my personal information is probably out there on the Internet somewhere. There is probably a list or a web-page that links my name to my occupation and place of work. My address is on the Australian electoral roll. If you know my name, you could probably look up my phone number in the Yellow Pages. All of this information is available to people who don't know a thing about who I am. (I know this because I get telemarketers asking for me by name. :P)

What I really want to avoid is people going from my internet presence to my real life, without my control. I know for a fact that they can; a dear friend of ours that Smith and I know through the MUD once sent flowers to Smith's place of work - and as far as I know he hadn't told her where that was. Now, with her, I don't mind at all, but still ... it can be done. And all because she knows his full name and some facts about him.

And, as I've become aware over the years, if you put enough of your personality out there, you will engender dislike. I like to think of myself as inoffensiveness personified, but of course it's not true. You may also encounter envy, obsequiousness and stalker behaviour (I have). All of which make it a good idea to limit access to my personal details.

Part of this is because yes, I do, and always will put my personality out there. As the angel Jean, I talk to people I would never otherwise meet. While some people come from similar social backgrounds to mine, I have also talked to former street kids who are stealing internet access from their neighbours, working mothers both struggling and settled, members of military organisations, and people established in middle- and upper management of large corporations. I'm a story junkie, so I listen to everyone. When it comes to message board forums, I happily chat to strangers and express my views. And I link this blog. But I don't want all these people to know how to find me, and so, I take very good care not to use my name or my picture.

I also protect the identity of my friends, as well as those who might comment here. I can't really insist on pseudonyms, I guess, all I can do is encourage them, but I do try very hard not to use people's names. There's an extended rationale behind this, but it's somewhat questionable in itself and full of hypotheticals, so I'll just say for now that that's what I do.

Anyway, please be mindful of this concept at least, if you decide to post here, and maybe as you travel the internet. And I recommend the Internet itself - there are lots of stories to be had there!

the angel Jean

Thursday, 24 January 2008

You know your husband's a geek when...

Shamelessly copy-pasted from my post in the xkcd forums.

*watching TV, and at a random pause (dinner was ready)*
*Smith looks at the paused screenshot, which happens to be itself a screenshot, of one of a character's many computer monitors*
Smith: Ahh, source code!
*Smith inspects the screen carefully*
Smith: This could be the GDK libraries.
Jean: Ahh, at least it's, umm...
Smith: Open source?
*Jean nods*
*Smith considers some more*
Smith: No actually, this is the OpenGL libraries.
*Jean giggles, and runs off to post in the xkcd forums.*

I love my husband.

For reference: Moonlight Season 1 episode 12, about 5 or so minutes in.

Monday, 21 January 2008

I've been cleaning!

*does a happy dance* I'm so proud of myself!

Okay, as you can see by the washing corner in the bottom picture, I'm not a clean freak. And from the previous posts you can see that I do an average of one chore per day. This is despite being at home with nothing to do.

Yes, I have lots of things I could be doing, and no particular duties. What I end up doing: playing Insaniquarium and reading the Internets.

In fact, Smith is the tidy one in this household. He hardly puts things down out of place (except that his end-of-the-day clothes pile is next to his computer chair. I can cope with that.) If anyone does chores in this house, it's usually because Smith noticed they needed doing, and it's usually Smith that ends up doing them. Or he'll set aside a weekend and we'll do them together. Sometimes he'll say 'Can you do the washing today?' before he goes to work and that'll be what I do that day. But today...

Today, I set myself more than one chore to do. The dishwasher needed doing again as there were no clean bowls, and Smith mentioned that he'd like the washing done. I know that the floor needs vacuuming, but I hate it, so I said to him (apropos of nothing) 'I don't want to vacuum.' He agreed to do it (sometime) and I said I'd tidy the floor so he could (sometime). Also, as Smith was sorting through the clean clothes pile looking for socks, I said to him on a whim, 'Today I'm going to tidy up that pile.' (It was in front of the wardrobe in the third picture, and took up nearly all the floor space you can see there.)

Well, I didn't really have a timeframe for that, other than 'today' for the washing, dishwashing and the clean clothes pile. And I didn't start out in a housework mood, either. We went for our walk, which was lovely. I told Smith one of last night's dreams along the way, and he talked about Dark Angel. After our shower, I just felt like going back to bed. So Smith helped me towel my hair, and I hopped back into bed.

I lay there for a little while, before thinking 'Now that I've exercised and not eaten, if I sleep now it'll be tough to get out of bed later.' So I hopped back over and got a peach, and a book (I've been looking for a particular quote. Still haven't found it) and snuggled back into bed.

After I'd finished the peach, I started reading for a little while, looking for that quote. Then Smith left for work at about 8.30, and I figured, okay, I'd eaten, had my goodbye kiss, I could sleep now.

Lay there a little while longer, and then thought, hmm. I'll just put the washing on, and then I can sleep. Got out of bed to put the washing in the machine.

And as I was sorting the washing pile, I thought to myself, this wasn't so hard. And I realised that my body wasn't actually tired. My mind was, though. Perfect time to do something mindless, like housework!

And then ... while sorting the washing ... I saw a mosquito. In my bedroom. I hate mosquitoes with a passion, they are one of the few living things I can't tolerate. I get a huge (2-3cm) reaction to a mosquito bite within five minutes, although it will gradually die down if I put cold water/soap on it. And they always bite me, not Smith. (Either that, or he just doesn't notice.) So if I see a mosquito in my room, I will hunt it down and kill it.

This one went and hid in my bookshelf. (They like to hide on wooden surfaces, sometimes in plain sight if forced to land.) When I moved the books it flew out, just within reach. I smacked at it inexpertly, and hit it with one of my hands (the other didn't connect in the right place). I think it fell down somewhere, stunned. But I don't know where! I moved some things about on the floor (there was a little bit of visible floor) but it wasn't enough, I didn't find it. That was when I decided that today, I would tidy the whole room. I opened the window, let the natural light in, and after I'd put the washing machine on, I set to work on the clean clothes pile.

I think it was while I was doing that, that I noticed how dusty the plastic horizontal blinds were. (Or maybe I noticed it while I was in bed reading, before I closed the curtains to sleep. Anyway.) Now, normally I don't dust. It would, in fact, be more accurate to say that I 'grime' - that is, I only remove dust with a wet cloth, when it is in quantities that would count as 'grime'. But ... I'm allergic to the house dust mite. Having a blocked nose used to wake me up 16 times an hour at night (or something. I don't know what the number actually means.) We now have hypo-allergenic pillows, pillow protectors, a new vacuum cleaner and two nose sprays, and I sleep much better.

Anyway, while I was picking up dusty clothes with the window open, and sneezing, I was thinking, 'The breeze is nice, but the dust from the blinds is blowing all over my bed.' And when I went and looked ... it was grime. It's amazing how much dust two humans can generate, and that window doesn't even get street pollution grime because it's mostly closed.

Luckily, I had a set of bed-sheets that needed washing, so I slung them under the window to protect the bed and the floor, and set to work with my wet sponge. Note to self: sheets, ready to be washed, make good dust-protectors when cleaning. After a little while I had to make a face-mask out of a tea towel to protect my nose, too, but I got the job done. Boy, were they yucky. There was now less dust in my bedroom!

Of course, I still had to clean the floor, so I'd done it in exactly the wrong order, even if you're supposed to clean top-to-bottom. But, as you can see in my photos, I succeeded! I didn't even have to hide stuff in other rooms - most of it stayed in the bedroom. There was one set of clean sheets that went out into our storage cupboard, but apart from some other little bits of rubbish, that was about it.

Eventually it became a game of 'what can I clean up so that I can take a photo to show Smith'. (I'm going to teach my kids that game.) And now the bedroom floor is clean, and ready for vacuuming! All in all, it took less than two hours. I was done by 10.30; since then I've hunted for the camera, taken photos, worked out how to transfer them to the computer, put the dishwasher on and written this blog. 12.30 and I've achieved all I wanted to, today. No, it's not a lot. It's a lot more than this time last week, though.

My mind also gradually woke up as I was doing the mindless stuff, but now that I've written all this hopefully I'll be able to take a rest. Off to find something for lunch, and then sleep, I think.

I never did find that silly mosquito, though.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Meditation session

Tie and Smith's mum and Tie's dressmaker friend are coming down today to buy fabric for Tie's wedding dress! They should be here in about an hour. I'm pretty much ready, I've got the towels in the wash and they'll be ready to hang out before they get here, so I can write about stuff until then.

I didn't end up sleeping well last night, after all. Probably something to do with the fact that I took a nap in the afternoon, plus reading all those forums. I was going over and over the arguments in my head (yes, xkcd forums are my new addiction). Finally after a while, I decided it was as good a time as any to try and meditate.

I haven't actually managed it in years. Last time I tried, a few days ago, I ended up falling asleep. But since I wasn't tired last night, I made a good effort, and ended up doing okay.

My session is based on a tape that an English tutor gave me, long ago. It involves progressive relaxation, descending into a meditative state, and focussed visualisation. I dunno whether it works in achieving all that it's supposed to, but at least it's good at making my mind calm.

The first part is the progressive relaxation. I've always been pretty good at this bit. A knowledge of anatomy does help a little :P Anyway, the way I do it is to slowly relax each part of the body in sequence, then to become aware of which parts are still tense, and relax them more. And breathe slowly the whole time. After that, if I've done it right and I'm not asleep, I'm usually happy not to move for the next hour. (Sleepiness tends to interfere with this step, because I start moving around involuntarily trying to get into a comfortable sleeping position rather than my meditation position.)

It does take some concentration when your mind's racing, though. For these occasions, I have an unspoken mantra. I don't expect it to do anything except push all my other thoughts out of the way, so I chose something I'm happy with: 'Love Smith' (except I use his real name). First word on the in-breath and second word on the out-breath. If I can focus on that for long enough, my mind gradually becomes emptier.

The next step is supposed to clear your mind even further. It involves slow visualisation of the colours of the rainbow (I don't know, I took it off the tape). It goes something like this: 'Now visualise the colour red. Red the colour of (something, I forget). Now visualise the colour orange. Orange, the colour of (something else).' I lost the tape years ago, so last night I just tried naming the quality of my thoughts as I went through each colour. It ended up like this:

Red, the colour of concentration. (It took me a very long time before I was content with the quality of my red last night, and I took a while over each colour before moving on.)
Orange, the colour of worry. (There were worrying thoughts about.)
Yellow, the colour of analysis. (I was analysing my own thoughts.)
Green, the colour of nature.
Blue, the colour of eternity. (I dunno. Eternity is blue, for me. It just is.)
Indigo, the colour of concern.
Violet, the colour of calm.

I didn't entirely succeed last night. When I've done it properly in the past, I can hardly feel my body at all, and my senses are muted. Last night sensations intruded quite often, sounds and my body telling me it still existed, and the knowledge that Smith was lying beside me asleep. But my mind was pretty calm.

The next visualisation step is to make your mind comfortable. The tape just kind of says 'Okay, visualise a garden ... make it as detailed as you like' and gives you a couple of minutes. I think last night I took 20 minutes to get it right, and even then I didn't feel like I was really there. I tried everything: the feel of damp grass under my back, the shape and textures and scents of the various trees and bushes I put there, the personalities and habits of the animals there, the layout of the garden and direction of each item in relation to me lying there on the ground. In the end, I could get up and move around there a bit, but it was still difficult to 'see'. I was pretty happy with my surroundings, though.

The last part is to imagine going into a room and using it to sort out your thoughts, visualising each one. I dunno whether it works, but I tried it out. The choice of room was easy:

The sunlight streaming into this room wraps itself around you like floating gossamer. It does not seem inclined to touch your skin, content to simply warm and welcome you. Several wicker baskets, each overflowing with orchard fruits, lie gently bathed in the glow. Nearby, a few fluffy clouds of carefully gathered radiance drift around a mahogany desk. Its centrepiece is the figurine of an elf leaning forward in a cushioned chair. One hand is draped over the shoulders of a much smaller elf who sits at his feet, her head resting comfortably against his knee. He gestures with the other hand towards the middle distance, both elves smiling at his unseen observations.

I just kind of experimented with putting notes into various drawers, and turning concepts into various shapes, including glowing auras. One I wrapped around me, and I turned the concept of 'energy' into green balls of light that I handed out to various friends. I don't know if it works in organising my mind, but it was worth a try.

Then I reversed the process - going back out into the garden, then visualising the colours in reverse order, and finally feeling out my body and what it wanted to do. In the end I was calm and ready to sleep.

I guess I've got to practise a lot more to get in the habit again. I'm pretty happy that it worked, though.

That's all for now,

the angel Jean

Thursday, 17 January 2008


I wrote about last night's dreams in the xkcd forums in the 'What were your dreams last night?' thread.

Off to have more dreams!

Random things...

That new post I started in the xkcd forums, the one about argument styles, seems to be getting a bit of action. I'm not a very good arguer myself, tending to avoid arguments and simply give explanations and listen to other people's reasons, but it's interesting discussing the theory. Of course, there has been a little bit of sparring going on, especially between two of them (who have been sparring elsewhere). Reading it this morning made me a little frustrated, as I knew they would never agree, and it wasn't helping me understand what was going on. I ended up asking for clarification and going out.

Smith doesn't seem to be on MSN today; neither does the other guy at his work who I'm in contact with. Wonder what's going on there. Anyway, I normally tell Smith what I've been doing during the day, because it's lonely here and I like him to know if I've been achieving things, or if I need pushing (he's good at pushing when I ask him to). I might just write it here instead, along with all the other stuff I've been meaning to write.

Today Smith and I went for our walk twice around the block. I set the pace, and I didn't go too hard. Was quite nice outside, cool and overcast with a small breeze. We mused on various inconsequential things as we walked. Was fun. When we came back we had a shower, and breakfast, and Smith left for work.

I did manage to do one household chore today: I finished filling the dishwasher and put it on. We now have dishes for tonight. Don't know what I want in terms of food, though.

After reading the forums for a while, and getting frustrated at the arguments there, I figured it was time to take a break. It was 11.30 by then, and I figured it was time to set off for yoga class at the fitness club - the first I'd been to there.

Yoga class was interesting. Putting your body through lots of positions, with interesting names for some of them, and trying to figure out what to do by watching everybody else. I seem to have developed some stability and strength over the past couple of months of training - in my lower body rather than my upper body, my upper arms in particular are still quite weak. Anyway, for me a lot of the positions just required some concentration, even though I'd never done them before.

My general impression was a feeling that my body had been worked. No spiritual aspect (I didn't even get the calm, my mind was still analysing at the end when we were resting), no particular strengthening exercises, nothing focused like I get with my trainer, no aerobic work. Not that much repetition either, so no real chance to practise anything. Just an overall stretch-every-muscle/work-every-muscle at least once. I was so thirsty at the end of it, though, from breathing hard. There hadn't been a break. I guess I might go again for the exercise, although I don't really see much point other than that.

Afterwards I headed for the hospital, and ate the cafeteria lunch they have there. It's reasonable stuff - I've eaten a lot worse when it comes to hospital food. Good, clean textures and tastes, the right amount of salt etc, even though it's pretty simple food. Today it was ricotta cannelloni with choice of vegetables (I got peas, pumpkin and mash). And, since I had made it out of the house and gone to yoga class AND eaten lunch, I treated myself to a Weis bar. (Ice cream!)

I really should eat lunch every day, it's just hard to get the motivation to make it. When I'm working, I always get lunch from the cafeteria - it's only $6.50 for staff, and there's *just* enough variety during the week to keep it interesting. There's also choice each day, but I stay away from the 'broiled meat in gravy' tray (today's was lamb) or the 'miscellaneous in curry' tray, and I prefer cooked vegies to chips. (The chips there are okay, though.) At home, I have a generally poorer diet. If I'm really hungry and motivated enough, I might make myself some raisin toast, or a sandwich if there's normal bread in the house (rare), but that's not often.

I did one more thing today while I was out - I informed the admin lady at my work about my improving health status and the Medical Board's decision to continue my registration as-is. (More on that later.) I've been trying to get ahold of her for ages, whenever I call she's busy, and she never has time to see me. Yesterday when I called up, I got put straight through to her! And she told me she didn't have a term for me yet, and she asked me to tell her what the Medical Board had said, to show her their report - and I realised I hadn't told her any of what had been happening so I promised her an email. Today at hospital I handed her the report to photocopy, and then I wrote her an email with all the details about my health, how I'm ready to go back to work and feeling so much better now. (She didn't have time for an actual meeting - it's Orientation Week for some of the staff so she's probably frantic.) And she told me I looked well. :) *crosses fingers* maybe I can go back to work soon!

When I left it was raining lightly, and then it started raining more heavily. And my umbrella was back at home, sitting in the bath! Luckily, I had a towel with me, because I thought I might need it in yoga class (you need a towel in Pilates class, apparently. And I often get sweat pouring off me in my training sessions). So I hid under my towel on the way to the train station, and on the way from the train back home. It's funny, as I left the house this morning I was carrying it over my arm, thinking 'Hey, Douglas Adams! Look, I've got my towel with me!' Hehe. Now all I have to do is wait for it to grow mould that Smith and I can use as sustenance if we ever have to evacuate Earth in a hurry. :P

Anyway, that's my day so far. I think that after all that, I deserve a nap! Besides which, Smith's probably already left work by now.

Oh, before I go, here's another thing I wrote on the xkcd forums, encouraging a young programmer who dreads the idea of corporate life, and is thinking about fulfilling careers (like medicine).


the angel Jean

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Before I sleep...

I will shamelessly link a thread I have started in the xkcd forums, where I have been having an interesting discussion.

I'm going to the gym at 7am tomorrow, though, so I'll sleep now!

the angel Jean

I've been debating...

whether I should shamelessly re-post my own writing from other areas. Specifically comments I've made in response to forum posts. But I've decided that it's okay, because linking stuff you find interesting is legitimate blogging, right? So here's some of what I've written on xkcd forums in the last couple of days. And besides, after I copy it here, I might have more to say.

Some beautiful pictures of lacelike paper snowflakes constructed by somebody called miles01110 (link to profile is behind their name there.)

I found them in a thread on xkcd forums, which can be found at
The post in the xkcd forums shows the construction for the second one I've shown here, and the pictures are much better - go look!

I've been wanting to know how to make curves interact like that for a while, as I'm trying to design lace of my own ... miles01110 makes it look so simple, you just touch the curves to each other. Now I'll have to go and try it myself.

I also posted to a couple of other places in the xkcd forums, but I think I'll dedicate them posts of their own. But if anyone reading this is a nerd, a geek or into science, language or romance, go read xkcd. And the forums.

the angel Jean

Friday, 11 January 2008

Well, I did say I'm interested in everything...

Since I've been moping for a couple of days, I made a list this morning of all the things I could do to occupy my time. Here it is:

When I'm bored...

Clean house

Super Mario Galaxy!

Write about PuTTY commands

LOTRO (although I'm pretty much over that)
Make shawl



Text Tie

Arm exercises
Chinese lessons (I'm writing lessons for Tie)

Email Borkn


Tidy my room



Email mum

Adjust my posture

Write blog

Watch David Attenborough DVDs

Creative writing

Go out

Email a friend

Finish Christmas cards

Go to the post office

Design project

Pixel Puzzles

Make lace

Yeah, I'll never be bored again. Just unmotivated. :P

I did the washing, time to go stretch and meditate for a little while. (Haven't done that in ages.)

Thursday, 10 January 2008


Well, I've been moping around all day, so I figured I might as well write something.

It's actually been a pretty busy couple of weeks. There's plenty to write about, so I'll just put down whatever comes into my head.

Yesterday was my mum's birthday. She, my sister and I went out for lunch in a shopping centre nearby. There's a restaurant on the ground floor, but oddly enough I've never really noticed it; it's open for lunch and morning/afternoon tea. Maybe it's because at lunch time we're usually at some kind of food court, eating take-away.

Anyway, when we arrived it was packed, which is why we noticed it. We took a look and decided there were quite a few items on the menu that looked interesting - almost too many to choose from! The food turned out to be very tasty - I had an asparagus and corn fritter with smoked salmon, mustard and cream on top, with salad greens. My mum and my sister liked their choices as well, we'll definitely go there again!

We rounded out the afternoon with some window-shopping - my mum bought a couple of nice tops at Country Road for herself. I might have mentioned that I hate shopping, but my sister has good taste, and we didn't spend too long. It was a pretty good way to spend the day.

I was pretty tired at the end of the day, and needed a nap. I'd gone to the fitness club in the morning, walking there and back (25 minutes each way), and then when I went out with my mum and sister, I was wearing slingbacks with two-inch stiletto heels (my first ever pair) and concentrating on standing and sitting straight. My posture is normally pretty bad, I slouch something horrible, so I've been working on it for a couple of months. It still takes some concentration, especially sitting down, but I'm getting there.

The fitness session was pretty good, actually. I have a personal trainer - an expensive luxury, but it's the only way to motivate me to get to the club at the moment. Luckily for me he specialises in posture and core stability, plus he's working with me to improve my stamina. It's really helped - after the first few weeks I really felt like a normal person again. The past couple of days I've needed a nap in the afternoon again, though. Can't go back to work with energy levels this low :(

And today ... I haven't really done anything much. After much nagging Smith to get more exercise, he's decided to go for a walk every morning before his shower. I went with him today, not yesterday as I had to get ready for gym. Went round one of the big blocks here at a decent pace, so we were good and sweaty afterwards. Next week we're going to go round that block twice each morning, and maybe soon we'll be crossing under the train line to the places with the nice gardens.

I had to have a shower afterwards, though. I normally like to shower in the evening, so that I can go to bed clean, and be ready to get dressed when I get out of bed. There was no help for it this morning, though, I felt manky. Maybe I'll have to switch to morning showers like Smith. With the water restrictions in Sydney, I can't do both.

I had breakfast and worked on a small project I'm doing for an hour or two, but after that I had to sleep. And then I had nightmares, to the point where I was moaning when I woke up. I guess there's a few reasons I'm feeling a bit down today, but I wasn't expecting that. Normally I only get nightmares when I'm depressed. Ahh well.

Time to keep myself occupied until Smith gets home. He's not coming back for dinner tonight, they're having a bug-fixing competition at work, and providing dinner! They're giving out some pretty good prizes, too. There's a draw for a $300 voucher for 'non-physical goods' - which I assume means computer games or software. They get points for each bug they fix, and every 10 points gets you a ticket in the draw - Smith had earned himself 55 points last I heard, so he'll get at least 5 tickets. Also, if you find the cause of their most urgent bug, there's a $200 voucher on the line. If any team gets 500 points, they all get to go out to the movies. Finally, there's an ipod touch for whoever impresses the boss the most. It all sounds pretty cool. Smith's great at finding and fixing bugs, so I think he'll get a prize! But I have to have dinner by myself.

Hmm, time to take a short break, and then maybe I'll write down all the things that have been bugging me.


the angel Jean

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy New Year everyone!

Best wishes to you all for 2008!

It's been a hectic few days, and I'm not really in the habit of writing down everything yet. I've never been really good at keeping a journal. Not that I don't have anything good to say about things that have happened, just getting the motivation is the hard part.

Last night was New Year's Eve Sydney time, and as usual, we went down to the waterfront to watch the fireworks on the harbour. It seems to be a tradition in Smith's family, we've been for several years. This year, as well as Smith's mother, brother and his brother's fiance (I call her my sister for short, that's what we'll be in seven months! but here I'll refer to her as Tie) they brought one of their friends, who was pretty cool. Smith, his brother and the friend (I don't know how to spell her name, and haven't asked what to call her here) went down to the harbourside to reserve a spot at midday, while Tie and I went shopping for food supplies to tide us over. Smith's mum had to pack for a trip to Melbourne so she joined us later in the afternoon.

Shopping with Tie was fun, as always. I seem not to have inherited any fashion sense, but I'm surrounded by people who do have it - my dad, my real sister, as well as Tie and Smith's mum. I also generally hate shopping, but it's nice to have a guide who knows what she likes and how to really look around. Yesterday afternoon after buying salad, vegetarian luncheon meat and other goodies, and insect repellent and sunscreen, we shopped for sunhats. It was interestingly hard to find them. We thought we'd see them in the dollar stores, and sometimes they have them in pharmacies, but there was no luck there. Finally we found a bunch of them in Sportsgirl. Tie, Smith's brother and I wore our white sunhats all day!

Then it was down to the harbourside for the long wait 'til the midnight fireworks. We had a sunshelter tent set up, with folding chairs inside and out, and sat reading and chatting all afternoon and evening.

Although the fireworks were beautiful, I really need a year's break at least between such occasions. I'm naturally a quiet and introverted person, and I don't enjoy crowds or noise. While initially we had a relatively large space to ourselves, after a while the crowding was very tight, and there was alcohol flowing freely and contributing to the noise. After the nine o'clock fireworks there were even more people arriving, to the point where there were people standing directly behind my folding chair with their knees touching my back - for two hours while waiting for the midnight fireworks. And this is despite the fact that we had chosen a position with our backs to the path.

I sorely wanted to tell them to just go away. I wanted to get away from the noise and the crowding ... and the smells. The scent of tobacco is pleasant for a minute or so (I grew up a smoker's child, so I'm slightly used to it) but after a while it hurts; the additional odours of alcohol, the diesel engines on the boats, perspiration, spiced food, crushed greenery and magnesium sparklers all worsened the headache. Come there on a normal day and all you can smell is saltwater (and smog, I guess) - I guess that's the level of scent I'm used to, and too much is just overwhelming. Even the perfume section of a department store is difficult for me.

It didn't help that I was reading a book called The Highly Sensitive Person, by Elaine N. Aron. It describes people who find subtle things more stimulating than others, to the point where they easily become distressed by situations they find overly arousing. It's been a very interesting book, but one I have to read in sections before I can really take it in, as it requires a lot of thought.

My personal jury is still out on whether I belong to the 20% of people you can categorise as Highly Sensitive People (or HSPs). I picked up the book because I've often experienced the kind of distress you get when too much is happening, and there are so many times I've been too frazzled by stress to function or even sleep. But the descriptions of the trait are very detailed and don't exactly match me, so I'm still thinking about it. I'll probably write a little more about it later on.

Even the sensitivity to scent that I've just described may be normal. Our sense of smell is very closely linked to the emotional centre, after all. I guess most people can walk through the perfume section of a department store without their stomach churning, though.

It got to the point where I quietly asked Smith if we could skip the occasion next year. I love Smith's family and Tie, and I'm sure they will want to come again, and they can stay in our apartment as they did last night, but I'm not sure it's worth it for me to go with them next time. The fireworks were indeed beautiful, as they always are, but I've seen fireworks on the harbour many times before. I guess we'll see next year.

The whole occasion brings to mind one of my early memories. My family live near Manly, and one evening when I was about five we went to what must have been a Sea Eagles game at Brookvale. Anyway, the field and the spectator area were actually pretty small in those days (still are, I hear), and it was very crowded.

Before the game started there were fireworks. Now, even then I had always loved to watch fireworks on television, especially on New Year's Eve. We had also taken trips up to the nearest high lookout to watch the harbour fireworks from a distance (several miles). But this was the first time I'd experienced fireworks in person. I screamed at the noise of the explosions, and bawled at the crowds, and made such a fuss that my dad had to take me right out of the park. I don't remember if we even got to watch the game, I seem to remember we didn't. (I must have been a real brat.)

I am still a Sea Eagles fan, although not a real football follower, and I have always remembered that occasion with regret. But it's things like that, that make me wonder if I'm one of these HSPs. I guess I'll read more and we shall see.